Alex Massie

From Gin Lane to Faliraki

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Ah, Sarah Lyall. Bless her. The New York Times' London correspondent has an entertainingly gruesome piece on the lagered-up misbehaviour of Brits on tour. No-one who has spent any time on Cyprus or the Costa del Sol will need reminding of the horrors that await the unwary or innocent traveller who stumbles upon the modern British tourist in his - and, indeed, her - natural element. It is, as you would expect from Ms Lyall, well done and, in places, appeallingly, well, dry:

But they [Brits in Greece] said that the lurid stories are media exaggerations.

“I’ve never seen anyone get stabbed the whole time I’ve been here,” said Chris Robinson, 21, speaking outside the Loft bar, which had a special deal: four drinks and two shots for $8.

Similarly, Eleanor Seaver, 20, said that she had been in Malia for two months, working in a club, and that she had never once been in a fight. On the contrary, she said, people are comradely and helpful. “If there’s a girl being sick in the streets, you see people helping her out,” she said. “We watch out for each other here.”

Paul Fisher, a 49-year-old Welshman who runs a bar and a motorbike-rental shop, said the stories both depressed the tourist trade and, perversely, drew the sort of visitors for whom drunken anarchy is an attractive prospect.

“We don’t like you lot coming in and ruining the place,” Mr. Fisher said, referring to reporters. He opened a drawer and produced a copy of the celebrity magazine Closer. An article inside featured a young female British tourist’s “booze-fueled orgy with four men” in Malia.

Things like that give Malia a bad name, Mr. Fisher said. “This is wrong and it’s overexaggerated,” he said.

On the other hand, he conceded, “for 10 weeks, this place is littered with kids being sick and unconscious in the streets.”

James Poulos suspects Britons behave like this because we inhabit "the most mirthless of all pink police states" while Rod Dreher wonders if a decline in religious observance could be connected to this destructive ghastliness. Well, up to a point my friends. 

It is true that other countries do not behave like this. Perhaps they have adapted to modernity better than Britons. But if one takes a longer or broader look at the matter then one realises that this sort of boorish drunkeness has been the norm, not the exception in British history. There were reasons beyond a desire for control and the pleasures of tut-tutting disapproval for the rise of the temperance movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (Fun fact: Winston Churchill was kicked out of the House of Commons in 1922 when he lost his Dundee seat to Neddy Scrymgeour of the Scottish Prohibition Party. Second fun, or surprising fact: whole areas of Glasgow, such as Cathcart, remained dry until as recently as the 1970s).

One need only think of Hogarth's etchings warning of the pernicious social consequences of drink or, a century later, of Cruikshank's cartoons such as "The Bottle" or "The Worship of Bacchus" to remember that booze has been a, perhaps the, major social issue in Britain for at least the past quarter of a millenium. Of course, Hogarth championed Beer Street as a sweet and healthy alternative to the sozzled excess of Gin Lane but then again, beer was generally healthier than water in those days.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleSociety