Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Did you know I write? (III)

As most of you will know I am currently studying for a degree in Creative Writing (combined with Drama). This week is the big week: Semester 2 assignments are due. So, I was wondering if anyone would indulge me by commenting/rating/criticizing my latest piece for my Creative Non-Fiction module...? Any comments would be appreciated. Thank you!

Mr & Mrs. Al Cohol.

Ever since starting at university, I have also started an inevitable, epic and enduring relationship with alcohol. The honeymoon period lasted a long time, involving plenty of good nights spent talking, dancing, and having sex. However, this sadly ended not so long ago, and as all relationships do, ours has gone sour. The honeymoon is over.

Now, my nights with my former paramour alcohol are becoming unpleasant and dark. They all start promisingly, with laughter and happy banter, but before long I take it too far and anger the beast within. I lose my balance and the world starts spinning. I shout, rather than speak, and I'm shouting things I would normally never dream of saying. I'm doing things I shouldn't, and setting myself up for all kinds of falls.

“Down it, Fresher!” the Vice Captain shouts, howling with laughter as I hoist the wellington boot into the air and touch it to my lips. I close my eyes tightly, knowing I mustn’t look inside. I can hear the sloshing of all the different kinds of alcohol inside; the dirty pint assigned to me for being Dick of the Week. Beer, wine, vodka, schnapps and goodness knows what else are all slapping angrily against the rubber inside the boot, incredulous that they have been forced to mingle with one another and disgusted with the manner in which they are being consumed. I open one eye just a tiny fraction, and see a few blades of grass floating in murky boozy pond water. That was a classic Fresher mistake. You never ask, you never peek, you just do. Why? Because the Third Years say so. And how do you expect them to take you seriously and to respect you, unless you swallow all kinds of poison and make a fool of yourself on a weekly basis? So I bite my tongue, I tilt the boot, and I drink.

I wake up the next morning, and patches of memory are missing. Oh, but not to worry, they will be filled in. Either when my flatmates and friends recount certain events from the night before, or just when I'm sitting around doing nothing, suddenly a memory comes flying back. I walk down to campus, and on my way I am stopped by several people saying: "How are you feeling today?", "Oh my God you were so bad last night..." or "Hey, drink much?" By the afternoon, the dreaded moment arrives when the photos are uploaded online. You find yourself in a photo with a handful of people you claim to hate when sober, with a traffic cone on your head (a university cliché), kissing a complete stranger (or worse, someone you see every day), with numerous drinks in your hand and straws in your mouth.

Carpet is imprinting an ugly pattern onto my cheek and the taste of cigarettes, toast and possibly a hint of absinthe is lingering in my mouth. I open my eyes, and see the legs of a desk and an arm dangling above my head. I seem to be lying on my friend’s floor. I’m wearing her pyjama trousers and my butterfly crop top from the night before, plus a flower headband and a pair of wellies. I vaguely recall my friend rescuing me last night after I locked myself out of my halls. Going into my 9am lecture with fuzzy unwashed hair and wearing last night’s fancy dress clothes is surely the worst Walk of Shame yet... 

Three weeks later, at precisely 8:30am, I am walking up the busy main road adjacent to the university and hospital, from one set of halls to another. I am sporting flattened hair and the remains of yesterday’s makeup, wearing my pyjamas and someone else’s hoody. Cars drive past slowly to get a good look, elderly couples enjoying the morning sunshine are visibly appalled and offended, and students are cackling as they pass me on their way to lectures. Several of them recognize me... And the name on the back of the hoody.

We giggle about drunken adventures and conversations, joking about how we "ruined our lives", making light of it all. After a few days of initial panic and regret, the drunken moments become happy memories. We stick the photos on our walls, and store the anecdotes away for the future. We collect all the bottles we've gone through in the past few months and stack them up in our windows, so everyone can see how fun we are.

There was a time when drinking was a fun optional activity; something we school kids would do for fun on the weekends, enjoying that rush of breaking the rules and having new stories to tell during Maths on a Monday morning. Then as we moved on to college, we spent two years sneaking into clubs, perfecting the poker face when illegally buying alcohol, and tampering with the birth date on our provisional driving licenses. We had lengthy conversations about the local clubs and bars, pretending to know what we were talking about.

“Mate, did you go TJ’s on Monday night?” 
“Yeah I went for, like, two minutes... It was fucking dead.”
“Same. Kings is so much better anyway.”
“Really, Kings? It’s so cheesy and the drinks are poor.”
“At least it’s better than Atlantis. Oh my god, did you see Vicki dancing in the cage last week?”
“Such a slag. The music’s shit in Atlantis anyway.”

By summer, when everyone was of legal age and able to walk confidently into Wetherspoons and order a cocktail pitcher, we had lost interest. The thrill of living outside the law was gone. Something needed to be done to spice it up again.

   Then, mercifully, came the university era. The exciting prospect of three years away from home, living with people our own age, with absolutely no rules... And an undeniable drinking culture. At university, it seems, drinking is not a fun weekly option; it’s a mandatory nightly occupation. There is a sacred unspoken rule that one cannot enter the Student Union sober.

   With university also came a ground-breaking revelation: drinking games. Pre-drinking was already a done thing, but before university this was simply sitting in a friend’s living room drinking a few glasses of Lambrini before getting a lift into town at 9pm from their mum. At university, the kitchen table is invisible under an abundance of bottles, cans, shot glasses and playing cards. The games begin; starting with clever and challenging tricks and tasks, slowly deviating into easier territories as the volume in the bottles lowers, and so do our inhibitions. We go from sophisticated games such as betting fingers on playing cards and chanting complicated songs until we catch someone out, to simply mixing all our drinks together in one wicked concoction and forcing it upon one another. This part of the night ends in linking arms with friends and staggering from halls to the town centre at 11pm, when the real night out begins.

A King means you have to add your drink to the pint, a Queen means you have to ask questions, a Jack means you have to make a rule, 10 is Thumb Master, 9 is the Toilet Card, 8 is Mate, 7 is Heaven, 6 is Dicks, 5 is Story Time, 4 is Whores, 3 is Choose, 2 is Kiss, Ace is Waterfall. Don’t worry, you’ll get it eventually.

I can’t help but wonder if your early experiences with alcohol decide your future encounters with this wicked substance. I decided to interview a couple of individuals about their first ever experience with alcohol, and how it compares to their most recent experiences.

I asked my friend Rikki about his first encounter with drink, compared to his most recent experience.

   “I was fourteen. It was the last night of our holiday in Cyprus, and this older guy I knew was like “we’re gonna get wasted”. He used a fake ID. Bright red and blue Aftershock. I liked the colours. We all went down to the beach and sat around on sun loungers, had the red shots... I just remember, like, fire going down my throat. And my eyes went like, WHOOSH... It was like being physically hit. It burned slightly in the back of my throat. After it went away I did a blue shot, and that wasn’t as bad. After that, we strolled back to the hotel and sat in the elevator for hours, going up and down. My dad saw me crawl out of the elevator at the bottom, and I was like “oh heyyyy”...”

   “The other day was my 19th birthday and I was down the pub after lectures with friends, being bought birthday drinks. Mostly beer. I’d finish one pint, then my friend would slam another down on the table for me. It was cool.”

So, it seems his earlier experience with Mr Al Cohol was a somewhat intense one, thrown in at the deep end, while a few years on his experiences are mostly positive, probably due to years of learning lessons and limits. Surely that is true for everyone who has had a relationship with alcohol spanning over a few years.
I also talked to my friend Georgia about her drinking adventures, to see if gender affected the experience.

“I associate drinking with regret. The first time I got drunk, I played Spin The Bottle and had to kiss a lot of ugly boys... My most recent drunk experiences have been similar in some ways, but better. I like to think I’ve learned my limits. I think drinking is easier and more fun for a girl. People buy you drinks, and it’s just generally easier to get drunk. Boys have to commit to it.”

So, what about the older generation? Does my dad have anything different to offer? In his younger days, a pint was 62p. I can’t help but wonder how different the drinking experience was back then...

First time I was actually drunk, I was sixteen, on holiday in Gurnsey. The people I was staying with were in their mid-twenties, and seemed much older than my friend and I. Being sixteen meant freedom. We cycled to the pub and back, falling off our bikes on the way home...   When I’m drunk, it’s all great for a while, then it hits me like a ton of bricks. I was sick in my lap while sitting in my friends’ lounge.”

“The most recent time I was drunk... My mate’s stag ‘do. I drank a lot in a short space of time. I was sick on the train home, in the toilet... And I’ve never told anyone that before. I was trying to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. The next morning was dreadful, and I was playing golf! My friends were having bacon butties and coffee at the club, and I had to sit with my head on the table because I couldn’t bear to look at their food. I received a text from one of
my mates: c’mon gayboy, let’s play golf."

“And my last drinking experience: a glass of wine with dinner, and a few pints a week. Not overdoing it. I hate that feeling the next morning so much. I usually know when to stop, because it always catches up with me. It’s such a waste of time as well... You can’t enjoy anything. Spending time with your family at the weekend is meant to be precious, and if you’re hungover then it’s wasted.”

That seems to be crucial when getting into a long-term relationship with alcohol: making sure no time is wasted. Not letting Al own you. Not letting this frivolous and toxic relationship take over your life.

It’s my best friend’s sixteenth birthday. Where’s my drink gone? I put it down a few seconds ago, it’s the cup with the bright red WKD in... I look across the vast expanse of kitchen counter before me, every inch covered with plastic cups containing a cornucopia of alcopops; every single colour of the rainbow is laid out before me, in varying volumes, the surfaces trembling with the bass and straws drooping, exhausted and abused. Several Haribo gummy bears have ventured into the depths of the alcopop ocean. They’re sitting patiently on the ocean floor, talking amongst themselves as their colours are ebbing away. I slap the counter in blurry frustration, and watch the pools of colour tremble. I grab the drink nearest to me, bright sugary blue of course, and stumble back to my friends on the dance floor, also known as the conservatory. I know this song, I’m sure I do... I just can’t remember the lyrics right now. So I’m going to put my hands up in the air, jump up and down and mouth along... Nobody will ever know.

Suddenly I’m at the bottom of the garden, with a bottle in my hand and mud all over my shoes. I rolled all the way down the lawn, apparently. My friend offers me a drink as a prize for making it this far.

Am I drunk?

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