"Never drink on an empty stomach.....always have a couple of beers first...."
So came the sage advice delivered dead-pan by my dad to my impressionable pre-pubescent self, as I sat listening intently to his pearls of wisdom. My sister Karen and I were sipping warm Coca-Cola through straws at the smoke-filled Hither Green Working Men's Club, a regular weekend haunt of his.
Wearing knee-high socks and matching summer dresses, we swung our legs as we sat crunching on cheese and onion Golden Wonder whilst Dad chugged back lager and chatted to my uncle and grandfather, shouting above the music being belted out by the red-faced organ-player in the background. Mum was at work; this was working-class Daddy Day Care, Eighties-style.
The set of Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights was modelled on such clubs, characterised by men-only bars, endless naff-prized raffles and dated Seventies decor - right down to the gold metallic-strand curtain shimmering beneath neon strip lights. This particular South-East London venue was a classic example.
I gazed around at the sea of guffawing men, right arms tilting pints heavenwards in unison, sharing jokes, pausing intermittently between gulps of lager to sling a handful of KP dry-roasted peanuts into their open mouths. They seemed to be having a whale of a time.
Thus began my introduction to the world of drinking.
Another educational gem, delivered with a wink by Dad as he expertly arranged his tie in the mirror on a weekday morning following a boozy City-based client dinner:
"You see Sam, you don't want to be wasting your day off feeling rough. Always get paid to be hungover."
Fast forward a decade and my early experimentation with alcohol was executed in the much the same way as the science experiments my classmates and I carried out at school.
First, we'd come up with a theory, our hypothesis: to get deliriously happy-drunk with the minimal amount of apparatus, monetary outlay and with the least adverse chemical reactions.
Next came the method: siphon off small quantities of various contraband spirits, mix in a conical flask (or failing that, an empty water bottle), add friends, then decamp to the local park to await the results of the chemical experiment...
No bunsen burner or tripod required, yet the outcome was often explosive. Colours became brighter, jokes funnier....then the world spun more quickly on it's axis and it was time for a lie-down.
Conclusion: careful and precise measurement of inflammable liquids is required in order to achieve the desired effects of euphoria and giggles, as opposed to green-gilled quease and room-spinning unease.
By our mid-to-late teens most of my friends and classmates at school were regulars on the local pubs and clubs circuit. By the time we understood the long-term ill-effects of alcohol it had become a deeply-ingrained habit, a part of who we were. The demon drink was like fast-growing ivy, coiling it's suffocating fronds around our vulnerable minds.
"You look great," whispers Smirnoff. "Go on, hit the dancefloor," urges Chardonnay. "You're so witty!" gushes Hendricks and tonic, twirling her cucumber curls flirtatiously as she encourages you to dominate the conversation.
In your twenties, there's a tendency to binge. As Oscar Wilde once said:
"Work is the curse of the drinking classes."
I'm inclined to agree. No wonder hard-working folk binge-drink, in the same way that we binge-watch box sets: even relaxing has to be shoehorned into our tight schedules then approached head-on with gusto; there's simply no time to waste.
As one rumbles into middle-age, it becomes more socially acceptable to drink less, but more often. It's not the done thing for a wrinkled-up raver to go on a mid-week mashup to break the monotony of the nine-to-five treadmill...although a drip-feed approach to drinking (say, a few glasses of red a night) is considered fine.
Some argue that having weekdays off then saving up your units for a weekend blow-out at least allows the liver to regenerate itself in between sessions. A canny caner's version of the 5:2 diet, if you will. But is this option less damaging? The jury's out (out down the pub, I'm assuming).
Simply ask your friends and colleagues to sponsor you not to drink alcohol for the month, then sit back and relax, safe in the knowledge that you're saving money, your health - and potentially the lives of some of the 1 in 2 people in the UK who will, at some point, be diagnosed with cancer.
For the whole of September, hazard lights will no longer be required to steer you through the regular early-morning brain-fog; you get to be bright-eyed and bushy tailed for the entire thirty days. And just think: after a month-long detox, the ensuing "retox" will be all the more enjoyable...
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