THE CULTURE OF ALCOHOL IN RELATION TO SECONDARY AGED PUPILS: a feasibility study
Report submitted to funders in 1989, John Schostak, Richard Davies
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PROFILE NUMBER 1
Maria is 17 years old. She hopes to go to university to study physics. She is very outgoing, well known as " a bit of a nutcase. I used to go around the school opera singing and things like that ". She lives with her mother and father and older sister in the large suburb of the school catchment area. Her sister who is twenty one is also one of her best friends. In fact she has always gone round with her sister and her sister's friend who is four years older than Maria. This has meant that she has matured faster than a lot of her contemporaries "because I went round with her I tended to be the same as her, the age didn't notice". She has tended to grow up at the same pace as her sister, she says, dressing like her and wearing make up before any of her friends of the same age; "and I was wearing make up and they all thought "God" they wondered what the hell I was". Her parents don't mind this because they know that her sister is "responsible" and will look after Maria and that they "will not do anything stupid".
She gets on well with her family. Her father took early retirement and tends now to do very little. There is not a great deal of drink in her house. Her father gets a bottle of sherry every week "and he drinks that". Her mother doesn't drink at all "because the slightest sip of wine and she's gone". They don't mind Maria drinking because if she does it is mostly in a social context in the company of her older sister."I wouldn't get into fights or anything. I know how to keep myself out of trouble. Because they know that and trust me...they let me drink because they know that I can handle it, and they know how much I can take. They don't mind me staying out late, they don't mind me drinking. Which is good really because it means I can enjoy myself without pressure". There have been one or two occasions says Maria when her sister has got very drunk and she has had to get her home, undressed and put to bed.
She remembers having her first drink when she was "about 10 or 11".
It was her parents 25th wedding anniversary and a big party was held at the
house. There was one room which had all the food and drink in and one room where
everyone was sitting. "I think all I had was a few glasses of wine and
I remember, my face felt like a boiled egg and all the blood seemed to have
gone to my cheeks and felt goooh. Everyone noticed I was a bit strange. That
was the first time I got drunk. I remember there was this photograph that was
taken at this party and there was me and my sister and I was sitting there.
I was going (she pulls a face) and I looked so drunk, I thought "My God""
She laughs "That was really embarassing. That was the first time I got
drunk". But this was an exceptional occsasion "just an opportunity".
She has vague memories of an even earlier occasion. It was a wedding in Colchester. An uncle was getting marrried. It was so long ago she can remember very little about it. The reception was held in the groom's house. There was some cider and Maria remembers getting "merry" with another couple of "tiny tots". "It was so embarrassing. My mum and dad were wondering what the hell I'd had. My mum was sitting there with a glass of sherry and I remember going "Mum, don't you want that?" (pointing to the sherry) and she went "No, not really", so I knocked it back in one". She laughs.
She never had Birthday parties at her house until her 16th so she never came
across alcohol in this way. When she first started going out to pubs with her
sister she tended just "to look on". When she did have a drink, she
didn't do so to get drunk but because everyone else was drinking "I didn't
really have my own say in what I did then. I thought I'm going out with my sister.
She's got loads of money and she's offering to buy me drinks and I thought "Oh,
I'll accept it. She was going round buying all these halves of Holstein and
I was geting mine and knocking them back".
"When I go out with my sister, she's got a few friends at university (in other parts of the country) whose parents live in Norwich so they come back at weekends. First of all we'll have some drink before we go out, because it's pretty obvious it's less expensive; so we get slightly tiddly and then we'll get a lift up to the city, and maybe go in a nightclub or up to the Jaquard (a nightclub)" . This nightclub is the only one she really likes now "and so we'll go up there and have a really good laugh and then, you know, come home"
Maria likes to go to pubs every Friday night, to meet friends and to talk. Generally she does not like nightclubs. "I don't go into nightclubs. I don't find them at all sociable because the music is so loud you can't talk to people. I don't like them. But I go to pubs because the music isn't too loud and there's usually a regular crowd that you see every time you go there. Say every Friday night you go there and there's the same crowd there that you get on with. And if you don't like it you can always go somewhere else. There's always a pub that suits different people. Like there's one pub that's for yuppies, a cocktail bar. There's always a pub that's suited to you".
She also goes to a lot of parties, she says, and drinks there, in fact "get rather drunk". Basically, if she goes to a party she expects to get drunk "Because it's what I do. I go mad" She doesn't think most of her peers share her view or behaviour "It's what I do personally".
So far she has not experienced any hangovers. Once she went to an all night party and did not sleep at all. She had been drinking vodka and lager "occasionally getting a can and then going over to the Blue label Smirnoff and knocking it back" The following day she went training for American Football. She felt very tired; she couldn't do the jogging at the start of the session but "no hangover at all".
Maria knows how much she can drink. She has never been sick before; she has never drunk so much that she has been sick. "I don't drink myself absolutely paralytic so I don't know what I'm doing. I drink until I'm feeling merry and I'll talk to anyone and I go just absolutely mad and have a really good laugh". Drunkeness she describes as involving a certain dislocation of brain and body. For example where you go to pick up a glass as a reflex action only to find "You go "Which one is mine?"" and "you think "hang on a minute, what's my arm doing here?"". She remembers another image of being "merry": "At a party once, the dance floor kept on going up".
Drink "does relax you" she says "Before you get to the merry stage, you get a bit laid back". Drink is socially useful "You feel, you don't sort of think "When am I going to get into this conversation that eveyone's talking about, you sort of..you feel free to do what you want".
She has always considered that "your true self" comes out when you're drunk. Sober people tend to want to conform to each others' expectations "but as you go through the amount you have you become relaxed and you feel free to say what you want and then you begin to get further and further into it until you don't care if they're going to accept what you say or not. So you just say whatever you want, what come into your mind as you are not tring to hold anything back, your true self is beginning to come out". She says that even when she doesn't drink she says things to shock people "because it really annoys me when people go "Oh my God, what is she doing?". I just don't like it and I don't think people should be shocked by the way other people behave. So I deliberately try and shock people anyway".
She thinks there are gender differences in drinking. "When you see something like soccer hooliganism when do you see a woman beating up somebody?" She doesn't know why this should be the case. She wonders if it is something to do with hormones "But I really can't understand violence at all". She thinks that out-of-control behaviour for women would be "bursting into tears". However she doesn't rule out drunken aggression in women "If women are going to show their aggression I thought they would have shown it when they've had a few too many. Because they wouldn't care about being feminine or anything like that. Some women are butch and they have huge fights and beat people up". But Maria doesn't think women fight "mindlessly. I don't think women have got it in themselves to actually hurt someone physically so they try...I don't know...gossip". men on the other hand "boast about how they can't remember how much they've had to drink".
"When boys try and outdrink each other between the ages of 15 and 19 that's when they get into this "I'm butch. I can handle 10 cans without feeling anything". But as you get over that age they don't care and there's more important things tend to...you know, your personality and things like that".
She thinks there are double standards in society's attitudes towards women and alcohol "Why is it so unladylike" she asks "to get drunk if you want to?". She adds "I've got drunk but I've never thrown up". Maria feels some irritation at male attitudes as she perceives them "You can have a real laugh with a girl as you can with a load of lads. If you ask me I think lads are really stupid prats who find fun in having mindless violence. I think girls are much better company". As for fighting "It's all an act anyway. If you were on your own you wouldn't go out and look for a fight. I mean it's not in you. It's the fact that you're with all these other people who think "I've got to be a hardo and we've got to have a fight to prove to each other how hard we are". If you were on your own in a pub and you saw a load of Gothics, you wouldn't go up to them and go "Oi, you wanna know, you wanna know, wanna fight". You'd probably get on like a house on fire. It's really stupid that people have to prove how hard they are".
Maria goes out with a mixed group of boys and girls. When they go out their attitude is :"We're going to go out and have a really good laugh. Don't go out for any other reason but having a really good time. It doesn't matter who you're with, if you get on with them, and if you share the same tastes and you got a good sense of humour; you're going to get on with them, you're going to have a really good time; you can have a few drinks and...that's what you want to do. You don't want to go out and have a fight or anything. I mean there's some girls that I just can't stand and they go out and they get a drink and they act all tiddily and they go "ooee, there's a boy over there". And some people do go out just to, you know, see if they can get off with someone. I don't agree with that at all. I think you should just have a really good time".