I never went to house parties until I attended university in London, UK. Before this, parties were at the side of the Rhein in Germany, in a forest just outside city limits or going into the city for drinks. I occasionally went to friends’ houses, or even held my own drinking parties, but these were for a limited number of people. Parties in London were much larger, filled a three story house. I explain how I never really enjoyed going to house parties or clubbing, and could only feel part of it if I was myself very intoxicated, otherwise I wouldn’t understand the ‘drunk-talk’. I come to the conclusion that with such a high prevalence of drug use and its presence in the media and popular culture, it would almost be impossible to never come across it.
House parties where the place to be on a Friday night. For everyone these were excuses to get together with friends and discuss life and enjoy a few drinks. When I moved to university, house parties were louder and involved more people than my known group of friends. Being in a prime location for students in East London, house parties involved several others that even the hosts did not know. At times, party crashers joined because the doors were left open, but this made no difference. I remember these parties involved a lot of alcohol, some was provided by the hosts, and much more was brought by each invitee. Sometimes, beer and wine were brought to share, but it seemed like the culture in London was to consume the bottle that one had brought to the party. Despite everyone attending the house party to have fun, I was surprised to see people split into different social groups. There were the few that wanted to dance, those that preferred to sit and talk, the drug users doing lines of ketamine in the toilet, the smokers outside, and those that had very little interest in what was going on sitting in a dark corner away from everyone else. The attraction to these parties was measured by the number of drugs and alcohol available, with bigger the house, the better the party that was expected to be. This was not often the case, as the people who gathered in the house were driving the excitement and at times the (in)sanity. One time, early in the academic year, one friend called Shaemus organised a party at his new house, whom he shared with three other guys. They had prepared their house for the party, setting up their several hundred-pound sound systems along with other party equipment, only to leave the house for university that day and when they returned everything had gone. At some time in the afternoon, someone had broken into their house and cleared it. The mood shattered, of course, as anyone who has been burgled would be, but that didn’t stop them from having the party. Someone replaced the surround sound system with a cheap portable speaker, more alcohol and drugs were brought, and no one seemed to mind. It was at this party that I learnt that Shaemus, although having done drugs in the past, was not willing to take any, despite being pressured by his friends to enjoy the party after the robbery. Shaemus also didn’t drink much at the party, which definitely surprised me. I suppose that I was surprised that he could have fun, dance and interact with his friends who were drunk or high without himself feeling what others were feeling.
When I went to university in London, I attended few house parties that were organised primarily by my friends Shaemus and John. They held at least one large party each term, but their house was often the hang out spot on Fridays and Saturdays. They had an upright piano in their living room and a few guitars, violins and clarinets scattered around, because two of their flatmates were musicians. Not every gathering at the Mile End house turned into a drinking and drug fest. Some Saturdays we would sit with a couple of beers and watch Women’s Tennis. When they did advertise a house party, I always anticipated leaving the party early with company or drinking until I passed out somewhere in the house in the early hours of the morning. This never happened, as I was the one who stayed away from everyone else in a dark corner of the room. I used to bring my own bottles of 350 mL Absolut vodka, since this allowed me to drink in small amounts, very slowly. I thought that if I had spirits, people would be more accepting of my drink of choice, as it seemed more hardcore. It partly worked, although when pressured to join into the mood, I had the strongest drink in hand that would prove to be a disadvantage. And yes, alcohol was mainly responsible for getting into the mood; even though I was drinking, I felt that I had full control of myself and my surroundings. I chatted up with people, who I never would have talked to outside of this situation, as I tried to make new friends and find a sexual partner for the night. I even considered dating women who I found annoying and uninteresting, simply because I had increased confidence from drinking and thought that others’ would equally be seeking someone to meet. My plan didn’t quite work, as no matter how much I drank, it seemed like my good-natured self and quirkiness kept showing and I kept being rejected, but at least it didn’t feel like rejection if I hadn’t invested much in trying to hook-up. I kept thinking to myself why had I came to this party, if I didn’t really drink or socialised or took drugs. I would often question my attendance and think why I would be drinking if I didn’t want to drink in the first place. I remember wanting to leave or to have the courage to not bring alcohol, but I couldn’t disregard the fact that it felt like I needed to drink to be able to join into the fun, and so this pressure reassured me that I needed to drink more. At times, people would go around the parties offering wine, which reluctantly accepted, despite already drinking spirits, which made me nervous because I used to have bad effects by mixing different types of alcohol. I remember feeling nauseous, while thinking to myself that I hadn’t drank that much to feel like that. I kept telling myself to ‘man up’ and carry-on drinking before anyone would notice that I wasn’t having fun.
Too late, she noticed. “Are you alright? Do you want a drink?” she asked.
Great, I thought to myself as I replied to her “I’m alright thanks, I am drinking.” I couldn’t believe that now everyone thought that I was bored. Nice going, I said to myself.
After a while, I didn’t want to drink anymore, but I had a hard time making myself leave the bottle to the side. I wasn’t really enthusiastic about the effect of alcohol nor of its taste, and instead it became a pastime at the party. Suddenly, there was smell in the air that seemed familiar, but I quite couldn’t distinguish it among the other smells of the densely packed room. It began to bother me; I recognised the smell, it was sharp, but it diffused into the room that it was difficult to pin-point exactly where it came from. With other people smoking cigarettes around me, it was difficult to make out the precise smell, but it was unique and unpleasant.
“Someone is smoking weed” A voice whispered.
“Yes, I know,” I said. So that’s what it is, I thought, of course.
It had surprised me that no one had been smoking until now. Maybe no one had weed until the hero of the night brought it to them. When I went looking for the source, I found Shaemus, one of the hosts and friend was the one smoking weed. He was sequestered into a dark corner of the room, surrounded by poorly dressed people who might not have had the best hygiene as they all huddled together on the old and dirty carpet. I had some respect for him as he had shown very little interest in drinking to get drunk and his choice of not taking drugs before when I first met him. But I was wrong, and sadly it wasn’t the first time I was wrong. When we first met, Shaemus said he chose not to drink, but for some reason had recently started drinking socially, but to smoke weed was not something I thought he was serious about doing again, after explaining the detrimental effects the drug had on his brain and attention in school. Very well, what if he does smoke marijuana, I thought, as I wondered if it would affect our friendship. In the end, it didn’t, I wasn’t the one being pressured into smoking it and I wasn’t going to be the one who suffered the down moments later. Though I was concerned about him, maybe he wasn’t pressured into smoking, but he might not have been discouraged either. House parties offer a view into uninhibited fun, the trouble is that in situations with little control, no one knows what the outcome could be. Someone could be getting hurt, like it happened with Vinny in the past, or have severe reactions like Sam, Kelly, or Mitch. The fact is that taking drugs and knowledge of their effects is independent of whether drugs have been taken in the past. I also knew that I might not be up to experience either, as several people who I met knew of the serious side-effects, and still took the risk, like combining alcohol and weed. Perhaps experience in this context is only an acknowledgement of consequences, as if they recognise the risk that they are taking and are okay if they experience side-effects or a psychological down when the effects wear-off. The problem is that such acknowledgement can only come from repeated use of drugs and having had the experience of bad trips. A new drug-user might not be conscious of the effects other than the ones that others say are the best, often seasoned drug-users who are encouraging others to smoke will not lay down the risks like a disclaimer. And this perhaps is because self-proclaimed seasoned drug-users will think of themselves as very experienced, despite themselves only having limited experiences with bad trips or accept these bad trips beyond their ability to rationalise them for other people to understand. It’s like they absorb the responsibility as their actions that they will not consider how damaging side-effects might be to someone else. I think this is the case for Mitch, who routinely encouraged me to smoke, despite knowing very well that someone times weed was too much for him. Does he wish that I experience a bad trip too? Is having bad trips part of the drug taking experience? Does that make me a stronger person?
In terms of drug usage, Mitch was nowhere to the level of Leslie. I liked Leslie because at least he was honest about drug usage, and he would neither encourage nor discourage anyone to take drugs. He used to say that if I wanted to try, then I should try. If I didn’t want any, it was no bother to him because it left more to those who did want to smoke. The way he talked about decision and effect, also made him seem more conscious of his actions for choosing to take drugs. In fact, Leslie seldom shared his weed, unless it was some that he brought specifically to share. Mitch, most of the time smoked with friends, and unlike Vinny or Max, he didn’t smoke on his own to pass the time, or at least he never indicated doing so. Mitch is the person who wants to see everyone happy, based on how he defines happiness, a very simplistic approach to understanding emotion. As I moved to university, people like Mitch were less widespread, and instead were more like the Leslie character. The learning phase of drugs had passed, most people in university will assume that drugs had been tried during the teenager years. The social circles of drug-users were more closed; they were less interested in recruiting new people to join as much as they were to include those who wanted to smoke with other people. The learning phase of drugs in very important, and I think it is something were the media and popular culture exploit. Songs aimed at younger audiences are peppered with drug references, not only because they might think it is cool, but they know that is what the public, their audience, wants to hear about. However, it begs the question if the artist includes drug references because they want to or because their audience wants to hear it. It depends on the music style. In some genres, it is common for the artist to be telling a story, as well known example is John Hiatt who expresses his drug use and life choices in his songs, though as a personal attempt to acknowledge them poetically. Other genres take advantage of drug-usage as a way to reach to audiences who think of drugs as something that is worth discussing or accepting as part of life, like Bob Marley, but don’t go as far as almost popularise drug usage. In another segment of music entertainment, there are artists might be equally as engaging with drugs because of their history taking or dealing drugs, like 2Pac or Biggie Smalls, and how they managed to break the system and making a better life for themselves, and like John Hiatt are merely telling a story that resonates for many in their audience. However, I think there is one far extreme in music entertainment where drugs and alcohol are glamorised and advertised as symbols of status or wealth and I think they use drugs objectively to reach the interest of their audience. Much in the same regard as women are objectified as sex symbols in these genres and the male features and desires are sold crudely.
It is therefore not a surprise that the best choice of music at house parties was that of the artists that glamourised drug and alcohol use. On another occasion at one of Shaemus’ and John’s parties, the scent of the party could be sensed at the doorstep of their house as the door banged in rhythm with the music. When walking into the living room, their dining table would be filled with alcohol bottles spread out on the table, containing different volumes—from the recently opened wine bottle to the last remains of vodka in another bottle. Shaemus would often be drifting from conversation to conversation, drinking, mixing, and having a good time. On the other hand, John would find a bottle of wine and sit with his partner and talk to the same group of people all night, until he would be too drunk and would head upstairs with his partner. Though I imagined what they would be up to, surely drinking would not make the experience any better. Of course, I would test for myself how drunk my friends were by setting up some experiments, as a way to keep myself entertained too. One time, I noticed John was sitting on a sofa with his girlfriend on his lap, while drinking from a bottle of wine that was kept on the floor. I observed his actions for some time and saw that every 20 minutes or so he would pick up the bottle of wine and refill his glass, he then would share it with his partner. His attention would be away from the bottle for some time after that, and his partner was blocking his sight to the back of the room. I took this chance to take their bottle, decant the contents into a glass, go into the kitchen and refill the bottle with tap water. Then I waited until he wanted to refill his glass. About 15 minutes later, he reached for the bottle on the floor by extending his hand around his partner’s back, picked up the bottle, poured the liquid into his glass, and had a drink. The expression on his face was priceless as he didn’t even recognise the change in colour of their red wine. It seemed like he couldn’t process what was going on that he asked his partner for advice. Finally, he picked the bottle again, and poured some again to make sure he knew what liquid was coming out. I looked for afar as I drank from my bottle of vodka as I remarked on the burning sensation in my mouth and oesophagus at each gulp. Others were pouring the alcohol down their throats as if someone was going to steal it from their hands. Some had finished fermented drinks and started to drink distilled alcohol. A few others started to play drinking games, which I must say are rather fun activities that encourage drinking to those, like myself, who would not typically have another reason to drink. The loser of the game always has to have a penalty and that is given usually by drinking a combination of alcoholic beverages mixed together in a large cup. I was talking to John on another occasion, and he said the worst that they had ever done was to mix six to ten different shots together to make one massive drink. Another friend who hardly ever drinks says that it is really not the alcohol at a party that makes it a good, fun party. He also says it is because he has absolutely no tolerance for alcohol. So, I wanted to test his curiosity to alcohol by handing him a pure shot of vodka to hold for me as I went to talk to someone else. From the other side of the room, as I watched him, I saw that he tried a small sip of the shot but didn’t do anything else.
Somehow, someone said that night that they wanted to go clubbing. I never enjoyed clubbing because I just didn’t find it fun if I wasn’t drinking heavily or taking experience enhancing drugs like ecstasy, which was commonly shared among friends. I am not the type of person to shy away from experience or opportunity, so I decided to tag along despite my reluctancy to. I endured two hours of casually moving in dance-like movements and see how ridiculous everyone else was at the club, but then the soreness of my feet were not something that I could stand. I went away from the dance floor and I found somewhere where I could sit and relax. I found more comfort away from everyone else where I had the chance to observe and reflect on what was happening. I really do not understand what motivates all these people, I estimated from 18 to 30 year olds to go out the entire night to clubs and drink and dance. If my feet were aching and I could not stand it, how do girls with high heels feel? But it is a club, and alcohol is what drives the want to keep on going and partying. And I do not know how the steep prices do not encourage people from not drinking. I mean six pounds for a refreshing vodka and lemonade that will increase one’s ego and make them do inhibited actions. I also noticed that the bestiality of humans can be seen in clubs. There was this one well-built man, with the nice cloths, even a ponytail, and surrounded by women. Next to him, off to the side was this tall skinny, skeleton, pale complexion kid, with very, very bad dance moves. However, he was very well positioned, next to what I recognised would be the alpha male in animal society. This kid was doing what several under matured animals in the wild do as a mating strategy, called satellite strategy. In nature, it is when a physically weak individual, who is either unattractive to females or beaten by stronger males positions itself next or very near to the alpha male, to increase their chances of mating. Very often these are considered opportunistic strategies as the weaker males would find a chance to mate as the stronger male is distracted by other males in the area or let’s its guard down around the weaker males. In this case in the club, it does not reach that extent, but it does show that the weak kid knew where to position himself. And my observations resulted in forming a valid hypothesis—as soon as the better-looking guy moved his attention elsewhere, this kid moved in and started to talk to the women. I was amazed to see such a strategy play out in human society.
On the other side of the club there was a group of females all gathered around a table as they were drinking, laughing and looking around the club, surely trying to see who they fancied. One of the girls in the group seemed less interested and her physical characteristics were not as refined as the other girls. She seemed to be out of context, held her armed crossed around her chest, only occasionally relaxing them to have another drink. However, she was equally surveying the room. Quite often, guys approached their table and were immediately attracted to the girls who seemed to be more open and attractive. While I was observing this group, a girl came up to me and danced around me seductively, albeit signifying that she was not attracted to me, but instead making her presence known. I simply didn’t care, and her actions for me to find her attractive did not work as I was more intrigued as to why I would find her attractive by the way she moved her body or simply by the way she was provocatively dressed. I smiled, and she went away. But it made think about how manipulation is involved when seeking a mating partner in such an environment. It is not the type of place to have a conversation or to get to know someone. It is an environment where an element of persuasion plays more significance in finding a mate, than the element of conversation. For instance, I thought those who appeared to have less self-esteem or confidence would be those who opportunistic people would go for. The strong and more confident males were friendly among each other, but they clearly had other aims, as they would tactically disregard each other when one of them found a person to talk to. The attractively dressed females stayed close together. Even if within the same friend group, those that didn’t seem to be in the mood were disregarded by their friends.
Despite the wonders of human behaviour in sight, the atmosphere in general was a very uncomfortable. The front of the club smelt like vomit and I could see the direct effects of alcohol. Some clubgoers were with their heads down on the table, some passed out, others moaning and moving violently. The toilets were the most unglamourous parts of the club, even the people who would be at their best appearance on the dance floor looked dishevelled and broken. Not much privacy in the toilets either, as the doors were in very bad condition and club bouncers would come in regularly to check those who were visibly intoxicated. We stayed until the club closed, as bouncers pushed every one of the single entrance. As I walked outside, leaving for home for good, I saw the hundreds of people filled the streets. Most of them were noisy teenagers, some running messing around, while others were confronting other groups of people. Police were stationed nearby waiting to control any fights that could have broken out. I didn’t bother finding my friends as I had no chance in finding them in the sea of people in Leicester Square. For me, not only had my night ended, but also had my clubbing experience in London. I was exhausted and could not believe that to some people this could be a weekly routine. A night in my room eating takeaway from a chicken shop and watching a movie was sufficiently entertaining for the night.
At the end of my first year, I had become distant of a few friends because every time they invited me to go out to have a drink, I would kindly say ‘no, thank you’. Come to think of it, it was not out of pure laziness of going out as I had originally thought. I was concerned about my health. Going out and drinking did not represent just the event of consuming alcohol and possibly cigarettes, but also considerations such as whether I had I eaten right, how late at night would I come back, and the consequences for the next day. It did bother me if they had gone out, I just thought they know I would decline the offer.
It was until one day at the start of second year that I had to ask them, “how come you guys are not inviting me to go out anymore?”
Very simply they replied “Well, every time we tried to invite you, you said no; so we decided to stop asking you, because we knew the reply”.
I think picking the right friends is very important, as well as trusting those people to adapt themselves to you as time changes. Of course, I must too adapt to them, but that doesn’t mean that I need to change my values to match theirs. Friendship is about reciprocity and learning from each other. If these elements are no longer there or if their significance doesn’t catch up with how people mature and develop, then I believe that there needs to be a space to discuss this. I believe that the choices of others or my own should not be a reason to break friendships, but if I feel that my friends are no longer supportive, then I might struggle to find a reason why I should remain friends with them. In fact, the reason why I stopped being friends with Shaemus and John was because of their inability to keep up with my development as a person, nothing to do with how they value or conduct their lives. If how they do this comes to affect mine by their almost inexistence, then I start making changes.