Designer drinks? In Dorset we've got Oggie Special West Country's liquid learning curve at pounds 6 a throw

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It is now a good Time to bleed and take Phyfick; abftain from much Wine, or ftrong liquors they will caufe a Ferment in your Blood, and ruin your Conftitution.

Thus Did Cardanus Rider's pocket diary for country gentlemen admonish the gouty to abstain during September 1778. One imagines his strictures were ignored. A couple of centuries on and the message could just as well fall on the deaf ears of Carlsberg-Tetley, creators of a glutinous brew called Thickhead.

Thickhead was launched and immediately withdrawn amid one of those ritual metropolitan angstfests, the triviality of which never ceases to startle those of us who live in the sticks. A lot of the squawking came from (where else?) that feverish little hen-house of middle-aged moral high-grounders, the noisy lady columnists who perch in the posh prints. To hear some of them rattle on, you would think they'd spent their lives with their little fingers crooked around a soothing cup of Messrs Carlsberg-Tetley's other famous beverage. It's the noise they always make whenthey haven't been bringing up their own children properly.

Out here, in the rural heartlands of Dorset, youth drinks as determinedly and as ill-advisedly as its urban cousin, but it pursues the hobby in a different landscape with a different history to it. Very few country childhoods were spent in the care of serial nannies who handed over to an exhausted mother as she came in from the office. A laptop was something you sat in, not worked on. As you grew older and got about by bicycle, there were neighbours and acquaintances who would pick you up when you fell off, patch you up, give you a cup of tea and send you home comforted.

And then you grew old enough to drink. Under-age boozing in thatched rural pubs or small-town bars is tolerated widely by landlords who, driven by benevolent, bucolic greed, turn a Nelsonian eye even to the large print of the licensing laws. The realities of country life enforce further constraints. Lack of public transport means someone's parents have to ferry the little topers to their teenage party, and being sick in a ditch on the way home carries a certain social stigma that morning- after bravado never quite neutralises. And in communities where the bush telegraph is on permanent red alert there is always the chance that some friend of your parents is propping up the same bar.

This, then, is not the Thickhead's market, driven by the tacky squeals of public relations airheads. Youth squads of rural drinkers create their own tribal rules, territories, drinks (some of them terrifying) and even a kind of social structure which actually ensures that everyone gets safely home through the lampless night. Their public behaviour is calculatedly menacing but curiously innocent in the manner of small-town American teenagers in the Fifties. They form those groups which occupy great swathes of the pavement in market towns on a warm Friday night and make you cross the road to avoid the combined effects of lager and doner kebab. From time to time, a passing car, usually a yellow X-reg Fiesta bearing about 10 passengers, will draw alongside them and a short burst of apparently hilarious, abusive crossfire will be exchanged through the rolled-down windows; but this is essentially a private conversation in what, to you and me, is a foreign language for which no phrase-book exists.

The young men tend to be politely but irredeemably chauvinistic. In my local town, Bridport, hostelries decorated with ferns are marked down as "shirt-lifters' pubs" and are earnestly avoided. Thickhead, like Babycham in the Fifties, is regarded as a drink for girls or chaps who seem a bit confused about themselves. "Burly blokes called Russell," explained a 6ft, built-like-a-barn-door student down from university for a summer reunion. "They've got silk tuxedos, blond moustaches and blow-dried hair."

"Necking", for this lot on summer vacation from academe, means three pints of lager tipped back at a speed that makes the eyeballs float. Then they hit the cavernous bar of the seaside Ditchwater Caravan Park for an Oggie Special. The Oggie Special is rural youth's way of making its own entertainment in after-hours Dorset - a subtle blend of whisky, vodka and cider with perhaps a generous dash of lager, according to taste. At some point in its alchemical creation it turns bright green. Oggie Specials cost pounds 6 a time, with special pounds 1 discounts for friends of the barman. Eat your heart out, Carlsberg-Tetley.

There is real joy in this behaviour. Those who accept the Oggie Special Challenge become, for the moment, performance artists; those who resist the temptation get to watch the cabaret, and the whole thing prompts a gratifyingly disgusted response from their elders. The generation gap ratchets a healthy notch wider.

It is not, of course, a wholly safe way to spend an evening and there are more than enough young tragedies to justify concern. But what you cannot do, even in a watchful rural community like ours, is protect your children from their desire to find out about life for themselves. Nor can you shield them from despair or redress their chilling indifference to all politicians, whether it be John Major toting his wife round the shires like a handbag or Tony Blair grinning demonically from a hoarding in Islingon.

A study in Dorset last year showed that a third of all 14- and 15-year- old boys had tried illegal drugs. I'm told that, given the right body language, you can get alternatives to alcohol in most pubs or bars in the region. A few years ago, there was gang warfare on the streets of Bridport, its protagonists armed for the day with pickaxe handles purchased in their local homely hardware store. You have only to glance through the sits vac in the local paper, with its monotonous demand for kitchen cleaners or part-time tourism assistants, to recognise that many of the children on this gorgeous landscape face bleak and featureless futures.

Abandoned by their elders they may be, but among these groups of loose- limbed, ill-dressed, huge-footed Friday night revellers there remains an inherited sense of family that is at once touching and sensible. Most of them, nearing the night's 10-pint target and learning, perhaps, that Oggie Specials do not mix with doner kebab, will be unsteady on their feet. But one or two of their number will be more sober than a bench of judges, because the ritual dictates that it is their turn tonight to stay sober and make sure the incoherent get home. They restore the wobbly to their feet, pour them into the back seat of the X-reg Fiesta and deliver them safely to their own doorsteps in far-flung villages. They become, briefly, descendants of that cavilling old diarist Cardanus Rider - young adults concerned about friends whose taste for Oggie Specials has caused an ill-advised Ferment in the Blood. And the fact that they look after their own gives us all hope.

The writer is editor of 'The Wessex Journal'. Alan Watkins is on holiday

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