Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Britain’s binge drinking: It’s not about age but about culture

Last Sunday I made the snap decision that for dinner I was going to cook a nice bowl of lentils and chorizo. On the surface this doesn’t pose an issue. The lentils I had at home, all I would need from the shop would be chorizo, chopped tomatoes, and a small bottle of... RED WINE!

And what I bought really was a small bottle of red wine – a borrowers sized bottle of Sainbury’s own brand merlot. Yet I got ID for this tiny bottle of merlot. A bottle that had such insignificant amounts of alcohol inside, that a toddler would have struggled to get drunk on it – although don’t take my word on that because toddlers and alcohol is a bad mix, unlike vodka and cranberry which is an excellent mix (#tangent).

Luckily for my food snobby taste buds, I had some ID on me yet I recall a time when I was not so lucky. I had been seventeen and I had wanted to cook a nice chicken cacciatore, which unluckily for me, involved getting hold of some white wine – AN ILLIGAL SUBSTANCE FOR SOMEONE OF MY AGE! Why not just go without the wine? I hear you cry.

Because wine is to cooking as to what good foreplay is to sex, in that without it the experience is just boring and a little bit painful.

Now at the time I couldn’t buy the wine, so I had to get a grown up to pick it up for me. So it became one of those situations that you see in the movies, where the under aged person is huddled outside in the cold, waiting for the 18 year old to appear with the magical substance known as booze.

Now I bet good money, that from the outside, this transaction of money for booze looked a little sad. I bet most people would assume that I was going to take that wine down to the park and get hammered with my friends in the woods. They would not have guessed that I actually used that wine to make a fucking tasty dish of chicken cacciatore.

And this is the problem I have with British culture – or more specially, its culture of drinking.

Because there is this persistent idea that alcohol is good for getting drunk on, and nothing else. Not for taste, not for cooking, not sampling or vintage – for binge drinking, getting pissed, or at the very least, getting tipsy enough to flirt with the opposite sex on.

This is chicken cacciatore, infinitely more appealing than white lightening 

Very few European countries take the same stance that we brits do.  Wine is not seen as something to be downed, or mixed with lemonade and guzzled, but as a way to complement meals and flavours. I can’t help but think that if more kids were introduced to alcohol in this context, fewer would be inclined to run off behind some bushes and drink synthetic cider in the rain.

Just think of all those food classes you took in high school, and all those fairy cakes you made and then threw in the bin as soon as class was finished. Wouldn’t it have been a better use of our time, and the teachers, to get us viewing the dynamics of flavour in a better light? Maybe by making a nice risotto, or a beef and ale pie.

Every year the restrictions on alcohol get tighter and tighter. There’s challenge 21, challenge 25, bar raids, undercover police – I once worked at a bar, and was told, that if I was caught serving someone under the age of 18, even if I was unaware of the fact, I would get a criminal record and a £1000+ fine. And are these restrictions solving anything?


Because the problem isn’t the availability of alcohol, it’s our own mentality.  We humans are a tenacious bunch, and if we want something, chances are we’ll get it. And so, if at 16, you want to wankered behind a bike shed, chances are you’ll find a way to do it.

Maybe if what we wanted was a decent tasting risotto, and a complementary pinot grigio – binge drinking in Britain wouldn’t be such a problem.

And I wouldn’t need to take my passport with me every time I wanted to make a red wine reduction.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Adult Limbo: also known as being a student

University is an odd place; it acts a limbo between our teenaged lives and our adult ones. On the one hand, many of us at university live independent lives. We go where we want to go, do what we want to do – get drunk and bring strangers back into our bedroom. All fabulous.

Yet at the same time, we’re either getting supplemented by either a student load, bursaries, or our parents. We’ve moved off the tricycle, onto the big kid bicycle, yet we still have stabilizers to stop us from falling flat on our faces. We’re semi-adults, which is the correct definition of a student.

Of course, the problem with this semi-adulthood, is that it is transient. Eventually the loans run out, our parents retire, and our degrees come to an end. Which leaves many of us in a precarious position – just what are we supposed to do with ourselves? If live was an instruction manual, I imagine it would go something like this:

If only life was so easy? I imagine if this was the instruction manual, many students would be calling the help desk, demanding what to do if they are unable to complete step C because of the recession. Or step D because the person they were supposed to marry just ran away with an accountant on the second floor. Or step G because they just went to the fertility clinic and found out their uterus is a hostile environment for sperm and only have an 11% chance of ever conceiving.

Because life isn’t a SIMs game, where we set a life time achievement goal and use cheat codes to get there a little faster. We cannot set ourselves up for goals and check them off like a to-do list. There is no certainty in life, just as there’s no guarantee that when you remove the stabilizers from a bike, that you won’t crash or fall off somewhere along the way.

Though anyone will know, as a kid, if you’ve never experienced falling off your bike before, the idea of it happening to yourself can be pretty daunting. The same applies to being an adult. As I’ve just finished my exams, my second year at university draws to an end. In a year’s time adulthood will be knocking at my door, and in the mean time, I get a sneak preview of my worries in the form of my mother, who likes to write emails saying: “What’s the plan? Where are you going to move? What career are you going into? Do you know what you want to BE yet?”

And you know what? I’m scared. Scared of falling off my bike, scared of failing as an adult.

I don’t know what I want to be, and by that logic, I am therefore nothing. Or rather, I feel like nothing[1]

Life sometimes, feels that it is set up in a way that makes you believe the instruction manual I wrote earlier, exists. That we should be heading towards certain goals, certain lifestyle decisions. Now I’ve already stated that this isn’t true, and yet here I am, contradicting myself, by telling you that even I feel that it is true. And the problem is, this imaginary check list of achievements, which hangs over our heads – my head – doesn’t tell you how to go about checking off these accomplishments.

So what is the point in this blog post Heather?

This is the part where I would like to impart some sort of advice to you, the readers. Say something really profound and comforting to all of you who are reading this and experiences the same problems as I am. Maybe something along the lines of – hey buddy, don’t worry about tomorrow, live for today and... something, something, inner self, something, something, have confidence and BELIEVE in... something...

But, as someone, who is still set in the student-limbo of adulthood, I’m afraid I cannot advise on what I have yet to experience. All I can do is relate to you my fears, letting you know, that if you too share my doubts for the future, you are not alone. We are all stuck on a hill, on our bikes, just about to ride off into the sun set, yet not quite ready to whiz down the incline. 

Instead we hover, our stabilizers rusty and just about to come off, and watch – watch as people graduate, get jobs, and fly down the hill to a place we can’t be certain of. All the while thinking: Will I be next? What if I fail? And thank fuck I don’t graduate for another year.

[1] Or is it that SOCIETY MAKES ME FEEL LIKE NOTHING?! (Sorry, doing English literature exams does this to your world perceptive).