Working in universities for the last 14 years, I am no stranger to the alarming new trend, particularly among female students of 'pre-loading' - ie tanking themselves up on cheap supermarket booze, often in the form of shared 'dirty pint' cocktails containing everything except toilet cleaner before they go out in order to save money on getting paralytic in clubs. Three recently nearly ended up beneath my car wheels indeed as they drunkenly barged into the road arm-in-arm in front of me without even looking, but trashily dressed to the nines as they tottered uncertainly to whatever club they were heading for. It was 5.30pm in the evening.
This practice has become so endemic now that persuading them it is an extremely dangerous thing to do and actually they are not immortal has become a real challenge, notwithstanding the number who end up rounding the evening off with a pumped stomach in A&E or getting mugged or worse, yet still manage to shrug it off as 'a bad night' and carry on regardless. Far from having any shame attached, bragging about their drunken exploits has become de rigeur, almost a competitive sport.
Perhaps the most surprising thing is that many of these youngsters are well-brought up middle-class gals who had ponies and piano lessons and their own en-suite from early childhood with parents who still dote on them. The worst offenders do not necessarily come from underprivileged backgrounds as you might expect. In fact the harder a student has struggled to make it to university, the better-behaved they often are as they value it more and are determined to make the most of their opportunities.
The university I work for is currently running an admirably upfront poster campaign about the dangers of binge-drinking and also how bringing the University into disrepute through their behaviour will result in disciplinary penalties and their parents being informed, not to mention a devalued degree if they destroy the reputation of the establishment We are also working closely with the local Police in this initiative.
I wholeheartedly support this and only wish the government would do more to support such measures through outlawing cheap supermarket booze, banning petrol station sales (which shouldn't be allowed in any case when drinking and driving are illegal) and targeting all the unlicensed one-man bands offering home delivery of cheap booze to student homes at any time of the day or night, so students do not even need to leave their homes!
This would also lend valuable support to our struggling pubs and off-licences, where more civilised drinking can be promoted in a safer environment.
I know this would invariably lead to protestations from those of more modest alcohol consumption who ask why they should also be penalised, but then again if their intake is as modest as they claim, they will still be able to afford it. In addition it is not some proud longstanding tradition that alcohol has been so cheaply and readily available, but a recent development. Fifteen years ago, if you wanted cheap alcohol, you had to embark on a long and inconvenient 'booze cruise' to France with a long shopping list of all your friends' requirements as well before trying to convince Customs it was all for personal consumption, thus risking confiscation along the way, and supermarkets did not sell alcohol on a Sunday as their licence did not permit, let alone at much less than the local 'offy'
Another measure I would like to see which would not affect more moderate drinkers would be to fine people who ended up in A&E through pre-loading and speed drinking £500 a time as a deterrent. Being 'drunk and disorderly' is still technically an offence after all, as is 'wasting Police time' when the Police have to escort them there (it is apparently too risky to slam them in the cells overnight to sleep it off any more lest they die in custody via their own vomit or not being examined for concussion and alcohol poisoning).
Crueller commentators have suggested that nihilistic drinking is just the latest manifestation of Darwinism. I like to hope this is being disingenuous.
However it seems the following fate at least could be awaiting many young binge drinkers further down the line.