Nobody leaves sober - whimsical trinkets considered harmful

July 18, 2022

We have a national problem with alcohol - that’s been clear to me for a long time, but I didn’t expect the National Trust to be part of the problem.

A while ago, I went to a National Trust property, and inevitably, we went out through the gift shop. While my daughter lingered in the toy section, I drifted through the books and gardening accessories, hoping that she wouldn’t pester me to buy anything. My eyes passed over a series of wooden signs to hang up at home, the kind of “Live laugh love” tat that so many people sneer condescendingly at, the 21st century equivalent of “you don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps”. Mostly they were bland and vacuous enough to be ignorable, but one of them caught my eye, and made me pause.

“Nobody leaves sober.”

At first it just struck me as another example of irritating whimsy, like “gin o’clock” and “prosecco time”, something to roll my eyes at and move on. It was slightly jarring - a bit trashy, not very on brand for an august institution like the National Trust.

But the more I thought about it, the more wrong it felt, the more uncomfortable I became at the idea that an object like that even existed, let alone that it was mainstream enough to be in a National Trust gift shop.

A sign like this isn’t just an unfunny joke. I’m not sure it even counts as a joke. It doesn’t just say “You have to drink alcohol in order to be included”, it says “You have to get drunk if you want to spend time with me”. It tells people that intoxication is a necessary part of socialising.

As someone whose life was turned upside down by somebody else’s problem drinking, perhaps I’m over-sensitive to this, but I think that this widespread cultural normalisation of problem drinking is really pernicious. Beyond that, the troubling thing for me is the reinforcement of the notion that it’s OK to ‘sober-shame’ someone who chooses not to drink alcohol. I do still drink, but I want to be able to have a soft drink without being interrogated about it. Even when I choose to drink alcohol, I don’t want someone insisting that I’m obliged to get drunk.

I definitely don’t want that insistence to take the form of a rustic accessory, a piece of ugly clutter, neither beautiful nor useful, part of the mountain of unnecessary stuff that doesn’t deserve to be in our homes. An organisation like the National Trust, who claim to “protect and care for places so people and nature can thrive”, shouldn’t be selling things like this. They shouldn’t be part of the tat-industrial complex that harms our environment with the overproduction of things destined for landfill. They also shouldn’t be perpetuating harmful attitudes to substance abuse.