#31. CHANGING LONDON'S DRINKING CULTURE. I’m no teetotaller, but I can’t help noticing how much Londoners like their booze. It’s partly down to their gung-go, competitive attitude to drinking, but it’s also caused by the prevalence of venues with stupidly loud music and insufficient seating, forcing the locals to drink just to put up with the conditions. The places people inhabit shape people’s habits, and vice versa.
Maybe I’m turning into a lightweight or getting old, but sometimes I yearn for a more continental cafe culture in the capital. The problem is, cafe culture only really works when you can sit outside until midnight in nice weather. Alas, we can’t do anything about London’s climate.
But there are other ways to promote moderation in drinking. My brother lived in New Zealand for a while, and when he came back he told me about how the transport situation out there tends to curb excessive drinking. With New Zealand being sparsely populated, people tend to converge from miles around when going out, and so they drive to the venue and back, and stay more sober. Influenced by their customer needs, pubs usually serve ‘lights’ – lower percentage alcoholic drinks – with no social stigma attached to drinking them.
A London Cycle Map, accompanied by road signs and markings, would change the transport situation in London. On a bike, people could get from anywhere to anywhere in the capital by following a few safe, quiet, coloured cycle routes. This would inspire lots more Londoners to cycle, and might even make cycling the default transport choice for millions.
In turn, this might change people’s drinking habits. As anyone who has ever travelled on a late-night Tube or a night-bus can attest to, inebriated people can and do make it home on public transport. But it’s not so easy on a bike. Most cyclists, rightly, drink sensibly if they are riding, just as they would if they were driving – after all, drunk cyclists can cause fatal crashes just as drunk drivers can. In addition, cycling makes boozing seem less intrinsically appealing: feeling fitter and more energised and alert, as well as less stressed, reduces the impulse to drink.
By inspiring more Londoners to cut down on their boozing – albeit indirectly – a London Cycle Map would have a positive effect on individuals and communities, boosting levels of fitness, motivation, happiness and intelligence, while reducing violence, callousness and infidelity. (David Nutt, former drugs advisor to the New Labour government, noted that, when you factor in alcohol's effect on other people not just individuals, it is more harmful than heroin or crack – a pronouncement he was promptly sacked for.)
I propose a toast to the London Cycle Map – with a cup of tea.