A British Night Out ‘Three pints of beer, eight double vodkas and an ambulance to follow’

Christmas in the UK always brings with it accounts of drunken mayhem. What I find doubly disconcerting and depressing, and call this a strange form of sexism if you like, is to read about mindless violence among so-called ladettes or, worse still, hear of youngish mothers dying from liver cirrhosis.

Every yuletide the tabloids regale us with pictures of horizontal women, usually fat and scantily clad, splayed out on freezing pavements, at risk of catching hypothermia or, more immediately, of having their eyes gouged out by the white stiletto of another passing pisshead.

My Bulgarian wife has always been appalled by these scenes. Many of her compatriots, you see, still see the UK as a place of civilised values and manners. Yes, I know, I know, they still see too many old films…

Binge drinking of the type so commonplace in the UK is rare in Bulgaria. The UK and Bulgaria are actually on a virtual par in terms of total annual alcohol consumption. Yet the idea of going out specifically to get blasted would be viewed as strange in Sofia. True, when you board the bus in the Bulgarian capital, late at night or early in the morning, the air is filled with a palpable whiff of rakia, the nation’s favourite tipple. Yet the heavy imbibers are usually older men – downtrodden and dispirited – NOT young women.

During my nearly eight years here in Bulgaria I have never seen a young woman drunk. And that can’t be just because I’m in bed before midnight. Go out in any British city centre around 11pm, on the other hand, and you’ll see boys and girls staggering around. Teetotallers are seen as weird, so much so that I sometimes suspected that young people returning on the tube on a Friday night in London feign intoxication lest they be seen as goodie goodies.

We were told that extended licensing hours in the UK would reduce consumption and that café culture was gradually supplanting that of the pub. Yet it’s just as bad as ever. Perhaps the difference is now that more drinking goes on behind closed doors. Specifically, people have a few swigs before heading out. That way they get “into the mood” and also save money.

What is it about the UK that produces this drunkenness? First off, it’s clearly a place where someone can get plastered, abuse an Indian waiter and pass out in a sea of vomit, urine and curry before being taken to A & E at no expense to themselves. Any injuries sustained through their own carelessness, or indeed inflicted on another party, are treated at taxpayers’ expense. Perhaps, if the costs incurred came out of their pocket directly, they would reconsider?

When I was younger I always noticed a salient feature of what can loosely be called British working class youth. They were never serious. Or if they caught themselves in such vein they would quickly make a joke. It’s very different from, for example, Bulgaria or Portugal where you will see a group of young people in earnest conversation over a cup of coffee. The UK is impersonal and people have no time for real discussion. Is Britain full of lonely people?

Yet this is not my real concern here. The state has no place telling people what to drink as such. (Confession: I have as much chance of making it through a dry January as Ed Miliband does of winning an outright majority in May). But the state should make people more responsible for their actions. If you habitually get wasted, and cause disaster to yourself and others, then you shouldn’t be able to expect to wake up to your loved ones feeding you Alka Seltzer and minestrone soup between clean sheets the next day. Or limitless free treatment from the NHS. That’s not privatisation by stealth. It’s just common sense. Isn’t it?

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