SUMMER 2020-21

COASTING ALONG … with Libby Greig
It all started with ‘Dry July’

To be honest, I think that drinking in moderation is one of life’s great pleasures. I would never suggest to anyone to give it up. But that said, I confess, I gave up drinking alcohol nearly seven years ago. Since I gave up drinking — or, perhaps, because I did — sobriety has become enormously fashionable. (That’s me, way out in front of the trend and without a helpful drink in my hand.) Do I have any regrets you ask? Yes indeed, but only one, and that is I didn’t write a book about it.

Books on the subject now abound: Sober in the Country, Sober in the City, A Short or Long History of Sobriety. Of course there’s always the old joke that life certainly seems longer when you don’t drink.

It’s very sad. I could have written such bestsellers as Staying Sober for Fun and Profit or The No Alcohol Diet. As well, I can tell you now that, much to my fury, I didn’t lose a single kilo.

So what is in this new form of Prohibition? If one looks back on one’s own history of boozing, I didn’t have an ice block’s chance in hell really. My grandfather was a well-known publican, something I have only been able to admit to recently. My academic father thought that drinking was a sign of civilisation. As children, we were given wine with dinner (cut with water) so that, supposedly, we would develop a taste for fine dining. That also meant, as a late teenager, I drank huge amounts. So it didn’t quite work out as my parents planned.

They thought that one should celebrate with Champagne (Great Western), drink Burgundy with dinner (or Riesling if there was fish), brandy if you felt poorly or had had a shock of some sort, scotch before dinner, gin and tonic on hot days, liqueurs with coffee after dinner, and port with the Stilton cheese. If you were to find yourself in a pub on a hot day, a beer was quite permissible.

What hope did I and that ice-block-in-hell have?

Years ago, when people gave dinner parties (yes, I am showing my age here) those who didn’t drink were looked on as wowsers, and if you didn’t get blotto at a dinner party and then drive home you were thought of as a bit of spoilsport. I feel desperately ashamed that I used to urge my guests to have just a small glass or three.

So why did I turn away from my heritage and throw away years of drinking practice? Had I turned into a wowser myself? Well not really, the social climate has changed considerably, and the fashion for mineral water allows you to hold something cold and bubbly in your hand, which makes it much easier.

I gave up because I could. There was nothing self-righteous about it, the desire to open another bottle with dinner just disappeared after a ‘Dry July’.

I had asked myself BS (Before Sobriety) what I could do to improve my health. Infrequent exercise and frequent dieting weren’t helping, and I thought that not drinking and being sober would really make a difference. Indeed it has. Your sleep and general well-being improve, your skin is more hydrated and you feel much better all over.

And you don’t wake up in the morning wondering what you’ve said (‘oh no’ you wail ‘did I actually say that?’). You don’t have a hangover, and you have gained Brownie points instead of the dreaded Demerit points by driving your very cheerful partner home, while thumbing your nose at the breathalysers at the bottom of the street and kind of daring them to stop you … but they never do now.

When do I miss it? When I am sitting with my partner at the edge of the jungle watching a flaming sun disappear into the Bay of Bengal, and he has a gin and tonic and I have a glass of water. Well let’s face it … it’s not very romantic.

If you do give up drinking though, you do have to be careful about a certain moral smugness that creeps in, and perhaps that’s the real reason I haven’t written a book on the subject.

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