Drink - Shane Watson looks for an alternative to alcohol

As a woman's taste buds mature, so her interest in fizzy drinks evaporates

I'm now well into the January non-drinking. To be honest, the first leg was a breeze, as I was laid low with "winter vomiting", but the past ten days have required a bit more effort and I am now an expert on alcohol substitutes. I'm not talking about cocaine - although the latest reports say it is roughly the same price as a Starbucks cappuccino. I'm not even talking about the legal weed (a friend who has also given up drinking for January reports that a medicinal joint only aggravates the craving). I'm talking about "soft" drinks, a species of beverage that I don't go near for 11 months of the year. From February to December, my weekly fluid intake consists of cappuccino, water, plenty of wine of either colour, plus the odd cocktail. But never, not for any reason, am I tempted to add elderflower to my Evian, let alone crack open a can of Coke or a bottle of Orangina.

As your taste buds mature and your paranoia about hidden sugar develops, all interest in soft drinks - especially fizzy ones - evaporates. I remember buying, in the scalding summer of 1976, a can of ice-cold Coca-Cola off a classmate for the extortionate sum of £2, so great was my need. But then I also remember happily scoffing a quarter of sherbet lemons. Sherbet is one of those taste sensations that you automatically lose when you exit your teens, along with your love of Primula, Dairylea, sandwich spread, chocolate spread, Butterscotch Angel Delight and synthetic cordials (Ribena excepted).

Another round of taste-shedding takes place in your late twenties, when you find you are no longer a slave to gingernut biscuits and the thought of a Jaffa cake makes you squeamish. Toasted sandwiches, garlic bread, creamy cocktails and sticky liqueurs also lose their appeal. By your early thirties, the cull is in full steam. I once would have walked on hot coals for an Irish coffee, but along with banana milkshakes, Fanta, Malibu, Baileys, all primary-coloured alcohol and kummel, I have long since consigned it to my things-I've-grown-out-of box.

This taste journey is typical of females in general but, apparently, the same is not always true of men. If John McCririck is anything to go by, an urgent passion for Diet Coke (while in the Big Brother house, he required six litres a week) can last well into your sixties. As to which of the soft drinks I have decided are manageable, cranberry juice is currently out in front, closely followed by V8 with lashings of Tabasco, or that Big Tom's ready-made Bloody Mary mix. Basically, at this time, it's a great comfort to drink anything that tastes like it might have vodka lurking in there.

Shane Watson's novel Other People's Marriages is published by Macmillan in February (£12.99)