Thursday, 17 May 2007

Tipsy town

Is it insulting or flattering that a new survey finds Belfast to have the biggest boozers in the UK? Depends on your point of view, I guess, and your own partiality for the liver-eating liquid.

The survey by PCP of Luton, a company that rehabilitates hardened drinkers, found that people in Belfast spend an average of £47,568 on alcohol in their lifetime.

Leaving aside exactly how they arrived at that figure, which a trained statistician would probably rip to pieces (and actually it works out at only £2 a week more than the next booziest city, Cambridge), it certainly makes me think about Northern Ireland's astonishing capacity for boozing, on every possible occasion on the flimsiest of excuses ("Hey, I found the budgie - fancy a drink?")

That £47,000 is a hell of a sum. Just think what you could do with it instead - a hefty deposit on a house, a trip round the world, an incredible number of CDs, or a huge wardrobe of designer clothes.

Visitors from other countries are constantly dumbfounded by the British and Irish tendency for relentless drinking - not just a glass of wine to embellish a meal, but pint after pint of the stuff until they've literally taken leave of their senses.

It's not just recklessness or hedonism. Scientists say some people have a special metabolism that can digest rivers of alcohol without a serious physical reaction (apart from hangovers, that is). In other parts of the world, people simply can't process such an overload of booze so they drink very little.

Personally I take after the latter, as I've never been comfortable with more than a glass or two of alcohol, even as a wild teenager. More than that can bring an instant headache and almost complete incapacity the next day. I'm always amazed by the ability of other hangover-struck individuals to act completely normal and compus mentis.

It's ironic that with such widespread religious observance in these parts, there are so few teetotallers, or even light drinkers. Somehow people manage to square their insatiable urge for a brimming tankard with a God who teaches moderation in all things.

Is it possible that one day we'll learn to appreciate quality over quantity? I'll drink to that!


  1. Nick, I've read a few books on the temperance movement in Ireland and actually the country has a huge number of teetotalers. It's moderation that lacking.

  2. It is always good to come top of a table. It's like winning a race. Even better if it means beating rivals along the way!

  3. Medbh - thanks for that. I stand corrected!

    Con - surely all depends what the table is. Wouldn't like to be best ever serial killer....

  4. I drink very little. My wife and I frequently comment that where others vow to cut down on their drinking, we must resolve to increase ours a little. Perhaps as a result of this, I have a pretty strong contempt for the notion of going out 'to get drunk.' How pathetic is that exactly? If you can't enjoy yourself without getting bladdered, then you need to rethink your priorities, or just grow up.

    I also hate the tendency among those who drink a lot to try to insist on everyone keeping pace with them. I don't try to stop you from drinking, so don't tell me to drink more. Perhaps this betrays a sense of guilt about the amount they drink, which can be assuaged by dragging others along with them.

    The other reason I often don't drink when I go out is the sheer dread of having to try to get a taxi in Belfast City Centre late at night. God, I sound like a total killjoy. I do actually like drinking alcohol, but as an accompaniment, not as the main course.

  5. Good for you, John, savouring it for what it is instead of seeing it as some sort of macho front-line challenge - how much can I take without collapsing?

    The whole group pressure-to-drink syndrome is a subject in itself, there are so many factors. And difficult to resist once you get drawn into it.