My friend certainly knows how to host a fabulous Big-0 birthday party. The fizz flows, ditto the wine at dinner, the speeches are hilarious, his three drop-dead gorgeous daughters steal the show on the dance floor and the chocolate birthday cake is to die for. At least I can indulge in that without feeling guilty, as I’m only drinking water .
I love a party and enjoy making conversation with strangers. There are lots of old mates here I haven’t seen for years and I mean to go up and say “Hello, remember me?”, but somehow it doesn’t happen and I realise I usually rely on a little Dutch courage. Eating, drinking and making merry is definitely harder without the drink. It’s not that everyone gets rip-roaring drunk, but they are doing the merry bit much better than me. At lunch the next day there are more long lost friends, delicious roast beef and praise for the excellent Rioja. Sigh.
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Four weeks into my dryathlon, the penny is dropping that total abstinence is pretty pointless if it takes some of the pleasure out of a lovely party, or a delicious meal. I am a bit shocked to realise that a glass or two was underpinning my social confidence - but then what’s wrong with that, especially if it helps me “work the room” at professional events ? When I don’t stop at two, that’s what.
Wine fascinates me - how the local “terroir” and climate influence its taste and structure, and its magical transformation from grape to grand cru. I love the taste of wine, trying to savour its different flavours and notes, and I get a kick out of spotting a bargain bottle. In another life, I could even fancy myself as the chic chatelaine of a top Bordeaux vineyard.
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On the other hand, it’s liberating never having to worry about who’s driving or if I can get away with topping up my glass. I’m the self-appointed sommelier in our house - but now my shopping trolley is steered firmly past the wine section while I think “Great, that’s five minutes and £30 a week less in the supermarket, and no lugging the bottles home.” If anyone wants a drink in our house now, the sommelier suggests they buy it themselves.
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Our son is old enough to do that now and seems to be a responsible drinker - more so than his parents on occasion. I’ve felt uncomfortable sometimes when he’s pointed out the number of bottles in the recycling bin. A recent article in the BMJ reported that children in Britain are more exposed to alcohol promotion than adults and need much stronger protection. The more advertising they see, the more they drink. Every year in the UK about 7,500 children are admitted to hospital because of alcohol. Cynical marketing of alcopops to kids, especially, makes my blood boil - but parents who crack open a bottle of wine most nights are hardly a good influence either.
As a health writer I know that changing behaviour is about setting clear goals and working out, realistically, how to achieve them. I’m about halfway through my dry spell, and thinking about when it’s over. I’m determined not go back to my old habits. But will my new, tried-and-tested willpower last? And there’s another significant birthday party, a weekend in Berlin without the kids and a slightly nerve-wracking networking do to contend with next...
To be continued...
Hilly Janes is the author of Latte or Cappuccino, 125 Decisions That Will Change Your Life (£9.99, Michael O’Mara Books).