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The drinker and the drunker.

ACCORDING TO A new survey by the British Council, foreigners like the Brits in general but think we drink too much. Or rather, that’s what certain elements of the press say they think. In truth a mere 24% of foreigners think it. Once they’ve visited us, the number increases to 34%. I’m a bit disappointed, to be honest. We could have done better than a measly 34%, because it means 66% don’t think we drink too much. In the eyes of the media, of course, 34 is a much bigger number than 66, which is why they claiming we’re a bunch of drunks.

Those figures would have been much higher 15 and 20 years ago. The British have traditionally been great topers. It’s a tradition that goes back centuries, and noted by visitors from the sixteenth century onwards. Statistics over the last decade, however, show that our love affair with the bottle is dwindling. Alcohol consumption is declining, as is binge drinking. You wouldn’t know that, given the shock headlines and articles constantly churned out by the press, egged on by the new prohibitionist charities who are constantly screaming that something should be done.

This is ironic, since most of these charities are funded by the state – the same state that has introduced 24-hour licensing and reduced the costs of drink by being members of the EU, with all its free movement of booze, illegal cigarettes and immigrants. Just to compound the idiocy of it, the politicians themselves start demanding minimum alcohol pricing, oblivious to the fact that membership of the self-same EU that they all love forbids such a thing in its competition rules.

I have to admit my own relationship with alcohol has cooled over the years. It may be something to do with my liver getting grumpy with previous abuse, and the fact that even small amounts of the stuff can now induce headaches that last all day. I’ve also known people who turned into serious alcoholics and either recovered or died. Although I never got anywhere near being more than an occasional, annoying drunk (and drunks are always annoying, even when you are one among lots of others) I know how boring and embarrassing it all becomes. When you’re young and a student, perhaps, you find it amusing to wake up in your room to find a tractor tyre propped up against your wall. Or find two girls in bed with you (OK, I made that one up). Or be told by a friend not to visit his place again because he set fire to his bed after a session (I wrote a poem about this, thus salvaging something from the conflagration). Or have someone complain that after three tumblers of homemade banana wine he’d gone blind and couldn’t see anything. Or be blamed for making someone drink after shave because there was no more alcohol in the house. Once you done that a few times, it gets a bit samey.

AT LEAST WHEN I was doing that sort of thing back in the twentieth century there was never any record of it. People eventually forgot or just stayed quiet. Or perhaps they couldn’t remember in the first place because they were as hammered as I was. Nowadays, though, it’s the kind of thing that would be instantly published to the world via Twitter and Facebook and preserved forever in a multitude of photos and videos. It’s the kind of behaviour that must be worrying the parents of many young people about to embark on their first year at university, if they’ve been watching a recent series on tv, called The Secret Life of Students. This follows a group of first years at Leicester University and features the obligatory depression, drinking, sex and occasional STD, all accompanied by a blizzard of tweets, texts, Facebook updates and phone conversations.

Although I am a great fan of today’s young people and think they’re great and get a bad press, I have to criticise their lack of drinking knowhow if these students are anything to go by. They’re into competitive drinking, which is not proper drinking. I’m sorry, boys and girls, but proper drinkers don’t do all this knock-back-a-dozen-shots-in-five-seconds nonsense. That’s for amateurs.

And they drink Jägermeister. If ever you need proof that with the right advertising and promotion you can fool a sizeable proportion of the public into thinking that something that is utterly vile is the epitome of cool then Jägermeister is it. It’s German and described as a digestif. That digestif should give it away. Nothing that ends in “-if” is a proper drink unless it’s an aperitif. That’s because in Britain anything can be an aperitif. Digestif, I’m afraid, qualifies as poncey. But Jägermeister is beyond poncey. It’s disgusting. It’s the Devil’s vomit. It’s not a drink for grown ups. And it’s not a drink for Brits. We’ve got to have some standards.

Michael Blackburn.

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