Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - December 1999

* A Subtle Form of Prohibition *

Reading a book about the brewing industry in the Fifties, I was struck by the heavy consumption of alcohol that was a way of life back then. Of course, we're much more sober nowadays. The long boozy business lunch is a thing of the past, and most of the industries where thirsty workers went straight from the shop floor to the pub and downed ten pints a night have been closed down. Scarcely a week goes by without reading stories in the press about executives being refused employment because they drank the equivalent of a couple of pints a night, local authorities banning outdoor drinking, or organisations introducing random breath tests for their employees. In every other celebrity profile you read, they self-righteously announce that they never touch a drop nowadays.

But the statistics about the actual amount of alcohol we drink tell a different story. Beer consumption may be slowly declining, but it's still more than half as much again as in 1959. At the same time, we're drinking twenty times more wine, making total alcohol consumption twice as much as it was in the Fifties. Back then, far more people were teetotal for religious reasons. Most families would not drink in the house except at Christmas and New Year, whereas today they think nothing of having a bottle of wine with a meal. Most importantly of all, in those days the 18-25 age group did not tend to be regular drinkers, and saw pubs as places for the older generation, preferring coffee bars and the like. Now, of course, it's commonplace for them to get wrecked on a Friday night, and there are large numbers of pubs specifically and cynically targeted at young people.

We are drinking more than at any time since before the First World War yet, paradoxically, even the moderate consumption of alcohol is becoming less and less acceptable to the politically correct. Before too long the two trends will find themselves on a collision course. There's no serious prospect at present of Scandinavian-style anti-drink legislation. However, the way we are heading, even though alcoholic drinks are easily available and relatively cheap, the social pressures will be such that the responsible, respectable and ambitious will effectively be prevented from drinking alcohol at all, except on occasions when they know they will not be required to do anything requiring thought or concentration for many hours, and even then only in very modest quantities. For example, we saw last month official warnings against going anywhere near fireworks after even a single drink. In twenty years' time, will regular moderate drinkers be regarded as feckless, irresponsible and unsuitable for most types of employment, in much the same way as cannabis smokers are today?

* Millennium, What Millennium? *

Pedants the world over will be keen to point out over the next few weeks that the forthcoming millennium celebrations are all a fraud. Since there was no Year Zero in the calendar, we will not mark the completion of two thousand years until the end of the year 2000, in just the same way as you're not considered eighteen until you've finished your eighteenth year, not just started it. Looking on the bright side, it could give an excuse for double celebration. But the true curmudgeon will of course see it as a golden opportunity to cast a dampener on things two years running. A merry Christmas, and a happy new Millennium to you all! Bah Humbug!

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