Our pint-sized beer drinkers

If primary school children are arriving at their desks with hangovers, who’s to blame? Lackadaisical parents? Video nasties? No, teachers with no idea of how to have fun

Alcohol is not only good for the heart, it also aids mental stability. This news will further divide the medical profession.

Researchers in America have discovered an abnormally high incidence of depression among Jewish men compared with their gentile counterparts. Jews, it is well known, are abstemious people. Ergo, it is the lack of booze that renders them suicidal. So say the researchers. I’m not so sure.

It seems to me that drink has been randomly dragged into this equation. One might as well argue that Jewish men are depressed because they have Jewish mothers.

Even so, one should be grateful for any small encouragement to continue a lifelong flirtation with the bottle. The British Medical Association, however, is bound to be confused. How many units a week are required to induce an appropriate measure of mental tranquillity? Is that figure consistent with the quantity required to maintain a free-flowing pulmonary artery?

These are indeed difficult waters. For as drinkers will testify, it is often hard to determine the marginal unit that marks the divide between profound mental contentment and falling over.

In any case, the BMA might as well save its breath to cool its porridge. A survey by the Professional Association of Teachers shows that although school children “know tobacco and alcohol can be health risks”, they still indulge, some as young as eleven. Staff in ten per cent of primary schools and 70 per cent of secondaries reported problems with pupils arriving with hangovers.

Who can blame them? Huddled together for hours on end in small “child-centred” groups under the supposed guidance of a half-educated adult scruff with a grievance, the children of today must feel they deserve a few swift ones after hours, if for no other reason than to maintain their mental stability.

The Professional Teachers (a wonderfully oxymoronic title) propose a solution to the problem of child drinkers and smokers that is as predictable as it is foolish. They want ads for tobacco and alcoholic drinks to be banned within half a mile radius of all schools.

As if that would make a jot of difference, other than deprive advertisers of the legal freedom to promote their products. Anyone but a teacher knows that children experiment with substances through what the sociologists call peer pressure. No one advertises glue sniffing, but it still goes on.

How depressing to think that the education of children is in the hands of people whose horizons and understanding are confined by the dull orthodoxies of the polytechnic common room. Show them a social ill and they’ll show you a familiar litany running from Thatcherite greed to soulless capitalism.

Dr Anthony Malcolm, a hospital consultant, is surely nearer the mark when he attributes alcohol and drug abuse in young children to two factors: first, children are maturing physically at a younger age than ever before, and secondly, parental neglect “all too often because proper care would interfere with their [the parents’] trifling pleasures”.

Parental neglect, too, allows very young children to watch junk videos whose principal content is sex, violence and, of course, violent sex. Here again, experts are as divided as to the effect of such images on the infant mind as the doctors are on the beneficial effects of alcohol. Some, notably Michael Winner, insist that film is fantasy, people see it as such, and no harm is done. Others, such as the late President Nixon, ask why, if great art can elevate the human spirit, cannot pornography in all its forms drag it down.

Well, I have some important new evidence showing conclusively that film can indeed deprave and corrupt, and not only the young. Few people can have been more exposed to what the cinema has to offer than Alexander Walker, film critic of the London Evening Standard. Over a long career, he must have seen many thousands of hours of the gory, brutal, rape-filled rubbish that Hollywood emits from the smokestacks of its dream factories. And he has always eloquently spoken in defence of the excesses of self-expression that he daily witnesses.

Sadly, these repeated assaults on his sensibilities have not left him unaffected. He has become coarse and brutalised and, frankly, barmy. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph recently, he said: “Nowadays I strike back at people who refuse to stop smoking over me while I am eating. I have spat in their plates of food when it is their turn to eat.”

Sadly, in his afflicted state, he is the victim of a morbid obsession that cries out for clinical help. He confesses that the message on his answering machine at home says to all callers “Smoking is the slow way to suicide”.

Is this not the measure of an enfeebled brain? Every caller to Mr Walker’s home, regardless of his purpose in calling and heedless of his personal habits, which are in any case immaterial, is regaled with a sonorous homily on the evil of tobacco.

Who can say at what point in his career Mr Walker succumbed? Was it the millionth violent shooting, the thousandth sexual assault, or the umpteenth dismembered corpse that drove him to distraction? We shall never know. What is plain is that it is unwise to sit near him in a restaurant. At this stage in his decline it is smoking that prompts him to expectorate into others’ plates. But we know he persists in the habit that is his unhinging, and his condition is sure to deteriorate further.

Who can say that a chance remark from an adjoining table about, say, the pioneering techniques of Sergei Eisenstein, or the fast-moving creativity of Franco Zeffirelli, might not result in a well-directed gobbet into the speaker’s mangetout?