Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Red Light Nights

The first time I got pissed - proper rolling on the floor, wucking up my mucking fords, walking into walls drunk - was when I was 13. It was at my mum's 50th birthday party at our house in run-of-the-mill suburban Christchurch.

It was the booziest affair I could remember at our house to that time. The biggest mistake my parents made, from my point of view, was trusting the bar duties to my 15-year-old sister and her best mate. They dressed up in black trousers, white shirts and black bow ties but that was about as professional as their operation got. I asked my dad if I could have a beer and he said, with what I can only describe as a proud grin accompanied by a bit of a head nod: "You can have one, but make it last son." To me that was code for: "Go for it!" He trotted out the old "make it last" line throughout my teenage years regardless of the copious amounts of booze I consumed. I always tried to make my one last but always failed miserably.

I finished my first one fairly quickly and headed straight for my sister's mate. She plied me with beers all night, as I made myself scarce from my parents. I probably had at least half a dozen Canterbury Draught but, whatever the number, it was more than enough for my skinny 13-year-old body. It was the greatest coup of my life. I remember my older University-aged cousin laughing as I did drunken commando rolls across our games room floor.

In the morning I woke up to find the upper half of my duvet completely smothered in a blanket of vomit. I can still remember that strangely sweet yet rancid smell and the fear of knowing I could have choked on my own vomit and died alone in my room.        

However, if there was ever a duvet to throw up on my green and orange paisley number was it. I don't particularly remember my parents being angry or upset. I think the prevailing thought was the shock of the experience would teach me a lesson about the woes of drinking. The prevailing thought couldn't have been further from the truth. I felt like I had done this forbidden, adult thing and, despite my nocturnal pyrotechnics, gotten away with it. I thought I would never be let out of my room again, but life just seemed to go on. I'm not having a go at my parents here. They were probably shocked and upset but were perhaps worried about making too big a deal of it. I get that. In hindsight they may question the standard of their host responsibly, but I was pretty determined.

During the months after the party I regularly snuck into my parents' alcohol cabinet and drank gin, topping up what I drank with water. Did my parents know? They never asked me about it, but surely they noticed the gin was tasting a bit weak. My relationship with alcohol was forming. It was time to experiment. It's a strange thing. At the time I thought it tasted fucking disgusting, but it was equal parts illicit, grown up and mind altering. It was like catnip for cats to a 13-year-old with crippling shyness.    

In Christchurch, you drive onto the one-way Barbadoes Street from Bealey Avenue and the lights are timed so you get every green except the last one at Moorhouse Ave. My drinking is like that. I felt like I had been given a green light at my Mum's 50th but ignored the orange, ran the red and ended up getting side swiped by a truck. I've had the green light running on my drinking for most of my life. And I've never been able to recognise where the orange and red lights are. I guess most people are like that. As I've got closer to 40 I've become more and more fed up with the Red Light Nights. That is why I'm living sober.

Tip of the day (and don't get used to pearls of wisdom - I will probably run out by week two): Keep busy. For me, learning how to play this fella's songs on my guitar is better than drinking. Here he sings about the love of a good woman, which also trumps the love of good alcohol. Enjoy!

The First TIme Ever I Saw Your Face


  1. In my last year of school I used to go to my grandparents house for dinner every Thursday night. It was my job to make the Gin & Tonics on arrival at 5pm. Mine would be 60/40. That is, 60% gin, 40% tonic. I could hardly drink it with a straight face but they never noticed - I felt like they were too old and 'blind' to notice (they weren't actually blind, maybe just blind to my incredible devotion to getting inebriated from a very young age). Why were they giving me gin and tonics aged 17ish? Same reason my parents would provide wine for me and my friends at the same age.. they just didn't see it as a dangerous road......

    1. Yes, I think the slowly introducing your kids to booze in your own home so when they reach drinking age they're "ready" is very much part of the culture. But there's little open discussion, or there wasn't in my house, around responsible drinking. It wasn't a particularly boozy house. I only remember seeing my dad drunk once after he won a prize at golf. But there was always wine in the fridge and mum and dad would have a wee glass most nights. Red wine from a cask (eeek!). I cringe when I see people give their babies and wee kids tiny sips of beer from "dad's bottle". It's a pretty common thing. There's that mentality that they'll get their kids used to drinking, like their graduation to be part of the booze culture is inevitable...

  2. I remember my first time being drunk. I was 12, nearly 13 and my 17 yr old brother had his mates around on a sunny day and they were all hanging out at the pool. Mum and Dad were out. He dared me to drink a beer mug full of sherry, so I did, I skulled it by the pool in front of all of his mates, and then rolled my eyes and fell backwards into the pool, like a drama queen, pretending to be all woozy (which I hadn't had time to get yet). My friend Jane was with me and we'd both made dresses in school and had them on with white fishnets and sling-backs, so I was feeling pretty cool. I threw up afterwards. I didn't really start drinking regularly then though. It was more acid and smoking dope for me from 15 onwards. Alcohol was in amongst it but not a big problem until I'd more or less finished with the acid, at about 18. Plenty of memory loss!!

    1. I've always hated sherry! I drunk tequila at my stag do and I haven't been able to drink it since. A bad experience on Speights when I was young ruined Speights for me too... I can't even stand sherry in cooking!