Alcohol: I drink therefore I am
New guidelines warn Britons to drastically reduce their boozing. But is a life without liquor worth living? Hell no, says John Walsh
Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Friday 01 June 2012
Shambling thirstily fridgewards this morning, in search of enough pineapple juice to quench the Kalahari-like aridity of my tongue after the excess of the night before – following an awards ceremony, I'd celebrated by up-ending a bottle of Puligny Montrachet into the engraved glass vase I'd won – I heard about the new idea, put forward by Oxford University, about recommended levels of alcohol consumption.
Its research, published in the British Medical Journal, suggests that, if British people adjusted their daily alcohol intake, it could save 4,600 lives. The only trouble is, the adjustment they recommend is to half a unit a day. That's a quarter of a pint of beer, or a third of a glass of wine. Holy mackerel.
Can you imagine how boring life would become if we took this seriously? Popping into the Builders' Arms after work for "just a quarter of Timothy Taylors, thanks, Sam". Imagine the Bridget Jones generation, grown a little older, meeting for shrieky gossip over 50ml (a standard glassful is 175ml) of Chardonnay. Would you want to end your busy day with teeny-tiny pipette-sips of wine in the evening?
The truth is, few people pay much heed to the government's "recommended" daily alcohol intake. I've never met anyone who thinks (or drinks) in "units". I suspect a self-policing gene tells you it's unwise to have more than three pints after work, to floor "nightcaps" of Scotch during the week, or to mess with red Burgundy at lunchtime unless you want to punctuate the teatime hour with loud snores. Department of Health guidelines operate mostly as a nagging finger in your consciousness, a background rumble of disapproval that's audible when you're having your glass refilled just one more time at a party.
There's evidence, though, that this is a generational matter. When we read that there's a rise in hospital admissions attributable to alcohol, we can be sure that most of the admissions are in the 30- and 40-something age groups. According to new figures from the Drinkaware organisation, young people haven't inherited their parents' compulsion to get regularly rat-arsed. Since 2003, there's been a 16 per cent decrease in the number of British 11-to-15-year-olds who have tried alcohol. And fewer of them are happy to tolerate their friends' fascination with cheap lager and supermarket vodka.
They're a generation who'll probably take seriously the words "Please Drink Responsibly" emblazoned on the side of a bottle of Jack Daniels. The rest of us, I'm afraid, will continue in our folly, laughing at "guidelines", and deciding that a life in which we all consume no more than five grams of alcohol a day would be a life strangely denuded of texture and excitement.
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