The Final Day
The final day. Perfect weather and good company. We met the food bank contingent for lunch, and then we marched up Shotover Hill and down the other side into Oxford.
For the last couple of weeks, as we have tottered from theatre to theatre in a great arch, we have been blessed with great company and, in the main, fine walking weather. The administration was fine, and we are grateful for all the kind messages you have sent us as encouragement. We have been fortunate to attract an excellent driver who has been a fund of tolerance, wisdom and good cheer when we were feeling what the Scots call “peely wully.”
Avoiding the Net
All the walkers saw Emma Radicanu’s outstanding tennis performance. One of them – experienced in the ways of the media – wondered how long it would be before a hack unearthed some occasion where the poor woman allegedly behaved badly. I hope she will be well looked after.
I have never liked getting drunk myself. It’s simply not in my genes. But when I was young, hard drinking was all around me. The measure of the enjoyment of the jocks in the Cameron Highlanders in which I served all those years ago was the degree to which they could get “effing stoshered!” Their recreational antics – vomiting and fighting – were a commonplace to be regarded with approval by the officers, a sign of their renowned fighting spirit.
Later, in Edinburgh, I shared a flat with a man who often used to drink until he was rendered unconscious. I can see him in my mind’s eye, lying on the floor covered with vomit. He was delightful in many ways, but incapable of sobriety.
There was little social disapproval of excess boozing in those days. In my subaltern days, drink driving was a sport and dodging the police was never condemned. Instead, it was regarded as an amusing campaign of dodging authority: the fun-loving youngbloods versus the killjoy plods.
For a while, the mood shifted. Slowly my friends realised that the addiction to alcohol wasn’t a just bit of fun. A friend’s son was sent to jail for killing a cyclist and the jokes seemed to die down. But then the booze game came back with a vengeance. Today, expressions like “down the hatch,” “quenching our thirst” and a “night out with the boys” are all euphemisms for getting wasted. As a result, alcohol-related deaths in England and Wales are rising, 20 per cent higher than in 2019. Hospital admissions related to alcohol stand at a ghastly 1.26 million! Just imagine the national reaction if this statistic was related to Covid-19?
Today, nearly 40 per cent of incidents connected to violence relate to drunkenness. And the geographical inequalities are shocking. In southern England, there are two deaths per thousand from drink, in south Tyneside it’s a staggering 22 per 100,000!
Today, half of all ambulance callouts are related to drink. If you’re obliged to wait in A&E with an ill child for, say, four hours, then at least two of them are probably down to someone else’s drink problem. And please note, not criminal drugs but socially acceptable drink. “Have another gin, ho ho!”
We have a culture problem. We take a hostile view of drug abuse, but we treat the most dangerous drug of all as a national joke, often to be encouraged as “fun”, always to be tolerated and never to be condemned except by killjoys.
We should review this acute problem – soberly.
Thanks, But No Thanks…
Years ago, I was the chairman of the board of the Milton Keynes Health Authority. Nearing the end of my tenure in office, I was approached by a woman who asked whether I would like my name attached to the new building next door? My pride kicked in! I had raised money for it, and no one had even noticed. They say that the most exquisite pleasure of all is to do good secretly –and then to be found out. This was proof of that saying!
Okay, it wasn’t quite a statue but at least a plaque is better than nothing? How could I refuse?
I was a little surprised she had asked me because I didn’t like her particularly and I was sure my vague feelings of animosity towards her – and she was a lady of little taste! – were reciprocated.
Something bothered me, so I asked the chief executive what the purpose of the new building would be?
Oh, it’s to be the “Buckingham Centre for Sexually Transmitted Diseases,” he replied.
I gratefully declined…