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Last Updated: Monday, 30 October 2006, 14:04 GMT
'Passing the buck' over Buckfast
By Huw Williams
BBC Scotland

Half bottle of Buckfast
The health minister met the company that distributes Buckfast

Joe - not his real name - is obviously bright. He's 15-years-old and musically gifted. He's been drinking for almost a year. And when he drinks, it's to get drunk.

He likes being drunk.

"You go to walk, and there's nothing in front of you. You feel as if you're falling over it, but there's nothing there to fall over," he says.

"And then you go to talk and your speech gets all slurred, and you get words mixed up."

He told me the point of drinking is to get out of control, so that he can have a laugh with his mates.

And there's never a problem finding people who are old enough to go into the off-licence and buy drink.

Joe says one of his group of mates would walk up to possible candidates, and ask them to help.

"If they say yes, we'll give them the money and tell them what they would want," he says.

We drank anything we could get our hands on
Alison, ex-teenage drinker

Top of the shopping list for most of Joe's drinking mates is Buckfast.

When Alison was an under-age drinker, she drank it too, along with vodka, alcopops, cider and strong lagers.

"We wanted to try different things", she says. "And we drank anything we could get our hands on."

She's a youth worker now at Glenboig Neighbourhood House, a former industrial village at the heart of the so-called "Buckfast Triangle" - between Airdrie, Cumbernauld, and Coatbridge in North Lanarkshire.

Buckfast is "quite syrupy and quite strong," Alison says. "Most people say it's an acquired taste, and I agree with that."

So, why do so many under-age drinkers, especially in the west of Scotland, love it so much?

'Vicious circle'

"It's just a stereotypical image", Alison says, and that stereotype gets reinforced every time politicians single out Buckfast for attack.

Alison decided drinking was not for her, so she stopped, although she admits she still likes the taste of Buckfast.

But she sees friends who drank with her who are now "ruining their lives", by continuing to abuse alcohol.

"As you get older, the more you drink, the more you're going to be inclined to want more," she says.

"It also leads to hangovers, which may mean you don't want to go to work. It's a vicious circle."

Even 15-year-old Joe accepts there is a down-side to his drinking.

Buckfast Abbey
The tonic wine is produced at Buckfast Abbey in Devon

"Nobody likes the hangovers or the fighting," he says.

"Because sometimes when people drink we get a bit out of hand.

"And you can be sick. Everywhere.

"Sometimes you see fights and you think you're bolder than you really are, and you try to fight with everybody."

So, perhaps there's some justification for Andy Kerr, the Scottish health minister, when he described Buckfast as "seriously bad"?

Well, no. Joe and Alison say attacking Buckfast is simplistic. Joe doesn't really like the stuff and Alison drank a whole range of different drinks.

Jim Wilson, Scottish sales manager for J Chandler and Co, which distributes Buckfast on behalf of the monks, says the drink is an easy target for politicians who can't solve difficult problems like poverty and anti-social behaviour.

Social responsibility

It seems Alison agrees - she says politicians are just trying to blame a brand.

"It's easier for them to say kids drink Buckfast - that's the problem," she says.

"But that's not really the problem. Buckfast is not to blame."

But critics argue that Buckfast is made by monks. So it's reasonable to expect more social responsibility from them than from a conventional, secular, drinks company.

They - or the distribution company Chandlers - must know that they sell disproportionately high amounts of Buckfast from certain shops near particular schemes, or in particular communities, where there is a problem of under-age drinking.

Don't they, perhaps, have a responsibility to be purer than pure, and to make sure their product isn't part of the problem?


SEE ALSO
Minister meets Buckfast company
30 Oct 06 |  Scotland

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