Covivid Tales: Giving Up is Good

Lockdown was (or is depending on the current state of government policy and the ways it chooses to badly communicate them) tedious, dull, boring, and surprisingly not a good excuse for a drink after all. That’s really not being talked about enough until now.

Two months ago, during Covid Lockdown, the time finally came to accept the fact that drinking booze and smoking fags have never done me any good, ever. So, I gave them up. Now what?

Lockdown was (or is depending on the current state of government policy and the ways it chooses to badly communicate them) tedious, dull, boring, and surprisingly not a good excuse for a drink after all. That’s really not being talked about enough until now.

This national tedium, this eternal Sunday afternoon in the winter of 1974, cast a dulled but nevertheless new perspective over many things in life. For some people it was “I actually do love my partner after all. If we can get through being with each other all day and every day, we can survive anything”.

Other people tried to learn a new language, others used the time to organise their paperwork, other still made sourdough bread or filed for divorce or both. People did anything to stave off the abject sameness of each day.

It became clear that alcohol, being drunk, and having hangovers were dull. It also became clear that for the most part of 40+ years I’ve never been a good drunk. By good drunk, I mean someone about whom other people say, “Yes, we will have him over. He doesn’t move from the apparently rational, via sentimental morbidness, repetitive jokes, way off base touchy-feels, unwise and even trite “insights”, to boring old stories we’ve all heard a million times, depression, aggression and finally dour silence, all the while emptying a bottle of gin”.

All “Good Drunks” have limited shelf lives though. Sooner or later, all Good Drunks go bad. Bu this I mean that everybody else comes to the crashing realisation one night that the Good Drunk’s apparently spontaneous charm is rehearsed. Their ability to invoke “Fun!” is formulated, formalised and quite, quite repeatable with some minor tweaking depending on the audience or lack thereof.

It’s about eight or so week’s since I gave up booze and fags, and right now, on a sunny Yorkshire Monday afternoon, sitting at my desk and writing this piece my lungs are still clearing themselves out. Occasionally I’ve craved a smoke but so far I’ve had no desire for any booze. None.

I’m not sure if I started drinking booze too early in life. Possibly. Who can tell? My family did their best to make alcohol banal and usual. My mother, tried to use the French rather than the English method of familiarising us with booze back in the 1970s in England.

A vodka Martini
A vodka Martini to begin the evening? Why not!

The French method, she said, was to introduce small, watered down measures of red wine with meals. This meant that booze became part of usual occasions, not special, and certainly not forbidden – a euphemism for “I’ve got to try that right now!” of course.

This was surely a sensible approach. The English method differs in that there is no drinking allowed, especially not in the house and not with food. Eating to the English is a filthy, personal act on a par with doing sex to someone or going to the bog. All of these bodily activities were vile interactions with external reality. They are therefore completely revolting, and revulsion is a favourite pastime among us English.

What this method does achieve, however, is to make booze seem dangerous just not in the ways it actually is dangerous. The English method encourages exciting, masculating, peer-group approbation. It does not introduce you to that 56 year-old you with aching kidneys, another hangover, a bigger bill for bottles. It doesn’t introduced anybody to the reality that drinking and fellow-drinkers can be chores.

That was just brilliant as far as I was concerned. Who the hell, at the age of 14, wants to meet their embittered, slightly porridgy, not-quite-a-actual-alcoholic-honest 50+ year-old self? That’s just not the point of being young. Booze was dangerous and glamorous and illegal.

The point of boozing, by the way, was to get stunningly, revolutionarily, legendarily drunk. The particular vector didn’t matter. You weren’t going to sit in the Cathedral Grounds discussing the relative merits of a single-malt scotch over a genuine 1912 Russo Baltique vodka with your mate Chris who dressed in Punk with an ironic Swastika on his sleeve, and a Sid Vicious padlock around his neck.

I, we, everybody my age, was going to drink and smoke what was easily available from dodgy newsagents, parents . There were no Craft Beer nor Gourmet ciders: there was Mild, Bitter, Lager. There were Dry and Sweet ciders, both were fizzy. One of them made everybody sick, not just me.

A Caipirinha in Rio, lovely.

A major sport in my youth was to see just how many pre-legal drinkers could get served in The Royal Oak, or The Vine, or The City Tavern or any of the other pubs that brought fun and fighting to the city I grew up in. Kudos points were earned in a complex scoring system that I barely remember.

This sport did not offer kudos points for drinking in The Fighting Cocks though. Anybody could get a drink down in The Fighting Cocks. Babies could sit downstairs on the wall benches that surrounded the pool table, and knock back Piña coladas or pints of Pedigree ale. You couldn’t get points for drinking there. You could, however, come away stinking of patchouli oil.

That was all 40 years ago when hangovers lasted for an hour, and when you could take for granted things like kidneys, eyesight, sleep and blood flow. Back them Diabetes was the name of of minor Greek hero. Life was so full of new experiences that that you had no need to repeat the same old stories that all your drinking pals had already heard a thousand times but which they’d maybe forgotten or would mistake for their own stories. Unless they were their stories and you are repeating them for lack of your own memory or experience? Who can ever know after a while in at the bar.

(The last I heard of The Fighting Cocks it was a Spanish tapas-style bar but I understand that too is no longer serving.)

Skip ahead 40 years and we’re in Lockdown, and what a fine excuse for some excuse-watered drinking this cataclysm is. Except that it got very boring. That’s not happened before. Drinking to drunk is always interesting if not outright exciting. At least that’s how we kid ourselves. Or I did.

Boring? Impossible. One night, just like that though, just thinking about the first drink of the night (never the day, obviously) was duller than someone else’s dream, or a sportsman talking about their own sport, or being Friend-Zoned by someone you don’t fancy.

A lonely Scotch at some hotel.
A lonely Scotch at some hotel.

The aching kidneys were boring. The premonition, or rather the multi-memory of hangovers been-and-gone informed the hangover to come. The sight of the bottle of Green Mark vodka induced a yawn. So, yes, Lockdown was (or is depending on the current clusterfucked state of government policy and public comms where you live) tedious, dull, boring, not a good excuse for a drink at all. What I really craved was travel again. Maybe not even to get drunk in the bar of the Four Seasons in Vegas this time. Maybe to have a sober afternoon’s conversation in The Excelsior Hotel in near Glebe in Sydney? Possibly a non-addled walk in Ipanema?

We need to talk about what the doldrum that Lockdown provided in the currents of our lives. It provide upside down visions of what was everyday and rightway up.

It provided us all with a change to the usual chiaroscuro we were all used to, new light was shone on everything, new darkness too.

It unbalanced everything that had set the equilibrium of the daily sets of breathe we all took.

Boring used to be going to the shops for milk with no fear of mask envy or death.

Exciting used to be having a mad night on the sauce with your mates because there’s no work tomorrow.

Pre-Lockdown was people you didn’t like talking about things you weren’t interested in. During Lockdown you began to crave someone you didn’t already know inside out to tell you about a subject you had no knowledge of.

So, as I say, eight or so weeks now with no booze and no fags. I can see this lasting. Until it gets dull, of course, at which point I’ll be sozzled.

I’m going to be interested in how this goes from here.

For now, let’s end this chapter with a song of my people…

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