12. Drinking in the Holiday Season

  1. 01. Fiji…Again?
  2. 02. Fun & Games
  3. 03. Growing Indigenation
  4. 04. Coup de Grâce?
  5. 05. Friends Go Away
  6. 06. Mercy by Coup, Merci Beaucoup
  7. 07. It’s Nice to be Needed
  8. 08. Walk Like A Man
  9. 09. Extreme Retirement
  10. 10. Get a Grip
  11. 11. Dangerous Cargo
  12. 12. Drinking in the Holiday Season
  13. 13. Fit for Purpose
  14. 14. Emotion Sickness
  15. 15. New Fiji’s Eve
  16. 16. One Helluva Christmas
  17. 17. Enough is Enough

The roar of the rain was incentive enough to stay in bed well past noon. It was the best sleep I’d had in a week, much of which had been spent drunk. Every year the “silly season” lead-up to Christmas seems to get a little sillier, and 2014 was no exception. My work in the public service alone provided five career limiting opportunities in the form of Christmas parties — although in truth the only significant “career limiting” decision one makes in the public service is to join the public service.

There was the “Program” party, which entailed drinking with the people with whom I actually work. Then the “Branch” party mandated imbibing with the people who work with the people I actually work with, followed by the “Division” party obliging a touch of the tipple with the people who work with the people that work with the people I actually work with. The “Group” party dictated spirited festivities with distant colleagues I generally avoid. Finally the “Departmental” party was a tedious affair, swilling with the swells and the swine.

IMG_7942The Australian workplace continues to have events that overtly refer to Christmas. Such Christmas parties disappeared years ago in the US, where they are now invariably called holiday parties or year-end parties or given some other accurate yet insincere appellation. By most estimates, only about 10% of Australians attend church regularly (in America that figure is closer to 40%), so it seems most Australians long ago forgot Christmas had any religious connotation, enabling them to retain the name without feeling discriminatory. Sadly, some Aussies seem to be remembering, as the number of “Pre-Holiday Break Get-Togethers” is on the rise.

The Australian workplace also continues to involve a fair lot of overt drinking, regardless of season. Almost every session of any seminar or conference will open or close with drinks – some both open and close with drinks. Every Friday colleagues send around all-staff emails announcing where after-work drinks will be, events that are well-attended by those from all levels, be they young or old, married or singles, parents or sane folk. Hung-over workers brag about having had “a big night”, enthralling their colleagues with the previous night’s antics. They expect gentle treatment in return, and their workmates, even their bosses, compassionately oblige. I’ve heard executive directors announce at staff meetings “If you do the crime, you do the time”, in effect meaning those with hangovers are still expected to show up and perform substandard work.

These attitudes have largely disappeared in the USA. Employers don’t provide drink, and even avoid being seen to provide opportunities to drink. Employees disguise hangovers or call in sick. They certainly don’t brag or ask for pity on account of one, lest they be reprimanded or fired. On Friday colleagues go their separate ways, those going out hoping against hope they don’t run across each other at the tavern or brothel.

Not that there’s any less drinking going on. In my experience, secretive drinking is more common in the US, probably since the stigma around alcohol is so much greater. I’ve known several Americans to “hide a bottle”, but not a single Aussie to do so – its right there on their desk! Secretive drinking also makes getting the required help for those that need it more difficult and unlikely. And when it comes to intoxication issues, don’t get me started on prescription medications. Sadly, both the Americanesque alcohol stigma and penchant for prescription medication seems to be making inroads in Australia, albeit slowly.

During the silly season, Aussies pull out all the stops. Many businesses pride themselves on the lavishness of their Christmas parties, trying to out-do their competition and last year’s event. Even the stodgy and regulated public service views it a necessary to provide at least some drinks, gratis, at their events.

Not that my personal social life had been any less silly over the past week, either. In between the daytime office parties, every evening meant dinner with these folks, drinks with those folks, followed by a quick one with the neighbours, into a long night with the visitors. We still had five days of Fijian festivities to withstand before Christmas, and then a whole week of uninhibitedness right through a New Year’s Eve planned in Sydney. Being an insalubrious raconteur is tough on the liver, which is why I reserve the entire month of January for its rejuvenation.

For the time being, though, my liver would have to be satisfied with the four hours of alcohol-free sleep I could provide before the restaurant stopped serving lunch at three. The rain stopped, conveniently and cooperatively, at two-thirty. Frank and I made our way up to the restaurant, finding a fantastic view we had somehow overlooked at breakfast. It had turned into a glorious and comfortable afternoon.

DSCN1280Soon our sextet had reconvened over a tasty lunch on the veranda while an island quintet crooned overly-amplified but otherwise pleasant tunes at us. Red-vented Bulbul (birds)  stalked us in considerable number, attacking any foodstuff left unguarded for more than an instant. “They weren’t a problem until the cat died…” our waitress explained. Time to get another cat.DSCN1275

The group tried to sketch out rough plans for our three-night resort stay. A free cooking lesson was offered; there were boat tours that left at appointed times but worryingly nobody knew when they returned, there was horseback riding and kayaking and snorkelling and diving… But for the most part, we were all quite content to resort to resorting, that is, sit around on the beach and read, or in my case, write, our respective books. It was agreed that pre-dinner drinks and nibbles would be served nightly at five in Clara and Aydell’s bure.DSC03780_DxO

The conclusion of our late lunch left little time before the appointed cocktail hour. Frank and I toured the grounds and took a quick swim near the marina where the low tide water remained reasonably deep closer than a half-mile walk across the sandy mud flats.DSC03832_DxO It was my first taste of the Bligh Water, through which the deposed captain Bligh had sailed the twenty foot launch on which mutineer Mr. Christian had stranded him. Rather than stop for lunch with the possibly cannibalistic Fijians, Mr. Bligh completed a 3,600 mile journey to Timor. Personally, I would have stopped for lunch, perhaps have tried the kid. When in Rome, and all that.

DSC03826_DxODrinks and nibbles loosened up the group. We hadn’t seen each other in months and had a lot of ground to cover. The festivities segued back up the hill to dinner, then continuing unabated back at the bure into the night. It is commonly believed that conversations suffer – or enjoy? – a “seven minute lull”. There was no sign of such a thing this night. Time and again I waited for the chance to get a word in edgewise only to watch the discussion lurch in a direction unpredictable yet fascinating enough to make me forget my unspoken bon mot. It was no secret amongst these friends that the less I spoke the more I’d drink, so eventually they yielded the floor in self-defence.

Around eleven, exhausted, Frank and I headed the two hundred meters down beach back to our bure. On the way we could see them douse the lights in the restaurant and bar above. A voice called in the wilderness “Where’s the party?” Moments later a highly intoxicated fellow guest appeared out of the darkness, bellowing “Where’s the party?”

“Sorry, mate, we’re just wrapping it up for the night.” I explained.
He stumbled past without acknowledging us, peering into each bure. He may not have even seen us or heard me. He demanded “Where’s the party?” a few more times as he disappeared into the night.

“Stay out of the water, mate!” I helpfully suggested.

We smiled and shook our heads. Been there, done that!

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