Tuesday 13 April 2010


Teetotal. A word that in the past has elicited a variety of responses from my British pals as I uttered it with a tinge of hesitation. Their faces would contort, brows furrow, as they desperately tried to compute my declaration of abstinence (it’s obviously a bit easier now in my current condition, but you’d be surprised).

The usual response usually comes with the following breakdown of reactions.

a) Shock: “But why on earth would you do such a thing?”
b) Suspicion:  “What is wrong with you? Are you sick, skint, brain damaged!”
c) Realization: “I see, you’re one of those Californians”
d) Resolve: “Well, we’ll have to work on that”.

I would anxiously hurl excuses at them, as if I needed to support my position with facts: ‘I come from a family of light drinkers. I think I’m allergic. I used to be able to hold my liquor, I used to be fun!’ All of the above would fall on deaf ears as their eyes glaze over, evidently too busy planning my twelve-step program back to societal acceptance.

As much as I try to convince myself that I once was a fully functioning social drinker, I was never able to out drink my English friends or hold my composure in anything less than an embarrassing way- that being said, after walking down the high street the other night, my composure is starting to look pretty damn good. My friend’s abilities to imbibe cocktail after cocktail without creasing so much as a Top Shop blouse, is something I continue to marvel at. Is it genetic? Sheer dedication from an early age? Or is it pure necessity caused by a lifetime of being exposed to winters that rival the frozen tundra of the Ukraine, where drinking is the only antidote.

Sometimes I pull a story from my drunken annals just to see if I can change their looks of dismay into that of profound admiration - yes I’m a people pleaser. A crowd favorite is the one from my tenure at an extremely posh deli in South London. Name withheld, as to protect the innocent.

Back in those days, I was a strong patron of the Thresher (a local beer/wine shop) bargain of the week. I would work double shifts at the counter serving the South of the river ‘Yah’s’ (for you non English, think of someone who speaks with marbles in their mouths) their pate (a veggie at the time always prompted the curled lip snarl “Are you really going to eat that?”), sliced biltong and the like. I of course did this all with a Yankee smile and a moderate quantity of alcohol in my bloodstream. Hence, the smile.

One day, having had an impromptu liquid lunch down the street at the bistro my employers owned, I returned to work with the verve of a six year old, and the balance of a geriatric. I hit the meat slicer like it was a tricycle. “Who’s next? How thin do you want it? Sausage samplers for all!”

Needless to say, it didn’t take long for me and the meat machine to have words, resulting in the bloody carnage of my index finger. This being in the middle of a rush, I didn’t think it was prudent to stop serving; and of course, being drunk, the pain wasn’t really a factor. To the utter horror of the South London Mothers picking up some cured bacon for Sunday’s brunch, I efficiently shoved my hand in a latex glove, wrapped my wrist (envision the smooth workings of a NASCAR pit stop) with some tape and soldiered on. “And what about some lovely hazelnut grain bread with that?” as the blood filled up the glove and dripped down my arm. I wasn’t allowed to have lunch at the bistro, thereafter, unless properly supervised.

As I said, I wasn’t much of a drinker, or a good one anyway. Trust me, it’s better this way. So if you see me at your local, shut up, and just buy me a lime and soda.
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