A phrase in a reader's letter last week caught my bloodshot eye. It said: "An alcoholic drinking 30 units of alcohol a week."
It took a moment to sink in. At first it seemed that some iron-willed alcoholics were limiting their intake to three bottles of wine a week. Ah, but no, the correspondent was a drug-prevention professional relaying a new official line: anyone who drinks more than three bottles of wine a week is an alcoholic.
And that's probably true if we're talking about eight-year-olds. Yes, an eight-year-old drinking three bottles of wine a week is cause for concern. They certainly shouldn't drink as much as I do. Their little livers have less processing power. On the other hand, the Beast from the East is considerably bigger than I am and he might cope bravely with a cubic foot of chardonnay because he's fighting fit, seven foot two and weighs 300 lbs. He'll have a liver the size of a Dunlopillo.
Things can move quickly in the public discourse on these things and across a range of issues of health, attitudes and social policy. The official version gets accepted by sheer repetition and suddenly a whole bunch of us get reclassified as racists or paedophiles or hate criminals.
In this case we who drink more than usual are reclassified as alcoholics. I deny it and will fight anyone who says different. Yes, as soon as my friends come round, we'll tough you up! A sign of "having a problem", is it, getting angry when idiots criticise my drinking, is it? Get 'em up!
There was a period of my life covering some months – obviously I can't remember exactly how many – where I was drinking more than 30 units a week. In fact, I was drinking 30 bottles a week. Five bottles a day except at weekends when I'd cut down for social reasons.
It was a lot, I agree. You may think I am boasting foolishly, and to be honest, there may be something in that. However, the fact remains that for some consecutive months in the mid-Eighties, I was drinking 30 bottles of wine a week. I won't go through the daily timetable but it was easier than you might think for a young man with a fast metabolism, an excitable nature and energetic pursuits. One pointer: you have to make full use of lunch. It gets early runs on the board that are difficult to make up later in the day.
Whatever you may think now, it never occurred to me I was an alcoholic. I was dependent on coffee, that was obvious, because giving that up abruptly caused a week of headaches no aspirin could move.
But reverting to my long-term trend of a bottle of wine a day? That came about without "cravings, feeling sick, sweating, or convulsions", the suite of symptoms associated with alcoholism. On the contrary, my system breathed a gentle thank you.
Today, my current intake of a bottle a day is three times the official advice. No one is supposed to be having more than couple of small glasses of wine a day. As a result, millions of Britons can be classified as alcoholics.
This is unwise. Millions of Britons (the ones who drink two or three times the official limit without being alcoholics) will add it to the official inflation of everything, and take less notice than they otherwise would. Not only of this advice but of all sorts of other official instruction. Because advice changes over the years, according to the passing fashions. Research has told us very different things about eggs, aspirin, water, and even alcohol. Binge-drinking, I can remember, was once praised as being safer than steady soaking.
And every decade, the safe limit goes lower and lower."Don't take any notice of it," one chief medical officer told my pal at one dinner. "We just keep lowering the recommended intake because we know everyone lies about how much they drink." And the more people lie, the lower the limit is driven.
My complacency has some sort of pay-off for the NHS. You will say that we cost the public purse, but the sums haven't really been done. If I'm right, this level of drinking suits me for various particular and peculiar qualities in my somatic individualism.
So, I don't go to the doctor all the time complaining about pains in my liver because I assume the best. If I'm wrong, I'll die prematurely and save the state very significant costs in care, bed space, winter-fuel allowances, and free bus travel.
Meanwhile, the "worried well" who believe all this official terrorism go to their doctors for their constant check-ups and neurotic need for reassurance. They'll live forever, add significantly to the national debt, demand constant immigration of young carers and annoy their children for an extra 30 years....
There's much more to be said on this, but you'll have to excuse me. It's nearly 6pm.