While I skip the former (as a five foot eight “big-boned” Brit sunbathing just isn’t my thing) there’s nothing I love more than sitting in a sunny beer garden on a lovely summer’s day with a G & T in hand.
But this week I began to ponder Britain’s relationship with booze for two reasons. The first was the release of new figures showing A & E waiting times are now at their worst level for nine years.
The health system is currently under an enormous amount of pressure for a number of reasons (more of that another day). But when 20% of A & E admissions are alcohol related (rising to up to 70% on Saturday nights) it’s hard to avoid the truth – we really can’t handle our booze can we?
The second reason I got to thinking about this subject was due to my own experience at Epsom with some business colleagues last week. After a ten-hour stint watching the races (in the sun, with a glass permanently in my hand) I was guilty of indulging in some robust behaviour and colourful language on the coach on the way back to Hertfordshire.
I spent the weekend red-faced (and not just from sunburn) apologising to all and sundry for any offence I may have caused.
So I am not approaching this issue from the moral high-ground. Nor am I suggesting we should all become teetotal.
But it is hard to reconcile the obvious contradictions. Visit any high street in the country on a Saturday night (Watford High Street for example) and you will see plenty of plastered people staggering out of kebab shops, getting into fights and heaving into gutters.
A couple of years ago, when the government relaxed licensing laws to allow pubs and clubs to stay open and serve alcohol later, everyone was citing the French as an example. The French, we were told, drink wine practically all the time but never get horrifically wasted and make tits of themselves.
But the change in law didn’t really make much difference. While the French can sip a single glass of wine over several hours in a display of staggering maturity, we Brits can’t resist the urge to chug the minute a pint glass is put in our hand.
There is something in our national psyche which means that while we keep a stiff upper lip for much of the time, when we cut loose we really cut loose. And the results are not pretty.
To add to this confusion, the Government is advocating we drink less, to save the NHS money, while raising more than £7.5 billion per year from duty paid on alcohol sales. That’s a whopping amount – the same as it generates from VAT.
So it’s official, booze is the nation’s favourite drug. And we have a complicated, juvenile relationship with it. As someone who is as guilty as anyone of overindulging I’m probably not qualified to come up with a solution to help address this problem. But I would be interested to hear your ideas.