Young men binge drinking

Society: Demonised and Degraded – My Home Town in the Media

I have recently been watching Bouncers, only because it followed the brilliant and sweet Educating Yorkshire, but i’ve laughed along at the coverage of a boozy Britain and the sensationalised portrayal of our culture of high street drunk and disorderliness.

Then I watched the most recent two episodes, filmed in Essex, around Colchester High Street and Clacton-on-Sea’s seafront bars. Suddenly 45 minutes of escapism became far too personal.

Young men binge drinking

After being born and starting school in North London, I moved to Colchester to be closer to my mum’s family, and that’s where I grew up. My mum and her family are from nearby Clacton, a small seaside town famed as a fading weekend holiday destination. It peaked as a resort town in the 1950s and the decline of tourism has seen the town hit with poverty and social problems. Cocaine is rife, which I find strange given that most people in town have no money to fund a habit. 41% of Clacton residents have no qualifications and Jaywick, an area of the town, is officially the most deprived area in the UK. It’s an easy media target, dubbed a “dumping ground for the poor“.

Here’s what Sam Wollaston said about Colchester, as portrayed in the Bouncers, in the Guardian:

“Colchester town centre on a Saturday night is a terrifying place. Fuelled by sambuca shots and Jagerbombs, predatory herds – of men, women, everything in between – prowl, searching for sex. Or failing that, a fight. Or both, in either order. As the evening goes on, the tension – and the volume – rises. Saggy-panted boys stagger out of doorways, then moon and shout at passing cars. Bottles, hands, voices, cocks, are waved in the air triumphantly. Arses are grabbed, and punches are thrown. The gutters run with piss and vomit and blood, and probably even worse.”

Google couldn’t tell me where Wollaston’s from. I’m guessing not Colchester, which he’s made clear he wouldn’t touch with a pooey stick.

Then, later in the week, Channel Four’s horrible through-the-fourth-wall viewer review show Gogglebox showed families watching footage, with one man exclaiming “I’d rather have a firework shoved up my arse than go to Colchester! What a shithole!” Even the family from Clacton laugh at the portrayal of their hometown, seemingly because they accept it as accurate.

It’s hard to defend it when that’s what’s being shown, and people are seen on TV to be enthusiastically defaming it. But it’s like when you complain about your family pissing you off and then someone else joins in. It gripes.

I recognise that I have been laughing along with Bouncers until it zoomed in on the ugly face of my hometown, and I realise the irony of only being angry now. But it’s not the first time Colchester has been held up as an example of Britain’s apparent degenerate culture. This is moral panic parallel to the media and the Tory’s portrayal of the London Riots, and i’m sick of my town being demonised and shown as an example to the rest of the country of how not to behave. I am sick of feeling like I can’t defend where I am from when people say “But isn’t it a bit of a dump?” What can I say when that’s all they see?

It is programmes like this that make me feel conflicted about talking about where i’m from. After watching how it’s portrayed on TV, I catch myself thinking “should I be proud that I made it out and i’m doing well?” And then I feel angry at myself for thinking like that when my parents moved to Essex to give me a better life, away from the area of North London we were living which is now another handy example of deprivation.

I guess the difference between showing the worst of what goes on in Colchester – which has been the target of many programmes on Booze Britain over the last few years, for example Booze Britain: Binge Nation – is that when we see it in Manchester, Newcastle or Cardiff, we are reminded of what these cities have provided in the arenas of culture, art, or sport. Colchester is shown as having nothing else of merit, other than the fact that it was once the Roman capital of Britain (but who gives a shit about that anymore?). It has been made a scapegoat for the UK’s problems, because it’s easy to show the activity of one section of society, so visible as it is on the high street. So to the viewer, it’s seemingly just a hellhole full of ASBOS.

My sister informs me that the one lad and his mates followed on a ‘typical’ night out in Colchester (containing one messy punch up, which I find hard to believe he has the stamina for every single weekend), was given £50 by the show’s producers and told to “get as drunk as you can.” Nice, Channel 4. I can imagine the producer gleefully rubbing their hands together at the sight of girls falling into the gutter with their skirts up around their waists, saying “GREAT STUFF, capture that!”

Call me defensive, but i’d like it to be known that Colchester is firstly a student town. Students are notorious for being awful, rowdy drunks. I know, I was one of them. And they come from all over the UK to study in the town. Secondly, it’s a military town. Squaddies reside here from every corner of the UK. And they love to fight. I know, I used to work Saturday night shifts in A&E. So think of a Saturday night in Colchester as cross-cultural, in that respect – an accurate snapshot of the UK’s boozy culture.

Colchester has a high street and it has bars, so people will get drunk and act like bellends, because that’s what they do. It has its problems like any other town in the UK. But as a country, it’s our alcohol problem we need to address. When planning a night out, young people on the show talk about deliberately aiming to get “paralytic”. They are drinking to paralyse their problems, whether they be family life or unemployment. They don’t want to think about them anymore. Let’s talk about that.

When I talked to my family from Clacton about the programme, they said it was an accurate description of the town; “It’s hell on earth!” In Clacton, the poor are vilified for acting as they do, when they are made to feel like they have nothing to feel proud of, with no prospects. So the rest of the country can watch it on telly, laugh and feel better about themselves.

If I was given the power to commission one programme for Channel 4 this year, i’d make one that saw business leaders go to Clacton and fund a start-up for a group of disadvantaged young people. The people of the town need to see their potential and something positive they can work towards in their own town, without thinking that escaping is the only way they can be successful. People drink and do drugs out of boredom and the fact that they think there is nothing else for them to do.

But look at the trends. Contrary to what the media would have you believe, binge drinking among 16-24 year olds is actually down. So, Channel 4, maybe it’s time for a change to the scheduling?

Image: The Observer (On a feminist note, search Binge Drinking in Google and 90% of images are of women…)

Blog: Live Below The Line

For reasons i’ve almost forgotten, i’ve decided to take part in the Live Below The Line campaign, to highlight the plight of the millions of people worldwide who are living on the equivalent of £1 a day. I will have to live on £5 for five days and I am raising the cash for St Mungos. Sponsor me here!

I will hopefully never experience what it feels like to be really, truly hungry, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to raise some money and to appreciate what it’s like to not know where your next meal will come from.

DAY ONE

9.23am – I’ve taken the decision to eat only when i’m hungry, so I am yet to have breakfast. I feel fine so far as I wouldn’t usually eat until I get to my desk anyway. I’ve done no preparation so i’m going to have to go to Tescos before I get in to work.

10.14am – So I settle on Tescos own brand value wheat bisks (50p). I regret the purchase immediately as I remember someone telling me the best thing I can get for my dollar is oats. Oh well, too late now. I also buy an apple from a vendor for 15p. Two wheat bisks washed down with warm water (nearly regurgitated, not that it would make any difference to the consistency): I am wholely unsatisfied.

11.34am – Having checked the rules, I can’t receive food donations from kind colleagues, but I can eat food purchased before I began the fast as long as I toll up the price, so I decide to have a plain Ryvita (4p) from my draw, with a splodge of Encona Hot Pepper Sauce (2p).

12.56pm – I pop back to Tesco to get some supplies and settle for baked beans (30p), kidney beans (18p), passata (29p), sweetcorn (32p) and two packs of the noodles I even refused to eat at uni (10p each). This is all the cheapest option available for the size and is designed to last me at least two more days. I am still not hungry so am holding out for lunch. All I can think of is breaded pork and…oh my god…someone’s gone and got a takeaway in the office…

1.12pm – Just realised I can’t actually concentrate on any work and i’m definitely feeling a pang, so my body is telling me to eat.

1.36pm – Halfway through my Tesco value chicken noodles. Which are, incidentally, disgusting. 7.7gs of saturated fat and 385 calories. All for 10p! No wonder there’s an obesity problem in this country. Not full. WANT A NANDOS.

1.49pm – Had to eat my apple to wash down the revolting noodles. Ate the core.

2.06pm – Regretting spending 10p on another packet of noodles. Can’t cope with the calorie intact to satisfation ratio. Pathetic. Have decided to sell them to a colleague. Is this cheating?

3.20pm – Having my only tea of the day. I figure that’s less than 10p and seeing as i’m not eating the other noodles…

4.47pm – One dry Ryvita. Still better than the noodles.

5.09pm – Sister just called to say she was eating a packet of Monster Munch in my honour, because they’re my favourite.

6.16pm – Bought wholemilk to water down (48p) and a banana for breakfast (9p). Got a refund on the yuk noodles (10p). GET IN.

19.47pm – Having nearly murdered a woman on the bus for her KFC, I am feeling pretty smug about my 40p dinner AND i’ve saved half for tomorrow’s lunch. I feel I might be cheating though, as i’ve decided to buy measures off my housemates rather than buy packets of lentils outright. I actually feel full!

Dinner consisted of lentil-kidney bean-passata-rice gloop:

Lentils 10p
Rice 12p
Kidney beans 17p
Seasoning 1p

DAY TWO

9.43am – Today is going a lot better. I have just had a hearty breakfast of two wheat bisks with milk (wholemilk watered down to make it go further) and a banana. I don’t feel sad like yesterday morning. This has to be a result. I AM WINNING.

SOME QUESTIONS:

I am wondering…

A) Can friends sell me food?
B) Is using my wiley ways allowed? Can I try and get a free dinner for showing my boobs?
C) Can I have a cup of tea with a used tea bag?

10.32am – A cup of tea (PG Tips tea bags from 5 kilo bag I have estimated as costing 2p). Lesson for today: I don’t have to suffer!

12.17pm – Having about 4 tablespoons of my lentil-rice gunk. I reckon little and often is the key, and always eat when you’re hungry.

12.19pm – Some bastard has stolen milk from me! Everyone at work knows i’m doing this and I have written a note stating that if you steal from me you are stealing from the needy, so this is the WORST kind of milk theft. In this case, re-theft is the only option.

2.11pm – Over my second cup of tea (2p), I had a discussion with a colleague about how shit it is to feel hungry. I literally could not take my eyes off the KFC the woman on the bus last night was inhaling. I couldn’t live like that! I also mentioned how I am feeling really good about the fact that I have not cheated once (I cheat at EVERYTHING; I fully expected to be secretly eating crisps in the toilet by now) and have accounted for all I have eaten, down to the seasoning.

3.02 – More rice gloop. Getting really bored of it now. Really want a Twix.

5.08pm – I may be overreacting due to feeling weak but I think there are ketones on my breath. I also have a headache. I am not hungry so can’t face the rest of my lentil lunch, even though I know I should eat it.

6.56pm – Bought one baking potato and two bananas for 50p. Think the vendor felt sorry for me.

8.28pm – One plain jacket potato. Looking pretty beige next to my friend’s chickpea and feta salad.

DAY THREE (AKA The Burrito Adventure)

9.48am – One banana, a cup of tea and two wheat bisks with milk. I am so fed up of beige food! I am craving some flavour, I think I dreamt of feta cheese last night. I also now have a perpetual stomach ache and hunger pangs. I am getting used to never feeling full. I never feel satisfied and eating has become simply another necessary chore. My calorie intake is definitely too low. I just laid out a cake for my workmates left over from a hen-do that I am not able to eat! I licked some icing off my finger and it nearly drove me wild.

10.41am – I have just been told that Chilango is opening a new store in Chancery Lane, and today from 12pm-8pm they are giving out free burritos! Am I able to cash in on this? If I was homeless i’d be able to just walk in and get one.

2.05pm – Having decided it’s legit because a homeless person would definitely get one, I have just returned from Chancery Lane where I went for my FREE burrito. I didn’t get one. The queue is an hour/200 metres long and I had to go back to work in Elephant and Castle. This has made me all the more determined to get my freeness, so i’m going to return after work. In the mean time I am going to buy a piece of bread from the canteen (17p) and open the beans.

2.07pm – ALSO, i’m going to see Death From Above 1979 tonight and am considering my position on minesweeping. Under the rules of Live Below, I mean. Obviously minesweeping is wrong* (*awesome).

7.16pm – I head back to Chilango. The queue is long but I have faith it will go down quickly as it’s the end of the day. However the minute I join the back they close the queue! In front of me. I could cry! So, being hungry, weary and desperate…I beg. “Please PLEASE let me in, you have no idea how hungry I am…” Etc. Somewhere in my rambling I manage to get the point of this whole campaign across and I am in! It was my ‘puppy dog eyes’, apparently.

As the queue reaches the restaurant, I hear rumours that they are running out of food. “You’ll get something but if there’s no ingredients in the burrito, don’t come crying to me!” one member of Chilango tells me. I discuss the £1 diet with more of the staff and finally, clearly seeing how miserable I am, Libby runs to the kitchen to prepare me some food so I no longer have to endure the torture of waiting. I hug her and exclaim “you beautiful woman!” Thanks Chilango!

Molotov Jukebox playing outside Chilango

DAY FOUR

10.11am – One banana, two wheat…you know the drill.

12.33pm – Really VERY tempted to blow my last £1.41 on sweets and cheap cider. I can live on that for two days, right?

1.47pm – Lunch has been a win mete with a failure. I got two apples from a vendor for 20p by asking for one free (being a young woman of passable attractiveness was enough!) but bought a bagel for 35p. The cheap bread I ate yesterday was very sad so I treated myself, but I didn’t even get the offer of 5 for a pound, so now I feel frivolous! Had half a bagel with a tin of beans and am saving the half tin from yesterday with the other half of the bagel for dinner.

11.58pm – Behold this picture of me eating a 36p reduced sandwich from Tesco, outside the dim sum restaurant my friends are eating in! Now is that dedication to the cause or what? Can I please get a round of applause? I had tap water all night and no alcoholic drinks! OK I filched two prawn crackers, so shoot me.

12.37am – I have just been down to the Sainsbury’s bins next to my house in my PJs and marigolds to attempt some skipping! All in the name of good journalism, of course. Unfortunately I chose the day the store has closed for renovation and all that I would have salvaged is aprons and packing cardboard. The food must be underneath! I am a failed freegan.

DAY FIVE

I did it! Well I got to 6pm before I cracked open the guacamole, but I was doing it until sundown (Saturday) so I WIN. I am really pleased I did it. And I absolutely didn’t cheat, which makes me really happy.

Celebration: West Indian feast of jerk chicken, rice and peas, fried plantain, saltfish and coleslaw, washed down with lots of beer.

Don’t forget to sponsor me!

Money spent: £5(ish)!!!!!