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Whiskey in a jar

First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.
– F. Scott Fitzgerald, US novelist

A very happy New Year to all my readers – may 2016 bring you joy and good fortune, peace, love and, above all, excellent health. So far we have enjoyed an exceptionally mild and sunny winter in the Algarve and the climate here can only contribute to our general state of wellbeing.

In contrast, as most recently experienced during Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve party excesses, the added ingredient of alcohol can prove to be something of a two-edged sword – and has been the cause of plenty of controversy over the bygone centuries.

The well-known Irish lyrics referred to in the title of this piece used by bands such as Thin Lizzy and Metallica apart, someone once said: “If I had all the money I have spent on drink in my life again …I’d spend it on drink.”

Even Shakespeare’s Hamlet mused about “two beers or not two beers”. In fact, the history of mankind is steeped in alcohol starting with the (I assume) rotten, and hence fermented, apple Eve failed to resist in the Garden of Eden – an example followed to this day by herds of intoxicated elephants or monkeys – and finishing with Nigel Farage, who is rarely pictured without a pint of beer in his hand.

Even the otherwise sober Barack Obama caused a bit of a stir when joyfully downing a Stein during last autumn’s Oktoberfest at a time when other people normally pour their second cup of coffee, and ‘Dave’ and ‘Sam’ Cameron had a Super Bock in front of them during their entire summer stay in Alvor.

In between these cases lie numerous examples of alcohol use and abuse. Both the ancient Greeks and Romans had their personalised Gods of Wine, Dionysus and Bacchus; copious amounts of mead were used as ‘Dutch courage’ by medieval warriors heading into battle; the majority of world-renowned composers, painters and musicians produced their best work under the influence of the often lethal and now widely banned green absinth liquor; lastly, Winston Churchill was not only partial to a hefty dram of Scotch in the morning, but also spent a small fortune on champagne. God knows – or more likely the devil – what his nemesis, Adolf Hitler, was on, but it certainly was not Perrier with a twist of lime.

Needless to say, I too never touch the pen reserved for this page without prior stimulation of the parts other lagers cannot reach (without feeling the need to invade Spain!).

On a more serious note, people turn to alcohol for many reasons and are surprisingly prone to double standards. As I mentioned earlier, there is ‘use’ and ‘abuse’, the dividing line being perilously thin and often crossed.

Members of my family have enjoyed a drink as long as I can remember but, being ‘family’, are often suspicious, bordering on paranoia of each other’s supposed over-indulgence and, subsequently, has been the cause of many an ugly argument.

I actually like the taste of beer, lots of it, but rarely venture into the spirit world – on the rare occasions that I do, the following day’s worth of suffering ensures that those nights remain the exception rather than the rule.

Other people are painfully shy and need a glass or two to socialise. Unhappiness, loneliness or taking the edge off painful memories are other causes the bottle is kept close at hand while seeking oblivion after failing to cope with the apparent futility of the daily grind is the most acute stage where drink has become the means to an end, a serious problem and an addiction which impacts not only on your own life but also on your loved ones and those who surround you.

A vicious circle ensues, an almost irreversible downward spiral, resulting in the loss of everyone you once cared for. In such cases, escape is only possible with professional help and most likely total abstinence thereafter.

The state of your ‘alcoholism’ – according to the medical definition, most of us are technically alcoholics – can be expressed by the vast number of acronyms available to circumscribe drunkenness.

I tend to start getting a bit tipsy before merriment sets in. More often than not I then get a bit plastered, while getting home drunk as a skunk is not such a common occurrence.

Tolerance varies according to body weight and the amounts you are used to. Holidaymakers frequently underestimate generous local measures while already enjoying the freedom of being removed from their more usual surroundings and this can result in worse states of wear: blotto, wasted, sloshed, hammered, smashed, shit-faced, rat-arsed, trashed and finally blind drunk – the ambulance is on its way!

Different nationalities seem to be susceptible to diverging states of inebriation. Germans tend to get morose, Scandinavians lose all inhibitions, hugging and insulting you in turn before nodding off, the Portuguese become loud, hilariously entertaining and can’t stop talking, while the Irish simply embrace the world.

Worst are the English, I am sorry to say. Generations of restricted pub opening hours appear to have caused a genetic deficiency leading to Jekyll and Hyde personalities whereby jovial amenability can suddenly mutate into shocking violence directed at anyone from wife, girlfriend and best mate to complete strangers within the blink of an eye.

I have witnessed this type of less-than-endearing behaviour anywhere from Berlin, London, Corfu and Nice to Tobago and our own peaceful corner of the world, and it has caused fear and revulsion amongst locals and visitors in all those locations. Alcohol can be great for breaking down social barriers but it can also be your own worst enemy – handle with care.

Interestingly, the word alcohol has its origin in the Arabic ‘Al kuhl’, a type of charcoal eye makeup said to have been used by many women of high birth including Jezebel and Cleopatra.

Perhaps its popularity hereabouts is linked to the Al Gharb’s – land of the West – shared linguistic history – Alvor, Albufeira, Aljezur and Algoz amongst other places that also have Arabic roots. Or maybe it is just the simple fact that the abundant sunshine makes us thirsty and the undisputed effect of a drink or two allowing us to make friends with many people we would otherwise not even have talked to proves too alluring. Whatever the case, enjoy in moderation and don’t judge those battling their personal demons too harshly.

Cheers!

By Skip Bandele
|| features@algarveresident.com

Skip Bandele moved to the Algarve 20 years ago and has been with the Algarve Resident since 2003. His writing reflects views and opinions formed while living in Africa, Germany and England as well as Portugal.