Wednesday, 2 October 2013
Proposing a Toast to More Temperance
Clara* was hoovering every complimentary drink in sight except the Thames itself, gradually becoming louder and more incoherent, when not dancing, flirting and laughing somewhat manically. Periods of moroseness and drunken confession ensued. Her drinking it seems was all down to school bullying and feelings of worthlessness.
At her age? I wondered, in some disbelief. Hadn't she heard of therapy? How did it help that she now bullied herself with booze and took over where her school bullies had left off, concurring with them in her own opinion of herself?
Another of her colleagues revealed that it was Clara's habit to keep drinking until she found a bloke to take home. If she didn't she would stay out drinking all night and give home a miss.
I was shocked that anyone would dread returning to an empty des res quite this much and that an obviously intelligent middle-aged woman would be so bent on self-destruction.
I last saw Clara entering yet another bar, eyeliner now smudged and skin like crepe, but I had had enough by this time and told her I needed to go home and catch up on my beauty sleep. A look of sheer desperation crossed her face. 'I wish I could go home, I'm so tired and my feet are killing me.' she said. 'Then why don't you?' I asked, touching her arm. 'You should go home if you're not having fun any more and it's becoming a night of diminishing returns.' 'I can't.' she replied with finality, taking a swig of cocktail as if to emphasise the point.
I felt disturbed by conflicting emotions of pity and prejudice as she was very engaging, despite her obvious problems. Yet who was I to judge someone I scarcely knew? I suppose the warning signs were there from the start when we were introduced and she joked (or so I assumed); 'I hate grown-ups. They are so dull. I hope I never grow up;' then threw back her head and laughed. I bit my lip as I quite enjoy being a grown-up and taking adult responsibility for myself.
One other nugget of information which came to light about Clara was that her drinking had spiralled out of control at roughly the same time Tony Blair had introduced the 24-hour drinking culture, back in the day when she was an exceedingly slim and pretty girl by all accounts, and could have had her pick of the marriage and motherhood prospects she had earlier bemoaned to me as being non-existent..
Now we hear that alcohol licencing is to be extended to small businesses other than pubs, clubs, bars and restaurants.
History demonstrates however that it is only when alcohol is heavily taxed (which is should be in view of the many millions its over-consumption costs this country in crime, emergency and healthcare), and there are strict licencing laws, that there has not been a high level of alcoholism in Britain. We have never been able to display the class of our European counterparts who sip rather than glug, and who for the most part, consider drinks as meal accompaniments rather than an indulgence in their own right.
In Victorian times pubs were regulated not just out of concern for people's moral welfare, but because it was recognised that over-consumption led to serious, sometimes fatal, accidents at work. And most mills, mines and farms were dangerous enough in those days.
Sometimes it seems the laws of this land have gone backwards rather than forwards if it can so easily be forgotten that the old measures were brought in for good reasons. Good reasons that have not necessarily changed that much over one and a half centuries. And though most workplaces are call-centre safe nowadays, there is still plenty of scope for accidents among the inebriated. A 60% higher chance, to be precise. And one person is still killed every half an hour owing to drink driving in this country, a risk the Victorians didn't have to worry about, so some new risks have arisen to replace the old.
To cap it all, despite drink-driving laws GARAGES are permitted to sell alcohol! What sort of a public message is that to send out?
We have also lost the shame factor. In the olden days, people would generally try and disguise their drinking and be mortified at being seen drunken in a public place (still an offence). These days individuals (and not just of university age) brag about how they got 'slaughtered last night' and appear to find their behaviour uproariously amusing rather than pathetic, and in some cases, tragic, let alone shameful in any way. Our country is an international laughing stock (and TV Reality staple) when it ventures abroad, so out of control have our citizens become whilst on holiday. Stag and Hen nights have turned into Stag and Hen weekends and even whole weeks of continuous drinking. It is no longer unusual to find twentysomethings dying of liver disease in our hospitals or of alcohol poisoning after a particularly heavy binge. One in five pop tracks now features references to binge drinking, the likes of Katy Perry en-fashioning it to the masses as if she were on some fat retainer from the booze industry. Amy Winehouse (was there ever a more aptly named pop star?) took train wreck chic to the next level altogether, both in her art and her life.
Conversely it has just been proposed that 'drunk tanks' be introduced in every town and city where drunken people can be locked up for their own safety overnight and charged £400. But the reason Police stopped using their Police cells to house the town drunk overnight was because they were afraid the town drunk might choke on his own vomit or have a stroke or heart attack and the Police would be found liable for not recognising that he was in need of medical assistance (not within their remit to provide). Hence the inexorable rise of A & E admissions, some even deposited there by the Police. So how would 'drunk tanks' circumvent this problem? And if they couldn't, would A & E departments then be given the power to fine patients admitted for alcohol abuse? I have long advocated they be given the power to fine such admissions (£500 was my suggestion) to set up a compensation fund for all the A & E staff they attack and resources they take away from genuine cases of accident and emergency, some of whom suffer dire consequences when the local A & E department is clogged up with alcoholics.
In Victorian times, it could be argued that people had more reason for heavy drinking than they do now. Short, often brutal lives, devoid of many of the freedoms and comforts we take for granted today, constant pains of various kinds before the advent of painkillers, and no central heating or double-glazing to keep out the cold and wet, other than the warming liquids they imbibed. Where is our excuse now? It is all very well to wring our hands over not wanting to impose a 'nanny state' but this country doesn't hesitate to tax and Big Brother its denizens in every other area of life. What's so abhorrent about setting a few limits to help individuals like Clara who have no limits of their own?
As for Clara? When not waxing lyrically about her independence and how she much loved 'getting slaughtered' whenever she could, it was noticeable how the tears of a clown and the melancholy were never far from the surface.