Declan Lynch: Attempting to drink 16 pints a day responsibly is no picnic

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From the Sunday Independent

‘Alcohol is limited to 48 cans per person.” I was reading a preview of the Electric Picnic in the Irish Times, when I came across this extraordinary line. It was sitting there near the end of the piece, under the heading “Festival Tips”.

And if it seemed extraordinary to me at the time, what is perhaps more extraordinary is that it has been out there for quite a while now, without any significant comment being made about it.

One might have thought that the Irish Times itself would be moved to editorialise about Ireland, a country in which “alcohol is limited to 48 cans per person”, and no one passes any remarks on it.

But no, it didn’t seem to strike anyone, anywhere, as being strange in any way. Though the piece in which it appeared was clearly not of a satirical nature in the style of, say, Christy Moore, everybody just moved on, finding nothing of note either in the next line, which stated that “there will be an off-licence on site for purchasing alcohol throughout the weekend”.

Which would no doubt

be deeply reassuring to anyone who felt that being “limited”to 48 cans for the weekend might cramp his style.

I know we’re talking about a festival here. But I still suspect that Ireland may be the only country in the world in which the word “limited” can be attached to the words “48 cans” and “alcohol”, in order to give the impression that the situation is under control.

I also know that we’re talking about three days here, with a supposedly mature clientele making these lifestyle choices in a responsible fashion.

But even if you’re wearing a pair of designer wellington boots, and you’ve brought your own campervan, it is quite hard to drink 48 cans of beer responsibly.

You don’t need to be an actuary to work out that 48 cans for the weekend is 16 cans a day. And you don’t need any skill set, actuarial or otherwise, to figure out that in most cases we’d be talking here about the larger size of can, perhaps the pint cans of draught Guinness, rather than those small cans of beer — even if, in theory you’d prefer the small beer, on principle as an Irish person you are morally obliged to use your allocation to the limit. Indeed if you turned up with your 48 small cans, you might well be regarded as a fool.

With those notional 16 pint cans a day, even if you were drinking them with all the responsibility you could muster, you’d already be getting through a lot of your American standard “units” for the week. I mean, 16 pints is quite a lot, even by the Irish standard, especially when you have full off-licence facilities on call. And yet, that figure of 16 is still a bit too neat, is it not?

It suggests that the patron will choose to divide his drinking time equally, seeking more or less the same level of drunkenness every day. But sometimes, it doesn’t quite work out like that.

Certainly during my own long and successful drinking career, I don’t recall a single occasion on which I stopped after 16 pints, just because that was my quota for the day. You might stop after 16 pints for other reasons, but not for such a technicality; 16 is just a number, after all.

So it’s quite possible that some of those folks with their 48 cans did the math in their own way, coming up with a formula whereby they might get horrendously drunk on the first day, knocking back 20 or even 25 units of the old firewater in the opening exchanges, with nary a thought for the morrow.

One way or the other, they were guaranteed to spend a large proportion of the weekend deeply, deeply drunk. And this was if they conformed to the official guidelines, if they did it by the book. Naturally there would be some who would seek to exploit any loopholes — you were limited to 48 cans “per person”, but if you were going with another person, one who didn’t drink, for example, or at least who didn’t drink as much as you. . . there was a real opportunity there, to increase your intake going forward.

With the Picnic over, you can be building yourself up now for Arthur’s Day. With your keen alcoholic eye, you will be aware that that particular festival takes place at the end of September, a tradition stretching back as far as 2009. Which means you can have a right good drink before you go off it for a while, laying low until the run-in to Christmas.

And I note that Jack Daniels, not to be outdone by Diageo, have their own version of Arthur’s Day, a sort of a Jack’s Month.

“Mr Jack’s exact birthdate is unknown, due to lost birth records,” the bullshit goes. “But it’s customary to celebrate Mr Jack’s birthday in September.”

Though I am a great admirer of “Mr Jack”, this is a custom of which I was unaware until last week. Like Diageo, and whoever made the 48 cans of beer to which you were limited at the Electric Picnic, “Mr Jack” urges you to drink responsibly.

At the end of all this, you will be very responsible indeed.