Lost to the grape

The day begins with a feeling of minor dread akin to realising you’ve left the freezer door open overnight and melted your fish fingers. A mild sickness appears in the back of the throat, your body stating in no uncertain terms that it may allow you to get a little toothpaste in your mouth but if you attempt porridge you’re asking for it. Your mind refuses to output sensible instruction as you fail to get pants on like an adult and almost headfirst yourself through the window. It’s the type of stodgy malady only a lack of alcohol the previous night can bring on.

Hangovers are diabolical and can leave an Iron Man veteran curled up foetally on his bathroom floor, but the hollow feeling of a fresh morning following a night of sobriety holds its own terrors. Despite this, and some evidence to the contrary, it’s a feeling I experience most days of the week.

I’m not an alcoholic in any meaningful sense of the word, and coming from a family packed with them I should know. I have an uncle, two aunts and a cousin humbly asking Him to remove their shortcomings in a room of shame-faced strangers. At a large family event some years ago one of these, in her mid-forties, was found floundering in a ditch outside the venue, attempting to use her cash card to withdraw money from a hedge. Livened up the wedding, at least. Pity it was mine.

I have a raft of alcoholic drinks in my house – an actual raft, in case England’s northern barbarians send down their army of unwanted waters – but I probably crack one open once every couple of months. Alcohol often goes past its use-by date at my place, leading to the forlorn sight of a man sorrowfully tipping away can after can of Guinness that was once God’s gift to drinkers but now tastes like caustic soda laced with brie.

I drink in company, anywhere but home, to have a laugh, get drunk and forget the future. I don’t drink because I like it – I tolerate it in order to lose my wits. I don’t drink because it relaxes me of an evening – that’s what tea is for. I am the classic binge drinker, as are many of my countrymen and women. It’s frequently gruesome, destructive, frightening, pugnacious and vile, and more often than not great fun.

Today, one of our nation’s august health authorities has elected to inform us that even the tiniest sip of grog will do your body harm, and a man’s weekly upper limit should be somewhere in the region of seven pints. Good luck explaining to an Englishman after seven pints on a Monday night that he’s had enough for the week, particularly if you’re not within easy reach of one of the country’s two remaining A&Es.

Even to those with a forehead like Steven Gerrard it must be abundantly plain that alcohol is a poison to the human body, and can be nothing but bad for you. Advice to make us do less of it is akin to telling us not to take naps on train tracks or point binoculars at the sun. But unlike a number of vocal critics fouling the airwaves this morning, I don’t object to such guidance being issued by civil servants with curiously large budgets, because this guidance is plainly not aimed at me.

I object with unimaginable vehemence to anyone telling me how much I should and shouldn’t drink, because life is going to kill me one day no matter how many bulbs of garlic I hang up to ward off the inevitable. I’ve lately been suffering a bout of horrific hangovers that have made me seriously question my intake – and that’s fine, because I’m choosing to take on board the facts of my blistering skin and ripped throat, and react accordingly. You don’t need to tell me I should drink less, because my body tells me itself by upwardly ejecting much of what I put in it through the wrong hole with great force.

Yet official advice on how much you should drink, in that ideal world none of us will ever experience, is surely as harmless as the Green Cross Code. Remember that? Stopped you getting killed when you were a child? Maybe if the red man at the traffic lights had been a bottle instead I might have been sufficiently conditioned to avoid my likely fate of a waiting list for a nasty brown organ I won’t abide on my plate much less have implanted in me when someone else is done with it.

The advice given by health bodies is so plainly obvious to the most ardent of simpletons it seems almost designed to let us ignore it. Eating raw meat could kill you. Well bugger me, that’s a turn up. Don’t try to retrieve your Frisbee from an electricity station unless you want a million British school children to laugh at you in the advert they make about it. Don’t inflate the life raft until you’ve exited the aircraft, though plane safety info is singularly worthless given you’ll be splattered across the plains long before you have the chance to hunt about beneath your seat for a life jacket that probably isn’t there.

Still, objecting to such advice is quite daft. The people behind such guidelines clearly do it because we’re a country with one of the biggest intakes of booze per head on the planet, and to not point out there are downsides to it would be to miss the opportunity to give a few people jobs. It’s bad for you. Yes we know. Here’s a few quid, treat yourself to a Smirnoff.

Don’t complain that alcohol may give you one of those grim diseases that eat you up over the course of many months, like arse cancer or gout, but it’s good for your heart in moderation. Advice like this is hardly aimed at people who sip at a nice glass of red with their tenderloin and smile contentedly that Mr Merlot has helped them cheat death for yet another day. If you’re using alcohol to try to keep your heart healthy you’re probably not reading the label properly.

If you drink a bottle of wine a night and think it’s good for you, you were lost to the grape long ago and good luck on your voyage to the bottom of the vineyard. If you think you’re fine because you have five days a week completely juice-free, you might not live forever if the other two days are spent crawling through sick down Cardiff high street with your skirt up over your head, one shoe in your left hand and the other in The Prince of Wales.

You might not live forever even if you spend seven days a week off the sauce, every week of your dwindling life, because that’s the game I’m afraid. It ends. Don’t fume at the guidelines explaining how to delay the certain, just accept they’re another way of saying “You’re going to get hit by a bus, but it doesn’t have to be the next one you see.”

Let us applaud these new directives in the true spirit of a nation minded to listen politely before making their own bloody minds up, consequences be damned. And drink up, because before last orders in the great pub of life we might as well go out singing and shouting and glassing each other in the true tradition of a country floating on ale.

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