To booze or not to booze . . .
I don’t mind the one’s about teenage binge-ing. These tend to prompt a few minutes thought along the lines of: if we hadn’t put all our energies for the last twenty years into trying to keep the young off cigarettes and Class C recreational pharmaceuticals, then maybe they wouldn’t be going out to get slaughtered every Friday night. The kids have got to do something transgressive after all.
In the same vein I have some sympathy with the Moslem parents who opposed the ‘smoking in public places’ ban. Given that their children weren’t allowed to drink alcohol, there ought to be something a bit wicked they could go and do while they sipped their orange juice, without having to stand outside in the cold and rain.
It’s the doom-laden articles about middle-aged, middle-class women hitting the Sauvignon Blanc after a hard day in the office that I prefer to avoid.
These usually contain one of those self-help checklists – where answering ‘yes’ to more than two of the questions is supposed to indicate that you are already on the primrose path to fully fledged alcoholism.
Do you look forward to a drink in the evening?
Do you ever drink alone?
Have you had a hangover in the last 12 months?
And so on, with a range of questions a good half of which are what we classicists would call nonne? questions – that is to say, they expect the answer ‘yes’.
But this weekend, being entirely off the booze for Lent, I read all the anti-drink tirades (there’s a couple in the papers most Sundays) with a nicely clear conscience. Not just the ones about the women drinkers, but the sad little pieces about how 24 hour pub opening has failed -- surprise, surprise – to turn chilly Britain into a Mediterranean café culture.
Long term readers of this blog, with good memories, may recall that this is not my first attempt at taking forty days and forty nights off the bottle. Last year I had a pretty good go at it, but with a get-out clause: namely, I allowed myself to drink “abroad” (and abroad started the far side of security at the airport and included the Irish embassy).
The same get-out clause operates this year, but I’m not actually going away anywhere. So this time it really is wall-to-wall ginger beer. And just like last year, I am so far -- almost three weeks in -- feeling no different than when I was enjoying a glass or two of wine of an evening. No better and certainly no thinner (though I cant speak, of course, for my liver).
Reading them now in my confident state of abstinence, I sense something missing from all these well-meaning articles, and something a bit out of proportion. Of course some of the stories they tell are shocking: people dying of cirrhosis in their thirties can only be very bad news indeed. But, at the same time, this unmitigated finger-wagging is never going to hit the target.
Because the bottom line is that – while there are both sad and bad reasons for drinking, and some tragedies in its wake – for the last 8000 years alcohol has, on balance, provided more pleasure than pain. It tastes nice, it oils the social wheels, it helps you put the screaming toddlers to bed without resorting to violence, and it hasn’t yet brought any civilisation to its knees. As drugs go, it’s really not got such a bad track record.
So when Easter comes, I shall be back on the old Falernian