The Drinks Cabinet

Everyone who was anyone had to have one in the 1960s and 70s – the drinks cabinet.

Some, like Ralph for instance, yes you do know Ralph, always went on holiday with us, terrible sense of direction, yes, Ralph, that Ralph, anyway Ralph took things a step further and had a full bar installed in the corner of his living room, still has it in fact, then again he was the licensee at Headingley Sports Stadium so it was only like taking his work home with him really.

For all that my father and mother had a hectic social life of a weekend, and in my fathers case for the whole week, and that their social life consisted of consuming alcohol in order to watch some of the “turns” that they went to see at various Working Mens Clubs, they didn’t drink any alcohol in the house.

Its a bit of a strange one is that really but the more I think of it the more I come to realise that none of my relatives, or the families of my friends did either, there was a line in the sand drawn between boozing in a pub and boozing at home, basically if you boozed at home you’d crossed that line into being “a drunk” and a bounder – Peter Dickinson for instance, no, you don’t know Peter, I’ve not mentioned Peter before, I’ve got stories about Peter (makes note for later), anyway, my dads mate Peter Dickinson, HE used to drink at home although he was neither a drunk or a bounder, indeed I never saw Peter drunk at all even after he had drunk every last drop of alcohol in the pub.

Anyway, hardly anyone drank alcohol at home, there was for instance no concept of “Ooh we’ll just have a nice bottle of wine with this meal” for there was no concept that British people should drink wine at all, it just wasn’t the done thing and you couldn’t buy wine in shops anyway unless you knew how to pronounce “Liebfraumilch”  without sounding terribly and rather fraudulently middle class.

And yet everyone had a drinks cabinet in their house.

We first had a drinks cabinet in “the sideboard”, a huge tasteless piece of furniture that haunted the living room of every house in the UK during the 1950s and 60s, no-one knew what they were for really other than it was the law that you had to have one to store your “knick-knacks” in, and of course for the drinks cabinet which invariably was positioned in the middle of the sideboard with a fold down door that served as a bar surface as long as you were willing to kneel down to serve people from your bar, if you weren’t then you stood up to pour their drinks with the glasses on top of the sideboard but now because of the fold down door you couldn’t stand very close to them – a complete furniture design faux-pas, something added to a sideboard that no-one would use and then when they did use it, it was awkward, nay dangerous (to your shins at least) to use.

But then along came the 1970s and someone in their right mind invented the “Wall Unit” in order to rid us of “the Sideboard” and not wanting to be left behind in the suburban rush to be trendy and “with it” our dad went and spent several of his hard earned English Pounds on a veneered chipboard Wall Unit from his mate Powney up Harehills Road who had a furniture store where you could pay ten bob a week and not have to pay Powney much interest at all for the pleasure of doing so, oh no, “HP a pleasure” said the sign in Powneys window, credit facilities run without the hinderance of being a licensed credit broker or anything, basically if Powney knew you and if he trusted you, he’d lend you the money to buy his furniture at not very much interest at all, oh no.

So our dad made sure that Powney’s van would deliver on a Saturday morning at a time when the rest of the street would all be out cutting their front lawns like an archetypal corny American B Movie and as the new wall unit was unloaded from the van in four pieces our dad pointed to it for the benefit of the neighbours and ran a commentary for them “Our new wall unit” he told them as the first piece was disembarked and he’d wave his arm at it in a dismissive motion, “Oh I don’t know why I’ve bought it, cost a small fortune it did, a bloody small fortune…”

And then as the last piece was unloaded he called across to Cyril-over-the-road and Mr Puff the school master, “Oh thats the drinks cabinet, its got a drinks cabinet you know, you’ll have to come across for drinks when we get it assembled” and they stared with jealous eyes for they did not have such a fancy new Wall Unit nor did they have such a fancy drinks cabinet that you didn’t have to kneel on the floor to serve from.

I wouldn’t mind if the wall unit was absolutely necessary for our functioning as a family, but it wasn’t, you could have burned it on a bonfire and no-one would have noticed for months, the cupboards in the base contained cutlery sets that we had never, in  living memory, used, I’ve got some of those cutlery sets in my garage now because I snaffled them thinking they might be valuable, they’re not, they are just old cutlery sets from “The War” and so won’t even be worth anything for scrap metal – and they contain some items of cutlery that we’ve never seen the likes of or know what to use them for, maybe I’m wrong, maybe they are sheep birthing tools that belong to a vet, or similar.

Our mother’s sewing tin was in there too, a lethal old biscuit tin that had once probably contained useful things for sewing, needles, thread, that sort of thing, but for the whole of my childhood was simply a big tangled up mess of dangerous sharp pointy things all wrapped up in tangled cotton thread and yards of wool, if ever we needed anything sewing on the person who tried to find a needle and the right coloured thread in the sewing box usually ended up in the A&E department for the night having various sharp pointy things removed from hands and fingers.

The drawers were full of old photograph albums, dozens of them, and yes, I snaffled those too and they too are in my garage, I’m the sort of unofficial family archive and one day someone will ask “Is there a photograph somewhere of you and your Ned posing as young kids with a monkey on each shoulder, said monkeys wearing knitted woollen pullovers, one of them showing its arse to the camera ?” and I’ll say “Wait there” and come back two days later covered in dust and cobwebs but waving said photograph triumphantly in the air.

Scarborough seafront, 1962, Ned and me and the two monkeys, its in the garage.

The glass fronted cabinet was our mothers domain and contained all of the knick-knacks, souvenirs, and general rubbish that she had ever accumulated in their married life, a Cornish Pixie from Cornwall, the pen set that our dad won in the talent competition in Newquay, a deflated balloon from the “Last Night Disco Dance” at Cayton Bay and in later years Spanish dolls from Spain and those wine bottles with the long spouts that look like vinegar bottles and only exist for the purpose of embarrassing tourists – and the white leather dog sewed with sequins that she’d bought from a beggar on the hotel steps one morning, the one that we drop-kicked down the driveway to rid ourselves of the day after she’d died, but it kept coming back…

But of course, the highlight of this guided tour around our very fancy Powneys veneered chipboard Wall Unit – the drinks cabinet with the fold-down door that converted, this time, to a useful bar area from which to serve your guests in a very Terry & June stylee.

As I have already intimated, our mother and father never drank alcohol in the house, not even at christmas, and yet our home drinks cabinet was full of random spirits all of which had been opened at some point in history and half-drunk down the bottle to make it appear as if it was the custom in the household to sip the odd cocktail once the sun had gone over the yardarm – my guess is that my father liberated all of these half empty bottles of hard liquor from Headingley Sports Stadium when he was helping Ralph in the bars, its the only explanation I have.

For instance there would always be a half empty bottle of Harveys Bristol Cream sherry, and a half empty bottle of Warninks Advocaat, both of which could not be opened for years worth of neglect had caused the corks and screw top to crystallise and stick like glue to the bottle, if ever Cyril-over-the-road and Mr Puff had taken up my fathers invitation to wander over the road for tiffin as the sun sank over the yardarm then he’d have had to distract them and with a sleight of hand break the neck of the bottle off against the edge of Powneys chipboard veneered wall unit, which wouldn’t have done it much good at all.

And a soda stream, of course we had a soda stream, with its own supply of little CO2 bottles and the warning from our dad to us kids not to play with it or it would explode, and he’d be right mad if that happened, I got the impression that the soda stream had cost him in real money form his own wallet, then again it probably got liberated from Headingley Sports Stadium too.

So we had everything we needed to host a very exclusive tiffin, sun just over the yardarm, sort of cocktail reception for to impress the neighbours, we even had special little glasses with painted Scottish emblems on them for a completely random and unexplained reason, the neighbours would have been impressed I just know they would, yet no-one, no-one was ever poured a single drink from that very exclusive drinks cupboard, no-one was ever impressed by our comprehensive collection of booze and after our parents had passed on to the great Working Mens Club in the sky where you play bingo all day and my dad gets to sing all night at you, Ned and I threw all of the booze in a skip we’d ordered and paid for with what was left in our dads bank account, and then we took two sledgehammers to the very posh Powney’s chipboard veneered wall unit and smashed it into enough pieces so that whoever emptied the skip later would never have a clue what sort of furniture it had been, let alone re-assemble it.

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