I stagger out of bed after a night of fever and vomiting, thinking I must check the email before collapsing for the day. There is a message from the editor: I have forgotten to submit my copy, the deadline is approaching, and 500 words on drink are needed right away.
It is the last thing I can think about. I avert my eyes from the desk and the miniature bottle of Screw Kappa Napa - one of those industrial Chardonnays that live in the drinks cupboards of New York hotels. I refuse to blame the California Cabernet that followed it over dinner, but as for those canapés - the very thought of them makes me queasy.
Luckily it is not a hotel I am staying in, but McKim, Mead and White's University Club, one of New York's great classical buildings. Lying on the bed, I look up at soothing Ionic mouldings, and from the two sash windows I see friendly rooftops framed by the silently throbbing skyscrapers in which the world is remade each day. It would be a good place to decline, and I decide to make the most of it. But what about drink? Water is as far as my thoughts can wander, and how much can you say about that?
Well, quite a lot actually. One of the most satisfying of experiences is that of quenching a real thirst with a cool draught of water, and it is not surprising that it is to this experience, rather than the excitement caused by wine, that the Psalmist has recourse as a metaphor for our spiritual homecoming: "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God." Water symbolises that final and heavenly quenching, but also cleanliness and redemption - concepts that have less and less place in the postmodern psyche, but which are just as necessary today as they ever were, and vividly present to the mind of one who has spent the night on his knees, vomiting into a toilet bowl.
Often, watching the horses as they suck the cool water from the trough in the field, I have envied the cleanliness of their habits, and the pure satisfaction that accompanies their natural diet. For all of a minute or so I will toy with the idea of giving up wine, and living a life of clean pleasures and natural joys as horses do. As a rule, I am cured of these heretical thoughts by the call to supper. Today, however, they linger undisturbed, and I resolve to drink nothing all day save water.
Alas, however, New York being what it is, the only drinkable water comes in plastic bottles. What kind of redemption is this, which requires me to augment the sea of plastic that is gradually overwhelming the world? I lie back on the bed, knowing that I have merely exchanged one sin for another. And still I pant after those heavenly brooks.