Although I tried my absolute best to batter my liver with wild concoctions of booze in my late teens.
My jaunts around the world at various times in the past decade have exposed me to cultures that are at odds to my own when it comes to alcohol consumption. What has become abundantly obvious each time has been the stark contrast in attitudes and behaviour to drink in Ireland and the U.K. versus other countries.
Almost regarded as a badge of honour, the idea of getting ‘shit-faced’ was par for the course as we shuffled into our mothers car to be driven to some nightclub in the middle of nowhere. My old stomping ground was the Elk in Toomebridge where the sandy haired bouncer at the door acted as a second Father to me because of my inability to hold my drink.
Taking me under his wing, he’d often encourage me to exercise my wobbly legs, sometimes needing to trace the outer perimeter of the building a few times in the arctic chill air to sober up before being granted entry.
Other times he would be my Kevin Costner, whisking me from a heaving nightclub as I’d be so drunk that I could barely stand.
Many times he would turn a sober blind eye to my disturbing state, taking pity on me as I had made the long bus trip with friends and had an accident by miscalculating the vomit projectile into my trusty Tesco carrier bag. I can comfortably count the number of times on fingers and toes when my night tourned as sour as a Lemon Bacardi Breezer before I had even arrived at the door at 9.30pm.
My shirt was usually damp from vomit and quickly crusting in the cold, night air. Many times I had to turn it inside out to gain entry where I could make a beeline for the toilet to scrape it off with the needle of my belt buckle.
In all honesty, my band of merry men and I had no idea how to drink or what to drink and consumed vodka, rum and (our favourite) Goldschlager in tumbler glasses without mixture. We went from zero to hammered within 30 minutes and had no resistance to the high percentage drinks.
A funny thing happens when you keep pushing yourself outside a comfort zone. What was normally difficult suddenly becomes a little easier as your ability becomes stronger.
In my case, my stomach began to acclimatise to my weekend binges which were relentless and dangerous. My tolerance level grew and as teenagers often do, if you aren’t on the same ‘level’ as someone else who is already drunk, then you clearly take up the slack for the rest of the group.
This lifestyle blended into my college life where I was suddenly introduced to new friends who favoured (gasp!) beer. Used to the binge lifestyle it was an interesting change to shift into a lower gear and to be able to savour a drink instead of swamping it back with the end goal of getting drunk.
Much like a Ryanair flight, you can expect it to be cheap and arrive somewhere near that final destination but it certainly won’t be a comfortable journey.
Barring a few crazy episodes in my 20’s I’ve steered clear of shorts and avoided binge weekends. I just don’t have the energy or time for them anymore.
It’s always depressing to be in a new city in a foreign city like Medellin in Colombia and to be able to identify instantly the Irish and Brits because we’re always the ones getting hammered at the bar much to the amusement of the locals.
Now I’m no Saint of course, and people can do what they want to do especially on holiday. Growing up in Northern Ireland, the idea of not drinking was never a consideration. We were self-policed. Not drinking was considered weird by others and that was attention you dared not invite to pinprick an otherwise sensitive ego in the formative late teens.
In my early 30’s now, I drink once or twice a week but not to the excess of my twenties and limited only to the weekend.
Sometimes I wonder what the Sandy Haired Bouncer in the Elk is doing these days. Is he still scooping people out of the melee on the nightclub as drunken revellers jostle for that final slow dance?
Perhaps he’s retired from the game entirely but for so many of us he saw us at our lowest point. Guardian of the Gateway that linked our adolescence to Adulthood, conduit to our meeting members of the opposite sex. Keeper of secrets. A sturdy shoulder to wipe our dirty mouth on.
Perhaps I’ll surprise him someday and turn up to my old stomping ground. But then again, he might not recognise me sober.