BACK in my student days, my friend Mark gained legendary status
as the drunk with the mot juste. One night, having necked
a skinful, he was approached by a po-faced sociologist doing a
study of student drinking habits. Questioned whether he had drunk
to excess that night, Mark did more than just tell the researcher
the answer: he demonstrated it in a way so vivid that the
sociologist was left in no doubt.
And that sums up the problem with discussions about why people
drink, and drink too much. Before they drink, you get promises of
moderation; when they are sobering up, you get shame and
self-justification; and when they are drunk, you get dirty
In Victoria Derbyshire (Radio 5 Live, Monday of last
week), the answer provided by a 17-year-old alcoholic, Rob, came as
close as anybody is going to get: we drink because it is fun. It
relieves boredom and stress. In some instances, it also tastes
Derbyshire's programme on teenage drinking was prompted by the
results of a Freedom of Information-based survey that asked
hospitals about alcohol-related admissions of children and
teenagers. I suspect that Radio 5 Live planned the programme before
getting the results, since the figures turn out to be less
depressing than you might suspect.
For the under-17 age group, the number of such admissions has
gone down slightly over the past five years, and the number of
11-year-olds and under is about the same - approximately 300 per
None of this is to downgrade the importance of the problem for
those people whom it affects; and they may be people who, through
sheer bad luck, come into contact with a violent drunk - like Adam,
who was punched to death during a night out, and whose father,
David, phoned in to tell the tale. It is the testimonies of people
such as David that make a programme such as this so powerful.
At the celebrity end of our alcohol-dependency culture stands
the Betty Ford Center. In Witness (BBC World Service,
Friday), we heard from Joseph Cruse, the doctor who treated the
former First Lady, and who became the first director of the clinic
that bore her name.
This interview told how Betty Ford was persuaded to enter rehab:
the whole family was flown in, each member telling her how her
behaviour was affecting them. The final blow came when her
daughter-in-law Gale declared her unfit to be allowed access to her
grandchildren. The rest is history.
How does a blind person go sightseeing? In Blind Man Roams
the Globe (Radio 4, Saturday), Peter White has been trying to
answer that question, while enjoying the sounds, feel, and smell of
various European cities. Last week, he climbed up to the top of the
cathedral in Budapest, and then wondered why he had bothered. "It's
so beautiful," his American companions cooed unhelpfully.
White is disarmingly honest. Touch is not sight, and there is no
point pretending that it is. But he maintained a highly engaging
attitude throughout - and seemed to be having a great time on the