Drink and Me: 'There is nothing like that first, triumphant sip of wine on a Friday night'

In a new series, five of our top writers speak candidly about their relationship with drink

Donal Lynch. Photo: Kip Carroll

Donal Lynch

At a time where many of us may be feeling the effects of over-indulgence, writer Donal Lynch explains why he won't become 'another boring middle aged quasi-teetotaller'.

Donal Lynch:

Drink was another of those things, like women and rugby, that I didn't get in the same way other boys did. At the start, I took it reluctantly, as a kind of medicine that made teenage discos bearable. But that was its sole purpose. I never once drank at home. I found the taste nauseating. I wanted something sweet and carbonated - I'm the target market you can thank for alcopops being invented in the mid 1990s. They got me through many a slow set.

Alcohol didn't seem to have the same effect on me that it had on other people. It didn't make me particularly disinhibited, and I didn't feel like it really relaxed me - I never understood why someone who got a shock would be given a glass of whiskey. It was just something you piled into yourself to get through a big social event - something to blame whatever you did on; a kind of exemption clause that everyone signed up to.

I had a particular horror of people who kept going through their hangovers. Even when I was 21, I was constitutionally unable for hair of the dog. Bloody Marys are my kryptonite. Boozy lads' holidays terrified me. In my student years, I also thought alcohol was quite an old-fashioned thing to be obsessed with. You're Irish and love your gargle - so original.

While girls and rugby remained mysterious, in my 20s, I slowly began to see what all the fuss was about regarding drink. I'd love to say it was a wine-appreciation course or my maturing palate, but I think it might have been the headiness of my first free bar at work that kickstarted me. It whetted my appetite for cheap cocktails, and I threw myself into weeknight drinking with gusto.

Anyone in their first few years of work can still tell you where all the student nights happen, and I learned that if people are out on a Tuesday, you know they mean business. I was able then for a backbreaking schedule of rounds and the dreadful whiff that suddenly became apparent after the smoking ban. And I was able for the other consequences of drinking: lost coats, lost phones, lost dignity - nothing bothered me. My liver, in those years, could shrug off four pints like it was dust on a lapel.

Mostly, it could. There were some hangovers that live in memory. I can still remember whimpering myself awake after a particularly devastating free bar, my legs hurt (something to do with circulation, according to Google) and my shirt was covered in blood from where I'd hit myself off the sides of the dancefloor.

The late, great AA Gill once wrote that drinkers have "degrees of wakening"; mine always involved 30 minutes of staring at the ceiling in intense self-pity, compiling an endless inventory of all the wrongs I'd done. The worst was when I had to travel home on the same day, feeling vulnerable, and not able for daylight or Ryanair. I'd arrive back into Dublin feeling certain there should be a 21-gun salute and a flag over my coffin.

But the pain always felt worth it. Drinking was a kind of mental holiday, a kind of parentheses to break up the endless run-on sentence of life. Nuala O'Faolain wrote about that "magical moment", when you and those around you have had a few drinks, and the chat is flowing and hasn't curdled into belligerence or sentimentality. That is what I was always aiming for.

But as my friends and I aged, this kind of pleasure-seeking faded. It became more and more difficult to round up people to go drinking with. Staying in became the new going out, and, selfishly, people began having children. Formerly reliable wingmen became tedious evangelists for sobriety. Everyone kept boasting about how much better they felt, how much more relaxed; how all those years, it was just booze holding us back.

Somehow, I never believed a word of this. Former alcoholics get way too much airtime in this country. They only know one way, but the majority of people manage to self-medicate with it just fine. Drink, in my life and in many others', makes things better, not worse. There is nothing like that first, triumphant sip of wine on a Friday night. It's a symphony and a hug all together.

It's also a social lubricant like no other - it is only polite to drink before meeting people, as it puts you in a mood in which they will be better able to bear you. The very odd time, even drinking a bit too much is ok. It bespeaks someone who can let their hair down and who hasn't totally become their body's bitch. Ten years late, I've just finished watching Mad Men, and they're drinking all day in it - and it's glorious. We're sad little mice by comparison, with our green teas and flat whites.

And so, rather than becoming another boring middle aged quasi-teetotaller, I've instead got more precise with my dosing. I'm careful to listen to my body when it says it needs a drink, but I never go full Barney Gumble, and, however tempting it is, I won't waste that nice, convivial buzz of drinking on people I don't otherwise like. I know my limits: there is a right number of drinks you can get away with on holidays before you'll be dragging through the next day - for me, that hovers between three and four. If I'm tempted to swill more down me, I tell myself to love it just enough to only do it so much.

I interviewed TD Kate O'Connell last year and, sticking to coffee, she told me, tongue in cheek, "If I'm going to go for a drink, I prefer to go for six. My hangover time is precious. Sometimes I just have to play dead". She was joking, but dead right. Having one drink, as is offered in various hipster barbers around Dublin now, is like having one crisp, or one painkiller. It's just not worth your while. Even children shouldn't get in the way of letting loose once in a while. A hangover pass - being properly considerate of Daddy's sore head - is one of the most precious gifts that one parent can give another. And hangover recovery time is indeed precious. At a certain age, one learns the pleasure of wallowing. With a nicely drizzly day, a constant supply of tea and a suitably weepy movie, the 'day after the night before' can actually be one of the best bits.