The World Health Organisation follows UNICEF in finding that British kids are not the healthiest in the world. WHO reports that they get drunk earlier and suffer for it, UNICEF reports that they are some of the unhappiest children around.
They're unhappy, and they habitually get rat-arsed. Surprise surprise.
Of course, it's not like this on the continent, we're told. Drink there is a social grace. A sort of folk art or religion. A socially cohesive factor rather than British Jekyll'n'Hyde Juice. All the family, from olive-soaked great-grannies to bouncing bambinos, performing the healing ritual together in the laughing shade. And Britain does have a more intensively compartmentalised sense of time than hotter, more recently industrialised cultures. We didn't win two world wars with siestas. But the shiftwork we needed to win those wars, and the peactime battle for industrial market dominance, definitely left its 40 hour week mark on the culture, which remains one of the most regimented in Europe, in which flexi-time is still thought of as an impossibility, like a form of time voodoo. Thank God It's Friday is a characteristically British expression, expressed in the act of getting roaring drunk for the two days freedom called The Weekend.
The average British 15 year old, looking at the actions of his immediate superiors, must conclude that alcohol is for getting drunk. That is the point, to obliterate reality as much as possibility, possibly because, as UNICEF says, reality hurts. To expect parents to be able to counter the massive effects on the adolescent mind of advertising, peer-pressure, product-targeting, and the cultural status afforded to drunkenness is unrealistic and ultimately a cop-out. Civic responsibility must take over where parental responsibility has been repeatedly proven to be inadequate, and where 'commercial responsibility' fails to self-regulate - if it ever does.
Whatever else happens, the rediscovery of the Youth Centre must take place, if necessary, at the taxpayers expense.
In a perfect marketplace, a socially responsible, enterprising brewery chain would spot the vast gap in the market for warm dry venues where young people could meet and drink - and even be taught to drink. A tactfully supervised social environment where all the social instincts and networking destroyed in the last 30 years can be recharged by a new generation. A chain of these youth pubs might even be called Kiddispoons, who knows? The possible ways to counter British paedophobia are endless. Wetherspoons claims to be open to suggestions. Then how about it building a chain of modern youth venues - New Youth Clubs - to attempt to fill the social gap before kids can legally be sold alcohol. The objective being to heal some of the alienation of young people and teach them do socialise over drinks.
One terrible possibility is that lovely cuddly Europe will end up like us. That is their mistake to make. Meanwhile Scotland is proposing price fixing to deter excessive drinking. A 'Bevy Levy', in fact. As gross a distortion of natural market forces as was ever contemplated in the birthplace of Adam Smith, and surely immoral in some pulpits even now. The democratically elected Swedish government was taken to the European Court of Human Rights by the massed lawyers of teh advertising industry for merely protecting Swedish children from propaganda for poisonous sugar products. What can the lairds of Holyrood expect for getting on the wrong side of the booze barons?
Naturally, there is a convenient sidetrack. We can't measure or weigh happiness, so why even consider it. Be grateful when it happens and get on with your job, Cratchet. And then there is relative happiness across the generations, and the confusing effects of material prosperity on the equation. We were poor but we were happy? Really?
The truth which cannot be sidetracked is that we are living faster lives, and we sense it. And the effect of this frantic pace is to make us feel that our lives are shorter than our grandparents did. We are living in a greater sense of panic, that this is not a rehearsal, and that in addition, we are now indoctrinated that it is feckless and foolish to expect anyone to co-operate or help you unless they stand to gain substantially from the transaction. Scrooge's countinghouse without the benevolent glow.
When Tom Harris asks the question 'What IS Happiness?' he is sort of missing the point. As a Labour MP he should be told over and again, by Orwell for instance, that
" the real objective of Socialism is not happiness. Happiness hitherto has been a by-product, and for all we know it may always remain so. The real objective of Socialism is human brotherhood."
Then maybe his government would begin to sound like it was telling the truth.