Some years ago I decided to steer well clear of the West End of London on weekend nights. Desert London's premier night-life area in the prime of one's life? Am I a mad woman? A miserable old killjoy who doesn't want to have fun any more? In some ways maybe I am.
Some years ago I decided to steer well clear of the West End of London on weekend nights. Desert London's premier night-life area in the prime of one's life? Am I a mad woman? A miserable old killjoy who doesn't want to have fun any more? In some ways maybe I am, but the reason I made this decision is because of the marauding gangs of teenagers parading through the streets thinking everyone wants to be part of their puerile, moronic, boring, destructive, incoherent, smug, unpredictable little world of group drunkenness. If I want to walk through the streets and be serially abused by groups of young people, I'll seek some treatment from a psychologist, because that would be a very weird thing to want to do.
In this country, people entertaining themselves after a long, hard week at work invariably involves many of them getting as drunk as possible. As a Londoner, I have witnessed this ritual "up West" but, having toured the country doing stand-up, I have also been privileged to view out-of-control laddish behaviour (yes, I know ladies do it too) all over the place from Cheltenham to Huddersfield. I remember once visiting a friend who ran a pub in Derby, only to find half a mile of hellish bouncer-strewn lary-looking pubs with pre-vomitous spiky humanity spilling out on to every corner of the street looking for a fight. I was so scared that I had to have a large brandy.
British drinking at weekends inevitably involves pissing someone else off, whether it's because you insult them, break something that belongs to them, or sexually harass them. As a nation we just don't seem able to handle our drink in an adult way. Most of Europe, however, does not share our problem. In Rome entire families sit outside on warm summer evenings and dine at restaurants until gone midnight. They don't kick in shop windows on the way home or moon at passers-by, although it must be said many of their young males are like your grandad after a Viagra overdose. In Paris there is not the desperate rush to fill yourself up with enough beer to sink the Titanic before you collapse incontinently into bed. And in Stockholm there is very little drunkenness, possibly because lager is £47 a pint.
So how do we sort out drunken yobbishness without infringing civil liberties? There was a suggestion from the Blair camp recently that drunken yobboes should be taken to a cashpoint and asked to cough up some money for the damage they had caused. I suggest that it would be better just to get them to buy a round. Our cultural attitude towards drink can be gauged by the fact that we entertain ourselves with contests like yard-of-ale competitions which involve drinking as much beer as quickly as you can.
And then, of course, there are our bibulous role-models. William Hague boasted that he used to drink about 14 pints a day the sad, last croakings of someone trying to appeal to anyone with a functional right hand. We also mustn't forget, too, Euan Blair, who was found face down, sparko, somewhere in Westminster. Meanwhile, in America George Dubya's daughter, aged 19, is found drinking in a bar. Electrocute her, I say. And him, while you're at it.
It appears as though think tank after think tank has thought long and hard about how to tackle our extremely childish attitude towards drinking. Not just childish, though; costly as well, as it seems the crime rate soars at weekends after chucking-out time.
The Government's solution is for pubs to have different closing times. This will mean, they say, that people in pubs won't feel they are under pressure to consume their body weight in Blue Nun before 11pm, thus wrecking their evening instead of everyone else they meet.
Surely there are other tactics that might be more effective? Rather than the police forming a ring round a few narky anarchists and many more mostly harmless protesters, as they did on May Day, why don't they form a ring round the West End at the weekends and give those packs of beery blokes a taste of their own medicine? I'm not advocating violence, but perhaps a bit of personal abuse, some sexist remarks, and a little damage to their personal property might do the trick.
The main problem with drunkenness in this country is that it causes problems for other people. Maybe we could put a dye in alcohol so that the drunker you are, the deeper a shade of orange you turn so that anyone walking round looking as though they've been Tangoed is immediately escorted to a field and left to sleep it off with a can of Tango.
I used to work in a pub, and it was so glaringly obvious how, as the evening progressed, people's personalities changed from Baby to Scary. Don't keep pubs open longer: shut them earlier, I say. In fact, have them open for half an hour a day; then at least we can be entertained by watching the poor customers trying to get enough down them.
Our attitude towards the demon booze isn't helped either by Club 18-30 type holidays, where humiliating acts, lubricated by vast amounts of the local brew, are the order of the day. We just need to calm down about our drinking habits. The theory is that the more accessible alcohol is, the less the need to pour so much down. I suspect, however, that drinkers in this country should alcohol be constantly on tap in pubs would just be drunk all the time. Then, at least, I suppose they could all work in what's still known as Fleet Street. Well, this is my last column. Cheerio, everyone!Reuse content