From the age of eighteen to about twenty two, I was an enthusiastic consumer of booze of several types, and on many, many weekends - those following rugby matches in particular - I could be found in a state of profound inebriation while quietly and efficiently destroying several million brain cells. It was - apparently - fun. At least I think it was. I can still remember the excitement I felt when I realized that I was getting hammered for the very first time. It felt like a rite of passage, like stepping through a door into adulthood, like leaving my childhood behind.
However, getting drunk was always a lot more fun that being drunk. In fact, being drunk was, on the whole, bloody horrible. I invariably became very sleepy (not altogether surprising, since alcohol is a depressant, although nobody told me that when I needed to know it - thanks everyone!) and after expending all my energy on being absolutely hilarious (you can guess what that was actually like in reality), I would retire to my bed, there to have the world revolve around my head in accelerating circles until I staggered to the toilet and shouted "Garth" into it. Sometimes, for a very long time.
Thankfully for my future career aspirations, I was never tempted to behave criminally. I was, however, frequently involved in making a fool of myself, on the principle that if they were laughing with me, they wouldn't be laughing at me. It's a strategy I still employ to this day, while sober. Anyway, the upshot of this slice of reasoning was that I would do strange things like head-butt road signage (denting my head but not the sign), become trapped between street lighting fixtures and adjacent garden walls, and travel in black Taxis in a completely inverted position, sweeping up cigarette butts and discarded condoms with my (in those days: luxuriant) hair.
A particularly 'heavy' night out in 1987 brought a timely halt to my shenanigans. It's described in my book, but the key words for the experience would be: Bacardi, Beer, Champagne, Toilet, Naked, Trapped, Ejected, Ejected (again), Stagger, Spinning, and finally - and this is all one word - sickforthreedays.
After a solid four years of believing that regular huge amounts of booze was an awesome idea, I finally (mind like a super-computer, me) came to the conclusion that I didn't actually enjoy being drunk at all. So, basically, I stopped doing it. Now, I can't honestly say that I gave up drinking - because I didn't - but drinking enough to make the bedroom ceiling start to spin became a rare event, as did hangovers. I always experienced hangovers through the rather distressing medium of my digestive tract. I feel ill for at least a day, and spend an inordinate amount of time either shitting or feeling like I should be. I found the answer to hangovers (for me, at least) when I discovered that alcohol dehydrates the human body. I started drinking water once I had finished drinking alcohol (at most social events, that equates to around 11pm), and hangovers became a thing of the past.
In short, I grew up - at least where alcohol is concerned. Yes, I've become over-excited a few times since then, and yes I may have over-undulged as a result, but those moments are literally separated from one another by years. I don't, for example, recall how long ago it was that I was actually drunk (not that it takes much effort these days). I'm lucky, I suppose - drinking was for me a purely social thing; it was never something that I needed. It was easy to change, once I woke up to the fact that my body wasn't enjoying my choices. I don't miss not being drunk.
At this time of the year, booze seems to be on everyone's minds. New Year's Eve parties revolve around alcohol and getting hammered - or as I prefer to say (as we used to where I grew up): 'leathered'. I'm not much of a social animal any more - oh yes, I can 'turn it on' if needs be, and make the effort to be mildly entertaining - and I don't get invited to parties these days (I can't think why nobody wants a large, balding, grumpy ex-policeman in the corner of the room), but my biological children are at exactly the age when I began drinking. They've begun to explore the 'wonders' of booze, and suddenly I find myself in the role of a protective, pensive parent, hoping that they don't make worse mistakes than I did.
I have no such fears for my stepson, who has long ago moved out from under our eaves, and has settled down with his partner and is busy home-making. The fact that they are living their young lives a little like a seventy year-old couple is a source of some lip-pursing, but again: they will - and MUST - make choices for themselves, and whatever works for them is just dandy. I do from time to time wish that they would cut loose, go wild and have sugar in their tea, though - just for the mind-altering rush.
They have to make mistakes, of course - they have to live their own lives and discover what works and what doesn't (and what REALLY doesn't!), and they have to hit obstacles (not literally, I hope) from time to time. The thing about booze, though, is that it can remove all the (of course: immensely) wise words that I have passed on to them over the years with a single 'glug'. It might all go horribly wrong. It may, of course, all have gone horribly wrong for me, but even in my youth, buried somewhere in my awareness was a boring old fart who pretty much always knew when enough was enough, and when to not do that thing that seemed like a brilliant idea at the time. I have to trust my kids to show the same kind of restraint while they have fun and let loose, as young people quite rightly do.
Showing restraint for me in this context means NOT issuing a set of rules (although I'm not too proud to regularly point out the evils of drink driving) and not micro-managing the youngsters. It falls into the area of allowing them to live their own lives rather than wanting them to live by my own rules, and as an increasingly crusty old f*cker, I must amble over to the rocking chair and wait for the occasional cries for help. It's not easy, but then the most worthwhile things in life never seem to be. Sometimes I wish we'd had digital cameras in my younger days, and then I could illustrate some of the things they should not try...but then I think again and decide that it's actually a very good thing that nobody thought to bring a camera along to the kinds of parties I used to attend. At least: not that I know of...
Tonight will be a test for the youngsters, and hopefully they will both have a lot of fun and perhaps most importantly, learn something useful in the process.
I'll drink to that.