Switching to plastic and toughened glass sends out completely the wrong message about violent behaviour The photographs of Louise McClintock before and after she was blinded in her right eye in a glassing attack in Taunton, Somerset, were the most shocking I've ever seen in the Morning Advertiser (15 July 2004). I involuntarily remember them whenever I come across the noun "glass" used, sinisterly, as a verb. Miss McClintock had beautifully soft blue eyes and an impeccable complexion; now, at the very start of her adult life, she will have scars, disfigurement, a visual handicap and permanent psychological trauma to deal with. Who on earth would be capable of perpetrating such an attack on such a victim? Thousands of people up and down the country, apparently. How else does one explain the fact that councils and police forces from the south coast to Scotland are pushing for a ban on any sort of breakable glassware? The Yates Group has already moved to toughened glassware, and Glasgow Council has sent letters to licensees asking them to consider switching entirely to plastic. Of course this is a good idea in one sense, the narrowest sense: plastic breaks harmlessly and toughened glass presumably doesn't break at all. In a broader sense, however, it is a catastrophically bad idea. Why? Because it is a tacit acceptance that ugly, animal, brutal be-haviour of this sort is while never acceptable in some sense to be expected, commonplace or a "fact of life". If so, welcome to bedlam. There are certain situations in life when one needs to step back and assess the situation as if one was encountering it for the first time. Problem-solving inevitably moves by graduated steps, and those graduations can sometimes involve a loss of perspective. It seems to me that any licensed premises where it is possible that one drinker might smash his or her glass and grind it into the face of another (other than as a once-in-a-century aberration) has severe problems. If clients are prepared to do this without being drunk, they shouldn't be allowed into the premises in the first place. If they are prepared to do it when drunk, they shouldn't have been allowed to become drunk. And if they are prepared to do it all over a town centre indiscriminately, then the licensing magistrates of that town and the pub operators retailing alcohol there are betraying their community. A switch to plastic and toughened glass is an admission of failure. Glassware has always been a bit of a joke in British pubs, and a symptom of their squalid service culture. Introducing toughened glass or plastic is equivalent to declaring all the drinkers in a particular venue to be proto-hooligans. The next step is presumably to clear out all the furniture, and leave buckets in every corner for people to be sick into. One of the most welcome developments of recent years has been the improvement in pub glassware and the use of more elegant, purpose-designed and often branded glasses. As the wine-glass designer Riedel has often proved via its workshops for journalists and producers, fine glasses not only improve the enjoyment of the wines that are served in them, but can actually make specific wines taste better than they would do when served in inappropriate glassware. Why? Such glasses provide ampler aromatic profiles, and the wines for which they are made are projected onto the zones of the tongue where their qualities can be most fully appreciated: Riesling towards the tip of the tongue, for example, but Chardonnay towards the centre and the back of the tongue. The same principles underline the design of Belgian beer glasses, with darker, sweeter beers being served in broader-rimmed glasses and drier, paler, crisper beers in taller, thinner glasses. Plastic and toughened glassware, by contrast, will do nothing for the drinks apart from subliminally express to the drinker that it's not the aroma or flavour that matters but just the alcoholic kick. Needless to say, this is entirely the wrong message. Who wants to drink Lagavulin from a plastic tumbler, or a pint of Landlord out of a plastic pint glass? What problem venues should be suggesting is that they are in fact civilised and sociable pubs where people do enjoy their drinks for their aroma and flavour, where they do respect the staff and other drinkers, and where people do spend the evening without getting drunk, swearing or behaving badly in any way, let alone resorting to acts of extreme violence. One way of doing this (though many are probably required) is to improve the quality of the glassware. Impossible, you say? Not necessarily. When landlord Mike Bell (founder of the Freedom for Pubs Association) took over his pub in Notting Hill, he inherited a clientele of Hell's Angels. His strategy for getting rid of them was a cunning one: vases of fresh flowers everywhere, even in the toilets. It was like thrusting garlic and crucifixes in the faces of vampires: nothing made the infernal ones feel less at home, and they were gone within the month. There are solutions out there, but capitulating to cope with the worst excesses of the sub-human fringe is not among them.