Being bossy won’t stop middle-aged men drinking…

FOOD yesterday, drink today. My last blog concerned the BBC’s intention to remove 11,000 recipes from its BBC Food website, partly at the urging of the fingers-in-pies chancellor George Osborne.

A petition was launched and soon gathered more than 120,000 signatures. Hours later the BBC said the recipes wouldn’t disappear but would instead move to the BBC Good Food website, owned by its commercial arm BBC Worldwide.

I signed the petition, even though signing petitions jars my nerves – there are just too many nowadays – and my ledge-bound indignation caused a few others to sign, too.

As for Osborne, since when did chancellors care about BBC recipes? This chancellor really can’t stop interfering in everything under the sun; and with a few things that probably never see the sun.

Food done, let’s drink. Alcohol runs through this blog from time to time, much as it runs through this writer from time to time. Being the age I am and having the inclinations I do, this recent headline caught my eye: “Middle-aged men ignore safe alcohol limits.”

The story said middle-aged men drink above government guidelines and do not believe it does them any harm, according to findings from Drinkaware, the charity funded by the alcohol industry.

Earlier this year, the chief medical officer/chief bossy person lowered the suggested drinking limit for men from 21 units a week to 14 – the same as women. So part of the problem is that middle-aged men who were not considered to be drinking too much before have now been reclassified as potential problem drinkers.

I find these stories irritating and hectoring, but I do try to be honest when writing about alcohol. So here is an average week’s consumption: nothing Monday to Thursday, then maybe two pints or two or three bottles of beer over the weekend, along with a few glasses of wine, and sometimes a Friday-night whisky. If my wife likes the wine, she’ll have one glass, occasionally two; if she doesn’t I might drink the whole bottle over two days.

A glance at a government chart suggests this would be above the new limit but below the old one. Wine is my downfall in a sense, partly because I enjoy drinking it, but also because I finish off whatever is left by Sunday night.

This pattern is the same as it has been for years; and the days of abstinence are the same, too. Maybe one day I might give up, but it seems unlikely, and my father, who is heading for 84, still likes his wine, although he too has alcohol-free days. He also still goes swimming, as I go running, cycling, play squash and badminton.

I realise that alcohol can be a problem. Just popping into the centre of York on a Saturday afternoon and evening shows that: the place is teeming with drunk people and the atmosphere is alarming, and occasionally hostile. So many bars, so many pubs, they all stay open for most of the day, and sometimes the results aren’t pretty.

But speaking as a middle-aged man who drinks at home and has an occasional pint out, this safe limit is ignored partly because it has been so drastically changed. And also because middle-age people don’t like being bossed around.

The experts quoted in the story all said health warnings should be put on all alcoholic drinks. Well, go ahead – but I am not sure this will make the slightest difference. Middle-aged men, along with everyone else, will just carry on enjoying their drink and will ignore the warnings.

This isn’t to say that educating people about the potential harm caused by alcohol is a waste of time; just that doing it in a nanny-stage nagging manner might well be.

And, yes, some middle-aged men do drink a lot. On Sunday we went to see a film at City Screen, then popped into the Maltings for one drink. Returning on the bus, we witnessed a spot of real-life theatre as a man, probably older than middle-aged, carried on a rambling shouted conversation with the bus driver from a few seats back. They knew each other and the man said he’d been out drinking for eight hours. “And in that time I’ve heard people talk a lot of shite,” he said.

Returning home, and with that florid man in mind, I ended the day with one glass of wine, making a weekend tally of two bottles of beer, one pint of beer and three glasses of red wine (fairly low in alcohol at 12 per cent).

And I have to say that I enjoyed every slurp and sip.

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