Midsummer is almost upon us, a time of light evenings, noctilucent clouds shimmering in the midnight sky, various references to Shakespeare and a collection of druids, pagans and New Agers hanging around Stonehenge. It is also a time when rather a lot of alcohol gets consumed.
Of course, Brits don’t necessarily celebrate the event like some countries. Those further north, where it is light all night, enjoy the ‘midnight sun’ and midsummer is a big festival in Scandinavia, marked with bonfires in countries like Norway.
Suffice to say, these time scan often be marked with more than a bit of alcohol. At Stonehenge, for example, the solstice - when the sun can be seen rising above the Heel Stone in the famous circle - is seen as a big occasion on the calendar, as is the winter equivalent.
While the winter solstice is believed to have been more significant to those who built the monument, the summer weather is rather more suited to a big outdoor celebration and while we don’t know all the details of what they ate and drank in their feasting, there is naturally plenty of mead and beer to be had by the revellers. Alcohol free beer may not be seen much round there.
Of course, a spiritual belief based on the ideas that motivate and energise those gathering on Salisbury Plain may not be held by most. But it is still a time of year for plenty of parties, with the long daylight hours lending themselves to evenings in the garden, barbecues and much merriment.
At the same time, it is not just the late sunsets that can encourage a long day with a glass in hand. The fact is that these long summer days mean the sun is at its highest in the sky, being as much as 60 degrees above the horizon around solar noon (around 1PM - remember the clocks have gone an hour forward for British Summer Time).
That means it can be very hot with lots of sun exposure, a pretty bad time for those with fair skin to be out getting sunburned. A Saturday afternoon in the summer sun with a beer may seem like a nice idea, but it’s going to be a sore one afterwards if a bit of inebriation distracts from the need to add some sun block.
Of course, for those who opt for an alcohol-free substitute, all this can be avoided. The great natural delights of the skies never quite going dark (unless it’s very cloudy), the possibility of seeing noctilucent clouds, and, of course, the prospect of enjoying another light and sunny day the next day without a sore head are all joys that await those who stay dry.
Quite simply, midsummer has enough joys to go round to not need lots of booze. Indeed, a drink-free June and July could allow you to enjoy some more refined things. After all, when better to see the Shakespeare Play A Midsummer Night’s Dream? You can leave it to others to drink so heavily they actually would try to snog a donkey.