The perception of we, the Irish, is so often one of a person who cheerfully consumes vast quantities of alcohol on a regular basis, often to poetic or musical effect.
That wouldn’t be my perception of we, the Irish, and it certainly doesn't apply to me.
Around the age of 14, as is the norm, me and my classmates were encouraged to take ‘The Pledge’. This happened as part of a religious ceremony where the priest called forth all the boys who wished to eschew the demon drink until they reached the ripe old age of 21.
That happy cohort rose from their seats and enunciated ‘The Pledge’ while the villainous renegers remained with ass-firmly-in-pew.
As I recall (I may be wrong) I was the only one in my class to not take 'The Pledge'. As I also recall (I may also be wrong) I was one of a very very few who went on to not take a drink until I was over twenty-one. This probably says something about me but I’m damned if I know what it might be.
If my relationship with alcohol was summarised in a Facebook page, it would definitely say, ‘It’s Complicated’. Thankfully, though, it is not a tragic relationship, as so many complicated alcohol relationships are. My family were all light or non-drinkers and nowhere in the closet lay the spectre of a relative damaged or destroyed by the bottle.
No, my complication lay firmly with the fact that I started working behind the bar at such a young age. My friend's family owned a pub and we both worked there regularly. It was mighty fun but I got to see an awful lot of drunk people while I was there and I think this coloured my own subsequent behaviour markedly.
You see, I like a drink. I like many kinds of drink. Sometime a beer is just Nirvana, a whiskey a treat and a glass of wine a welcome accompaniment.
But, here’s the thing, I hate to be drunk. I really really hate it.
There is a brief magical thirty minute period which can occur about three drinks into a social occasion where I become 'Master of The Known Universe'. My synapses weld together and connections and thoughts flash across them and out my mouth like a virtual wild fire.
Then that passes and I get drunk.
I’m not a sloppy drunk or anything. It’s more about what’s going on with me than with what others are seeing. I feel, inside, some abdication of control. Whatever events might unfold over that subsequent few hours will not be manageable by me, someone else will have to do it. And somewhere deep inside my haze, this disturbs and unsettles me. I try to regain position but I know I am now hobbled and that it will be twelve hours or more before normal service is restored.
Nuh-huh. That’s not for me.
So the upshot of this is that I have only been drunk about three times in my life. A little buzzed? Many time but drunk? Not so much.
I remember, so well, the first time I ever got drunk. I was twenty one, living and working in London. One Saturday night, we went out in High Street Kensington and I had one too many. That’s not an expression. It doesn’t take many drinks for me to get drunk. One too many will be fine.
I remember standing outside a pub, under a scaffold, with my friend who had best remain nameless as he is now a more prominent man than I am. “Look,” the now-prominent person said, “A scaffold. Let’s hang on it.” So he and I jumped up, grabbed a bar, and dangled on the scaffold. It was fun. Long after he had fallen away and found something better to do, I was still dangling.
Then a girl I had known some years before appeared. Her name was Grace, I’ll say no more, she might be prominent too. I was astonished. Is this what alcohol does? Bring old friends out of nowhere on a Saturday night? What a wonderful thing.
I conducted a jolly and effusive conversation with Grace who I noticed, even in my befuddled state, was not the least bit interested in reciprocating. Looking back, I believe this is because I remained dangling from the scaffold for the whole time she was there.
After that some time passed, Dylan Thomas fashion, and I found myself alone in my shared flat. Lord knows how I got there. The other guys were not back yet so that explained the alone part. I found that it was far too dark so I turned every light in the place on. Then I found that I missed the gentle gurgling of my home-river so I turned every tap on too.
Then I sat on the couch and watched telly. Fatima Whitbread was on. She was talking about her javelin and running with some car tyres tied to her rear end As I studied her face in close up, she slowly transformed. She became bigger and more Neanderthal and, well, sorry, uglier (it was me, Fatima, not you). Then I fell asleep and was found that way later – lights on, water running (no leaks) and Fatima long-departed in disgust.
So, these days, if we meet, don’t expect me to consume vast quantities of booze with you. I will probably have two and be surprisingly altered by them. Then I will either move on to soft drinks or simply pretend to drink more if required.
It doesn’t mean I don’t like you.
Quite the opposite, probably.