Why do we get so trollied at Christmas?

The British attitude to drunkenness still baffles me, especially at this time of year

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The Independent Online

OK, OK, I know that last week I wrote an homage to OTT Christmas vulgarity, and how this year I was going to suck it all up. Many of you wrote to say you feel the same after a particularly tough year. But there’s one exception.

Every year we take the extended family to the West End of London for an evening of Christmas cheer, sampling the lights, the mayhem and yes, a little magic. As the children have got older they’ve become more blasé, of course, but the ritual supersedes the wonder and becomes the romance. 

So we did indeed suck up the lights, the windows and the frolicsome revelers in silly outfits.. On the way to see The Hobbit we even saw the Reclaim the Night hundreds on their roller blades – only this time in full Santa costumes with Christmas songs blaring. It was all good fun; a thoroughly enjoyable suspension of normal taste.

Well, that was before the film. I know The Desolation of Smaug is almost as long as Wagner’s Ring Cycle and certainly lengthy enough for even avaricious Oxford Street to shut its precious stores, but there was a certain boisterousness that wasn’t present earlier in the evening when we emerged. Perhaps the crowds were simply happy to finally be released from We Will Rock You. Poor Freddie.

But it was after the reliable delights of crispy duck in Chinatown that things took an ugly turn. Around midnight on the penultimate Saturday before Christmas, the centre of our capital city resembled a scene from Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights.

Odd to think that so much money, time and effort goes into drinking ourselves into a state of such oblivion that most of the victims wouldn’t have a clue the following morning what they spent their time, cash and effort on.

To walk past one person in mid-vomit is unfortunate to see a second might seem like carelessness on we parents’ part, but to see three in quick succession was just for starters. Every doorway was filled by someone slumped and dribbling, attended to with various degrees of hilarity by friends who were in too similar a state to help. Around every corner another couple were having a drunken fight, another woman with streaking mascara was in tears.

I know it’s my old hobby horse, but come on people of Britain, it’s time to take a long, hard look at ourselves and our attitude to drunkenness. The nonsense of defining a night out by how smashed, trashed, slaughtered and mortal we got verges on collective insanity.

Whenever I raise this subject I get abuse for supposedly attacking the poor, an argument as illogical as it is spurious. I know too I sound so middle-aged, but so be it. Never mind last week’s survey about what long-term drug abuse is doing to the nation’s health, what are the weekly scenes like those I witnessed in the Desolation of Soho doing to our culture?

Stefano Hatfield is editorial director of London Live