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James Skinner on Spains' 24/7 drinking cutlture.
'The kids wanted drinks and music all night long. We live in a consumer society so we give it to them’

‘On the 29th of June, six Spanish Civil Guards (the government police force) were beaten up, two seriously, by a drunken mob of youngsters who had turned on them when they tried to stop an early morning teenage brawl. This did not occur in Madrid nor Barcelona, or any of the other major Spanish cities. I happened in a small village called Ponte do Porto near Ferrol, birthplace of the late General Franco. Early in the month, no further than a hundred miles away, six youngsters were convicted with jail sentences for similar offences against the police in the city of Pontevedra, northwest Spain. In both cases, the under twenties had been on an all night drinking session, no different from those that now take place on weekends throughout the whole of Spain.

‘It all started around the mid eighties’ says Irene, a 30 plus single mother. ‘I remember how we used to go dancing and drinking till dawn, especially on Saturday nights but only in the big towns. Things have changed. Every little village now has a twenty-four hour drinking come disco establishment. The new customers are younger and more aggressive,’ she added.
The Spanish university campuses were the first to invent what is commonly known today as the ‘Movement’. Not, one would suspect, an anti-government organisation but a yuppie trend that consisted of visiting a series of bars on a Saturday evening, before retiring to bed around mid morning on the Sunday, never to surface again until Monday morning. A relief from the pressure of their studies, they would argue. Innocent enough until it began to spread in all directions. The first to catch on were the businessmen. ‘The kids wanted drinks and music all night long. We live in a consumer society so we give it to them’ commented Paco, the owner of a disco that opens at four in the morning. ‘My particular establishment takes over, when the others close. Hence the so-called ‘movement’.

Next came the amphetamines. In order to keep going twenty-four hours non-stop, the ‘movers’ needed to stay awake. An illicit trade emerged. Pushers of all sorts roamed the areas of nightly activity edging the youngsters on by selling them ‘uppers’. Bars and disco owners soon caught on and began to extend their licensing tentacles to include Friday as well as Thursday night openings. Finally the disease spread to the suburbs and on to the peripheral towns. Suddenly, every conceivable small neighbourhood in Spain now has a building with a menacing pair of steel barred doors overlooking the sidewalk, ready to explode outwardly at 5 o’clock on a Thursday morning. No need to hang up a ‘WE OPEN AT 5’ sign. Everyone knows what it is.

The immediate consequences of this switching ‘on and off’ over a seven day period by today’s Spanish youngsters, is apparent in many different ways. Drunken violence is the most obvious as swarms of tribal youths, emerging from an all night spree will either start a brawl, or destroy public property. Drunken driving is also a problem although the police have now increased their vigilance and many partygoers use public transport. ‘I have to put up with the odd vomit session, when I take the little bastards home’ complained a night taxi driver. ‘But the most common problem is they have no money to pay the fare’.
Noise is the next culprit as more and more neighbours complain to the authorities of deprived rest periods. ‘There seems to be no limit to the number of licenses handed out for this kind of business activity’ complained the President of a Community of Owners, that have a ‘disco’ on their doorstep. ‘First, it’s the noise from the music, then, we have to put up with the shouting and fighting outside our bedroom windows when they finally leave. It’s a never ending problem.’

Parents are also affected, as they have no control on their children’s outings. Most are hopeful that they will come back alive the next morning. Some have given the kids a mobile phone so that they can call in case of emergency. Others go to bed and set the alarm clock for just before dawn, to go and collect their ‘all night’ partying teenager at whatever turns out to be the last stop.
Health is another of societies worries regarding the ‘Movement’. ‘The frightening thought is the long term effect,’ says Dr. Albo, a paediatrician. ‘The original ‘mover’s of the mid eighties are now in their mid to late thirties. It’s when they reach their fifties that the signs of a misspent youth will start to emerge’. Whatever the outcome, most doctors agree that a continued weekly intake of alcohol, amphetamines and unbalanced rest periods is bound to inflict damage on today’s young Spaniards. They have also predicted, as a lesser evil, an increase in premature deafness due to the high level of musical decibels blasted out in most of the all night discos.

So what about Britain? Hasn’t the British government recently given the green light to twenty-four hour pub licensing under the pretext that drunkenness and its effects will be reduced? It will depend entirely on how the legislation is controlled once the go ahead is given for publicans to serve alcohol all day and night.

In the Spanish case, the law literally got out of hand. Far too many licenses were issued without due consideration for the rest of society. Spanish kids are now ‘hooked’ on the ‘Movement’. Nevertheless, what happened in Spain should serve as an example for the future of Britain’s licensing laws but also for the possible effect on the drinking habits of the whole population. The young in particular.’

© James Skinner. 2001 (Who lives and writes in Vigo, Spain


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