Monday, 15 April 2013

Pots: Booze Britain

Once upon a time, in a land before I got PhD funding, I worked in a nightclub. It was one of the most formative periods in my life. I made amazing friends, enough money to go travelling, and gained a lot of self confidence from the job I did. Writing up the second draft of my doctoral thesis, and looking at its conclusions, I can't help wondering if they would be the same if I hadn't worked in a club that will remain nameless for four happy, yet occasionally chaotic years.

Check the ear piece on that!
I worked on the door during that time. I don't mean I sat behind a screen and took the money, either. It drives me nuts when people assume that's all I did- how sexist can you get? While I sometimes worked the till, I was part of a team that dealt with the dark side of student pissups. I cleared up vomit, pulled up knickers, rounded up so-called friends that abandoned drunks, broke up fights (usually by a combination of flirtation and headmistress voice but occasionally physically), administered basic first aid, yelled at queue-jumpers and generally tried to make sure people had fun, got drunk and didn't hurt themselves. I do sometimes wonder if the City and Guilds Door Supervision Level II was the most valuable qualification I ever got my grubby mitts on (and not just because I can use it to bridge that gap between PhD and gainful employment).

You know that my PhD is about pots, right? I posted a few weeks ago about the way that different pots control how you drink. Well, why do you need to control how people drink? Without those four years on the door, I don't know if I'd have made the link between ceramic controls, and social behaviour. Modern drinking vessels (pint and shot glasses, half-pint tumblers, alcopop/beer bottles) are ALL made for fast consumption- you drink quickly, you buy more booze, you get drunker. By using a cheat-technique (Jagerbombing, necking pints, strawpedoing) you can get even more down your neck in a shorter time. What is the effect of this? Here are the three major effects spotted from my time on the door as illustration:

1) Arousal. The amount of people eating face on the dancefloor will not come as a surprise. The amount of people taking things further, either in toilets or actually there against a wall or sat on a picnic table probably will. A loud "ahem" and an evil will result in this latter behaviour stopping, for the most part. Or loudly pointing out that the CCTV will make for amusing viewing in the morning. I'd love to know the amount of people who met their partner while drunk. I know I did. Anyway, the point is- this arousal can be a great thing- if you meet someone who returns your interest, and you both are free to have a good time. Or it can be amazingly destructive- unrequited attentions can quickly turn very nasty, leading to....

2) Aggression. The worst incarnation of this I ever saw was a man slashing another man's throat with a broken glass bottle. It was not nice. Not nice at all. Another incident resulted in me with two black eyes and a nose streaming with blood after catching an elbow in the face. Most "fights" involve a bit of pushing and shoving, maybe a thrown punch, lots of posturing and chest puffing out. The key is to get in there while the pre-violence rituals are going on, to stop the situation before it starts. Occasionally, there are incidents where unprovoked violence suddenly leaps up and punches someone in the face. It's not just men, either. Out and out cat fights were (mercifully) rare, but a lot of girls seem to enjoy barging into people, then telling their male friends they were pushed and gleefully watching the consequences. Or starting fights between rival suitors. The majority of incidents remained small scale, but were always uncomfortable. Most had the potential to escalate quickly, too. Full on fighting in the street between groups was utterly, utterly horrible, and luckily rare. But this consequence of alcohol is a pretty serious one. (The bloke who got his throat cut is alive and well, with a nasty scar. But it could have been very different).

3) Loss of bodily control. While linked to the two previous effects, I'm not talking about wobbling around or not being able to recite the alphabet backwards here, or about snogging someone you'd never normally fancy or getting mouthy. I'm talking about the girl who passed out in her own vomit on glass, resulting in cuts all over her back and hands, into which her own vomit had seeped. The bloke who was crying as he had no idea who we were and was convinced we were trying to hurt him as we fed him water and tried to find out where he lived so we could get him home. The many who pissed themselves. The even more who puked- sometimes on other people, often on me and my colleagues.

These were the effects of pots without any built in controls. The people who were using the pots I study had very different concerns. Can you imagine the extreme examples described above at a formal banquet in someone's home, in front of family and friends? Or at a large, public social event? Maybe social controls and environment would prevent the worst excesses, but seeing people pissed at wedding receptions and house parties makes me suspect not. But, just in case, pots so difficult to drink from that you couldn't just neck your pint and crack on to the next one were, I think, being employed. Look at the shape of this kylix. You need to be able to balance the bowl, negotiate the unwieldy stem, control the flow of liquid over the large rim, and deal with those handles. In my PhD research, I developed a scoring system for vessels like this, using handle shape, rim circumference/height ratio, rim circumference/human hand length ratio and volume. Vessels with a high volume (I'm talking an average of around 3l, which is about two modern wine bottles worth of booze), ususally imported from Greece to Etruria, always had high "skill scores." They needed knowledge to drink from them successfully, and they wouldn't allow you to consume their contents too quickly.

Image from imagehive

I don't know if I'd have noticed that, or even thought about it, without those years cleaning up puke and broken glass. So, thank you, pissed students. Except you, girl who threw up spaghetti puttanesca with tuna chunks in my hair.

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