Sophie Morris: Cheap booze ban will not stop bingeing

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The Independent Online

As a binge drinker – a label which covers anyone who regularly trips up at the two drink boundary – I feel compelled to address the Government's latest efforts to quell alcoholic over-indulgence.

The Home Affairs Select Committee is targeting the tricks used by pubs and supermarkets to entice drinkers into buying more alcohol – ban Happy Hours, say MPs, and outlaw incredible discounts in supermarkets. Getting our hands on cheap booze has become child's play, they complain, and excessive drinking leads to an increase in crime, draining police resources. Meanwhile the retailers cash in and we shoppers, paralysed with choice between cut-price chardonnay and two-for-one spirits at a nearby bar, plump for both and wind up very sorry drunks indeed, perhaps even the type who requires scooping up off the pavement and shuttling home in a police car.

They have a point, a very good one, which won't be lost on anyone, even if retailers spin it otherwise. But it is the same onerous and repetitive point which the Government and health professionals have been pushing for years. More salient than the proliferation of anti-drinking rules and regulations is their utter lack of impact.

Loss leaders and multi-buy discounts are no 21st-century invention. Cheap gin flowed through the streets of 18th century Britain, immortalised in the Hogarth prints Gin Lane and Beer Street. Gin Lane is the armpit of impoverished depravity; its acutely observed etchings of starvation, prostitution, infanticide and widespread misery are all blamed on the cheap imported gin which a whole community has been suckled on. Prosperous Beer Street is Gin Lane's counter, and the pride of Britain. Its inhabitants are drinking too, but they are nourishing themselves on homegrown ale, after a day at work.

Hogarth's social comment is clear: flood the masses with cheap dope and they will happily drown in its abandon. Balance their consumption with little carrots of beer after work, and humanity will not slip into despair.

Ever since, the authorities have been battling to manage the ebb and flow of cheap alcohol and its hoary consequences. And here we are again, dressing up the same problems in the same, pointless, solutions. Can we blame pubs? When I was a student, dinner was at 6.15pm, but the nearest bar sold bottles of wine for a fiver before 7pm. More often than not we would skip the dinner to take advantage of the cheap wine. Banishing that hour would definitely have had an impact on my drinking, but given the choice I'd still take the cheap plonk over reheated broccoli. Maybe if I'd had more than six hours of lectures each week I would have been forced to rethink my time management, like Hogarth's beer drinkers.

Should supermarkets be punished for their profiteering plans? I should commend them for not selling alcohol to minors – they are the only places I am ever asked for ID – but of course I have fallen prey to the lure of the booze aisle, where large quantities of wine and beer can be bought for pocket money, the low cost a powerful enough spirit in itself to bring on that warm, fuzzy feeling and make me come back for more.

But as pleased as I am with a bargain, none ever drove me to drink. Nor will regulating the price and availability of alcohol dent its popularity unless, perhaps, they're being enforced by the Taliban. Because, Dear Mr Select Committee, binge drinking might be nurtured during happy hours and in cut price supermarkets, but it begins at home, a drinking den not yet under government surveillance.

If Otis finds jail soft, you've got to wonder...

According to his MP, Otis Ferry was a political prisoner on Tuesday – held in Gloucester Prison as a symbolic warning to the pro-hunting lobby. Just a day later he is crusading to toughen up the penal system, comparing jail to "namby pamby boarding school".

My knowledge of boarding school stretches little further than Roald Dahl's accounts of warming toilet seats for older boys, which doesn't sound namby pamby at all, especially in this November chill.

Another story which makes me think boarding school might not be quite as much fun as Malory Towers makes out came from some female friends who, on joining a boys' school for sixth form, were treated to banners marking their looks out of 10 as they arrived for dinner.

Ferry's only discomfort behind bars is that he doesn't have much in common with his fellow inmates, who are neither countrymen nor know much of country pursuits.

He is obviously keen to rally them into the sort of tomfoolery he enjoyed while at boarding school himself, but publishing his comments in hunting mag Horn & Hound is unlikely to reach the right audience.

Fertility and futility

Who exactly decided to put this ten-child limit on sperm donors? The same childless policy wonk who decided it would be a good idea to ban anonymous donation in 2005, thus depriving hundreds of would-be parents from accessing sperm in the first place?

The British Fertility Society has come out in favour of scrapping the rule, initially imposed to reduce the chances of donor-conceived children bumping into their siblings and falling for their mirror image.

The BFS says the limit is completely arbitrary, based on no evidence whatsoever and acting as an unnecessary bottleneck on a restricted supply of donor sperm.

What took them so long? Admittedly, the prospect of one man finding himself so possessed by the desire to bestow parenthood on childless couples that he devotes his life to filling up sample tubes the length and breadth of the country is a little spooky, but it is also wholly improbable.

There are 60 million people in the UK, the mechanics won't allow for a handful of devoted donors to cross-pollinate the entire population.

Shouldn't Brad share the blame?

After years of dignified silence, Jennifer Aniston has finally spilled her hatred for Angelina Jolie to US Vogue. Angelina has admitted that she and Brad Pitt did get together on the set of Mr and Mrs Smith, while he was still married to Aniston. The Friends star has responded by calling Jolie "uncool". Meanwhile, Aniston says of Pitt: "I have nothing but admiration for him." Has anyone spotted who gets off scot-free? Pitt had his American dream, and he ate it, and then he asked for a second helping and smothered it in cream, but only because the girls were dumb enough to serve him.