The other day the editor of Vogue, Alexandra Shulman, wrote a newspaper article describing how her magazine's December supplement came about. Indulging all our fantasies about life as the editor of the world's most famous glossy, she explained that "The Vogue Motorola List" was conceived over lunch at the Wolseley (now officially London's hottest restaurant) while sipping Americanos. How fabulous: brainstorming over cocktails! No sober boardroom sessions for these style setters.
On the other hand, Shulman felt obliged to acknowledge that, even in her world, drinking during the day was irregular. No sooner had she confessed to having oiled the creative wheels, than she added that cocktails at lunchtime were not "my normal luncheon diet". I noticed this little qualifier, because it occurred to me that not long ago there would have been nothing remarkable about this lunch, other than that those present weren't drinking martinis. Shulman's words were a reminder that, while we are still far from being American-shy of drink, we do feel increasingly guilty about drinking.
Drinking guilt is manageable most of the year. Then the party season starts and an extreme version of it kicks in, known as party anxiety. This has two principal stages: first, on the day of the party, you start to panic that you have got too much to do and are going to compound your problems by feeling rotten the following morning. (If you've got it bad, you may make a point of letting a few friends know that you are definitely not on for a big night.) Stage two takes place the morning after and basically consists of regret and damage limitation. You e-mail several witnesses and protest that everything you did or said was the result of being plastered. They e-mail back to say that as far as they are concerned you were in much better shape than them.
This routine (and for many of us it is a routine) reflects a new awareness that our drinking is being judged in a way that it never used to be. Once, being a little the worse for wear was the primary goal of party-goers. Now there's a sense that only the self-destructive and unambitious are out there recklessly burning the candle - even if it is Christmas. Party anxiety also demonstrates our lack of confidence in letting our hair down (surely the whole point of a party). Where once you'd rely on the booze to take you somewhere interesting, these days control is what people admire. Struggling to remember the name of the prime minister in conversation does not look good.
At the Vogue party to celebrate "The List", my jacket caught fire (it was extinguished, relatively discreetly, by a very professional waiter), I lost my shoes for an hour and I can't remember exactly how I got home. But, as I say, among the Vogue crowd you still get points for creative drinking.