Mark Solomons

The trouble with being teetotal

The trouble with being teetotal
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I’m 58 years old and have spent 40 of those years as a journalist and yet there is something that shames me, that makes me inferior to so many of my colleagues and, indeed, many of my friends and family outside the world of journalism. I'm rubbish at drinking. 

Instead of being wasted on booze, booze is often wasted on me. I've never had a Lost Weekend, never woken up tied to a lamp-post with a traffic cone on my head, never got a tattoo while under the influence. I've been to Magaluf with the lads and Las Vegas on a press trip. I've been to stag dos and TUC conferences and away days with both Spurs and England football fans. And, embarrassingly, I can remember every moment of every one of them. 

It's not that I can't get drunk. I can but too easily and too early so I tend not to. I get a bit tipsy early on and find it hard to carry on drinking. Two pints or the equivalent in wine or spirits and I'm a babbling idiot. No change there then, some would say. 

I miss out on both the 'you're my best friend' chumminess or the 'let's storm the opera house' rage that I witnessed once from a fellow journalist after a lunch in Covent Garden. He was chucked out having gone in railing against high culture being subsidised. He's now a senior executive of a major national newspaper. Perhaps if I had got drunk I would have joined him and would now be DG of the BBC or similar. 

Instead, I knock back a couple of drinks and talk. About me, mainly. And there's nothing more boring than a slightly inebriated stranger telling you about the time he sat next to Gary Oldman's mum on a plane to New York or played Ronnie O'Sullivan at snooker. I can see you're bored already. I can remember (because I'm never too drunk to forget) the time I got the tube home to Essex after a boozy lunch and started chatting to people on the Central Line. This is, of course, one of the major taboos of London commuting. I began to realise that passengers who I knew were travelling to Loughton were getting off at Woodford instead, two stops early. 

There have been many times when I wish I was a better imbiber. My grandmother ran a pub for 49 years. I spent the first six months of my life there and many summers there afterwards. I knew how to pour a pint by the age of 12 and how to change a barrel soon after. But despite or maybe because of this, and a grandfather who drank himself to death in his mid-50s, I never fully developed a taste for the stuff. 

Another theory is 'the Jewish gene' or ADH1B gene to be precise which affects an estimated one in five of those of Ashkenazi descent and limits a tolerance of alcohol. As if being in one minority wasn't enough, I'm in a minority of a minority. 

Growing up I would sneak underage into pubs with schoolmates but realise that, once there, all I wanted was one pint, not a skinful. I've done the Costa holidays with the boys and football away days with the lads but while they staggered from one bar to the other, I'd be the sober killjoy trying to stop them getting arrested or run over. Eventually this proved to have its advantages. As the obvious designated driver, we could stay out beyond the last tube without having to pay for a taxi home. 

I've spent more time in pubs than many seasoned drinkers. As an industrial correspondent, when papers had such things, I realised the best stories came in the bars of the hotels during party and union conferences so I would hang around, nursing a vodka tonic for hours, with contacts and fellow hacks on their tenth double G&T. 

And that's another thing. At the age of 15 I got drunk on gin from the drinks cabinet at a friend's house, was violently sick and have never been able to touch the stuff since. Apparently everyone has a drink like this – usually Pernod I have found – but little did I realise that gin would eventually become Britain's most fashionable alcohol beverage and that I would miss out. 

I've never been preachy about the horrors of drink, although many of my friends have done battle with alcoholism. I'm more likely lament the very few good stories I have to tell about that time I got rip-roaringly drunk and ended up in a Paris bordello. As the festive season approaches, all I want for Christmas is to be a bit better at drinking.