Punch drunk; WE BRITS CAN'T TAKE OUR DRINK.
AS controversy rages over 24-hour licensing laws, amid fears it will fuel Britain's binge-drinking culture, we seem to be in danger of missing the point.
Maybe the problem isn't the drink, but what we do as a nation when we get drunk.
When the French have one too many glasses of Bordeaux, they get amorous, glamorous and sexily philosophical.
When Italians drink, they sing and try to kiss each other on the mouth.
When the Spanish drink at lunchtime they pop home for a siesta before getting on with the rest of the day's work.
Then there's the British - who stain the streets with vomit, knock each other over the head with bar stools, and call in sick to work the next day blaming a dodgy kebab on the way home.
The point is, alcohol doesn't unleash violence in our Southern European counterparts. It's us, and our Northern neighbours, who are afflicted by the red wine mist.
Our pugilistic tendencies lie deep in our national psyche and alcohol simply unlocks the genie in the bottle.
For thousands of years, our island nation has been populated by warrior-like northern races with reputations for fighting their corner.
Great Brits bow to no one - an impressive trait of which we should be justly proud.
But when we get drunk that same combativeness is all too often perverted into something shameful. When it comes to British boozers, the root of all evil will never be the ease with which we can get hold of the hard stuff. It isn't the availability of drink or the opening hours or the price of alcohol that triggers the trouble.
It's the fact that in far too many of us downing one over the eight seems to unlock something dark, depraved and disgusting.
And let's not concern ourselves with ridiculous untruths about how we knock back more than the rest of the world. Because we don't.
IT'S just that, unlike the rest of the world, when we're out of our heads we tend to get nasty. And we fight.
Despite the mistaken impression that this great nation is drowning in a sea of beer and Bacardi Breezers, there are many other nations whose sozzled citizens love nothing more than to sink a few.
The French are drinkers extraordinaire - their penchant for vin, cognac et Pernod continues to cause alcoholism on a massive scale.
Depressed by long dark winters, Scandinavians have long sought solace in the bottle. You want to see binge-drinking? Go and spend an evening in Oslo.
And don't buy into the lie that in health-conscious America booze has been so successfully demonised that hardly anyone touches the stuff any more. As a gin-sozzled Jim Royle would say, "My arse!" The Yanks are incorrigible drinkers. Especially the hordes of young determined dipsos who every weekend guzzle themselves into a united state of drunkenness.
No, people get addled all over the world. All of the time. But rampant booze-fuelled violence, vandalism and appalling anti-social behaviour is a peculiarly British sickness.
Crimes linked to alcohol are spiralling... On Friday and Saturday nights, our towns are gripped by an increasingly frightening kind of mass lawlessness that you simply don't see outside of the UK.
That's why the argument that because we are part of Europe we should be able to enjoy a tipple in the continental style is, to say the least, open to debate.
Of course, it's absurd that we are still governed by opening hours laid down by Lloyd-George the best part of a century ago.
But don't imagine that 24-hour pubs and bars will create an instant cafe society. That Leeds, London and Liverpool will turn into new versions of polite Paris, sophisticated Seville and gentile Genoa.
The tragic truth is we Brits simply don't drink like our continental cousins.
They drink to enhance enchanting evenings of fine food and convivial company.
We drink to get rat-faced. And then all our worst qualities come spilling out - our instinct to fight, to shout, to swear, to leer, to be rude and to be downright horrible.
THE British tend to be truly terrible in drink. Not everyone, naturally. Many of us get senselessly inebriated and avoid the Jekyll and Hyde process of morphing into all-out yobs.
But unless it is decided that it's time for a total alcohol ban, no one is going to stop the binge-drinking rot.
Before we pour ourselves several large stiff measures to soften the blow of this unpalatable news, let's not be too hard on ourselves.
Amid our worst qualities you will find the best. In Great Britain we jump to defend what we hold dear - and woe betide anyone who takes us on.
We'll beat all-comers, rest assured. Winning battles is our business and it has been since time immemorial.
OK, that Norman bloke William the Conqueror managed a slight incursion in 1066. But, in an early demonstration of terrifying aggression, the mere sight of angry Brits lining the shores of our sceptred isle was enough to scare the living daylights out of Julius Caesar in 55BC.
The mighty Romans had quashed every place they encountered. But one look at the British stopped them in their tracks. Realising that this furious race would not be laying out the welcoming carpet, they turned and fled.
Through the annals of history, the people of Britain have forged a fearsome reputation for ferocious fighting.
The Spanish Armada, the battle of Trafalgar, Agincourt, the First World War, the Second World War, the Falklands... Take us on at your peril.
Even though colonial imperialism is dated and unreasonable these days, in terms of sheer combative prowess the British Empire was an astonishing achievement. We took over half the world.
There is something deep inside the British psyche that makes us instinctively lash out, fight and destroy. It's always been there. In some, drink brings this to the fore.
Opening the pubs round the clock won't make things worse. And it won't make things better.
If we really want to get a handle on why so many boozy Brits are unrelentingly awful when drunk, we need to address our national characteristics.
And realise that blaming it on the booze just won't wash any more.
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Aug 12, 2005|
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