Battle of the Binge

The Associated Press
Updated: 5:44 p.m. ET May 23, 2005

LONDON – Beer-swilling Britons face a sobering prospect: an unhappy hour.

A group representing about half the country’s pubs and bars said Monday it is curbing Happy Hour offers and other deals that encourage irresponsible drinking, a British pastime that has come under increasing attack from the government.

(read the full story at MSNBC).

I was fine through the first four pints. It wasn’t until after the fifth, well on my way into the sixth, that I stumbled into the toilet stall of a student bar at Salford University and immediately had my legs give out from under me. I sat on the floor a while, among the bits of toilet paper and cigarette ashes. Just before I decided to take a nap, I vaguely remember uttering two choice words-—the first, of course, a profanity; the second was “cider.”

My naivete should be forgiven. I was only twenty at the time, and was about six weeks into a semester abroad program in Salford (it’s next to Manchester; picture a British version of Newark). Being young, and American, I’d never tasted hard cider before, and in the brief time I’d been in the UK—much of which I’d spent in pubs, looking for my education in the bottom of a pint glass—the two things I’d learned about cider were: 1) all pubs serve it; and 2) only girls and weak-kneed adolescents ever ordered it. But this night was Bonfire Night, one of those old quasi-holidays that the British observe by drinking massive amounts of cider and setting off fireworks. To help the student population celebrate the holiday in full spirit, the university-owned pub ran a promotion that night: a full pint of hard cider for only 50p (about a dollar in the exchange rate at the time), for the first two hours the bar was open.

A mob of around 400 people developed before the club opened, but fortunately my friend, Steve, and I had positioned ourselves in front of the support posts immediately in front of the front door; as a result, we were among the very first to get inside. Knowing the bar would be five-deep within minutes, we plonked down our money and each walked away balancing four pint glasses—a full gallon of hard cider between us. As I mentioned, I’d never had cider before, and as I guzzled the first pint, drinking fast so it wouldn’t have a chance to get warm, I said to Steve (and, as these belong in the category of “famous last words,” I remember them quite clearly): “It tastes like soda pop. There’s no way this is as strong as beer.”

Moron. I finished my four pints in just over an hour, and had the kind of clueless drunkenness you get the first time you drink a certain kind of alcohol to the point of inebriation. It’s akin to driving through a strange city, relying on your wits rather than a map to get you around, becoming increasingly lost and confused while insisting that the street you’re looking for is right…up…here…somewhere…..

About a half-hour before the promotion ended, I fought my way to the bar again, and fetched another two pints back to the table. At that point it gets really vague—somebody burning an empty cigarette box, laughing; my “tastes like soda” remark being incessantly parroted back at me by Steve and another friend, Daniel; and me, an admitted danceophobe, swaying back and forth beneath the mirror ball while Joy Division played over the sound system, finally culminating in the nap in the men’s room.

How long I was on the floor, I have no idea, but I came to when someone as wrecked as I was began slamming into the door with his body, trying to get in. I didn’t bother going back the bar–instead I stumbled back to my shared house, taking a couple of hard dives into the grass along the way. Fortunately I always wound up back on my feet, and made it safely to my room before I had to retch.

Would I have drank that much if there hadn’t been a promotion? Of course—I was young and indestructible. Would I have drank five pints (aiming for six) in under two hours? No fucking way.

Leave a reply