Me and the booze are having a trial separation – but breaking up is hard to do
I’VE BEEN DRINKING too much since the weather started getting better. That is, since the weather started getting better in 2018.
I distinctly remember that last Easter coincided with a spell of happy, heavy tippling, and I never really stopped after that.
We went on our first-ever cruise last summer, and the size of my belly in our holiday snaps shows that I got my money’s worth when I signed up for unlimited drinks.
Then, in the autumn, my running stats on Strava were distinctly average thanks to the continued quaffing of sherbets.
Over the winter, I tried to emulate the Run Miles, Drink Wine slogan I saw once on a fellow jogger’s T-shirt, but when you are in your 50s it soon it becomes clear that you have to focus on one or the other
On the booze, you run slower and less far, and the meagre health benefits you derive from this reduced activity are quickly overshadowed by the deleterious effects of alcohol.
That is: you stay fat. You can’t run as far as you used to. You don’t feel as much like running, and then you start to hate yourself. Boo, hoo.
There was a time, however, that exercise and boozing used to dovetail perfectly.
Even deep into my 40s, when I was playing Veterans’ Football, the simple equation of 90 minutes + 3-4 pints (x 5 per cent ABV) seemed a recipe for unqualified happiness.
In the bar after a game, the dehydrated body quickly sponged up the 95 per cent of water in each fizzy pint, and the 5 per cent of alcohol would zoom in on the brain in concentrated form, guaranteeing each amateur athlete a pleasant trip to oblivion via banter and kebabs.
I would still maintain that the best pint is the first one after a good sweat – particularly as exercise also seems to be some sort of talisman against a hangover the morning after – but there have been too many pints and not enough sweating of late.
I’d got to that lugubrious point where drinking had become a gruelling habit, something that I continued to do long after I’d stopped enjoying it.
So we agreed to take a break. Or I thought we had agreed, but alcohol still keeps saying that it wants me back.
The first night off the booze was sheer bliss – like the first day after the Missus takes the kids away for the weekend, before it starts to bother you that the house is so quiet without them all.
That evening, I could see myself stopping for at least a couple of months but, 24 hours later, I saw a sweaty Budvar I’d left in the fridge door and wanted it, really wanted it.
What are you like? I asked myself, disbelieving, and I snapped out of it. But the next night it was the same, and again the night after that.
Waiting for Her to come home late for dinner, I held off my cravings by stuffing pistachios, olives, glasses of cordial and cornflake cakes into my disregarded maw.
It worked, because it just about gave my hands enough to do,: my paws didn’t have to be levering the top off a bottle.
Now, some 80 hours or so into sobriety, I am clinging to the words of the ex-England hooker Brian Moore, who wrote in his autobiography that giving up drinking before big tournaments was easy – after the first uncomfortable week or so.
So, if I can get through the weekend, I might be all right. I’ll be on the easy down slope.
What my long-term drinking future is, however, is about as clear as a just-poured pint of the Black Stuff.
Because not drinking is hard to do in the UK, especially if you’re a 50-something from a vaguely Judeo-Christian background.
My Mum, my Dad, my Granny, my Great Grannies and Great Grandads all drank like fishes and as soon as I got to 15, I too was happy to dive in to that ancient, noble Sea of Sauce.
Alcohol lubricated almost all of my relationships – from Freshers Week at university to Sports and Social Clubs in new towns; from meeting my wife to buttering up prospective employers. Anyone who didn’t drink was, frankly, a queer fish.
And when I once gave up for a whole year – for the sake of my mental health – I caught absolute pelters.
My footy team mates jeered, asking again and again if I was a recovering alcoholic.
My in-laws raised eyebrows and my wife tried to be supportive, but mourned the loss of Funny Old Me whenever we went out.
The other day, She came home from a (boozy) lunch with an old friend, bearing the news that the friend’s husband had been stone cold sober for two years.
The upshot? He was a right boring bastard and wouldn’t go out with his wife any more.
Little wonder, then, that I don’t have a long-term plan for drinking or not drinking.
In an ideal world, I would never drink again, given what we constantly hear about alcohol and its proven links to every deadly disease going: most notably Dementia, Stroke, Heart Disease and Cancer.
But I like drinking culture. I like the ‘psshhh’ of opening a new bottle, and the jolly, foamy head on a beer. I like the snacks – olives, crisps, nuts – on the side even though they make me twice as large as the beer does on its own.
I adore seeing a golden glass of lager with the sun shining through it, just like I used to love sunlight catching white curls of (now banned) cigarette smoke, and the stale beer smell of pubs.
I don’t want to put my relationships under strain by not drinking – even my kids say I’m much more fun when I’ve had a couple – but I’m not really one for moderation. I can’t often stop at a safe one or two.
So although I’ve given up on the drink for now, I’ll probably go back to it. Breaking up is hard to do, after all.
Maybe the best I can hope for is that, every time I crack open a cold one, I will have sweated – really sweated – for it first.