Okay, so everyone can groan at something stupid said under the influence; whatever was said, however, it’s probably safe to assume few ships are sunk these days due to lips loosened by alcohol. In the bigger picture, an utterance is the least damaging side-effect of the demon drink when too much is consumed. From what I can gather, I’m a relatively entertaining drunk – very theatrical in my behaviour and quite amusing; for me, the inner extrovert is released for a few hours, which I don’t mind as long as Quentin Crisp knows when it’s time to go back into his box. I’d hate to be the kind of drunk I grew up being exposed to – not so much the physically violent as the verbally violent.
I don’t necessarily believe excessive drink reveals the hidden core of a person, but I do believe it can unleash an element of a personality that social convention suppresses. It can certainly bring an X-rated anger to the fore that festers during extended sobriety; it can also elevate an unpleasant nastiness espousing previously-unheard bigotry and prejudice to the surface. I once had an extremely PC friend whose publicly-aired opinions ticked every right-on box, though I recall an occasion when her alcoholic intake exceeded its safety limit and she suddenly began disparagingly referring to Muslims as ‘them’, something that served to render her political correctness a sham subconsciously engineered to survive and prosper in her chosen social demographic. For some, drink can have more serious ramifications when it gives Mr Hyde the green light.
Yesterday, a 23-year-old student called Samuel Watts found himself behind bars for a crime committed when he was under the influence, though this was no embarrassing utterance. He killed someone. The victim was a 72-year-old pensioner called Melvyn Hargreaves who was walking his dogs with his wife when they encountered the pissed student itching for a fight; Mr Hargreaves stood his ground when Watts let rip with a stream of profanities and shoved him, leaving Watts without the scalp he clearly craved. Watts retaliated by chasing after the old man as he walked away, pushed him to the pavement from behind and then proceeded to literally kick Hargreaves’ head in. Watts then did a runner and the ambulance arrived. Hargreaves died of his head injuries within a couple of days of the attack.
What emerged from the tragedy once Watts was arrested thanks to CCTV footage was that he had already had a go at five other individuals unfortunate enough to cross his path before settling on Melvyn Hargreaves, the consequence of heavy drinking in Derby city centre that night. During his trial for manslaughter, Watts claimed he had no memory of the attack, which may well be true; but it is equally true that he was conscious of his actions at the time if his immediate flight from the scene of the crime is anything to go by. He made the choice to drink himself into a rage, just as he made the choice to inflict a vicious beating on a 72-year-old, just as he made the choice to run once his despicable deed was done. However, the fact that his appalling behaviour was attributed to the drink gave his barrister the opportunity to play the ‘diminished responsibility’ card, which resulted in a sentence of a paltry nine years; and, as we all know, perhaps only half of that will be served. Samuel Watts will probably be a free man again before he reaches thirty. Some justice for the family of the man he murdered, eh?
If a violent streak isn’t already present, drink cannot bring it to the fore; drink doesn’t have the power to transform us into completely different people, merely the ability to expose a symptom of our personas that others can be unaware of. There was evidently a psychopath nestled deep in Samuel Watts, one that drink could coax out of its shell, and one that drink did indeed coax out on that fatal evening just over a year ago. But is drink a sound excuse? Obviously not where many rape accusations are concerned; in those circumstances, drink is viewed as incidental to the perpetrator’s inner rapist and there is little talk of diminished responsibility when juries and judges go to work.
Whichever incarnation of Mr Hyde that drink can let out of gaol, there are many occasions when he badly needs some compassionate leave, if only to let off steam that will then keep him subdued when it’s time to return to the cell. Drink can be good for that. It just depends what shape Mr Hyde takes before we let him out, for if he happens to be a psychopathic sadist when obscured by abstinence, he’ll still be a psychopathic sadist when his cell door is opened.
© The Editor