Friday, 9 April 2010

Cigarettes & Alcohol

Oh ye Gads! Has it really been nearly a month since I last posted? My, how time flies when you're, err.... broke and stressed out!! One of my favourite pastimes to chill out and escape from it all is watching TV. Well, watching TV series on my laptop to be precise, as I don't actually have a TV per se.

My current viewing tipple is Mad Men. It's fantastic! It's set in 1960s Manhattan and follows the lives of the employees of Sterling Cooper, one of New York's most prestigious ad agencies, with particular emphasis on the dashing and extremely talented ad executive, Don Draper. The 'Mad Men' work hard and play hard, drinking and smoking like there's no tomorrow. In fact, I can almost guarantee that not a frame goes by without a cigarette or a glass of bourbon in sight.

In the light of today's healthier, smoke-free environments, witnessing the sheer frequency with which the characters light up is extremely noticeable and downright scary. They smoke in the office, in their cars, in restaurants, during dinner with their kids, even in bed at night when everything else around them seems so pristine. Of course, the health officials are just beginning to cotton on to the idea that it might not actually be very good for you, but for now it's definitely the height of fashion.

It struck me that, although the level of smoking seems so shocking in the series, I wasn't nearly as affected by the level of drinking. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I didn't really notice it at all. I mean, OK, so the ad execs have a plentiful supply of liquor in their desk drawers and do tend to glug back the potent brown stuff like it's coca-cola, but doesn't that sort of thing still go on nowadays? It certainly wouldn't surprise me.

And then it struck me that our ideas about drinking don't seem to have changed much over the years. We've realised the damage smoking does and have drastically altered our habits because of it, but what about alcohol? Doesn't that do just as much damage? In fact you could argue it does more, seeing as it can potentially have adverse emotional and psychological effects as well as simply physical. But drinking alcohol still seems to be the height of fashion, particularly in the UK.

How many people do you know who don't drink? And I mean don't drink at all? Nothing? Not one drop? Not many I'll bet. Britain is a country of boozers. Where do we do most of our socializing? Down the pub. What do we do to celebrate? Drink. What do we do with our sorrows? Drown them. What usually accompanies a nice meal? Alcohol. We seem to turn to booze whenever we want to relax or whenever we feel we've done something good: soaking in the bath with a glass of wine; cracking open a beer after a hard week's work.

It's astonishing when you stop to think about it. If you look around you, wherever you are, there's always someone somewhere having a drink. I seem to notice it more and more since severely cutting down myself. My daily early morning cycle into town invariably takes me past a group of drunks, still out from the night before; or a solitary individual clutching a can of Stella or Strongbow on his way to... well, who knows where?

If you've ever been the only sober one on a night out, you'll see how both funny and alarming it is (or sometimes downright boring) to watch other people get more and more rat arsed. I remember one such occasion last Hallowe'en in a nightclub with some friends. I suddenly noticed everyone around me acting very strangely and asked another sober friend "Are they all on drugs?" She laughed and replied "No, they're just pissed!" I was convinced they were all off their faces and it made me realise how strongly alcohol can affect us: our minds, our perception, our emotions, our reflexes, our bodily functions, in fact there doesn't seem to be a single part of us that isn't affected when we drink.

The front page of my local paper, The Argus, yesterday declared "CITY HAS A DRINKING PROBLEM". Apparently Brighton & Hove is drinking itself to death and I'm sure it's not the only city in Britain. But, unlike smoking, I can't see the government doing anything to curb our drinking habits any time soon. Well, how could they when it's such an ingrained part of our society, our upbringing even? It's part of what makes us British, what makes us human. But at what cost?

Well, I'll leave you to ponder over those issues for a while. I'm off down the pub to get shitfaced. Come on, it is Friday after all... ;0)

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