Drunken revellers who turn up at the new triage centre in Cardiff will be shown CCTV footage of their drunken behaviour after they have sobered up. If successful, the scheme could be rolled out across the whole of Wales.
This begs the question, how do you tell if it’s successful - by how many groans of shame are emitted during playback? By CCTV footage of the number of red faces exiting the clinic the following morning?
But the bigger, more serious question it begs, and one which comes back up more often than a binge drinker’s kebab is this – why is that Britain has such a problem with drunkenness? What is the root cause of so many people’s desire to get shitfaced every Friday and/or Saturday night?
Now I’m in a good position to tackle this problem as, like most twenty-somethings, I did it solidly for a good ten years. And when I say solidly I mean not only regularly but also with commitment, with a kind of work ethic that you’d only find down a coal mine or in a soviet tank factory during the Second World War. I really worked that binge drinking, to the point where I wasn’t happy on a Friday night unless I was chewing on kerb.
Okay I’m exaggerating a bit. I liked getting drunk is what I’m trying to say. The important point is that I’m the rule and not the exception. So what were my motivations and those of my mates and by extension all the young people in the UK binge drinking today? Well here goes...
Firstly there is the crap job factor. We come out of school or university and we invariably go straight into a job that we hate because we need to start paying off debts, get out of our parents’ hair, start paying rent and bills etc. etc. We work in offices, in factories and in call centres lined up in rows like battery chickens. How many UK twenty-somethings are doing a job they like? I’d like to see the statistics but I’d take a punt that the numbers are very low.
Then there’s the work-life balance. Because crap jobs by their very nature don’t pay well, you have to work all God’s hours to earn enough money to pay off said debts, rent, bills etc. Your days are not your own and your evenings are spent sitting vegged out in front of Corrie with a TV supper and a mounting dread of tomorrow.
These two factors work together to create pressure. The pressure builds and builds as the week goes on. It is funnelled towards the only outlet, the only vent open to it. That vent is the weekend. It’s the gap in the working calendar, the light at the end of the funnel. We need it to let off steam. We need it to escape, to explode, to be somewhere else before Monday comes round again.
Another reason for this need to blow off steam is the peculiarly British trait of not being able to express our emotions. It’s what makes us more likely to binge drink than people from warmer climes. People from Spain and Italy have crap jobs too but they are less likely to be found dribbling in a gutter on Friday night than your average Brit. Why? Because they live in a culture where it is part of everyday life to express what you are feeling.
Just think of a traffic jam in Rome. Everyone is leaning on their horns. The cacophony is endless and deafening and to a British person totally anathema. “What good is it doing them?” we scoff disdainfully. It’s not getting them anywhere. No it isn’t. But they are letting off steam, venting their emotions, expressing themselves.
Think of the same traffic jam in Britain. Silence. Not a single toot. Meanwhile inside their cars everyone is simmering and frothing like blocked percolators. All emotions are kept nicely tucked away behind the polite smile and the stiff upper lip while inside we churn and nurture ulcers and dream of murder and of getting absolutely wasted at the weekend...
This same pressure cooker is at work all through the week. It feeds off the crap job and no-work-life-balance factors to really build up that head of steam. All day, every day you deal with annoying customers who are also probably venting steam of their own. You would like to tell these people to go and snort arsenic off a railway line but instead you have to smile and be understanding and polite and not express your true feelings. Then your boss is nagging at you over some unfinished work and instead of asking him to step outside while you beat him round the head with the staff kettle, you have to suck it up and keep it all in. You need this job. You need the money. You need that promotion that will allow you to blow off more steam.
You go back to your team and someone makes a snipey comment. Your first urge is to push their wheely chair to the lift shaft and dangle them over the abyss by their tie screaming: “Take it back you ******* ****!” But instead you say nothing because that is the done thing. On your drive home someone cuts you up. Every strained nerve in your body wants to follow them home and kill all their pets but you don’t. Instead you let out a muffled expletive and head home to your dinghy flat where Corrie is waiting for you, and a microwave supper, and a cold can of lager.
Come Friday night you have all this pent up anger and frustration raging inside you, filling you up until you are bulging at the seams. And people wonder why you get off your head? The more cogent question might be, why haven’t you become a mass murderer? Or a football hooligan? Of course, some people do.
The root of our binge drinking culture goes deep and like all roots it is inseparably connected with dozens of others. Those others are a society where work is a means to an end and not an end in itself; where money is raised above quality of life; where ‘grafting’ is good but relaxation is a guilt-edged pastime; where happiness is a possession and not a state of mind; where emotions are awkward and embarrassing and frankly a little bit scary; where it’s easier to slag someone off behind their back than tell them to their face; where it takes five pints to give someone a hug but just one dodgy look to call them a twat; where friends and families grow slowly apart as the years go by instead of discussing their differences; where grudges fester and misunderstandings go unknotted; where life is about looking where we are treading and not where we are going...
Will watching CCTV footage of our drunken antics snap us out of this cycle? I doubt it. Maybe for that we’d need CCTV footage of an entire working week. Maybe if we were forced by some health clinic in Wales to watch 120 hours’ footage of ourselves trudging through a typical Monday to Friday, maybe then we’d realise just how badly most of our time is spent.
Follow Lee on Twitter @leeroy112
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