Wollstonecraft BabychamLittle girls and ladies who’ve been through ‘The Change’ – presumably the two female demographics the manufacturers of alcoholic drinks should henceforth aggressively target. Women of ‘childbearing age’ are now apparently verboten, at least according to the ever-dependable World Health Organisation, so sales of the most prominent ‘lady drinks’ are destined to plummet unless the prepubescent and postmenopausal are encouraged to swarm into their local off-licence. That’s right – the WHO didn’t say ‘childbearing women’, but ‘women of childbearing age’. As girls are able to become pregnant once they start riding the menstrual cycle and can pretty much keep popping them out until they hit the menopause, that’s a pretty wide area to make an alcohol-free zone.

The World Health Organisation hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory over the past eighteen months, so the timing of this bizarre recommendation seems especially odd, particularly when it stands to reduce the WHO to an even more contemptible laughing stock than it already is. The response to the proclamation has been pretty universally derisive; the WHO was accused of paternalism and sexism, both of which seem fairly accurate accusations. The ongoing infantilisation of women has taken numerous fatuous forms over the last few years, often emanating from a position of seeking to protect the precious little shrinking violets from the malevolent male of the species. However, it sometimes feels like the Suffragettes never happened, so patronising and Victorian have many of the proposals been, and this latest laughable WHO advice is treating women like the archetypal ‘sickly child’ of the 19th century novel.

Mary Wollstonecraft, the 18th century author and thinker routinely (and rightly) cited as the Godmother of feminism, railed against the way in which young women continued to be treated as children both socially and legally in her landmark 1792 book, ‘Vindication of the Rights of Woman’. Her passionate and groundbreaking work is an ideological foundation stone unearthed during each successive feminist wave, yet were she around today Wollstonecraft would see in this WHO recommendation precisely the same condescending tone women of her era were confronted by whenever they sought to assert any sort of independence as befitting a fully-grown adult. Amidst increased marginalisation by the loud, screeching voices of trans-activism and the capitulation of institutions, public bodies and the corporate world to this unhinged take on biology, women are now being informed that their childbearing years – essentially the prime years of their lives – should be years of teetotal temperance, presumably so they can perform their sole duty as breeding machines.

Almost 30 years ago now, a friend of mine who was a smoker didn’t pack in the habit during her first pregnancy; the baby was healthy when born and it appeared the impact of cigarettes on the womb was nonexistent. Around a decade or so later, a friend of a friend who also smoked when pregnant often spoke of the ‘dirty looks’ she received if lighting-up in public when carrying such a prominent bump. Move on another decade and-a-bit and it’s hard to imagine a woman having the nerve to grab a quick fag in private when with-child, let alone in public. My point is that smoking during pregnancy is now such a social black-mark against the mother-to-be that it has practically been outlawed. Drinking when pregnant doesn’t provoke quite the same horror in the observer, but it’s still regarded as ill-advised and reveals potentially bad parenting skills. The WHO proclamation unsurprisingly references this, recommending that ‘appropriate attention’ should be given to the prevention of drinking ‘among pregnant women’ – which is what you would expect them to say – but then adds the more contentious inclusion of ‘women of childbearing age’.

Christopher Snowdon from the Institute of Economic Affairs didn’t mince his words. ‘This is classic World Health Organisation idiocy,’ he said. ‘Not content with repeatedly dropping the ball on Covid-19 and dishing out awards to politicians for banning vaping, it now thinks most of the world’s women should abstain from alcohol. The idea that it is unsafe for women of childbearing age to drink any alcohol is unscientific and absurd. Moreover, it is none of the WHO’s business.’ One wonders if any of the experts who put this WHO recommendation together are mothers of young children for whom a glass of wine at the end of a stressful day is such a vital shot of medicine that it should probably be available on prescription. Even the chief executive of Alcohol Change UK, whilst sticking to the ‘drinking when pregnant is bad’ narrative, was critical of the WHO advice. ‘Drinking alcohol in the early stages of pregnancy…can be very damaging for a foetus,’ said Dr Richard Piper before going on to add that it was ‘vital we balance this against each adult’s right to make informed decisions about what we do with our bodies, no matter our age or sex.’

Joining in the chorus of disapproval was the Portman Group, which regulates alcohol in Britain. ‘We are extremely concerned by the WHO calling on countries to prevent drinking among women of childbearing age in their latest action plan,’ said chief executive Matt Lambert. ‘As well as being sexist and paternalistic, and potentially restricting the freedoms of most women, it goes well beyond their remit and is not rooted in science. It is wrong to scaremonger in this irresponsible way and associate women’s alcohol-related risks with those of children and pregnant people.’ He could have done without saying pregnant ‘people’ – the word ‘women’ would have sufficed; but the fact even organisations like the Portman Group and Alcohol Change UK have reacted in such a manner perhaps shows what an own-goal this WHO ‘action plan’ really is.

A current storyline on ‘The Archers’ concerns the alcoholism of young mother Alice Aldridge; the character drank during pregnancy and the baby was born premature, thus enforcing the public health edict that drinking when pregnant can be damaging for one’s baby. Had the WHO’s ‘global alcohol action plan 2022-2030’ concentrated on that as well as the children and teenagers it also mentioned as the groups who should be dissuaded from hitting the bottle, few would’ve batted an eyelid. However, to include women alongside babies, kids and teens – regardless of whether or not they intend to have a family – seems to bracket women back in the same infantile limbo they occupied during Mary Wollstonecraft’s lifetime.

NHS advice on alcohol consumption is awash with the familiar language of ‘units’, recommending that not exceeding 14 of them a week is the act of a responsible drinker. Apparently, that translates as 10 glasses of wine (low-strength) or half-a-dozen pints of beer (average-strength). A recent study revealed binge-drinking remains an issue for one in three adults; despite regular claims that today’s adolescents spurn the practice in comparison to their predecessors of 10-20 years ago, it would seem the grownups still like a binge – particularly those at extreme opposites when it comes to incomes. ‘Highly-educated women’, AKA the middle-class Alice Aldridge types, are also cited as being most at risk. Were the World Health Organisation not possessed by the same crusading moralistic zealousness that appears to afflict every institution with a remit for improving public health, maybe people could actually be persuaded to alter their more unhealthy habits; as it is, by overreaching this remit and extending even further into the private sphere, any sensible suggestions are lost amidst the anger and derision this latest WHO missive deserves.

© The Editor


Not necessarily a product of lockdown – though one I can imagine flourishing during it – the plentiful YouTube videos in which young (generally black) American males watch videos of old music they’ve never heard before can be quite an entertaining way to spend a spare ten minutes. Any members of a generation raised on the kind of sterile, personality-free, pre-programmed and Auto-tuned white noise that a cursory visit to yer local Superdrug or Wilkos guarantees unwanted exposure to are bound to have their minds blown by receiving a dose of something completely different. Unsurprisingly, the most animated reactions tend to greet the unfamiliar and alien freeform wildness and weirdness of the pre-production line age, i.e. the 1970s, and some of the strangest sounds from that uninhibited ‘anything goes’ era of music generate the best responses. I watched a handful the other day wherein the viewer was able to observe unsuspecting ears ingesting ‘Hocus Pocus’ by Dutch prog-rockers Focus for the first time. Following the gentle head-nodding to the ‘rockier’ moments, the fun began when the yodelling kicked-in and jaws surrendered to gravity by swiftly hitting the floor. A fair amount of ‘WTF?’ moments were in abundance and it was a genuine joy to see the youth of today realise the youth of yesterday were far more radical than they had any notion of.

If lockdowns have achieved anything from which any crumbs of comfort can be retrieved (a tall order, I know), perhaps forcing people to look beyond their usual sources of stimulation and venture into areas that haven’t been recommended by Spotify algorithms has been one unforeseen development. Being spoon-fed pre-packaged entertainment 24/7 is an insidious trend that maybe more than one generation has now been subjected to; but if some of the YT review videos of previously-unknown songs I’ve seen are anything to go by, it would seem a few bored youngsters are tentatively stepping out of their preordained cultural comfort zones and sampling something free from the endorsement of influencers whose knowledge of pop barely stretches back a decade, let alone into that wicked old last century. It’s just a solitary example of hope that the destabilising turmoil of the past twelve months might have opened a few fresh horizons and fractured the rigid listening habits imposed upon the young by the corporate hegemony. Good on ‘em.

As for their parents, cultural exchanges don’t quite work the other way round, and it would appear many have fallen back on reliable stimulants to see them through the worst. The Office for National Statistics has this week released stats revealing alcohol-related deaths (Covid not included) have increased 16% on the corresponding timeframe from the previous year. Between January and September 2020, 5,460 fatalities attributable to drink were listed, the highest tally since records began in the surprisingly recent year of 2001. Perhaps the largest-recorded number of alcohol-related deaths coming during a period when people are locked away and socially isolated for months on end shouldn’t be a great shock; but when one considers house-arrest and fear over catching the Chinese lurgy has also impacted upon hospitalisation for non-coronavirus illnesses such as liver disease, maybe the dramatic increase is even more understandable. There has also been a constant suspension of traditional in-person support groups such as AA ever since Covid closed the country down, preventing another avenue of rehabilitation for the committed consumer of the demon drink.

In response to the stats, Professor Linda Bauld from the University of Edinburgh said, ‘These are preventable excess deaths, and are a stark reminder that there are indirect harms from this pandemic beyond the immediate threat to health and life from Covid-19.’ You don’t say! Whilst surveys conducted during the first lockdown implied intake of alcohol had initially decreased amongst many with pubs, clubs and bars suddenly out of reach, realisation that the hospitality industry wouldn’t be opening its doors again in the near future appears to have prompted a rise in consumption. Those already prone to the bottle simply turned their homes into their own private snug whilst those who had previously kept their intake at a manageable level gradually followed suit once it became evident we were in this for the long haul. Of course, in Soviet Scotland and the People’s Republic of Wales, the Puritan mindset at the heart of the bodies governing those nations has attempted to limit the sale of alcohol and ration fun on the grounds of public health; but who can blame a populace denied virtually all avenues of pleasure from seeking solace in drink? For many, there’s not a lot else to do.

One of the perennial problems with drink is the way in which its effects can be so variable. Few drugs have the capacity to inspire euphoria as well as despair, laughter as well as tears, joy as well as heartbreak. Yes, it can create a marvellous sense of camaraderie amongst strangers, inspiring communal singsongs and the loosening of inhibitions in the shy and socially reserved. But at the same time, the loosening of inhibitions can also release less appealing traits, sometimes leading to sexual assault and/or physical violence. It can erase the short-term memory as effectively as a course of ECT and leave the guilty party oblivious to their actions when under the influence; if those actions constituted some ‘mad’ albeit ultimately harmless behaviour that can enable witnesses to dine out on anecdotes for years, fair enough; but the consequences are not always so entertainingly memorable. Lock a lone drunk in a claustrophobic household with a family for months on end and chances are there won’t be much in the way of a happy outcome.

The ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme that was briefly sold as a pseudo-Dig for Victory patriotic duty back in the summer may have provided the economy with a short-term shot in the arm, but it was also criticised in some quarters for promoting an unhealthy diet of the kind public health experts are constantly railing against. There has been no ‘Drink Out to Help Out’ equivalent, so drinking has remained an exclusively indoor activity throughout the numerous national and regional lockdowns over the last ten months. The stats certainly suggest long-term drinkers have continued to ride on the oblivion express whilst the train has picked-up passengers en route that would ordinarily jump on and off between stations without once considering purchasing a ticket taking them to the end of the line. But these are not ordinary times.

The aforementioned decimation of the in-person support network as well as the reluctance of those suffering from alcohol-related ailments to turn up to A&E means both the lack of outside help and the decline in emergency admissions have undoubtedly pushed up the death rate. Dr Sadie Boniface of King’s College London said, ‘Because of the way alcohol-specific deaths are defined, most of these deaths were as a result of chronic health conditions caused by longer higher risk or dependent drinking. Around four in every five alcohol-specific deaths is from alcoholic liver disease; this means the increase is not explained by people who previously drank at lower risk levels increasing their consumption during the pandemic.’ In short, the unique conditions of 2020 certainly pushed moderate drinkers into unprecedented excess, but it was the sudden removal of treatment for those already well beyond that stage that caused the rapid increase in fatalities. Sadly, the prioritisation of Covid has probably led to more deaths from innumerable illnesses that would usually receive immediate attention than anyone anticipated; yet this likelihood should have been bloody obvious from day one. A drink may well inspire a joyous burst of air guitar to ‘Hocus Pocus’ or even a bout of amateur yodelling, but it unfortunately inspires less celebratory side-effects, ones than are currently being criminally ignored.

© The Editor


When I was a kid, the only people I knew who lived on their own were a few old ladies. I assumed they were all widows, going by the sepia-tinted portraits of Brylcreemed young men I sometimes spied on the sideboard. They probably lost their husbands in the war; but if they were of actual pensionable age (rather than merely ‘looking old’, as anyone over-40 did back then), I guess some of them might have been widowed in the ‘14-18 bash as much as the sequel. It was a long time ago. I was given the impression the solitary life was reserved for a very narrow demographic; there was nobody in my wider family who lived on their own, for example. Aunts and uncles already out of their teens remained at home until they got married; that was presented to me as the natural order of things. None of them went to university either, so they didn’t even get to experience what now seems to be the routine route to liberation – even if returning to the nest as a debt-addled graduate with little hope of being a homeowner is the inevitable anticlimax to this adolescent interregnum.

Unlike my childhood, those who live on their own today aren’t necessarily ageing widows, and being the sole resident of one’s abode is no longer viewed as especially unusual or even a little suspect if you don’t resemble Ena Sharples or Minnie Caldwell. A 16% increase in the number of Brits living alone in the 20 years between 1997 and 2017 pushed the numbers up to 7.7 million; and whilst widows and widowers naturally still figure, higher divorce rates have played their part too; what used to be referred to as spinsters and bachelors are also far more abundant today than they were 40-odd years ago.

Interestingly, whilst there has been a 16% fall in the 25-44 age groups, the 45-64 demographic has seen a rise of 53%, with a higher proportion of both the divorced and the never-married filling the stats, reflecting changing social mores. Men living alone outnumber women – particularly in the 25-34 groups – until we reach the 55-64 groups, when the numbers even themselves out. The former groups mostly consist of the unmarried, whereas divorcees dominate the latter. All age groups, however, are less likely to own their home than married couples without children. Rented accommodation in later life can bring with it specific uncertainties and insecurities; higher levels of anxiety and lower levels of happiness are also attributed to living alone when compared to couples.

Of course, being alone doesn’t necessarily equate with being lonely; as Bryan Ferry once so memorably said, ‘loneliness is a crowded room’. Indeed, for every Eleanor Rigby, there is someone quite content to own their own space, especially if they’ve experienced an unhappy marriage or have made a conscious choice to avoid matrimony altogether. One’s profession can also play a part in the success of one’s living arrangements; some jobs are conducive to domestic bliss, whereas others encompass antisocial hours or are simply designed for solitude. I can certainly vouch for the latter. Unless writers could work out a way to ‘jam’ in the manner musicians do – perhaps sitting in a circle hammering away at their laptops in synch – it’s very much something that is allergic to the communal and enhanced by the absence of company.

The creative process can last days, weeks and sometimes months, during which time a writer must be the least desirable spouse it’s possible to imagine. Married men-of-the-pen who managed to make a handsome living from it have at least enjoyed the luxury of a ‘writing shed’ at the bottom of the garden; both Dickens and Roald Dahl famously retreated to theirs when the muse struck, and their families understood this meant ‘do not disturb’. Rented flats on the top floors of houses aren’t quite as accommodating, though at least the solitary life in such circumstances ensures that which Virginia Woolf famously referred to as ‘a room of one’s own.’

Naturally, for every plus to living alone there is a minus. Whilst there are many solitary dwellers whose boy/girlfriends regularly sleep over and therefore enjoy a ‘part-time’ relationship that can work for both parties, there are plenty more bereft of that option. If one has nobody to come home to of an evening or wake up with in the morning, the opportunities to self-indulge in self-abuse (and I’m not talking strictly masturbation) are myriad. With nobody to watch over you or rein in your excesses, the temptation to overdo it can be tempting indeed. The problem is, unlike being an overgrown Macaulay Culkin, the novelty of the home alone scenario ceases to be a novelty if it’s the norm. It’s easy to slip into the mindset that nobody gives a shit, so why should you; and that’s a hard habit to break, one that fuels such self-indulgence. Drugs are a popular passport to personal oblivion; but when it comes to writers, the demon drink appears to be the most common excuse for not knowing when to stop.

Although a considerable stretch from being a ‘proper alcoholic’, I admit that until relatively recently I was well on my way to having a serious drink problem; and what had initially emerged as a psychological crutch following a personal tragedy quickly morphed into the clichéd components of the author’s armoury. I completely fell for the stereotype of the death-wish wordsmith with the bottle of scotch and packet of fags as his constant companions and suffered the consequences in terms of the damage it does to those around you. When I belatedly recognised the damage it was doing to me, I finally did something about it – even though I left it far too late to salvage what it had already cost me. My stint as Ray Milland interestingly had no adverse effect on the work – which probably made it easier to avoid addressing the issue – but its slow-burning impact on my life beyond the written word was devastating.

I can take a less-than nourishing crumb of comfort from the fact I was a ‘funny’ drunk rather than nasty (like my father) or violent (like those found in Saturday city centres); but it’s not much in the way of solace when I reflect on what a selfish, nihilistic dickhead I was. In truth, I am profoundly ashamed of the way I behaved and no apology to the injured party can ever be good enough. But at least I’ve narrowed down my consumption from an average daily intake of two bottles of wine, a dozen glasses of whisky and half-a-bottle of vodka to a solitary Chardonnay one evening a week. I might drink it wholly alone, but at least it’s all I drink.

Food can be another casualty of the solitary life. The appeal of a hearty meal doesn’t necessarily escape those living alone, but the lengthy preparation can feel like an immense demand on both time and energy when there’s only one mouth to feed; the easy alternative of some microwaveable plastic that can be unsealed, heated and scoffed in barely five minutes reflects the fact that solitude sometimes breeds hostility towards the ceremonies reserved for couples. In contrast to the instant meal for one, preparing, cooking, stirring and serving a proper dinner for two is a ritual that can span an hour or more, albeit a ritual that – if shared – can be as exquisitely intimate an experience as any that two people can enjoy with their clothes on.

Living on your own, as with sharing your life, has the potential to be either a blessing or a curse depending on the circumstances; both arrangements have their advantages as well as disadvantages, and both should be tried at least once. I’ve known many a miserable soul trapped in a loveless relationship, just as I’ve known many a life and soul for whom the thought of having to share their space is anathema. Ironically, when one examines the statistics, one is very much not alone in being alone.

© The Editor


HydeOkay, 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