Posts Tagged ‘Alcohol’

Here is a think I hate about the UK: being carded at the supermarket for daring try and buy wine with my shopping. I hate it with the fiery vengeance of a thousand flaming suns. Not just because my only form of photo ID is my passport, which for obvious reasons I don’t carry with me at all times, and not just because I’m inevitably carded on the basis of what I’m wearing. Work clothes? Never carded. Velvet coat, gothy skirt, geeky t-shirt and/or hooded jacket? Hellooooo, humiliation!

Because that’s what I really hate about the whole experience, and the reason why I am currently furious: being carded is fucking humiliating. No, I do not care that it’s a “compliment” to be told I “look” under 25, because how I look shouldn’t matter, and in any case is such a ludicrously subjective measurement as to be rendered utterly useless – and that’s even before you get to the mind-boggling nannyism of stopping people based on a standard that requires them to look at least eight years older than the legal drinking age.

But look. I get that countries have stupid laws. I really do! And after the first few incidents, I started taking that into account. Either I take my passport shopping, or I choose my line at the checkout based on the age of the person serving (I have never been carded by anyone in their teens or twenties, and was once able to negotiate a purchase from a sympathetic employee in her thirties). If all else fails, I can now accept my circumstances with a graceful laugh and move on.

Or at least, I could. Until I went to Morrisons today, passport in hand, and was still refused service. Why, you ask? Because two weeks ago, Morrisons was apparently handed down a verdict from some trade commission or other – I rang their customer service line for details, and the woman on the other end didn’t seem to understand it either – specifying that, in order to keep their particular kind of licence, they could only accept a UK ID as proof of age. This is because, to paraphrase the bemused service rep, “it’s not possible for Morrisons staff to learn to accurately recognise the passports of the world.” I tried to ask her why this standard seemingly applied only to Morrisons, and not, for instance, to any other supermarket on the planet, but answers were not forthcoming. Thus, I made my complaint, hung up, and went to put away the bottle of wine I bought at Aldi ¬†on the way home (the twentysomething employee didn’t card me), thinking vindictive thoughts about how at least, despite the inconvenience of having to visit two separate supermarkets, I’d managed to save ¬£1.20.

There’s a special humiliation that accompanies being carded in the UK, in that it only ever seems to happen at supermarkets. You’re in there doing your weekly shop, you think of grabbing a bottle of wine – and all of a sudden, you’re overcome by a nagging, uneasy guilt, as though you’ve done something wrong. It’s like that momentary fear you get passing through the theft detectors on your way out of a shop: the everyday paranoia that worries they’re going to go off even though you haven’t stolen anything. Except in this case, it isn’t momentary. It poisons every trip to the shops I take, fearful of the inevitable humiliation. Perhaps if I were still a teenager, or if I was used to being carded, I wouldn’t care. But in the entire time I’ve lived in Australia and bought alcohol there – that is, from ages 17 through 24 – I have been asked for ID exactly once: outside a packed nightclub in the Rocks, on a Saturday night, when I was nineteen. That’s one carding in seven years.

Over here, it’s a different story. Including our visit in 2009, I’ve been in the UK for roughly ten months. In that time, I’ve been carded at least once in every single supermarket I’ve entered more than once. In the past week and a half alone, it’s happened twice. On one occasion when we were shopping together, my husband was carded because I was with him and he was the one paying, despite the fact that he is a fully grown man in his thirties. I cannot even begin to describe how angry this made me. Now, every time we shop together, I’m scared to be the one who pays, just in case the cashier decides to ask for ID. I am a married woman. I am twenty-five years old. I am not a student, though I reserve the right to dress like one without fear of having my age estimated downwards. STOP FUCKING CARDING ME.

And while you’re at it, stop carding my friends, too. A twenty-four-year-old friend was carded recently because she was buying a pair of scissors and was deemed to look under sixteen. (Scissors! WHAT THE FUCK!) Another friend, a PhD student in her late twenties, is repeatedly carded and refused service because her ID is international, even when she isn’t shopping at Morrisons. In fact, I’m starting to think that being female is a handicap all by itself, which is possibly unfair, but as one male friend pointed out, he at least can grow a beard to look older.

At the risk of upsetting the good half of the status quo, why am I never carded in pubs? Are pub servitors simply better at guessing my age? Are they more pragmatic than supermarket servers? Does the law apply differently on pub grounds? Or is it a combination of all three? What bothers me in this is the element of hypocritical absurdity: that right now, I could walk into any pub in the UK and buy a round of double tequila shots without anyone batting an eyelid while being simultaneously unable to purchase a single bottle of cider along with my groceries.

God only knows how I’ll cope if we ever visit America.

I’ve fallen behind in my blogging this week (apologies!) on account of having just started my first day job since moving to the UK. The work falls well within my zone of competence, the people are nice and the commute by bus, if longer than I’m used to, at least allows for a lot of reading. Even so, it’s been something of a shock to the system to actually have to GET UP and engage in all the daily palaver that constitutes being employed. My last Australian position finished in mid-December, which means I’ve been out of work for three months, and even though I spent more of that time moving countries, finding a house and getting settled in than I did writing, I’ve still grown used to the freedom of setting my own routines, working on my own projects and generally acting like the self-employed author I strive to become. Which isn’t to say I’m not coping – I always have in the past. It’s just that it’ll take me a while before I slip back into my old routine of frantically cramming word-work into every odd corner of the day, as opposed to stretching it out at leisure.

Stupid pragmatism.

Also, and apropos of absolutely nothing, I’ve given up drinking for April. So far, I’m succeeding. A few people have asked me if I’m doing it for Lent, to which the answer is a resounding no, as I didn’t even realise Lent was upon us. But I’d noticed (belatedly) that some people had given up grog for February as part of one of those internet-inspired thingies that appears every once in a while, and so I decided to give it a try myself, mainly out of curiosity to see if I actually could. The first couple of days were the most difficult – not because I’m anything even approaching an alcoholic, but exactly because I know I’m not, and therefore had to keep justifying internally why I was depriving myself of something I enjoyed for no particular reason. This was also exacerbated by the fact that the night of 2 April involved a dinner out with many, many friends as part of a philosophy conference paid for by the university, which featured – among other things – copious amounts of free wine. I stuck to water and still had a good time. The next night was another round of conference drinks at the pub. Though tempted, I kept to lemonade. It’s all been much easier since then, even during other outings with friends, which frankly is a relief: I’d been worried that not drinking while other people were would inevitably result in a situation where, past the first hour, everyone else would be drunk and on one wavelength while I trailed behind on another. Instead, it turns out that either my friends don’t drink as much as I thought they did, or else they’re still all awesome and interesting and interpretable to sober people while drinking. Either that, or I’m just crazy enough not to notice or care to the contrary, but still – it’s nice to know that, should the mood take me, I can have a night out without alcohol and still have a good time.

There has been some concern this week about sexism in Australian university colleges; specifically, at St Paul’s College, Sydney University, after it came to light that a group of male students had created a pro-rape/anti-consent group on Facebook called ‘Define Statutory’. Not without reason, this has sparked outrage in various quarters.

Allow me to add to it.

Prior to commencing my time as an undergraduate at Sydney University, I interviewed for a place in two of its co-educational colleges: St Andrews and Wesley. From all the reading I’d done beforehand, St Andrews had been my first choice. Ironically, given that it was where I ended up living in 2004 and 2005, Wesley was something of an afterthought; what swayed me was being introduced to the resident turtles, a trio of doleful chelonians camped in the courtyard pond. During my interview, I distinctly remember joking to the now outgoing master, Reverend David Russell, that any college with turtles couldn’t be all bad. He laughed, and as much as anything else, I suspect it was this which saw me accepted as one of his students.

I was also offered a place at St Andrews. I turned it down. Arriving for the interview, I was already nervous, and when the petite female student giving me a tour of the college mentioned having been stuffed into one of the dryers by a group of male yearmates, my trepidation was not improved. She waved off the incident as a prank, but with a sort of wry, wary eyeroll that wasn’t entirely reassuring. Her anecdote followed me into the interview room. I don’t recall whether I mentioned it explicitly or voiced instead a general anxiety about the behaviour of male collegians, but whatever my words, they caused the master to straighten in his chair, his voice to change. He admitted, seriously and with a mix of shame and anger, that there was still a ‘rugger bugger’ culture in the upper forms, but that I could rest assured that both he and the college as a whole were doing their best to stamp it out. Perhaps he assumed my knowledge of campus sexual politics to be greater than it was, or maybe my concern was more obvious than I remember. Either way, he went so far as to say that, though there had been ‘incidents’ even in recent times, he deplored them. Because of these assurances, he said, I could feel safe at St Andrews.

I appreciated his honesty, his forthrightness and his clear willingness to fix an entrenched culture, but I did not feel safe. On that basis, as much as for the turtles, I chose Wesley, where my chances of being bundled into a cramped metal box seemed smaller. Certainly, I never had to fight free of any laundry equipment in my two years as a resident. I did, however, have fun: I got drunk, I made friends, played copious amounts of MarioKart in lieu of attending morning lectures, went to parties at the surrounding colleges, and acted in most respects like the undergraduate I was. I was never sexually abused at college, nor did I know of anyone during my tenure, male or female, who was. But that is not to say that nothing ever happened.

In 2005, I went, alone, to a party at St Paul’s. I was feeling adventurous, rebellious, flush with the need to meet new people and enjoy my youth. Being an unaccompanied, slender blonde in a short blue dress and rainbow knee-socks, I soon found myself a group of new acquaintances – friendly lads, all of them, and not the least bit menacing. We drank together for most of the night, and at some point, the ringleader of our particular group suggested we retire inside, where the drinking continued in his room. There were about fourteen of us, I think – not a small number – and from hazy memory, I was the only girl. This was not an unfamiliar dynamic to me: the vast bulk of my school friends were male, and I’d often been the lone female presence at various teenaged gatherings. I was confident, if drunk; I laughed with everyone else when the guy whose room it was stripped down to his underpants and tackled a mate, and did not object to his occasional hugs. I did not feel threatened, or preyed upon, or vulnerable, but whether this would be true for every girl in that situation is a different question.

Twice during that night, I wandered into the hallway – not alone, but as part of the general overflow of bodies. There was a boy I didn’t know whose room was across the hall; I’d seen him throughout the night, and he seemed to have noticed me, too. The first time we met, he beckoned me over to his doorway. I went, wondering drunkenly what he wanted to talk to me about, only to find I was being quite unexpectedly kissed and pulled into a room. I disentangled myself as graciously as possible; he grinned as if to say ‘oh, well’,¬† and let me go. The second time, I was warier, but still lacking in sober judgement: it took several attempts for him to coax me over, proffering apologies and saying that, in all seriousness, he needed to tell me something. It turned out to be a case of fool me twice: I escaped again and left the party soon after, having been jolted back into my senses. Once outside, the cold air woke me up further. Had I drunk just a little bit more, been a little less in control of myself, I might have done something I later came to regret. The guy hadn’t been forceful, or aggressive: just hopeful. That’s not a defence, of course – or at least, it wouldn’t have been, had my decisions been less intelligent. He was soused to the nines, and so was I. We were both stupid, but we were also lucky. There are worse combinations.

On another occasion in 2004, I failed to lock the door to my room at Wesley. I went to bed after a party, fell asleep, and was woken up about half an hour later when one of my male yearmates climbed in next to me. He’d blundered into the wrong room, but after I pointed this out to him, he professed himself too drunk and too weary to correct the mistake: could he sleep on my floor, please? I was tired, he was persistent. After a minute of arguing, I took the path of least resistance and agreed. Inside of three minutes, he had climbed back into my bed, at which point I lost my patience and ordered him out. After some complaints and several futile promises to mend his behaviour, he finally staggered to the door and left. I locked it after him and went back to sleep with little more than a muttered complaint and a weary eyeroll. Really, college men. What else could you do?

Both times, I emerged unscathed. To say that alcohol was a key factor in either incident is an understatement: arguably, it was the only factor. I was never assailed, per se, nor was the behaviour predatory: rather, I chalk it up to drunken male optimism. But the fact remains that it was male, and it was drunken, and it took place at college. Does that make it a consequence of chauvinist culture? Arguably, yes. Had my resolve been less firm, or either male more insistant, this would be a much darker narrative. Physically, I was at every disadvantage. The boys I encountered were undeniably opportunistic, but they didn’t press the issue once my feelings were made clear. That being said, they both made more than one sally; a more tired, more hesitant, less stubborn girl might have made worse choices, or had the possibility of choice taken away from her altogether. Not having spoken to either male in a state of sobriety, I am no fit judge of their daylight personalities. Were they sexist? Did they take pride in their college culture? Were they rugger buggers? I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now, but there are those who would contend, not unreasonably, that it shouldn’t matter either way: sober, they might never have climbed into my bed or tried to pull me into theirs, but sobriety didn’t enter into it.

When I read about the St Paul’s Facebook group, I feel angry, outraged on behalf of men and women alike. Rape is not funny, and it is not simple. Throw alcohol into the picture, and a college environment, and it is even less so. Being too drunk to remember forcing yourself on someone is not a defence, no matter how out of character it is. The act of rape does not fall into a moral grey area, even if the circumstances surrounding it might conceivably, hypothetically, be said to do so. No matter how wonderful a time I had at college, it would be naive and inaccurate to say that there weren’t problems, and that these problems did not sometimes involve a combination of sex and alcohol. The fact that there is a documented history of such incidents is undeniable, which in turn suggests a pattern of behaviour within a particular context. Of itself, this does not invalidate the good times I had at Wesley, nor does it lay a shadow over my undergraduate years. But I will not pretend, for the sake of a rosy-tinted memory, that nothing happened at all, or contend that what did happen was insignificant. In my personal recollection, what matters most is that I was neither harmed nor threatened. I joked about it the next day. I was not the only girl to do so. But there will be others who couldn’t, and still can’t, and never will. In the end, I was lucky, and though it served to help me twice, it is not something I would encourage anyone – man, woman or college authority – to bank on.

Dear Mr Rudd,

Australia is a nation of drinkers, and, indeed, has been ever since the first boatload of raggedy, starving convicts and their bored, resentful gaolers landed on the pristine beaches of Sydney-to-be and realised, somewhat belatedly, that their only form of viable entertainment for the next hundred years was distilled from sugar. The fact of historical precedence does not make alcoholism palatable, nor should we accept drunken violence as an unfortunate cultural side-effect. I am happy, Mr Rudd, to endorse social policies the like of which, had they been implemented a century past, would have seen Brumby Innes locked up, sent to AA and anger management sessions, served with a spousal restraining order and generally kept off the streets. However, I am not happy to pretend that alcohol  Рor, more specifically, its effects Рare all bad.

Which brings me, firstly, to your new anti binge-drinking campaign,¬†examples of which¬†already seek to instil youngsters with a healthy fear of government-issue puns, and, secondly, to the resigned conclusion of at least one educated commentator, who¬†doesn’t believe it will work.¬†As both a card-carrying member of the targeted demographic – that is, a young Australian fond of a tipple –¬†and someone who voted Labor at the last election, I feel¬†moved¬†to point out that the latter pundit is, in fact, correct, although he doesn’t¬†quite seem to understand why.

Allow me to elaborate:

We know you are lying to us. No rational-thinking¬†drinker – and these¬†not only exist, but¬†constitute the majority –¬†buys the government’s¬†theory that having more than two standard¬†drinks¬†per day¬†is bingeing. This is¬†because the word ‘bingeing’ itself, while certainly implying destructive behaviour,¬†does not differentiate¬†abuse from¬†normalcy¬†through so naively simple as a means as¬†scaling. More importantly, we as consumers recognise, even if the government cannot, that the simple¬†act of drinking regularly does not make one an alcoholic, any more than the act of taking drugs regularly is synonymous with addiction. In both instances, what makes a user one or t’other is choice: their ability to control consumption such that, even where it occurs frequently, it is not¬†a frequency born of need. Nor¬†should it impinge on an individual’s ability to function socially: to pay rent, maintain domestic stability, hold down a job and enjoy healthy relationships. Within those astonishingly reasonable bounds, there is easily room enough for a little – dare I say it – friendly hedonism. By itself, a hangover¬†does not¬†signal delinquency.

Yes, there is a dark side to liquor. Drinkers can behave rudely, badly, violently and get sick in public places. Often (if not primarily) they are young, sometimes under eighteen. Bad things can happen, but neither are they all that happens Рwhich means, Mr Rudd, that your scare campaigns are lying by omission. Perhaps you view this as lies-to-children, and therefore harmless, conscionable in service to a Greater Good. But we are not children. We, Gen Y, are self-aware teens and adults. We recognise condescension when we see it. We do not like to be patronised.  And we know, from experience, that drinking can be fun. 

Much like¬†abstinence-only sex education,¬†trying to scare¬†young folk¬†off¬†alcohol doesn’t work, because – Lordy! – they’re just¬†going to try it anyway. But teaching damage control – how to¬†drink in moderation,¬†how to tell if you’ve had too much, how to¬†eat first and¬†look after your¬†friends –¬†is life-saving. The best advice I ever received on liquor consumption was to¬†call it a night when¬†I started to hiccup,¬†have a glass of water every second or third drink, and to eat plenty of carbs beforehand, none of which vital information was forthcoming¬†either through school or government propagandising. And yet, if the aim is not to stop people from¬†drinking altogether but¬†rather to ensure a culture of responsible joviality, this is exactly what needs to be done.

In short, Mr Rudd, you are looking at things from entirely the wrong perspective. I understand you abstain from having a drop yourself, which is all fine and fair enough, but if Australia really wanted a leadership under which the new broom swept dry, we’d move to Saudi Arabia.

Yrs hopefully,

Foz

When it comes to alcohol, there’s only two things I don’t drink: beer and sambucca. I’ll hack the sambucca if it’s part of a Harvey Wallbanger, but even so, not liking¬†liquorice-flavoured spirits is hardly¬†a handicap on your average trip to the pub.¬†The same cannot be said of disliking beer. It’s a social drink. It goes well in rounds, most people drink it, you can share¬†jugs, and¬†it’s markedly cheaper than just about anything else. Nonetheless, I drink bourbon and coke (shut up), which at least has the advantage of being readily available.¬†But since I’ve¬†been old enough to drink in pubs, I’ve noticed my choice of¬†beverage, apart from being, yes, boganly,¬†brings¬†an unintended consequence: the Sexism of the Straw.

Imagine this: a confident young woman in a ThinkGeek shirt approaches the bar and asks for a B & C. The bartender (male) takes in her appearance, the gaggle of unruly logicians with whom she has entered, grins, pours her drink, and puts a little black straw in it. Firmly but politely, the young woman removes the straw, wipes it on the inside rim of the glass, and lays it back on the barmat. Drink in hand, she returns to her table. The round goes on; the bourbon is consumed. Someone else Рmale, most certainly a philosopher of some description Рsaunters up and orders a jug plus same. When he returns, huzzah! Рthere is no straw. Perhaps, the young woman thinks, the bartender has learned. But she is wrong: for, lo, when next her round appears, the straw is back, protruding from her bourbon and coke like a tiny plastic javelin.

Now imagine this happens at every¬†single bar, everywhere, ever. I cannot begin to describe how annoying this is. Firstly, who drinks bourbon and coke from a straw?¬†For that matter, what adult drinks¬†anything¬†other than¬†cocktails¬†from a straw, alcoholic or otherwise? Secondly, why¬†would chicks need straws more than guys? It’s not like our¬†lips are weaker. It’s not even neater, or more¬†girly-girly-feminine, because any¬†possible element of girly-girly-feminine¬†gained by¬†the straw is instantly lost by the fact that it’s bourbon-and-fucking-coke. The highlight of this weirdness came tonight, not at the pub (for once) but a Chinese restaraut, where the (male) waiter¬†brought my Long-Suffering Husband and I two glasses of water: one strawless, for him, and one with straw, for me. I mean, water.¬†It’s not like there was even a slice of lemon there, or ice, you know, something to swizzle around: no. Just plain ol’ water. With a straw.

God help me.

There’s only two scenarios in which I’ve ever been served strawless: either the barman takes careful note of my straw-refusal and thereinafter learns (although usually they go to put the straw in a second time,¬†catch my expression¬†and whisk it out again, whoopsie!), or the bartender has been female.

O barmen of the world, take heed: renounce your ludicrous straws. If it’s absolutely necessary, put them within reach on the counter, supply on demand – who cares?¬†But for the sake of everloving sense, stop giving them just to women.

It’s enough to make a girl start drinking beer.

There’s been somewhat of an unscheduled hiatus this week, for which I apologise. Regrettably, the real world has a tendency to impinge upon the literary state, although ironically, the impingements have themselves been of a literary nature, with essays, column deadlines and writer’s block coming into confluence with my husband’s birthday, our first wedding anniversary, university dinners (read: tapas and wine, followed by after hours vodka on the Old Quad roof) and other such abundantly pleasant¬†and necessary¬†distractions. Also, and I say this with feeling, it has been virtually impossible to write about the American election, which constitutes most of what I’ve wanted to write about. One can only gnash one’s teeth about Sarah Palin, bailouts and Republican idiocy for so long before the urge to start prophecying the End Times triggers a failsafe reflex, viz: Get The Hell Away From The Keyboard Before Prising Up The Space-Bar And Doing Yourself A Mischief.

With that in mind, I’ll probably be back to¬†normal sometime in the coming week. Anyone distressed by this prospect should breathe deeply into a paper bag, making sure to exhale slowly.

Hold on to your mittens, kittens. Not since the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster have geekery and alcohol crossed paths in such a pas de deux of awesome as they will the next time I play bartender.

Behold my revelation: Final Fantasy themed cocktails.

Breathtaking, isn’t it? Imagine:¬†dark, brooding Leonhearts;¬†tropical Zidanes; a whiskey-based Tifa that kicks like a mule.¬†Aeris would be strong, but girly – champagne and hibiscus, with¬†a dash of vanilla-infused¬†vodka. Set alight, a mix of¬†brandy and bourbon poured over ice might be a Sephiroth or One-Winged Angel, while Jenova could kill you outright: vodka, absinthe and¬†tequila shaken with citrus and served straight-up.¬†Lulu would be dark, but subtle: kahlua, chocolate liqueur and frangelico¬†with cream and shaved¬†chocolate. Cloud would refresh: apple-infused vodka with soda, lime and vermouth. Auron needs must involve rum, kahlua and coke,¬†but an Eidolon would be kinder: midori, brandy and lemonade with a lemon twist.

Merciful Squaresoft. I’ve gone and made myself thirsty.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†