Kate Middleton spent Valentine's Day last week visiting the Brink dry bar in Liverpool. She's patron of Action on Addiction, and the idea behind the Brink is to make having a night out without alcohol as fun as the alternative when you get slaughtered. I know about this, because my partner (a non-drinker) has been supplying his non-alcoholic drinks to the Brink since they opened last year and was gutted he couldn't get there to see HRH in person. The Brink is a brave new venture in a city where too many young people think nothing of getting off their heads every weekend. Unemployment is high, booze is cheap; no wonder it's tempting to seek oblivion.
Although binge drinking hits the headlines with depressing regularity, and there's no ignoring the fact that a small section of the population is costing the NHS a fortune, another aspect of our relationship to booze receives far less attention. High-profile young people such as Daniel Radcliffe have talked publicly about how drink had a detrimental effect on their ability to function. For every Amy Winehouse, there are plenty of famous talented young teetotallers – Fearne Cotton, Kelly Osbourne and Jessie J, for example. Statistics show that the number of young people aged between 11 and 15 who have never drunk has increased to 49 per cent, and there has been a decline in the number of children under 16 needing hospital treatment for alcohol-related diseases. Many teenagers don't buy into the myths peddled by booze manufacturers who imply that life is better with a can or a bottle in your hand. Ethnic background plays a part too – Hindus or Muslims are more likely not to drink.
Of course, there is a problem with binge drinking among some young people, but let's not condemn an entire generation, the majority of whom are remarkably sensible in the face of an industry determined to woo them via every available outlet. Last week, as Kate was chatting to non-drinkers, David Cameron was mouthing off again about the "scandal" of drunkenness, during a visit to a hospital in Newcastle. He wants to ban the sale of alcohol under 50p a unit. He has been saying this for months, so what's the problem?
I am sure the hard-pressed nursing staff at the hospital he was visiting could supply plenty of evidence of the dangers they face every weekend – it costs A&E services £1bn a year to deal with booze-related cases. Minimum pricing would not deliver the Government any more revenue in taxes, but could mean that large retailers receive a windfall of around £700m, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Upmarket supermarkets such as Waitrose and Marks and Spencer will not benefit as much as Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury. Is that why Dave is dragging his feet? His cash-poor coalition could be even harder up. If tax on booze were increased, it would not necessarily cost poorer households more as they would still shop around for bargains.
Next month, David Cameron is going to unveil his plans to deal with booze, but they must be targeted at the minority of abusers, not the vast majority of sensible consumers. Look at the success of the radical anti-smoking laws – fewer people smoke and they look like a bunch of pariahs shivering on our streets. Smoking has stopped being cool. Cameron needs to build on that. It's no good listening to the middle-class do-gooders in Parliament who bang on about human rights – I remember the nauseating sound of John Reid complaining that a ban on smoking would remove freedom of choice from the working classes.
Killing yourself with drink and drugs costs society, i.e. law-abiding taxpayers who fund the police and NHS, a hell of a lot of money. It seems unfair that one group of bingers should be able to take more money from the state, to pay for their care, than I do.
Cheap, strong drinks must be taxed at a higher rate. Yes, have nasty police cells for boozers, sobriety tags for perpetual offenders. Remove benefits from those who refuse to attend treatment. It's time to get tough – but not at the expense of the rest of us who are getting fed up with the constant drip of public health information emanating from nannies at the Department of Health.
Yes, I read the headline about not drinking for three days a week – and then I threw it in the bin. The bottom line is, stop harassing sensible drinkers and target the small group who need radical help. Cameron needs to be brave and bold – and I'm not sure he's up to the task.
Keep her at home. She might catch a sour face
Victoria Beckham's clothes, shown last week in New York, have won favour with the fashion press, but, let's be honest, most of them are easily bought. I find her clothes vapid and dreary, compared with buzzy British designers such as Preen, Peter Pilotto or Mary Katrantzou, whose debut collection for Topshop practically sold out in hours.
Victoria is determined to hammer home to us that her life is ruled by planet fashion – when David turned up to her show with seven-month-old Harper in tow, she proudly announced that the baby had been to more catwalk events than her dad. I just hope this gorgeous little girl isn't subliminally absorbing recurring images of sour-faced skeletal women walking up and down to rock music, watched by people squashed in to little gold chairs.
This baby is only seen in public in tiny versions of designer clothes, with matching tights and hats. Poor little thing. I'd love to see Harper in dungarees and a T-shirt, playing with mud and getting dirty, like a normal baby.
Sniffin' in the rain
After walking out of The Ladykillers recently, I was anxious about two hours and 40 minutes of Singin' in the Rain. The music is fantastic, the dancing superb and Scarlett Strallen an enchanting leading lady. It could be 20 minutes shorter, but I am sure the producers will quietly trim it.
My beef is about the horribly uncomfortable seats at the Palace theatre: even in the stalls, there's not a lot of legroom. Getting to the bar in the interval is like scaling an assault course and, with two glasses of white wine costing a whopping £15, there are no bargains on offer. The "rain" during the famous downpour sadly smelt of chlorine.
Had Health and Safety been at work? And don't sit in the first six rows: you'll get soaked.
Fares unfair when MPs don't pay
You don't hear many complaints about Grand Central trains in Parliament. Could it be because the operator has given free firstclass passes to 26 MPs in Yorkshire and the North-east?
William Hague accepted one, reckons he's saving taxpayers money, and insists there's no conflict of interest. Really? Will he still complain when services are cancelled without any notice?
Grand Central scored well in the last Passenger Focus survey. That could be because it offers cheaper prices than its rivals. But I was left standing on Thirsk station at 10am last Monday without any explanation, and had to shell out £55 for a taxi to York to catch an East Coast service.
The last two times I have tried to use Grand Central, trains were cancelled at the last minute. Not much of a service, no matter what Mr Hague says.Reuse content