Miles Kington: A cure for Britain's binge-drinking culture

The Government is extending opening hours so people will drink more, fall over and not commit crime
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The Independent Online

We were having a discussion in the pub about binge-drinking. Where better to have it?

"It always annoys me when judges stand up and say that something stands to reason," said the man with the dog. "This judge who stood up and said it stands to reason that if violence is alcohol-fuelled, then more alcohol will mean more violence. Why? It's just as logical to say that the more alcohol people take on board, the more incapable of violence they become."

"You mean, the Government is deliberately extending opening hours so that people will drink more and fall over and not commit crime?"

"Yes, I do," said the man with the dog. Then he thought for a moment. "No, I don't." He thought some more, and said: "I haven't really thought it through. But then the Government hasn't either."

"People go on about the British adopting a continental drinking lifestyle," said the doctor, making one of his rare visits to the pub. "But they don't know what they're talking about. On the continent they don't generally sit around knocking back wine the way we drink beer - they drink it at meal-times. It's only very recently that the French have started drinking much outside meal-times, and that's all thanks to the British influence."

"Been copying our lager louts, have they, doc?"

"No," said the doctor. "They've been importing our wine bars. The wine bar is a British invention, you know. A place where you go in and just drink wine. A pub with a wine instead of a beer policy. I have seen places in Paris labelled 'Wine Bar Anglais'. They never had them in France before, you see."

"No, but they had bars, surely," said the Welshman, "where you could pop in for a drink. I've read my Maigret. He's always popping in for a quick one."

"Oh, quickies, yes," said the doctor. "That's different. But never an evening of hard drinking. The French drink slowly and regularly at meal-times, on a drip-feed basis. That's why French pharmacists make so money out of Frenchmen's livers."

"And how do British quacks make their money out of alcohol?" said the man with the dog.

"Broken legs, stab wounds and mass motorway pile-ups, mostly," said the doctor.

"Got any opinion on all this, Major?" said the man with the dog. The Major had, untypically, sat silent so far.

"I'm not a good person to consult," he said. "I've had a couple of Scotches already. Alcohol is a depressant. So I'm entering a period of gloom. I'll let you know when I'm emerging."

"He's got a point," said the man with the dog. "Alcohol is a depressant. So how come, when people get a skinful, they don't sit around as gloomy as hell? You don't get into violent fights when you're depressed, do you, doc?"

"Ah, but alcohol also releases inhibitions," said the doctor. "That's why drunks start shouting and ranting and fighting. Ask mine host."

"That's a point," said the man with the dog. "We haven't consulted the man who has seen it all. Tell us, landlord, what do you think of 24-hour drinking?"

"I'll tell you one thing," said the landlord. "I've already applied for a change in my licensing hours."

There was a gasp.

"Yes," he said. "I have applied for an earlier closing time. I don't think I could face many more discussions like this one."

We laughed, and talked instead about the new owners of Manchester United, Malcolm Glazer and his sons, and whether it was significant that they all had an uncanny resemblance to Sergeant Bilko.

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