“Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!” – Martin Luther
I flick on the kettle in the Porters’ Lodge and drag my mug from the sink to the counter. My churning stomach and aching joints are telling me that I may have overdone the cabernet sauvignon last night. My head feels like it has a family of Mexicans living in it. Why, why, why did I drink on a school night? It wasn’t intentional. A chat with a friend turned into dancing round the kitchen with a friend which turned into staying up too late and putting the world to rights over a bottle (maybe more than one bottle) of red. Stupid, stupid, stupid. The tea bag takes three attempts to make it into the mug. Most of the sugar ends up on the kitchen counter. Some of the milk makes it into the mug to complete my morning cup of salvation.
Frank Sinatra once said, “Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the Bible says love your enemy”. It is true, that of all the Gods, Bacchus is probably my favourite, but I normally reserve my indulgences for times when I am not required to do much the day after. Seeing the students (and quite a few Fellows, come to that) in the undignified throes of intoxication on a regular basis has tempered my relationship with the demon drink. Or so I thought.
That said, I’m not sure I could trust a man who doesn’t drink at all, at least not one who, for some sort of self-righteous reason, thinks he knows right from wrong better than the rest of us. The steadfast refusal to get drunk suggests to me a fear or loathing of something deep down inside and you cannot trust a man who is afraid of him self. Although there is no dignity in the stumbling and heaving that excess alcohol induces, it at least teaches you something of humility. It is a reminder of the foolishness and failings that come with being human. It is difficult to take yourself too seriously when you are face down on the bathroom floor.
Three cups of tea and one of Chef’s celebrated bacon and sausage sandwiches brings my operational levels up to ‘functional’. By the time the other Porters arrive, all that remains of my over-indulgence is a dull ache in my head. The Mexicans have moved out.
The phone on my desk bursts into life. I pick up the receiver to be greeted by the softly-spoken tones of Senior Tutor, a gentle and kindly man whose conciliate manner belies his undeniably shadowy past.
“Deputy Head Porter, it is Senior Tutor here, I trust you are well?” I confirm that I am (a little white lie) and enquire after his own health. He is resplendently well, thank you.
“Deputy Head Porter, I would like you to cast your eye over a document I have produced. I am setting up a new College Committee which I would very much like you to be part of. I have produced a little aide memoire to facilitate our work and I would like you to read it and make any suggestions you see fit.”
“Certainly, Sir, I would be pleased to. May I ask what Committee I will be joining?”
“Oh yes, how remiss of me. It is The Committee For The Prevention Of Drunken Behaviour” The irony is not lost on me. “The alcohol related incidents this term are far more numerous than we are used to at Old College. Our reputation could be endangered if these antics are allowed to continue. I would very much appreciate your input on this matter.”
I assure Senior Tutor that I would be delighted to join The Committee and would head up to his office shortly to collect his document.
A little under an hour later and I am reading the ‘aide memoire’ at my desk in the Porters’ Lodge. The document offers such priceless advice as “…prod the intoxicated person regularly” and “…do not force vomiting but encourage them to eat food, if possible.” Interestingly, Senior Tutor insists that on finding an unconscious intoxicated person, the first course of action is to contact The Porters’ Lodge. I can think of many actions to take when coming across someone who is unconscious and they involve checking airways and the recovery position. An ambulance is often a consideration. I add some helpful first aid advice to the document and make a mental note to tactfully question the wisdom of constantly poking someone and offering them food whilst unconscious, then hurry back to Senior Tutor’s office.
Senior Tutor has been joined in his office (which is more akin to a sitting room in a stately home than a place of work) by the other members of the newly-formed ‘Committee For The Prevention Of Drunken Behaviour’. I am greeted by the Chair of the Student Union, a youth who looks about twelve and bares a striking resemblance to Harry Potter. He shifts uneasily on the Chesterfield, his solemn expression telling me that he is not relishing the prospect of having to curtail the student past time of choice. Also present is College Nurse, a formidable Scottish lady of about sixty-five whose delicate frame belies her fiery and out-spoken nature. Sat next to Nurse, theatrically brandishing a teacup, is The Dean. I am quietly in awe of The Dean. I am fascinated with his attire. Last week he wore a purple v-neck jumper with a bright pink shirt and royal blue trousers. Today, he is wearing yellow trousers and a mustard-coloured roll-neck. His age is indeterminate due to carefully-dyed hair and a generally well maintained appearance. He is of a jolly disposition, although I have heard tales of him losing his patience on occasion. Today, though, he seems to be in fine spirits and is talking loudly with Senior Tutor. No sign of Junior Bursar. I didn’t think this would be his scene, somehow.
“Let us begin the meeting!” Senior Tutor announces cheerfully. “Now, I’m sure we are all aware of recent incidents in College involving some of our First Years over indulging in drink,”
The nods and murmurs around the room are dripping in over-dramatised concern.
“I, like you all, I’m sure, hoped that these incidents would reduce significantly after Fresher’s Week. This is sadly not the case and several of our students have required medical attention following an evening’s revelry. My concern is that sooner or later we will have a serious incident on our hands, possibly even a fatality. I have called this Committee together to find ways to reduce the risk of this, and to better educate our students about the risks they are taking.”
Chair of the Student Union looks crest-fallen. Under his careful guidance, Old College has built up the reputation of throwing some of the best theme parties in town. Students from other colleges flock to Old College events from across the City. This achievement was the one and only thing the scholarly young man had ever done that was ‘cool’. After years of being bullied for being over-achieving and bad at sports, Chair of the Student Union has masterminded a series of legendary parties, which had made him a sort of geeky demi-god. And now it was all going to be taken away from him.
Nurse suggests some basic first aid advice, which Senior Tutor scribbles down furiously. Then commences a debate of the recovery position, and the best use thereof.
“What if the person is conscious but clearly drunk?” asks Senior Tutor “Should we try and get them into the recovery position anyway?”
“That would be a good idea, if they are compliant,” Nurse replies.
“What if they’re not compliant?” suggests The Dean
“We should probably try and force them into the recovery position anyway,” Senior Tutor replies, somewhat unexpectedly. “Better to be safe than sorry”.
“What if the drunkard is a girl?” The Dean continues. “We can’t have our Porters wrestling drunk young ladies to the floor and forcing them to lie on their sides, think of our reputation!”
“Well, that would need to be a consideration, but the Porters should be able to physically persuade them into a position where they will be less of a danger to themselves…”
I decide to interject. “I think,” I say as politely as I can “That if the person is upright and able to physically fend us off they are probably not in need of urgent medical attention. Our main concern should be getting them to their lodgings with as little disruption as possible. I feel trying to force them onto the ground, male or female, will only inflame the situation.”
“That is one way of looking at it,” says Senior Tutor “But I think it should be thought about. It would be easier to prod them repeatedly from the recovery position.”
“I don’t think…” I begin, but am cut off by Nurse.
“Yes, and it’s important to keep talking to them, as well,” she explains, beginning a brief brain-storming session of how to arose one from a drunken stupor. I feel that the distinction between conscious and unconscious drunkenness have been horribly blurred and the whole procedure appears that it will consist of getting people down on the floor and poking them incessantly. Maybe it’s the hangover, or maybe I’ve missed something, but this doesn’t make any sense to me at all.
The meeting closes with Senior Tutor having made endless notes and a promise to update us shortly. The next meeting will be about how to prevent the students from getting into such a state in the first place.
I simply cannot wait to find out what ideas The Committee For The Prevention Of Drunken Behaviour come up with for stopping students doing what comes as naturally to them as breathing and long division.