When I first started to write this column, I was concerned that I might influence people to increase their alcohol consumption to a level that was detrimental to their health. I was consoled by the government guidelines and stories that alcohol in small doses was beneficial. There was also the feeling that the recommended limits were somehow plucked from the air, rather than being the result of scientific research. That, however, is history. Since Friday 8th January, the Department of Health has ruled that all consumption of alcohol is bad for you. The new limits which have been published are designed to lower the risk, not eliminate it. So finally we can say farewell to the days when the factory workers knocked off or the miners came up to the surface and downed a dozen pints of weak beer to replace the lost fluid. We will never see the likes of Winston Churchill again, who was reported to have drunk 42,000 bottles of champagne during his lifetime, even though he was equally partial to brandy.
I look back at my childhood and fondly remember the days of roaming the Pennine moors and collecting used bullet cases from the army firing range to sell at the scrapyard. I mourn the loss of the mill on the River Irwell, washed away in the recent floods, which me and my mate visited by climbing over the back wall up from the river bank when we were teenagers. I marvel at the way me and my twelve year old schoolmates were allowed to catch the train from Bury to go trainspotting places such as York, Birmingham, Derby, Crewe and London.
We now live in an age of seat belts, breath tests, speed cameras, red warning dots on food packets, fire certificates, wired in plugs, squashy rubber mats under swings and advice on cups of coffee that the contents might be hot. Wear your helmet when you ride a bike or play cricket, and stick to the path when you go for a walk. We are advised not to consume too much fat, salt, sugar or alcohol. Children go to football coaching and have to be told to ‘Close him down’ or ‘Push it wide’ rather than be given a ball and a back alley. We deter right wing politicians such as Trump by organising an on line petition rather than driving them from the streets, à la Oswald Mosely in the East End.
And do you know what? Taken individually, I would be strongly in favour of most of these initiatives, but taken together don’t they somehow squeeze all the joy from life? Look at the old pictures of a past age and they are black and white, but my memories of the time are in glorious vibrant colour, and it is today that seems increasingly sepia toned. Perhaps to be truly alive you need to take a few risks, and if one of them is to go down the pub now and again and have a few pints with my mates, I might take that chance.
But don’t let me encourage you to ignore the advice. Children of today, get your excitement from watching the Kardashians on TV and thrill to playing Fifa16 on the computer. You can follow the guidelines and live on spring water and kale smoothies and build into your schedule time for your recommended 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. You can avoid alcohol, tobacco, drugs, caffeine, salt, sugar, legal highs, and loud music. And after all that, do you know what? – Spoiler Alert- you will still one day die.