Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Mystery of the Primark Barfers

It's summer and, once again, I am seeing TV pictures of dumpy British Primark babes leering, barfing and falling over on some island in the Med. Is the issue, why do our young drink so much? Or is it, why do they behave so vilely when they do drink? The joys of drunkenly sitting and staring into the middle distance seem to have passed them by. But, seriously, why does this happen? They can't all be from Glasgow East.


  1. A sociologist is somebody who goes to a strip club, and watches the audience - but you and I have probably read a mountain of stuff over the years from the professionals, from journalists, and others on the lost generation, the white and blue collar twenty year olds who seem hell bent on pleasure, and feel that one of the best routes to that state, is loads of drink, quickly, in 35 degrees of heat.
    I think part of the problem, quite a big part, is the lack of a real 'centre' in their lives. They also seem to lack ballast. They live their lives through TV or Video Games or the Internet, they have dull jobs because they are ill equipped for any other. They meet their friends at the pub or club and get smashed. That is their life.
    Blame the parents? Well yes, but they are probably cut from the same cloth. Blame the state for not educating them? Yes, but you have to want to learn.
    I don't think much will change until somebody shows them the beauty in a butterfly's wing or, as you discovered recently, the haunting stare of a Rembrandt self portrait. The world is full of such wonders, and the Primarkers see none of it. How sad is that?

  2. Were it just the young. Equally, were it just the deprived, as that would be easier to explain away as the side-effect of so much anger and resentment.

    I am a hack and travel extensively on press junkets and it is always, without exception, the British contingent which shames itself, hitting self-destruct the minute it gets within puking distance of the free bar, while the rest of the world looks on with a mixture of bewilderment and terror.

    Even in excessively 'blokey' cultures like Australia's, people are, in my experience, infinitely more sensible and restrained. Simply, they don't feel they need to drink to excess to enjoy themselves: it's completely the opposite mindset here.

    I went to a test match in Sydney with a bunch of Aussie lads' mag writers over Christmas. All every bit as lairy and raucous as one might expect, but no-one got drunk.

    I'm going to the Oval this weekend, as I do every year, and I doubt most of my group will be able to walk out of the ground by the end, if they are not already unconscious.

    Oblivion is an end in itself: you hear it in the language - "I'm going to get completely wasted tonight!"; "I'm going to be so off my face later!" - as if this will be some magnificent achievement.

    There a deep insecurity, a diffidence and general crippling lack of social skills amongst the British - certainly compared with, say, the effortlessly gregarious Yanks and Aussies (not that I think that is an unalloyed good) - where booze becomes a crutch: "I can't be myself unless I've had a few".

    We think too much and, so, we drink too much.

    Oh, and Mahlerman: "live their lives through video games". Please. There is great beauty in the digital world, if you only dare look for it.

  3. Fransesco da Mosta's programme last night included a visit to a Greek wedding, showed the stark contrast between a cohesive society and one that's gone to the dogs.
    Meaningfull employment would go a long way, also a total ban on sociologists.

  4. You have encouraged my inner curmudgeon, who believes that a large part of it is the infantilisation of the culture. Everything is centred on ME, creating an environment where solipsism is the dominant behaviour pattern. At the same time their deracination gives them nothing worthwhile to set their lives against and for.

    We have a long and happy history of getting pissed; it is only in the last couple of decades that it has become such a joyless event.

  5. Johnny, I live next to the Oval, and on my way to the newsagents at 9.10 am I passed several cricket fans outside a pub downing pints of beer. I dread to think what it will be like by lunchtime, let alone if I have to venture out by about 9pm. By then they'll be hitting balls across the A road to Stockwell. As for the youths the Greek police are now systematically arresting, they do it for the same reasons they do it every Friday/Saturday night- to achieve spinning oblivion. They also often lurch around in a bit of city centre theatre, with a lot of bawling and posturing, and a few smacks in the face. Try Cardiff any night of the week, or Nottingham, or anywhere in the UK. In Germany you'd have to go to some really godforsaken place in the former GDR (Anklam or Stralsund perhaps) to witness anything similiar, ditto other North European/Scandinavian countries too.

  6. i'd say the only reason to seek out such a strongly altered state of consciousness - whether through booze or hard drugs or whatever - is because ordinary reality is dissatisfying. When you consider the frenzy with which the British apply themselves to becoming drunk, it suggests their day to day reality is not merely unsatisfactory but actively intolerable. i don't believe this is merely because our weather is crap and most jobs are crap - there truly is something rotten in the state of Britain, a plague of the spirit.

    Although people say things like "I drank so much vodka I threw up three times and woke up in a ditch, it were great it were, I had a great time" i think what they mean is "I used alcohol to diminish my awareness of my ordinary, intolerable reality: the relief was pleasurable to me."

    Looking at drunks and crackheads i don't believe they experience rarefied and interesting states of consciousness, i believe they diminish, blunt, their ordinary consciousness. What they seek is not a positive - it is not 'a great time' - they seek a negative, they seek oblivion.

    Or to quote the good Dr Johnson, as cited by Hunter S Thompson:

    He who makes a beast of himself takes away the pain of being a man.

  7. I'm not sure anyone's come up with the definitive answer to this question. Still, it gives the old blokes something to think about.

    My own theory - apart from our nation's morbid fear of young people - is that it's partly the result of our national history of treating each other so badly. We're made up of waves of conquerors and the conquered so we're long used to dishing out crap times and enduring them too.

    I often think the Welfare State is a guilt-ridden attempt to atone for that. But the pendulum is now swinging back and more traditional methods of baiting and bullying each other are making a comeback in the form of petty regulations and surveillance Britain. We educate ourselves badly and the public/private education split ensures that this really rankles from a tender age. Now chuck in British family life - dread phrase! - and the near-total lack of foreign language skills.

    The only surprise is that some find it surprising. The vast majority will simply grow out of it. On per capita alcohol consumption, Britain is in the amateur rankings of the European boozing league.

  8. Oh I don't know. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Raymond Chandler, Kerouac, Dylan Thomas were all notorious boozers. James Joyce was known to start fights when he'd had a few. My wife used to work at a hotel and recalls a touring Aussie national team throwing cans of Castlemaine (their sponsors) at passers by on the street beneath their rooms (still, if you've drank the stuff you'd probably want to do the same).

    There's a book out at the moment called Hellraisers, about O'Toole, Burton, Harris et al and it's been serialised in the Mail I think. The sub-text is these were great talented men - real men, and we don't make 'em like that any more. Then we get those baby boomers talking about the drug-addled '60s (if you remember it you weren't there etc). Hardly a week passes without some media figure being busted for cocaine. Meanwhile, looking abroad we have Lohan, Britney and Downey to complement our Winehouse and Pete Doherty. Russians are notorious pissheads and Tehran has a dreadful heroin problem.

    Getting pissed or stoned is seen as a form of bonding, heroism even, for a generation that hasn't had to experience war (Iggy and Keith Richards are regarded as living legends). When your best job prospects at home are likely to be working at a call centre, and after a state education that does little to raise your expectations of life, what do you expect?

  9. Elberry/Recusant - I think you're both partially right. Ordinary life is "dissatisfying" to many, but only because 'me-culture' has created a generation of restless, ungrateful narcissists. Few seem happy with their lot; it's created a destructive sense of entitlement which has, for instance, furnished central London with the rudest retail staff in the world. They simply believe they are too good for their jobs, so take no pride in their work and hold their customers in contempt (if they even acknowledge them at all). The contrast here, going back to my original comment, with the US and Australia, is once again striking.

    Take McDonalds: In Oz, a summer job at an outlet is seen as an important and respectable right of passage for kids, whatever their background. Over here, it is sneered at as good for no-one but immigrants and idiots. Such mindless, destructive snobbery is a peculiarly British malaise.

    CaptainB, my home town is Nottingham. There's a reason I don't go home very often. And I'll try my best not to be sick on your doorstep on Saturday.

  10. Without a doubt they'll be English. English yobs are by far the worst. Glaswegian yobs can't afford holidays anyway.

  11. These are fascinating comments.

    Young Americans drink way too much also. But having lived in France, I see why: By law, they are absolutely forbidden to have a sip of anything alcoholic until they are 21. Therefore, they don't know how to handle it when they get it. Why have one beer when you can have sixteen?

    My kids have been exposed to wine and champagne at family dinners -- not all the time, but "event" dinners like New Year's or Thanksgiving. They see us drink responsibly and not drink to get drunk. However, I do know their age group talks excessively about 'partying' and 'getting wasted.' My daughter is attending the #1 Party School in America, according to the Princeton Review, and the weekend begins on Wednesday. And the High Street of the town looks like there was a puking contest there every weekend.

    I don't get it, not really. But I think it has something to do with extremes in American culture. Either you're a teetotaller, or you drink until you puke. Either you are completely celibate until marriage, or you hook up every night if you can manage it. Either you slack completely, or you work 80 hours a week. It so bizarre that few people have found what a happy medium is a happy medium.

    I believe most Brits hold their liquor quite well. But I did once shepherd a group of American freshmen through London. That was hilarious. They suddenly discovered they were legal to drink at 18 (here it's 21) and most of them got utterly wasted every night they were out of our chaperoning hands. How fun it was to tour Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, and Parliament, with our kids alternately fainting and dashing out to puke in the bushes. I was amused, but some of my fellow chaperones were incredibly angry at the kids' bad behavior.

  12. PS: What is Primark? I'm thinking a store, but that can't be right.

  13. Those are brilliant posts Johnny. Who do you write for? I want to read more.

  14. Susan, Primark is a chain of stores that sells cheap as chips clothing, shoes, bags, etc. Some of their stores are very big by UK standards. It's relatively new and very successful.

  15. That's very kind, Gordon. By day I mainly write on videogames and technology, but take great pleasure in lurking in the shadows of Thought Experiments in semi-anonymity, reading the posts and comments :-)

    Susan, that's very funny. When I was at university in London I had an 18-year-old American chap opposite me in halls. In the brief time I knew him, I don't think he ever quite got over the novelty of being able legally to drink himself silly every evening. Big plastic bottles of cider were his poison, if I remember rightly!

  16. 'The great art of life is sensation, to feel that we exist, even in pain' - could the kids have byronic tendencies? Those romantic poets have a lot to answer for.

  17. Quite so, Patrick. I'm with Keats: "Oh for a life of sensations rather than of thoughts" (but not Thought Experiments!).