Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Monday, 26 April 2010

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

"For it was Saturday night, the best and bingiest glad-time of the week, one of the fifty-two holidays in the slow-turning Big Wheel of the year, a violent preamble to a prostrate Sabbath. Piled up passions were exploded on Saturday night, and the effect of a week's monotonous graft in the factory was swilled out of your system in a burst of goodwill. You followed the motto of 'be drunk and be happy,' kept your crafty arms around female waists, and felt the beer going beneficially down into the elastic capacity of your guts."
(Alan Sillitoe: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

Fifty years on, Alan Sillitoe's words still resonate. The spectacle of young men - and women - drunk and incapable now fills our city centres on a regular basis, while po-faced sociologists wonder what prompts their behaviour and try to secure fat research grants to find out.

Being sociologists, they probably worked hard at school and joined all the right societies at university, thereby ensuring they missed out on experiencing the key element at work here - fun. The 'glad-time of the week', letting go after five days of abstention with an explosion of self-indulgence, coincides with cheap alcohol and long opening hours to create a Bacchanalian perfect storm.

It's an indication of how far New Labour have come from their working-class roots that they fail to understand the phenomenon, instead wringing their hands in bemused disappointment that these 'yungpeeple' persist in ignoring the recommended number of units despite all those expensive initiatives and campaigns.

To reduce it to its simplest cost-benefit terms, the Government has yet come up with anything that outweighs the perceived enjoyment of a drunken night on the town. The drinkers are already aware of the risks - whether violence or health-related - but trade them off against the social advantages; the same phenomenon urges on a herd of animals crossing a crocodile-infested river.

And herd instinct is at the heart of this - again, perhaps a closed book to the cloistered sociology researchers. Sillitoe's words are straight from the horse's mouth - the result of four years as a teenager working in the Raleigh factory in Nottingham - and he understood a thing or two about cameraderie. Drinking is something his anti-hero does in company, preferably raucous and occasionally violent.

The first step to tackling the problem has got to be understanding what creates it in the first place. Instead of endless seminars, consultation groups and quangoes, those whose task it is would do better to talk to the revellers, get to know them and understand the forces at work. Reading Saturday Night and Sunday Morning probably wouldn't go amiss either.

In memoriam: Alan Sillitoe , 4 March 1928 – 25 April 2010

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