Listening to Rehab is probably an inappropriate moment to reflect on the deep joy of drinking.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about for many months now, ever since this whole business of producing healthy offspring put paid to some of my more irresponsible pleasures. Erdinger Alkoholfrei is the nicest tasting non-alcoholic beer I’ve found, but since it doesn’t lead the evening to develop into a panoply of fleeting smiles and stupid conversations that seem very meaningful at the time, it’s not quite the same.
Until you stop drinking altogether, you don’t really notice how much it underpins such a huge variety of social interactions, as well as professional relationships. I’ve given it up for lent, as well as for marathon training and various diets, and found it both easy and quite rewarding. It made a huge difference to my fitness, and I had no problem ordering a lime and soda in the pub and sitting there sober all afternoon. It was something I wanted to do for myself, and gained satisfaction from the self-discipline. There was always the option of breaking the seal and indulging in that fuzzy glass of whiskey after all. For the first three months of being pregnant, it was equally easy. I mostly didn’t feel like it, as I was working so hard I was mostly in bed asleep if I wasn’t in the office.
But now, five months in, I am on holiday in Greece. It’s lovely sitting on the beach or by the pool reading a book, but on the occasional afternoon, time has dragged a bit. Ordinarily, that is the great feature of holidays: the perfect opportunity to jointly descend into that other world of relaxation and freedom, floating along on the hazy late afternoon sunshine, hand half-freezing from holding a nice vodka tonic (at home, I’d pick gin, but I’m too particular about how much ice is required, and how little tonic, so I never have it on holiday, except if I’m paying a fortune to have one in a posh Delhi hotel bar).
Now, I can’t choose to crack and have a drink after all. The pool waiter brings round some limoncello on the house, and some juice for me. I watch people order a glass of white wine at lunchtime, watch the frosting dribble down the outside of the glass, and think about the crisp acidic fruitiness of drinking it. I want the taste, but I also want the relaxation and languorous pleasure. I watch Richard’s beer arrive at the sun lounger, watch him drink the first few sips, as his smile spreads more broadly across his face.
I watch some drunk people, prudishly criticising their behaviour as they laugh too loudly and weave across the cobbles of the quaint white-washed streets. And then I imagine being those drunk people, full of excitement about their evening out, conversations they might have with strangers, maybe finding some random cool bar by the beach. Or if it was winter, they’d be in a dark basement bar, drinking whisky sours.
Ice tea is perfectly nice. It’s just that when I’ve finished it, the world is not a slightly shinier place.