Among my earliest Christmas memories is watching my father carefully open an aged bottle of fragrant Guyanese rum and reverently pour out the first warm capful on to the linoleum-lined wooden floor. Gravely explaining to us that the traditional libation of the spirit was for the spirits to stay safe and sated in the spirit, he then proceeded to literally invite them in, family, friend, foreigner and foe, divine, “Dutch,” ancestral and indigenous…

After the ritual uncorking, he would give us all a compulsory taste of a few searing amber drops of Demerara, as a necessary protection against lingering intestinal worms, thirsty parasites and teetotaller ghosts that haunt the holiday season. Even as I swallowed, the throat burned, fire flooded my stomach, the eyes watered instantly, and both I and the transparent “Caenorhabditis elegans” sputtered in undignified disgust, as I was hurriedly given extra water and soda, with a knowing smile, to soothe the shocked mouth and stunned soul. Not only were the nematodes’ lack of limbs and length of life at risk, but so were most children’s apparently, as we were regularly caught fleeing in the opposite direction by vigilant parents and dosed with foul laxatives weekly.

I knew then I would never be a dipsomaniac. To round off the year of runnings that were anything but cool, we were treated to miniscule annual amounts of alcohol in either the rare form of a strong Scottish single malt whisky gifted to the family or its’ robust tropical counterpart distilled from the fluttering fields of fat sugarcane. The latter rums were readily available from an endless and artful array of sparkling bottles in flashing choices of clear, light, gold and dark, topped with glittering metallic labels, neatly lining the high shelves of every village shop. While a welcome improvement over the hated “senna alexandrina” leaves and pods, and “cascara sagrada” tablets, the seductive selection was irresistibly designed to draw serious drinkers from far and yonder, to part with their hard-earned money and any remaining semblance of sobriety, sense and sagacity…..

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