The best bottle to come from the Gigondas

One needs wine more than ever, yet when imbibing, it can be hard to concentrate. So much is going on. We were at table and the news came through about Slovakia. Was this an obscure incident, regrettable but below the level of geopolitics? Or would it become a second Sarajevo? Fortunately, that seems unlikely. In Mitteleuropa, there are always ancestral voices prophesying war and there is usually plenty of dry timber. But it does not seem that this assassination attempt will be the spark. The Barruols have a reputation for delightful eccentricity but they are committed to their bottles When we had come to that conclusion, there was an obvious

How to become an old soak

Drink and longevity: there seems to have been a successful counter-attack against the puritans, prohibitionists and other health faddists. Indeed, there is virtually a consensus that red wine has almost medicinal properties. That said, a confusion about so-called units remains. When the measurement was explained to me, I said that it sounded adequate. ‘Really?’ ‘Yes, that ought to be more or less enough.’ Then the cross-purposes were unscrambled. The 98 units or whatever – a figure clearly designed to give a bogus authority to the calculation – was a weekly total, not a daily one. There’s no reason whya normal wine-drinker should not live to be an old soak  There

The real reason I don’t drink

It’s been 30 years this month since I last touched alcohol and I still can’t face the prospect of a social event without drinking. Other people drinking, that is. I’m terrified by the thought of going back on the sauce again, but that doesn’t mean I want to hang around with teetotallers who’ve never had to apologise after a party or suffered an apocalyptic hangover. That’s what keeps me away from the drink: the biological penalty One of the leitmotifs of Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time is that you can’t trust teetotallers. They’re control freaks who love seeing other people make fools of themselves. They spend the

The case for Churchillian drinking

Churchill. No disrespect to Andrew Roberts’s more recent work, but I set out to look up a point about drink in Roy Jenkins’s biography and ended up rereading it. I think that it is Roy’s best book and extremely well written. There are also passages where he slips in points from his own experience of high office: never excessive, always illuminating. Although Churchill was rarely drunk, he was equally rarely sober I did not need to be reminded what an extraordinary figure Churchill was: the drama was so vivid. After the ‘fight on the beaches’ oration, Josiah Wedgwood, a Labour MP, said that it was the speech of a thousand

The glory of German wines

I have had three recent conversations, all lively if unrelated – and all well lubricated. The first concerned Anglo-Saxon England around ad 700. Recent discoveries of coin hoards suggested that economic activity during that period of the Dark Ages was more extensive than had been supposed. Without damaging the coins, it had been possible to establish that some of their silver content had come from Byzantium. Every timeI drink a German wine I am convinced that one should do so more often The main discussants were a couple of academics who had been disciples and friends of Philip Grierson, one of the greatest numismatists of all time: a scholar, collector

A fitting overture to Holy Week

Holy Week, but not everywhere. After reading that the diocese of Birmingham wanted to hire staff to help with deconstructing whiteness, only one conclusion is possible. Large parts of the C of E have become a theological and liturgical wilderness. The Devil is in charge and it is unholy week, 52 weeks a year. Anglican friends assure me that this is overdoing the pessimism. There are sound clerics – even the occasional sound bishop – and in some areas, traditions survive. Certainly Sherborne Abbey has just put on a superb Palm Sunday, and the procession included a donkey, the sweetest-natured of animals and a perpetual outlet for sentimentality. It is a delight to

Could a 100-bottle limit help me cut down on drinking?

My New Year’s resolution is to cut down on my drinking. I’m not talking about bringing it within the NHS’s recommended limit, obviously. I’ve never met anyone who confines their alcohol intake to 14 units a week, which amounts to a bottle and a half of wine, ideally spread over many days. I’m thinking of something more in the region of two bottles a week. Why not simply stop altogether? Partly because I’ve tried that before and don’t have the willpower. The longest stretch I’ve gone without a drink was in the two years leading up to my marriage in 2001, because I didn’t think Caroline would go through with

They call me the ‘problem teetotaller’

My guts went on strike last July. I was staying in a hotel and I spent several days sprawled on the bed, vomiting occasionally, eating and drinking nothing and barely able even to wet my lips with water. Meanwhile, a bottle of Prosecco offered by the management stood untouched next to the widescreen TV. I started to wonder if this was my Frank Skinner moment. My farewell to booze. In his memoirs, Skinner describes how he gave up drinking by accident in his twenties when a virus confined him to his bed for a week and destroyed his interest in alcohol. Restored to health, he went back to the pub

Another tragic case involving medical incompetence and cover-up

It was only eight lines into O Brother that I realised I was in the hands of a good writer. John Niven’s landline phone has rung. His partner hands it to him. ‘I take the phone from her as she watches me in the intense, quizzical way we monitor people who are about to receive Very Bad News.’ I can’t recall a writer noticing that before (I presume a few have), but we have noticed it ourselves. And the narrative masterstroke is that now the reader is looking at the page in an intense, quizzical way, for we want to know what the Very Bad News is. The VBN is

In defence of drunken freshers’ weeks

I don’t remember much of freshers’ week at Edinburgh. Friends have helped to fill in the blanks. I vaguely recall a police officer handing out vodka shots to show how easy it was to fail a breathalyser test. A famous DJ had his set in the union cut short because he played the song ‘Blurred Lines’. It had been banned by student politicians. I have hazy memories, too, of my first interactions with posh English women. One assumed I must be gifted since I’d made it into university from a Scottish state school. Another asked if I was limping because I’d overdone it at the ‘introduction to reeling event’ (I

A trip down Ronnie Lane: from child busker to international star

Thirty years ago, I worked for a while in a shop in Soho selling vintage newspapers and magazines. The holy grail for some customers might be the 1955 Playboy featuring Bettie Page or the 1976 Daily Mirror with the Sex Pistols’ ‘Filth & the Fury’ headline. But those of a born-again Mod persuasion were usually looking for 1960s publications with the Small Faces on the cover – preferably the August 1966 copy of the teenage music and fashion bible Rave, showing Ronnie Lane and Steve Marriott from that most style-conscious of bands, complete with a double-page poster of the group inside. Now, nearly six decades after their formation, there is,

A farewell to alcohol

Laikipia Some are saved by Jesus and they are sober. For others, drunkenness is as natural as love-making, roasted meat and weekend football. In northern Kenya we brew a honey mead called muratina; then there’s a millet beer and strongest of all is a moonshine, changa’a, which you can smell from several huts away and it tastes like battery acid. Our neighbour Gilfrid produced an alcohol so pernicious the hangover hit as soon as it crossed one’s tongue Booze soaks into the corners of life in the village or the slum. I’ve been in places, on paydays for example, where the scenes resemble Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s tableaux of peasants

In defence of the boozy office party

I’m not big on nostalgia – if the past was so great, how come it’s history? – but I allowed myself a smirk of reminiscence on reading recently that Ann Francke, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute (‘a professional body focusing on management and leadership’) has put the damper on the age-old tradition of getting blotto at work parties. Francke told the BBC that while hanging out after-hours with workmates is ‘a great team-building opportunity’, managers have a responsibility to keep inappropriate behaviour in check. ‘That might mean adding additional activities alongside alcohol, limiting the amount of drinks available per person or ensuring that people who are drinking too

Our nanny state holds back Britain’s young

Clever people often believe that their cleverness gives them the right to control other people. Nowhere is this more manifest than in nanny state Britain.  So fixated was Public Health England on shielding us from our own bad decisions that when an infectious disease arrived on our shores the quango was woefully unprepared. Junk food advertising bans were prioritised over protecting us against an epidemic.  And so determined are politicians to insulate us from hardship that they attempt to regulate anything that moves. Arguably the most troubling recent development concerns the tacit raising of the age of majority. Since 1969 it has been accepted that we are treated as adults by law

Smoking is more hassle than it’s worth

I gave up smoking one year ago this week, as part of a series of pitiful capitulations to the forces of coercive conformity. As far as I see it, the path to the grave is lined with compromise after compromise until, at the moment of the final rattle, one has become a travesty, physically and spiritually, of the person one used to be. Not that I would want to overdramatise the whole thing, mind. I more usually tend to present my dis-avowal of smoking as a kind of glorious epiphany. One moment I smoked, the next I didn’t. And in a sense that is true: no doctors were involved, there

Japan’s cult of safetyism

The Japanese government has launched an initiative to encourage young people to drink more alcohol. Yes, really. The national tax agency’s ‘Sake Viva’ campaign is an appeal for ideas to get youngsters boozing after taxes on alcohol products, which accounted for 5 per cent of total revenue back in the hard-drinking 1980s, fell to just 1.7 per cent in 2020. So, at a time of economic hardship, Japan’s youth are being asked to do their patriotic duty and get hammered. The falloff in social drinking is being attributed in part to the pandemic. Japan didn’t have a full-blown lockdown imposed from above, but the more subtle bottom-up lockdown that demonised

Why we drink

‘I like to have a martini,/ Two at the very most./ After three I’m under the table,/ After four I’m under my host.’ I never fully appreciated the brilliance of that spurious quote of Dorothy Parker until I visited Dukes Bar in Mayfair. It used to be the case – it probably still is – that you may order no more than two martinis there owing to their potency. Had she not preferred whisky to gin, Parker might well have banged her fists on that table for a third. After one-and-a-half before dinner, however, this critic would be more inclined to dance on it. Humans may respond to drink in

Liz Truss: ‘It’s raining men’

It’s the final day of Tory party conference today, with all eyes on Boris Johnson’s speech at midday. But will all the cabinet be there to watch it, bright-eyed and bushy tailed? Judging from last night’s antics, Mr S suspects that the answer may be: no. Truss, wearing a striking green number, stood out a mile in a sea of identikit Tory boy blue suits Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey was seen belting out ‘The Time of My Life’ at the legendary inHouse comms karaoke party while many of her fellow ministers attended The Spectator’s own champagne-fuelled shindig. But while Tom Tugendhat and Michael Gove twirled and spun together

The blind spot in the SNP’s ‘war on drink’

Scotland’s grim reputation for abnormally high drug fatalities has become embedded in the public consciousness over the past year. The fact that fake benzodiazepines (‘street valium’) can be procured for 50p a pill on the streets of Dundee and Glasgow is now common knowledge, as is Scotland’s unenviable place at the top of Europe’s drug deaths league table. However, belated attention to this crisis should not allow signs of another to slip below the radar. New figures from National Records of Scotland (NRS) show a 17 per cent surge in alcohol-specific deaths between 2019 and 2020, a rise from 1,020 to 1,190 in the space of 12 months, what NRS

A taste inquisition on Stink Street

Walking up through the Stink Street medieval arch with a bag of shopping, I spotted Michael between the oleander branches seated in front of his ancient cottage having a drink. Stink Street is so called because it is just without the old town walls and in medieval times pigs were kept there. At this time of year it’s not easy to walk up Stink Street after midday without one or other of the cottagers inviting you to join them for a glass. And it was just after six and I deserved one. Stink Street runs uphill steeply and has only recently been dressed with its first layer of tarmac. Michael’s