Ellie Levenson: Drinking is all there is left for a girl these days

I was born in the late Seventies and life has been one long whirl of stopping us having fun
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The Independent Online

I hate it when middle-class people go on about how life isn't fair and - poor them - all the best organic coffee shops are closing. So forgive me now while I go on to defend, in a very middle-class way, a middle-class pleasure, that of the binge drink.

I hate it when middle-class people go on about how life isn't fair and - poor them - all the best organic coffee shops are closing. So forgive me now while I go on to defend, in a very middle-class way, a middle-class pleasure, that of the binge drink.

But someone has to. After all, John Reid is too busy defending working-class pleasures such as smoking: "As my mother would put it, people from those lower socio-economic categories have very few pleasures in life and one of them they regard as smoking," he said in June this year.

So I will take it on myself, because someone has to: the defence of our right to drink a unit, or six, at the end of a working week.

I was born in the late Seventies, and for those of us with no real gripes, no experience of hunger or world war, or life before the welfare state, our lifetimes have been one long whirl of stopping us having fun. Alcohol has been the only way left to enjoy ourselves.

First came the anti-drugs message. During the mid-Eighties the children's drama Grange Hill gave a character, Zammo, a heroin addiction, and off the back of this the cast released a single - "Just say no". Catching me and my peers in our impressionable pre-teen years, many of us took this message to heart. Plus, what was there to rebel against when our parents were of the first generation to experience widely available drugs, or to know someone who did. Some friends had parents who offered them their first spliff.

Where's the fun in trying illegal things with parental blessing? No, drugs for Nineties children just didn't do it. The harder drugs, the ones that people wanted to try - well, who could afford an ecstasy tablet for a nightclub or some cocaine for a Saturday night? Pills for a few pounds and cheap coke flooding the streets is a Noughties phenomenon. For us, it was unaffordable on the pre-minimum wages paid by lousy Saturday jobs.

Then in the Nineties, the decade in which I lived all my teenage years, came the anti-sex drive. Despite free and available contraception and the general acknowledgement that sex in itself is not bad, no one ever did it. We were the children who grew up knowing about Aids, understanding that there were more severe consequences of unsafe sex than an unwanted pregnancy. We had magazines devoted to telling women that it was okay to say no, and we took it to mean that you should say no.

To grow up in the Nineties was to grow up with the knowledge that you were likely to live a long life. Not for us the fatalistic attitude of those who grew up during the Cold War, when the world could end any day so you might as well enjoy it.

No, we grew up in the knowledge that we were destroying the world, but we were doing it slowly, through greenhouse gas emissions and holes in the ozone. We couldn't even use our aerosol deodorants without feeling guilty. Yet this damage was going to affect future humans, not us. We were going to live long lives working in dull jobs in the service industry and ending life surviving on pensions that were already in the middle of crisis.

In the Eighties, it was okay to make money, it was even encouraged. In the Nineties, to have money was an embarrassment. No longer could we go and work in the City and earn some cash straight after school. Even if we could overcome the social conscience, by then there were few opportunities. Apprentice schemes had all but disappeared. Public servants were underpaid and undervalued. The best option was to stay studying for as long as possible and then worry about it afterwards.

Even at university the children of the Nineties had a miserable time. No student grants meant leaving university thousands of pounds in debt. Yet we couldn't even be bothered to be angry. No student shouted in the Nineties. I had thought university would be the time of protests and marches and picket lines. And what did I find was the issue of the day? A debate over whether to change the name of the students' union building, called the Steve Biko building, to the Malcolm X building.

And then, instead of building up support against Section 28 or against tuition fees, what did the Labour Club do? It campaigned that the union be called the Denzel Washington building, the name of the actor who played both Steve Biko and Malcolm X.

So what was there left for us in a world ruined by sex education, drugs awareness and environmental awareness? Drink of course, particularly with this vast array of pretty looking bottles of sweet-tasting liquid, the alcopop. And we took to alcohol like people never had before, with excessive drinking, especially among girls, becoming more prolific than ever.

And is it going to kill us? Unlikely. For most of us, we'll get jobs that require no hangover, families that need looking after and interests that involve being able to focus, before we cause irretrievable damage to our livers. Just as very few of the dopeheads of the Sixties lived their adult lives through a fug of smoke, so will most of us give up the binge just as soon as we need to stop seeing double in order to jump in our four-by-fours and pick up the kids from ballet classes.

In the meantime, stop denying us our middle-class pleasures.