A couple of years ago I made a television series called Happy Hour in which I travelled the globe, supposedly to "investigate cultural attitudes to alcohol". The show was for Sky One so basically it was an excuse for a lot of drinking and drink-related exploits. Despite visiting countries like Russia where they seem genetically disposed to drink, I didn't find anywhere that remotely compared to the very British disposition of mixing drinking and fighting. The Russians love to drink so much that beer is considered a soft drink. There aren't many bars either – they do not have time for sitting down and socialising while drinking. They simply get the bottle, neck it and pass out in the nearest corridor. Almost everywhere I visited had happy rather than violent drunks. So I often wonder what it is about our island that makes us so eager to get in a ruck with strangers? Sometimes I think it might be part of our social insecurity. As a reserved nation, the only way we can "touch skin", whether that be sex or fighting, is with the help of a little alcohol.
Having spent the past year or so travelling to some of the globe's less salubrious places for my book, I am now touring the country showing my holiday snaps and talking about my experiences. After every event, I have a question and answer session. Every time, I am asked: "Where have you been most frightened?" My answer is always taken as a joke and never fails to raise a laugh. I tell them that, despite having been to Iran, North Korea, Lebanon, Chernobyl, Syria, the place where I feel most threatened is any provincial British town after 9pm.
Even the most innocuous will produce gangs of drunken men staggering around looking for a fight in between urinating on every available piece of street furniture. When asked this question – whether in Leeds, Nottingham, Manchester, Brighton or Bristol – I have gone further and suggested the walk back to my hotel after the talk will be more nerve-racking than wandering around Tehran or sight-seeing in Pyongyang.
Having finished my last talk in Bristol, I started the 10-minute walk back to my hotel. Within a hundred yards I passed two men grappling on the pavement. As I tried to slip past, one of them paused and looked up at me: "What are you fucking looking at?" I refrained from answering too honestly and moved on keeping my head down as catching someone's eye in the street is often deemed a personal attack on their lineage. I turned a corner – about seven "youths" were blocking the pavement, smoking and swigging from cans of industrial strength cider. I kept moving, head down but they refused to clear a path and I was forced to look up and ask whether I might be allowed through.
It doesn't help if you have a recognisable face. Within seconds all seven were screaming and shouting bastardised quotes from Trigger Happy. I pretended to be charmed as I edged round them and headed towards the protection of my hotel reminding myself to wear a hat and glasses next time I ventured out in Blighty after dark. Just as I thought I was clear, a can flew past my head. I turned, they were now in hot pursuit. I gave up all sense of decorum and legged it. I just beat them to the hotel and collapsed into the safety of a leather armchair and a stiff gin and tonic. Give me a quiet night out in Kabul any time.
Dom Joly will be talking about his book The Dark Tourist at The Independent Woodstock Literary Festival at Blenheim Palace today at 12.30pmReuse content