Does alcohol play a big enough part in our lives? Should we be drinking more booze, or drinking more often? Should it be available in places other than the pub, the restaurant or your kitchen table? You’d expect the Government, if asked, to shout “No!” to such questions, wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong.
A new Home Office paper, snappily entitled “Next steps following the consultation on delivering the Government’s alcohol strategy” sets out ways of “curbing excessive drinking”. It soberly reports on its consultative chats with the drinks industry, health organisations and the cops, and threatens “targeted action” at national and local level… and then, out of the blue, it offers something quite unexpected.
On page 16, it announces that, to “foster civil society,” the Government will reduce the red-tape burden on small businesses that want an “ancillary” drinks licence. This will make it easier (and cheaper) for business that aren’t pubs, clubs or bars to serve small amounts of booze for money. No need to apply in triplicate and face “hearings” – proprietors of “low-risk environments” can simply pay a few quid and break out the Bollinger to startled customers. The kind of thing the Government has in mind is “offering a glass of wine with a haircut or a bottle of wine in B&B accommodation”.
But we’re not going to stop with hairdressers, are we? Classy fashion houses already offer their devotees free mineral water or tea while they mull over designer threads; now they can sell them prosecco or Aperol spritzes. Any shop where customers take time considering their purchases would be enlivened by a tray of vodkatinis at £5 a pop: I’m thinking art gallery, posh flower shop, wallpaper emporium – but probably not a car showroom.
Why stop there? Private health clinics would benefit from a small bar in the consultancy rooms (“I’ve got bad news, Mr Green – would you like some French brandy? Only £7.95”). Negotiating a bank loan would go with a swing if the chap with the suit said, “Frankly, your overdraft record is nothing short of dismal – but look, here comes the drinks trolley…” British advertising offices would be transformed into the early episodes of Mad Men, left, every meeting awash with gin highballs. The BBC could get involved: how nice if a debate on Newsnight were mellowed by drink (“What you’ve just said, Minister, is a tissue of lies – but would you care for a small Tia Maria?”)
Oh yes, I think that would do a lot to foster civil society. Sorry, did you say “Foster’s”?
Village hall bondage is hard to beat
The story about the Trumpington village hall is fabulously English, isn’t it? It is used for bingo and boy scouts, so when a series of “relationship support meetings” was booked, the manager thought nothing of it. To local dismay, they were classes in bondage, discipline, spanking and caning. What amuses me isn’t the fact that activities were punctuated by tea and biscuits; it’s the programme note that ends, “We’d very much appreciate it if you could help us pack up.” Just try to imagine the Marquis de Sade stacking chairs, while masticating a Hobnob…