For months at a time, the only alcohol which passes my lips takes the form of Christmas cake or Communion wine. I wish that bouts of abstinence had made me wise, but that is not to be. I still grow old, I remain clumsy, sometimes forget names and cannot be trusted up a ladder. During these spells, while other people seem a bit more tedious, I bore myself silly and put myself to bed early.
Nonetheless, I have tried to collate a few tips for those trying to cut down on grog post-lockdown. We will all need to give up the alibis which sustained us throughout isolation and quarantine.
"Everyone is drinking more" is one such alibi, as are "I just need to take the edge off the day" and "it's after sunset somewhere in the world". Only the most inveterate drinker would delude himself as shamelessly as Churchill, who declared: "I have taken more out of grog than grog has taken out of me."
Perhaps home brew prompts restraint, since we might drink less if we have to make rather than buy replacement supplies. Sadly, there is little empirical evidence for that suggestion, if evidence is measured by the girth of a few home brewers, their sobriety after dinner or their willingness to open one more bottle (lest, of course, the bottles burst). We brewed ginger beer when I was a kid, with one batch so accidentally alcoholic that it took a couple of hours to persuade my Nanna to trust herself when vertical and unlock the door of the outside toilet.
Those preferring hard liquor are better placed to while away a quiet afternoon mastering the intricacies of cocktails like a whiskey sour or an old fashioned. Bourbon is the fitting subject of that study. Such immersion in the alchemy of alcohol is like taking a course in the classics or - as many of us did in isolation - ploughing through a long novel.
Brewing or mixing your own drink is much easier than devising a non-alcoholic drink which genuinely tastes of something. Drinks devoid of alcohol usually end up falling back on the most reliable secret ingredient, sugar. We should borrow from India and start making the one non-alcoholic mix suitable for Australia's climate, the lime soda. Fresh limes would be essential, with sugar syrup in a separate glass on the side for those weak in will. In Mumbai, waiters would ask whether your lime soda was to be sweet, sour or - in a wondrously spicy, saucy blend - mixed.
Even for me, cutting down on grog does provide an interchange bench of extra energy. It can be worked off in the garden or sweated off during a walk, with a rather sweet sense of virtue triumphant. Exercise, though, should earn you a beer.
Eventually we will be allowed to re-enter the wider world, back at the pub. Those long novels would give an edge for trivia night. Reading can then acquire a practical value, as it did decades ago for me. Back in the day, when Ireland suffered under church censorship, I was shouted drinks for an entire afternoon in Dublin as a reward for telling the stories of books then banned.
Our more serious test of drinkers' braininess should come out at the cricket. Why should a nation of great sports figures be reduced to singing out "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi"? Where are the witty chants which mock our opponents? Where are the adapted hymn lyrics to shame the Barmy Army? Ernest Hemingway reckoned that he drank to make other people more interesting. Fixing our chants and hymns would demonstrate that we have made ourselves as Australians more interesting.
- Mark Thomas is a Canberra-based writer.