15 August 2007

Booze Culture

Well, it has been about a week since I created this blog - a blank sheet on which to record my witty and erudite observations of the world in which I live.

I've tried several times to compose a really stunning post, to start off as I mean to go on, but so far all I've got is a Word document full of meaningless ramblings (quite like many of the posts I read while researching blogs last month!)

But what has really got me going this morning is the "news" that the Chief Constable of Cheshire has spoken out against underage drinking and anti-social behaviour. Well, he would, wouldn't he?

It is, however, true, as Peter Fahey said, that alcohol is too cheap, too strong and too readily available, even to under-age drinkers. At the risk of sounding middle aged, I recall that my parents "allowed" me to have cider or wine on special occasions with a meal, this was not an everyday thing in our home. When I started to go into pubs (age 17) my friends and I would have maybe 1 or 2 drinks (I liked port and lemon back then!) but we were careful not to overdo it, partly because we couldn't afford it, and partly we didn't wish to draw attention to ourselves breaking the law. As a university student I drank more, but never to the point where I couldn't stand, or couldn't remember what happened. And I was never sick. I'm proud of that, but I'm aware that nowadays teenagers think it a bit tame.

As a teenager, there was not any quantity of alcohol in my home or in my friends' homes, and if you wanted to buy it, you went to an off-licence where you had to ask for what you wanted, rather than a supermarket where you just pick it off the shelves. This was in the mid-70s. Alcopops hadn't been invented, and I think I would have regarded vodka, gin etc as being only for "hardened" drinkers, maybe even alcoholics.

I see a completely different attitude today, even in my own children (20 and 17). I don't believe I have encouraged my children to become drinkers. They have encountered far more in their friends' homes, and at parties. More than one parent has said to me in conversation that they would rather their kids were learning about drink in the safety of their own home, than out on the streets. But I've always taken the view that if you make it OK in your own home, they will think it's normal to get drunk, throw up on the sofa and pass out in the bathroom. These things have happened more than once, even in my house when teenage friends have come round for a "social gathering". When I objected I was told that it wasn't a party - the implication being that things would have been much worse at a party! There have been no more social gatherings at our house since.

In the 6th form at school (I work there, so I overhear things) there are 3 main topics of conversation - sex, driving and drunkenness. Even allowing for the natural inclination of teenagers to exaggerate their exploits, such talk strikes fear into the heart of a mother. Just hearing them talk so openly and proudly about what they can't remember from the evening before, or how they were taken to hospital with alcohol poisoning. This is not an inner city sink school, but a thriving rural comprehensive, where students are far more likely to hug each other than to stab someone, but they are learning from each other that excessive drinking is normal, and something to be proud of.

And it has been going on for some years. People in their 20s and 30s consider it fairly normal behaviour too. When they get married they don't have a stag or hen "night" any more, they have a weekend, or sometimes a week, in which they drink to the point of oblivion every day. Even if the handful of people I have spoken to about this are not typical, there is still the assumption that this is OK.

If this is one of those "pendulum" effects we often hear about, I wish it would start to swing back again before I have grandchildren. I've tried to make my girls see that too much drink is a bad thing, but I'm sure they think I'm just old fashioned, and their idea of too much is far, far more than mine ever was.

Is this too long for a blog post?

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