Dry January

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Blame legendary DJ Stuart Maconie. It’s his fault.

I was listening to him talk a few years back; he was explaining that he didn’t think he drank a lot until he and his doctor worked it out. Turns out it was a lot.

A few weeks back I wondered what effect COVID had had on the amount of alcohol I was drinking. I knew the answer, I just didn’t want to hear it.

James Bond would tell me to lay off the sauce.

When you live in a rural area you get used to the fact that pretty much everything requires travel. Not drinking becomes the norm when you go out because the chances are you’re driving.

On the flip side, if you’re home of a dark evening there’s often not that much to do, so you open an improving book and pour yourself a glass of something degenerating.

Then COVID comes along and suddenly the few things that were open are shut. For lockdown #1 it didn’t matter; we got to laugh at people fighting over toilet roll in the supermarket and everyone knew COVID would all be over by the summer.

If the entire world had coordinated and shared responsibility, it might have, but that was never going to happen. So here we are two years later staring down the barrel at Omicron. Life never did get properly back to normal and it certainly isn’t going to for a while yet.

The NHS recommends that you don’t drink more than 14 standard units of alcohol per week.

A small glass of wine, a standard shot of spirit or half a pint (284ml) of average beer is a unit. Your modest Claret with dinner, followed by a diminutive glass of port as you retire to your wing backed chair by the fire will see the NHS smile warmly upon you.

Trouble is, a small glass really is quite small and my pouring arm is awfully twitchy. Very few people ever pour themselves a small anything.

Then there’s the night you’re staying in and having a few drinks with your partner and the other night when your friends pop round for a few quiet beers quite a few beers…

Now, the NHS isn’t daft, the doctors know that few people are going to stick to 14 – it’s really just a bit of psychology to give people a sense of proportion. Nobody really knows what a safe limit is anyway. Opinions and recommendations across the world differ. Everyone is sure of one thing, however: even a small amount can be dangerous. Less is better.

Having assured concerned friends and relatives that the economy of the Douro Valley is not, in fact, dependent on my patronage, I’m doing Dry January this year. For me it’s a bit of a cultural experiment. By going a month without drinking at all I’m hoping I can find some new ways, ones that don’t rely on a side order of sauce.

Hopefully I can then take those forward from February and get back to something more like how it was before COVID-19.