Friday, December 21, 2007

Hangover Cures

What is it we are all going to be trying to make next Tuesday? New Year's Resolutions, if we are halfway sane.

In fact - if i may digress for a moment - it turns out that there may be a very good reason why we fail to keep our New Year's Resolutions other than the obvious abject feebleness of will. It's this. We can't remember what they are. Simple. And if we actually wrote them down, then we can't remember where we put the piece of paper, either. Oddly enough, the piece of paper has known to turn up again again exactly a year later when you're casting around for something on which to write the next year's abortive attempts to pull your life into some kind of shape. This is not, it turns out, a coincidence.
Incidentally, am I alone in finding the expression "it turns out" to be incredibly useful? It allows you to make swift, succinct, and authoritative connections between otherwise randomly unconnected statements without the trouble of explaining what your source or authority actual is. It's great. It's hugely better than its predecessors "I read somewhere that..." or the craven "they say that..." because it not only suggests that whatever flimsy bit of urban mythology you are passing on is actually based on brand new, ground breaking research, but that it is research in which you yourself were intimately involved. But again, with no actual authority anywhere in sight. Anyway, where was I?

It seems that the brain is affected by alcohol. Well, we know that, of course. and those who don't yet are about to find out. But there are different gradations to the effect, and herein lies the crux. The brain organises its memories like a kind of hologram (it turns out). To retrieve an image, you have to re-create the exact conditions in which it was captured. In the case of the hologram, it's the lighting, in case of the brain it is, or can be (it turns out), the amount of alcohol sloshing around in it. Things that happen to you or, frighteningly enough, that you yourself say or do while under the influence of alcohol will only be recalled to your memory when you are under the influence of that exact quantity of alcohol again. these memories are completely beyond the reach of your normal, sober mind. Which is why, after some ill-advised evening out, you will be the only person who is completely unaware of some barkingly stupid remark you made to someone whose feelings you care about deeply, or even just a bit. It is only weeks, months, or in the case of New Year's Eve, exactly a year later, that the occasion suddenly returns to your consciousness with a sickening whump and you realise why people have been avoiding you or meeting your eye with a glassy stare for so long. This often result in your saying "good grief" to yourself in a loud voice and reaching for a stiff drink. which leads you up to the next level of inebriation, where of course fresh shocks await your pleasure.

And the same is true on the way back down. There are certain memories that will only be registered by revisiting exactly the same state of dehydration as the one in which the original events occurred. Hence the New Year's Resolutions problem, which is that you never actually remember the resolution you made, or even wrote them down, until the exact same moment the following year, when you are horribly reminded of your complete failure to stick by them for more than seven minutes.

So what is the answer to this terrible, self-discipline. A monastic adherence to a regime of steamed vegetables, plain water, long walks, regular workouts, early nights, early mornings, and probably some kind of fragrant oils or something. but seriously, the thing we are most going to want on New Year's Day, and be desperately trying to remember how to make, is a good hangover cure, and especially one that doesn't involve diving through ice in the Arctic. The trouble is, we can never remember them when we want them, or even know where to find them. And the reason why we can never remember them when we want them is that when we heard about them we didn't actually need them, which isn't any help, for the reasons outlined above. Nauseating images involving egg yolks and Tabasco sauce swill through your brain but you are not really in any fit state to organise your thoughts. Which is why we need, urgently, to organise them now while there is still time. So this is an appeal for good, effective methods of freshening up the brain on the New Year's Day that don't involve actual cranial surgery.