An American friend of mine once said that moving to the UK was one of the unhealthiest decisions she’d ever made. I looked up over my Big Mac and snorted in derision – seriously? A citizen from the home of the Big Gulp and land of the Cheese Steak was going to tell me how unhealthy we are – I don’t think so missy! ‘Because,’ she continued, ‘when you want to celebrate, you go to the pub. But when you want to commiserate you go to the pub. And when you want to relax and unwind you go to the pub but when you want to talk serious business, guess what, you go to the pub?!’. I think she may have been on to something.
The first time I visited Singapore Mrs Lore took me out to dinner with some of her school friends, I remember we had herbal chicken soup on Changi Road (I remember because it was black, I have since discovered it is supposed to be). Being a stranger in a strange land I let them do the ordering and they started with drinks.
‘Chinese tea please.’
‘Chrysanthemum for me.’
‘I’ll have a soya bean.’
‘Make mine a coke.’
Until it finally got around to me, ‘Er, I’ll have a beer please’. I felt weird being the only one “drinking” and that’s when it hit me that Britain has a very unique drinking culture – not a pub culture, that’s different – I mean a drinking culture i.e. a culture of drinking. All the time. For any reason.
From the earliest itchings of adolescence Brits are desperate for a drink, it’s as much a preoccupation as sex because, for many, the former is essential to attaining the latter. This certainly isn’t the case in Singapore where many of my younger friends and employees don’t drink and never have. And it’s not the case in many Mediteranean countries where alcohol is consumed casually as tea and enjoyed for its own sake, not as a means to a drunk and debauched end.
My personal drinking story began at around 15 when, as a precocious young actor, I had the confidence to walk into the local Offie, bold as brass, and ask for a 3-litre bottle of White Lightning and a couple of 20:20s. The Licensee would ask me for my birthday, which tripped of the tongue with well-rehearsed ease, and then if the alcohol was all for me. ‘Yes’ I’d think to myself, ‘I’m going to drink 3-litres of gut-stripping cider and wash it down with a couple of 20:20 chasers all by myself!’ but of course I never said that aloud. I said ‘Yes, of course it’s for me, I’m stocking up the fridge for a bit.’ then handed over the sad collection of change that my half-dozen friends around the corner had scraped together from their paper rounds and made my hasty exit. (Remember when you could get shitfaced all night then wake up at 5am to do a a paper round? Happy days…) When said friends saw me appear out of the darkness laden with bottle-shaped bags their faces lit up brighter than an alcoholic’s nose and we all headed off to the local park to get pissed; a ritual repeated by generations of British youths throughout the country forever and ever amen.
Since then alcohol has been a constant companion at celebrations and commiserations, work and play through good times and bad but for how much longer?
Lately, as a newish husband and business owner with delusions of writing I’ve realized I’ve got shit to do and increasingly alcohol stops me from doing it. For every “legendary” story of a pissed night out I have three of days that were wasted due to hangovers. And my hangovers are horrific! It’s not that I feel particularly sick, it’s that I get crushing depression and paranoia, which I find utterly paralyzing. I fret about what I might have done the night before, what I should be doing right now and what I won’t get done if I don’t learn to say no. Many people my age have babies, which brings a screaming, crying halt to the hedonism of their youth but I am, as yet, unencumbered by offspring so am going to have to impose some measure of sobriety upon myself. The problem is how and to what degree? I’ve tried full-on abstinence for, like, 3 days but all I could think about was how badly I wanted a drink and what I would do for one (a LOT it turns out!), which seemed to bring me closer to the mindset of an alcoholic not further from it. I have tried switching from beer to wine, which I tend to drink much more slowly but the problem is that I FUCKING LOVE BEER! Contrary to medical advice I’ve tried ONLY drinking alone at home but I am hopeless with peer pressure and my peers are all hopeless alcoholics so I end up drinking everywhere! So here’s my cunning plan…from October 15th 2012 until the end of the year I am going to limit myself to just two drinks, be it beer, wine or whisky, in any one session because, let’s face it, one drink isn’t enough and three is the point of no return but two? Two is satisfying and sociable.
Hopefully, if my experiment works, these blog posts will get more frequent as I won’t be spending so much of my weekend in bed, recovering. I shall gain the gift of time and maybe even lose a little weight. Wish me luck my friends for I am boldly going where very few Britons have gone before, a little place I like to call Moderation. Nx
P.S. If you’re wondering why October 15th is D-Day it’s because I have a stag-do on the 11th…and a wedding on the 14th…and the groom is an Aussie…from Tasmania…I think I’ve made my point.