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A record 18 per cent of Brits now eschew a drop of the hard stuff, according to The Drink Pocket Book 2001.

We were still reeling down here at Vulture Central from Kieren 'Last Orders' McCarthy's revelation that kids were eschewing cigarettes for mobile phones. Then came this body blow. It confirms what we had feared all along: The country's going to hell in a handcart and a load of lentil-eating teetotallers are going to sit by soberly and let it happen.

In 1980 a laughable 12 per cent of Brits would dare utter the immortal line "No, I'll just have a Perrier with a twist." Back then they risked ridicule at best. At worst, they would be dragged from the pub by a howling drunken mob, tied to a stone-filled oak beer cask and thrown in the river.

When I was a lad my dear old Grandpa would sit me on his knee and tell of how he and the other apprentices would drink three pints of gin for breakfast. They'd follow this up with 3 yards of strong English ale for lunch, further polishing off 16 pints of snakebite before supper.

Then, he would tell me with tremulous voice and tearful eye, came 1916 and the licensing laws as we now know them. Before that fateful day we had an empire on which the sun never set. Eighty-odd years later the pax britannica extends solely to a load of sheep shaggers in the South Atlantic, protected by hired German submarines. The connection is obvious. I rest my case.

There is, however, some good news. Overall alcohol consumption is up, due entirely to committed drinkers attacking the subject with renewed enthusiasm. We like to think that we at The Reg are making are own small contribution to this fightback. ®

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