Working harder, playing harder

At any one time it is estimated that 0.7% of the world’s population are drunk. In a microcosm such as Oxford this figure, particularly on a Friday night, is likely to be much higher, thanks to the phenomenon of “the binge”. Also known as heavy episodic drinking, risky single occasional drinking, a piss up, a bender, and the lash train, it seems that painting the town red, or yellow with vomit, is endemic in both town and gown culture and has come to the attention of more than one college authority in recent months.Socializing at Oxford goes hand in hand with alcohol, epitomized by St Catz JCR which adjoins the longest bar in Oxford. The relationship between the party and its lubricant has long been a mutually advantageous one. Yet the tendency amongst the student body to over-indulge in Bacchanalian antics during the “formal, bar, bop” triad, has led to a crackdown on excessive drinking in colleges including LMH, Jesus and Magdalen within the last term and a total ban in extreme cases such as Teddy Hall. Every college has its own stories of drunken debauchery and debacle, but more often than not binging is far less glamorous than the subsequent r e p e r c u s s i o n s . Somerville’s Michaelmas “Horror Bop” landed one inebriated fresher in the John Radcliffe having taken a serious blow to the head.The St. Anne’s rowing curry carried an exorbitant price tag for second year boatie James. After “spending most of the meal in the restaurant toilets” the £350 camera with which he hoped to immortalise his friends drunken antics was stolen from his jacket.Self confessed binge drinker Tom, a second year hockey Blue, had a rather memorable initiation into the infamous team. Having seen off a bottle of sherry between the pitch and the pub, a distance of 500 yards, whilst dressed as a woman, Tom was made to top off various drinks with the now notorious “down a pint through the tampon” game. He recalls, “While walking over Magdalen Bridge my mate ripped my skirt off. I still had my boxers on, but another girl thought it hilarious to rip those off as well exposing me to the elements and a police warning for indecent exposure – stating that if they saw me like that later they would arrest me. Embarrassing to say the least”.With recent medical research proving that binge drinkers are more likely to suffer damage to the frontal lobes of  their brains, memory loss, and irreversible liver damage, drinking to excess in many cases is not just a youthful phase but a possible precursor of later, harmful drinking behaviour. Perhaps college Deans are justified in their actions.However, students don’t drink with the intention of jeopardizing their future health, nor do they seem to be deterred by the sobering statistics that bombard them. Principal of Somerville College, Dame Fiona Caldicott, former chair of the student health and welfare committee, advocates education and the enforcement of an institution’s rules in order to show people that they have stepped over the mark and are facing a problem. “If students are made aware that they have broken the rules, and that the cost of cleaning up their vomit for example will result in a fine for them, they come to see the consequences of their actions and the rules as of benefit to them.”How far can fines, increased bar prices and the banning of certain lethal cocktails cause a U-turn in the drinking habits of students in this university of extremes? Many see the drinking culture in Oxford as symptomatic of the acute pressures of work and a consequent need to, as Worcester JCR President Peter Jones put it, “purge everyday stresses”.John Robins, a former Bar Rep at St. Anne’s, agrees, “People do not drink in moderation because they cannot work in moderation”.However PPE student Pete sees it as a question of maturity “Drinking seems like a bit of a novelty for a lot of students at Oxford. Many haven’t had much experience of drinking White Lightning in the park in comparison with those at other unis”.Student insobriety and its management are not new to college authorities. Whilst it was referred to as a “cascade” not a “vom” in the eighteenth, students exhibited similar roguish behaviour. In 1768 Brasenose SCR rationed each Junior member to two dozen bottles of port and six of sherry per week. The memoirs of Lewis Holberg note the nightly patrols by proctors searching for students, an offence liable to bring hefty fines and other impositions.So next time you down it, neck it, see it away or reward yourself you’re not the first and you won’t be be last to do so. But a balance needs to be struck on the part of the colleges and individual students: if college bar prices are driven too high, the safety of the college bar will no longer be affordable, and if you drink yourself under the table the consequences lie at your own feet.
Archive: 0th week 2004