The earliest I think I've started drinking wine was about eight in the morning. Not my suggestion, I should point out: we were staying with a friend of ours who lived in a converted pigshed near Barcelona, nicer than it sounds, the ground floor still indefinably murky but nevertheless good for somewhere that had recently housed animals. And for breakfast, on the penthouse floor, two stories up, our host cheerfully sliced up a beefsteak tomato, cut a round of bread, laid the the tomato on the bread, and poured a glass of rough red wine over the whole thing.
'Breakfast Catalan style,' he said. 'Do you want some?' I joined him for the sake of form, obviously, but the kids were a bit young at the time and the wife just stood there looking appalled.
When he next came over to our place to stay, he arrived from the airport with a vast wheelie suitcase which he hauled along our path and up our steps like a gun carriage. He was gasping for breath and fanning his armpits as it rumbled to a halt in the hallway.
'What's in it?' I said.
He opened it up: it contained four five-litre plastic carboys, like the one I used for my precious petrol-pump Ventoux, full of incredibly cheap red wine; plus a tiny brick of fresh socks and pants, wedged into the bottom.
'They put anti-freeze into it,' he said, gesturing at the red stuff in the carboys, 'and sugar. To make it more drinkable.'
He had it for breakfast, with some fried eggs.
The earliest I started spontaneously drinking, as opposed to merely joining in, was also around eight in the morning, at Marco Polo airport, near Venice. We had all formed a queue at the cafe bar for a breakfast cup of coffee, and some deviltry made me ask, not for a flabby cappuccino, but for a heart-starting caffé corretto, that (typically) brilliant Italian confection of an espresso with a shot of grappa in it - the espresso buzzing you up, the grappa mellowing you out, till you reach a state of god-like acuity and inner balance, a state in which no situation - like getting a bargain flight back to London - is too depressing to deal with.
'It's a bit early, isn't it?' a man behind me said, so I leered back at him, 'It's never too early for this.' He looked appalled.
And then there was the Calvados I was offered in the middle of the morning, in Normandy, to keep the cold out. Various ouvriers were supping away in this bar at Un p'tit Calva, also to keep the cold out, before going back to operating heavy machinery, handling explosives etc., but seemed unconcerned. This time it was my turn to look appalled but I had one anyway, before going out and nearly being run down by a man full of Calvados, driving a backhoe loader. It was about eleven a.m.
How early is too early for a drink, then? I only ask because it's not yet six o'clock – pm, I hasten to add, but no-one in our house is allowed a drink before six o'clock, on account of it being The Road To Ruin. Obviously if I'm going out on the lash with PK, this condition is capable of being modified, but normally nothing happens until we've reached that existential moment, that six o'clock, that philosophical sundown, but today it seems as if the existential moment is never quite going to realise itself, and I am filled with a sense of unease made worse somehow by the fact that I know what I'm going to be drinking - more of that Miwok Ridge stuff from Tesco, the Creosote's Revenge - and therefore it has no terrors, only the promise of an affordable homecoming and a slightly tarry sensation between the ears, and yet time stands still, and if I was our friend who lives in Spain and packs twenty litres of sewage-treatment red wine just to come to England, I'd already have made a start, but that's as it may be, and it's only just five o'clock! but the Calvados workmen, they'll have made a start, and so will some other lucky swines who knocked off early or enjoyed the advantages of living in a different time zone, I can't help but think to myself as the clock on the screen labours past the five-thirty mark...
Not quite forty minutes to go. And in Bucharest it's already half-past seven!