It's a Guy Thing

A Royal Hangover

And what liquor does to the body

By Ian Kirke / @ianjkirke 

Rubbing shoulders with the British Royal family should have been more than sufficient reason to act with a degree of decorum. After all, Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, were only a stone’s throw away. I was at Royal Ascot, in my best suit, shirt and tie looking, if I do say so myself, rather dapper. As a COVID-19 test event, the usual attendance levels had been reduced by around seventy-five percent, thus eliminating the usual carnage associated with getting a drink at the bar, sitting down anywhere, and accessing the toilets. Owing to a simple case of being in the right place at the right time and being able to commit to the digital transfer of a ticket I was soon taking my coronavirus pre-screening tests and studying the form. The latter observation is stretching the point somewhat as I normally choose the name of a horse that resonates with what I’m currently thinking about or has a tenuous connection with a speedway rider or club. 

Having been to Ascot races many times and also policed the event, I was more than aware of the symbiotic association of the event with alcohol. As a cop in the early 1980s, the drinking culture was rife and I had come to regard the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol as part of the landscape. I can recall, as a twenty-something rookie, controlling the traffic at the horse crossing proximate to a clubhouse. It was a boiling hot summer’s day and the kind bar staff kept leaving me a cold refreshing beer hidden behind a bush. Come the end of the event I was significantly happier than at the commencement of my tour of duty. Many years later it dawned on me that I had been charged with the safety of some of the most valuable horses on the planet whilst half-cut. 

Binge drinking was par for the course. As I matured, became a parent, and climbed the ranks the lack of compulsion coupled with the scarcity of opportunity led to a more stable relationship with booze. I am not a heavy drinker. Indeed many of my friends would probably now describe me as a lightweight. So what happened to me on this day in Her Majesty’s playground came as quite a surprise. I ended the day unable to remember certain parts, feeling like I had been beaten up and becoming aware that my body was under attack. The phases of this dramatic deterioration gave little early indication of what was to occur and, as I write three days after the event, I am still feeling rather delicate. I have been drunk before but this felt different and for the first time in my life, I was compelled to discover what the hell was happening to my poor body. Was it simply an age thing? And did the subsequent remedies offered up by my more teetotally inclined friends and family have any discernible merit? Of course, I knew the overall solution to my final woes was to simply drink less, yet on the way out of this experience I was curious to discover why the following day, amongst other things, my farts reminded me of the last time I went to a post-mortem, my pee was darker than my poo, why I had started to smoke again after a sabbatical of nearly forty years, and exactly what type of chemical and biological attack I had inflicted upon my body? 

But before I turn to a formal medical analysis it would be remiss of me not to chronicle the day’s drinking as far as I can remember it, since it would appear that I had bouts of amnesia. For instance, did I recall the FaceTime with the ex-wife of my drinking chum Chris, where I allegedly spoke to my recently adopted cat (that’s another story in itself)? Did I fuck! At 11am the day began with a large gin and tonic. Chris always pours gin into a tall glass in tribute to Niagara Falls. He has never owned a gin measure. So I am guessing this was a treble, followed by another, before we hopped into a taxi for the short drive to Ascot. Whizzing through security, waving our virtual tickets and COVID all clears, we immediately bumped into a Champagne tent where we invested in a bottle, priced £100. Perhaps this was somewhat out of character since I am a tightwad with honors. But then again, we went halves. This made total economic sense and we got a free commemorative bag too. The Champagne was polished off pretty quickly as we drank in the elegance of the racecourse from the posh Queen Anne Enclosure. So far so good. The remainder of the day, at the racecourse at least, became a repetitive sequence – bar, bet, talking bollocks, and bar again. I would estimate that I had four pints of Stella Artois beer, and a similar bevy of double gin and tonics. Again, I felt surprisingly good and enjoyed a chicken burger and chips, with the bottle of lager option. Around 6:30pm we left and taxied over to a local Chinese restaurant. I can vividly remember walking the few steps to the table and ordering my usual – spring rolls, beef in black bean sauce and special fried rice. This is where a sporadic absence of recall occurred as the following day Chris sent me a video of my dinner that appeared to be almost on fire as it sizzled and spat on the mini hotplate. I couldn’t remember that bit, but I do recall the bottle of red. I can’t remember the journey back to his either, but what I do recollect is a sudden, spontaneous meltdown – a shutdown of memory, ability to walk in a straight line and, apparently, talking nonstop gibberish. 

Ian Kirke

Turning to my medical team of amazing National Health Service angels from the south coast, sipping a pleasant cup of tea I gingerly filled the dutiful nurses and health professionals in on the chaos of that day, and sought their collective sage advice… 

Within the context of my day at the races what the fuck was happening to my body?  Since consumption was consistent throughout the day in ambient surroundings my body had commenced a dehydration process. I was familiar with this facet since echoes of my mum shouting, “drink lots of water!” when I went on the piss as a student came flooding back. I more than likely ignored her then, as I did on this occasion because the only water I drank was contained within the several gallons of alcohol. I didn’t fully appreciate the impact of temperature, and as one of my nurturing nurses explained, “In hot weather, this can ramp up the process, leading to confusion, loss of balance, coordination, judgment and loss of inhibitions.” Perhaps I should have loosened my tie and removed my jacket, but I was looking fucking irresistible! Or was that my loss of judgment speaking? 

Why did I start smoking cigars after nearly half a century? I was slightly reassured when one nurse admitted that she had stopped smoking years ago, but often fancied a ciggie when she had quaffed a drink or two. A colleague took up the drunken dialogue. “There is a link with the impact of nicotine on the brain. It dulls the ability to self-regulate; thus, you drink more.” In summary, the booze had opened the sluice gates of sleaze and the cigars more or less kept them wide open. 

The fun time feeling was maintained since I was informed that alcohol plays havoc with the receptors (basically the structures that regulate the messages in our brains), increasing the desire to smoke, thus creating a vicious circle. Medically speaking the cerebral cortex is affected by alcohol, making us do things we wouldn’t normally do when sober. Hence the explanation for the cigars. I then remembered how gorgeous Sharon looked on that eventful night in 1983, yet in the morning she had undertaken considerable change. It all made sense now. 

Why did the more obvious symptoms of being pissed only occur in a dramatic fashion towards the end of the day? This question made several of my nurses giggle and I detected a degree of naughtiness as many admitted to having been there too. I felt less of a hopeless case since they knew what I didn’t and many still drank – respect! 

I was then briefed that alcohol stimulates both dopamine and serotonin. Collectively these neurotransmitters boost the happy-go-lucky feelings. That explains why serotonin is also known as the happiness hormone, with dopamine being the feel-good equivalent. I also discovered that oxytocin is the cuddle hormone. No wonder I was prone to telling anyone close to me that I fucking loved them at the end of an intoxicated evening! 

The sudden, dramatic implosion was simply due to the fact that I had reached peak concentration levels in my bloodstream. 

Why, the following day, did my farts smell of a mortuary? The mixing of my alcohol intake ramped up the sulfate levels, resulting in chemical Armageddon, allowing the bacteria in my intestines to have their own rave. The normal absorption of nutrients failed on a catastrophic scale and the resultant chemical explosion meant that the exhaust fumes were toxic enough to remove the enamel from your teeth. I really had fucked with my personal biology. 

Why was my piss a shade of dark mahogany? “Your piss was this delightful color due to dehydration, simple as that!” came the abrupt reply. That dammed water thing again! According to the Protein Data Bank in Europe, the chemical formula for Gin is C23 H22 F3 N3 O2. I needed more of the H20. My mum was right all along. 

What happened to my memory? A more serious response brought the significant health issues into focus. “Drinking alcohol impacts on the hippocampus, slowing down the manner in which the receptors communicate with each other, thus causing short term memory loss.” 

This sobering response made me think of the irresponsible nature of this binging session. The hippocampus is a complex brain structure embedded deep within the temporal lobe and is responsible for memory and learning, two of my most important attributes. It is a delicate and vulnerable structure that can become damaged by a variety of provocations, including booze, often leading to a variety of neurological and psychiatric disorders. Certainly no laughing matter. 

Was this totally down to an age thing? My gang of Florence Nightingales were in no mood to soft-soap this one! “Yes, age does have an effect on this. The brain in an older person is more sensitive to alcohol, and the cells of the hippocampus can deteriorate making older people more vulnerable to short-term memory loss.” Being old, on this occasion, really did suck! 

Why, for a couple of days after, did I feel like I had been beaten up by a cage fighter? My advancing years continued to haunt me as I wasn’t spared any dumbing down of the medical post-mortem. “Sadly, it’s age-related again since your metabolism is slower, so alcohol stays in the system longer. Muscle aches and pains are due to inflammation in the body as a result of dehydration, and an electrolyte imbalance. The breakdown of alcohol into toxins creates additional stress too. Falling arse over tit doesn’t help either!” Maybe I had done that too, but to be perfectly honest I couldn’t fucking remember! There was no tell-tale debris on my trousers. Actually, where the fuck were they? 

Are there any post-wankered remedies that work? I was hoping someone would say a big fat greasy breakfast, but alas it was the simple acts – staying hydrated and sleeping to let the body fully recover. The ‘hair of the dog’ was, as I had always suspected, for complete mutts. 

What damage had I done to my body and is it permanent? At this juncture, I held my breath and listened intently to the softly spoken health professional. “Long-term alcohol use can cause irreparable damage to the brain, nervous system, pancreas, liver, and heart.” Thankfully there did seem to be some glimmer of hope in my circumstances, “After your day at the races – apart from the obvious effects of slurred speech, sickness, loss of inhibitions and falling over – short-term damage can be naturally repaired.” Thank goodness I only attend Royal Ascot once in a blue moon!

If you had been my medical conscience on the day how better could I have managed the ultimate carnage? “Don’t get pissed! Pace yourself, stay hydrated, and eat plenty of nutritious food. Have a good time but be sensible. In other words, do as we say and not as we do!” Even the professionals strayed! I felt less compelled now to leave the room donning sackcloth and ashes! 

So there you have it! The demons of drink reviewed by angels. However, to leave you on a more philosophical note, celebrating the huge significance of the hippocampus, I will leave the last words to arguably one of the greatest literary sages of all, Oscar Wilde, who according to legend, loved going on the lash too – “After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.” 


© Ian Kirke 2021