“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





23 April 2012


“Philip White somebody here from Victor or whose name was Victor was suggesting that your face should be on bottles of wine because that’s a good warning not to drink,” announced Michael Smith on ABC Drive.

Smith had invited me to contribute to his program. I was happy to, as the other participant was Michael Thorn, the chief executive of FARE, the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education. I respect the determination and professionalism of this lobbyist.

So?  Whose side was this announcer on?  This battle for the warning-free bottle suddenly seemed much dirtier than I’d expected, but Smith quickly realised the coarse nature of the insult he’d just read on air and added the lame sequitur:

“That’s a bit unkind, don’t you think?”

Well yes, it was.  Otherwise the conversation went politely, and to reassure the fuming me, away down here in the vineyards, bleating into a phone, in one way or another the majority of callers seemed cynical-to-derisive about government health warnings in general.

Which will not deter Michael Thorn and his FARE. This slick Canberra lobbying outfit conducts admirable work in the tatty realms of alcohol abuse.  One of their current goals is to have compulsory health warnings on wine bottles, with an emblem and some text telling pregnant women not to drink.

“Look, ah, our Foundation has been taking the lead on behalf of a number of public health organizations around the country promoting the idea that there should be prominent health warnings on all alcohol products and its associated packaging,” was his opening line.

“We propose that there be a clear health warning on the front of all alcohol packaging, in other words on the front of a beer can if there can be such a thing on something that’s circular, um, and that there be a range of um different, of different messages that go to addressing what we know are the key long-term harms and the risk of various cancers for instance, through to the short-term harms and the risk of injury from being drunk for instance, and of course the need for a prominent label about the National Health and Medical Research Council’s advice to women and that is it’s safest not to drink while you’re pregnant, or thinking of becoming pregnant.”

Drinking whilst thinking of becoming pregnant?  This is surely as crazy as the South African motion currently on a similar discussion board there, suggesting that it be made illegal to sell alcohol to pregnant women.

I know hordes of lusty publicans who’d love to do the checking.

Wowser and proho lobbies are strange critters.  One of the truly great examples of their capacity for idiocy was the government’s late eighties Grim Reaper ad campaign which ensured that an entire generation of kiddies grew up thinking (1) you got AIDS if you went ten pin bowling and (2) that all homosexuals were very scary dangerous people. As if to appease the outraged homosexual community, the same mob followed that up with the even more scandalous campaign which attempted to tell us that AIDS came also from heterosexual sex: a series of ads which made those same kiddies terrified whenever their parents nuded up and looked like cuddling in bed.  

It was like "Daddy.  Are you wearing a franger?"

One presumes that our winemakers are in their own smoke-free rooms, quietly battling the chance of such a thing reoccurring.  But stop a minute and consider their dismissive attitude to the truth in the labels they use.  Ridiculous claims in microscopic back label texts.  Wondrous artworks designed to transport the drinker sexually, geographically, gastronomically, and stylistically, not to mention the way a poshly-liveried bottle can assist with the escalation of one’s socio-economic status.

The scourge of the critter label fad, finally fading from international favour, seemed even to present some of the world’s cheapest plonk as a cute thing for kiddies. 

That’s just the beginning.  Dammit, I’m not even thinking of becoming pregnant, but I want to know how much ALCOHOL is in the bottle.  

That’s my responsibility.  

And it’s their responsibility to tell me: they’re obliged by law to tell us, but they’re given a handy 1.5% margin either side of the alcohol level they proclaim.  So you can sit reluctantly nudging the 14.5% alcohol red your lover has just proffered at table, wondering if she’s thinking of getting pregnant after dinner, all the time yearning for something a shade lighter, when in fact it’s really 16%.  Can it be that hard for a vendor of ethanol to be so ignorant of the strength of their product?  How can they not be more honest about it?

And then they hide the number from us.  They print it in tiny point sizes like flyspots, in colours nobody can decipher in broad daylight, let alone through the gloom of a restaurant.

It’s obvious to me: such a lot deserves tougher regulation.  This is an industry used to bullshitting its regulators and customers while it sells a very dangerous depressive drug, which it passes off as a healthy gastronomic item.  While they smugly maintain this ancient regime, it seems certain that quite a lot of the real estate on their own product packages will faithfully follow the tobacco packaging template.  Whether they like it or not.

Sedna got me through high school.  It was better than Dexies. We could buy it from just about any pharmacy, priced like sweet sherry: CHEAP.  It was basically heavily fortified barrel-aged Grenache, jammed full of Kola caffeine, which is a brand name I would have registered then if I had any business brains. It cost about the same price as a pasty and two Cokes, but you could just walk into a chemist and get a bottle in your school uniform. When I finally had the opportunity to ask Mr Benno Seppelt where he found the awkward Sedna  name, he asked where I thought he got the Kola Nut.  Good question for a schoolboy. I eventually worked out that Sedna was Andes backwards but I could never understand why crazy rich Benno put dairy cows on it. It was all pretty trippy ... photo  Philip White

When asked to summarise his position in conclusion, Thorne said “We are trying to work with government at the moment to establish how this pregnancy warning label is going to find its way onto alcohol products and we will continue to work with health ministers around the country to persuade them that generic warning labels should be put on all alcohol products so I know there’s lots of work to be done.  I hope it doesn’t um take as long as it did with tobacco warning labels because in response to that last caller it is absolutely clear that warning labels on tobacco, along with other measures have saved millions and millions of lives and I hope that we can do similar things um on the alcohol front.”

My preferred summary came from a caller, Brendan of Basket Range.

“A friend of mine who’s quite overweight recently bought a chair,” he announced in a sage drawl. “Clearly sitting in a chair can reduce your fitness. And er, I just think that chairs need to be labeled, er, with that warning er, to protect those who purchase chairs.”

Which is not so funny.  I recently bought a mop with a health warning on it.  My face or not, this campaign’s gonna get real dirty.

To read a full transcript of this interview, click HERE.

1 comment:

Goth said...

love your label at the top - is it for sale?