I haven’t got the bottle to give up

I wake up at 7.30am feeling fine. This is never a good sign and, sure enough, by about noon I am feeling rotten. Ho ho, I hear you snigger, Lezard has been at the happy juice again. Well yes, all right, I have, but no more than usual - the standard iron rations of a bottle a night. Let's get one thing clear: it's not too much.

I remember mentioning to Guy the Millionaire, the second friend I made in the area after moving into the Hovel, that drinking a bottle of wine a night was one of the reasons Mrs Lezard chucked me out.

“And then what?" he asked, baffled. Guy made his squillions himself, by the way, and looks and acts how Alan Sugar would act if he were a nice human being.

I was also heartened to read a letter in the "Last Word" section of the New Scientist, from a man who had drunk, on average, a bottle of wine a day for over 30 years, with no ill-effects. No readers, in their replies, called him an alcoholic, suicidally reckless or immoral. They largely said "me too".
Anyway, I am feeling poorly with something that feels nothing like a hangover - the dizziness and fatigue that are the hallmarks of the Lurgy.

I have to spend the day with the kids and am even more useless with them than usual, and by the time I get back to the Hovel I am half dead. I watch EastEnders with Razors in an uncomprehending trance and go to bed at 8.30pm with a glass of tonic water. I do feel just about well enough for a glass or two of wine, but I think - hey, why not give Mr Liver a break for the evening? I'm sure he'll appreciate it, and it might reduce the circumference of my belly by a millimetre. If I keep it up over several weeks, I might lose it altogether.

At the moment I look pretty much like the year-old photograph that adorns this page, apart from slightly greyer hair and a protuberance that makes me look as though I am in the early, but visible, stages of pregnancy. My daughter has taken to laying her hand on it in silent rebuke, or as a gambler might touch a bald man's pate for luck.

I am also glad to discover that I am not an alcoholic, in the sense that I do not develop the shakes or start hallucinating. I have given up alcohol before, for a month, after a disastrous escapade on a hen night in Amsterdam during which I was the only male present. This resulted in my literally having to be wheeled back on to the plane (sprained ankle, in case you're wondering) as well as an ultimatum from Mrs Lezard to stop drinking for a month or be kicked out.

I managed the month rather more easily than I thought I was going to, though I did find the evenings dragged on a bit. (Apart from the time we watched The Matrix on video and I had a little dope: I began to accept the film's premise as an extremely plausible explanation for everything.)

Self control

And so the evening did drag on a bit. I recalled that I had gone a night without booze recently and found sleep impossible to fall into easily because I spent half the night worrying about the wiring in the Hovel, and whether the place would burn down in the night. Say what you like about the fruit of the grape, it certainly stops you from freaking out about your electrics.

I read a lot: about half of the Purgatorio and a volume of Clive James's memoirs, which are infallibly entertaining but always leave me with an acute and debilitating awareness of my own failure.

I remember when my colleague Will Self started on his admirable life of total sobriety and he recommended it on the grounds that, among other things, it increased the mental bandwidth considerably. Imprisoned in my head, I found no similar benefit whatsoever, apart from a step-up in the
level and intensity of fruitless speculation.

Why have I not got round to doing my accounts? Why have I achieved so little? Am I too free and easy with accepting friend requests on Facebook? What's going to happen to me when they stop paying writers? Are my children going to be happy and fulfilled members of society when they grow up? Is Test Match cricket ever going to be free-to-air again? What's going to happen when the ice caps and the permafrost melt? And why does my pee sometimes smell of Sugar Puffs even when I have not eaten Sugar Puffs?

I wake up the next morning feeling like shit, as usual. On the whole, the experiment has been a success, but I think it'll be a while before I try it again.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 30 August 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Face off