Dry bones

I have it on good authority that the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone. We should all bear that in mind when considering what is going wrong with our society and how to put it right. At the top of the bone-chain comes the head bone. That some are more bone-headed than others is clear, yet I believe we all still have the capacity to learn. So what have we learned from the British government’s decision to considerably loosen the drinking laws back in 1995 and then again ten years later?

How about this: once upon a time, you went down the pub at eight, listened to a live band, drained a few jars until ten-thirty (as many as you could, and here’s the rub), then “last orders” was called and half an hour later you rolled home, drunk as a bishop but still more or less on your own legs. Those with more money than sense went private-clubbing in places where they could be served into the wee small hours. These days you can turn up at almost any time and drink till you fall over, and if the bar won’t serve you there are a dozen off-licence facilities nearby who will be happy to see their stock of canned lager diminish. Your pre-deregulation ability to get as many pints as possible inside your skin before the bell, developed by hard training and handed on to your children as part of the national patrimony, now has no time limit.  Welcome to the world of binge drinking. Like the trained athlete you are, if no one shows you a flag you’ll go on until you drop, or until there’s no more competition. And of course, like any serious discipline, you need to start early if you’re going to be any good at it. That’s why the number of under-18s who have to be hospitalized for alcohol poisoning or alcohol-related injuries is currently increasing by 40% every three years, and by the age of 12 (according to a recent survey by the charity Alcohol Concern) the drinkers already outnumber the non-drinkers. We are almost back among the gin-halls of Victorian England, before there was any licensing, when you could drink yourself to death in a couple of hours (thousands did), and when in some parts of London the air itself was so redolent with alcohol as to present a fire hazard.

Dem bones gonna walk aroun’

The reforms that changed the nation in the late 19th century, from the temperance movement to effective licensing laws, disprove the adage that it’s impossible to get the toothpaste back in the tube. Thus the answer would seem to be tough new legislation, yet again. How sad. My proposal on that front is quite a simple one: set a threshold level for being “drunk in charge of a body” (let the lawmakers and medics decide how much this should be, two or three times the level permissible for driving a car or so …) and then breathalyse teenagers as they leave the pub. What people do at home is their own business, but when normal folk are scared to go into the centre of town to take in a film or a show because the night-time streets are full of rowdy, vomiting idiots, then it’s time either to bring the curtain down on the whole party with draconian laws or designate “dry zones” in towns and cities, much like no smoking areas, where the rest of us can exercise our slightly drier bones in peace.

While we’re busy connecting bones, we might pause to wonder what ligaments connect us to our mind, or to our emotions or our memories. We really know so little about ourselves and practically nothing about others.  “What’s Montague?” queries Juliet, “it is nor hand nor foot, nor arm nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man.” Derrick Bird, everyone seems to agree, was a “lovely man”. Yet he went on a shooting spree that has so far left 12 dead and 25 injured in a quiet rural area of Cumbria. What was ticking in the brain of this socially integrated family man that turned him into a killing machine? Did he know the answer himself? Will we ever know it? Whatever it was, it was not hand, foot, arm or face.  Knowing that the toe bone’s connected to the heel bone doesn’t take you very far.

Try explaining magnetism to a child. Why do like poles repel? Why do opposite poles attract. A symbolic answer for the attraction is easy: you talk about opposites such as male and female or wet and dry, heat and cold … quite simple really. But explaining repulsion is a far more difficult. Can you even explain it to yourself? What is repulsion? Is it a genuine force? Surely it ought not to exist in the world I so neatly explained in “serious numbers” not long ago. Heat exists, cold = lack of heat. Light exists, darkness = lack of light. Ergo: good exists, evil = lack of good. Neatly buttoning down hatred as a lack of love is easy enough if you’re explaining rabid racism, fanatical nationalism or the desire to clobber anyone who doesn’t support Arsenal. But it gets complex when “a lovely man” goes berserk. You begin to doubt whether even the classic solution of a good education, in every sense of the word, would really prevent such anomalies from ever occurring.

Pinky and Perky run for president

Magnetism, gravity, electricity … stuff we work with every day and don’t fully understand. So how can we expect to get a decent fix on love or hate, which are so clearly neither hand nor foot? And about that thigh bone, don’t forget there are two of them. A bone won’t normally go its own individual way unless you’re binge-drunk legless or happen to have a run in with the Taliban. In this respect, legs are like twins: they wear the same clothes, they support each other and, even when far apart, it’s obvious enough they’re joined. But they also cross each other and trip each other up. Not all twins lead lives as inter-simpatico as Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczynski, the Polish political double-act who were tragically separated by the Smolensk air-crash.  The twins, living proof that all politicians are alike and that like poles can attract, and unkindly referred to by their many detractors as “2-pack”, “Pinkie and Perky” or “Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee”, succeeded in playing good cop / bad cop right up to the very top of the nation. Respected but never much liked, their twosome self-sufficiency coupled with steely resolve made them invulnerable to the usual slings and arrows. On the day of the crash, the twins were apart, otherwise Jaroslaw, voice of reason, might have persuaded his more excitable brother not to try and convince the pilot to land against both his better judgement and the advice of local ground control. Decisions are also made by those who don’t show up.

Derrick Bird had a twin brother called David. He shot him. To finish he shot himself. The thigh bone, so they say, is connected to the backbone.

Edwin Drood

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