The night had been planned for months. Only 17, we were almost officially legal age to start drinking in any bar in Ireland. No more fake I.D.s or having to rely on the leniency of bouncers to let us into bars. Soon to be independent men, who could go anywhere, and do what we wanted without fear of rebuke from our parents.
Not quite adults, but already drinking like seasoned veterans, we joined Moran’s parents on my first ever night out in Belfast. We had a couple of alcopops at his house to get warmed up before downing shots of Goldschlager.
“You got more flakes than me!” I protested, as he finished pouring the shots.
“OK, here.” he used a spoon to scoop out an even quantity of flakes, with delicate precision.
“Cheers. You think that’s real gold flakes in there?” I asked.
“Oh yeah, of course it is. They help to soak up the alcohol, mate. Drink up.”
They went down the hatch with some effort, chased by Blue WKD to ease the pain. Moran’s mum then knocked on the door, and asked if we were ready. It was around 8pm and we wanted to get there in good time, in the thick of the street party as the countdown to a new millennium approached.
Grabbing a few cans of beer from the fridge, we piled into the back seat of the car.
When we arrived in Belfast there were throngs of people already on the streets drinking. Fearing our drunken wanderings, Moran’s parents kept us on a short leash. As darkness fell, music began blaring from the giant speakers positioned around the City Centre square. Getting into party mode, we begun drinking furiously while checking our watch every few minutes.
“Quick Moran. We are running out of time. It’s nearly midnight. Smash your drink!”
Nearing midnight, I lifted Moran onto my shoulders, which did nothing for my already unstable drunken self.
“3. 2. 1. Happy New Year!” Fireworks everywhere, strangers hugging in the streets and party poppers going off all around. It was a carnival atmosphere, and one that we revelled in at that moment. I dropped my drinking partner down, and took the glass presented to me by his mother.
“Champagne boys! Happy New Year!”
We clinked glasses and I took my first ever taste of champagne. It was disgusting, and nearly came up straight away.
“Nice isn’t it?” she asked.
“Yeah, lovely. Thanks!” I lied, swallowing it back hard. When she turned around, I pinched my nose, and downed it in one great gulp. I looked to my friend and saw him pour his onto the pavement.
“What are you doing that for?” I asked him in horror.
“Yeah,” I said, “but it’s free booze!”
I snatched his plastic cup and sank back the remainder.
Two hours later, I’m in the back seat of their car being driven home. I’m being sloshed about by the turns in the traffic, stomach doing somersaults and coming out in a cold sweat.
“You OK mate?” Moran asks.
I tilt my head upward making it easier for any vomit projectile to hit my closed mouth and sink back down where it came from. I was hoping it wouldn’t come to that.
“I’m not too good. I’ll be OK though.” I groaned, swabbing the perspiration from my brow. I didn’t want to raise alarm because we were on the motorway, making ground fast and within touching distance of rescue. I felt the pressure on my tonsils, and knew if I bent over it would all come flying out. Christ, please no. I’ll do anything. Just make me survive this. Come on you can do this. Keep swallowing.
“Mum, I don’t think he’s too well. If you get a chance to pull over, take it.” Moran said to his mother in the driving seat.
“Can’t you wait 10 minutes? We’re nearly home.”
Wow, that was close. I ingested the mouthful of putrid sick in my mouth. It had nearly seeped out. I felt my teeth covered in it, but at least no one else would notice my discomfort. I needed to save face.
The pressure slowly began to build from deeper until finally my resolve was broken in one long gushing flow of sick. I unzipped my coat and it poured from my mouth as I directed it onto my lap. In my last heroic effort I had tried to save the car from harm, taking the hit selflessly. It was warm and stank of sweet fruit. I heaved several times uncontrollably, scooping it inside my coat making my belly warm. I could feel its weight shift with the flight of the car and the instant relief I felt was soon replaced by excruciating embarrassment.
My memory of the event had all but been forgotten until the next morning, when Moran proceeded to tell me that his Uncle had been up since 9am cleaning the leather seats furiously. The problem had been that the sick had gushed everywhere, and the seatbelt buckles were particularly tricky. A toothbrush was needed for that more complex job.
A beautiful entrance into the new Millennium, and it was a long time before I was able to live that down.