Our drink-sodden culture is to blame for Odyssey Arena mess
Published 11/02/2014 | 08:30
The scenes outside the Odyssey were described as a 'disaster zone' by the emergency services following a gig by the world's no 1 DJ, DJ Hardwell. According to reports, there were dozens of vomiting young people, obviously the worse for wear through drink and, in some cases, drugs.
While the events are still under investigation, the cynic in me just wants to ask this question – 'And your problem is?'.
Just check out any major Belfast thoroughfare on a Friday or Saturday night and you'll see scenes straight out of The Last Days. All that's missing is the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, clutching fistfuls of loose change, queuing at a burger van.
And the following morning? The world puts away the debris and gets on with it. No huge media stories, no national breast beating, no 'Why, oh, why' pieces in the papers.
Maybe it was because the Odyssey debacle involved the scions of the Ulster middle-classes, with a large assortment of Tims and Samanthas being dropped off by 'Deddy' or 'Memmy', who incredibly dropped them off in the middle of the evident carnage, then sat at home worrying about them once the story broke.
I don't mean to make light of what took place. If the emergency services say that it was terrible then that's good enough for me. But I don't think we should lose sight of the horrors of the 'ordinary' Ulster drinking culture either.
Come the weekend, many places here are steeped in a miasma of low-level menace. From early evening the streets are filled with afternoon drinkers looking for an off-licence or a taxi – loud, leery, as if itching for someone to look at them crooked, filled with bitterness at the prospect of having to go home.
But they are nothing compared to the night-time revellers come closing time. Only a fool would venture out on certain streets late at night where the best we can expect is a mouthful of abuse passed off as cheery, if coarse, wit. As for the worst ... let's not think about it. The bizarre thing is that for a people that likes to pride itself on having an almost perversely reserved, stiff-collared, tight-lipped character, we have a surprising tolerance for public drunkenness. On the more free, more tolerant continent, drunkenness is rarely seen and barely tolerated.
Ah, but then in Northern Ireland, drinking to excess is the mark of a man. On the continent it is the mark of the weakling and the fool.
And, of course, in this increasingly 'equal' society, being prepared to drink until you pass out is, for a woman, a sign of being 'fun', a laddette, a non-prude. Where booze is concerned, this is a country where men are men, women are men and, now, after the Odyssey, the children are men.
And maybe this is the root of our problem. A macho culture where the only outlet for our emotions is the chemical reduction of inhibitions through the pint jar, the wine flute, the cocktail shaker or the whiskey glass.
The evidence is everywhere. Colleagues who recount tales of legendary consumption 'last night' get a by-ball. The man or woman propping up the bar most nights is deemed "a character" or "the life and soul of the party". Not only do they get free passes, those who don't indulge to excess are judged as uptight party poopers. They are buzzkills and killjoys.
How else do you explain the sight of a judge (an actual judge) allowing herself to be filmed online downing shorts like a sailor on shore leave?
That's being a "good sport". That's the ethos of the online NekNomination craze. Alcohol remains a very visible killer in NI; it's also the silent killer behind so many car smashes and other accidents as well as present in suicide. A misplaced politeness keeps it off the death certificates.
We hide the horror. Some deceased person 'took a drink – and that's that. And that's that because we do exactly the same and approve of people who do and help cover it up when it breaks up families and puts people in hospital. It's a hoot.
And it's all perfectly legal. In our culture drinking is still cool in a way smoking was 50 years ago. Births, marriages and deaths alike awash in alcohol and then ill temper, domestic abuse, police callouts.
Let's be honest, for many of us, what happened at the Odyssey wasn't a "disaster" – it was a public initiation for the youngsters involved. And it was a good night's business for the drinks trade. As I say, 'your problem is'?