Down the hatch

Arabella McIntyre-Brown raises a glass to alcohol


IMG_4442 beer bttleHere’s mud in your eye. Or a fist, or a broken bottle. There are few worse combinations on a city’s streets than football and alcohol, so I hope the German police are match fit. With emotions running high during the World Cup, the peace in Germany’s cities will be fragile enough. With alcohol stoking the passions of footie fans, the hapless residents are just waiting for trouble to kick off in the streets.

The world’s governments are gradually eradicating tobacco as a drug of choice, but smokers are not known to get tired and emotional after an evening of inhaling; they don’t bunk off work because of high-tar hangovers, nor does the effect of a full pack of ciggies cause traffic accidents.

I’m pleased that smoking is on the way out – it’s a stinky nasty habit and I’ll be relieved to go to the pub quiz on Thursday nights without the penalty of breathing in a cumulo-nimbus of British-American Tobacco’s making.

But – and this is a huge but – smoking affects only long-term physical health. Naughty smoke. But it doesn’t cause riots, violence, mental illness and family disfunction.

The current bête noire is obesity. The NHS is cottoning on to the idea of refusing to treat fatsos because we are our own worst enemy and don’t deserve to be helped. Being fat may be aesthetically offensive to skinny fashionistas, but porky people are amateurs at anti-social behaviour. Chucking missiles and running riot through the streets is too much like hard exercise for a full-figured individual; discarded fast food containers may be revolting but they can’t do the same damage to a body as a glass bottle in the hands of a boozed-up street warrior.

And while an overweight person in the family might scoff all the pies and rack up points on the Sainsbury’s loyalty card, they don’t generally get larded up and start beating the wife and kids, or end up shagging some stranger after a burger binge.

Ask around your workplace; see who admits to being a heavy drinker. Some young things might boast about laddish drinking habits, but you won’t get many over 30 admitting to a heavy drinking lifestyle.

But if none of us drinks more than one or two after work, how come that in Chester and Preston there are ten Alcoholics Anonymous meetings every week? In both Manchester and Liverpool there are over 30 AA groups a week. The stark fact is that one person in 13 has a serious drink problem. 33,000 people die in the UK each year due to alcohol-related incidents or disease. Over 60% of domestic violence incidents are alcohol-fuelled. Almost a million children are in a home where one or both parents are alcoholic.

Alcohol addiction is a secret disease. Ask anyone who lives or works with an alcoholic. If you haven’t had that joyless experience, you won’t have a clue how alcohol can poison not just the drinker’s body and mind, but the lives of everyone around them.

Daily stories in the media add up to a frightening tally of alcohol-related problems. In Cheshire children are missing school due to hangovers. In Cumbria 172 drivers so far this year have been over the limit when tested by police at the roadside. In Liverpool booze-fuelled football fans went beserk when some clown switched off the big screen in Clayton Square, 10 minutes before the end of the England-Paraguay match.

Not for a moment would I suggest that Prohibition should have a second coming. Alcohol, for those who can enjoy it without damaging themselves or others, is a delight, social oil, a relaxer, and in moderation, good for your health. A ban would not be only pointless, but dangerous.

I’m not averse to the odd G&T, and am unable to resist a jug of Pimms crammed with fruit and sprigs of mint. Yum. I’m the child of two alcoholics, but fortunate not to have inherited the gene for alcohol intolerance. So I can get pissed without any worse consequence than giggling a lot and, on rare occasions, singing. But I’m also perfectly happy with tap water, preferably with a lot of ice that I can crunch. I can tell you the last two times I was seriously legless: December 1993 and before that, August 1988. It can be months between one glass of wine and another, because I drive everywhere, because I like water, because I hate hangovers, and because I don’t need to be pissed to have a good time.

It is a very British thing, this need to get off your head as part of a fun night out. But when someone asks you: ‘What’s your poison?’, they’re not kidding. They think they are, but they ain’t.

First published in the North West Enquirer 1996


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