All posts by poppyjomurray

How lad culture has distorted our drinking habits

‘Lad’ and ‘banter’ are two words which I have come to despise after my time at university. They are words that echo through university halls across Britain, and festers amongst the dirty rubbish, breeding more and more ‘lads’ like the bacteria that thrive on the unwashed plates of student dwellings. For those who haven’t been to university, it may be difficult to understand what the correlation between university life and lad culture is. I found it a culture shock when I first joined university, having previously been confined to an insular all-girls school.

My first encounter of a competitive attitude to drinking began in fresher’s week, when I noticed that students, particularly males, seemed to take great delight in urging each other to drink as much as they could as quickly as they could. At first, I blamed this absurd hedonism on fresher’s week excitement; surely this couldn’t be the norm? That was until we were gradually introduced to ‘lads’ from older year groups. These boys were even worse, they seemed to delight in the fact that freshers were struggling to keep up with their reckless drinking habits, and ‘down it fresher!’ soon became a motto that I was accustomed to. As first year passed by, this indulgence in incessant drinking did not seem to subside. Yes, there was a quiet lull during the exam period, but this seemed to simply act as a catalyst for even more unruly behaviour after exams. It was almost as though the sobriety of these three weeks in May justified the vomiting on pavements and swinging from lampposts that would proceed.

Of course, I drank at university too, and I am in no way saying that university students are not allowed to have a good time. But there are many experiences I can recall in my three years at university where drinking was taken too far; so far that it became a sport, rather than a recreational pastime. On many of these occasions, this excessive drinking would be the result of a club’s ‘initiation’ or ‘social’. Rugby socials, in particular were the most alarming to me. Rumours about the various things rugby players expected each other to do permeated campus from fresher’s week onwards. I soon came to realise that these rumours were not far from the truth as I met more and more people from the rugby team, each with their own anecdote about what they had had (or at least what they could partially remember) to do at a rugby ‘social’. I even (inadvertently) got myself caught in the crossfire of a rugby social when I was walking to my friends house one evening in second year. As I walked up the road leading to one of our University college bars, I was gradually overtaken by a group of around 30 young men dresses in nappies. Yes, nappies. What was even more disturbing was that these men were eerily silent, since they were being commandeered by someone (the rugby captain). I was, admittedly, slightly bemused by this, but it was nothing too out of the ordinary, since students often roamed the streets in fancy dress on a weeknight, as part of their socials.

When I arrived at my friends house I told them of the strange scene I had become embroiled in and they weren’t too taken aback ‘oh, that’s the rugby social’, my friend nonchalantly informed me. ‘They dress as slaves and the older players act as their masters’, he said. ‘The master tells them what to drink and if they don’t do it they can punish them.’ Yes, I was shocked, but I wasn’t surprised, these boys were lads, and this was just banter wasn’t it? The next day, this same friend, who was on the rugby team but refused to partake in the socials, for obvious reasons, told me these boys had been told to bring a bucket with them to the social. In this bucket they had to urinate, be sick or do whatever else they needed to do in it as the night progressed. Then, at the end of the night, these boys, sorry lads… were encouraged to empty the contents of this revolting bucket onto one of the universities notorious hills and roll down it in their nappies. What’s perhaps the most shocking about this is that none of my friends, myself included, really questioned this behaviour. It was deemed funny and simply an aspect of university life that was to be revered, for it was ‘banter’ after all.

Since leaving university, I have become increasingly conscious of how vulgar this behaviour really is. Alcohol can be enjoyable — we all know that– but is there really any need for people to force each other to drink to the point where they can no longer enjoy themselves? It seems that it has now become the norm for people to drink themselves into oblivion simply for the sake of a ‘social’. These socials in turn make us anti-social, as we become incoherent, aggressive and a shadow of our former selves. I am in no way saying that this behaviour is exclusive to males, but I do believe that ‘lad culture’ is partly to blame, for it seems to celebrate excessive drinking.

Only last year, we saw the damaging effect of Neknominate, which escalated at a rapid scale, resulting in several deaths which were believed to have been directly linked to the game. This goes to show that drinking has become much like a sport, where people are becoming competitive in terms of how much they can drink and how fast they can do it. Universities, I believe are breeding grounds for such behaviour, since downing drinks has become tradition in student unions across the UK. I think it is the time to realise that this isn’t acceptable and alcohol is in fact a very dangerous drug that should be approached with caution.

The rising epidemic of homelessness in women

Homelessness in the UK is an increasing contagion.  It is something that is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore as the demand for homeless shelters rise.  According to the homeless charity St Mungo’s, one in ten people have been homeless at some point in their lives.  Perhaps surprisingly, 20% of these people are women. What must be stressed is that sleeping rough is not the only instance of homelessness, since by definition, the word ‘homeless’ refers to a person without a home.  Therefore, a homeless man or woman could, in fact, be “sofa surfing”, or in temporary accommodation, but these places are certainly no place they can call home.

It is perhaps because women are less likely to be seen on the streets than men that they are falling through the net of homeless services.  However, this does not mean that they are any less susceptible to homelessness than their male counterparts.   Frighteningly, St Mungo’s have reported that women are far more reluctant to enter homeless services than men, which is an issue I feel must be addressed.  The crux of the issue appears to be that many of these women have experienced domestic abuse, which may incite a fear of entering a mixed hostel where such maltreatment could recur.  It cannot be ignored that many homeless shelters are designed for men, since there are a higher percentage of homeless males in the UK.  As a consequence of this, members of staff seem to be less trained in dealing with issues which are often more prevalent in women, such as self harm and eating disorders.  Although many homeless services are now beginning to address this by introducing women-only spaces in hostels, it is an issue that certainly needs more attention if we are to tackle homelessness.

One of the most infuriating issues for me is that many people perceive homelessness as a ‘choice’.  I struggle to understand how people still believe this amidst the current housing crisis that is beleaguering Britain.  This crisis is the result of housing benefit caps and increasing rent prices, and it is absolutely not a choice.  There are no alternatives for those who cannot afford to recompense the surging demands of our government.  Although Local Authorities have an obligation to give temporary accommodation to those without a home, many people are rejected for not exploring all opportunities of support, such as hostels, or because they are not deemed a priority.  Why should this be the case when there are thousands of landlords who have spare rooms to rent across Britain? Russell Brand has recently brought this to light in his recent campaign, which calls for more affordable housing in the UK.

Brand’s support of tenants of the New Era Estate in Hoxton, London garnered considerable support after US investment company Westbrook Partners planned to evict and double the rents of dozens of residents. Thankfully, the tireless efforts of campaigners were not in vain, and a reversal of fortunes was brought about, resulting in New Era being sold to Dolphin Square Charitable Foundation, an affordable housing group which has promised to keep rents at current levels for the next year. Such reversals of fate, however, are not commonplace and similar corporate developments and subsequent evictions often pass beneath public radar. Only last week, Manchester City Council announced their decision to cut a daunting £3.4 million worth of grants from its voluntary sector, which includes homeless shelters and housing advice services.  This is audacious, given that the voluntary sector is one that needs our help the most.  To add insult to injury, many councils are also inaugurating anti-homeless devices such as benches that are divided by arm rests, and anti-homeless spikes to their streets, in an attempt to reduce the number of rough sleepers.   As well as being incredibly inhumane, this scheme is preposterous because it does not tackle the root of the issue, it simply prolongs it.  Eventually, this quandary will become harder to ignore, as unemployment and extortionate rent charges seem unlikely to subside any time soon.

So what can we do? Firstly, we need to face up to this issue before it is too late, since it is an issue that many people choose to disregard, either out of fear or ignorance.  Petitions such as this one are particularly useful, since they require little exertion and are an effective way of bringing issues into the public domain.  We can also facilitate the system that already exists by donating to homeless charities such as Shelter and Barnardo’s.  It is likely that there are many homeless shelters providing an excellent service in your local area, so why not contact them to see how you can get involved?  Soup kitchens and Rucksack Projects are particularly important at this time of year, given that Christmas is fast approaching, so your help would be greatly appreciated.  Most importantly, we merely need to recognise and acknowledge the homeless.  So, if you pass a homeless person in the street, whether male or female, please do not pretend that you haven’t seen them, even if you have no money or food to give, simply smiling or saying hello lets a homeless person know that they are a valued member of society. For these are people who deserve to be helped.