Drink big

Drink - Victoria Moore on why getting drunk has gone out of fashion for the under-forties

Last week, I went to the theatre with a friend who, five years ago, was a student who never washed his bed linen and could drink his own weight in alcohol. Now he is a barrister. Apparently, he still doesn't wash his sheets, but when we walked into the theatre bar and I asked "Drink?", he replied with a few moments of constipated silence. Then, clearly trying not to cast a pall over the evening before it had begun, he suggested that we share one. Share a 25ml measure of gin? I didn't know this was possible.

So we had orange juice and, at dinner afterwards, I persuaded him to share a bottle of wine with me. This was fine, apparently, but that extra 12.5ml of gin could have pushed him over the edge. The following night, I compensated myself by downing Cognac in some vile new bar in Leicester Square (there were reasons for being there) until 3am. When, four hours later, I lurched out of bed to start the next day, I felt triumphantly awful. My flatmate tried to commiserate, missing the point entirely. I hadn't been so unrestrained for months. I wondered, in hope, if I might be bad enough to need to break the Tube journey to work into a series of small, anti-nausea stages as I did in the good old days. I was not.

It is a matter of great concern to me that urban under-forties have forgotten how to enjoy themselves. By which I mean that they have forgotten how to drink. Gone are the glory days of the recent past, when one drank until one found oneself turning down midnight invitations to play table tennis in a Mayfair penthouse, or felt inspired to walk miles across London in the sleet, simply to gaze at the night view from Westminster Bridge. Back then, a bar bill showing dozens of individually ordered glasses of wine documented a naughtily conspiratorial evening of "just one mores", not a brief meeting of the entire office's secretarial pool before they went off to buy ready meals from Marks & Spencer.

This parlous situation has arisen at a time when we are being told that, although almost one in five Britons is teetotal (for which, in many cases, read "reformed alcoholic"), overall alcohol consumption is at a record level because of the growing number of "heavy drinkers".

The reason for this is a new drinking trend: controlled alcoholism. Work is so draining that, afterwards, relief is sought in alcohol. And work is so demanding, and we are so career-driven, that few will risk impairing their next day's form. So we control our alcoholic intake very carefully, drinking almost up to the millilitre the quantity we know we can tolerate, and always making sure to be in bed by midnight.

How dreary, day after day, to get tipsy in this measured fashion. I miss the camaraderie of shared hangovers; of mercy trips to the newsagent for a six-pack of full-sugar Coca-Cola; of friends e-mailing through their misery to say that they have spent most of the day, perforce, lying under their desk, obscured by a colleague's legs and computer wires, making occasional appearances to sustain an illusion of productivity.

I would not mind, but we are supposed to be young and we pretend not to have grown up. This is a lie. To put the tin hat on things, I discover that there are plenty of people drinking for Britain in a perfectly proper way. They are our parents.

My mother makes a stronger gin and tonic than anyone I know (quite a feat, I assure you). Other people have parents who emerge from houses with pelmetted windows and return, careering down the country lanes in their Ford Mondeos with no regard for anything so tedious as drink-driving laws, several bottles later. And, each Christmas, I am drunk under the table by every one of my relatives.

The only thing to do is look forward to middle age, when I can be young again.

This article first appeared in the 04 December 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Goodbye to the dirty mac image