Binge Your Own
Tuesday, 4th September 2012
So there are Olympic Medals to celebrate and it’s summertime and, hey, you’ve got to let yourself go when you’re on holiday. It’s never too difficult to find an excuse to down the odd pint… or twenty.
But here’s a money-saving tip: if you’re going out for the evening with a young lady in any British provincial city, don’t bother to buy her dinner, you’ll only see it again, hitting your shoes with such force that you’ll be picking carrot out of the seams for weeks. I speak from experience. Because, between the ingesting and the expulsion, imbibing to excess is almost obligatory.
Blotto, stinking, caned, sloshed, smashed, sozzled, pissed; we’ve almost as many words for getting drunk as we do for rain. And we don’t like to merely get a little squiffy or merry or take the edge off; we have to down it, chuggalugga, set ‘em up. According to Andrew McNeill, of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, “among 18 to 24-year-olds, only one in four women and one in six men say they never binge drink… in fact among 20-something women, 60% of the alcohol consumed is in bouts of heavy drinking – more than six units a day.”
But why do we drink so much when all our Police Reality TV shows demonstrate endless scenes of northern lasses with their heads between their knees and urine soaked war memorials? Why do we handle our alcohol with all the subtlety of a ‘Glasgow kiss’?
Happily, answers abound. Just ask anybody on a bender. They’re not hard to find. They’ll not only tell you the answer, but buy them another pint and they’ll fight you for it. Every drinker has a binge theory, or excuse, if you prefer, and they’ll tell you endlessly, if you dare to ask.
Why binge? What have ya got? Dead end jobs, a mortgage-chasing culture, economic meltdown, double dip recession, work strictures, study strictures, dole strictures, relationship troubles, seasonal affective disorders (SAD), social pressures, coping strategies… but, sober and honest, who wouldn’t admit that it helps us deal with that most British disease: inhibition.
We’re just not American enough. American TV and movies surround us. It seems Americans open their mouths and great one-liners or emotionally honest truisms just stream out. Americans speak without fear of saying the wrong thing or being judged foolish. They apparently don’t stumble in terror at the thought of opening their hearts or talking about their emotions. We aspire to be like that and that’s what we think we become when we’re drunk: American. Not bad going for a nation founded by Puritan teetotalers who couldn’t handle their drink and sailed off to set up a new world not cursed by the carousing of godless drunken mayhem.
Maybe, afflicted with inhibition, we don’t drink to forget then, but to remember. To remember the thugs we naturally are, the warrior peoples who built an empire long before we tied it in red tape and polite behaviour to quell our natural urge to violence within and prove ourselves the moral superiors to the natives we vanquished. As anybody who’s been to a football match knows, when we lose our inhibitions, we fight.
The Royal Navy is perhaps the only military service in the world in which a daily tot of rum is still obligatory for ratings. Trafalgar was won as much on bloody-minded alcoholic bravado as the cunning tactics of a hardy, one-eyed Admiral. Drink for the British doesn’t anaesthetise, it vitalizes: it is our aqua vita!
Could the late Victorian and early Edwardian Teetotal movements have been the first nails in the coffin of empire? Drinking might make us less civilized but maybe it makes us more human. The binge is extreme drinking and extremes are what we inhibit when we’re sober. So one drink would seem, inevitably, to lead to the next and so on – more literally than figuratively – ad nauseum. As long as we’re drinking to lessen our inhibitions, we’ll be picking the diced carrot out of our seams.
Marius Brill’s hilarious novel ‘How To Forget’ is in all good bookshops now.