During a rambling post-Christmas conversation prompted by a surfeit of minty chocolates, my mother started reminiscing about new year traditions in post-war Wales. These included the Mari Lwyd, where blokes on hobby horses whizzed around the village and engaged in a kind of improvised rap battle with local residents – who, in the event of losing, had to admit the excitable jockeys into their home and give them cake and ale.
How very different to my own new year tradition, which consists of sitting very still with a flannel on my forehead and vowing to consume neither cake nor ale for the foreseeable future.
I'm writing this slightly in advance of the first of January, but there's a grim inevitability that this morning will feature melancholy pondering over those classic New Year's Eve equations: beer x beer = shouting, beer + wine = wrong, and memory ÷ wine = paranoia. "This can't carry on," I'll think to myself as I swig from a bottle of Gaviscon that bears the congealed pink stains of regret. Only yesterday, alcohol was tasty, moreish and lent a golden sheen to a glorious evening. Now it has similar allure, beverage-wise, to the contents of a neglected fishtank.
Many of us will now be thinking about spending 40 days and nights in a boozeless wilderness. But it's a tricky decision to make. I gave up drinking for a sizeable portion of 2011, and for the rest of it I stuck to the Government's seemingly arbitrary and infuriatingly sensible limit of 21 units per week. As a result I learned the following:
1) Buying alcohol-free beer in the supermarket requires age verification, while buying alcohol-free bananas definitely does not. 2) Discussions with one's doctor about alcohol intake tend to be tense stand-offs involving guesswork, bluff, counter-bluff and a final figure that's more the result of delicate negotiation than a realistic estimate of your actual consumption. 3) Multiplying the number of millilitres in your drink by the ABV and dividing it by 1,000 to calculate your unit intake becomes more difficult as an evening down the pub wears on. 4) Forgoing booze may give you greater clarity and may significantly lower your liver count, but it can also bring a terrifying sense of ennui – an ennui that might be best tackled by leaping on a hobby horse and having rap battles with your neighbours. Good luck.