I was going to do a post about last-minute Christmas gifts under £20 today – and I’ll do it tomorrow, I promise. But I heard something rather interesting on the radio today: BBC London presenter Wendy Hurrell has been spending the festive season drinking no alcohol whatsoever. (I should add that although I’ve done the odd chat on BBC London myself I don’t know Ms. Hurrell at all – we’ve never met, I am not promoting a mate’s blog here).
This contrasts with my post yesterday about drinks to serve at Christmas. But it’s an interesting experiment. She confesses in her blog that she was putting away up to 40 units per week – not getting drunk, just having that extra one or two after a hard working day – and decided to give it up. There will be a followup programme on the BBC in January.
Now, the standard advice for a man is to limit yourself to 21 units, 14 if you’re female. Research from the Times in 2007, when the journalist tracked down one of the people who set those limits, was enlightening. If the report and the scientist quoted are to be believed there’s no science behind the figures, the authors just thought they ought to say something because binge drinking was getting out of hand. There was in fact no data behind the numbers of units.
Nonetheless, drinking too much is becoming a problem for our society and Hurrell’s experiences have been instructive. First people around her react as if she ought to have a drink – and I ask myself, why do we pressure people to have a drink when they may not want one? Second, she’s realised that some of the time she was drinking not because she particularly wanted a glass of something but because she’d fallen into the habit. Any of us who routinely crack open a bottle of wine with an evening meal to wind down after what hasn’t been a particularly heavy day will know that feeling. There was even research published last week to suggest that some people will claim they’re driving when they’re not, just to avoid having a drink forced on them. So what, we’ve reached the stage where we can’t actually admit we don’t fancy a booze-up?
I really will be driving at Christmas so don’t anticipate drinking much, at least until I get home. But our relationship with alcohol is a complex one, and in this country we don’t seem to handle it as well as some of our neighbours do. Hurrell’s approach is extreme and of course is partly in aid of a TV programme, but re-thinking why so many of us have a drink as the default option rather than because we actually want to is a perfectly sensible idea.