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On the Tiles
By Jeremy Bowen

Everyone can remember their first time. Perhaps it was openly at a family party, or secretly in the local park.

We are not talking about falling in love, though for some people it leads to an affair that can enhance life, or destroy it.

I'm talking about your first tipple, your first brush with the demon drink.

Sometimes it can be a friend, though if it's your best friend you ought to start worrying. It can turn into your worst enemy.

Dr Mark Porter: "It's the most used and abused drug in our society"  real 56k

The key date I remember was at the end of 1973. On that day, my cousin Jonathan and I, teenagers who wanted to grow up a little more quickly than parliament intended, circumvented Britain's dreaded licensing laws for the first time, at the buffet bar in Victoria Station in London.

When I was growing up, nobody I knew at my comprehensive school in Cardiff used illegal drugs. A lot of us didn't even smoke. But everybody I knew liked a drink, sometimes quite a few of them. From the age of 16 or 17, our favourite place was the local pub.

Since then, my range of interests has broadened out. But like many (or most) British people, I still find it hard to think of any kind of social occasion that is not lubricated by a drink or two.

Dr Mark Porter: "After six to eight pints you're on the slippery slope"  real 56k

So when Steve Condie, one of the producers of the "Booze" series, asked me to spend an evening boozing in the West End with Dr. Mark Porter, it did not sound like the toughest assignment I have had in nearly 18 years as a BBC journalist.

I thought Mark would be having a few drinks too, but he abstained once he had consumed a nauseating looking concoction that was decorated with coloured umbrellas.

I plunged into the spirit of the evening, starting with a couple of very dry martinis in the interests of journalistic enquiry.

"Dry", as every martini drinker knows, means that the shadow of the Vermouth bottle has passed over the gin but not much more than a few drops have made it into the glass.

Jeremy Bowen: "I had this terrible Tequila experience"  real 56k

We went from a trendy bar to a crowded pub. I switched to pints as Mark, with some relish I thought, described the stages of drunkenness and the way that every drink was affecting my brain.

I don't think I went much beyond the stage of "dis-inhibition" - the point you reach at, say, a wedding after the waiters have been around half a dozen times with the champagne.

The noise levels rise and start bouncing back off the ceiling. Jokes become funnier and the opposite sex starts looking more attractive. The world seems a brighter, better place. Unfortunately, that stage does not last long.

Dr Mark Porter: "Alcohol disrupts the quality of your sleep"  real 56k

Later, when I saw the tapes of our night out, I was shocked by only one thing. I thought I had been regaling Mark with a series of crisply told anecdotes. I am sure I told him that I didn't feel drunk. But the camera cannot lie. My voice was slurred and my eyes were wobbly.

Alcohol is a powerful drug. Used in moderation, it's fine. But too much, as too many people have found out, is damaging, dangerous and even deadly.

So enjoy it - carefully...

One For The Road is on Tuesday, 19 March at 2235 on BBC One.

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