Though my parents in their younger days hardly drank at all, they believed that if my sister and I were allowed the odd tipple, we would not grow up to regard booze as forbidden fruit and would therefore not abuse it when we got to our teens. But there was something they didn’t know: I had been in love with the idea of booze long before I ever touched a drop, and I intended to get as much of it as possible as soon as possible.
As a kid I looked with fascination and envy at the bejewelled wine goblets of fairy story kings and queens, at the brimming bowl of Old King Cole, and I wanted me some of that stuff. A good thirty years before they invented those flexible tube jobs that they use in pubs to pump coke, lemonade and such into Martini - which practice should be outlawed – I used to imagine such a tube attached to a small chrome vase that stood on the mantelpiece, and I would pretend to dispense from it not fizzy pop but red wine. I had no idea what red wine tasted like but I knew it would have some kick, some intensity, that other potables lacked. I wanted to get pissed; I thought it would be like when you spin round and round and fall down laughing with the room dipping and bobbing all around you. I might have been only six and totally inexperienced in getting wasted, but I was bang on – that is what it’s like. If I came from a family of piss-heads this would perhaps be easy to explain, but I did not. My niece at age 2 once picked up my sister's glass of wine and sloshed it down in one: 'lovely!'. Subsequently she developed the usual childhood revulsion for alcohol, a stage I seem to have bypassed.
Eventually I began to sample booze widely, and became the enthusiast I had always felt destined to be. In ‘Drinking: a Love Story’ Caroline Knapp tells of her love of the rituals surrounding alcohol:
I loved the sounds of drink: the slide of a cork as it eased out of a wine bottle, the distinct glug-glug of booze pouring into a glass, the clatter of ice cubes in a tumbler. I loved the rituals, the camaraderie of drinking with others, the warming, melting feelings of ease and courage it gave me.’
Yep! White wine or vodka and tonic, like diving into a cool swimming pool after a fraught, hot day. Red wine or scotch, like a warm bath when you get home on a dark, icy night. Knapp also says she loved alcohol’s ‘ability to shift my focus away from my own awareness of self and onto something else, something less painful than my own feelings.’ Well, Caroline, I agree about the ritual and the sensuality, but we part company on the painful feelings bit. I just like the colours, sounds, aromas, tastes and effects of hooch in most of its forms. I love finding new tipples. I was delighted to find that the Papaioannou winery in Greece every November released a primeur that tasted exactly the way I had imagined wine would taste when I was a kid. The label went on about berries and forest fruits, but to me it was that essence of Opal Fruits and Spangles with a hint of Cherry Menthol Tunes on the finish that I had fantasized at six.
So isn’t it a bugger, such an absolute bloody fucking sod, that alcohol is so bad for you? Even if you take all those guidelines about units per day with a pinch of salt, (OK yeah, perhaps especially if you take them with a pinch of salt) it gets to you eventually. I have abstained for the last four days, because I decided that all my aches and pains, general grumpiness and insomnia, were all caused by red wine too enthusiastically taken. And it was so: I feel a lot better for the break, and a bit better off. Don’t know how long this abstinence will last, though. I can only drink so much herb tea, I can only stand so much of plain, unadorned reality, and I have the the feeling that sustains you during a power cut: normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.
Caroline Knapp knocked the booze on the head and took to smoking more. It was the fags that killed her in 2002. She was 43. God bless her.
(Knapp, C., 1996 Drinking: A Love Story New York, Delta.)