How bad licensing bred the lager lout

11th May 2001 at 01:00
AT the moment my daughters are adamant that they will never drink, smoke or listen to Radio 4. They perceive these as the curious vices of adults. I don't want to depress Helen Boaden and those producing the funky new GO 4 IT show but the fact is that children come to life's more dubious pleasures when they're ready for them. At the age of 20, I listened to Terry Wogan on Radio 2, had never smoked and was a one-bottle-of-Blue-Nun-a-term man. Twenty years later, I've still not smoked but have switched allegiances to Sue MacGregor and have a standing order at the bottle bank to call twice a week to collect Chardonnay bottles from outside our back door.

I'm sure we British drink too much. I recently checked this with our doctor but his reply - "you're only drinking too much if you put away more than your GP" - was not helpful; which I suppose serves me right for seeking him out near closing time. Quantities aside, I'm convinced that, compared to the wine-loving French and Italians, we Brits have no concept of sensible drinking. For this I blame lcensing hours introduced in an emergency to boost factory production during World War One, and which inculcated Britain's woeful "get 'em in" mentality. At my school, the rationale behind Friday night revelries was to see how many you could down before the barman called time. It's not surprising that town centres are such dangerous places when the pubs empty, or that the police are supporting a relaxation of licensing laws. Alcohol should accompany food. Wine flows freely in Italy but I've yet to see lambrusco louts smashing up piazzas late at night.

Those who oppose this idea point to trial runs where boozy behaviour has not immediately reformed the national psyche, but this is to miss the point. We must educate the next generation to look differently on alcohol and it will take a generation before we see results. Strict licensing created the lager lout, but not immediately. Relaxed licensing will wash him away, eventually. You cannot change the way we drink overnight. Given time, my daughters will even come to love John Humphrys.

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