My friends will probably find it hard to accept me as a champion of temperance, and in fact I’m slightly hung-over even as I write this.
Having thus established my residence in a glass house, I’d nevertheless like to throw a stone or two – though not at drinking as such, and not even occasional heavy boozing. Few of us are without that particular sin, and this has been thus ever since Eve left some fruit juice out in the sun, for Adam to taste it a few days later and find the effect unexpectedly pleasant.
Not even Jesus held a dim view of drinking in an appropriate context. If he had, he would have turned that water into Ribena, not wine, much to the chagrin of the Cana newlyweds and their guests.
It’s only when endemic drinking stops being a problem in se and becomes instead a symptom of a catastrophic social and cultural malaise that it provides a fit subject for serious contemplation. Such, I’m afraid, is the situation in Britain now.
The story making the rounds at the moment is of a middle-aged female QC, regarded as a top legal mind, caught in flagrante delicto with a 51-year-old solicitor. The pair had had a boozy lunch and decided to consummate the resulting affection against the wall of Waterloo station at the height of the evening rush hour.
The top legal mind had her knickers around her ankles and the solicitor was similarly exposed when the lawyers were arrested for outraging public decency. They were held overnight and issued a caution, which both accepted.
However, six weeks later the top legal mind applied to have her conviction quashed, claiming she had been a victim of sexual assault. This status, unlike that of a willing participant in hanky-panky, entitles her to lifelong anonymity, and the top legal mind must have cottoned on that having her name splashed all over the papers might hinder her assent to damehood. The example of Graeme Stening, her partner cum would-be assailant, is vivid enough.
This sordid incident wouldn’t be worth talking about if it weren’t so depressingly symptomatic of the cultural catastrophe under way in Britain.
I can’t for the life of me imagine a top Queen’s Counsel, say, in the 1970s allowing herself to behave so swinishly no matter how much she drank. Nor do I recall seeing even in the 1980s scores of middleclass professionals throwing up along the whole 2.5-mile length of King’s Road (one of the city’s most upmarket streets, for the out-of-towners among you) every Saturday night.
Neither did many restaurants on the continent exhibit ‘No British groups’ signs in the their windows, as they nowadays do in, for example, Prague. The practical Czechs must have figured out that the profits they might realise from British stag or hen parties won’t cover the inevitable cost of a clean-up possibly followed by refurbishment and fumigation.
The footage of British proles turning places like Ibiza into hell on earth is depressing enough, but booze-fuelled anomie evidently transcends class divides – as anyone can testify who has seen photos of our young royals staggering out of nightclubs in the wee hours. They too talk about ‘going clubbing’, and there I was thinking it was a transitive verb demanding the question ‘Whom?’.
The English are a drinking race, and always have been. But in the past they didn’t drink with the aggressive purpose of smashing to bits the civilisation that makes them English. For civilisations are mainly defined by the inhibitions they impose on human behaviour.
When those inhibitions go out of the window, so does the civilisation. When a middle-aged woman fast-tracked for a damehood gets so blotto that she’s arrested for copulating in a crowded public place, she isn’t just breaking the law. She’s avidly breaking her civilisation.
I remember those office parties (I retired from that nonsense 11 years ago) when we had to send girls from good families home in taxis and tell the drivers where to go because the girls themselves couldn’t remember where they lived. The drivers were also pre-paid for cleaning out the likely vomit.
These weren’t unfortunate accidents. The girls (and of course the boys) actually planned to drink themselves unconscious in front of their colleagues; this was the effect they were after. Before they passed out, some sex play often ensued, as if a drunken stupor was a precondition for passion.
It saddens me to have to chart a route bypassing pubs whenever driving home on a weekend night. When central London throws more drunks under car wheels than central Moscow does nowadays, it’s not drinking as such that’s the problem any longer. So please join me in a mournful glass to commemorate a great civilisation fallen victim to modernity.