ALCOHOL - TWO
There's so much one might say about alcohol. The subject can be approached in different ways. For example, one could address it coldly like an academic, supplying bald facts and figures or one could dramatise it - deliberately stoking emotional reaction like a storyteller. However, I want to start this blogpost by asking a simple question: Why do people drink alcohol?
Leaving aside the fact that there are many countries in this world where drinking alcoholic beverages is very uncommon, I think there are six principal reasons why drinking alcohol is quite common in The West.
- Enjoyment of it may be inherited from previous generations of one's family. We may have grown up with it - observing role models consuming it and so it seems natural to make the step up.
- Advertising and sponsorship by alcohol brands can be very hard to ignore. It is meant to be persuasive and it works. The notion that it is cool to drink is put about and it figures in films as well as on pretty much every restaurant menu.
- Addiction. It is easy to get hooked on alcohol - rather like a drug addict getting hooked on heroin. Not everyone is susceptible to alcoholism but it can creep up on you to a point where you crave it every day as the rest of your life begins to fall apart. Untangling yourself from this physical and mental dependence is almost always exceedingly difficult.
- Social pressure. Meeting places like pubs and parties invariably involve alcohol. It brings people together and loosens them up. It's there at weddings and even when little ones are born. "Wetting the baby's head" means celebrating their arrival with alcoholic drinks.
- Fun times. It is easy to focus upon the evils of the demon drink but it should be remembered that alcohol can act as a social lubricant. It makes jokes funnier and songs louder. Inhibitions are relaxed. Who doesn't want a good time? Alcohol, can take you out of yourself and help you to create happy memories.
- Antidote to worries. Drinking alcohol can help you to forget your troubles so that for two or three hours your cares appear to fade away even though you might realise they'll be back with a vengeance in the morning.
I could join my personal and most noteworthy memories of alcohol into one coherent story but instead I choose to voice them without connection.
For part of my time at The University of Stirling, I lived in an on-campus flat with five other guys who all happened to be Scottish. One of them was called Hughie and he came from Kilmarnock in Ayrshire. He was twenty when I first met him and even then he had big problems with alcohol: his main problem being that he could not get enough of it. Cans of lager beer for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Pints of lager at night and then home with what Scots used to call a "carry oot" to drink in his room before slipping into unconsciousness.
Often when he reached that stage inside his locked room, he would have left a record on his turntable at a loud volume and with the arm over it would keep repeating itself well into the early hours. No matter how much we hammered on his door, we could never rouse him. He was highly intelligent and could dash off a required 2500 word essay in an afternoon. After leaving university, I heard that he became a street drinker in Glasgow and died there in the late nineteen eighties. Such a waste.
Though I wasn't in the same tragic category as Hughie, I had some awful alcohol-fuelled episodes at university. There was a lot of forgetfulness when I woke from the night before with terribly vague notions of what had happened or had been said.
Once I must have collapsed on the grass by one of the campus paths and a kind young woman helped me to my feet and took me back to my flat. On another occasion with my Icelandic girlfriend - who was also very drunk - we were in such a passionate clench that we began to partially disrobe right there and then on the lawns that led down to the lake, overlooked by the best campus restaurant. It was in the middle of a sunny afternoon. Two uniformed members of the university security force arrived to disunite us and I vaguely recall looking up at them and advising them they were"just jealous!"
When I entered the noble teaching profession my drinking reduced considerably and it was rare for me to have a skinful or lose control. However, I recall the night of my twenty sixth birthday with a residual sense of horror mixed with shame.
I visited "The West End" pub where I had become friendly with few hospital porters and a couple of nurses. It wasn't a wildly excessive night of quaffing ale. I might have had four or maybe five pints. At closing time, one of the porters - his name was Martin - invited me back to his family home for a final birthday drink. That drink was Pernod.
I was pretty clear-headed when I left Martin's house where I had charmed his mother for half an hour. She had lent me a rare copy of a book called "Letters To A Golf Club Secretary" which she assured me was very funny. I was clutching it as I made my way on foot through the suburb of Broomhill.
After that everything was a blank until about three o'clock in the morning. I woke up on a sofa in an unfamiliar flat with a blanket over me having no idea who had kindly provided this accommodation. I found my way to the exit door and went down the brightly lit stairs then back out into the October night. I still had no idea where I was. I didn't even know if I was still in Sheffield.
I came to a main road which at that time of night was deserted. Should I go left or right? Fortunately, I decided to go right down the hill and after a few hundred yards things began to look familiar which was quite a relief I can tell you. Soon I was back in my own bedsitter but to this day I still have no idea what happened or indeed what happened to that precious copy of "Letters To A Golf Club Secretary". Incidentally, I have never drunk another drop of Pernod since that lost night.
And that's alcohol for you. I can sense a third instalment coming.