I don’t believe in giving things up. Giving up on things when you feel like you’re flogging a dead horse, sure, but not cutting things you enjoy, even to the point of excess, out of your life entirely. People parading around their ‘dry January’ plights is an annual gripe of mine. As though somehow being vocal about binging on hot chocolate and Twixes for a month, before hitting the nearest All Bar One to wash your feet in Zinfandel and lager as soon as 1st February hits is somehow admirable. The seriously addicted aside, there’s no merit in abstinence, it’s just sanctimonious dick-swinging in place of sensible control, which is of course a much better idea. If you like something, do it, enjoy it, and don’t feel guilty about it, just don’t drown yourself in it.
So even when I entered 2014, as I have done most years since the millennial prefix changed from one to two, with my face in a toilet, my coat ‘somewhere else’ and the ‘what did I say to who and when?’ troll at the forefront of my thoughts, I didn’t make any empty promises to give up the wine, the gin and all my other pub favourites until I’d forgotten how bad the hangover could be. Even after a particularly precarious year of alcohol consumption, that idea not only seemed impossible, but beside the point, like killing the problem rather than the cause, and importantly, really fucking dull.
That said, it did feel more than ever like it was perhaps time to at least consider my drinking habits. As much as I’ve always just seen myself as someone who simply enjoyed drinking, 2013 saw me waking up on the outer ends of bus routes, or if I was at home, in my shoes and headphones with little recollection of how I had got there, but much gratitude that I at least had. I’m still paying for two phone contracts after ‘misplacing’ more than one iPhone during what should have just been casual after-work drinks and I’m reasonably sure I fractured my elbow in a similar situation.
The real affront to just how habitual, as opposed to recreational my drinking might be, came during a routine health check in late December. ‘So how much would you say you drink in a week?’, the doctor asked me. It was a Thursday, so recalling a Monday night glass of wine that had turned into a bottle or two with a friend, a couple of glasses of red the night before, and the anticipation that the weekend could easily add up to another three bottles of wine over the course of a few days, I threw out what I considered to be modest but honest suggestions. ‘I don’t know, five bottles of wine maybe?’. Seemed reasonable to me. There’s three glasses in a bottle, so fifteen glasses over seven days is a couple of glasses a day, or three to four on some nights with the odd drink free break. That’s perfectly normal, right? Apparently not. ‘Do you really think that’s how much you drink?’ the doctor responded, surprised. ‘Yeah’, I shrugged, still thinking that was a reasonable and realistic estimation. ‘If you keep drinking like that, you’re going to seriously damage your health’, my assessor glumly offered.
‘Well’, I thought, ‘medical professionals are hardly going to endorse such pursuits’, and continued merrily through a season where prosecco at lunch and martinis at dinner are practically obligatory. Somehow though, I struggled to shake the idea that perhaps this wasn’t simply seasonal, and travelling back to London after Christmas in an especially fragile state the day after some quiet drinks in the pub with school mates, that turned into drinking everything in sight at a friend’s parents house after last orders, and then everything my own mum and dad had lying around following that, decided that maybe the idea of not buying a bottle of wine by default on a Friday wasn’t such a mad idea, or that perhaps it is possible to enter a pub and order a soft drink (is it, really?).
I don’t want to give up drinking. I love drinking. The clink of bottles mingled with the rustle of a plastic bag has joy-inducing Pavlovian effect on me, and there’s something about the sour smell of stale beer that lingers in the air of every pub that I find truly comforting. I’ve grown up going to pubs, I bonded with my best friends over several pints and I’ve had all my most ambitious ideas on a barstool, even if I can’t always remember them. Not only do I simply have no desire to give up drinking, I feel like it would mean losing a huge part of who I am. I like being the person who’s always up for a surreptitious tinnie in the office on Friday, or who wants to prolong the fun of a dinner with a quick pint afterwards. I also just really love wine. A nice steak, for instance, just wouldn’t be the same without it. How on earth do you go on a date without that first knocked back glass to calm your nerves. What is a sunny Sunday without a cool outdoor pint? But that’s all it needs to be. A quick pint, a glass of wine, not a slippery slope to oblivion at the pop of every cork.
Rather than sit uncomfortably on the wagon only to leap straight off into my old habits, however, I’m attempting to simply cut down. Whether this is possible remains to be seen, but I’m trying at least.
Looking out of my bedroom window onto the botanical apocalypse our garden has become over the winter months, I realised that going green-fingered could be a perfect way preventing myself becoming yellow-livered. Having a project to pursue would give me extra reason not to spend precious weekend time in a duvet cocoon trying to claw back memories of the night before, and there’s nothing I hate more than making wild claims about things I’m going to achieve only to have to admit defeat when I’m asked how that’s going. ‘I’m going to dig everything up, I’ll replant the lawn, we can grow vegetables and hang wind chimes in trees’, I optimitically declared to my housemate. Another housemate gave me some Gladioli bulbs, ‘to get you started’, for my birthday. ‘Well I’ve got to do this now’, I thought.
So despite the January drizzle, with Godspeed You! Black Emperor pumping through my headphones and a cagoule keeping out the damp I started to take on the weeds. It became clear very quickly that it’s going to be a big task. Removing the worm-farm of bind-weed from beneath the beds is a mammoth job in itself, and dandelions, something I’d only ever seen as sweet pouffs of cotton among the grass, are actually the devil. They’ve got roots as thick as tree-trunks and if you try a tug of war pulling the bastards out of the ground, they will most certainly win. I know this because I learned it sitting on my arse in a pile of soil. Three bin-bags of docks, snake-like vines and the leaves of dandelions I’d failed to extract fully from the ground laughing at me, I’d barely made a dent in the overgrowth, but a couple of sessions later, and it’s starting to look more work-in-progress than squat, so I’m making some headway. I feel hopeful that come summertime it’ll be blooming, and that I’ll have lowered my alcohol tolerance down to just a couple of Pimms in the time I’ve spent in the garden over the boozer.
All that bending and digging certainly exhausted me enough to keep me out of the pub for the first few weekends of the year, and now that spring’s hit, there’s even more reason to wipe out the weeds in time to plant things for summer. Let’s just see what happens.