The news these past few weeks has been drink-saturated. George Best dying was always going to make the headlines, but his dying as we embraced round-the-clock boozing gave the story an added dimension. Meanwhile, a high court judge ruled that consent to sex from a woman rendered semi-unconscious by drink is, none the less, consent. As I read this alcohol-related coverage, two things struck me. One, when did drink become so central to our lives? And two, look how far women have come since the Sixties. Now it's not just the blokes getting bladdered and looking for fights in the town centre on a Saturday night. It's the girls, too! And isn't that . . . great?
To put it another way, when George was sloshing Bollinger over champagne saucer towers in the late Sixties, the women keeping him company would never have dreamt of matching him glass for glass. Mindful of the possibility of their mascara smudging, the women of this generation were considerably more cautious of drink than their male counterparts. Maybe they were vainer. Maybe they accepted the theory that no man likes to see a woman drunk. Perhaps they'd just taken on board the statistics about relative liver size, and worked out that trying to keep pace with the boys was simply daft. Possibly they reckoned it wasn't practical for a woman on a date to get to the point where she couldn't open her handbag to get out her keys. Or maybe they just weren't interested. Whatever.
Now, drinking is an equal opportunities game. If anything, the girls have upped the stakes with their Charlotte Church bravado. And you can see why people shy away from condemning the new binge equality. It's hard to argue that women should be protected from themselves, harder still if you have always rather prided yourself on being able to drink most men under the table, without then taking your top off and insisting on playing billiards. Still, here goes.
After twentysomething years of reasonably serious drinking, and all the risks, potentially life-threatening stunts and hilarious incidents that entails, I have come to the conclusion that women should be noisily encouraged to remember that they are not men when it comes to drinking; that they are more vulnerable both in the short term and in the long term than the squittiest bloke at the bar who can't even handle the first Martini. Drink is terrific, but it is different for us, just like the bathwater temperature. Drink is fun, but it's a very different ball game for a woman (ask taxi drivers, who at this time of year spend their lives checking up on girls staggering aimlessly in the street, for fear that they might read about them the next morning in the paper). We do need protecting. We do need to be more responsible. We are not men. There, I've said it.