Letter to The Wine Merchant. Follows a brave young merchant (Mike) who spoke out about his problem drinking.
I should, first off, like to congratulate you [Graham Holter, The Wine Merchant] for covering the Mike Oldfield story, and I should like to send Mike a huge hurrah for 1) being so strong in fighting his addiction, and 2) being so brave coming forward in this way. Neither action will have been easy. Yet, as a result, here I am compelled to write to The Wine Merchant now, and hopefully others will do so also. Because let`s make no bones about it, we in the industry need to be addressing this. The subject of alcoholism, like the proverbial elephant in the room, can no longer be ignored. Many of us are surrounded by bottles, even open bottles, all the time; and for many of us they are a passion, no less! Moreover, we have the perfect excuse: they need sampling, and they need drinking up! And then there are the wine-tastings, six hours of spitting out – one or two glasses with lunch, maybe – then the last hour, oh what the heck, head for the Grand Crus and swallow. `Lovely jubbly`. Oh, and a beer for the road. Indeed, it`s all too easy to go down the wrong road, and we must all be careful. Let Mike`s story be a reminder to us all. Meantime, as license holders (many of us), we are meant to be responsible and manage others – our customers – when they get into trouble or become difficult. It is, as I see it, our duty of care. As far as I am aware there is no instruction book on how to manage alcoholism and drunkenness (often two different conditions) when you are confronted with them, so we just get on with it, don`t we? We do what we can and deal with difficult situations as professionally as we can, compassionately if possible, firmly when necessary. Sharing experiences might be useful if there was an appropriate forum. I don`t pretend, incidentally, to be especially masterful at this art. In terms of dealing with aggressive drunkenness I can only think of one time in nearly twenty years. It involved an Irish gentleman of the travelling community. I was obliged to escort the man out of the building and, vexingly, he appeared to cast a spell on me! There again my shop is in a relatively crime-free leafy area in the home counties. It is not Birmingham. Indeed, I have no doubt there are a good deal of horror stories out there that will make my Irishman pale by comparison. But alcoholism exists in every community and I have been exposed over the years to my fair share of alcoholics, believe me; and I like to think I have been of some help to some of them. It might be a regular who is a little shaky and smells of alcohol (obviously a little drunk, but not offensive) and together with staff we play God: “If we don`t serve him, someone else will.” “What if the rejection upsets him?” “He`s no trouble to us.” “I know his son, shall we speak with him?” And so on. We do what we can. At any rate, in our Great Horkesley shop we have embraced Dry January these last few years and we continue to promote sensible drinking at every opportunity. The axiom: “Drink better, and less” has never been more apt for our time, and what`s more I truly believe it is good for business. It plays to our strengths as independent specialists. Cheers everyone!