As some of you may remember, the husband and I have the habit of giving up alcohol for Lent (here is last year's Lenten bulletin). I caught this from my much missed old editor, Peter Carson (I've linked you to Rodric Braithwaite's wonderful obituary), and this is only the second Lent I have faced without him.
There isn't anything religious in this abstinence for us. It is proof that we can do it, a chance to give the livers a break, and generally an exercise in latter day "moral improvement".
Each year, there is a rather dispiriting round of attempts to find a nice soft drink (is it to be a ginger beer year or a tomato juice one?), and a series of reflections about what our links with the fermented grape (for apart from some signature cocktails, wine is our tipple of choice) actually depend on. It is I have to say, as I have observed before, something of a relief to discover that a desire for a drink is almost overwhelming at 6.30/7.00pm, but has pretty much disappeared by 9.00pm (so this is SOCIAL addiction, right?).
The other question is what exceptions we are to be allowed. On my understanding, the observant Catholic would have a free alcohol pass every Sunday, so reducing the rather more than 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Do do we get some days off too?
In the past, I have taken the line that the Lenten rules don't apply abroad, or -- to be more precise -- dont apply airside at an airport and beyond (have never thought that a flight to Los Angeles without a single drink would do me, or my aeroplane neighbours, any good at all). Some years this has resulted in quite a few days off, other years none at all.
So this year, our -- admittedly self-obsessed -- family negotiations have concentrated on getting this sorted in advance. If we have the Catholic allowance of six days, then which are they to be? Well, I think I will be the other side of the Channel for 3 days (so that's the "abroad allowance"). But then maybe there could be a tiny "party allowance"? Perhaps 2 days, which would still keep us within the target six. There's a great book launch coming up, and an Oxford "feast" for me (now given an asterisk in the diary).
But, oh dear, we also had an invitation to a rather good bash last Thursday. It was very tempting to make it the sixth day off. But in the end, we both decided that you couldnt give yourself a free pass just two days in. So fruit juice it had to be -- though, blimey, parties where everyone else is getting nicely mellow and you are stone cold sober, can be hard work. (How on earth do people who regularly dont drink manage? That's the other learning experience of a dry Lent -- makes one realise how silly one is when you've had one or two).
Anyway, at the bash, I bumped into one of my fellow strandees in Delhi, and explained -- to his slight amazement at catching sight of me with a tumbler and a straw -- that I was off the booze for Lent. And I went through the whole litany of how it wasnt for religious reasons, but just to make my self feel better etc. And he elegantly turned on me, to point of that this was only, then, an exercise in self satisfaction and moral arrogance, and that I should have a glass of wine immediately.
I didn't (think of the liver, Beard), but I fear he was right.