Heavy drinkers and idiots are masters of invention and self-deception

A well-known definition of an alcoholic is somebody who drinks more than you do. Certainly, if you ask any heavy drinkers of your acquaintance for a definition of an alcoholic, you will find that they always manage to structure their definition so as to exclude themselves.

For instance, the landlord of a village pub I used to go to was tipsy at opening time in the morning, staggering by about 1pm and, frankly, incapable after 2pm. Whatever you were drinking, he would join you in having just the one. The only liquid in the pub that was safe from his attention was the barley wine.

You might remember this drink, it is still available but is out of fashion. It was a sort of prototype of today's strong lagers - a kind of Ur Special Brew. It comes in small bottles and is comparatively high in alcohol. For some reason he had taken against this one form of alcohol and, in fact, the only person who used to drink the stuff in the village was an old lady who used to come in after lunch at 1.30pm sharp and have a bottle before going back home for her afternoon nap. She looked like something out of John Major's idealised vision of village Britain in her tweedy suit, shapeless hat and sturdy English gentlewoman's brogues, but as she walked past the village green or waved at people in the shop she was gazed at with awe and scandalised whispered conversations would start as she passed, people would run out of their cottages to scoop children up out of her path and dogs would dive into ditches. You see, the most notorious drunk in the county - the landlord of the village pub - had told everyone that she was an alcoholic. Obviously, he was hard pushed to come up with a definition of an alcoholic that would not include himself - in his eyes he was a mere social drinker - so, in a triumph of self-deception, he had decided that an alcoholic was somebody who drank barley wine.

Another friend I have who really does drink a lot had a trickier problem with his definition, as nothing - not barley wine, not Malibu, not even Advocaat, for God's sake - was safe from his attentions. He is somebody who goes on long binges and over the years has built up an impressive knowledge of out-of-hours drinking clubs that enables him to drink around the clock when necessary (and it seems to be imperative surprisingly often). I was interested to hear his definition of an alcoholic: it turned out that, in his view, this was somebody who was unable to get back home in the morning before his wife had got out of bed to go to work.

The human capacity for self-deception is very impressive, often showing breath-taking flights of creativity. For instance, even the most screaming bores think they have a great sense of humour, and I have never met anyone who has admitted to being a pig ignorant, feeble-minded, dim-witted stupid idiot. Not even the people who came to my house on three separate occasions to fix my front doorbell and entry phone. Each time I waited in for them. Each time they came, then rang the doorbell and went away when they got no answer.

I've got better things to do with my time, you know, than ponder the Zen-like sound of no bell ringing. For instance, I am shortly off to Australia to do a stand-up comedy tour and this will be my last column for the Independent.

I am currently spending most of my time trying to force references in jokes originally written about Guildford into making sense and being screamingly funny when adapted for use in Fremantle. In fact, the pressures of contorting my act to fit the audiences of a continent 12,000 miles away are filling my every waking moment. Every night faxes fly between my office and that of the Australian tour promoter in Sydney, full of arcane questions on which the success of my routine hinges. "Dear H Jarley, just a few more question," the faxes read. "Do bookmakers in Australia have those little biros in? Is Australian bread delivered to the shops in plastic trays and do dogs piss on it? Do Australians know who the Pope is and does he shit in the woods?" And the next morning the replies are waiting for me when I get up. "Dear Alexei, Yes, bookies do have those little pens, dogs do not piss on bread trays, but they are sometimes chewed by wallabies. Does this affect the gag? And yes, Australians do know who the Pope is, but they don't know who you are - which could be a problem."

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine