I don't handle alcohol well any more. Until I was 21, I never even had a hangover. I can remember in my first year exams at Uni, I would go out in the evening and have a few pints, get back to the digs and revise, get up early and revise, go out and do two three-hour exams, and repeat for a week. No problem (and I passed). After 21, I started to get hangovers which lasted a morning or so. Now, if I have a few sherbets it can take me three days to feel human again.
I made a promise to myself a few years ago that I would never get truly, properly drunk ever again. The game just isn't worth the candle any more. The problem with this is, that to keep the promise you have to remember you made it in the first place. And after a few drinks, the memory of such minor matters is the first thing to go. I am reminded of the Japanese proverb quoted in Ian Fleming's You Only Live Twice:
The man drinks the first glass of sake. The first glass drinks the second glass. After that, it is the sake that drinks the man.I like alcohol. I like the taste, and I like the way it makes me feel. I am a happy drunk: I get chatty and convivial, perhaps a little over-romantic, but never melancholy or violent. By nature I am reserved and a bit shy, although I hide it well. After a drink or three, I become the person that usually I have to force myself to be. So it's relaxing as well as fun. No more keeping up a 'face' - the 'face' becomes mine.
But these days I really need to keep my consumption to a modest level - a level that will let me enjoy the disinhibiting effects of the ethanol without making me feel like a rotting corpse for the next 48 hours. And I am generally successful. I haven't been truly out of my tree for years. But I need to be vigilant, and yesterday I wasn't vigilant.
I got up at 5.30 to drive to London. We checked into our hotel at midday, and had a hour to get washed and changed before getting a taxi to my brother-in-law's house, where he was celebrating his Ruby Wedding. He has the affectation of inviting people at very specific times, so it was with some pride in our organisational skills that we arrived at his house at precisely 1.14 pm, exactly as requested on the invitation.
We started with champagne cocktails, of which I had about three before my sister-in-law, bless her, put a can of beer in my hand and said "have one of these; I think you prefer them". As wine aficionados, they can scarcely believe that white wine, and especially champagne, makes me wheeze with asthma - and it does, big time - but they indulge my little foible and keep a stock of cooking lager for the occasions when I turn up. So that's two beers while talking in the garden, then we sat down to eat and the claret came out. I lost count of the number of glasses I had as someone kept refilling it when I wasn't looking, but I was drinking Bordeaux for possibly six hours solid. At least I wasn't there when they were passing round the port. That would have been fatal.
I vaguely remember sharing a taxi with some other guests back to the hotel and then nothing intil 4.50 am, when I woke with a mouth like a parrot's cage, a gut like a slurry pit, and a headache like someone was cleaving my skull with a blunt axe. I drank a lot of water and went back to bed, and then slept slightly better until 8.00 am. Oddly, I was still wearing my underpants and socks, which is and will remain a mystery.
The hotel could only offer a 'Continental' breakfast, which was a pity. A solid, fatty, warmed-over croissant with some catering blister-packs of Flora and generic marmalade was no comfort to a body that was desperately in need of a Full English. We stopped at the first opportunity to fill the car with proper anti-hangover food like nice M&S sandwiches and salty crisps and a bar of chocolate. I also bought a cup of coffee, and I can report that a hot drink purchased at Reading Services is still undrinkably hot at Leigh Delamere. I threw it away in the end and drank several litres of water instead.
By Cardiff I was feeling human again and when I collected the dog from the kennels two hours later I was good to go.
Looking back, I am not sure I should have been driving this morning. It was roughly 12 hours since my last drink and I didn't feel in any way incapable of driving, but I'm not 100% sure I would have passed a breathalyser test. But the journey was incident-free*. I'm glad I was driving Anna's car and not on the bike, though.
I keep telling myself that I won't do this again. What for next time? A set of index cards with messages like "two glasses is enough" or (to quote from Under Milk Wood) "you'll be sorry for this in the morning"? You know, sometimes it's just easier to be the driver and have an excuse not to drink at all. I never thought I would say that.
*I'm lying. There was one incident. There were a lot of bikes out on what was probably the last sunny day of the season. We were passing a group of slow-moving Harleys (but I repeat myself) when they all decided to move from lane 1 to lane 2 to anticipate a junction a mile or so ahead. The guy just ahead of me moved right in front of me, causing me to brake sharply. No signal, and no shoulder-check or 'lifesaver'. As we passed him, we also saw - no mirrors either. He had moved straight into a faster-moving lane without having the first clue about what was behind him. Of course I was looking at him, checking out the bikes even if they were not my type of thing, so as soon as he made his move I was ready. If I had been a sales rep late for an appointment, or looking the other way, I'd probably still be talking to the Police.