A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF

On my way up to my room to watch a film on the lap top (while the rest of the family gathered round some fantasy action movie downstairs) I told Son. No.2, over my shoulder, that I was watching a movie about Dylan Thomas, the poet. “He drank himself to death”, I shouted. It’s a hard sentence to say without sounding Irish or Welsh. He giggled. I hadn’t meant it to be funny.
It was a beautiful and poignant film about a wondrous poet who raged. And drank. And raged. And drank. It made me think of a cousin. Our family has a weakness for booze. And a propensity for madness. Maybe every family does.
My grandfather was a heavy drinker in a time when to be so could be seen as romantic. Many of his sons were the same in an era where romance and booze were not seen through the hazy glow of romance at all. One or two went far enough to be alcoholics. Another Irish phrase comes to mind – ‘Oh but he’s an awful alcoholic.’
My cousin, a brilliant and flawed girl, drank herself to death. She really did. And broke my heart. I waited years for that phone call, unable to change her fate. My Dad rang me with the news. It wasn’t the first time I’d said the f-word but never was it more heart-felt.
My first drink was given to me at about the age of 14. By my much beloved Nan. Homemade elderflower wine. She was babysitting me. When my parents arrived home I fell off the stool I was attempting to sit on. Mum seethed silent rage. Anyone who does that to my boys would get more than silent rage. But this was the seventies, when anything homemade was good for you. My mother still labours under the misapprehension that cider is merely apple juice.
I have always been the worst party girl. In that I was completely rubbish at it. A few drinks away from loving everyone in the room. Conducting group hugs with complete strangers. Copying strange accents until the owner of them wanted to throttle me. I’ve woken up a few times wondering what had happened at the end of a party. Who had I offended? It’s not a nice feeling. And the mixture of the drink and bipolar (my particular form of madness) is neither a wise nor pleasant one.
Son No.2 again. He’s doing a project on Van Gogh. “He cut his ear off in a fit of madness.” He looked at me from under his lashes. “Don’t get any ideas will you.”

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