For anyone reading this who has children, the idea of "late-night eating and drinking" will doubtless fill you with dread. Indeed, when you've got small kids, "late-night" anything other than bed feels like a threat, shorn of all its exciting, glamorously seedy, edgy undertone. To me, until very recently, late-night eating and drinking meant two slices of toast made from mouldy bread, washed down with a mug of low-cal chocolate Options, all of it wearily consumed at midnight while I was propped up against the kitchen counter wondering if being a mother – while fulfilling and meaningful – had also, in fact, atrophied my brain.
In the exhilarating days when my compadres and I were resolutely out on the tiles every weekend and even some weeknights (wa-hey!) and free to partake in this most indulgent of pursuits, the fare on offer was almost exclusively lock-ins in a dodgy north London pub, followed by a kebab grasped shakily in one hand, the other loosely gripping your platform shoes – and that would be platform shoes the first time round, not today's remix of that ugliest of styles.
There were certain pubs everyone knew would serve past closing time, or – more thrillingly – might actually let you in after 11. No passwords, no claims to know someone else, just a nod and there you'd be until the small hours or, for the hardened drinkers, all night.
Even more excitingly, this being north London in the late 1970s, the pub's constituents would comprise old Irish guys, a few local hard-nuts, plus maybe a couple of members of the new, rising band Madness. And there'd be me and one or two other thrill-seekers, but – unsurprisingly – very few women. It wasn't riotous or rowdy. We were simply all united by a shared desire to have a drink after the witching hour – nothing wrong with that. And perhaps also by an inability to know when enough is enough. I might still be struggling with that.
In the acting business, starting your eating and drinking late is par for the course – if you're doing a live show that might not be until 10.30 or 11pm. It was ever thus. The only problem being that if you start a sesh at that time your clock gets all out of kilter. Many's the time I staggered with my kids to their nursery bleary-eyed and having forgotten a vital item of clothing – mine, not theirs.
If I sound like a soak, I'm not. I've just enjoyed life to the full, and sometimes for the full 24 hours available in a day. And it is still true that I really look forward to Christmas when you're constitutionally "allowed" to have a drink in the morning. I've calmed down a lot, though – certainly enough for my first reaction to a late-night eating and drinking proposal to now be, "Hmm, what about the indigestion?" Sexy, huh? Plus there's the ridiculous but nagging fear that eating and drinking nearer bedtime is somehow more fattening than earlier in the day.
For me, eating out of hours can take other forms. Filming my contributions to the BBC2 show Food & Drink, I'm not eating the food I may be sampling at anything like the appropriate time – just like no one's actually dying in a train crash on Coronation Street. I'm only pretending that I want duck/chocolate/cold soup at eight in the morning because that's when it's good to film. Still, I'm not complaining because, you know, chocolate is chocolate at the end of the day, even if it's not the end of the day.
My real problem is that I don't know how to drink without eating – whatever the time of day. I've nailed eating without drinking, which is just as well because I still don't understand how, for example, rural Italian workers get through the rest of the day after a couple of grappas with their morning espressos. But apart from, say, George Best, who has mastered the art of drinking without eating? Research indicates that we all eat and drink much more in the company of friends than we would if doing so alone, but I can't see the point of eating and drinking at all if not with others – the whole sharing aspect is absolutely vital to me.
I was brought up by Scottish parents who thought the brusque ritual of humiliating me at family meal times would get me to eat less – see how well that worked out for them? I still can't hear the words "spag bol" without going into a sweaty panic about how much less I'm going to get than everyone else at the table – even when I'm the person who's made it.
As Presbyterians my parents were locked into the ludicrous yet ingrained belief that denial and abstinence are directly related to the quality of one's character and therefore one's success in life. Not that they didn't enjoy food and drink – indeed quite the opposite – but, crucially, they felt bad when indulging themselves. So doing it anyway but feeling bad about it at the same time made it OK, see? God forbid they just indulged wantonly, without a care in the world.
And let's not forget that this is the land that gave us porridge, and if ever there was the culinary equivalent of a hairshirt, then porridge has to be it. And before you leap to the defence of the Celtic breakfast, note that my parents made it with water and salt.
Many a night – most memorably post doing The Fast Show Live in the late 1990s – we'd all "tie one on" at Soho House (mine's a vodka and lime, lots of ice, thanks) and good times were had by all. Save for some crisps, little food would pass anyone's lips. Thinking about it now, it must have been us who were keeping London's minicabs afloat. Crucially, back then, I couldn't hear the wee voice hissing accusations in my ear – that I was a "bad person" for carrying on like this. Now I can hear him (it's always a him) loud and clear, so it's back to the glamour of toast at midnight. I'll leave late-night eating and drinking to the young and the brave… and, let's be honest, the committedly blokey.
Arabella Weir is an actress and author. Her latest novel is 'The Rise and Rise of Tabitha Baird', published by Piccadilly PressReuse content