Hard day's night drinking culture is the dark genie in the top shelf

By David Looby

Published 20/08/2016 | 00:00

Absinthe makes the mind go yonder: strong spirit culture is a growing concern
Absinthe makes the mind go yonder: strong spirit culture is a growing concern

FIFTEEN years ago to this week a friend of mine turned into a dog having drank absinthe.

Some context is required in defence of him:

I. We were in Prague on an Inter Rail trip across Europe.

2. We were virgin absinthe drinkers.

3. It was after an evening's drinking in a pub where many a tick was dashed on a notebook denoting the number of beers consumed. Referred to in historical literature as the green fairy due to its naturally verdant colour, absinthe is not something to be necked and grimaced at without consequences. For many of us our gateway drink is a sip of Bailey's secreted from our parent's drinks cabinet or a snifter of poitin swiped from the high press and mixed with Coca Cola or Club Orange. The light headed feeling of release often is impossible to forget, addictive even sadly, for many of us.

Back to my friend. He was one of four teenage know-nothings wandering around Europe in search of fun. A break from the routine of summer jobs, the endless possibility of women, drink. All of that. We had an interesting day in the city of the Cuckoo Clock and Prague Castle, where men go to the pub after work, eat nibbles and sipping golden beers in darkened rooms where sunlight daren't enter for long.

On our way back to our apartment we passed an off licence and procured the strange bottle. Having drank a suspiciously cheap bottle of wine with a skull and crossbones on the back of it in Paris and a lot more in the following days, we were up for anything.

Booze was cheap in the pre-European Unionised Czech Republic and we chipped in for a bottle of the green stuff.

Following instructions we got a glass, spoon, sugar cubes to sweeten the bitter aftertaste of the 70 per cent drink - and cold water to dilute the liquor. From what I can remember we got confused along the way and melted the sugar in a drop of water on the spoon. My friend, who will remain anonymous for the sake of our friendship, was first man down, literally, falling to his knees and barking a strange Kerry bark.

He was shunted in the direction of the bathroom and awoke the following morning with a mysterious black eye, which was administered by the most inpatient and intolerant of our little gang. I crashed shortly afterwards and the others, well, who knows what became of them in the afterglow of absinthe.

Popular among poets and writers in 19th century France, absinthe was said to inspire its imbibers. With its hallucinatory properties (must be the good stuff!) the wormwood based drink was also known to be deadly dangerous. The old maxim that madness is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result each time rings true here. The poet Rimbaud declared that a poet 'makes himself a seer through a long, prodigious and rational disordering of all the senses'. My friend can testify to absinthe's disordering effect on his senses and his face.

In Ireland three people are dying every day due to alcohol. Alcohol consumption almost trebled between 1960 and 2001, rising from 4.9 litres of pure alcohol per person aged 15 and over to 14.3 litres. It now stands at 11 litres.

Binge drinking to get Dutch courage is as popular as ever amongst young men and working people drink to take the edge off a hard day. We are more than our drunken selves and until we realise this we run the risk of becoming overly reliant on the stuff.

Wexford People

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