Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - July 2003

* What's a Binge Anyway? *

Discussion of the problems of excess consumption often conceals an attack on moderate drinking

THERE'S BEEN a lot of discussion recently about the problem of binge drinking, particularly by young people at weekends. According to research by the Institute of Psychiatry quoted in the newspapers, binge drinking can affect people’s mental well-being. Dr David Ball surveyed 20,000 people about their drinking habits. He found that binge drinkers were more likely to suffer from anxiety and neuroticism than those who drink more steadily.

But it’s illuminating to see how Dr Ball defines “binge drinking”. Apparently, a binge consists of six or more units of alcohol on one occasion for a woman and eight for a man. That’s four pints of ordinary bitter, or three pints of a premium beer. Under this definition, half the customers of your local will qualify, and it certainly bears little relation to the typical level of consumption you see on the High Street on Friday night. Indeed you have to wonder how they can find reporters who have led such a sheltered life that they can write such stuff down while keeping a straight face.

Of course there are a minority of people who do seriously over-indulge and may be causing themselves long-term health problems. But the issue cannot be effectively dealt with unless it is defined honestly. Statements such as those made by Dr Ball merely give the impression that many strategies that supposedly target “problem drinking” are in reality aimed just as much at stigmatising and restricting the moderate, responsible drinker.

* Old Friends *

Familiarity can blind you to a pub becoming frayed at the edges

YOU OFTEN FIND with an old friend that you get used to their appearance and don’t really notice the passage of the years, and much the same can be true of pubs. This occurred to me the other week when I was sitting in a pub that has for long been a favourite of local drinkers and won a Pub of the Month award not too long ago. Yet, seen in the cold light of day, when the flaws were not covered by darkness and artificial light, it was looking distinctly frayed at the ages. Not dirty, not lacking in elbow-grease from the licensee, but clearly in need of a lick of paint and the attentions of the repair man.

If you’re a regular, you might not notice until the place was literally falling apart, but if you were to take someone there to show them a fine example of a traditional pub, they could all too easily turn their nose up and dismiss it as simply grotty. Genteel decay isn’t too fashionable nowadays and does real pubs no favours. There’s a world of difference between fixtures and fittings simply being old – which is often a good thing – and being shabby. Unfortunately there’s one particular local independent brewery I can think of who brew some fine beer but all too often seem to skimp on the repair and maintenance budget.

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