The Great British Boozer’s obituary has been written numerous times over the past couple of decades because of a growing social trend towards home drinking. In some areas boarded-up pubs are a common sight, matched by the cacophony of clinking bottles and cans being tipped into domestic recycle bins.
Thankfully, my own favourite pubs have not only survived but thrived. Although not a huge drinker, I’m in no doubt that my quality of life is enriched by visits to Liverpool’s ornate Philharmonic and splendid Baltic Fleet, or Ambleside’s Golden Rule, Fanny’s Real Ale and Cider House at Saltaire, Whitby’s Black Horse and Beverley’s incomparable Nellies.
So let me say “Cheers!” to the Guardian for floating the idea that alcohol’s days are numbered, that drinking may be going the same way as smoking cigarettes and it ultimately might become taboo and possibly illegal to drink. Yes, even in pubs.
“It has certainly been difficult to avoid the news that alcohol isn’t good for you,” says the soberer-than-thou Guardian before concluding: “We don’t know for sure, of course, that Britain will become a dry land in years to come… but it has never looked more likely than it does now.”
The evidence for this is a cocktail of medical stories about the effects of alcohol. So, mix one measure of limited-in-scope scientific study with one measure of sociologist’s opinion, add a dash of concern about cheap supermarket pricing, then serve over a tumbler of icy tight-assed moralists. You get the picture?
I’m shaken by the thought that this idea might take hold, and stirred to argue that banning alcohol would create an illegal trade that’s a squillion times harder to control than drugs. To see the potential consequences look at prohibition in the United States between 1920 and 1933, when crime syndicates were perpetually at war with the police and each other. Imagine an Al Capone in every town.
Of course there is valid concern about the amount some people drink. Every week we see a new headline along the lines of “Boozed Up Britain” and “Alcohol: the Staggering Truth”. The latest one tells us that we’re shortening our lives by half an hour each time we drink one glass of wine or pint of beer over our daily recommended limit.
I have read these studies for years. But some tell us that drinking red wine increases our life expectancy while others extol the virtues of beer. So I always remind myself that once there were plenty of scientific studies warning us off butter, followed by question marks about the low-cholesterol spreads we then adopted.
The latest discussion is about making it harder for those on low income to buy cheap booze, and last week Scotland introduced a minimum price for all alcoholic drinks of 50p a unit. North of the border, two litres of strong cider that once sold for £2.50 now cost £7.50.
Having friends who are alcoholics, I know that many will pay the extra and cut back on food. That’s the nature of the illness – which is what alcoholism is. And the latest figures I can find show that just 7 per cent of adults in England drink more than they should.
For the other 93 per cent, though, no one should consider calling last orders.