When I was a student, we drank a lot. Beer was 20 - 25p a pint in the pubs, and even on a limited student budget you could go on a pub crawl with five quid and still have enough for chips on the way home. We aimed for 'the gallon' (eight pints) and usually made it, once we aimed for the double gallon which was a great night but not a great following morning. For chips, the only place we'd use was Salmonella Dot's. A place which had been repeatedly closed down for poisoning its customers so it was a game of Russian roulette in there. Do you risk the sausage in batter or the pie? Which items look as if they might have been cooked today as opposed to last week?
That was a long time ago. I couldn't drink beer to that level now, my bladder would explode. Besides, it would cost a hell of a lot more these days. Plus there's the smoking issue, a non-issue for a nonsmoker but a big issue for those of us for whom no drinking session is worthwhile without a smoke.
There was the 'Jaffa Cake', a 50/50 mix of Merrydown cider and Guinness in a pint glass which only certain bars would serve. This drink was named by a poor sod whose girlfriend was late, and who was having a few drinks with us while he waited. When she turned up she enquired as to his unsteadiness with 'What the hell have you been drinking?' He replied 'Jaffa cakes. Brown and thick with a smashing orangey bit in the middle'.
If we hadn't all fallen over laughing, he might have had a less moody evening.
We brewed our own booze with the help of the homebrew shop zombie. This guy had a face that was dead white and covered in cracks, not wrinkles. He obviously knew about all forms of alcohol because he looked like he had pickled himself in it. It was he who encouraged us to make Nescafe wine (it was vile) and to save used tea bags to make tea wine. That was also vile, and we told him so, at which point he explained that the wine wasn't supposed to be drunk. It was supposed to be frozen and skimmed until we had tea brandy. Ah, now that was considerably less vile and actually drinkable.
We made nettle beer, we brewed stouts and pale ales, we took the alcohol levels to the limits of yeast metabolism and then we froze it and made it stronger. Every one of us graduated with a good degree although I have to admit, mine was in microbiology so all this brewing was like homework.
In those days, of course, we all had young metabolisms, capable of shrugging off the hangovers by mid-morning and able to cope with the roulette of Salmonella Dot's mysterious battered foodstuffs. As long as we didn't harm anyone, and we didn't, we were left to our own devices even though they were often bordering on the insane. Students today have that same metabolic resilience even though they are told they must wrap themselves in cotton wool and live like Puritans.
The truth is, if you don't try for the double gallon when you're twenty, you'll never do it. When you get to fifty, beer means getting up in the night, often more than once. Overdrinking means the next day isn't just a hangover in the morning that's long forgotten by lunchtime. It means the next day is a total write-off. Oh, I could still drink like I did when I was twenty, but I can't recover from it like I did then. It's also going to damage my well-exercised liver more than it did when it was all fresh and pink and ready for anything. So I don't. I did the double gallon and I'm glad I did, because I won't ever do it again.
Students do stupid things with drink, always have. If you want to find the biggest drinkers, try the medical school. I know, all those comments about 'they are training to be doctors, they should know better' but come on. These people are cutting up dead bodies in class and learning about horrible ways of dying the rest of us have never dreamed of. No wonder they feel like a drink.
Deliberately trying to end up in casualty is maybe taking it to extremes. Neither I, nor anyone I know, ended up in casualty through drink although we all woke in strange and unusual places at times. The only times we visited the hospital, and we visited regularly, was to make use of their bar because it was full of student nurses. Incidentally, that bar was one of the few that would serve Jaffa cakes. Waking up like Rab Nesbitt, attached to a stomach pump, held no appeal at all.
But boozing students is not some indication of 'Binge Britain'. Go back to the start of universities and all the way you will find examples of drunken lunatic students. When I started lecturing I found that the new guy always gets the 9 am Friday slot. Facing a class of HND Agriculture in that time slot was like standing in front of an alcohol diffuser. They were saturated. It could make your eyes water. Yet they took notes and asked intelligent questions. They were young enough to cope with it.
Last night one student, who did not wish to be named, said: ‘There is a dreadful culture of drinking to excess and it is not just to have fun - it is like a dare.
It is to have fun. At that age, dares are fun. At my age, dares are declined but when I was a student, they were not. Because they were fun and because at that age I could cope with the challenge. There is no point waiting until you leave your twenties to try these experiences because once you pass thirty, you're too old to shrug off the damage. Okay, I'd have balked at a deliberate attempt to get into casualty even then because I would then, as now, have considered it silly. Drinking to insane levels is one thing but deliberately causing enough damage to require hospitalisation is not for me. I really don't want to go into hospital. I know what's growing in there!
Why do they do it? Actually, one commenter nails it, unknowingly.
If presented with their medical expenses the following morning, I don't think this would carry on. But we live in a soft, liberal society where people are not exposed to the consequences of their actions. Hope everything goes down the pan very soon because only then will we start ditch this culture where irresponsibility is rewarded and even protected yet those who are responsible are often penalised through heavy taxation and unjust laws. - Slobberdan, Aldershot, 11/3/2011 21:12
They do it because the treatment is free. Just like those idiots who stroll across the road in front of traffic, these students use casualty as part of their dare because it's not going to cost them anything. So, should they, like smokers, be denied treatment?
Well, if they are, they should also be able to opt out of paying NI when they complete their studies and get a job. So should smokers, in fact when I consider all the money I've paid into that particular protection racket only to be refused treatment if I get ill, I'd quite like it all back.
That commenter, like all the others who shout for anyone whose lifestyle isn't Puritan to pay again for NHS treatment, does not realise what he's saying. What he is saying is that these excesses happen because the NHS exists. If they had to pay for treatment they wouldn't be deliberately trying to land in hospital. They don't have to pay because the NHS exists.
If smokers, drinkers and the overweight all had to pay large insurance premiums for medical cover, there would be fewer smokers, hard drinkers and overweight people. The NHS is not being accosted by those of us who choose to take risks with our health. The very fact that we have to pay for it anyway, whether we get ill or not, encourages us to not care about our health. Why would we? We have to pay for this medical cover no matter what. We might as well take the risks, we've already paid to have ourselves fixed if it all goes wrong.
We who smoke, drink and eat are not 'costing the NHS money'. We are paying for the NHS, in fact we are paying much more through the duty on our vices than the Puritans who only pay NI. We are not the problem, we are only a symptom.
It's the existence of the NHS that causes the problem.
So shut it down, scrap NI and duty and we'll all buy medical insurance with the money. Then it won't matter what anyone does to themselves, because nobody else is paying for it. Students will not try to drink themselves into casualty if they are going to get a bill for it.
Solve the problem? Simple. Scrap the NHS.
'But what about the poor?' If there was no duty on booze and tobacco, those poor who buy them now will have enough spare cash to pay for medical insurance. They are already paying mostly duty, especially on tobacco, so take the duty away and that money can go on insurance.
Or they can spend it on Reeboks and Burberry. That's their choice. The option is there.
Let them run their own lives. They might even find they like it.