To be fair, everyone needs to discover their limits.
And this is one of those theoretical conundrums about which the British tend to recommend consulting direct experience without delay; how does one know one’s limits if one doesn’t exceed them once at the very least?
Well, my first dalliance with strong waters ended in tears and to my utter mortification.
I naively thought I had been civil enough but the first impression the stuff left on me wasn’t remarkably different, come to think about it, from that which it left on the cat called Webster in Mulliner Nights
by P.G. Wodehouse:
For some minutes Lancelot Mulliner remained where he was, stunned. Then, insistently, there came to him the recollection that he had not had that drink. He rushed to the cupboard and produced the bottle. He uncorked it, and was pouring out a lavish stream, when a movement on the floor below him attracted his attention.
Webster was standing there, looking up at him. And in his eyes was that familiar expression of quiet rebuke. ‘Scarcely what I have been accustomed to at the Deanery,’ he seemed to be saying.
Lancelot stood paralysed. The feeling of being bound hand and foot, of being caught in a snare from which there was no escape, had become more poignant than ever. The bottle fell from his nerveless fingers and rolled across the floor, spilling its contents in an amber river, but he was too heavy in spirit to notice it. With a gesture such as Job might have made on discovering a new boil, he crossed to the window and stood looking moodily out.
Then, turning with a sigh, he looked at Webster again — and, looking, stood spellbound.
The spectacle which he beheld was of a kind to stun a stronger man than Lancelot Mulliner. At first, he shrank from believing his eyes. Then, slowly, came the realisation that what he saw was no mere figment of a disordered imagination. This unbelievable thing was actually happening.
Webster sat crouched upon the floor beside the widening pool of whisky. But it was not horror and disgust that had caused him to crouch. He was crouched because, crouching, he could get nearer to the stuff and obtain a crisper action. His tongue was moving in and out like a piston.
And then abruptly, for one fleeting instant, he stopped lapping and glanced at Lancelot, and across his face there flitted a quick smile — so genial, so intimate, so full of jovial camaraderie, that the young man found himself automatically smiling back, and not only smiling but winking. And in answer to that wink Webster winked, too — a wholehearted, roguish wink that said as plainly as if he had spoken the words:
‘How long has this been going on?’
Then with a slight hiccough he turned back to the task of getting his quick before it soaked into the floor.
Into the murky soul of Lancelot Mulliner there poured a sudden flood of sunshine. It was as if a great burden had been lifted from his shoulders. The intolerable obsession of the last two weeks had ceased to oppress him, and he felt a free man. At the eleventh hour the reprieve had come. Webster, that seeming pillar of austere virtue, was one of the boys, after all. Never again would Lancelot quail beneath his eye. He had the goods on him.
Webster, like the stag at eve, had now drunk his fill. He had left the pool of the alcohol and was walking around in slow, meditative circles. From time to time he mewed tentatively, as if he were trying to say ‘British Constitution’. His failure to articulate the syllables appeared to tickle him, for at the end of each attempt he would utter a slow, amused chuckle. It was at about this moment that he suddenly broke into a rhythmic dance, not unlike the old Saraband.
It was an interesting spectacle, and at any other time Lancelot would have watched it raptly. But now he was busy at his desk, writing a brief note to Mrs Carberry-Pirbright, the burden of which was that if she thought he was coming within a mile of her foul house that night or any other night she had vastly underrated the dodging powers of Lancelot Mulliner.
And what of Webster? The Demon Rum now had him in an iron grip. A lifetime of abstinence had rendered him a ready victim to the fatal fluid. He had now reached the stage when geniality gives way to belligerence. The rather foolish smile had gone from his face, and in its stead there lowered a fighting frown. For a few moments he stood on his hind legs, looking about him for a suitable adversary: then, losing all vestiges of self-control, he ran five times round the room at a high rate of speed and, falling foul of a small footstool, attacked it with the utmost ferocity, sparing neither tooth nor claw.