The Electric Picnic’s alcohol paradox

In a summer where we seem to be fishing the bodies of young men out of rivers and canals with alarming frequency, there is surprisingly little debate about our paradoxical relationship with alcohol.

Cards on the table - I gave up drinking a few years ago after a young Wicklow man who was here in Stockholm to celebrate St Patrick’s Day drowned in an accident.

As is normal in Irish communities around the world, there was a lot of drinking done that weekend, and in truth it could have been any of us.

I had always been a heavy drinker, but by then I also had two young children. Having seen the grief caused by the death of that young Wicklow lad, it was time to do something. Enough was enough.

Living in Sweden (where the sale of alcohol is strictly regulated), you get used to shopping in supermarkets where the strongest beer on sale is 3.5% ABV.

You get used to the fact that the state-owned off-licences don’t have fridges - to discourage instantaneous consumption.

And you certainly wouldn’t see the bizarre advice offered to festival-goers regarding their alcohol consumption, as was the case at the Electric Picnic this weekend.

Now given that its target audience is slightly older, the Picnic is usually a much more sedate affair than, say, a Swedish Mafia gig, but the battled-hardened veterans of the Féiles of old are no strangers to a spot of over-consumption. I know – I was one of them.

There is nothing we like more than a good few beers in a tent - preferably in a quagmire - with Van Morrisson wafting on the breeze from a stage a half a mile away.

The Picnic understands this, and Do’s and Don’ts of the camping guidelines are a wonderful attempt to address it.

“Admission of alcohol into the event site will be limited to 48 cans per person. Please consume alcohol in moderation.”

Keep in mind that the campsite was open from Friday at 9am to Monday 1pm and you have yourself a wonderfully paradoxical sentence that somehow gives the impression that 48 beers in 79 hours is moderate alcohol consumption. It's not.

That’s also assuming you’re the sort of person that turns up at a festival at nine on a Friday morning, and that you don’t bother with what’s on offer from the numerous bars within the festival grounds.

The mathematics of the Electric Picnic alcohol guidelines blow the accepted notion of 21 units of alcohol in a week out of the water.

According to the Irish government, a 500ml can of beer equates to two ‘standard drinks’, meaning eleven cans would bust that particular Electric Picnic equation by about lunchtime on Saturday.

In short, it is neither possible nor credible to consume 48 cans per person over a three-day festival and call for moderation at the same time.

The Electric Picnic is one of Ireland’s most eclectic and best-organised festivals, and that the weekend passed off almost without incident is a credit to the promoters and the participants alike.

But at some point we will have to address the fact that are those – like me – who have a strong tendency to over-indulge in alcohol at concerts, sporting events and family occasions.

I'm by no means anti-alcohol - in fact, there has never been more of it in my house, mostly due to the fact that I don't drink it anymore. Alcohol and pubs are both integral parts of Ireland's social fabric, but they contain inherent dangers that we cannot ignore.

It’s a joy and a relief to open the newspaper this morning and not read of a body being fished out of a river after such a big weekend of entertainment and sport – but if we’re recommending 48 cans as being “moderate” consumption, it’s by no means a given.  {jathumbnailoff}

Our Man in Stockholm

Image top: kDamo.