Gin Lane

by Chris Bertram on December 30, 2003

The image of Hogarth’s Gin Lane comes to mind after reading three pieces on Open Democracy on the booze culture in England , Ireland and Scotland . Central Bristol on a Friday and Saturday night is very much as Ken Worpole describes the centre of many British cities: full of inebriated teenagers, casual violence and, eventually, vomit. Dublin— a destination of choice for young Brits seeking to get smashed out of their brains—also has a big problem:

The results of this behaviour are alarming –- doctors, from a variety of hospitals, estimate that from 15-25% of admissions to accident and emergency units in 2002 were alcohol-related. In March 2003, representatives of the medical profession highlighted some of the horrendous consequences of excessive drinking. Mary Holohan, director of the sexual assault treatment unit at the Rotunda Hospital in central Dublin, said the pattern of alcohol consumption had changed greatly. One shuddering statistic that emerged was that in the past five years there had been a four-fold increase in the number of women who had been so drunk they could not remember if they had been sexually assaulted.

That last could be a dodgy statistic (if the number rose from one to four for example) but it sounds like there’s a serious issue.

{ 13 comments }

1

dsquared 12.30.03 at 10:37 am

Ireland also provides a natural experiment for another piece of recieved wisdom; “If we relaxed licensing laws, then we wouldn’t have this terrible need to cram all our drinking into a few hours and we’d all sip wine at pavement cafes likes the Continentals”. The Irish did this a few years back, and it turns out that the tendency to get blind drunk is more or less in the blood and nothing’s going to shift it.

2

Kieran Healy 12.30.03 at 10:41 am

In Ireland we used to rebut our bad image by saying, correctly, that Ireland’s per capita alcohol consumption was not that high compared to most European countries. It was just that all the drinking was done in public, in the pub. There was no real tradition of binge drinking. Increasingly, thanks in the main to economic growth, the industrialization of pubs, and the willingness to live up to your own national stereotype, this account is inaccurate and Ireland is turning out to have a serious drink problem.

3

dsquared 12.30.03 at 10:49 am

Btw, Ken Worpole wins an official D2D “Oh For F**k’s sake!” award for the following gem:

“When [alcohol] accompanies food and conversation, it compounds the pleasure, as it does when listening to an impromptu pub session of folk music, or jazz.”

I mean, what can you say to a man who can write that sentence without thinking to himself “Hmmmm it’s not the way I intended it I can see how some might regard that sentence as making me look like the teensiest bit of an arse”.

Oh yeh, and detailed analysis of that factoid reveals that Chris’ scepticism is well-placed. The actual quote from the Irish Examiner is:

“A Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, which is investigating the effect of alcohol on hospital attendances, heard last week that there had been more than a four-fold increase in the number of requests by women attending the Rotunda Hospital sexual assault treatment unit (SATU) for the staff to determine whether they had been sexually assaulted.

They were unable to remember because of alcohol intake.”

First, the linked article does not support the attribution to Dr Mary Holohan, and second the fourfold increase looks to me as if it’s likely to be driven by changes in police procedure rather than alcohol consumption.

I’m personally of the opinion that “freedom and whisky gang thegither” and that while public drunkenness of young people is a social evil, there’s no solution to it which isn’t worse than the problem. Although I realise that I say this as a big burly bloke capable of looking after myself, and acquaintances of mine who are less robsut or more female seem to have a less complacent view.

4

Kieran Healy 12.30.03 at 11:17 am

I’m personally of the opinion that “freedom and whisky gang thegither”

This is supported by the Irish case insofar as the decline in the grip of the church and related social controls (like the influence of the Pioneers) precedes a rise in the drink intake.

and that while public drunkenness of young people is a social evil, there’s no solution to it which isn’t worse than the problem.

Which is fair enough, except that there’s plenty of room for variation in the culture of drunkenness and the kind of things that even someone who’s completely langers won’t be allowed to get away with. There’s a world of difference between ending the evening roaring maudlin tunes about dying children on the ends of British bayonets, on the one hand, and wandering around looking for some poor bastard to kick the shite out of, on the other.

5

dsquared 12.30.03 at 11:21 am

There’s a world of difference between ending the evening roaring maudlin tunes about dying children on the ends of British bayonets, on the one hand, and wandering around looking for some poor bastard to kick the shite out of, on the other.

which is worse?

6

dsquared 12.30.03 at 11:23 am

and while we’re on the subject, a favourite joke:

What’s the difference between Irish musicians and Irish terrorists?

Terrorists have sympathisers.

7

Kieran Healy 12.30.03 at 11:32 am

which is worse?

Perhaps they might be combined to everyone’s benefit if you attended “an impromptu pub session of folk music, or jazz” with Ken Worpole.

8

jdsm 12.30.03 at 11:56 am

“except that there’s plenty of room for variation in the culture of drunkenness”.

This gets to the heart of it in my opinion. Dsquared is right to point out that prohibition and other related activities don’t have a strong history. The question is one of culture but how do you change a culture? It seems to be something that’s not easily done consciously.

I do wonder if any social scientists can explain why binge drinking is a northern european phenomenon. I speak from Finland, a country well-known for its moderate and civilised drinking culture!

9

Tom T. 12.30.03 at 1:00 pm

Regarding drinking in northern Europe: When I visited Denmark some years ago, it was June, and daylight lasted until very late at night and resumed very early in the morning. I asked a Danish friend how they dealt with the long day, and she said, “It’s wonderful; it’s light all the time, and all summer long we stay up most of the night drinking.” It later occurred to me to ask her how they coped with the equally long, long nights in December, and she told me, “It’s awful; it’s dark all the time, and all winter long we stay up most of the night drinking.”

I never did figure out whether she was joking.

10

David Glynn 12.30.03 at 2:39 pm

Is this public binge drinking a function of Dublin? Is it also on the increase in smaller communities in Ireland?

Is it related to drinking as tourism, as it is in New Orleans?

11

Cryptic Ned 12.30.03 at 5:43 pm

Here’s a couple of articles about an apparently steep increase in loutish British tourism in Prague.
New York Times
Modern Prague City Magazine

12

Cryptic Ned 12.30.03 at 5:44 pm

Me no link good.
Modern Prague City Magazine
http://www.think.cz/issue/48/5.html

13

Conrad Barwa 01.01.04 at 1:47 am

The binge drinking might be too well embedded to be displaced easily by now. We were always told that the rule of thumb is that the further north in Europe one goes, the harder the drinking becomes and less leisurely. Certainly the behaviour of English holdiaygoers to the Continent in locales such as the Mediterranean doesn’t fill one with confidence here; as one Spanish newspaper put it “the English they come over here, start drinking in the bars, come up to 11 realise that there is no last orders; and go Crazy!” I seem to recall that the Brit Consul-General in Majorca or somewhere, resigned out of disgust at what the summer droves of Brits got up to. Though to be fair, it is probably a bit unwise to select a sample of young, mostly single holidaymakers, eager to enjoy some good weather and their main excursion out of the country. Not the kind of conditions that breed restraint.

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