NOT DRINKING

MY DAD WORKED IN BOTTLING HALL OF THE LOCAL BREWERY but rarely drank. In those days, brewery workers would get a case of beer each, presumably to stop them robbing it (which had variable results, as evidenced by my uncle Morris, who also worked in the brewery until he was sent to prison for robbing the beer).

Round our way, the brewery was one of the main employers of dads, so, when we were teenagers (and I’m talking 13 here), cases of beer and alcohol-fuelled fun abounded.

We had cupboards full of beer and my sister and me would just help ourselves when we came home from school. Double Diamond works wonders with children’s television and I can still remember the taste of my home made Brown Ale ice lollies. I’m talking age nine or so here.

I remember going to my mate’s 7th birthday party – a proper kids’ birthday party with games and jelly and all that—where we all drank glasses of cider.

Added to this, there was always other booze in the house, in case anyone came to visit – cherry brandy, sherry, that sort of thing – and I’d pester my mother until I was allowed a glass. Seriously, man, I was quite pissed quite a lot as a kid. When the parents of the year 1974 realised I was, quite literally, rolling shitfaced on the living room floor after Sunday dinner, aged 9 or so, my dad started selling his beer allowance off. I remember feeling gutted.

I’ve always loved the warm hug of the drink, and was always an enthusiastic participant.

As a young man, my tastes developed and I started to get more into beers – Guinness initially, then onto lovely foaming nut-brown British ales.

I also found whiskey to be very pleasant indeed and would readily move on to a Black Bush or two towards the end of an evening, or warm up a cold winter’s evening – or fight off a cold – with a hot whiskey.

Wine came to me later in my twenties, as did gin and the occasional cocktail (Martinis and Gibsons, and Negronis mainly, but I do have a soft spot for a Black Russian). Oh, and Campari with a sploosh of soda and a curl of orange peel.


Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the French gastronome once said, “a meal without wine is like a day without sunshine”, and until recently, I wholeheartedly agreed. Also pretty gloomy looking was a holiday breakfast without a Heineken or a wait for a flight without a pint of Guinness.

Other than that, I didn’t drink much; I’ve never driven drunk, never spent the rent on white cider, never pissed or shat the bed due to being pissed (although I have puked in the bed – looking at you, Grand Final Day 2016!), only ever suffered alcohol withdrawals once (Birmingham 2017, on a visit back to the old country, waiting to meet my non-drinking mate for lunch after about 5 solid weeks of drinking the equivalent of about 10 pints a day); I’ve never drunk liveners in the morning, unless it was after a particularly brutal night and it was part of an ongoing session. I’ve rarely missed work due to hangovers, but admittedly, probably should have on occasion.

Australian beer is largely pish – hate to sound un-Australian, but it’s true. Like the very worst European supermarket own-brand 12-little bottles for a fiver, bier blonde. Characterless…unless that character is one portrayed by, I dunno, Adam Sandler or Helena Bonham-Carter. I couldn’t believe how bad VB was when I first visited Australia, yet people genuinely seem to enjoy it. Well, they drink it, anyway. As luck would have it, we live in the city where Cooper’s is brewed. A pint of Cooper’s Pale or Sparkling Ale is well-matched to a hot, dusty South Australian day.

It is my firmly-held opinion that most microbrewed beer the world over is fucking putrid. The current preoccupation with beer so heavily hopped that you could preserve an aborted foetus in it is beyond my comprehension. Back in the seventies and eighties, people would brew their own beer and it generally stank. They would inevitably foist it on you when you went to their houses, with the near-Faustian bargain that, if you are able to summon the reserves to keep it down and mutter some pleasantries, you would go home trollied for free.

As a teenager (here we go again; different times), my mate’s dad would give us each a half-pint glass of 50/50 lager and homebrew. This homebrew was thick as mince and would lay at the bottom of the glass like staunch mercury, refusing to allow the lager to permeate through. It must’ve been about 12% alcohol though. Like Duvel, if it were actually made by The Devil.

Nowadays, bearded male purveyors of stinking beer like to call themselves microbrewers, give their filthy-tasting product names like Bummer Dog (©Chart Music Podcast) or, I dunno, Fanny Batter and people nod with acknowledgement of the unripe grapefruit notes until they can no longer speak/stomach any more. They’ve paid $10 for a little glass though. Capitalism, eh?

If I were a microbrewer, I’d call my over-hopped IPA Hoprophagia. You’ll either get that, or you won’t.

The wine down here is very drinkable; reds, heavy like boiled-down cough mixture; Rieslings like cold, delicious washing up liquid. And whatsmore, you can order a glass or bottle of wine in a pub or cafe and still be seen as a proper drinker, rather than a half-arsed drinker.

About 20 years ago, I started getting reflux. I managed this for years with Rennies, then moved on to over the counter ranitidine. then when that wore off, I finally went to the GP, then a specialist, had two endoscopies and ended up on Somac, which worked well for years. I’d still have occasional breakthrough bouts, but not usually anything too concerning. My gastro-intesinal tract never really felt like it was on my side, though, you know?

The start of this year was an epic drinking year. Friends visited from the UK, then more friends visited from the UK, then we went off on holiday to Vietnam, where we drank a lot of very reasonably priced gin and beer, and partook eagerly of the local wine, with its delicate faecal notes. I decided to have a month long break from the booze when I got home, to give my aching liver a rest.

Fuck, it was hard. Charlotte and I would lay in bed pining for something…anything…to take the edge off. Things got easier toward the end of the month, though, where it got to the point that I didn’t really miss it anymore. I also dropped 4 kilos – right off the belly. Despite the fact that all the clothes I had made in Hoi An look too big for me now, this is a good thing. After a couple of weeks, I noticed my reflux had gone. Completely. No medication, no breakthrough episodes, no retribution for eating raw chillis, crisps and pickles right before bed – nothing. Gone.

After the month was up, I drank a Campari, and had one pint of pale when I met my mate for dinner the following week, got a bit of reflux and I haven’t drunk since. The absolute pleasure of feeling like your digestive tract is your friend is hard to describe. Other than that, I’d like to say that I wake up brighter and breezier in the mornings (I don’t), or that I sleep better (I don’t, although I suppose I don’t get woken by rising bile any more) or that I feel less stressed and that my brain chemistry is more happiness-aligned (it isn’t). I do save a shit-load of cash, though. Or I spend a shit-load of cash on other things, is more to the point. I don’t find social situations harder…or easier.

One thing I’ve found vaguely amusing is that people give me their best attempt at a sympathetic aren’t-you-brave look when I tell them I’ve stopped drinking. Even when I tell them the reasons why, their faces say, “I forgive you for concocting such an elaborate lie; it can’t be easy telling people you’re an alcoholic.”

So, what do I drink instead?

When I go out, I drink lemon, lime & bitters or ginger beer when I’m in a pub, and water with meals or chinotto when it’s available. Coke’s nice. To be honest, and to my own utter amazement, I haven’t missed it at all, really.

At home, I tend to drink tea (of course), and water. However, I do quite enjoy chilled rose bud tea – it’s a non-sugary, grown-up drink, which is cheap and easy to make, as long as you have somewhere to buy the rose buds. This can be drunk either in it’s basic-bitch form or given a next-level pimping, like this one I had here, which contained the same sort of shit you’d stick in a Pimms.