Friday, 26 February 2016

My first drink.

A young, small me.
I joined the medical faculty in University Collage, Dublin in September 1939. I was then only 5ft 2 inches in height. I was a pygmy among the rest of the boys in the class. I had spent 6 years in an Irish speaking school in Dublin and socially I felt a foreigner among the lads from Clongowes, Blackrock and Belvedere. I was very conscious of my delayed physical development, of my diminutive size and my light weight, but I was reassured at the time by my mother, who told me that her own four brothers also showed the same delayed development but all grew up to be of normal size.  

At first I showed little change in size or weight but within the next year or more I grew about 9 inches and was close to 6 ft by the time I finished growing.

No prizes for guessing...
At the time of my arrival in the university I was in great demand by the boxing and rowing clubs, the first as a flyweight and the second as a cox, because the lighter the cox, the faster the boat. Happily I went for the rowing club and for the next 3 years I became a dedicated member of this club.

By my 4th year I was strong and big enough to take up rowing so I continued as a member of the maiden and junior eights until my last year when I went back to work in the university. My first three years in the university had little to do with my education as a doctor and my interest was largely in the rowing club. We used to train in the club on the Liffey just beyond the entrance to the Phoenix Park. Training started in early October and finished by late May or early June. There were three classes of crew, the least experienced were called the maidens, heavier ones were juniors and the most competent and strongest were the seniors. Rowing up and down a river day after day must seem to the unacquainted to be a very tedious business but in fact as a sport and as a social occupation it was a wonderful world in itself. 

A serious business.
There were two classes of boats, fours and eights, and all competitions involved both classes. We rowed six days every week for about four miles on the river, except for a few days at Christmas time. We were fully trained in exercise and we were forbidden the use of alcohol; had to go to bed early and were greatly discouraged from close association with the opposite sex. My chief role as a cox was steering the boat and caring for its upkeep but I also maintained certain elements of order amongst the crews.
I might perhaps describe my last event as a cox before I took up rowing. I had by then stretched to six feet, and although I was still very light, I was considered the following year as being a suitable candidate for the maiden eight.  My last outing as a cox was in May 1942. On that occasion the regatta was held for the first time in an unusual river, that is the Boyne at Drogheda. There were several other rowing clubs taking part and the races were held in the estuary of the Boyne well down below the railway bridge. It was a very wet, cold and rough day, and the rough and turbulent estuary was such that the young cox who was with me had not the courage to face the elements. It was necessary therefore for me to cox all six races, during which five were overcome by the stormy weather and we were left drowning out in the ocean! We remained safe thanks to the big oars and the fore and aft airtight compartments of the boat but we got dreadfully wet and exposed. Because I was obliged to cox all races, I was totally exhausted and exposed by the end of the day.  It proved to be an important event in my life. I was given a glass of hot whiskey, my first alcoholic drink.  I recall the extraordinary recovery the hot whiskey had on my exhausted state and I therefore obligingly agreed to have another. Life was improving rapidly after the second Irish whiskey so I agreed to have a third and at that stage I must have passed out because I recall waking in the hotel bed the following morning after spending twelve hours in deep sleep or some might say, coma!

This seems a rather pointless story and hardly brings joy to the reader, but it was an important event for me because, apart from surviving the hazards of drowning and pneumonia, it started my drinking career. Fortunately, we were too impoverished as students to afford alcoholic drinks, but nevertheless what started as a medicinal solution to the revival to normal life, I had started a habit which I am glad to say I have always enjoyed, but, happily, almost always in moderation. 

Everything in moderation...
Despite the difficulties involved in enjoying the habit at appropriate times, I wonder do others still remember their first alcoholic drink under such traumatic circumstances. 

1 comment:

  1. I can understand the ban on alcohol in the rowing club, but the discouragement from association with the opposite sex seems to hark back to a victorian obsession with vital fluids!
    I remember my own first drink. I had been riding on the pillion of an Italian-Irish classmate, and we very nearly ran head first into a speeding Ford Cortina (yes, the details are imprinted on my brain!). As it was, it passed so close that my trouser leg brushed the dust off the car's doors.
    Shaking, we stopped at Vincent's home, which was above their family chipper in Farrenboley, and he poured a glass of Strega, that fiery aromatic "digestivo" that the Italian army used to issue to their troops before any assault (or so Vincent told me). The fiery mouthful may not have been enough to intoxicate me, but it certainly took my mind off our brush with death!