Sunday, 20 December 2009

What's your poison?

The Chief Medical Officer said last week that children shouldn't be allowed to drink until they are at least fifteen. (At present, it's illegal to give any alcohol to anyone under-five.) Apparently such a change will put an end to binge drinking, anti-social behaviour, cirrhosis of the liver, cancer, global warming, climate-change and any number of natural disasters like the X-Factor.

What it also seems to put and end to is the 'middle-class obsession' (that's what the man said) that parents can encourage a responsible attitude to alcohol by setting  an example and NOT covering it with a cloak of secrecy, shame and illegality. We've tried bans before. Not only don't they work, they actually seem to have the opposite effect, creating an unhealthy obsession with forbidden fruit.

Like many parents, we enjoy a glass or two of wine with dinner; Sally has been known to have a taste. More often than not she goes straight back to the lemonade, but that is not the point. As far as I'm concerned, the point is that I'm not telling her she can't, she won't, she mustn't, its against the law/it's only for adults and she will have to wait until she's older. Don't get me wrong. There are things she'll have to wait to try. She's not having the car keys for many years to come. But I'm not about to create an unnecessary taboo and risk imbuing drinking alcohol with any kind of grown-up glamour. In my middle-class opinion, that's the problem.

Another report last week suggested that we all underestimate our drinking to the tune of 44 million bottles of wine per week. Surveys suggest that adults consume, on average, 16 units of alcohol per week while sales suggest something more like 26 units. Apparently people rule out special occasions.  "But" the man said sternly, "there are so many of them they aren't special anymore, they're routine." To cap it all The Times today reports that booze costs less than water.

For most of our existence, humans have certainly drunk it in preference to water. In mediaeval Europe everyone - including children - drank. The phrase 'small beer' refers to the watered-down version given to children. And 'twas ever thus. Pre-conquest, the English were described by one contemporary historian as 'amiable, pot-belied and drunk' and there's even a suggestion that the Battle of Hastings was lost because the English were nursing hangovers.

There is no celebration without wine, as the Jewish saying goes. And Charlie cottoned on to what was happening on his birthday (almost) this time last year. So, if the Chief Medical Officer's not looking...


Now, if you'll excuse me, I need a drink.

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