Fancy a challenge anyone? How about no alcohol, for an entire year. Could you do it? I have major issues just contemplating Lent, which, incidentally, I’ve never managed. Alcohol has insidiously woven its way so deeply into our collective social consciousness that it’s difficult to contemplate its absence from our lives.
But fair play to my friend Amberlea who has boldly undertaken the challenge. She is currently on day 84 of 365 days, sans alcohol, and is documenting the progress on her blog, SilverandAmber. She admits it’s the commitment to the writing that is motivating her to keep off the quare stuff, but in cutting out the booze she’s acknowledging what many of us are loathe to admit, that we have an increasing reliance on drink.
So I too did something uncharacteristic last night. I went to the same party as Amberlea, and I drove. I cheated a bit by having a small glass of wine on arrival, to clink glasses with my friend who was celebrating her birthday, then I drank tonic water. In some ways it was easy. There were many good friends in the room, none of whom would have goaded me to drink. Not drinking booze didn’t mean I enjoyed our conversations less and probably meant that I was better company. I’m always chatty, but wine makes me more garrulous, one might say annoying. I’ve never had much of a filter anyway so a couple of stiff gins obliterates it completely. People up and down the country have been hearing stories of my intestinal tract since 1996.
In her new book, Quit Alcohol (for a month) Helen Foster recommends drinking tonic water on its own with lots of ice and a good squeeze of lime as it mimics the real thing. She makes a valid point. I knew this from working in a bar as a student and being told that bartenders sometimes gave customers who were rightly on their way a glass of tonic with a touch of gin (or vodka) rubbed around the edge and a squeeze of lemon. They didn’t notice the difference. I thought this was a rather good idea; saving them from themselves.
So much of drink is the ritual. Swirling the ice in the glass first to chill it, the hiss as you pop the cap off the Fevertree tonic, the glug of the Shortcross and the squeeze of lime at the end. Well I got all of that, minus the gin. Amberlea was drinking a very palatable non-alcoholic wine with green tea out of a dinky twenties style cocktail glass. In a tailored white sequenced top she was the Daisy Buchanan of the party, except she’s lovely, while most Gatsby fans will agree that Daisy is an asshole.
Last week I got roaring drunk. I attended a spectacular evening at Boden coffee shop on the Ormeau when the owner handed the reins over to glorious duo Jo and Erin of ‘The Edible Flower’. Together they put on a supper club of five tempting courses fusing Mexican and Vietnamese cuisine. It couldn’t have been more up my street, I was practically fizzing with glee. Jo concocted an aperitif and handed us this golden thing of beauty on arrival. It was autumn in a glass, with citrus and honey and a good kick of rum at the finish. She brews her own beer from foraged nettles and the like, so with each course came a soupçon of hoppy, malty loveliness. It was a BYO event so I came armed with a bottle of Macedonian Red. From what I can recall it was mighty good.
But Sunday morning. Oh Holy God. That bit when you raise your head from the pillow and think “What did I NOT drink last night?” before collapsing again. Beery fumes and garlic from the sopa d’ajo competed for supremacy in my nostrils. And oh joy! I was off to the park with the kids for Junior parkrun. Thankfully LSB was on board for moral support and had made the coffee suitably strong.
Instead of reflecting upon the evening as the delight it was, I felt sick and silly. My gorgeous friends said no, I hadn’t been overly verbose and yes, they would indeed go out with me again and to stop being so fretful. But I’d been managing my drink intake well since the holidays and I had a sense of toppling off the wagon, face first.
But this morning, it was with intense relief when I blinked upon my eyes and wasn’t set upon by dark thoughts and throbbing temples. I had a hurrah-for-a lack-of-gin moment, then I set about my day. I’m dining out with LSB tonight and I’m in the Northern Lights as I tap away here, but I’m starting with the Fevertree. That way I can sip a glass of wine with dinner and when I’m taking the kids to a party at Funtastic in the morning, I won’t want to bury myself in a quiet corner of the ball pit and wish for death.