Thursday 9 April 2020

Guilty or not guilty?

My anxiety continues over my wine cellar – or, as perhaps I should call it now, my wine stockpile.

Oh yes. We’d have a different attitude now towards wine cellars if we called them stockpiles of wine, wouldn’t we? But what is a wine cellar if not stockpiling? We have our sophisticated notions of laying down, and storing; but is it really that different to laying down toilet rolls or storing corned beef?

When consumption becomes surrounded with moral judgments, with observations about those with storage space and those without, and when discussions of selfishness and greed and necessity are flying around, does some of that thinking apply to wine as well as to food?

I was reassured when the government issued its edict that “off-licences and licensed shops selling alcohol” could remain open, alongside other essential services. Great, I thought, no need to feel guilty about drinking wine. But my nearest wine merchant still pulled down its shutters. In fact it went so far as to remove all the tempting bottles from its windows, a grim and disheartening sight. Did they think people might, as signs elsewhere encourage us, break the glass in emergency?

And then The Wine Society ceased deliveries, Understandably (because their warehouse staff were at risk), but at the same time they described their own service as “non-essential”. Which just brought my guilt feelings back.

So should I just give up wine for the duration? According to the World Health Organisation, alcohol is an “unhelpful coping strategy” for the possible stress and isolation of lockdown. Well, it helps me cope, pal.

One commentator argued that we could use this period of lockdown to “wean ourselves off” alcohol, in a kind of Dry Covid. His argument was somewhat undermined, however, by opening with the fatuous observation that “The government’s approach to alcohol has always been incoherent; we can buy alcohol in petrol stations, for example, but it is against the law to drink drive.” Petrol stations also sell kindling and coal, but most purchasers seem able to resist the urge to light their fire in their vehicle.

Give up drink for a month? Sorry, bad punctuation. Give up. Drink for a month.

Embarrassed by the notion of wine deliveries, I would simply have to brave the supermarket. And that despite reading of someone who was halted at the checkout for buying more than three of an item – six bottles of wine. Worse, they were shamed by having three publicly removed from their trolley.

Yet when I visit myself, gloved and nervous – and buying other essential items like bread, I hasten to add – I spot two young women wrestling a case of sauvignon blanc into their trolley. Sorry, is that one item?

In my supermarket, they always have to apologetically open a case and scan a single bottle in order to put six through the till – so surely that’s six of an item? Not one? Or could I buy three cases?

I decide to avoid a potentially embarrassing incident, and prioritising quantity over quality I buy a clearly single unit – a box, of Australian Shiraz. It may be dreadful wine, but at least I’ll have 2.25 litres of it. That’s what I call a coping strategy.

That evening, Mrs K asks if she can have a glass of wine to put into a stew she is making. She does make spectacular stews, and they last several meals, but I mean to say, cooking with wine at a time like this? It’s like using up your flour to make glue.

I measure out some of my coping strategy into a tumbler, and hand it over. “Is that as much as a wineglass?” she asks, looking at it dubiously. I reply with that time-honoured wine-drinkers response – “That depends on the size of your wineglass…”


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