THE train was busy. It was the last one out of Waverley heading west on a Festival Friday night and noise levels were rising as people talked of what and who they’d seen, their voices thick and oiled with beer, wine and high spirits. It had been a good night.
In one carriage a young man with a guitar on his lap was being gently harassed to start playing by a woman who was obviously the worse for wear. He politely refused – again and again. Meanwhile another female was gyrating in the aisle, asking fellow travellers to look at her butt – the lyrics apparently of a Nicki Minaj song.
The train from Edinburgh to Glasgow is perhaps regularly like this at weekends, it’s not often I’m on board. But I was that particular night and to my shame I was the person giving the guitarist pressure to play. Poor chap.
I do know the Friday train the other way is also generally populated by people in varying stages of drunkenness as my other half often finds himself surrounded by them on his way home. It’s no wonder rail staff are generally nowhere to be seen.
Of course letting off steam after a long week is not the crime of the century and drunken antics on board public transport nothing new. But when it comes to sexual harassment, intimidation and verbal abuse as it did recently on the Newcastle to Edinburgh train, then there’s obviously a problem – and it’s a growing one.
I’ve never understood the idea that travelling – be it by train or plane – means normal rules on drinking don’t apply. I once saw a group crack open bottles of cider at 7am on the train to London because... well, just because. Similarly for many the airport bar is the first stop after check-in no matter the hour. I guess for some it’s always wine o’clock (a phrase now in the Oxford dictionary) somewhere in the world.
It’s all part and parcel of our culture’s drink problem of course. There’s a nihilism about weekend or holiday drinking; the idea that you need to get blasted out your mind to get over the working week, or for those unemployed to forget about the fact you’re not working. To get blootered, to become oblivious to your life – and therefore to the lives of others – seems to many to be the ultimate aim of having a drink.
Who among us, apart from the teetotal, can cast the first stone? Who has not been guilty when young of desiring to fill themselves with that glorious, carefree, indestructible feeling that alcohol can trigger? Of believing anything is possible; that you are more attractive, bright, witty after a few drinks? It’s perhaps why we all keep making the same mistakes with alcohol when we’re old enough to know better.
Few can say truthfully they always know when to stop. As a nation we like a drink, even if drink does not like us, and the morning after the night before makes us dislike ourselves too. There is little glory in vomit, hangovers, a night in the cells or a trip to A&E.
It is without doubt a national problem. In Scotland a fifth more alcohol is sold per adult per year than in England and Wales – indeed enough has been sold for every adult to drink more than 20 units each and every week for the last 15 years. Drinking to excess costs the nation £3.6 billion a year through the effects on the health, police and prison services. Forty five per cent of prisoners in our jails were drunk at the time of their offence.
The government is grappling with the issue – minimum pricing is still on the cards to stop alcohol being sold cheaper than water in supermarkets – but the solution lies in our hands, in our own behaviour and in the knowledge that dignity is more important than the number of Jaegerbombs you can down. That is a lesson learned through hard experience. It’s worth passing on.