Friday 13 April 2012

The binge-drinkers of Maidstone

From Kent Online:

Volunteers try to stop pre-loading

by Andy Gray

Poor old Andy. How the mighty have fallen.

Clubbers and pub goers could be breathalysed as they venture out in Maidstone in an attempt to measure levels of drunkenness.

Woah there! Nanny ruddy state or what?

But fear not. This is merely research...

Urban Blue Bus volunteers will carry hand-held intoximeters to determine the volume of so-called 'pre-fuelled' drinkers who load up with alcohol BEFORE a night out in town.

A recent study by Maidstone Town Centre Management indicated many revellers are well above the drink-drive limit before they even set foot in a pub.

And what, pray, is wrong with being over the drink-drive limit when you set off on foot?

At some point in the last decade, the drink-drive limit - which is quite deliberately set at a very low point indeed - became some sort of measure of drunkenness. We now regularly read about people being arrested for non-driving-related crimes, or - heaven forfend - autopsies of unfortunates, with the statement that they were three or four times over the drink-drive limit. But the whole point of the drink-drive limit is that it is set at a point at which the person is not drunk. Referring to it in multiples - as if it is a unit of drunkenness - doesn't tell us very much except that the person might have been drunk. When it comes to "revellers" on a Saturday night, it is self-evident that they will be over the drink-drive limit, but since they're not driving, so what?

Paul Alcock, manager of The Mall Chequers, said: "The plan is to find out how much people are pre-fuelling.

"The results will be used to warn of the dangers of drinking at home before going out."

The Mall Chequers is a shopping centre in Maidstone as far as I can work out, so what they have to do with people strolling around over the drink-drive limit, God only knows.

According to latest figures from the Local Alcohol Profiles for England, 17% of those aged 16 and over in Maidstone engage in binge drinking - this equates to roughly 21,000 people.

Andy Gray doesn't explain what period of time this refers to, but unless it is "every day", I would argue that it is very far from being an epidemic, or even a slight cause for concern. In fact, and assuming it refers to every week or every month, it is a frankly derisory rate of drunken levity which only confirms my view that people today do not drink very much most of the time and that this is a particular boring, conservative time to be alive, although I accept that this might not be anything new in Maidstone.

Mr Alcock said the intoximeter scheme, a joint initiative between Town Centre Management supported by police, will be up and running in the next four weeks.

The hand-held devices could be used to carry out 200 tests a night on some of the estimated 20,000 weekend visitors to Maidstone's 50 licensed pubs and clubs.

I hope and expect that the revellers of Kent will tell these police-funded "volunteers" exactly where to go when they wave the breathalyser- sorry, 'intoximeter' - in their face. Alcohol is alcohol whether it is drunk at home or drunk in one of Maidstone's no doubt salubrious licensed premises. There is nothing new or interesting about "pre-loading". I can say with certainty that it happened on an epic scale twenty years ago and I'm pretty confident that it went on twenty years before that.

"Post-loading" also occurs on a regular basis and, although you don't hear so much about that phenomenon, that is where the fun really begins. At both the pre- and post-loading stage, the alcohol is cheaper, there are no smoking restrictions and the company is better. The fights, property destruction and public disorder all happen at the mid-way stage, which is the bit the hospitality industry wish to portray as the safe and well-regulated part of the night. It's not and never has been. The pub and club industry's cynical attempt to cosy up to the temperance movement by pretending to be custodians of "sensible drinking" is the sheerest artifice. They whinge about people "pre-loading" on "cheap" supermarket booze, but their furrows of concern are not so deep that they will not cheerfully serve those same "binge-drinkers" when they stagger into town.

I did, however, enjoy the end of the article, which shows that common sense has not entirely departed these isles.

One of the group, Cllr Dave Naghi, was shocked to see drinkers relieving themselves at the side of the road.

"It was disgusting," he said.

'Twas always thus, but Cllr Naghi, bless him, is not your average 'ban it, tax it' local politician.

"We're going to get some toilets back in the High Street."

Thank you, Cllr Naghi. Sensible policies for a happier Britain.


Anonymous said...

You claim both that pre-loaders are not necessarily drunk and that pubs are culpable for serving them while they are drunk.

Pubs and bars - through schemes like Pubwatch and Facewatch - do a tremendous amount of work limiting the harms of alcohol misuse.

"Those who pre-loaded were also two and half times more likely to have
been in a fight...pre-loading was
more strongly associated with being involved in nightlife violence than the total amount of alcohol an individual consumed."

Obviously among the millions who flood the pubs and clubs on the weekend there will be a few drunkards being served but it is deeply cynical to dismiss the efforts of the hospitality industry to combat violence and disorder.

People pre-load and pubs have to serve these (not necessarily drunk, we agree) people to survive. People often drink so much, so fast close to closing time that the full effects are not apparent until they are on the streets.

Curmudgeon said...

But the hospitality industry themselves are being deeply cynical in trying to make common cause with the anti-drink lobby, as Chris explains.

One of the original purposes of public toilets was to "prevent nuisance". And, as sure as night follows day, once you shut them all down the "nuisance" returns. In the old days many towns, especially in the North, had a large number of basic public urinals that presumably were largely intended for the convenience of people walking home from the pub.

nisakiman said...

"In the old days many towns, especially in the North, had a large number of basic public urinals..."

Yes, it wouldn't break the bank to provide something like the old Parisian "pissoirs", basically not much more than a semi-enclosed bus shelter with a urinal trough inside. I think even Paris has got rid of those now. Shame. They even had some architectural merit, with their Victorian (or should I say 2nd and 3rd Republic...) wrought-iron features.

I fail to understand why youngsters drinking is seen to be such a problem. When I was young, we all used to go out at the weekend and get ratarsed. It was normal. It's no big deal, nor is it an "epidemic". It's a rite of passage. The police only need to exercise their "drunk and disorderly" powers. A night in the local nick usually suffices to calm down the more exuberant among them.

What a nation of pursed-lipped, joyless puritans we have become.

Hardly a day goes by without my reading some UK news item that re-affirms the fact that I made the right choice in becoming an expat. There's none of that puritanical, prohibitionist silliness where I live now.

Ivan D said...

“Hardly a day goes by without my reading some UK news item that re-affirms the fact that I made the right choice in becoming an expat.”

I completely understand and would like to leave myself. However, based on personal experience I can say that media coverage from the UK is much less infuriating if you avoid the BBC. The BBC is the mouthpiece for campaigning “charities” that are mostly ignored by everyone else for very good reasons. The corporation is practically married to the political wing of CRUK and recommends the ASH website for detailed information on passive smoking. No bias there then.

Obviously the Daily Mail is a bit of a no go area as well but surely nobody actually believes their health twaddle do they?

Cllr Naghi would get my vote if I was his constituent. How refreshing to hear common sense. Perhaps Andrew Lansley should contact him for lessons?

Anonymous said...

Yes, I've noticed that. Yet the Mail is an odd one. It regurgitates every Charity press release verbatim and even runs "stories" like "Fag Ash Lil! Famous starlet seen smoking cigarette!", yet when you look at the comments there are always 98% anti-Tobacco Control comments (which have been thumbsed up hundreds of times) and the few anti comments are all massively red arrowed. Every single time! Yet it continues with its vendetta. Very strange.

Curmudgeon said...

The Mail has opposed plain packaging in its editorial column. It has a number of differing agendas - making women feel bad about themselves, promoting Laura Norder, and opposing the Nanny State - which frequently come into conflict with each other in a way analogous to "entitlement poker".