I miss booze – but only in a symbolic way.
I’d never have thought that it would be like this. For decades, my relationship with alcohol has been intensely affectionate and largely untroubled. Booze has been the slightly raffish friend who sometimes leads you into disreputable or ill-advised places, but whom you always forgive, because, after all, you’ve had such a good time together. When social gatherings threatened to become awkward or dull, I was always pleased to see it. When it wasn’t there, I missed it. Sometimes, affected by dire warnings, I’d keep my distance from it for a while, just to show I could; but I was always cheered by the thought that it wouldn’t be for long.
Tales of love for the bottle often end with messy regrets; but increasingly, my relationship with booze became cosy rather than dramatic. Like long-standing lovers, we could spend an evening together without fireworks or loss of sleep. I was as happy at home with a good book as I was propping myself up in a bar – well, happier, actually – as long as I had a glass of wine by my side.
So I’d always wondered, humanity being as fallible and weak-willed as it is, how on earth the medical profession has managed to make pregnant women give it up. I mean, look how badly they do with exercise! “Just twenty minutes three times a week,” they plead, “a short walk round the block – a little low-intensity yoga…the wafer-thin mint of physical activity…” and people sigh as they collapse back into their comfy chairs and say “Not for me. I haven’t got time.” If I ever envisaged myself getting pregnant, I couldn’t imagine giving up my constant friend for nine months. It would have felt like betraying it.
How strange it is that I don’t miss it! Isn’t it odd that, as never before, I can sip orange juice while others down pints? Provided, that is, that they don’t breathe beery fumes at me.
But I am of the culture I live in, and a drink isn’t always just a drink. A few weeks ago there was a Family Celebration. All the cousins I hadn’t seen for years were there with the children I hadn’t met, and we had a lovely laugh at things we used to think hilarious when we were teenagers, and everyone said “Ooh, you’re showing.”
When the tall glasses of fizzy wine came round I really wanted to take one, because then I’d be able to join in the drinking of toasts properly, instead of pretending, with the wrong kind of drink in the wrong kind of glass. But I didn’t want to have to drink the wine, because it would smell sharp and yeasty, and taste of corruption, and would make me feel tired and sick. Then, later, I might burp and taste it all over again, which would be even worse.
In “The Starlight Barking,” the sequel to “101 Dalmatians”, all the dogs on earth have been recruited by the Dog Star, Sirius, while humans fall into an enchanted sleep. The dogs have no desire to eat or drink, but are content merely to follow their leader. At one point, Missis, one of the protagonists, says to her mate Pongo that she misses peppermint creams. It’s not that she wants one, or would eat one if she could; what she misses is the desire to eat them.
That’s the way I feel about the sort of drinking that means something. I miss the delicious anticipation for the Friday-night beer that says Down Tools, or the glass of wine that says Special Dinner, or the pint in the pub at the end of a long walk that says “Well done!”
My body’s been good to me; for the sake of my passenger it’s liberated me from a desire that would always have been frustrated. But there’s something oddly disorienting about not wanting to join in with a rite of family or community, and I hope I get it back in the end.