April is the cruellest month, TS Eliot wrote in The Wasteland, and he was almost right except he was out by four months, as January is the true bastard of the calendar here in the northern hemisphere. The weather starts to get properly cold, the stores of Vitamin D run out, and, worst of all, we have nothing to look forward to except maybe reed crosses or getting snowed in again. The most exciting thing to happen in this accursed month is phoning your bank in the vain hope that your card has been skimmed, because if it hasn’t and you went all Brewster’s Millions in the run up to Christmas, then it’s going to be the month that never ends. The last thing this accursed bucket of weeks needs is to be endured sober.
My drinking is a running joke in our house. When Aldi brought out a 25 year old single malt for less than fifty quid, I embarked on a Homeric odyssey to every Aldi in Minster so I could get one, which led my son to start calling me an Aldiholic. Yes, it’s very funny, but it is also a little sad, especially when he starts loudly calling me an Aldiholic in public, usually when I am in Aldi buying more booze. Sometimes he even asks me if he should grab a couple of bottles of my regular craft beer tipple and put them in the trolley, but I draw the line at training my ten year old into tending bar.
The arrival of January brings the usual offers of booze-related freelance work – would anyone like to give up drink for the month and write about it? Every year, I am forced to look deep into my soul and ask myself if I could give up drink for a mere four weeks, and every year the answer is a mumbled, shame-filled no.
I use a lot of excuses for this response – I write about booze, so therefore it’s work, and sher who could expect me to give up work for the month? This is despite the fact that I only write about the people who make booze, and not the booze itself, but I still see drink as being intrinsic to my writing, and I can’t imagine life without it. It is a marker of the end of the working week, a consolation prize for another Saturday night in, a stress reliever, a sleep aid, and a decadent treat. My drinking isn’t even social, as I do it at home – it’s just a reward for me, and me alone. So it’s hard to discern whether I simply can’t be bothered to go off the drink, or if I physically can’t.
The latter would mean that I am an alcoholic, which by my own standards I most definitely am not. But my kids view it differently – my daughter turns sixteen soon and she is quite blunt about my drinking, my whiskey collection, or my droning on about craft beers, telling me on a regular basis that I am a disgrace. But her attitude to alcohol has been shaped by a different age – in school her class are taught about the ruination that alcohol addiction brings to health and to homes, and they take a dimmer view of alcohol.
We don’t allow or encourage her to consume alcohol, but we try to keep our relationship as open and honest as possible, meaning that when she came home from a friend’s house recently and seemed a bit unsteady on her feet, our questions were met with a scathing ‘I had three cans of Orchard Thieves, what are you going to do about it?’ What indeed, beloved daughter. I sat her down and gave her a stern lecture about how she shouldn’t be drinking, but if she must, there are many local craft cider producers who make excellent products and are deserving of our support, which then segues into a two-hour discussion of terroir. That’ll teach her.
All of this is just me trying to rationalise my relationship with alcohol, of trying to explain why I am incapable or unwilling to give up having one or two drinks at the weekend: I simply love drink (although I very much dislike being drunk). Technically, this unwillingness to quit makes me an alcoholic, or Aldiholic, or just a boozehound, but I can’t see it changing any time soon. I know alcohol might not be especially good for me physically, but it brings me spiritual healing, is a great comfort in times of woe, and occasionally makes me less shouty with the kids, although that last bit sounds like one of those people who say ‘honestly officer I drive better when I’m drunk’. My poor kids may be telling their respective therapists in years to come that their father was an alco, but for now I am toasting the fact that they are all too young to coherently organise an intervention. So here’s a lightly moistened January, and our struggles to find the balance between love and addiction.