By Warwick Cairns
What would you say of someone who gets to the age of – what, forty-nine? Yes, forty-nine it is, forty-nine and who has never, not once, ever been drunk? In his life.
Because that’s me, you see.
But I’m trying to put that fact to one side for a moment, and trying to imagine that someone’s just come up to me and they’ve told me about this person, and what do I think of that, then?
So what would I think?
A bit weird? Bit of a train-spotter? Unimaginative? Unnecessarily restrained? Bit of a party-pooper? Probably never married, lives with his elderly mum? Or maybe a religious enthusiast of some kind, in some small but hardcore fringe group like the Plymouth Brethren, or the Peculiar People (who are, or were, a genuine religious group, until they changed their name to the Union of Evangelical Churches in 1956). Or something.
The Free Church Presbyterians of the Highlands and Islands are particularly disapproving of the demon drink, as I understand it, and think it a high road – or low road – to certain damnation.
But the fact of the matter is just that my taste in food and drink seems to have stopped maturing at about the age of twelve. I have a dreadful sweet-tooth, you see, and am a slave to Coca-Cola and Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. For healthier, more sustaining fare I’m rather partial to half a loaf of white bread, hollowed out, with a full bag of chip-shop chips inside. Or I would be if I didn’t have to worry about my weight these days.
But the thing is, I just don’t like the taste of most alcohol, apart from the sort of stuff old ladies drink in thimble-sized glasses at Christmas. And even then I can take it or leave it.
Most of the other lifelong non-drinkers I’ve met seem to have similarly unsophisticated palates, and, like me, a weakness for sugar.
But there have been one or two occasions – not very many at all, but some, nevertheless – where, for one reason or another, I have reached the edge of drunkness.
For someone who visits the place so extraordinarily rarely, it’s a very strange place indeed – or at least, so it seems to me.
So there was this time once, where I was running a day-long session to help cocktail-makers come up with new drinks for the World Cocktail-Making Awards. Don’t ask me how or why – it’s a very long story, and will take us quite off of the point. But at the end of the day we went to a bar, which was opened up just for us, and a huge range of spirits and equipment were laid out for us. One of the participants put together some white rum, some mint leaves, some ice some crushed lime slices, some sparkling water and – here’s the important part – a big dash of sugar syrup. And he gently swirled the mixture and bruised the mint leaves with what I now know to be called a Muddler.
“Here,” he said, offering the drink to me, “This is a Mojito”
“Thank you,” I said.
I took a small sip. Then I took a slightly bigger one.
And it actually tasted really rather good.
So I drank it. And then he made me another.
It was about halfway through the second one that I began to notice the effects.
I told my wife about them when I got home.
“It was like I was in a car,” I said, “A nice fast sports-car, with hard suspension that lets you feel every bump in the road, and the roof open and the wind in your face, and accelerating and braking at the touch of your foot – and then all of a sudden it just goes, and everything starts to slip.
The world all goes soft and spongy, is how it seems. You begin to notice a time-lag when you turn the steering-wheel or touch the controls, and you notice that it gets longer and longer. And it begins to feel that the suspension is soaking up the bumps, rather than responding to them – ‘de-tuned’, I think the expression is. And the sounds and the rush of the air around you are muffled, indistinct. And it’s sort of comfortable, but it’s disconnected, and…”
I was about to go on, but I could see expression on her face, and it was as if she was wondering what planet I had spent my life on.
“Yes,” she said, “But that’s the point.”
More about Warwick Cairns can be found here
Warwick Cairns’ latest book, In Praise of Savagery, is published 28th April 2011: the true story of a journey into uncharted land inhabited by murderous tribal warriors and ruled over by a bloodthirsty sultan – and the man, the explorer Wilfred Thesiger, who lived to tell the tale.
And the story of Warwick’s journey, fifty years later, to a mud hut in Africa to visit him at the end of his life.