I was at my first Christmas gathering last night; a party hosted by F. and superbly catered by P. and E. I was welcomed in from the crisp night to an equally crisp glass of champagne. A red carpet of an evening was rolled out with good company, delicious food and enchanting wine; a glass of Portuguese Dão with my main meal and a splash of sweetCommandaria from Cyprus – said to be the world’s oldest wine – to match my pudding. This morning, after an enjoyable night of moderation, I feel fresh and well; well enough to head out for a walk with A. to Aberlady Nature Reserve to see the geese and swans and oystercatchers, and, if we have time, we’ll head on a bit farther to walk the stand at Gullane. This time of year does not always foster and promote moderation, though. As the great Irish writer, Flann O’Brien, said, “Moderation, we find, is an extremely difficult thing to get in this country.” ‘This country’ (for O’Brien) was Ireland, and I’m sure Ireland is joined by many other nations in the drinking charts at this time of year.
It has been two years since S. had a Mexican themed party: kids, parents and grandparents were all there. In the afternoon a piñata in the shape of a donkey was hung from the washing line in the back yard and turns were taken to pierce it with a cane to liberate the packets of sweets stuffed inside. It was a high-spirited, fun, but sober affair, and I have a framed photo of the day on my dresser: a group of us wearing an assortment of hats, wigs, comedy moustaches, and capes. By evening, I was the only one left: S. and I falling deep into conversation, setting the world to rights. Late on, S. produced a small, squat bottle, with a bee on the label, a gold ribbon around its stubby neck, and a ball-topped cork stopper sealing in the contents. S. was full of assurances, “Patrónis the purest tequila you can get, it’s actually a pro-biotic, you’ll feel better tomorrow for having imbibed it.” Imbibe we did; feel better, I can safely say, I didn’t.
There’s no harm in having a wee drink (or not – as you choose), but when you try to set a pace, or keep up with the pace of others, then wake up thinking that the Aberlady air is out of the question, well, what’s the fun in that? Dorothy Parker wrote, “I’d rather have the bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.” I don’t quite know what she meant, but it sounds clever. And a tad tragic.
I’ve said it before: I love Westerns, especially the old ones shown on television around Christmas time. ‘Destry Rides Again’ is a favourite of mine, Marlene Dietrich holding forth on the stage of the saloon bar, one foot raised on a chair, singing through thick tobacco smoke, in deep, scooping tones: “Go, See what the boys in the backroom will have / And tell them I’m having the same / Go see what the boys in the backroom will have / And give them the poison they name.” Down she swaggers from the stage, to be lifted up onto the bar counter where she struts up and down, ringlets bouncing under her cowboy hat (‘Coyote Ugly’ eat your heart out, Marlene was up on the counter blazing an original trail in 1939). But I don’t believe Dietrich for one instant when she sings of matching the boys in the back room drink for drink; she’s far too smart and in control for that. Even if, later in the film, she does get into one of the most ferocious cat-fights ever seen in the moves at that time when she and Una Merkel beat seven bells out of one another over the head of a man – the fact is, they are both stone cold sober. They couldn’t have fought like that if they weren’t!
Back in Ireland, there are many synonyms for being drunk. ‘Langered’ in Dublin (no idea where it comes from), and ‘Blootered’, up North – as in, ‘he was blootered out of his mind’. Its association is with the word ‘Blooter’, meaning a coarse and clumsy man. Who wants to be one of those? I’m not going to get too tragic (or, I hope, judgemental) in this subject matter, as I really do enjoy and appreciate a good glass of wine, but I think Oscar Wilde (yet another immoderate Irishman) might be leading us in the wrong direction when he provided this homily: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”
Two poems by Ogden Nash:
There was an old man in a trunk
Who enquired of his wife, “Am I drunk?”
She replied with regret,
“I’m afraid so, my pet,”
And he answered, “It’s just as I thunk.”