If you want to go ahead and eat ten pots of pickled herrings, just do it. I won’t judge you so long as you aim any resulting vomit away from me. I won’t be doing the same though; I don’t mean to be unsociable or anything, and if we can change the pickled herrings for Jelly Snakes then count me in. If you want to do the same with Guinness or Jaegermeister, I won’t berate you. But mine’s a lime and soda. Alcohol is just another thing I prefer not to consume.
I’ll never forget my dad’s expression one Christmas, after he persuaded me to try a snifter of vintage port. As usual, my “oh-Jesus-this-is-disgusting” face came out, which involves me sticking my tongue out and waggling it about in a frankly ungainly manner. My father’s poor face crinkled as he sighed his disappointment. “What’s not to like?” he wailed. I’ll tell you what’s not to like, and that’s the bitterness that creeps unrelentingly into the outside of the tongue.
It’s not like I haven’t tried to find an alcohol I like. I’ve tried plenty, and the only ones I can bear to have a sip of are amaretto and brandy; the former because it tastes like cake and the latter because it tastes like Christmas. On the first night out at university I felt compelled, in a bid to fit in, to buy a drink. I drank about a quarter of my amaretto and coke, decided it was gross and that I'd probably fit in just fine without it. And fit in just fine I did. Being around inebriates can be excellent-- I can get away with so much more. Lawnmower dance? No one cares! My inhibitions begin to fall away in the knowledge that everyone else’s have.
An ex-boyfriends’s mum was the first person to take grave offence, to my polite refusal of a flute of Champagne on her birthday. I’d been with my then boyfriend for about four years, and his mother was perfectly aware that neither of us drank. This didn’t dissuade her from preaching to us that, “We must be able to drink on social occasions--it’s important to be able to enjoy a glass of champagne on someone’s birthday.” It was awkward, but I didn’t have a drop after explaining that Champagne was not my thing.
You see, I have no moral qualms with drinking. It’s not a religious thing. It has nothing to do with an unhappy encounter with a defibrillator after downing a bottle of whiskey. The problem is that ethanol and my tastebuds just don’t get along, and their differences seem to be irreconcilable. Alcohol is ubiquitous in our society; it permeates social occasions and joins people together through a slackening of the jaw, or tales of wild nights out. This, unfortunately for me, is what makes it less simple than a mere chemical reaction on the palate. But I’m keeping on side with my tongue; whether or not you invite me to the pub is up to you.
This feature by Liz Seabrook first appeared in issue eighteen of Oh Comely Magazine.