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 7
Teresa is 14 years old. She wears discreet make up. She lives in a large suburban village. Her parents split up when she was 5 and she now lives with her father, stepmother and her brother and sister. Her brother is 16 and her sister is 18. She says her father "isn't a "grundy" dad". In other words he is young. About 38 and dresses fashionably "If you have a grundy dad it's embarassing". Teresa's mother became pregnant with her older sister when she was a teenager and her parents were obliged to marry "They weren't ready to get married" she says.
She describes the village where she lives as "a bit snobbish" and compares it to the region in the large city where her mother now lives, which although it is "plebby" is friendly with people constantly coming and going into each other's houses. Generally speaking the village is "boring". She goes around with a group of three close friends, all girls. There's not a lot to do "It's not very good at all". But sometimes things do happen and then "you think it's wonderful". They often go round each others houses "and phone people up". It's at Teresa's house that they tend to make the most calls. This happens because her Mum and Dad go out a lot. They get boys round sometimes and have a laugh. She has the house to herself quite often but her parents don't know what she does when they're out. She says they don't notice the bigger than average phone bills because her father has his own electrical repair business and so runs up a large telephone bill anyway on that account.
She describes herself as "a loud" person. She's "loud everywhere".
Everyone knows her, she says. She's not "shy or anything". She loves
acting. She did plays at middle school which they made up. She also goes occasionally
to a theatre club in a neighbouring village. At middle school they would just
go onto the stage and "make things up". She remembers doing "Miss
World". They did some singing including "actual solos" for the
Christmas nativity play. She says they don't get much chance to do drama at
high school. In some senses this is quite a relief because she is sure it would
be more embarassing than at middle school because of the presence of older pupils
"you feel stupid. They laugh at you".
School, she says, is boring because "You just can't concentrate. I mean if you do concentrate everyone calls you a stiff. If you do work everyone just take the mickey out of you". Teresa says she is "definitely not a stiffy" - she's had "loads of detentions".
She is doing PSD at school. This term her year group is doing community work for 6 weeks (or is it 5? She can't remember) as part of their PSD. This means that she and another girl and boy are going into a junior school and helping out with the younger children. They do swimming, cooking, games and such like things. But Teresa can't cook "I can't even boil a potato". She laughs "I can't peel one neither". They visit this other school on Mondays from lunch until about 3.00. She prefers this to being at her own school. The community work is "a good laugh".
One of the things she does like at school is drama. Unfortunately she thinks that some of the topics they do in class are "stupid". She provides an example of one such topic: "losing a pet. It seems hopeless". Dramatic edge in this instance was given by the fact that the pet had to belong to someone else and the actors were temporarily given charge of it in the owner's absence. Still they made something of it. They invented a Chinese hamster called "Thingwong". Teresa loves acting. She gets nervous before she goes on stage but once she's on stage, she "love it".
She is very fond of animals and would consider in the future doing a job in connection with them. She mentions dog training for the army. She's got a spaniel. She doesn't think she's clever enough to be a vet.
She thinks boys are very immature. "All they think about is sex. They are all perverts. When you're doing PE they go "Ooh, look at her when you're running" It's sick". She laughs as she says this. These are boys largely in her class and year. Things are changing. Boys and girls used to be friendly but now "they sort of like you but they are a bit over the top about it...they are really immature. Now they want to sit next to you and put their hands up your skirt". In a way she finds it funny. She says it doesn't really bother her. She'll shout at them or hit them. "At first it was embarassing but now..they're all like it". But the story is a little different, it would seem when they go out with you,"like, if you go out with them, they're really stupid and they daren't talk to you. It's only when they aren't going out with you...when they go out with you they're pretty tight", they "don't do much"
She goes to the City with her friends at weekends. Teresa goes to her Nanny's a lot. Her Nanny used to live with the family after her mother left home. Because of the circumstances surrounding her mother's departure she saw her nanny a great deal. Her mother, she says "was into drugs and everything". She was very ill and "went mental". Her mother lives in another city. She is now well and has a baby and Teresa sees her about four times a year. She has not remarried but she has a boyfriend. "She doesn't need drugs but she's still really nervy". She remembers the effect that drugs had upon her mother. She can recall seeing her become very sleepy and "she used to rock and listen to the same music over and over again". Once when the family came home late they found that she had taken an overdose. "We just saved her from a coma. It was really horrible". Nowadays she can talk to her mother about it all but it is harder for her brother and sister because they were at a more vulnerable age, according to Teresa, when it all happened. Her sister, for example, was 13 when her mother left and that is "a hard age to lose your mum".
Her sister went to live with her but she came back recently "it didn't work out for her". Her brother doesn't seem "that bothered. He doesn't bother about her phone calls or anything". Her sister is alright but Teresa thinks that she is the only one who "still loves her a lot".
Her father married again. A woman whom Teresa describes as "quite young"
and whom she thinks is nice.
Her experience with her mother has shown her what "drugs can do to people". She remembers other people in the hospital when her mother was there. other people affected by drug addiction "it was really terrible. A lot of them had been reduced to..put their heads in plastic bags. It was awful". She says "It really made me think that, okay, a lot of people try anything at first, don't they, but it is not worth trying out because you can really get hooked easily"
"It was her boyfriend who got her hooked on that stuff when she...when she was still married to my Dad". Her mother said that her father didn't know. At some point, before she arrived at her present destination, her mother went to another city with her boyfriend. She stayed for a time and got a job as a doctor's receptionist. But "she stole some drugs there. She had to go to jail for a little while there".
Although she is now very aware of the damaging effects of drug taking Teresa's attitude to smoking remains fairly easy going "I think we all try it". She admits that smoking is not very nice for people who don't want to do it. "But if it calms you... As my mum says, it calms you. Without it she would be nervy. Some people it's a sort of help to them, a comfort to them. I think. So it's up to them really. I don't think other people should push their ideas into them. It's up to them if they want to smoke". Teresa has tried smoking. It didn't make her feel ill or anything. It seemed quite nice but she says she's not too bothered. Her mum let's her smoke when she's visiting. She says she could give up "easy". She doesn't smoke every day. In fact she says, she doesn't smoke very much at all. She smokes "when I am upset or something", when she is "under pressure". She very rarely has one simply for want of anything better to do. She doesn't ever think about the health risks although she is aware of them "that just doesn't bother me". She thinks that there is a degree of pressure from other youngsters to smoke, in so far as "if you don't smoke people think you're wimpish". She describes how "at the end of school they all go round the shop, they all smoke round there. They think they're really It. If you don't smoke you get teased. They think they're hard cos they're smoking"
Her mother smokes regularly and her boyfriend smokes a lot. "He's got bad nerves as well". She can't really describe what "bad nerves" means. They have both been in "like the mental hospital". Teresa has never had bad nerves but her mum and her boyfriend seem to "crack up inside and just go..so..terrible. So they say". Her mother doesn't smoke much now because she is breast feeding her baby, but the boyfriend continues to do so.
Her father likes a drink, "Not heavily. But has a pint now and again". Her mum's boyfriend sometimes drinks a lot "And when he comes home he's really terrible. He swears at the wall and he tries to pick up the baby when he's drunk. He is pretty violent when he's drunk". Her father and the boyfriend used to get on but they don't any longer. There was an argument "a massive fight". The boyfriend "slags my dad off" especially when he gets drunk. This makes Teresa "cry". This is not very nice for her mum. She says that a lot of people can only speak their mind when they're drunk. The boyfriend usually "holds it all back when he's not drunk.. It just comes all out when he's drunk". Then he's sorry in the morning "But he's still said it all and it won't go away".
She likes home-made wine. She has been drunk three times before in her life but "nothing to feel really bad in the morning". The last time was about six months ago. On these occasions when she has been affected by alcohol, she has first "gone quiet" and then decided to strip "I don't know why I do that". She laughs when she says this "Whenever I go to a party I tell them that if I do get drunk don't let me strip". At the last party a girlfriend's father had to stop her and then her own father had to come and pick her up. Her father "got a bit angry".. and I stumbled in the car and I kept on trying to talk and they were shushing me". She thinks her Dad knew that she was drunk but at the same time she thought he was also quite amused. He wouldn't have thought it was funny if she hadn't gone to school. She can't remember anything about this. She had to be told by others. She got drunk because "I kept nicking the D.J.'s drink. Lagers". She explains "There were two D.J.s and they were quite young and they were giving it to me and I was just pouring it down my neck". The other two occasions she got drunk were at a party at her mum's and at a friend's "with that punch" she says with feeling. The punch was put away unfinished. She enjoyed the effect of alcohol "It's a laugh". She says she gets "cuddly...I go and sit on some boys laps and put my arms round them". She laughs about it.
Teresa is quite firm that "she wouldn't like to do it again. No way". She says she didn't have a bad hangover but "I had a headache when I went to school in the morning"
She's been to pubs before with her dad. She likes the atmosphere "But there's all sorts of horrible men in there". Workmen she says make comments when you walk down the street. But she doesn't mind that. "it makes you laugh" she says "it's a compliment, really". But that's alright if they are young men and not unattractive in their own right. However in the pub the men seem older, grey haired with large stomachs etc "That's not very nice".
A pub is a place for all your mates to get together "like your mum and dad and all their mates". It's a place where you can socialise".
She has a drink sometimes at home "when people come round". She also
believes that drink can control people and this is a bad thing "I don't
think you should get to the point where you can't control anything. People want
to smoke to much, they want to drink too much, drug too much. They should have
it - you can have it all but not over the top". Rapists for example are
"over the top about it. I mean they might be married or something but they
still want to rape someone else".
Once they had trouble with a gang from another large village. There were about eighteen boys and girls in this gang, aged about 16 years "They were really hard". Teresa, her friends and some boys from a neighbouring suburb were "Trick or Treating". This gang shouted at Teresa and her friends and "just all sort of came after us". But Teresa and the others managed to get away. Unfortunately they knew where she lived because one of the boys in the gang recognised her.
The next night when she was doing her homework she looked out of the window "and there they all were standing outside my house". She shouted "Dad, they're all out there!". She was naturally a bit scared because of the previous night's events. Her father told her to ignore them and they left it at that. But then the gang threw an egg at the window and then they smashed a window in her father's van. Her father "went mad. He ran out on the road - he's pretty hard, my dad, he goes mad and he really hits - He ran out after them but he couldn't catch them. So he went in his van. They thought he was gone when he ran back for his van.....he went bombing after them. He got out and said to one of them "Right you're the biggest I'll get you". The youngster he picked out " was going "please, mate, please, mate, I didn't mean to do it". All the rest just stood there. Usually they pile on top of people. But they just stood there going "We'll have a whip round". And my Dad go "You lay a finger on my kid and I'll really hurt you". They were just bricking, some of them". She's not sure but she thinks her dad "headbutted one of them". She thinks they all stood there because they had not expected such a dramatic intervention from her father "your dads usually go after them but they don't usually get hold of them".
She didn't witness this but heard about it from her step mum who "knows what my dad is like when he gets angry". Now the members of the gang are afraid to walk down her street. They smile at Teresa when they see her. She thought they would "take the mickey because 'Daddy'" she says mockingly "went after 'em". They never had the promised "whip round "I don't think they dared come round".
According to Teresa gangs behave like this because "they think they're hard" but "they only pick on the little ones". They wouldn't trouble the "Bull lot" (that is the insider name for a gang based at the next large suburb. The Bull is the pub in the centre of the district where groups of youngsters hang about). According to Teresa, the George Pope gang is the "hardest" and she admits that gang culture is an important part of adolescent life in the city and its surrounding areas. There are girls involved in these but "don't do much, they just stand there. Whole lot of Tracies. They don't even say anything"
Teresa doesn't think she's associated with any gang in particular. Her village
doesn't have one. But "we go around in big groups". She used to go
around with a group of four girls but they fell out with one "She was a
bit stiff". They were all playing about, she says, pushing each other into
puddles "We pushed her in and she got really edgy". She started crying
"She can't take it, really". She's the same age as Teresa and lives
down the road but she is no longer part of the group.
Some kind of group is important "If I didn't go around with (her two friends) it would be really awful. Other people like us, but there's only really us three". Everyone, she says, knows them.
She and her friends go round to each others' houses "most of the time". One of the ways they pass the time is to ring up "loads of boys and ask them to go out with us and they go "yeah, yeah"". She laughs. In the summer they sunbathe. The amuse themselves by shouting at people "we just see people and take the mickey out of them. When we're all together we're just loud. We don't do anything. We listen to music a lot". They like pop music, and that bands Erasure, Simply Red. They listen to the charts a lot. They like Wet Wet Wet. This means they are "Wetters". Currently you can either like Bros (and be a "Brosette") or Wet Wet Wet "but you can't like both". The boys get jealous she says.
Teresa and her friends sometimes go down to the community centre and they go to the park "quite a lot". They do a keep fit class at the community centre "It's quite good, a laugh". These sessions are run by a man in his seventies according to Teresa. She finds this very amusing. Her general attitude to fitness and health is moderate. She does PE at school. "We sometimes go through a keep fitty spree". But there is a man in her street whom she describes as "going jogging at 4.00 in the morning" which she considers to be "a bit over the top".
She compares education for alcohol to education in reproduction. They don't explain nothing. She thinks the teachers get embarassed. She complains that all that gets talked about is "sex". What was not talked about was "pregnancy and periods". She covered these topics to an extent in Science but then "the teacher was embarassed again" according to Teresa. She claims that if you asked certain questions she would ignore you. These weren't "wind up" questions, she insists, but "quite sensible ones". She thinks "They were only teaching it because they had to. They weren't putting a lot of effort into it". So far she has had male teachers in PSD "and they don't really know how to talk about women. They don't know how it feels inside".
She calls PSD "a muck about lesson, really". She doesn't think you learn anything in it "You know everything that they talk about". But she thinks that some other lessons are limited in this regard "if we're doing say history and talking about the old days, if we try and bring in how they used contraception then, they don't answer".
She thinks that basic information on drinking, smoking, drugs and sex can be given by the school "but you really got to find out for yourself. You got to try it out. Because everyone is curious". In the end it is up to the individual. "Tell them the facts about everything and then let them make up their own minds about it. Because you all don't think the same".