Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Drinking dilemmas

It’s the same feeling you get while listening to a recording of your own voice and trying to convince yourself that it doesn’t really sound that awful to others. Or happening across yesterday’s glossy foodie column in your newspaper and finding a big photograph of the meal you cooked last night in a moment of imagined spontaneity. But what else are you going to find in a G2 “Christmas drinking special” when you haven’t had a drink in nine months, and come across a helpful wooly-scarf wearing journalist “talking to three people about how giving up alcohol has improved their health and self-confidence without ruining their social lives”?

And so it kicks off with Brendan, a 52 year-old publishing director who hasn’t touched a drop in seven years and finds theatre and art an agreeable substitute. He tries hard not to “get preachy”, but then he all but falls apart when he admits that in order to appear presentable to others in a social context he feels he has to justify his existence with lines like “I’ve had my allocation”.

Penny Jones, 26/dry for two years/London again, also seems to be more concerned with how her abstinence appears to others than about any inner purpose. “People in the pub don’t really notice,” she insists, while being able to rest assured that she won’t fuck-up at the office Christmas party. Still, I suppose it’s hardly surprising when the reason she stopped in the first place was accidental, having been on antibiotics for a month and then seeing another as a good opportunity to better herself.

Finally we find cab-driver Martin, 29/guess where from/off it since 2 years, who seems to have been affected least by this crashing change of lifestyle. He gives his main reason for quitting: “because, first, I can and, second, I didn’t like the hangovers,” and concludes by admitting that he doesn’t even like the taste that much anymore.

These people are all alcoholics, people who cannot drink properly either in their own eyes only or further a field. But why does such a strong wiff of self righteousness always have to accompany such admissions of failure? They each report – as does the standfirst, in great black ink -- feeling much better for it, but I’m convinced they’re all lying. Sure, there is a moment when you notice that your eyes aren’t puffy, your head mince and your limbs numb, but after a while you simply adjust to feeling great each morning. Your reference point shifts, but you invent highs and lows on either side that feel every bit as good and bad as the spikes of a hard binge.

But back to my dilemma. I loathe these people and media trends because I see a reflection of myself in their pathetic testaments. It fucking has ruined their social lives, by definition, as it has mine. But, then, what has one human-gestation-period of sparkling mineral water done for me?

There is nothing like feeling at the top of your game, in whatever you do. I had complete control over my drinking, but only in a separate version of personal reality which overall I had absolutely no grip on whatsoever. The general tolerance I had built up meant I could spend a good 15 hours on a session with no one really noticing, using spirits, wines and beers in appropriate measures and moments to reach the gates of oblivion by midnight. I could, contrary to pharmacologist and president of the forum on food and health at the Royal Society of Medicine Dr Paul Clayton’s view in the next article in the Christmas drinking special that “alcohol is alcohol no matter how you slice it”, use my experience of what and in what quantity would provide the quickest and safest route there, depending of course on everything going on in the more real world of Wives and Children around me. And I miss it all terribly, even though ultimately I could see that I had began to lose control of either existence and that things were going to start crumbling. No amount of weight loss is going to change that memory.

Which brings me to dilemma number two: I am a rational person who likes to reason via theory and experiment, and therefore hold in high regard the mass of scientific knowledge. Yet I disagree with the chemists on this, Clayton in particular. It’s the kind of thing they love to chortle about in their labs together – “isn’t it so sweet that the masses think gin makes mascara run, particularly in the post-menopausal female. Or that they think the famous tequila worm is hallucinogenic because they confuse mescal with mescaline.” Fuck, I would love to believe it was all mythical too. But this is where my logical credentials are bent out of shape, as it simply isn’t true that whisky makes you feel the same as Champagne. And a proper vodka tonic buckles you in an instant like no other drink can.

Christmas drinking specials. Give us something more interesting, like what the other side gets up to for example. Fucking hell, you’d think people had forgotten just how wonderful Christmas spirits can be.

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