Competition - Win a bottle of champagne

No 3576 Set by John Buckman

Bill Giles and the BBC weathermen have come up with a nice little number at the public's expense for travelling round the world in the guise of The Weather Show. We asked you what other groups might come up with something similar.

Report by Ms de Meaner

It was with a sad heart that I rejected many worthy callings (butchers, college finance officers, firefighters) and allowed a rather inward-looking entry into the winners' box, namely compers from the NS. But, my darlings, it was pretty funny. £15 to the winners; an hon mensh to Frank Dunnill; and the bottle goes to N Syrett .

Humour knows no bounds. It is proposed that a Global Comp Challenge (to be sponsored by the British Council or the National Lottery) will be paid on an annual basis. The challenge will comprise a 20-bout series of competitive word games to be held in various international locations renowned for their understanding of wit and their appreciation of fun. The 30 qualifying members of the travelling player-team will be those listed in the 1998 New Statesman Winners' League Table (team captain: Will Bellenger). The following is part of a suggested 40-day itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive in Bali. R&R and some team workouts (punning and anagrams). Banquet sponsored by Ms de Meaner.

Day 2: Tour of local sights with some fanciful definitions and meaningless phrases. A warm-up game of parodies with local magazine comp winners.

Days 3-4: Free time.

Day 5: Onward connection to Gulf of Mexico. Stopover in New Orleans. "Verbal Fun Night" in the French Quarter with Louisiana Lips and the Perverse Versifiers.

Day 6: Private settings/reports around the pool. Late-night S&M (satire and mockery).

Day 7: Free time.

Day 8: Onward connection to Yukon. Games of wit and parodying with local chapter of Malapropism Club. Champagne sponsored by Tesco (MC: Ian Birchall).

Day 9: Private musings (MC: Basil Ransome-Davies).

Days 10-11: Free time.

Day 12: Arrive Tokyo. Appearance in Tamagamey TV (epigrams and haikus). Reception at British Embassy, followed by knees-up at Irish Embassy.

Days 13-15: Free time.

Day 16: Arrive Honolulu. Sonnet quarter-final.

The itinerary can be extended or altered to suit local circumstances and competitive conditions. First option on bidding rights has been granted to Channel 5.

John O'Byrne

As Ofsted inspectors, it is vital that we maintain, encourage and improve standards. At our recent conference in the London Guildhall, we concluded that we must seek to ensure the standard of our own standardisation by (1) comparing our standards with the standards of other educational systems and establishments; and (2) comparing our educational standards with standards in other industries - such as, for instance, the tour operator trade. Tour operators are very like teachers. They have a constant turnover of clients to inculcate into new ways, new mores, new cultures. They must maintain tight daily schedules. And they must deal efficiently with the vital bureaucracy which ensures the smooth operation of any organisation. They also like a good holiday! But, joking apart, we plan to monitor key interface preparation and remediation by differential outcomes in a strategically selected sequence of hotels beginning with Bali, moving on to the Maldives, and investigating Rio de Janeiro. Only then will we begin to have a measure of our measurements. We will feedback on the quality assurance of meals and staffing and establish a reliably factorised quotient by which teacher performance may be managed more efficiently still.

Will Bellenger

"He's a tricky devil," said the brigadier commanding 7 Airborne Brigade, "your Johnny Bali Islander."

"Horrible what they do to tortoises, horrible," chimed in his intelligence sergeant.

The chief of defence staff sighed. "But an invasion, gentlemen? Surely an over-reaction?"

"Basic human rights abuses, sir," said the brigadier. "Some of those beach hotels charge the equivalent of £7.25 for a gin and tonic." The CDS blanched.

"And you should see these intelligence reports." He laid a pile of bright pamphlets on the table.

"But surely these are tourist brochures?"

"Propaganda, sir," said the sergeant, "designed to lure unsuspecting Britons into batik shirts and straw hats."

The CDS sighed. "And the Seychelles?"

"Guano, sir, and cinnamon. We take them for granted, of course. But if a hostile government takes power, well, I wouldn't like to answer for the consequences."

"And remember what happened to Mad Mike Hoare, sir."

The CDS brightened. "Ah yes, good chap. So, we need a codeword."

"Op Garden of Eden, sir," said the brigadier. "We plan a two-pronged operation with 3 Para staging a diversionary assault on Tahiti."

"And the Foreign Office view?" The CDS looked up to see his juniors staring at him, bemused.

"Forgive me gentlemen, I've been overdoing it."

N Syrett

No 3577 Set by June P Langfield

Villains such as Flashman often arouse more interest than the hero. We would like extracts by 20 May (max 200 words) in the style of the original book, with your favourite villain as the central character.


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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.