An Evening With Schnapps
As a teenager I would have gone ‘knacker drinking’ once or twice. The most I would have consumed on these occasions was one or two cans of Budweiser. I was forced to cap it at two, not because that’s all I wanted, but because that’s all I could really afford. I was a teenager. I had no income. I had to rely on mom and dad.
The first time I remember getting ‘out of it’ was in my mid teens when my cousin’s husband brought a bottle of Schnapps to my parents from Austria. My cousin, who is actually my godmother, lives in Austria and is married to an Austrian called Johannes. The couple had come over to the house for a drink before heading out to dinner with my folks. I remember overhearing Johannes telling my parents that the drink was ‘very strong’ and to ‘go easy’ with it. They would’t dare have a drop of it before dinner. It would be a night cap kind of drink.
When I heard them talk about this dangerous but ever so exciting liquid. my ears perked up a bit like Pavlov’s dog hearing the gong. I said to myself ‘wouldn’t it be great to try this, even just the one sip’. Given that I had already broken my confirmation pledge by downing cans in Marley Park, the decision process was very short-lived. I was going to try some of this liquid magic, and that was that. It was just a case of waiting for the four grown ups to get the hell out of the house so my experiment could begin.
They left for dinner and I studied the bottle, wondering how I could have some without them noticing. It was a transparent liquid not dissimilar to water. My options were to drink a little and fill it up with water or drink a little and hope nobody noticed. I didn’t spend too much time contemplating my options however. I was much more interested in tasting the stuff. I poured myself a drop. I can remember thinking it was absolutely horrible. It was worse than cough bottle. It gave a hot sensation. It would make you wince and shake your head furiously to shake off the hideous taste.
After a few minutes, I remember feeling a sensation of lightheadedness. Suddenly the hideous taste was overpowered by a feeling of intense happiness. I liked it. In fact, I fucking loved it. I needed more and so I had more. No longer did I care about anyone noticing the missing fluid. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered.
I can’t remember how much I actually drank that night, some twenty years ago, all I remember is bouncing around the house. My two sisters, who I was looking after, mustn’t have known what was happening to me. My next memory of the night is lying in my bed, in a pool of vomit, with my parents looking down on me in a state of complete worry and confusion. My memory of that night is vivid. My dad stayed in the room with me. He lay on the floor beside my bed for fear that I might choke on my own vomit while asleep. He left the light on in my room all night so he wouldn’t fall asleep.
I don’t really talk to my parents about that night, but I’d say it’s a night they’ll never forget. I have no doubt they knew they had a ‘problem child’ on their hands from that day.
My College Days
My days in the Shannon College of Hotel Management were some of the best of my life. I say days because I don’t really remember the nights. I made lots of great friends during my college days, but one of my best buddies was a fella called drink. Drink would help me socialise. I would use it to medicate my acute shyness. It would also get me places. It would make me popular. I could do things on drink that I’d be too mortified to do without it. For example, impersonate teachers, sing loudly, dance like a lunatic.
Sunday and Thursday were our big nights out in Shannon. We would come back to Shannon from our respective homes on Sunday evenings in advance of classes on Monday morning. To celebrate our ‘reunion’, we’d go down to the crossroads pub for ‘a few pints’. A few would invariably become ‘a rake’ and we’d end up in the only night club that exists in Shannon; Shannon Knights, familiarly knows as ‘Shannon Shites’ or just ‘Shites’.
Whenever I went to Shites I would be well looked after. My friend Sean had a part time job behind the bar, and he would always sort me out with my aforementioned ‘special’ drink. The sheer amount of alcohol consumed on Sundays and Thursdays would allow me to still be tipsy and inhibition-free in class the next day. As the day would go on, the hangover would kick in and I’d head back to the apartment to hide. I was still in my early twenties so, while hangovers were bad on occasion, the post-binge depression wasn’t as intense. We were in our early twenties after all. Everyone is invincible in their early twenties.
As part of our four year course in hotel management, we needed to complete two industry placements, both lasting a year. My first placement (Year Two) was spent in Lausanne in Switzerland. This was one of the best years of my life. Weed was legal in the German-speaking part of the country, so I would travel to Bern every week to purchase my bag of greenery. While the number of various lines of legal weed available was many and varied, my weed of choice was called Alpine Rocket.
The laws in Switzerland were pretty odd. It wasn’t illegal to possess the weed in Lausanne. You could carry it on your person with no fear of arrest, but if you were in possession of skins and a lighter at the same time, you were in trouble as it indicated the probability that you were actually going to smoke the stuff. I know, weird, but this is Switzerland we’re talking about.
I smoked weed every day in Lausanne. The moment I’d get home, I’d roll one, Iie on the bed, light it up and allow myself to pass into a magical space. Everything was so great after a joint. I’d call people back home and chat so confidently to them about shite over the phone. I was full of wisdom when stoned. So intelligent. The fact of the matter is that it was a fake reality.
The high I’d get from weed was so much better than booze, as there’d be no major hangover. I was highly addicted. This posed a major problem when I returned to Ireland for Year Three. It wasn’t so plentiful in Ireland so my crutch had disappeared pretty much overnight. I had to return to my old friend drink in order to medicate.
About 3 weeks after returning back to college, all the students in my year had to work at an event in Citywest. It was a VIP event so Citywest hired the best possible waiters in the business. In my station there was a group of important people from Brussels. My friend Barry was working the bar at the event and he sorted me out with some wine while we were working. Pint glasses of red wine. I got so pissed at that event that I spent more time chatting loudly and inappropriately to the Brussels folk ‘en francais’, than I did serving them. My classmates told me the group really enjoyed my craic and banter although I can’t confirm this as I can’t remember. Some time later I passed out and needed to be brought to one of the bedrooms in the hotel to sober up. One of my friends took over my station.
Tomorrow I will be posting the chapter called ‘My Wake Up Calls’ which will detail some of the more sinister events that took place during my drinking career. Here, I’ll briefly talk about some of the more amusing incidents that I remember from my twenties.
A few years after my Swiss placement, I went back to Lausanne for a weekend with two friends, Mary and Gillian. We spent the weekend doing a lot of what we would have done when living there: boozing. I was still in the closet at this stage but had begun experimenting with guys (provided that I was drunk enough). I remember losing the two girls one night, getting into a taxi and asking the driver to bring me to a gay bar. At that stage of my life, I would usually be far too embarrassed to do this. However, given the fact that I was probably at stage 10 of drunkenness, coupled with the fact that I wouldn’t have to say the word gay (I asked him in French), I was able to ask to driver to bring me where I wanted to go.
The man brought me to a place that resembled a parish hall where geriatrics would play bingo. There were middle aged men and women sitting around round tables with a glass of wine in front of them. Up on stage there was a band singing Barry Manilow songs. Perhaps this was why the driver associated the venue with homosexuality.
It seemed like a private event. There were no guys there who were obviously gay, or my age, but once I saw booze flowing, I entered. Alone. My memories of the night are a little vague, but I do remember walking up on stage, uninvited, and harmonising to the band’s version of ‘Mandy’. There was no security, as it wasn’t a club as such, but as far as I can remember they let me sing with them, possibly because they didn’t know how to react to such an off-the-wall situation.
I can’t remember what I did next, how I got home or how the night ended, all I remember is how upset the two girls were with me the next day. That night will haunt me forever.
Zell Am See
On another occasion I was away skiing with my friend Aine in Zell Am See, Austria. Aine and I went out on the piss most nights but there was one night in particular where she was feeling unwell and needed to go back to the guesthouse. I brought her home and went back out myself. I was already well-on so didn’t feel any shame going to clubs on my own, but suddenly I felt an urge to go to a gay bar.
I hailed a taxi which resembled a dilapidated camper van and asked him where the nearest gay bar was. I can’t remember how exactly I said it, but I probably assumed the word ‘gay’ was the same in German. The man explained that the nearest gay venue would be in a town a good 45-minutes drive away. I was happy to travel, although I think I fell asleep for the journey. My next memory is waking up in a different town and the driver pointing over at what appeared to be a corrugated iron barn whilst uttering some words in German. It was daylight now. I got (fell) out of the car and walked over to the barn, but there was no life in it whatsoever.
The man then asked me to pay him and I reached for my wallet but it wasn’t there. The man had driven me 45 minutes to a corrugated iron barn, and I had no money to pay him. As far as I can remember the man brought me back to Zell Am See, but I’m not 100% sure. I don’t know if he was ever paid.
The next morning (afternoon) I woke up in my room in the guesthouse, but it was a little different to the day before. There was no door in the room. The entire door and frame had come away from the wall and was lying on the floor in front of the bed. I had obviously fallen into my room the night before, taking the door with me. Another typical night in my drinking career.
Drink wasn’t always a negative force in my life. It sometimes highlighted my hidden talents. My uncle and auntie, who live in Spain, celebrated their 25th Wedding Anniversary when I was about 26. I happened to be in Spain at the time on holidays with my folks and decided to go to the event.
I am always a little uneasy at family events. Nothing a few (dozen) bottles of San Miguel can’t fix however. It was on this occasion that my extended family learnt a few new things about me. I thought I was Placido Domingo when it came to singing, I had a hidden talent for playing the bongos, and I was very fond of the drink.
A band was organised for the event. After the meal, they set up on stage. I was dancing away on the floor with my mum and whoever else would (reluctantly) oblige me, and I spotted a set of bongos on the stage. I joined the band and played the bongos for the entire evening. As it was a family event no one really stopped me. It was probably too awkward to do so. It’s a day I look back on and cringe all the time. What a fucking embarrassment I was.
Part Three of Why I Gave Up Drink will be posted tomorrow