Two new 'safety' inventions for women drinkers highlight the increasingly boorish attitude to alcohol in this country

After the second visit of my life to Center Parcs a few weekends ago, having made the first some four years earlier, I think I got an answer to a question that had long troubled me. The question: why is the food served at these otherwise well-run enterprises so unremittingly awful? The answer came from a quick snoop I conducted while recycling our weekend's drinking in the glass-recycling bins. What I saw there was truly alarming. The only good bottle was of the fabulously complex Hobgoblin Strong Dark Ale (£1.69, Asda, Booth's, Threshers, Waitrose). The worst - well, too numerous to mention, but endless empties of Bud and VK (a vodka-based sweetie) give the general impression.

After the second visit of my life to Center Parcs a few weekends ago, having made the first some four years earlier, I think I got an answer to a question that had long troubled me. The question: why is the food served at these otherwise well-run enterprises so unremittingly awful? The answer came from a quick snoop I conducted while recycling our weekend's drinking in the glass-recycling bins. What I saw there was truly alarming. The only good bottle was of the fabulously complex Hobgoblin Strong Dark Ale (£1.69, Asda, Booth's, Threshers, Waitrose). The worst - well, too numerous to mention, but endless empties of Bud and VK (a vodka-based sweetie) give the general impression.

In other words, Center Parcs customers' lousy taste in food correlates with lousy taste in alcohol. They drink this rubbish because they also tolerate rubbish food (or should I put that the other way around?). The national taste that has made Turkey Twizzlers possible has also made possible an appetite for wretched beverages. And this is worrying because these people obviously drink a lot, if the volume of empties was anything to go by.

It's also worrying because I saw so many women drinking the awful swill with which drinks manufacturers corrupt the nation's palate. Scientific testing has established that women, on the whole, are better wine tasters than men. I worry about the failure of the national effort to educate young drinkers, women especially, about the true purpose of alcohol: to provide intelligent gustatory pleasure.

This is a public-health issue as well as a matter of good taste. A recent Datamonitor study has found that young women in Britain (aged 18 to 25) are the heaviest drinkers in Europe (216 litres of alcohol a year as against an average of 148 litres), and says that their consumption is set to rise to 291 litres by the year 2009.

I'm not the only one who's worried about drinking by young women. The same concern lies, in a somewhat different form, behind two recent inventions whose necessity is a cause of sadness. According to the Roofie Foundation ( www.roofie.com), there may be 2,000 cases of drug-assisted robbery each year and about 900 incidents of drug-assisted rape. Most of the victims are women, and the dangerous places are usually clubs and bars. To help protect against the crime, a company called SafeFlo has started marketing a bottle cap that fits on to the neck to make it much harder for malefactors to slip anything inside. The drinker carries the cap and clips it on as necessary, though Cobra beer, the popular Indian brand, has also introduced the caps on its bottles. Look at www.safeflo.co.uk for more information.

The second device is even more extreme: a built-in drinks locker for installation in bars and clubs. Ped-Lock is the creation of an 18-year-old inventor from Somerset, Jason Malone, who conceived the idea after his own visits to clubs made him see how insecure a drink is when out of its owner's sight. If you turn your back even for a few moments, your glass or bottle is vulnerable. Ped-Lock eliminates that risk with a private locker which can be installed as part of the furniture, with a capacity of a single drink or a whole table's-worth. Malone has applied for a patent, and club owners are starting to express an interest.

I wish it weren't necessary, just as I wish those Center Parcs consumers would drink something better - like the three excellent wines from M&S, discounted till tomorrow, highlighted below. But until the drinking world is free from scuz-wads who adulterate the drinks of the unwitting, I guess we'll just have to live with them.

Top Corks: Three M&S bargains

Saint Mont 2004 (£3.99 from £5.49, M&S) An intriguing blend of three unusual varietals (dominated by Gros Manseng), with fine aromatic qualities. Sale ends tomorrow for all wines.

Minervois 2003, Gerard Bertrand (£3.99 from £5.49, M&S) A fresh, lively expression of this appellation from a producer of consistently high quality. BBQ steak never had a better friend.

El Dueno Chardonnay 2004 (£3.99 from £4.99, M&S) From the outstanding Catena winery, a light Chardonnay style with generous but carefully judged oak and a nice creamy texture.

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