Saturday, July 21, 2007

Alcoholics Unanimous

It's hard to decide whether Her Majesty's Government were naïve or merely stupid when they decided that, by giving almost unfettered access to alcohol, the incidence of drunkenness among the British drinking classes would decrease.
Perhaps Albert Einstein, had he still been around, could have produced the formula to prove that this unlikely theory would work. Empirical principles have now proved conclusively that it hasn't.
The rather lame idea on which unleashing the licensing laws was based was that it would introduce a European “cafe culture” into Britain. Presumably the minister responsible had never seen Hogarth's “Gin Lane,” a scene which is now reproduced nightly in the cities of the nation.
For the British have and always will be a nation of binge drinkers. Leopards apparently don't often change their spots and the likelihood of the beer swilling Brit to forgo his pint for a small glass of wine or an espresso is just about as imaginable.
Even as they turn to wine, the producers have spotted that, rather than taste, it's alcohol the public wants and the strength of a good many cheaper varieties has been cranked up almost to fortified levels.
A common notice displayed in many pubs is, “Buy two glasses and get the rest of the bottle free.” This is the toper's equivalent of that monstrosity so often found in America, the “all you can eat” buffet.
Alcoholism was often decried here in France although the life expectation is, if anything, better than most. But drunkenness, which is socially unacceptable, is rarely seen. And, had the government really taken note of the cafe culture of Europe, they would have spotted that it does not include standing shoulder to shoulder in a crowded bar, juggling pints of beer whilst trying to make oneself heard over a cacophony of talk, wide screen televisions and probably so-called background music as well.
Neither does it involve having to fight your way to the bar in attempt to buy a drink in competition with others, all trying to attract the attention of the bartender who are highly trained to be able to look right through you.
And yes, you have to pay for it at the time as you might scarper without so doing.
How delightful!
A European cafe is a place for quiet relaxation, not a training ground for anti-social behaviour.
Often the client will be there for an espresso or two and some conversation – a feat impossible given the noise level in a modern British pub.
It was not always thus in Britain. Around the turn of last century, my great aunt ran a pub. It was in a pretty rough area of the East End of London but, on spotting a patron who had imbibed his share she would say, “George, you've had enough. Now off home to your wife.” And George would say his adieus and toddle off. In today's world he would have returned and put a brick through the window at the very least.
In London the other day, just off Baker Street, I found an oasis of calm. A pub which had no television, no music and a landlord who, although he had been there for 17 years, was now thinking of giving up as he refused to subscribe to and encourage the yoof of the nation to get themselves snookered every night just because they could. By being firm with perceived drunks, business was dying.
But then I suppose it's understandable that the British wish to drink themselves insensible. After all, it's one of the few facets of their private lives that the government has not sort to regulate in recent years.


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