Rob Campbell on all-nighters
There are two and a half million students in Britain and, at times last week, it seemed if most of them were being sick in the centre of Bristol and any other place where there's a college.
For journalists, freshers' week is a welcome return to reliable news stories after a long silly season punctuated only by dubious sightings of big cats not actually roaming our countryside. Oh, and royal babies.
You could write the stories in advance, and just add new pictures: girls falling off their heels and chaps trying to punch each other through a haze of vodka fumes.
And it's true. Walking home late one night last week I had to dodge the vomit and broken glass and left by mobs of leery, lurching louts who one presumes are the next generation of doctors, lawyers and teachers.
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It didn't used to be like this. I can recall my first all-night session, down in Exeter in the mid 1980s, with such clarity because it was so rare. The pubs shut at 11pm, the clubs not long after, and a licence to stay open longer was rare indeed. I could count my drunken dawns on the fingers of one hand (if I could have found my hand let alone count the things on the end of it).
Now it's different, and we blame the youngsters for it; we tell ourselves that a generation that doesn't know when to stop just emerged mysteriously in the 1990s, and curse them for defiling our town centres.
But I imagine that, back then, if the bars had served drinks all night I would have drunk all night, and now be looking for a new liver. They are doing it now because it's possible, and the shame is on us for making it so.
This is how it used to be: back again, for a moment, to the mid 1980s, there I was, a new reporter covering the magistrates court for the local paper. Every now and then, a pub or club owner would apply for a licence to serve drinks deep into the night. And he was met by the bible-bashing, teetotal dragon on the bench who would look at him over her pince-nez as if he was the devil himself and say – no. We used to write it up, but it never made much of a story.
And this is how it changed: in the mid-noughties, the government started worshipping at the altar of choice. Let the bars stay open, and give drinkers the choice. So they stayed open, and the drinkers chose – to drink and drink and drink.
It certainly makes for better stories, especially at this time of year, and it's turned once-dull high streets in to the engine rooms of the night time economy. But shame on us, for putting before our young people choices that we could not have handled at that age, and then blaming them when they get it wrong.