THE BLOG

Why I Regret Giving Up Drinking for January

30/01/2013 15:57 GMT | Updated 30/03/2013 09:12 GMT

I once spent two weeks working in the dust of mid-west France rebuilding dry-stone walls in a small village called Bagneaux.

I arrived on my own, watched the TGV shimmer away in the evening heat and crossed the station car park to a small bar opposite. I had a glass of beer and waited for the car to take me to where I was staying.

When I arrived at the wall builders' camp, I introduced myself to everyone, sat down between two friendly faces and pulled out a bottle of wine from my bag.

There was a man from Togo, a German boy, two Korean girls, the two men from Mexico and a Columbian girl. All of them declined a drink.

I drank the bottle over the course of the evening, finding the process only slightly less pleasurable done without like-minded companions. Nevertheless, I decided to join in with the mindless sobriety and embark upon the two weeks of wall building entirely without alcohol.

By the end of the trip I felt a vigorous satisfaction, partly through the qualitative accomplishment of shifting tonnes of sandstone, but also in part to an exacting fortnight's asceticism.

Since then I've occasionally experimented with abstinence as a tool for level-headed self assessment.

However, London is a place where drinking is deeply necessary. Business in the fermented streets of the city is conducted through a thin veil of functional alcoholism, and for many, a drink is as valuable as a promise.

Stopping drinking for a month in the capital, while also working as a full time journalist could easily lay bare the vanity and futility of keeping one's nose so close to the grindstone (or so I suspected). So the decision was not without the risk of existential crisis.

It turned out my fears were unfounded. I've not had any alcohol for 28 days now, and what I've learned as I drift towards the endpoint convinces me that there is no good reason to stop drinking for a month if you don't actually need to.

While abstemiousness or sobriety can lend you advantages in a few situations, there are times when you must be drunk, if only to remain polite to your friends without becoming horrendously bored by their frivolous jabber.

Over the past four weeks I have offended and disappointed people through ordering ginger beer at the bar. Two friends' birthdays have come and gone in January, and while I entered into the parties wholeheartedly, the sense of brotherhood that mutual inebriation engenders simply couldn't flourish and I ended up sloping off early.

I have hung my head in shame in front of bar staff in the few pubs I've bothered visiting during the last four weeks - some of which were in south Wales and struggling to make ends meet. No landlord is pleased at the arrival of a teetotal young man. Young men are those creatures most perfectly adapted to devoting hopelessly enormous amounts of money to the bar. But the pub owner knows that's just not going to happen when the target market is sipping up elderflower cordial through a curly straw.

I've also missed my glorious hangovers. Hangovers are an entirely denigrated element of the drinking process - people are always trying to cure them. I revel in mine - writhing in that sublime suffering which Kingsley Amis describes as a "unique route to self-knowledge and self-realisation". I'm at my most creative the day after a sodden evening. It's a time when new thoughts spring up like freshly irrigated shoots and almost anything can seem possible to achieve, especially in the kitchen.

I've lost the Friday Feeling and I can't wait to get it back. The thrill of leaving the office on Friday is because the weekend is when you can do what you want. When you actually can't do what you want, there's far less to celebrate. And drinking is all about celebrating.

However, the worst part of the whole tale is that I've hardly learned anything interesting or new from my month off.

Investigating temperance in a foreign country during a period of intense labour was exciting. Failing to have a beer on the weekend is just pointless.

In a few days time I'll be back to normal, and I mean that extremely positively.

I have never before chosen to be so unnecessarily bored in all my adult life, and for that I can only apologise to myself.