Saturday, July 19, 2008

No one ever crashed a car after drinking too much Petrus

I have been gripped by the new, first ever, French anti-binge drinking campaign. I had to watch the TV spot, launched the day before yesterday (July 17th) at least four times. My god. The tagline is 'excess of alcohol results in comas, violence, accidents and sexual abuse'. There, but for the grace of my guardian angel, went I. And not on a tropical sandy beach either.

The thing was that in the roaring 90's in Dublin, the more money there was, the more we drank. Nights out. Weekends gone. Restaurant bills one couldn't quite remember paying. Tabs for champagne run up and forgotten until someone was kind enough to remind you.

I was not surprised in fact to read that 'drink related liver disease' as it is called – used to be cirrhosis – in Ireland was up 234% in the last seven years, which falls in nicely with the rise of the Celtic Tiger. Let's hope the fall does us all good.

The thing is, in Ireland you tended to drink the money in your pocket and since we never had very much it was not a problem. As Brendan Behan put it, about growing up in Dublin in the 1920's and 30's: "As regards drink, I can only say that in Dublin, during the depression when I was growing up, drunkenness was not regarded as a social disgrace. To get enough to eat was an achievement. To get drunk was a victory."

As soon as we had a bit of money the problems started and we realized we had never actually learned to drink.

Not like the French who seemed, to us anyway, to drink all day, even at lunchtime - and smoke, and do other kinds of cool things like speak French – but, amazingly, never actually get drunk.

So the launch of the campaign, and all the laws that go with it, to be introduced next year, like upping the drinking age from 16 to 18, was almost a surprise. Notwithstanding the fact that the French papers have been full of really heartbreaking stories about teenagers found in alcoholic coma's before school, an 18 year old who died after a night out celebrating his exam results, and two young men who beat another one to death during an all night party. They were so deranged they actually went back to the party with blood on their shirts.

The figures of how often young people get this drunk, and how much the French actually drink, are disputed – mainly by the pro wine lobby - but the Health Minister is not letting that slow her down.

So, as of next year, no more public, as in on the pavement I assume, drinking near schools. The two girls who got drunk on early morning shooters were in a bar next to their school, you see.

No more open bars, where students pay a nominal fee to drink all night and student union leaders says they always have an ambulance on stand by.

No more buying a bottle of wine from a highway petrol station. No more lax serving of alcohol without seeing ID. No more bottles of vodka from the local supermarket to drink with friends before you go out.

I see a booming business in fake ID's and under the counter alcohol sales looming, but still, it will make things just that bit harder. Actually, in France, until now, teenagers seem to have been pushing against an open door.

I also foresee a very dim future for wine on the web, which is remains illegal in France after the failed attempt last week by a French senator to have it approved as a medium for alcohol publicity. The web? The thing young people use? Allowed as a medium for alcohol publicity? What??

The problem is that no other country as far as I know has actually thought about approving the web because it was never unapproved. Here, it's now a political hot potato and all the cries that wine is not the same as vodka, or beer, that it has a history, a culture, that the very word means moderation – or as a great Bordeaux personage once told me, 'no one ever crashed a car after drinking too much Petrus' - are destined, I fear, to fall on deaf ears for the foreseeable future.

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