Abstinence, but not yet drink

Drink - Victoria Moore is saved from temperance by a medicinal Spanish red

Resolutions of temperance engender, for me, a terrible dilemma. Decide that you're drinking too much and you're forced to conclude that you're in the early stages of alcoholism, something no self-respecting drink columnist could ever admit to. Swagger blithely along on the rosy drink-as-you-please, grape-strewn path and all is well with the world.

Sort of. This is the time of year when all those filthy little quizzes peek over the parapet of self-indulgence to torment and threaten and tell you that you're an alcoholic. "Do you drink more than three times a week?" they demand. Make that more than seven. "Have you ever lost chunks of time from your evening?" they squeak. All the time. "Or woken up with un-explained bruises or cuts on your body?" I do believe I may have. "How many times a day do you think about a large, warm glass brimming with soft, velvety red wine?" Stop it, stop it, stop it.

Anyway, biliousness descended and I had to admit that it was time to play a psychological trick or two on myself. I wasn't the only one. My friend Claire said she hadn't had a drink or a cigarette for five days. We pondered this in awed silence as she tidied her desk in the manner of someone with an obsessional disorder. Claire is normally messier than a small puppy. Something was wrong. Slowly, realisation came out of the miasma. Panic bubbles formed, then burst as Nina screeched at full volume: "What are you doing? Not drinking, not smoking, tidying . . . you'll be on the streets handing out religious literature next."

I don't mind not drinking, but I don't especially want to start behaving like a negative of my current personality. I am still prevaricating when I arrive home to find my latest love standing thoughtfully in the kitchen pondering a cup of tea. "You know," he says, "we drink quite a lot and I don't think it's because we want the alcohol. It's because we like to have something to sip at. I'm perfectly happy with this tea. I might buy lots of fruit juice and put it in the fridge so that if we're not bothered about wine we can . . . sip," he finishes lamely. How very clever. We can drink less because we were never actually interested in the drinking in the first place.

"You're right," I say quickly.

And so commences my abstinence. It does not go as I had hoped. I fidget at the table. I bolt back my food in an alarming manner. I have wild, cluttered dreams about burglars in league with rhinoceroses. Not only that, the zesty, summery juices - raspberry and orange, cranberry and banana, apple and elderflower - with which I replace my usual fermented intake only lay bare the full misery of the dankness of these hollowed-out January days. Dark in the morning, gloomy at noon, pitch-black long before it ought to be nightfall. The sun never rises. Oh, for a draft of vintage!

And then comes salvation in the form of a heavy and uncomfortable cold. No amount of pharmaceuticals will blast it away; no quantity of Vitamin C is sufficient to send it crawling to its grave; honey and lemon juice are useless without the whisky. The only flavour my tired mouth can discern is that of salt. And red wine. I am afraid so. I have taken medical advice from my doctor friend who says that alcohol, being a mild sedative, will most make me feel better. A glorious bottle of Ribera del Duero changes everything. The nicest wine I have drunk for weeks (and not just because it is the first to pass my lips for several days), it has the fruity, mature taste of something that promises to cure all ills. As indeed it does. Well, some of them anyway.

This article first appeared in the 17 January 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The plot to keep us puffing