What not to drink

Ignore the health fanatics. Drinkers should follow four simple rules

The world is awash with advice about what not to drink. All kinds of virtuous products, in which honest labour and the love of life have been distilled for your benefit - unpasteurised milk, for example - have been forbidden by the health fanatics.

Not a week passes without a newspaper article rehearsing the damage done to the human constitution by spirits, wine, carbonated drinks or coffee, and it seems to me that the time has come to draw a line under all this nonsense and to lay down a few simple principles.

The first is that you should drink what you like, in the quantities that you like. It may hasten your death, but this small cost will be offset by the benefits to everyone around you.

The second principle is that you should not, through your drinking, inflict pain on others: drink as much as you like, but put away the bottle before gaiety gives way to gloom. Drinks that have a depressive effect - water, for example - should be taken in small doses, for medicinal reasons only.

The third principle is that your drinking should inflict no lasting damage on the earth. By hastening your death, a drink does no real environmental damage - after all, you are biodegradable, and that may very well be the best thing to be said about you. But this is not, in general, true of the containers in which drinks are sold.

In the virtuous England in which I grew up, drinks came in glass bottles, for which you paid an additional tuppence, refundable on return of the bottle to the shop. This exemplary system was followed for many years, and ought surely to be reintroduced today. However, it was driven out by the arrival of the plastic bottle, the greatest environmental disaster since the discovery of fossil fuels.

People who live in cities are less aware of this disaster than we country dwellers, as city streets, from time to time, are cleaned. Walk along any country lane, however, and you will encounter, every yard or so, a plastic bottle, flung from the window of a passing vehicle, to lie for ever on the verge. Each year the accumulation increases, with particular products - Lucozade, for example - adding insulting colours to the environmental injury.

Every year, I patrol the road past our house, clearing the plastic from the ditches and attempting to restore a little piece of England which, in my childhood, would not have been polluted with so much as a paper bag. But the effort is increasingly futile, and merely increases my depression when I make the mistake of walking on the untended roads beyond.

So here is my final principle: don't drink anything that comes in plastic bottles. Declare war on them and on the firms that use them. Withdraw your custom from every supermarket that sells its milk in plastic, and drink water, if you must, only from the tap.