Wednesday, 15 September 2010


If someone offers you a 'boatle a' soup' in Glasgow, you would be wise to decline politely. You could end up 'blootered', if not 'heavily bongoed'. The lingo may be splendid, but the habit is not. Sad to say, the culture, and therefore the language, surrounding the drinking of alcohol in Glasgow is maintaining the stereotypical image of my favourite city. But Glaswegians aren't the only ones...the stereotype has relatives throughout the whole of the UK these days. We Scots, we Brits, are drinking copious quantities, and it's not pretty, especially for our young people.

So this week, the British Red Cross announced that it is to offer First Aid classes for children so that they can help their friends if they become dangerously drunk. That is the state we have got ourselves into here in the UK. The British Red Cross has carried out a survey which reveals that amongst every 2,500 young people (11 to 16 year olds), 10% have been left with a drunk friend who was sick, injured or unconscious, and 14% reported that they had been in an alcohol-related emergency. Between 2006 and 2009 there were more than 7,000 hospital admissions involving under-15s and alcohol.

I have long been an admirer of the Red Cross. I like the organisation's 'finger-on-the-pulse' attitude and its practical, non-judgemental approach to need. Wherever the Red Cross works, it somehow manages to understand what a society is most in need of at any one time. In Norway, I know that at the moment the Red Cross is particularly concerned with 'social isolation' and works hard to ensure that the those who are hidden from society are not ignored. I have witnessed this work in Norway at close hand, and I have to report it has changed lives for the better.

You will recall that one of my favourite Norwegians is Fridtjof Nansen. I have already mentioned his achievements as a polar explorer and scientist, but so far, I have not mentioned how he went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1922, the last of the German and Austria-Hungarian soldiers, who had been in Russian captivity after WW1, was shipped home. In exchange, the ships they arrived in returned with the last Russian POWs from Germany. Over 400,000 prisoners were exchanged within two years, thanks mainly to Nansen.

Nansen was grateful to the International Red Cross for carrying out the bulk of the practical work. As a result of working with him, the Red Cross decided to use his name in another regard. Lenin had deprived thousands of Russians of their nationality, after they had fled to the West following the civil war. This 'statelessness' prevented them from crossing borders, so the Red Cross proposed using Nansen's name on a special passport for refugees. As a result, the Nansen Passport became much sought-after, allowing many to make a new life for themselves in the West, including Stravinsky, Rachmaninov, Pavlova and Chagall.

I realize the link to Scotland's drink problem is somewhat tenuous, but after this week's announcement, I can't help recalling all this as the Red Cross goes about its work. Whether the need is local, national or international, it delivers...with one eye on the Pakistan Flood Appeal, there is another, more local eye, seeking solutions here. (Scotland's links with Pakistan have meant Scots, and Britain as a whole, have donated considerably to that disaster, and we continue to do so.)

So, can the Red Cross help to ease the risks of our young folks' binge-drinking? We have to hope so. I have just seen a questionnaire which asked school children about their attitudes to makes one's hair stand on end.

At the moment, the Scottish Parliament is debating whether or not to increase the price of cheaper brands of alcohol....those against an increase fear that such a move would merely line the pockets of retailers, could potentially create greater hardship as manufacturers lose part of their market, and that hardened drinkers would still find alcohol somewhere anyway.

Well, try telling that to a medic working in a Casualty ward on a Friday night, or a school head who has to deal with the aftermath of pupils recovering from a drunken weekend, or the policeman who patiently returns plastered teenagers back to their parents' doorstep of an evening, or a parent whose child is having their stomach pumped.

I think this is a moment for the current parlance...'it's a no brainer'.

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