I’m really not much of a drinker but I’m minded to round up every juvenile I know and march them round to the local supermarket like a bibulous pied piper and buy myself a bottle of plonk while they all watch me and cheer.
Except that the cashier would probably refuse to let me have it – despite the fact that I am a responsible adult many decades over the legal age for the purchase of alcoholic liquor and have never given alcohol to a child – although it is actually legal for a parent or guardian to so in private provided the child is over five.
It was reported this week that a cashier in Asda in Bolton refused to sell beer and wine for Christmas to a woman aged 51 because she was accompanied by her 24 year old son and his sister, 13. There have been similar reports from branches of Morrisons, Tesco and the Co-op around the country.
It would seem that the decision whether or not to serve drink to a customer is made by the cashier. Almost unbelievably the checkout operator can be personally fined £80 if he or she makes a mistake and sells alcohol to a child, directly or indirectly, hence the over zealousness and total lack of common sense among some of them.
Meanwhile the supermarkets, which should, of course, be taking the responsibility on themselves rather than leaving it to individuals, are blindly and self-righteously backing their staff in each and every case reported.
Yes, this country has a drink problem. It always has had. Tacitus commented on it in Roman times. Voltaire mentions it in Lettres Sur Les Anglais. Many tourists today are puzzled and horrified by the drunkenness they see and hear on our streets. I hear it surging loudly past my house around midnight every Friday and Saturday as the local population leaves the two pubs at the bottom of the road. And the Labour government’s 24 hour drinking policy, which had made it much, much worse, must surely be one of the silliest ideas any government has ever dreamed up. Moreover, excessive alcohol consumption is a causal factor in heart disease and many cancers.
So we really do need to find ways of tackling it and that certainly includes making absolutely sure that children and underage teenagers cannot buy alcohol or have it bought specifically for them to consume unsupervised. Education can do a lot because there are deeply embedded mindsets to change about, for example, what constitutes having a good time because it doesn’t have to be alcohol related. Proper policing (out of your offices, all you constables) of streets and shops, especially smaller ones, would help. And I think, on balance, minimum pricing is worth trying.
But this is not a police state and I hope it never is. You can advise people that it is foolish and dangerous to give alcohol to minors – although the French and others argue that if children learn to drink very small quantities at home they grow up with moderate drinking habits. Several recent reports have argued against this point of view and the advice from the Chief Medical Officer of Health, quoted on the NHS website is that an alcohol-free childhood is healthiest. But it is parents and carers who make the decision and unless a child, ends up at A&E with alcohol poisoning, then it remains private – and legal.
Fortunately the vast majority of people don’t ply their kids with booze. But they do have a right to buy themselves a bottle or two, regardless of who happens to be with them. And I think we adults should cling on tightly to that right and not allow cashiers in supermarkets and their bossy bosses to tell us what we are allowed to buy and how we should organise the family shopping.
See you in Asda with my young entourage.