Finding a decent alternative to alcohol

Sobriety is fabulous, writes Mary Kenny

When invited to a party at this time of the year, the non-alcohol-drinking person looks around wildly for something decent to drink.

I have been to soirees and receptions where there is nothing – nothing – on offer, besides alcohol, except tap water. I have been invited to neighbours’ houses for hospitality over Christmas and New Year, and have ended up asking for a cup of tea, as there is no other alternative to wine, beer or spirits. Really, it won’t do!

There’s no point experts wringing their hands about the boozing culture in this country if so few people are willing to use their imaginations and offer a decent alternative. Incidentally, fresh orange juice – one alternative that sometimes appears – is not a good option: fresh orange juice is a breakfast drink, you can never digest more than one glass, and it doesn’t quench thirst.  So you’re left for the rest of the evening with water.

Sparkling water is fine, but it’s hardly a party tipple.

However, I did discover a terrific drink this year, at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin. It’s called a Rock Shandy and it’s a cocktail of Club Orange and Club Lemon. It’s petillant, thirst-quenching and cheerful. It should be served cold, usually with ice.

Another great drink is Dry Ginger – a double Dry Ginger with lemon and ice is just grand. A tiny drop of Angastura Bitter adds a dash of piquancy. Elderflower water with sparkling soda is also very pleasing.

And Coca-Cola, the original alternative to liquor, is still a great drink; it contains a mild caffeine hit which helps with the party mood.

Non-drinkers don’t call themselves ‘abstainers’ because that sounds so negative and there’s nothing negative about the freedom from intoxication. Sobriety is fabulous. But when socialising, we do need something to drink that is not alcohol, and it’s a detail that is too often overlooked.



Faith and fatherland

I can be a little lukewarm about the European Union because we never did vote for the over-weening bureaucracy which we have now: we voted for a Common Market, which was a much looser arrangement.

But I was touched to see Ukrainians in Dublin demonstrating in favour of the EU outside the European Offices in Dawson Street earlier in December.

They were so palpably sincere and so passionate in their commitment. Some of their banners, which called for Ukraineís inclusion in the EU were obviously home-made, which made it all the more affecting, somehow.

They were also singing Ukrainian hymns, at least some of the time, and one of the banners showed a venerated icon of Our Lady.  There was a simplicity of ëfaith and fatherlandí about their demonstration.

Ukraine is divided between East and West and the Western part has always looked towards Europe: their Uniate Church is in communion with Rome. Eastern Ukraine is historically interlinked with Russia, and Byzantine Christianity, brought to Russia and Eastern Ukraine by St Cyril and St Methodius.

Itís one of those cultural-political situations to which there is no easy answer. Where there are divisions, you donít want them dug deeper. So I donít know whether Ukraine should join the European Union ñ and Russia seems to have more power over the present regime.

But I admired the fervant feelings of those ñ mostly young ñ people standing on Dawson Street, waving their flags and singing.

Mind you, ideals about ëfaith and fatherlandí will soon be knocked out of them by Brussels if they do get to join the 28.    


Advising the adolescent me

Thereís a dinner-party fashion, in London, for confessing ëwhat I would tell my 14-year-old self?í and itís certainly an interesting way to start a conversation.

Prime Minister David Cameron has disclosed that he was a late developer, educationally, and was bored by science: if he could go back in time, heíd really concentrate on studying science properly. He holds seminars in 10 Downing Street these days about ëgraphene and quantum theoryí.

I know exactly what I would say to my 14-year-old self, but I also know that myself at 14 wouldnít take a blind bit of notice. Like everyone else, I would advise the adolescent me to pay more attention to studies and less attention to dreaming: but I also needed better teachers who explained things more lucidly.

Only years and years after I left school did I understand the point of ëparsing and analysisí: we were made to do it, but it was never explained to us. I thought that geometry was something you learned  off by heart ñ not that you figured out through logic. Again, nobody explained it properly.

Yet I am thankful that my 14-year-old self had enjoyed many benefits ñ a protected environment, no pressure to grow up too quickly, and no drugs. So we count our blessings as we wave goodbye to 2013.