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 4
Ernie is a very style conscious young man of sixteen years, wanting to be twenty. His clothes are always absolutely up to the minute. Up to the mark. He spends most his money, he says, on clothes more than he does on drink "that's not a percentage at all compared to my clothes". Clothes are very important to him and he shops at the most fashionable boutiques in the city. If something goes out of fashion "It's out of the wardrobe. Out." He spends about thirty pounds a week which he gets from his father as he has not got a job at the moment. His father runs a hairdresser's, a mile or so east of the city centre in a residential area of tightly packed terraces. Ernie is dark, short and good looking. He is currently doing four GCSE's at a Special Unit after being expelled from school last year. When he finishes at the Special Unit this summer he hopes to become an apprentice brickmaker. At the Special Unit he is generally seen as the leader amongst the boys.
He gets on with his family most of the time "We have the odd scuffle every now and again". When he and his mother disagree about something they will have a row and his mother "has got a little bit of a ... well, you know 'I'm not ever going to forgive you, you son of a bitch' you know, all that sort of thing. But after a couple of days she cools down and that's it. It's all over. As right as rain again." He has one fourteen year old sister, a four year old brother, another two year old sister and a baby brother of eight or nine months. It is a full house but Ernie and his two sisters have rooms of their own. His room is an extension to the house in which he can play his music. Occasionally, both he and his sister have music going and his mother will shout to them both to turn it down.
At home drink is accessible "You know if you want a drink you just have to ask and you'll get a small one, whatever you want". His parents have no objection to getting him a "a few cans now and again". Ernie and his parents sometimes sit in the house in the evenings having a can each "playing cards or something" but for Ernie drinking happens when he goes out "When I go out you know I go out for a good time and rave it up and that, have a laugh".
Ernie first started "going out" when he was thriteen to a local dance hall. The dance hall was frequented by a variety of different age groups but free tickets were dispensed to young people if they filled in a form which put them onto a mailing list. This establishment was not fussy about serving under age drinkers but as a fourteen year old was usually so obviously under age they were unlikely to be served. So many of these younger customers would have a drink a few yards up the street not far from a pub in one of the poorest council estates of the city. Ernie went to the dance hall about once a week and this was his social life. He says it was a dump. It has now become a bingo hall. He used to go with a group of about ten boys all roughly the same age. He describes the dance hall as being like a disco with a big bar. As they would not get served at the bar "We got pissed ourselves and then we would sit there like corpses". He and his friends mainly bought cans of Carlsberg.lager They drank these outside "Just to get warmed up". They would not get so drunk that they were unable to get into the establishment. They had to appear in control of themselves. They usually went in at eight and left at eleven thirty when the place closed.
They did this most Saturday nights for about six months. The next phase was a young persons' disco. Its reputation as a dump was greater than that of the dance hall. Ernie would go there one night a week "sort of Friday night special again". The ages of the people who went to this disco ranged from fourteen to twenty. He did not think much of the drink served "a sort of stuff they called cider but it was probably water that they put an apple in for half an hour, you know, give it a bit of taste" but if the drink they were serving in the disco was too dilute for young customers like Ernie this could be compensated for by purchases made and consumed elsewhere "Outside, you know, you would go to the off license get some cans and get pissed before we go in." At the time the friends he hung about with were generally about a year to two years older than he was. He estimated that at this time he was getting "absolutely rat arsed" one night a week. The rest of the week was subdued "just sitting down, sort of go out, have a laugh" occasionally "smoking dope that sort of thing you know". He also had a girl friend then and he used to go around with her. Not doing a great deal "just going out snogging".
He managed financially, he said, by doing odd jobs including "nicking off pals, you know". He smoked and he went out one night a week and drank but he says he did not drink so much. This he kept up for a year but he got bored with it eventually despite attempts not to do so "I missed out weeks to make it look more interesting but it was still the same". He has not been to this disco for two years and no longer knows if it exists.
His life has gone through some significant changes. As a teenager he became, he says, "wilder, I done some silly things just to show other people I'm a man". When he was fifteen he began to frequent an amusement arcade in the city centre. It was here that he got involved with what he now calls "the wrong crowd". He used to play the machines and meet individuals who would introduce themselves and start friendships which he described as "coupling off". They would play the machines together. He describes it all now as a waste of time "because all it led me into was trouble". However, at the time the involvement presented itself as attractive" I thought it was like, you know, 'yeah, it's a laugh. Let's go along. Now you see it is just a wild time'. It got me into a lot of trouble with the old firm that".
The 'old firm' is the gang of which about sixty or more male adolescents would claim some association. Its location is the city centre and it is called the city gang. These associations made up largely of working class male adolescents have existed for some generations in the area. They are usually connected to particular regions or housing estates and their names derive from them. For example, the young male adolescents living on the Redbourn housing estate would be called the Redbourn Boys; similarly those living around the city centre are called the City Boys. These associations are territorial and will occasionally be antagonistic to one another or alternatively join together to support the local football club against visiting fans. New faces come in as others grow up and leave. According to Ernie people who become associated with these groupings are "you know, people who want to be the hardest geesers in the city, you know, a mean Harry, that sort of thing. Whereas" Ernie now says "they are just a bunch of saps". To qualify as a City Boy you have to be an ""arcade lad" first particularly in the city centre arcade "you sort of get to know them, you know, and have a laugh and all that and then you sort of start fighting". He adds "the Old Bill are just waiting for the chance to get that lot now". He began hanging around the arcade he says "we had nowhere else to go and nothing else to do".
He got into trouble with the City Boys when he began to borrow money from one
of the leading members to use on the machines. This young man who is older than
the rest possibly in his early twenties "sort of lends money to a lot of
the younger kids there and then asks interests". The interest he asks for
on the loan is double the original quantity each week. A loan of ten pounds
becomes the following week twenty pounds and forty pounds the week after that
and so on "It just goes on and on". There comes a point when it is
absolutely impossible to pay. When that point comes the young man who lent the
money and his closest associates "just give you a good kicking and takes
maybe forty pounds. So you borrowed ten pounds you sort of give them forty pounds
and say that's it. Down the road. I can't give you no more."
However, Ernie refused to pay and he is now careful when he goes into the city centre. He is trying, he says, "to keep away from a broken face". He does not regret no longer being a member of the City Boys. He calls his previous involvement "a bad mistake that". If he met himself as he was at fourteen he would not be impressed, he says. "I was a right little c......". All he learnt, he says, was how to fight "to fight dirty". But that is all over now as far as he is concerned. He will not even go in for fights today "I keep myself to myself".
The problem is he likes to go out and the city centre is small enough to mean the past is sometimes hard to escape from. The previous Saturday night, for example, when he was walking in the city he bumped into an older cousin of his and they went for a drink at a city centre pub. About ten City Boys appeared in the pub "and stood around me and that" they were "leering and standing and I er ... just sort of leant over to the barmaid ''scuse me darling I've got a bit of s.... with these geesers behind me' and the bouncers just sort of surrounded them straight away and they were out on their arse 'cause they were all going 'get you , you slag' and all that. And I was going 'f... you, you bastards' and all that. The bouncers kind of got hold of about four of them and just said 'get out. Don't want your sort in there.' This boucer scarred them off down the road, you know, running after them".
Undeterred Ernie continued with his Saturday night out visiting other city
centre pubs and ending at one of the half dozen disco night clubs of the city.
These have a license until two o'clock. Ernie thinks that although "they
all sort of want me now ... they all want my blood" this situation will
eventually calm down but he is not "going to give in to them".
Compared to the past Ernie thinks his life is quiet now but he had started to drink more in the last six months than he used to. His life is a quieter one but he drinks more. He generally keeps the company of just one good friend, Richard. Ernie sees Richard as respectable, most unlike a City Boy "he is just, you know, ... he works during the day as a salesman and that".
He associated drinking with pleasure. He drinks "to have a good time and enjoy yourself". Drink is easily available and "you think 'yeah, why not. Let's have a laugh.' You know, ten of you sort of half out of your brains just larking about and having a good laugh." There have been times when this has got out of hand according to Ernie when he himself has got out of hand "You do get a bit violent on boose". He has been involved in a fight at a disco before when he was drunk and cannot remember the sequence of events very clearly but he punched another young man in the face and broke his nose. He was picked up by the police and charged some two months afterwards and sentenced to eighteen hours at an attendance centre.
How much he drinks depends on what sort of a night out it is. On a Saturday night "I sort of go to about eight pubs, have a pint in each and then go on to a disco and top myself and stagger out. I have about ten pints on a Saturday through the whole night which goes on until two in the morning." He goes out on a Wednesday, Friday or Saturday and Sunday. The nights are different. Wednesday night for example, his preferred disco is very much quieter and usually only about half full "everybody having a laugh whereas on a Saturday night it is packed full sometimes with American service men and you don't really want to know." He does not drink every night "I don't see any profit from it but you enjoy yourself. You got to enjoy yourself when you are younger."
The usual procedure on a weekend night is for his friend, Richard to come and pick him up at his house at about 7 o'clock. Earlier Ernie has had a bath and he is all dressed up and ready to go out for the night. Richard drives them both to his house which is nearer the city centre than Ernie's. It is within easy walking distance of all the places they are likely to want to visit. The first place they stop is at one of the new "designer" disco/pubs. Ernie calls this kind of establishment a "posers' pub". Ernie calls himself a poser "I just pose, have a good laugh". Such pubs not only have a distinct style but "a certain kind of bird as well". These young women will go to such establishments because "they wouldn't be interested in just going to a pub". According to Ernie young women like somewhere that is "semi disco ... loud music, you know, viceo screens ... that sort of thing. Up-to-the-date design, TV up in the roof, you know, showing all the music they play." Although he says anybody can go to these places usually it is young people because "the older people have got their local". But the drinking he says is much the same as you would find in the local "the girls drink all these sort of um ... vodka and orange, gin and tonic.. the geesers are sort of sitting there swigging back the old pint of lager or bitter or whatever". Women he says are also more likely not to drink alcoholic drink. He believes men drink more than women but he does not know why this should be. Men are bigger than women which probably helps to explain why they drink pints of beer and women do not.
From the "posers' pub" Richard and Ernie will go "all over the place" ending up at the disco. He does not drink lager any more because it gives him a headache. He drinks real ale all the time. He does drink wine occasionally. He has what he calls "a topper". This is usually about "half way through a night where I just down a vodka". He observes that a lot of money is spent in the city centre on a Friday and Saturday night. It costs three to four pounds to get into the night club/discos after the pubs shut "for a start. And the drinks are marked up. It costs 70 pence for a half pint and some of the discos are packed every Saturday night and then the bars never ceases being busy. And there are people hand their tenners in ... Because Richard has a job he sometimes helps Ernie out financially on their nights out. At the end of the evening they usually walk back to Richard's place where Ernie stops for the night.
He experiences some anxiety during the evening because he knows he is in City Boy territory on these weekend night outs. But he views it now as a police matter "I do get a bit tense and worried but if they do come out they come out. They can't just start hitting you, can they if you just say 'I'm just going up to the Old Bill station. I'm not sitting here' that's what is going to stop them hitting me I think. If they go and hit me and that I'll just say 'I'm sorry mate I'll just go to the Old Bill station. It'll be you who come off worse not me.' "
On Sunday mornings he admits that he feels "bloody awful". On Sunday evenings he and Richard go and have a "quiet pint" at a local pub. During the rest of the week he stays at home and watches television.
The trouble with education about alcohol, says Ernie, "is that nobody takes real, much notice of it, do they". He thinks any education has got to be subtle "If they are going to do it they got to do it not sort of wam bam don't drink. More like, sort of you can drink but it has its limitations, like you get a bloody bad headache in the morning, you know, that sort of thing". The best message he thinks is "don't drink too much but you still have a drink." The problem is, he says, "It may be against the law but that is part of the fun, isn't it".