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 2
Laura is 14. Her parents split up some time ago and she lives with her mother and her mother's boyfriend. She has one brother and three sisters. The brother and the oldest sister live in New Zealand. The next oldest sister has got two children and Laura very rarely sees her. The third sister who is thirteen, a year younger than Laura "goes to gym all the time". She has got two younger half-brothers who get on her nerves, she says. She lives on a council estates on the fringes of the city. A lot of children from this estate go to the High School and constitute a different culture in the largely middle to lower middle class suburban school population.
She thinks her school is probably a good school but boring most of the time. But it can be a laugh and that depends on what lesson it is. English and Drama are her favourites. The only problem with drama is the boys who tend to mess about and ruin it for the others. Laura doesn't think much of boys while saying that a very few are alright. But most of them are stupid and get on her nerves. She likes RS because she likes the teacher who is a good laugh. "You can joke about everything" with this teacher. He's strict but he's a laugh as well, she says. Generally speaking she thinks being in the 3rd year at school is a "funny" time. She feels she is not "doing anything. Not learning anything".
However, life when she is not at school is "a drag". Actually Laura prefers to be at school. On her estate she says there are no clubs or anything like that "they never have much for our age" she says. Most of her leisure time she watches television. Basically, says Laura "I hardly do anything". She hangs about the house most of the time. One entertainment is annoying her mother. She keeps telling her mother she's bored and she doesn't know what to eat. She has got a room of her own but this also doubles as the guest room. In fact her cousin is coming to stay and will take it over. He is 21 and coming out of prison. He's not staying at his own home because he doesn't get on with his mother. He will go out most evenings anyway, Laura says.
The other children on her estate, she says, are about five years younger than she is. She used to have friends of her own age, two in particular but they have all moved "far away". Too far for her to walk at any rate. She hates walking because she "dawdles and you get bored walking on your own". She likes listening to pop music. She usually tapes other people's records rather than buying her own. She often spends time in her bedroom listening to music "full blast". When she dances the noise comes thudding down into the sitting room below. Her mum doesn't seem to mind although her boyfriend complains about the noise if it disturbs his watching television. She also likes swimming, reading and messing up the bedroom "leaving the tidying up" for her mum. She likes getting her mother angry, she says, because "it's funny". She likes her mum "sometimes". But "it's always my fault if anything goes wrong". But then again, she admits, it usually is her fault.
Laura sometimes visits her friend David when his mother is out at work. They just play about "soak each other with water and be stupid". They watch videos. She frequently babysits for a neighbbour. She used to babysit for this particular women every Monday to Friday, but she is pregnant again and has gone onto part time work. When she worked for her five days a week, 7.30. to 10.30 she earned £20 a week. She now only earns £10 a week and babysits from 8.45 to 10.30. She does a paper round as well. She used to get pocket money but doesn't anymore. She tries to save as much as possible. Sometimes she gets things out of her mother's catalogue and then has to pay her back. When that situation arises she finds that £10 has "just gone". Generally speaking she spends her money on sweets. She loves crisps. She could get through five packets of crisps a day, she says. She used to spend her dinner money on crisps until the dinner ladies got suspicious and rang her mum.
Laura's mother smokes so she's used to cigarettes being around "it's in the surroundings". One of her older sisters started her smoking when she was younger but she doesn't like it. She smoked occasionally for about a year but she wouldn't touch them now. Her mother caught her three times. She hates the smell of them. But the reason she decided to give up was pressure from her mother. Her mother used to worry her about what cigarettes could do to her health and how her grandfather became seriously ill through smoking. Evidently he smoked between 50 and 60 cigarettes a day, although he didn't drink. When she was about 12, he had to go to hospital and she knew it was in some way connected with his smoking. This worried her. But she recognises that smoking "calms" her mother down and so she doesn't mind too much. It is just the smell that irritates. "She wouldn't stop even if I tried to make her" she says. Her mother succeeded in persuading Laura that smoking was bad but was unable to stop smoking herself. When Laura pointed out this discrepancy her mother just said "it was different". When Laura asks what she means by this difference her mother says "stop arguing". Her mother's boyfriend, who also smokes, says "I know I smoke but I tell other people not to 'cause I know what it's like". Smoking is obviously difficult to give up. Laura did not find it easy. She "kept on nicking" cigarette's from her mother's packets when she left them "on the table". Then she'd hide it and run upstairs to her bedroom to smoke it.
She gave up very slowly she says. She got down to one a day. Her best friend at the time, who "didn't smoke very much" either, decided she was going to give it up. So they both gave up together. The recent drop in her income played its part in all this "if you didn't have a lot of money you couldn't get any (cigarettes)".
According to Laura lots of children and young people smoke; "all the school" she says. The anti-smoking campaigns of recent years have had no impact at all "people in the school do it now. They hide up everywhere. 4th and 5th years don't seem to care less if they get caught". The attraction of smoking lies in the fact that it "makes you feel big. There's not a lot of other reasons". Laura says that is why she started; it made her feel "grown up". A lot of people have friends or would like to be friends with people who are older than them. This effects their behaviour. Anyway, she says "You just like to be older than you are". In some ways this is a reaction to the constraints of being treated "like a little kid....your mum's worry if you go out to see a friend and that's a boy. They don't like you to go to parties with them. If I say, like, I'm going to a party and there's loads of boys they won't let me go."
"I'm good, really" she says "there's lots of kids my age who hang around street corners all night. But I'm not somebody who likes to do that. I like to stay in where I'm safe". She has to be home before dark "our area is very bad". She and her friend (before the friend moved away) used to hang around outside but "it got really spooky" when "it got quiet and foggy you keep looking behind you".
Laura thinks people drink too much. Drinking is alright on special occasions "like a wedding. But I reckon there's too much of it about. That's what starts the hooliganism". She's been to pubs with her family but doesn't like them "They stink". She doesn't like the smoke "it's like fog around you". She thinks some pubs provide a more congenial environment than others "if it's a nice pub, where you have two different sorts of places. Where it's a nice place to go"; not "some rubbishy little pub where people just go there to get drunk and smoke...it's not worth it". She also sees people "acting stupid" in the pub.
Drink, she says makes you "crazy". She has seen people drunk at parties where "they don't care what they do". She remembers her mother when she had a hangover "she look a state and she is sort of stumbling about the kitchen trying to find the kettle. And she's really got a headache"
Laura has been drunk twice in her life both in the last year "I got drunk Christmas Day and I got up (the next day) about half past two in the afternoon". She likes babycham and Kontiki. The latter, she explains is a cocktail mixture using a vodka base. On the Christmas day in question she had wine, babycham and "a couple of bitters". Parents don't seem to object to such drinking amongst youngsters at Christmas. She can't remember all that much of it she says. What she knows she has learnt from her mum "I can't remember anything. I don't know. It's weird...I don't even believe it...cause my mum was telling me and I can't remember. I can't remember anything I done". She laughs and won't say what her mother said she was doing. She remembers playing "Trivial Pursuits" with her mother and her sisters "I was just drinking Babycham and bitter. My mum said I talked really loud and sort of shouting out questions and I wasn't reading them properly. I was making them up. Then she said I was singing and dancing about the room". She says this is not something she normally does in front of other people.
The other occasion she got drunk was at a friend's house when the parents were out. Her mother does not know about this. If her mother had found out "she'd have broke me neck. She would have grounded me for a year or something". She and her friend raided the drinks cabinet. She started drinking non alcoholic Caliber beer. But she only drank half the can which she then filled up with kontiki "Don't know what happened. Can't remember". She did it because she was bored "Just something to do. I didn't think it was that bad. I just wanted to try it. I just felt like drinking something". Again she remembers very little. At one stage she and her friend were playing "Scruples", a board game. "I remember us all laughing. There were three of us downstairs and two upstairs. We were like playing a game and leaving them to do what they wanted to do. I remember running upstairs with the bottle. Giving it to my friend to see if they wanted to try some. I can remember falling down the stairs. That's about it". Evidently she was very lively because her friends tried to calm her down "My other friend came and sober me up with a cup of coffee and I was eating cheese and I felt really....I don't know...I felt sort of...thick". Her friends took her outside to sit in the breeze "to cool me off". She was soaking wet "because I'd...apparently I'd tried to tip this kontiki into a bottle and it went all over me". She went straight home and stuffed her clothes in the bin and quickly changed "and before my mum was home I was upstairs".
She says about her experience of being drunk "I think now I know what happens and now I know I don't know much about what happened; I don't think I'd ever touch it again...well, the odd one or two. I don't think I'd ever get drunk again".
She believes that people should come to the school who have experienced problems with alcohol "people who really know about this stuff" and who can talk to the pupils "talk to us to change our minds".
She feels that alcohol is a cause for concern "More accidents happen with drinking. It never used to be as bad". She suggests that pubs should only be allowed to serve fixed quantities of drink...You should have a card or something which which says you are only allowed to have three".
She thinks that school is a place where youngsters get introduced to drinking and smoking. It is usually another pupil who brings the first cigarettes or "can of beer". She thinks that people are getting younger when they encounter drink "You get girls of about twelve dressed up to look about nineteen and twenty and go to nightclubs, smoking and drinking, and no-one knows any different". She also believes that advertising has an influence "Some adverts on the telly are like encouraging you to drink. How nice some beers are. And babycham. The adverts really help some people say "Oh that looks nice. The Babycham advert is really cute". She thinks people then try these drinks because they believe it makes them look attractive.
She thinks that teachers don't always set the best example although "I
hate to pick on 'em". She can smell the smoke on some of them "They
have a smoking room...it makes for a very smoky atmosphere in one room".
She thinks the younger teenagers worry about drinking and driving but "19 years olds don't give a damn - well a lot of them".