Wine or Wisdom?

Last week I published a post denouncing alcohol, stating my intention to remove it from my diet (link here).  Struck down with a crappy cold, I had a good reason to stay in on the weekend and avoid the temptation.  I sold the ticket I had for a warehouse rave on Saturday, and instead opted to briefly catch up with a couple of mates, laid on the beach with a book, worked on my ‘base tan’, went on a long walk, did a yoga class, and generally just chilled out, a LOT.

By ‘chilled out’, I mean I was fairly anti-social, and rather lazy.

That was just fine, for a while.  By Sunday I was crawling the walls and desperate for prolonged human contact.  Fortunately I had a boat party on the harbour lined up, celebrating my flatmate’s impending move to London.  The fool.  I don’t know why anyone would choose to swap Sydney for London in December, but there you go.

There were 20-odd people on the catamaran, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, the air was warm, the breeze was cool.  The beers and ciders in the ice boxes were even cooler.  I had a cold one in my hand within about 3 minutes of setting sail.  By the time we disembarked five hours later I had sunk seven or eight of them, and felt oh so goooooood.  So good in fact that I then opted to have a couple more in a bar with the post-boating stragglers, and then a couple more when I got home too.  I had intended to not drink all weekend and yet here I was sinking my 12th drink of the day, at home, alone, drunkenly tapping away on my laptop writing this, on a Sunday night.

Does this make me a creative alcoholic?  I’ve always liked the idea of being a creative drunk, like Hank Moody.  Admittedly I’d have to step up my game with the opposite sex to be comparing myself with the illustrious, but fictional Mr Moody.

I overheard a little saying recently (probably on a podcast) which stated:

“Wisdom is nothing more profound than our ability to follow our own advice”

If this is true, which I suspect it is, then I clearly have some way to go before I can declare to the world that I am proven wise.  Damn, and here I was thinking I was on the verge of having it all worked out.  I don’t know shit.  Why are you reading this?  You poor deluded fools.

It’s a subject that intrigues the hell out of me, is the old booze.  Alcohol is such a huge, integral part of our culture, that any half-arsed attempt to extract yourself from its inviting, yet iron-like grasp, will likely see you slumped in defeat.  Probably on the sofa, with Netflix, a general feeling of malaise, and a lukewarm UberEats delivery for company.  It’s a bit like a Venus fly trap – you step lightly on the leaf, take a little sip of the sweet nectar, everything seems fine, but then, all of a sudden the trap closes.  Now you’re stuck, you can see outside, you can taste the fresh air of a hangover free day, but you ain’t going anywhere.  You most certainly aren’t getting up at 6am to go for a jog.

The list of reasons in Western society for having a drink is almost limitless; Weddings; anniversaries; divorces; graduations; retirements; births; deaths; break-ups; make-ups; boys’ night; girls’ night; job promotions; redundancies; Friday nights; sporting achievements; Saturday nights; feeling happy; Sunday afternoons; feeling sad; Tuesday evenings, hell, throw in the odd Tuesday morning too, if we’re at the airport, about to go on holiday.  The point is, that going for a drink, in my world at least, can be, and often is, the default response to almost anything.

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I wondered if this was a new thing.  Has the bloated disposable income now available to many; the array of interesting drinking establishments; and the seemingly complete societal acceptance (except for all those parts of society which don’t accept it, of course) led to our collective boozehoundedness?  Well, one of my heroes would disagree:

‘I could not live without Champagne. In victory I deserve it. In defeat I need it.’

Winston Churchill, 1946

Winston Churchill, was getting on it on a daily basis over 70 years ago.  Churchill, however, was a very wealthy man.  He famously, and routinely, spent on champagne in a week what the average man in Britain at the time earned in a year.  1946 or not, he was not the norm.

Let’s go back further:

Drunk for 1 penny, Dead drunk for tuppence, Straw for nothing’!!

That’s a slogan recorded in London in the 1730s, almost 300 years ago.  At that time there were more than 7,000 ‘dram shops’, and 10 million gallons of gin were being distilled annually in the capital.  The good times were definitely a rollin’.

The government at the time found that the average Londoner drank 14 gallons of gin a year.  Good effort lads!  Hang on, Chris, wasn’t it called ‘Mother’s Ruin’?  Correct:

Much of the gin was drunk by women, consequently the children were neglected, daughters were sold into prostitution, and wet nurses gave gin to babies to quieten them. This worked provided they were given a large enough dose.

People would do anything to get gin…a cattle drover sold his eleven-year-old daughter to a trader for a gallon of gin, and a coachman pawned his wife for a quart bottle.

Gin was the opium of the people, it led them to the debtors’ prison or the gallows, ruined them, drove them to madness, suicide and death, but it kept them warm in winter, and allayed the terrible hunger pangs of the poorest.

Some things never change….  Almost makes Trump’s America sound rather civilised though.

I recall speaking to my mother about this a few years back.  Perplexed by the scale of mine, my friends’ and my sisters’ binge drinking, she asked if I felt it was a good hobby to expend so much time, energy and money on.  At the time I laughed it off, but in hindsight, as a slightly ‘wiser’, and definitely older man, it now looks a pertinent question.  To her, my university experience was utterly alien.  The four or five nights a week of heavy drinking was mind boggling.  Her and my Dad, at that same age,  would go to the pub maybe once a fortnight after they bought their first property together, because that was all they could afford.  This was apparently fairly normal.  My normal was smashing 10 double vodka Redbulls and a few bottles of Stella Artois on a Monday night in Bar Risa then getting into a ill-advised fight with someone in Reading Town Centre.

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Who was it that sang “youth is wasted on the young”?  They obviously weren’t talking about me… I started binge drinking, along with all my friends, when I was fifteen.  It’s what we did.  In reality, looking around now, other side of the globe, different set of friends, two decades later, it’s still what we do.

I know it’s ridiculous, given yesterday’s antics, but like a struggling Alexis Sanchez at Manchester United, my head just isn’t in the boozey game anymore.  Like an ageing Ryan Giggs, my head has been turned by what else life has to offer.  Fortunately I don’t have a brother.

I know, as we all do, that good times can be had when not hitting the sauce.  I engage in a number of past times that are non-boozy, and enjoy them as much, if not more than the ‘sauced’ ones.  From experience I can say that a problem only really rears its ugly head when you’re at a social event where everyone else is drinking.  After a couple of hours you find everyone else is all of a sudden on a different level to you.  Not necessarily a better level, but definitely different.

For instance, I went on a stag weekend in Hamburg three years ago, whilst in a period of not drinking.  For the most part this was fine and I had a gay old time.  Except, at one point, we found ourselves in the middle of a food festival by a lake.  It was a very family-orientated affair.  The stag was dressed in a black latex gimp suit…Yep.  It all started off fairly harmlessly, a slightly tipsy stag gimp taking part in a community salsa class, surrounded by dads with their daughters, grandmothers with their grandsons.  The Germans, to their credit, took this in good humour and chuckled in collective delight at the sight of the stupid Englishman tottering about like an extra from Pulp Fiction.

As a sober, but somewhat invested, observer, I found this amusing, and slightly awkward.  My drunken comrades found it only hilarious.

Fast forward half an hour, and cream donuts are being stuffed into the gimp’s mouth.  Pieces of sticky dough and splodges of whipped cream fly through the air as he spits it out in an attempt to breathe.  Children look confused.  Why would anyone waste a donut?

Fast forward another ten minutes and someone has found a cooked pig’s head and is marching through the crowd with it speared onto a stick.  Children look scared.

Fast forward five minutes – the pig’s head is floating in the lake.  Children have been moved to a safe space, away from the rabble of English idiots.

It’s the ‘salsa dance floating pig’s head’ spectrum.  There’s a fine line between being on a similar level, and being on an entirely different level.

As I sit back and re-read the last few paragraphs I’ve written, I realise that telling stories is my favourite type of writing.  So it’s obvious to me that I need to find myself more stories to tell.  It’s just a shame that most of my best stories are derived from drunken escapades.

Herein lies the truth, the funny shit tends to happen when we’re half cut.  There’s no getting away from it.  I think this is why a lot of people, myself included, struggle to remove alcohol from our lives, even if we want to.  We have developed into adults with a memory bank full of slightly hazy recollections of enjoyable experiences whilst ‘under the influence’.  To continue with life, starved of this drug which makes things more enjoyable, is immediately, and significantly less enjoyable.

You have two options, carry on as you were, or start over.  By ‘start over’, I mean, learn how to have an enjoyable life without the added assistance.  Easier said than done.  Especially when the cool box is full…

Cheers!

 

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