There is a very old and worn joke, which visiting British comedians drag out, about Tenerife being 20,000 alcoholics clinging to a rock – they are talking about ex-pats, by the way, not the locals, and they make the same joke about Ibiza, Gibraltar and other appropriately geographic places. So what I am going to say next might come off sounding like a lush, but the other day I was thinking about how certain drinks remind me of certain years.
I was brought up in an almost teetotal household. That might have had more to do with lack of money than an abhorrence of alcohol, but my grandmother was a regular worshipper at the local Salvation Army Citadel, and I do remember an incident in my late teens when she allowed me a small glass of sherry one Christmas. I was kind of chuffed that she considered me old enough to handle it, and I waited in anticipation as she poured her annual glass of advocate for herself, so we could clink glasses and toast the Season. I had the glass halfway to my lips when the doorbell rang, and I found the glass disappearing from my fingers quicker than you could say “Hallelujah” (who knew Nana could move so quickly?!). By the time I blinked, she was hiding our glasses behind the Westminster Chimes clock on the sideboard, to be restored to me as soon as she discovered that the visitor was not a Salvation Army friend, but a neighbour come with Christmas greetings.
So you can see, I might have had a confusing view of alcohol, not aided by taking the pledge at the Salvation Army Sunday School at the age of 10, so that feelings of guilt accompanied every sip for years and years. Eventually, I think it was curiosity that put me on the slippery road, plus reading the entire works of Ernest Hemingway one summer…..no need to tell you about him……
Is it my imagination that things always happened in the Summertime? Looking back, there were several Summers I remember by what I was drinking.
In the early 70s I discovered cuba libres one warm Summer of houseboats and wending our lazy way down canals, with nothing more in mind than chilling out and watching the sunlight play between the branches of the willows as we drifted underneath. That came to an abrupt end in November of the year, when a party of us visited Mallorca, and I got very, very, very drunk one night. In fact, I think it might have been the first time I’d ever been drunk – so drunk I couldn’t bear the smell of Bacardi for more than thirty years afterwards!
Bacardi takes me to another summer though , those thirty years on, when I broke the non-white-rum habit, that was the year Bacardi Breezers were introduced. By then, of course, I was living here, and I have pleasant memories of watching sunsets, friendly banter and trying to figure out which flavor I liked best…..it turned out to be watermelon. There used to be a fabulous series of concerts and events in Los Cristianos called Son Latinos, a week of music and music-related events. It was held the last weekend of August, so it seemed to mark the end of Summer. Over the years Jose Feliciano, Manu Chao, Chayanne, members of the Buena Vista Social Club, the Vargas Blues Band, headlined, and the Summer I am thinking of – Maná. A huge stage was erected on Las Vistas beach, and we sat crossed legged to watch the smaller concerts. Came the big night, we picnicked on the warm sand as we watched the concert, and tried to conduct our own survey on which flavour was best. Strangely, I’ve never drunk them since that year. Winter is red wine for me, so as the season changed so did my habits, and the next summer there was something else.
It might have been the margarita summer, the next one. That summer I was living where I am living again now, in El Médano, and right on the corner two steps from the beach there was a Mexican restaurant which made the best margaritas you can imagine….. and can you imagine just how delicious and refreshing an ice-cold lemon margarita is when you have been messing about on a hot beach all afternoon? The next year I moved away, and although I have the odd margarita when I go to a Mexican restaurant, the drink/driving thing kind of curtails the enjoyment, and they seem so messy to make at home. Anyway, I like to keep the memories of lazing on the beach, cooling down with those frosty drinks and then shuffling, slowly, home.
I passed two summers in total abstinence, 2006 and 2007, when I was working with the Cruz Roja humanitarian aid emergency response team, and call outs would come at all and any hour of the night or day, as the boats arrived from Africa, and we had to be ready to up and go on two minutes’ notice. That I found it so easy to refuse a drink, kind of reassures me that, despite this post, I am not an addict!
Addiction is, in my perception, far more common than statistics prove. Most people don’t consider themselves addicted. I once saw an interview with Betty Ford, where she gave her own guideline as being that you are addicted if you need just one drink a day i.e. you don’t need to be stumbling around blind drunk all the time, which is how many of us perceive alcoholics to be. Truth is alcoholics can quietly pack them away and build up a kind of tolerance, or a way of being which hides their problem. Anyway, few of us would be giving out many signals of addiction on one drink a day.
When you are young it’s hard to resist peer pressure when so much social life revolves around the pub, in England at least, which is where I was when I was young. I wasted one entire summer trying to fit in with “the group” by drinking Boddingtons Beer on the lawns of Lake District pubs or the streetside tables of our local. I never, ever developed a liking for it, and the next summer I’d moved on to gin and tonics – when friends complained about my expensive taste I simply cut down, and tried to stick to ordering it only when it was our round.
There was my kind of “Great Gatsby summer” back in those years too, when we discovered the delights, as well as the snob value, of Pimms. I learned to make them properly, what’s more, none of the readymade stuff, if you don’t mind. It seemed like a summer when everyone was elegant and the days were hazy and mellow, we went to York Races on Ladies’ Day, and point to points and country race meets, and played at being toffs……at least that’s the way I saw it. I am sure that no-one else did. Probably no-one else in that group had read “The Great Gatsby”.
There came the summer here I discovered bourbon and cola. There was to be a firework display in town and we gathered with some friends on the beach in eager anticipation. These days, being more safety conscious, they rope off the beach, but then you could go drag a couple of sunbeds together to watch, and someone plied back and forth to the nearest bar on the promenade to keep the supply of drinks going. It’s not unusual for firework displays to be late in starting, but for some reason that summer it was exceptionally late……which meant that we drank more than our fair share whilst waiting. It was the year I’d begun to drink this made-in-heaven combination, and that night I discovered that it didn’t seem to make me drunk. Of course it did, it couldn’t not have done, but it left me feeling happy and not in the least hungover the next day, and so after much searching I found “my” drink.
Maybe alcohol does feature too much in our daily lives these days. One of my sons doesn’t drink at all, and the other rarely. They both prefer the rush they get from fitness to the one they get from booze. It’s probably wrong that I classify my memories by what I was drinking that year, and my generation, we baby boomers, being the first to be exposed to just so much choice, probably were the beginning of today’s youngsters’ binge drinking. My social life changed, my status changed, and drink driving laws got tougher (quite rightly, of course), so drink is no longer as “normal” a part of my daily life. That’s good for me, but I kind of feel sorry for kids today. While they are getting blotto every weekend, they are losing their memories too, all that remains from being that sloshed is the hangover, so I’m kind of glad I have the cool memories I do.