Toby Young

Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder

Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder
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The wine has been flowing in the Young household this week. The reason I’ve been celebrating is because I managed to get through January without a drink. Like many people, I try to do this every year, but it felt like a particular achievement this year because of the lockdown Boris announced on 4 January. Almost everyone I know used that as an excuse to fall off the wagon. ‘There’s no way I can get through another lockdown without a drink’ was the general refrain.

One thing that helped was joining the Wine Society and loading up on bottles throughout ‘dry’ January. It had never occurred to me to join until my neighbour Mark Beaumont, who’s been a member for 30 years, told me you had to be proposed by an existing member. ‘So it’s like a gentleman’s club?’ I asked, suddenly interested. ‘Exactly,’ he said.

I immediately went to the website and filled in the online application form, imagining I’d have to include Mark’s name as my proposer and then wait six months. Who knows, perhaps I’d even be blackballed, as I was from the Garrick. But, disappointingly, I was admitted straight away. I put down Mark’s name, but only so he could get a £5 discount off his next purchase as the person who’d ‘recommended’ the society to me, not the other way round. I’m now glad I didn’t have to wait six months because, if you know your wine, there are a few bargains to be had. For instance, the Society’s Exhibition Haut-Médoc is a 2016 Château Beaumont (no relation) which is pretty decent claret. (The 2012 vintage gets a respectable 86 points from Robert Parker.) A case from Berry Bros will set you back £225, but at the Wine Society it’s only £192. Worth the price of admission alone.

I managed to sniff out some more bargains and, before long, our kitchen began to resemble a branch of Majestic. I looked forward to 1 February with even more enthusiasm than usual.

You can see where this is heading, can’t you? After a month of abstinence, I went a bit mental. Come 7.30 p.m. I’d be out of my garden shed like a rat up a drainpipe. After ‘sharing’ a bottle over supper with Caroline, i.e. pouring her one glass while I drank five, I’d open another, pour myself ‘one more’, and then, after everyone had gone to bed, finish that bottle off in front of the telly.

No doubt that pattern of consumption is fairly routine for many Spectator readers, but my difficulty is that I then have to stagger back down to my office and do another six hours’ work. I’ve become largely nocturnal over the past ten months, rising at noon and working until dawn, so this is the equivalent of drinking at lunchtime. Like many an old Fleet Street hand, I’ve trained myself to bash out an article after two bottles of wine, but it isn’t much fun. At one point, I convinced myself I wrote better after a bottle or two. I took inspiration from famous literary boozers like Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald and O’Neill, although the definitive book on this alcoholic quartet — The Thirsty Muse by Tom Dardis — suggests the demon drink proved their undoing.

It has dawned on me that there isn’t much point in doing dry January if you drink a month’s worth of wine in the first week of February. Apart from everything else, I had managed to lose about half a stone and I’ve now put that back on. Consequently, I think I’m going to give up alcohol again for Lent. My 13-year-old son Freddie is giving up sweets and I had already promised to keep him company by forswearing nuts and chocolate. Now I will add wine to the list.

Forty days without a drink is a grim prospect, but I think it will be made slightly easier by the ongoing restrictions. Judging from the mood music coming out of Downing Street, any restaurants and pubs that open before Easter won’t be allowed to serve alcohol, so I’ll be sticking with Uber Eats. And hopefully the end of Lent will coincide with a general loosening of restrictions so I’ll be able to celebrate in style.

I know it would be healthier, both mentally and physically, if I could just drink in moderation. But ever since I first got drunk on Babycham at a cousin’s wedding at the age of 12, I’ve had an unquenchable thirst for alcohol. I tried giving up completely, and managed it for about a year, but being on such an even keel — one mood, all the time — got a bit boring.

No, it will have to be feast and famine from now on, which means clambering back on the wagon on 17 February. Until then, bottoms up.