Forty days and forty nights
I have given up alcohol for Lent. This has nothing to do with faith. I simply wanted to see whether I could manage it – with the gloomy thought that the more difficult I found it, the more necessary it was to persevere. I was also quite taken with the idea of sparing my body all those liquid calories..
I should confess to allowing myself a few exceptions. By prior agreement with my conscience I quaffed some pink champagne at a party last week, strictly as a one-off. And I have decided that Lent doesn’t happen abroad (by which I mean once I’ve got through Security at an airport). I’m currently wondering if the Irish Embassy can count as “abroad”. No, I haven’t started mixing in diplomatic circles, but I have been invited to a friend’s book launch there – and have been much looking forward to a “I’m a Professor of Classics, it’s what I do” kind of evening. (For readers outside the UK baffled by this arcane allusion, it’s all explained in the link.)
Anyway, these occasions apart, I have kept to the resolve – even though the hours between 6.00 and 9.00 pm each day require a considerable exercise of willpower. The disappointment is that I don’t feel any different yet. True, the good news is that I’m obviously not such a drinker that I’ve had withdrawal symptoms. But I’m not feeling noticeably healthier either. All in all my body seems in pretty much the same shape as it was before.
I have, however, learned quite a lot from my current vantage point about the social ubiquity of alcohol in my world. Being a temporary teetotaller round here can feel a bit like wearing a burka in a bar.
For a start, an awful lot of human interaction, in Cambridge at least, seems to rest not just on drinking, but on reciprocal drinking. Meeting after a day’s work in the pub still seems the obvious thing to do; but try buying your colleague a pint while you sip at a tomato juice. Or worse, take someone to lunch, and offer them wine, while you stick to the Perrier. Maybe I’d be less clumsy at this if I had more practice. But so far the alcohol/no alcohol disequilibrium has ruined the very sense of sharing and communality that these occasions were meant to foster.
The next thing is that I haven’t found any non-alcoholic cold drink that tastes nice when you’re not actually thirsty. Plain water is boring. Fizzy water or coke is fine for a glass or two, but after that you end up full of fizz. Orange juice likewise is only fit for small doses, before you’re oozing acid. A friend who is also on a Lenten regime suggested Angostura Bitters and Tonic – but I haven’t tried it yet. Any other suggestions, anybody?
There’s also an issue of social visibility. The fizz or acidity problem doesn’t really turn out to bite very often – because when you do go to a party, you hardly ever get refilled if you’re on soft drinks. Hosts come round to top up the wine, red in one hand, white in the other -- but once you’ve chosen a juice, they seem to expect you to make it last all evening. (Must remember this when I’m back on the booze.)
And I’m sure that there’s no need to point out that after a couple of hours the drinkers do seem very silly indeed to anyone who has not joined them. Nor do I need to mention the fact that in your sober state you end up giving them a lift home.
If you look at the time I’m posting this, though, you’ll spot the one real advantage that I have found. Non-drinkers do get more hours in the day. After half a bottle of wine, I’m usually happy to crash out around midnight. After an evening on the camomile tea (yes, that’s been a good discovery), I’m still blogging strong at quarter to two.