Much like Cubby’s Adventures in Petlandia, The Ladybird Book of the Hangover is a novelty gift book given to me by my sister. She’d never done this before Christmas 2016, and I hope she doesn’t do it again, because my OCD-like mindset means that I feel compelled to treat both of these flimsy, waste of paper projects as if they’re real books, when they’re not, are they(?), they’re things to look at once and forget about. This one is part of a long-standing series mocking old fashioned illustrated non-fiction books for children, but about “grown up” or “adult” subjects. This one seems particularly poor taste, as a hangover is hardly something that should be treated with a light sense of humour, as it’s the result of intoxicated self-destructive indulgence, which is not a good thing.
I’m writing this on my eighth day sober (Sunday 19th February), though will not be posting it for a while. I am used to having constant hangovers, for every day to be a roaring mess of nausea and regret until the evening when I start drinking again, feel normal for maybe a few hours and then sink back into alcoholic oblivion until I pass out. When I drink, I spend a lot of time on the floor. By the time this gets posted, which will happen the next time I’m too busy living (seems unlikely), boozing (depressingly likely) or reading a massive book (hopeful, though I tend to get scared of difficult texts now, my memory’s been too eroded by the years of alcohol abuse) to squeeze out a post within my “new post every three days” regime, I’ll probably be back on the bottle. By the time anyone other than me reads this, I’ll probably have vomited up booze in the street, I’ll have probably passed out on my kitchen floor, I’ll have probably lost hours or days of my memory, and I’ll probably have gotten back into the habit of day long hangovers seven days a week. I hope not, but it seems probable. There isn’t really anything to keep myself sober for, any more. I’m living pretty lacking in hope. [OMG, since writing this in Feb I’ve started Triumph of the Now TV, though, haven’t I???]
Enough about me, let’s read and then assess this ruddy book.
Actually, it’s pretty funny.
Well, not that funny.
It’s kinda funny. Funny enough to exist, I suppose, but not really funny enough to have been printed. The joke is that it includes pictures from old Ladybird books accompanied by a three or four sentence piece on the opposite page connecting the image – in a silly, “kooky”, way – to the topic of the book. Here’s an example:
That’s it. It’s doesn’t get any more sophisticated than that, but it made me chuckle several times. My favourite line in the whole book was this: “Later, he will try to buy a bulb of garlic at a self-service checkout and will burst into tears.”
What I found lacking from the piece, though, was an acknowledgement of shame, or regret. For the individuals who appear in this text, a hangover is a deserved and unpleasant state, but one that comes with no wider “bad thoughts” than temporary existential angst. A lot of the characters seem to hate their jobs, but no one seems to hate their lives, and there is only one potential reference in the whole piece to drunken sexual misdemeanours and no references at all to alcohol as a gateway drug to other drugs. The portrait of both boozing and hangovers presented herein is idealistic, is naive, and feels more like something made for children than something made for adults. Hangovers aren’t funny. Hangovers are something I stopped getting – well, noticing – because I’ve been drunk pretty much every night for about a decade. Hangovers are something that occasionally slap alcoholics in the face like unexpected farts, hangovers are a way of life for the kind of people I know and share lifestyles with, whereas in this Ladybird book they seem to be something occasional, something fleeting and something that happens as a result of having “good, clean fun”.
It’s that classic British attitude to alcoholism that has made us into this empty, backwards, wasteland. Drunks love nostalgia, no one wants to hear a new song when they’re pissed, they want a jukebox filled with music they used to fuck to back when they could get both lovers and erections; drunks want to drink the same old spirits in the same old bars, drunks want to watch their favourite films and TV shows and collapse on the same floors they usually collapse in, shit into the same fucking toilets and cry into the same fucking pillow. Hangovers are not cutesy or innocent, hangovers are what people get as a result of deep-seated but unexplored self-hatred. Daily hangovers are what I get for the same reason I read too much. My day to day life fills me with self-loathing. I hate the city I’m in and the society I’m in and my inability to feel fucking comfortable without any hair. I drink until I black out because I like disappearing, because I like feeling like I’m already dead. To mock intoxication, to infantilise it, to pretend it is childlike and unimportant and free is gauche, is ignorant, and breeds more generations of self-hating drunks like me. I’m writing this after a week sober, full of fear that I won’t manage another week like this. It doesn’t work, it doesn’t stick. When I stop drinking I get withdrawal symptoms and then I always get ill. Hopefully one day I’ll roll beyond that illness (in it now, feel ruff), but to do so I think I need a reason to be sober.
I drink because there’s no reason not to. I stop drinking to find a reason to stop drinking. I start drinking again because I never manage to. I don’t want to live like this. But, to be honest, I don’t want to live.
This book is not for grown ups.