by Colin Bloom
Much of my life has been spent dealing, in one way or another, with society's problems. As a Street Pastor, I've been up close and personal to almost everything that a rowdy Friday night can imagine. As the founder of the rough sleeper project the Curry Union, I am often on the streets dealing with the politics of the streets. In the middle of the last decade, I spent four years as Chairman of one of the largest and most successful CDRPs in London, much of that time was spent looking at problems associated with the night time economy.
(Statutorily all Unitary Authority should have something called a Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership (CDRP), it's a strategic body made up of the heads of the local Police, Fire Brigade, Council, Ambulance Service, Public Health and similar local bodies.)
Drunkenness and the rise in alcohol related diseases is getting a lot of attention at the moment. Whilst the Lancet is estimating 210,000 preventable deaths in the next 20 years, in a prelaunch of the Government's forthcoming alcohol strategy, David Cameron gave a speech about the "scandal" of drunkenness and alcohol abuse that costs the NHS £2.7 billion a year. He posited the idea of US style 'drunk tanks' - cells to keep the inebriated in overnight; and it seemed until recently all but certain that the Government would be following Scotland's lead in introducing some kind of minimum pricing for alcohol.
Whilst the rise in alcohol addiction and problem drinkers is a scandal, and things like minimum prices, drunk tanks and tougher trading standards are all good tools to have in the tool box; nobody is seriously thinking that by themselves they will solve the problem. The challenge is complex, and in truth is linked to most of our other big intractables; it will neither be fixed through a single strategy, nor will it be overcome quickly. After all, this is not exactly a new dilemma; more than a hundred years ago the co-founder of the Salvation Army, Catherine Booth was doing something about the "scandal" of alcohol, and using much braver terms than any public figure would dare to use now. Maybe we need a Catherine Booth in the Cabinet.
It is probably truer now than in Booth's time that everyone feels the effects that drink has on society. Unless you lock yourself away in your home, never go out and never turn on your telly or listen to the radio, the issue of booze is ubiquitous. For many blokes like me though, we have become totally inured to seeing men the worse for wear and behaving badly; of course I don't condone that behaviour, but I suspect we have some empathy with what's going on. However, try as we might to be very PC and equal about the subject, we can't bring ourselves to be indifferent about the relatively new phenomenon of young women getting trolleyed, smashed, blitzed, caned or worse.
A few Friday's ago, the night before the snow came, I was making my way home. It was cold, very cold; and along with some guys just like me sporting scarves, thick overcoats and briefcases we stood standing shivering at the bus stop heading for the 'burbs. All around us are a number of what are known as 'vertical drinking establishments', pubs with little or nowhere to sit, places that sell fizzy foreign lager and vodka based fruit drinks that have names dreamed up by marketing executives to sound 'wicked'.
Every night I stand at a bus stop and every night there are incidents which fall within the range between loud boorish behaviour and police sirens with street fighting. This is in an affluent area of London which is, if the crime statistics are to be believed, one of the safest places to live in the Capital; even so, every night I think up plans of upping sticks and moving the family out to the, err, sticks.
One particular night recently, a pair of boisterous starlets obviously the worse for drink teetered past, wearing what appeared to be dental floss. Such was their shivering orange hue that they looked like they had fallen out of Peter Hain's bathroom cabinet and then into a chest freezer; and in truth their make up probably weighed more than their outfits. I'm sure they were lovely, but that night they were a sad mess.
This is not an uncommon site around my way, but it was all the more incongruous because the sub zero temperature was making their skin resemble the flesh of freshly plucked carrot fed chickens. It was a tragic scene of girls wanting to be beautiful and attractive, when in reality they just looked cold and pitiful.
And then began a ten minute conversation between four complete strangers at a bus stop, all fathers of young daughters, about the plight of young drunk women.
"That's someone's daughter," one of the chaps at the bus stop muttered.
"I wouldn't let my girls out like that," said another.
"Look at the state of them. It's not an attractive look," said a third.
"But what can be done about it?" I ask.
Unsurprisingly, and since we all rated ourselves as responsible and wise parents, we hit upon the novel idea that these young ladies needed better fathers. For sure there will be some uncontrollable daughters, who have great dads that are pulling their hair out at the behaviour of their offspring, but it was obvious to us at the bus stop that most of these girls simply needed better Dads. Men that would tell their daughters that they were more beautiful sober, and much prettier when they dressed more modestly.
There is nothing attractive about being drunk; the lies of the wicked marketing men, need to be replaced by the paternal advice of a loving father. Will this problem be solved by Government? Probably not. Could it be solved by better Fathers? Possibly.
On this point, I'm sure David Cameron would agree.