(For Independent dated December 13th, 2014)
According to Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man
Despite authorities tightening their grip on the causes of hangovers, the hangover itself enjoys halcyon days. It can only mean one thing: authorities love a hangover.
And why not? The hangover is culture.
For one thing the authorities themselves have hangovers. Many more per capita than us. And as we’ll be on the streets seeking comfort from all the crap food we can usually avoid, tame as lambs, our barriers as low as our judgement, consumer spending will rise and the authorities’ budgets will be safe. Better news still: if a good breakfast doesn’t cure, GDP rises every time we go crawling to the medical / health complex.
Hangovers: steroids of growth. Governments love them. Markets love them. It only falls to us to love them. We didn’t incentivise things this way, where war and illness benefit economic growth. But that’s how they’re incentivised, so we should do our bit.
This in no way seeks to endorse or condone the over-consumption of alcohol. What it does promote is the full-blooded pursuit of hangovers; how you arrive is up to you. Here then, according to Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man, is a citizen’s guide to auto-malaise and self-palliation:
1) 0 – 8 Years. The Infant Mewling:
If you’ve already tasted alcohol you are French. This is cheating. Your parents may think they’ve cleverly avoided the hangover by continuing to drink every day at lunch and even breakfast, but we call that not stopping. If we didn’t stop we’d feel French too.
2) 8-18 Years. The Whining Schoolboy:
You are going to puke. It’s that simple. The reason you shouldn’t drink, hence why there’s no cure for your hangover, is that you’re already thick. If we were as undeveloped as you we wouldn’t need to drink either. Think about it. Our brains spin at many more revolutions in order to pay the taxes that support your young offender’s institution. After that toil we take a drink to enjoy so much as a breath of the state you call home: where we know everything and talk shit.
3) 18-30 Years. The Lover:
You are now licensed to put in motion a hangover and it falls to you to make a strategy. If your goal is unconsciousness on a floor, it can be done in twelve minutes outside a liquor store. If however you seek the scenic route via jollity, noise and disappointing sex, that decision carries a duty to think and prepare. Your first advisory consists of remembering the four B’s – Water, Banana, Bucket, Bed. Water doesn’t strictly begin with B, but that’s how you’ll pronounce it. Put a pint of water, a bucket and a banana beside your bed before going out. Make it your last waking act to consume the water and the banana, and not use the bucket. For this age there’s also a magic bullet – activated charcoal. The key to hangover science is that it takes longer for the body to process alcohol than it does for us to toss it down. This leads to stray poisons in the gut, which can push us over. A couple of charcoal capsules can act as a handbrake by absorbing the worst of them. The jury is still out on its clinical effectiveness but reports from Japan, where they really need this kind of thing, are encouraging. Just remember next day that charcoal is black, and stays black – so no, it’s not a bleeding ulcer.
4) 30-45 Years. The Soldier:
The power-band of hangovers. Here we not only manage them but begin to enjoy them, first by clearing a space, which means not taking one to work – and second by understanding that half the joy of festivity lies in curing yourself with food and aimlessness the next day. A hangover brings sentimentality at simply having survived. It makes you the survivor of a train wreck, and you should look forward to that climb back to life. It’s a natural punctuation, a day off school, and only brings shame when we resist it. Science at this age teaches that B-vitamins are depleted in processing alcohol, but can be topped up by supplements before and after a session. The miracle of sleep also grows clear, compared to being awake and feeling like shit.
5) 45-60 Years. The Justice:
The golden age of self-palliative measures. You can book a suite for your hangover, take the week off. And by this age you’ve discovered milk thistle – the liver whisperer. You still carry charcoal for a sense of abandon but you don’t need it because your system has found its stride. Like a puppy at tea-time it can smell the drinks coming, put them away, and float you through the following day in nothing worse than a gentle fog. What many don’t know is that this newfound harmony mostly owes to your discovery of the true panacea: Alka-Seltzer.
6) 60-75 Years. The Slippered Pantaloon:
Many of life’s dynamics follow an inverted U-curve. Much of a good thing flattens the benefit curve, while too much of a good thing sends it down. Certain things attracting this dynamic are also cumulative – and you can feel them accumulating. Now you carry charcoal not to feel rakish but to help hold in wind over dinner. As for hangovers, if you’ve passed through the stages above, you are a silent possessor of the final truth: that a hangover’s bite comes from withdrawal. The brain has taken sedation for granted and compensates the wrong way. As holder of this truth, to milk thistle, to B and C vitamins, to fruit sugars, water, Alka-Seltzer and sleep, you have added a hair of the dog. All that remains is to polish your French.
7) 75-100 Years. Second Childishness:
The master position. Your regular ailments are now more uncomfortable than any hangover, and you toss your head in defiance. By now you’ve mastered the 80/20 rule: if the second sherry is the one that feels best, you only have that one. The crowning reward of this position is that you have successfully self-palliated through seven ages.
Now the authorities can kiss your arse.
*The article has been reproduced here with permission from the author.