This week, the Weekend Charter brings you alcohol. Not literally. We haven't yet figured out how distil online.
Next week we'd like you to decide what we'll be talking about, so please leave comments with suggestions, contact us on twitter, facebook, etc. The sillier the better!
Part 1: Watering down my wine...
I don't drink very much these days. This is because my migraines have recently learnt to interpret every little change as stress, and that includes the aftermaths of over-indulging. So if I have more than a couple of beers, or glasses of wine, I'll start off by having a (perfectly manageable) mildly troubled stomach the next morning, but by three o'clock in the afternoon, I'll have developed a full-blown migraine. Not worth it, frankly. So I end up drinking mostly white wine spritzers, with plenty of fizzy water. This works really well for me. I end up having a glass in my hand all the time, I can refill as I talk – even though sometimes just with water – and I don't have to be careful how much I have. I used to worry about having to cut down on drinking before that. I'd resent suggestions that I should, because I'm older, because I'm a mother, because I'm woman. Frankly I still do. I thought that if I did cut down, I'd be capitulating, that I'd loose a part of myself, another one, as I'd already given up smoking (many times, actually). I also used to be slightly suspiscious of non-drinkers. I used to think they couldn't really be enjoying life as I was. Stupid, I know. But this from the woman who until very recently thought that smokers were a cool bunch! So when Marianne suggested we do a Weekend Charter on drinking, I thought it might be a good time to review my attitude on people who don't drink.
So let's leave out those who don't drink for religious reasons – I have nothing to say about this; as far as I'm concerned, abstaining from alcohol is a pretty harmless thing to do in the name of God! I'm also not commenting on people who refrain from drinking on special religious occasions only: how they interpret their faith is their business, not mine. Also, of course, I'm leaving out recovering alcoholics, and those who've suffered at the hands of an alcoholic. No question there. And those who can't drink because it will make them seriously ill. So that leaves me with one class of people, I think: those who just prefer not to drink. You might not have noticed them much, because they'll often have a glass of wine in their hand. They just don't drink it very fast, and they don't refill it. Maybe we should call them light-drinkers, rather than non-drinkers. Also, you might not have noticed them, if like me, you tend to gravitate towards people who drink as much as you do. You might feel that more fun stuff will happen with the latter. Maybe the ones who don't drink will be talking sensibly about politics, chuckling quietly, while you and your friends are laughing uproariously at some dirty joke. Maybe the drinkers look more attractive too, even if their lipstick is all washed out, that their hair is coming undone, whereas the non-drinker is still immaculate.
Now I don't think any of this is true, but I strongly suspect that on an unconscious level, at least, I used to believe it. So what's changed?
A few weeks ago, I went out with some friends for our regular girl's night out. After a while, I noticed that one of my friends was being incredibly discreet whenever she ordered. Not being the soul of discretion myself, I asked what she was drinking. It turned out to be water (not, as I'd assumed, g&t). But why did she feel she had to hide this from us? We were after all, her friends, and the girl's night out was supposed to be a place where we could open up to each other. Well, thinking about it, it's also a place where we all drink a bit more than usual (even I take my chances with the migraine when I'm with my girlfriends). Each one of us on arriving had exclaimed that she needed a drink. I, anyway, probably did have a history of not spending much time with non-drinkers, and talking up the act of drinking. So no wonder she would have felt uncomfortable with her glass of water. But the point is, if I hadn't noticed her secret ordering, I wouldn't have known. She was just as engaged as the rest of us, just as enthusiastic about the jokes, just as verbal in her condemnation of the husband would wouldn't do x. Just like the rest of us, really. Not drinking in no way affected the fact that she was good company.
Don't know why it didn't occur to me, but there are also plenty of people out there who drink at parties and still aren't good company! The point is, if you're good company, and you're a drinker, it's probably not the alcohol that's making you good company. If, like me, you need the extra confidence that a glass of wine can give you, and you like to drink as you speak, then mixed drinks are good. I found out something about myself when I had to cut down on my drinking, and that's that I really do need the sensation of putting the drink to my lips and refilling it often. Maybe that's just a taste I acquired over the years, but the good thing is that I don't need to reform on that, I don't need to change my habits – and for me, that's really what matters, not the actual alcohol consumption.
But what matters even more, is the realisation of what an arse I have been to all the light-drinkers I've met over the years. All the assumptions I made about them. All the times I didn't speak to them at parties. All the times I talked the talk about drinking, making it sound as if that was the only way to be cool. A bit naff, really. So here and now, I apologise to all these people, and hope that next time I bump into one of you at a party, you'll let me chat to you!