The End of Dry January

Posted on February 1, 2023

I always find that if I get into the habit of not doing something, I can get quite good at it. After about a week of not drinking, I have got myself out of the habit and I go in search of chocolates instead. The downside of this is that I am also very good at getting back into habits. Dry January knocks me out of habitual boozing but by spring, as a bit of warmth sets in, off I go again. By autumn, something alcoholic passes my mouth on most days.

The Good Drinker

During dry January, I have been reading a book by Adrian Chiles, called ‘The Good Drinker’. It is quite a rarity as books on alcohol go, as it is about slowing down, rather than stopping. This immediately makes me wonder if Chiles is in denial about his drinking. Basically, he doesn’t want to be an alcoholic but he doesn’t want to stop drinking either. Is that even possible?

Forget whether you like Chiles or not, the personal battles with the rights and wrongs of alcohol intake he has, are familiar to many of us. Like me, he always thought that the maximum safe amount of alcohol recommended by the medical profession is bullshit. Why we think we know better than experts is anyone’s guess? However, the fact is, once we pass 14 units of alcohol a week, our chances of doing damage, increase. Chiles has decreased his weekly numbers from 60-70 units to between 20 and 30 by cutting out the pointless ‘one for the road’ and ‘night cap’ type drinks. So he might still be doing a bit of damage but not as much.

What is an Alcoholic?

That’s a great question and nearly everyone has a different answer. I have always regarded an alcoholic as someone who has bottles of vodka hidden all over the house. Someone who gets on it as soon as they are awake, indulges in domestic violence and fails to hold down a job. By believing that is how to categorise alcoholism, we can satisfy ourselves we don’t have dependency issues. This is a somewhat historic disposition of mine. I have always comforted myself by being not as bad as others. Whether it was staying out of Mrs Toma’s dunces class, being a middle table salesman, or not drinking as much as Ged from The Cricketers, I would be alright.

The other thing to do was “keep off the spirits”. This was something our pub going fathers would teach us. We could sink as many pints as we wanted but we had to stay off the spirits. They were the slippery slope, apparently. Most of my peer group took to this parental education better than they would any other advice. As a consequence, I am probably not alone in remembering parents of friends who didn’t go to the pub, as a bit strange. What weirdo doesn’t go to the pub? As a consequence, every friend I had, liked pubs, whilst those who didn’t, faded into history. Many of them stayed local but they might as well have been in Mexico, as I never saw them.

The Pub

A while back, I walked into a pub with an engineer who was running a site in London that I was supplying electrical labour to. I ordered some drinks and told the barman to stick on them on a slate. I knew we would have at least 2 pints. The engineer then asked how often I used this pub. I was perplexed by this question, as I had never been in the pub before. It turned out that he thought I had shown the authority of a regular. I thought, “fuck me, I have got so good at walking into pubs, I’m now an expert”. It must be the 10,000 hours of practice thing.

The thing is, I have gone right off pubs. They are not really diverse social hubs anymore, at least as far as I can see. Numbers have dwindled so much, it is only the stragglers from yesteryear, clinging on. The barstool populists were always there but they were generally overwhelmed by the fact that pubs used to be really busy and most people, of all classes, were decent. It was quite funny taking the piss out of the type of blokes who beat up muggers, didn’t like darkies or druggies, and once shagged three Swedish porn stars in the shower. They are having the last laugh now, as they are the dominant force. They even had King Boris the Bullshitter as their leader for a while.

No Pubs no Booze?

You’d think that with the death of the pub came the death of booze. I’m not beaten that easily, turning instead to the cricket club, the patio in the back garden and the sofa. I never used to booze at home (probably because I was in the pub) and I don’t really know when this change of habits came along. I think I can link it back to when I moved to Andover in late 2016.

My local pub was in a little village about a mile away. When I wasn’t staying at Jennifer’s, I could walk there, or just have a couple of pints and drive. In a virtual repeat of my dad when I was a kid, I would go out late, about 10:00 PM. By holding out that long, I could avoid the temptation of getting tucked into 7 or 8 pints, like them alcoholics do. Of course by going out at that time every night, I got to know the regulars. They were nice enough but I couldn’t help noticing how they kept telling the same stories, night after night. It was like Groundhog Day. The stories were always decades old which made me wonder what on earth they had done with their lives since 1985?

One Dark Night

One night, 9:30 arrived and I got myself ready to pop out and once again hear about when Roger brought that live salmon into the pub and killed it by whacking its head on the bar. Then, without much prior thought, I went to the Co-Op and got a bottle of wine instead. I went home, watched the news, then Newsnight and went to bed. I never went to that pub again. It was like my brain couldn’t take it any longer. after 30 years of listening to and indeed, indulging in my own bar stool twaddle, it was over.

It had been coming for a while, but a bit like a broken marriage, I had survived on denial. I don’t want to get into politics on this post but I am sure it was Brexit that sealed the deal. Brexit was like the moment a man finds condoms in his wife’s glove compartment. It was the end for me and the pub because the last standing locals were nearly always Brexiteers without knowledge or a logical argument with regards to EU membership or laws.

So, thereafter, home drinking crept up on me. I have had a dry month every year since 2018 and it always helps me break the habits that have built up since the previous year. The next logical step would be to stop forever. Part of me would love to, but the truth is, I enjoy it too much. The glass of vino on the patio outside my garden office, the Peroni whilst messing about with the barbecue, or the vital couple of pints after playing cricket. I don’t feel equipped to walk away from those things. What I do need to stop is the bottle of plonk after the couple of pints after cricket.

All I get from it is a sore head and a desperate feeling of melancholy and apathy.

1 Reply to "The End of Dry January"

  • Norman House
    February 1, 2023 (7:06 pm)

    Some interesting themes in this post, Bob. All thought-provoking, as always.

    I’ve never done a dry January. I do occasionally go a few days or a couple of weeks without a drink, but with no particular reason or time of the year, just more on a whim.

    When I was playing sport more seriously in my twenties, I once went 3 years without an alcoholic drink. I drank a lot of tonic water and used to get high on quinine! Once I realised that I’d reached the peak of my sporting achievement and was never going to play for Arsenal at football or cricket for Essex or England, I decided not to punish or deny myself any longer!

    I was talking to my son about my relationship with pubs the other day. These days – I rarely think, ‘I should go to the pub’. I meet up with a few different social groups once or twice a year, but it’s always with lunch or dinner and I go to the odd pub quiz, but I can’t remember the time I just went for a drink.

    I’m probably in the Adrian Chiles school of relative moderation. As he has found, there is quite a fine line between alcoholism, alcohol dependency and social drinking. The line is different for everyone, but like the way I approach many things, I don’t get too religious about it.

    Certainly, the traditional view of alcoholism is the one you portrayed in your post and is very much about hiding your dependency from others.

    On the flip side of that. There was a neighbour of mine (I didn’t know well until the day he died) who sometime back got lung cancer. He’d never smoked or drank and he was pi$$ed off about his illness and subsequent death. It’s a longer story than that, but not one for a public forum.

    I’ve just got my editor’s comments back on one of the novels I’m writing, but I’ve got an annoying cold/cough at the moment; the Lemsip/honey/lemon is not working, and I can’t concentrate on her review, so it’s red wine this evening and commenting on your blog post!

    Yes, I know – wine is not the right answer!
    But as my granddad used to say. Tomorrow’s another day – and he was only wrong once 😉

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