THIS WEEK: on drinking (ir)responsibly

Defending drinking culture

I don’t really identify as a millennial. Sure, I can’t afford to buy a flat, and I spend too much time on my phone, but I remember using floppy disks, I work fixed hours and – and here’s the big one – I love to drink.

Millennials don’t, in general – and Gen Z is even more abstemious. I sort of understand why – hangovers are a bummer, especially when the social anxiety sets in and you panic that you talked too much and were so boring that all your friends hate you (or is that only me?), and if my teen years spent drinking behind some bushes in thelocal park – with friends, I hasten to add – had been immortalised on social media, I would be unemployable (except, perhaps, in politics).

But that’s missing the point. I don’t drink to get drunk, feel braver or numb anything – though I did a lot of all three when I was younger. I drink because I love the culture of drinking. 

‘Drinking culture’ conjures up visuals of teens stumbling out of nightclubs and football fans lining up pint glasses. But the sort I mean is sharing a really good bottle over a long lunch, a paper-wrapped gift from a friend round for supper, people-watching from a table for one with a glass in the early evening. 

It’s the ritual, in part, the ceremony of drinking – navigating the wine list, thegurgling of that first pour, the taste, thenod. A waiter bringing ice-cold limoncello at the end of a meal on holiday, the sound of ice hitting thesides of a cocktail shaker, my mother opening a bottle as we dissect our weeks. 

If the ritual was the only bit I really loved, I could replace it with another ritual – brew loose-leaf tea, or take baths. But the other thing I really love about drinking is what I’m drinking. 

Wine is one of my great joys. I know I could be slimmer if I didn’t drink it – wealthier too. But christ, isn’t it delicious? Sitting on my balcony with a glass of Vermentino – or, in thewinter, by the fire (ok, radiator) with pasta and Barolo…

I drink too much sometimes. When I was younger, that was mostly just to keep up, or to drown out my aforementioned social anxiety. But when I drink too much now, it’s for thesame reason that I keep eating long after I’m full: I’m not the ‘eat to live’ type – I live to eat, and to drink too. 

Being a millennial is a bit rubbish. Not only do you have to worry about money all the time, you also have to worry about climate change, thelongterm affects of social media, side effects of the pill, scary politics, inch-long nipple hairs that sprout overnight, and how to compete in a dating pool full of Love Island applicants. I’m not suggesting we all get smashed, but a glass of wine? That can be good for the soul.

Curbing my enthusiasm

The other day when I was out for dinner with Ben (our four year anniversary – get us) a very strange thing happened. I was perusing thewine list and, deciding on a Portuguese red (my new fave), I began putting in the order. “We’ll have this one please” I said to the waiter, using the universally recognised I-don’t-know-how-to-pronounce-this-so-I’ll-just-point technique. “Very good,” he replied, “a bottle?” “No thanks, just a carafe.” 

A what? Carafe?! I didn’t know it was in my vocabulary. I’d always considered carafes to be the thing you had to get when you were ordering swanky wine and couldn’t afford a whole bottle (and which would be swiftly followed by gallons of the less nice stuff). Or when you were drinking alone and wanted more than a glass but not the judgement of a full 750ml. A carafe is a killjoy compromise of a measurement and yet here I was, willingly inviting one to my dinner table. Ben looked at me, “are you feeling ok?”

I am feeling ok actually. In fact, I’m feeling pretty great because for thefirst time in my 31 years, I am drinking with some sense of control. And not a guilt-driven, begrudging ‘dry Jan’ sort of control (tried that, didn’t last), a self-motivated, positive sort of control. How very grown-up. 

You see when it comes to alcohol, self restraint has never been my forte. I love wine –  like, really love it. L-O-V-E it in fact. I’m also a fast drinker with a tendency to use alcohol as an emotional crutch and have spent all of my London years living within walking distance of a pub, or at least a Tesco Express wine aisle. My early twenties were certainly boozy but it was thelatter half of that decade when I really hit my stride, the combination of a break-up and a somewhat stressful new job seeing me put away a bottle to myself most weeknights, double that at the weekend. 

At times I have been concerned about my drinking and vowed to curb it, especially after a particularly enthusiastic Prosecco session saw me collide with the bathroom floor causing my cheek to go numb for six months – chic. But temptation always reared its head in the form of a delicious Malbec and I was sozzled again before I knew it. 

So how did I get to the carafe? To be honest, it’s the hangovers. What used to be a dry mouth and bit of a headache has escalated into full-blown existential life crises on the way to thetube station;  how can I be so irresponsible? Why haven’t I learnt my limits? What am I doing with my life? Etc etc. I just can’t do it anymore. And as the hungover shame-spirals intensify, the appeal of getting pissed keeps getting less and less and thus, moderation by way of a carafe. 

Followed by a nightcap, of course.