My parents were not great drinkers. They weren’t religious. And they weren’t Irish, although there was some Irish ancestry on my mother’s side a couple of generations back. Nevertheless they spent most Saturday nights at an Irish Catholic Club in Hillsborough, in Sheffield. I suppose they went there because the rest of my mother’s family did, and some of them were great drinkers. Below is a photograph of a large slice of the family in the club. Does everybody’s past look like a Martin Parr photograph?
Anyway, I have been thinking about this as a result of rereading Flann O’Brien’s At Swim- Two-Birds. I first read it a very long time ago but it’s much as I remember it, even if I like to think I “get” it rather better now than I did back then. It is terrific. Here is a picture of the author, drink in hand:
Here in At Swim-Two-Birds the hero describes his first experience with alcohol:
“It was my first taste of porter. Innumerable persons with whom I had conversed had represented to me that spirituous liquors and intoxicants in general had an adverse effect on the senses and the body and those who became addicted to stimulants in youth were unhappy throughout their lives and met with death at the end by a drunkard’s fall, expiring ingloriously at the stair-bottom in a welter of blood and puke.”
But then on the next page, “On the other hand, young men of my acquaintance who were in the habit of voluntarily placing themselves under the influence of alcohol had often surprised me with a recital of their strange adventures. The mind may be impaired by alcohol, I mused, but withal it may be pleasantly impaired.”
Which pretty much covers it.
I also dug out this picture from the family vault:
My nan is the second from the left in that picture, and she’s the only one I recognize. I don’t know where they are – a school? Milk 32, Dinners 28 - what on earth does that mean? And I have absolutely no idea who your man in the middle is, but you can see the map of Ireland in his face, can’t you? Sometimes your past resembles not so much a Martin Parr photograph as an episode of Father Ted, note the sandwiches.