Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The English Disease

It was my birthday last week. I am thirty fucking five. I came in to the office on Wednesday to find my desk festooned with balloons and birthday banners from my co-workers. I hate birthdays and my colleagues know this. The balloons were ironic and made me smile for all of 30 seconds before I ripped them down.

I am not a complete misery though and braved the mean streets of Brighton for a conciliatory drink at the weekend with an old friend who was visiting from the US. He is English but has been out of the country for over 10 years so has been out of the loop with regards to what the kids get up to these days. We were both in for an eye-opener.

Walking around Brighton on a Saturday night in July is not something for the feint-hearted. Hordes of stag and hen dos swell the city's population during the summer months to claustrophobic proportions. Throw in some random day trippers and plagues of foreign students who visit in Brighton in the guise of learning English but are really just here to wear back-packs, chew gum and get off with each other and you have a volatile mix.

Throw in some booze and it all kicks off.

It is a sign of what is to come when the first bar we walk into has 10 glassed of Red Bull into which a bartender drops what looks like shots of Kahlua or some other sickly short. A man dressed as an extra from Top Gun downs the concoction and satisfyingly plonks his glass on the bar with a thump. Another group are nosily occupying a corner of the bar and are taking photos like the camera has just been invented. One of the group is wearing a shirt with a slogan that reads


I wish I could muster the same level of enthusiasm.

We head out to another bar this time nearer the centre of town and we people watch for a bit. A guy in his late-20's emerges from around a corner dressed in lurid pink leggings and a child's Mickey Mouse top with the nipples cut out. He is stumbling towards the entrance. He is obviously the stag and his mates usher him into the pub and make him down some shots.

A couple of streets along we see a guy in his 40's struggle valiantly to stay upright whilst leaning against a wall. He looks like an Elvis impersonator doing the hip swivel or an auditionee for Bambi On Ice as he totters about for a few seconds. He loses his battle with gravity and unceremoniously hits the deck. All his mates (men and women) laugh uproariously. No one offers to help him up.

I feel a visit to Brighton will not be complete if I don't show my friend the delights of West Street. This is Idiot HQ. For those unfamiliar with Brighton, West Street is a long road that runs perpendicular to the beach and contains such respected establishments as Yates Wine Lodge (wine served by the pint) Walkabout Bar and an assortment of tacky bars and clubs.

As we make our way uphill we see queues of cackling hens dressed in learner plates and rubber willies chatting up the bouncers. Preening lads packing more hair gel then Superdrug desperately hope their fake I.D's will fool the gorillas on the door. The police presence is tangible as they know this is a trouble spot. It is a modern day freak show.

My friend noticed that the atmosphere around town was more threatening than the sort you would get in the States. Despite the fancy dress and high spirits an air of perpetual violence threatens to bubble over at any point.

I lived in Spain for a good few years. The Spanish like a drink and wine and beer is never far from the table yet in all my time there I don't ever remember seeing a single person staggering about or acting in an aggressive manner.

Unsociable behaviour is an English disease that sets us apart from most civilized countries. We can't just drink a couple and end it there. We have to get battered. To paraphrase one of my teammates at university

"If we don't pull we'll get into a fight"

I find the behaviour all a bit sad and embarrassing really. Perhaps my shock is just a sign of my advanced years and it has always been this way. I have the nagging feeling public standards are getting worse.

Just to ram home the point we stop off at a local kebab shop to get my friend some traditional English food. There is a young woman at a table outside quietly enjoying a meal with a friend. A shaven headed moron with a can of Stella in his hand leers over her table and burps out an

"Alright love" .

The woman wisely keeps her eyes down on her food and keeps quiet. There is a short pause and then the moron's mates give her a torrent of abuse

"Fucking slag!"

and then walk off laughing. I hold the gaze of one of the kebab shop owners who was possibly Lebanese. He rolls his eyes and waggles his hand under his mouth indicating the universal sign for drinking. What must he think of the constant stream of intoxicated pricks stumbling through his doors?

I nod back to him and pretend I'm foreign.