Andrew Martin: A couple of units is never enough

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The guidelines on safe alcohol consumption are to be reviewed by the Science and Technology Committee of MPs. Now alcohol consumption is an area in which I have considerable experience – you might almost say it was a speciality of mine – and so I therefore presume to offer some advice to the Members concerned.

The guidelines were first created in 1987, and let's leave aside the fact that a member of the Royal College of Physicians' working party that drew them up has admitted they were "plucked out of the air". The recommendation is that a man should limit himself to 21 units a week, a single unit (for example) being a 125ml glass of rather weak wine.

I do sometimes ask for a small glass of wine, safe in the knowledge that I will almost always be given a measure of 175ml, which is technically a medium. As I knock it back, I think to myself, "Well, I did ask for a small, it's not my fault if they gave me a medium." Very occasionally, I insist on a small – a 125ml measure – and when the glass is handed over, it's all I can do not to laugh at the risible size of it. Therefore, I would like to state in the clearest possible terms before the committee: 125ml is not enough wine. It takes about three minutes to drink this healthy measure, and then what are you supposed to do? Go home to bed? If I were forced to stick to 125ml glasses, I would drink three more or less immediately, thus bringing me up to the daily limit for a man.

That would be enough wine for me, providing I was then going to have some more wine later on – like a couple of decent-sized glasses over dinner. What I mean by "enough wine" is "enough wine to get me pleasantly pissed" because, my dear parliamentarians, why are we drinking in the first place if not to get pleasantly pissed? What do I mean by pleasantly pissed? I think it's a fairly universally agreed benchmark. It means that one is happier than one was before, more generally tolerant of all the idiots around one.

A quick for-instance. As I write this I am on a train sitting next to a man who is listening to his iPod while in conversation with his friend. Because he is listening to his iPod, he has to shout. A minute ago, he shouted, "Look! A mosque! I can tell by the spinarets!" (Yes, that's right, "spinarets"). Thirty seconds ago, he shouted, "My God, I've just realised the coffee and biscuits are free! Let's get some more! Quick!" Being sober I would like to hit him. If I were pleasantly pissed – which takes about three-quarters of a bottle of wine – I would find him amusing.

I submit to the committee that being pleasantly pissed is socially beneficial, which is why I believe your review should aim to establish once and for all: "How often can the average man or woman get pleasantly pissed without dying of liver failure?" Because if there's one thing more important to me than getting pleasantly pissed quite often, it's not dying of liver failure, for the very simple reason that if I were to die of liver failure then I would not be able to get pleasantly pissed. QED. ("Dying of liver failure" also strikes me as an admirably simple concept, whereas the question of whether one might "suffer long-term ill-effects" from exceeding the limits is less compelling. I mean, life itself might be described as the encountering of long-term ill-effects.) If you don't know the answer, please say so. Or if you're "just making a sort of very rough guess", please also say so. But let's assume the answer is: "The average man can get pleasantly pissed three times a week providing he drinks nothing at all on the other days of the week." That would be a recommendation I would respect. And I might even follow it – some weeks.

Andrew Martin's latest novel is 'The Somme Stations' (Faber)

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