Mira Bar-Hillel: Here's to the liberated non-drinker

Alan Johnson is wrong if he thinks those who decline alcohol are pariahs

Share
Related Topics

I just had lunch next to the champagne bar in the glorious St Pancras International station. The food was excellent and my companion drank a glass of fizz and another of a rather nice (I am assured) claret which may even have come from France. I had some fresh orange juice and tap water from the Thames.

The subject of what we were drinking or how much never came up. In fact, it hasn't for years – possibly because everyone knows that I don't and never have. It's not for medical or (God forbid!) religious or moral reasons. I just never acquired a taste for it and it's been a long time since I felt in any way pressured to drink alcohol.

So why is Health Secretary Alan Johnson claiming that teetotallers are society's "new pariahs" and should be celebrated for standing up to the social pressure? My experience is that this is far from the case.

Things were different 30 years ago, and are probably still different among hairy sports fans and in ladette and celeb circles, but what if you're the wrong gender for the former or the wrong age for the latter? The last time anyone suggested that my orange juice would benefit from a shot of vodka was one Friday afternoon around 1984 and the venue was a Fleet Street pub. In those days a girl – never mind a bloke – had to struggle to avoid being plied with alcohol by well-intentioned chums who didn't want to take No for an answer.

I don't personally need the stuff, being gregarious and extroverted enough without it. In fact, I find that moderate drinking improves the behaviour of many of my English friends as it unties tongues and generally disinhibits. Anything between two and four glasses of wine or pints of beer will bring them to my natural level of fun, mischief and irreverence.

Problem is, at some point entertainingly tipsy turns into full-on rat-arsed. Being teetotal makes one acutely aware of the exact point when "social" drinking turns decidedly anti-social and I turn away and depart, because there is nothing less funny – or more lonely – than being the only sober person in a roomful of drunks.

Times have changed. I am still always politely offered an alcoholic beverage, but nothing is made of my equally polite refusal. Indeed, it will often be greeted with a sigh of near-relief ("Great, that means I can drink less" or even "Oh good, in that case I'll just have water myself").

And while drinking is not illegal, doing other things under the influence is. A colleague was just banned for a year. When he gets back behind a wheel he will be extremely careful not to let it happen again, and his decision not to drink won't be questioned. So no, Alan Johnson, I don't think we're the new pariahs. But if you want to celebrate me – I'll drink to that.

mira.barhillel@gmail.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Ashdown Group: PHP Web Developer / Website Coordinator (PHP, JavaScript)

£25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: PHP Web...

Recruitment Genius: Estates Projects & Resources Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in London, Manchester, Br...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: moderate, iconic royals are a shoe-in for a pedantic kicking

Guy Keleny
 

Letter from the Whitehall Editor: Cameron is running scared from the “empty chair”

Oliver Wright
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us