So Christmas and New Year have finally departed, and I am left with the usual sensations of guilt entangled with an increasing sense of my own mortality, and I ask myself, When was the last time I went a whole day without drinking? Good question, I answer myself approvingly, and am tempted to leave it there, along with Where did I leave my Christmas presents? and How long will the boiler hold out?
It nags, though. I'm pretty sure I went at least one day in 2013 without any alcohol, but that may have been because I was coming round from a general anaesthetic. I used to make a point of always taking one day a week off the booze - and held to it pretty well until the last few years, when the regimen started to collapse through sheer inanition and, oh yes, when I started doing Sediment, at which point it became my duty to neck everything in a spirit of calm disinterested enquiry, spurred on by authentic slavering greed.
Equally (I tell myself), in the days when one day in seven was dry, I used to be able to go and get absolutely shitfaced from time to time, in a way I am no longer capable of. I mean, I'm just too old to get blind drunk any more, and in a way I'm grateful. So maybe (I keep telling myself) it all balances out. But then again. A whole day without drink.
I start to get anxious. On the lookout now for symptoms of chronic alcoholic dependency, I am at once rewarded with this horrible web page from the BBC: Should there be a word for 'an almost alchoholic'? Well, the BBC, if indeed it knows, isn't saying what that word might be. But the timing is so menacing that, like some scaly penitent on the road to Santiago de Compostela, I immediately draw the only inference possible and quit drinking for a day, just to see if I still can.
Actually, it's more than a day, because I rarely drink at lunchtimes: in reality it's a forty-five hour dryout from nine at night on a Monday (when I take my last lachrymose swig of the muscular Jacktone Ranch Shiraz my Pa-in-Law gave me for Christmas, might as well be called Testosterone, so burly and stuffed with fruity armpit overtones is it) to six in the evening on Wednesday, the day after the day after, when the wine is allowed to start flowing again. I go to bed in a dim frame of mind.
Still. Next day, Tuesday, goes by comfortably enough, not least because I'm not expecting to drink until the sunset hour of six p.m. I amuse myself by haunting another website, Love Your Liver, which gives me a relatively clean bill of health apart from telling me I might want to visit my doctor on account of being (reading between the lines, here) a burgeoning dipsomaniac. This judgement is of course dependant on the broadly-canvassed idea that there is a medically correct number of drinkable units of alcohol per diem, a notion which PK himself has taken issue with. So while I accept that I could Love my Liver more by drinking less, I reserve judgement as to exactly how much less would be more.
Six o'clock comes and goes, and to my surprise, I still feel fine. In fact, I carry on feeling fine right up to the moment when I sit down with my wife to a chicken risotto with roasted asparagus, only to observe my right hand clutching the empty air where my wine tumbler normally sits, and feeling, not so much desperation or a fit of the shakes, but a kind of grief, a moment of pitying nostalgia, as if remembering a dead pet.
It passes. We end up watching a DVD of Breaking Bad, like everyone else, and retire, about as headachy and querulous as usual. I sleep averagely badly, but in the morning, feel unfamiliar and alert. I feel as if my head has been kept overnight in a warm, dry, cupboard; the dank fuzziness I habitually associate with getting up, is somewhere else. I also seem to have lost two pounds in weight. Coincidence?
This mood continues, interspersed with moments of self-congratulation, plus an uneasy background nag that it might all be about to end in tears - crippling withdrawal symptoms, or a kidney stone, or a heart attack brought on by the sudden depletion of red wine-based antioxidants. Somehow I seem to have got a freebie: a clearish head, a small saving in monetary terms, plus mildly heightened self-esteem - and yet we all know that there are no freebies in life, only deferred payments.
All the same, it's not going too badly. It's borderline enjoyable. It would be fair to describe it as a good thing.
So, now what? I end my prohibition era with some more of the head-butting Jacktone (I've got another nine bottles to get through), savouring the unfamiliarity of it all. Should I go on the wagon - like some people I know - for the rest of the month? Should I just do it from time to time, when the mood strikes? Should I go back to the weekly dryout? Should I forget the whole thing? I'm inclined to try for weekly temperance again, and see if it makes a difference. How virtuous 2014 is starting to look.