Saturday, 12 March 2011

B.Sc. Binge Drinking (Hons).

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.


Xopher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Xopher said...

Cabbage wine!! was the worst we ever made (I hated wasting the outer leaves of the spring cabbage) - Rather 'iron rich', red, tongue stripping and only drinkable with lemonade.
We made it only once but there was a lot of it.
The easiest and cheapest was Orange wine made with a single carton of juice.

kitler said...

I'm 34 I ued to be [prerrty but i am gfetting rinckledy now. i am howling durnk and i just drunk bottle and a half of red wine am no more drunk than i uased to be and i will be sober in a few hours. used to feel illl for dauys wghen i was young but have learned what i can get very drunk on andf what to avoid also many more people want to have sex with me now rather than when i was student young. back then waas leftie commie morron very bitter other people to blame for all mycrap so my point being am still can frink students under table but can also be not wage slave ran away laughted at student debt of thousands so drunk plus marijuana stash plus wages of amazing careeer sorry point being LI not past it till red wine no longer taste awesome. kept romans mad as fuck for years

Anonymous said...

We used to have a little old Italian widow lady in the neighborhood who lived with her cats and had a big garden out back. Every year she always made a huge batch of tomato wine with her excess harvest. But I never really liked the taste of it. I drank beer and other stuff when young. I'm older now too and drink gives me a hangover headache and swells my joints very quickly, not like in the younger days. Smoking's never been a problem strangely, in fact it's very therapeutic and has a calmative, healing effect on me. I find it hard to believe people having difficulty with smoking the way I do with drink, but I guess it can work both ways depending on body chemistry and composition. Old people ramble too, once they grow grey.

robbo said...

You can buy turbo yeast , it goes to 20% before it dies, tried distilling got 92% by volume, so easy a muslim could do it, dont drink now got an enlarged liver, drink must bypass yours

JuliaM said...

" Go back to the start of universities and all the way you will find examples of drunken lunatic students."

You can go back a lot further than that.

Bill Sticker said...

We all do daft things when we're students. It's called learning. As for all these 'It'll save the NHS' money idiots, will they still be saying that when the puritans come for their favoured past time.

Think about it; no more footie or rugby; all those tendon and ligament tears. Same for any hobby with the risk of injury that might 'cost the NHS money'. No more tiddlywinks either. Think of the Carpal Tunnel syndrome my dears. Oh the horror of it all.

Anonymous said...

"double gallon" - is that all?

I used to be a gallon a night and three gallons on a Saturday man.

Couldn't do it now. As L-I says, past the age of 50 your body refuses to co-operate.

I'd scrap the NHS as well.

Furor Teutonicus said...

XX a 50/50 mix of Merrydown cider and Guinness in a pint glass XX

It is called "Black velvet" and I got the "recipe" from my GREAT Grandfather.

GREAT after a liter of sprout water. Just watch them scraping the walls of the lift in desperation trying to get to the fresh air on the way up to the 93rd floor, at work next morning!

Mark Wadsworth said...

Agreed to most of that but I'm not sure what the NHS has to do with it, it's overlayering the NHS with bansturbation that's the problem, not the fact that most common ailments are treated free or very low cost (at point of use).

SD said...

Let us have the recipes for the Nescape wine and tea bag wine. I've never heard of them and they will be nice to have when the booze is totally banned.

English Pensioner said...

"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."

The smoking issue is a matter of concern to non-smokers. I don't smoke, but used to visit our local with friends, some of whom smoked. Now they no longer come and the pub is likely to close for lack of sufficient custom as, not only have they lost the smokers, but also many non-smokers who now drink with friends in their homes. Our pub was well ventilated, I never found the residual smoke objectionable in spite of being somewhat asthmatic, and as far as I was concerned the zealots were free to drink elsewhere, just as the smokers do now.

I've just been blogging about this issue at "English Pensioner"

Anonymous said...

I rarely drink, but I do love brewing.

A few years ago I was wondering how they made mead before we had glass or measures, yeast in packets, air tight seals, clocks, calendars and that sort of thing.

How to lift a wild yeast

Some don't recommend using wild yeast, but one day commercial wine yeast may not be available, I have been lucky each time I tried it.

In a clear jam jar without a lid, place an apple from an unsprayed tree, fill half way with a 3 parts water, one part honey mixture at no more than blood heat.

Cover with clingfilm, don't use a lid, or when the honey starts to ferment it will explode.

After a few days in a warm place, bubbles will form on the apple, when bubbles start rising from the bottom of the jar, the yeast culture is ready to use.

Honey mixture

3 parts water to one part honey, about a teaspoon of cracked corn (yeast nutrient) at no more than blood heat when you put the yeast culture in.

I add the juice of a lemon.

After 1 lunar month you have a party in a jar, top up in the same proportions as required.

If it never quite stops fermenting it can't oxidize.

Tastes good too.


Anonymous said...

If you take a cup of the honey mixture when its fermenting strongly and mix it with some wholemeal flour to make a dough and leave it to stand for a bit, then it bakes to a very nice bread.

More fun
The infamous book "Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers"

A very informative read, but I've never been quite insane enough to try the recipes.


timbone said...

I was at a musical extravaganza recently. I was there in a professional capacity (no, not education, so no scandal or finger pointing please)and accomodation was provided. It so happens that 'mine host' had a party on the Saturday night. Most of those attending were in their twenties, with two exceptions, this 60 year old being one of them.
They were having a drinking game. Although I had a drink in my hand, I declined the request to partake, (had I partaken the drink in my hand could have had to have been downed in one and refilled). I also declined the cocktails they kept making.
I could not have 'done it' at my age, well, I could, but I would have had great problems the next day.
I did mention another 'older' person who was there. He is only ten years younger than me (50), but he joined in with all the drinking games and decadence.
He is different however, he is a GP!

Ben said...

"A few years ago I was wondering how they made mead before we had glass or measures, yeast in packets, air tight seals, clocks, calendars and that sort of thing.

Cover with clingfilm, don't use a lid, or when the honey starts to ferment it will explode."

Did they have clingfilm back then?

Anonymous said...


A very fair question, it was used in the scaled down experiment to test my theory.

I started out wondering why bobbing for apples in a barrel of cold water was supposed to be fun.

Now if the apples were used to start the fermentation in a barrel or bowl of mead (covered with a lid or stone) in September.

Yeast, malic acid.

Then by November the mead would be bubbling well, the apple would taste heavenly and bobbing for apples would be much more fun.

I thought that I detected the hand of puritanism.

The scaled down experiment worked and the apple was delicious.


Furor Teutonicus said...

XX Ben said...

Did they have clingfilm back then? XX

Probably not. But an old cloth, or even a leaf, to stopper the top of the bottle/amphora/whatever, works just as well.

As mead is not a "fizzy" drink, an open pot or bowl, with a covering to confuse and dumbfound the vinegar flies, does the job too.

Prodicus said...

Sprout water? A new Belgian beer? Mmm. Must try it.

Anonymous said...

Ok I can see that I must confess, the proportions were taken from a saga, three bowls of blood to one poet.

I recognized the flying over the battlements of Asgard as very much like a stone age honey raid I'd seen on TV, where the raider leapt over bonfires set by the rest of the group to escape the swarm.

All went well until the yeast strain began to fail, then I remembered the bit about dropping a millstone on a giantesses head - cracked wheat.

I read everything I could find, the mead had to foam, so the yeast had to still be active.

I kept that going, constantly topped up for over a year.


Furor Teutonicus said...

Once used a "homebrew" cider kit with 20 Kilo honey, instead of 1 kilo sugar, to make mead.

It was strong enough I suppose. But after three years I found a forgotten bottle in the cellar.


I have had home destilled vodka in Murmansk that was not that bloody strong!

A medicine glass half full was enough to get you pissed for the night.

Anonymous said...

The other spur to the experiment was that a couple of years previously, out of sheer curiosity I bought a bottle of Cornish mead.

It was sweet and awful and you couldn't possibly drink enough of that to end up sleeping under a table, so the mead of legend had to be something different.

It all sort of came together with the apple bobbing.

The recipe has been tried and tested,even to make a metheglin.


Furor Teutonicus said...

I always freeze distill my mead any way.

Billy the Fish said...


Your post at 11:20 REALLY makes me want to give this a try, but I'm not sure I can wait a few years!


PS - Oh, and Leggy? Just tried a 'Jaffa cake' with one of my trusty Murphy's and a can of Strongbow (ick!) bought especially for the purpose. Cringeworthy drinking, though nowhere near as bad as a Hobgoblin / Diamond White 'shandy'...

Leg-iron said...

Furor - Sprout water is banned by the Geneva convention. Sprouts, in general, should have been.

Billy - I don't think Strongbow is up to the task. It might be nice with Koppaberg pear cider, I haven't tried that yet.

Leg-iron said...

Mark -you are correct, but when fighting one-issue loonies, your only chance is to take the extreme opposite stance.

They have an all-or-nothing approach. It's the only approach they understand. Compromise does not work with these people so the only sensible approach is to argue 'Right, scrap the whole thing then' and hope the spineless politicians will come up with the sensible please-everyone compromise.

It's a faint hope...

Leg-iron said...

Rose - I once bought a bottle of mead and as you say, it was terrible. Not at all like the stuff I had once in Cardiff castle, many years ago.

I'll try your mead recipe. Oddly enough I have apple trees now. I knew there was some subliminal reason for planting them.

Anonymous said...

LI - Funny how these things work, isn't it?

After lightly rinsing the apple,the fermentation starts at the base of the stem and the flower scar.

It works just as well with immature apples, but then you don't get to eat them.


Dr Evil said...

Similar to you. A run, the full run was 18 pints over an evening with pubs last orders at 10.30. A gallon was a good night out. Post revision, 4 pints from 21.00 until last orders was standard. Happy days. Wouldn't even try nowadays. Can manage a couple of bottles of wine or a few cans to decent strong lager though. I used to home brew beer too.

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