My Life As An Alcoholic
December 11, 2002
To understand why 50,000 badges that say "Wake me up at..." are being distributed to commuters at Liverpool Street Station, you must first understand one of the key facts of British life. In England, as in Japan, is assumed that you will behave with a certain propriety at all times, except when you are drunk. It is also assumed you will be drunk often. Lauren and I have grown used to being the loudest people on any subway, and the quietest people in any pub.
In fact, an American friend of ours recently told me that, as she was leaving a party Lauren and I gave, her British boyfriend turned to her and asked if I was an alcoholic. He could think of no other explanation for the fact that I did not have a single drink the entire evening.
And even in this society, where not drinking alcohol is considered a warning sign of alcoholism, Christmas is acknowledged as a time of excess. Hangover cures appear in newspapers and magazines as frequently as gift-buying guides. The Sunday Observer, Time Out London, The Times--if it's published in London, it has probably weighed in on the issue. One year, three days before Christmas, London's Museum of Science opened an entire exhibit devoted to the hangover.
But the most frequent provider of relief to the inebriated Londoner has got to be the Evening Standard, which, for an evening paper, seems almost obsessively concerned with the morning after. One day, the editors recommend Hamlyn's Pocket-Sized Guide To Hangover Cures, which in turn recommends a blended concoction of broccoli, apples, spinach, ice, and various vitamins. On another day, the paper publishes a helpful survey of commercially available remedies, ranging from a crystallized ginger for 99 pence to a ?40 kit from Harvey Nichols containing herb tea, shower gel, and "a combination of milk thistle, camomile, and willow that helps cleanse the liver and calm the stomach."
Next week, it's time for a survey of treatments from around the world, including the "pickled sheep's eye in tomato juice" that residents of Outer Mongolia drink the day after a binge, and the "paste of ground swallow's beak and myrrh" downed by South Africans before the drinking starts.
Seven days later, concerned that they have not done enough to soothe their readers bleary eyes, the Standard consults no fewer than 13 different experts on the subject. Each offers their own recommendation, ranging from the doctor who advises you to "drink water" to the acupuncturist who suggests,?? "Take some aloe vera juice, yoghurt or green tea to cool the liver down. If you have bloodshot eyes after a night drinking, it's often due to the liver overheating. Another way to tell is by examining your tongue - if it is bright red then your organs are too hot. However, if it is pale then it hasn't overheated, but you may need to take some ginger to stimulate digestion."
Such advice becomes even more salient as the year winds to a close, thanks largely to the office Christmas party--which, in the absence of public executions, has become England's most dread tradition. Of course, it is not required that you show up, drink far more than you intended, and say or do embarrassing things to, with, or near your coworkers. But unless you are lucky enough to be a recovering alcoholic, it is certainly expected.
And when the evening is over, and you are too smashed to stay awake through the entire train ride home, you will be grateful to have received one of those 50,000 badges that says "Wake me up at..." Assuming, that is, that you filled in your stop name when you were still sober enough to write.