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It’s much better, actually, not to have done something you later regret. Or is it?

Should I go to the party? Should I?

Something strange and unwelcome is happening to me: I am turning into a non-party person. Whereas once I would turn up, as the saying goes, to the opening of an envelope, last week I stayed home first, on Friday, for the launch of an Extremely Famous Author’s book (name removed in order to protect your ears from the harsh clang of a name being dropped) and then, the next day, for the annual party of an old colleague and friend, which I haven’t been able to go to for the past umpteen years, simply due to diary clashes and/or childcare duties.

This was different to a big literary party. This was going to be a shindig attended by many people I love and have known for years and years (and yet still love them).

Spruce almighty

There were two snags, though: (1) it was being held south of the river, in Lewisham, and (2) I was feeling lousy. That kind of non-specific exhaustion lousy, where the eyes feel weighted in their sockets, like those of a creepy doll in a horror film, and there is a marked disinclination to travel to parts of London if either a train journey or a ruinously expensive minicab journey is involved. (You know civilisation has
taken some kind of wrong turn somewhere when you discover that you can now fly to an airport roughly near Venice for less than the cost of a taxi ride within London.)

So I get out my large-scale map of the city and, with the Hovel as the centre, draw a circle indicating the furthest border at which this party, which I really have been looking forward to going to, would have to be for me to haul my carcass out there. The circle’s boundaries are around Swiss Cottage to the north and Soho to the south.

Still, I reckon that maybe a spruce-up will help and I am disgusted with myself for such feebleness, so shower and shave and dress reasonably smartly . . . but no. I find that it is not enough to wash the tiredness from my bones. I try that old wheeze where you say to yourself something like: “It is much better to have done something and regretted it than not done something and then wondered for the rest of your life, blah, blah, blah.” You know what? That saying is a crock and anyone who believes it or, worse, lives their life by it, is operating under profound self-delusion.

I can think of any number of things I should not have done but have and very few things I have not done that I should have. Even the unambiguous pass made at me decades ago by a multimillionaire’s daughter – on whom, moreover, I had the most enormous crush – I was right to turn down. Even more relevantly, I can think of many parties I have gone to that I have deeply wished I hadn’t.

So, the clock ticks, the half-hourly trains to Ladywell trundle away from Charing Cross and the window of opportunity slowly closes – and besides, Doctor Who is on and I am alone in the Hovel . . .

It is that last that is the clincher and, I suddenly suspect, the real underlying reason why I am so reluctant to leave. For it is all very well living in fun Bohemia in central London but the downside of that is that I have to share accommodation. Yet, this evening, I have the run of the place to myself.

You know what? When you’re going to be 50 next year, living in shared accommodation, even with the most delightful companions, isn’t fun or something to be particularly proud of. There are only four people on earth I would really like to live with and three of them are my children. One of the basic definitions of acceptable shared living arrangements is this: that you live with people who could, without their asking, use your toothpaste and you wouldn’t mind in the slightest.

Decline and fall

I have been trying to pretend that this place is more my own these days: buying things to hang on the wall, tidying up, and so on. It is a mockery, a simulacrum of domesticity. As the autumn approaches, not only of the year but of my life, I start worrying about where I can really cosy up in without fear. (It’s the prospect of new life that brings out the nesting instinct in women; it’s the prospect of death that brings it out in men. Discuss.)

So, what with one thing and another, I decide to stay at home, if an expression of humiliating inertia can be dignified with the word “decide”, and spend an evening in, enjoying that exquisitely bitter cocktail of emotions – remorse, regret and self-pity – and by the time I realise I really ought to have gone to the party, it is too late.

Still, Doctor Who was good, wasn’t it?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 24 September 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Lib Dem special

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The strange death of boozy Britain: why are young people drinking less?

Ditching alcohol for work.

Whenever horrific tales of the drunken escapades of the youth are reported, one photo reliably gets wheeled out: "bench girl", a young woman lying passed out on a public bench above bottles of booze in Bristol. The image is in urgent need of updating: it is now a decade old. Britain has spent that time moving away from booze.

Individual alcohol consumption in Britain has declined sharply. In 2013, the average person over 15 consumed 9.4 litres of alcohol, 19 per cent less than 2004. As with drugs, the decline in use among the young is particularly notable: the proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2013. But decreased drinking is not only apparent among the young fogeys: 80 per cent of adults are making some effort to drink less, according to a new study by consumer trends agency Future Foundation. No wonder that half of all nightclubs have closed in the last decade. Pubs are also closing down: there are 13 per cent fewer pubs in the UK than in 2002. 

People are too busy vying to get ahead at work to indulge in drinking. A combination of the recession, globalisation and technology has combined to make the work of work more competitive than ever: bad news for alcohol companies. “The cost-benefit analysis for people of going out and getting hammered starts to go out of favour,” says Will Seymour of Future Foundation.

Vincent Dignan is the founder of Magnific, a company that helps tech start-ups. He identifies ditching regular boozing as a turning point in his career. “I noticed a trend of other entrepreneurs drinking three, four or five times a week at different events, while their companies went nowhere,” he says. “I realised I couldn't be just another British guy getting pissed and being mildly hungover while trying to scale a website to a million visitors a month. I feel I have a very slight edge on everyone else. While they're sleeping in, I'm working.” Dignan now only drinks occasionally; he went three months without having a drop of alcohol earlier in the year.

But the decline in booze consumption isn’t only about people becoming more work-driven. There have never been more alternate ways to be entertained than resorting to the bottle. The rise of digital TV, BBC iPlayer and Netflix means most people means that most people have almost limitless choice about what to watch.

Some social lives have also partly migrated online. In many ways this is an unfortunate development, but one upshot has been to reduce alcohol intake. “You don’t need to drink to hang out online,” says Dr James Nicholls, the author of The Politics of Alcohol who now works for Alcohol Concern. 

The sheer cost of boozing also puts people off. Although minimum pricing on booze has not been introduced, a series of taxes have made alcohol more expensive, while a ban on below-cost selling was introduced last year. Across the 28 countries of the EU, only Ireland has higher alcohol and tobacco prices than the UK today; in 1998 prices in the UK were only the fourth most expensive in the EU.

Immigration has also contributed to weaning Britain off booze. The decrease in alcohol consumption “is linked partly to demographic trends: the fall is largest in areas with greater ethnic diversity,” Nicholls says. A third of adults in London, where 37 per cent of the population is foreign born, do not drink alcohol at all, easily the highest of any region in Britain.

The alcohol industry is nothing if not resilient. “By lobbying for lower duty rates, ramping up their marketing and developing new products the big producers are doing their best to make sure the last ten years turn out to be a blip rather than a long term change in culture,” Nicholls says.

But whatever alcohol companies do to fight back against the declining popularity of booze, deep changes in British culture have made booze less attractive. Forget the horrific tales of drunken escapades from Magaluf to the Bullingdon Club. The real story is of the strange death of boozy Britain. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.