Let’s raise a glass to having a drink

Eva Wiseman asks is it OK to say cheers to the occasional glass of champagne? Photo: Getty Images
Eva Wiseman asks is it OK to say cheers to the occasional glass of champagne? Photo: Getty Images
Having a little drink, a toast, a moment of togetherness, has much to recommend it, writes Eva Wiseman.

Quite by accident I have found myself almost completely sober. And I mean, yes right now, but not just right now - 10 in the morning, writing at the kitchen table, child watching some show next to me where a girl of no determinate age lives in a muted Ikea-style bedroom that is somehow alive with magical cats who are also mermaids I think, outside the window every different kind of weather competing gamely for the day, just had some OK toast. I mean, due to efforts to control my migraines (and a sore lack of fabulous parties), I am living a life largely without alcohol.

Of course, I am not alone - there is a huge and growing movement of people choosing to give up drinking, or cut down, for reasons of mental and physical health, finances, addiction. But looking out, sober, at a culture that is now coming to associate alcohol exclusively with pain, I feel as if we are at risk of forgetting what a truly lovely thing a bit of booze can be.

Is that OK? Is it OK to say this? To celebrate the lost art of "having a little drink"? I’m talking about the glass of wine that is so cold it feels like water, drunk just after your friend across the table scattered with chips has said, "OK, can I just say something petty ...". I’m talking about the shots that appear around 10pm on a wet tray that act as a secret door into another whole night altogether, and the cobbled-together cocktail of an evening at home to add a wet crumb of glamour to an otherwise humdrum little life.

I’m talking about: the champagne glass tapped for attention at a fancy do and, when silence falls, the tapper simply asks for more champagne, and the jazzy pre-mix cans to take on a long train journey that give a gentle buzz that allows you to look out of the window and finally, finally appreciate the grand, mysterious poetry of nature. I’m not a pint person, though I am envious of pint culture, the luxurious "one more?" eyebrow raise, the beer garden at the dawn of summer, the heavy-eyed bliss that somehow hits people after another extravagantly disgusting beer.

At college there was a bar next door that did double vodka-cranberries and I swear these drinks, which had actually the smack of health to them, that sour good-for-you tang of juice combined with a kind of sense memory of decongestant, I swear these drinks remain responsible for some of the best friendships of my life. To drink one, aged 18 and away from home for the first time, was to say, all right then, let’s see. It was to say, listen, we might not be the smartest kids in Britain, we might not be the best looking, but look, we have the sea over there and our degree course lets us, honestly, draw on the wall, and what if this is the best time of our lives?

It goes without saying, I hope, that sobriety is life-saving for many, that addiction is an exhausting, rusted weight to carry around, that alcoholism is a mental illness and a medical issue that requires empathy and treatment, but I am talking now to those who are lucky enough to be able to enjoy alcohol without it derailing the rest of their lives: I propose we keep a fond place in our heart for the little drink. Even, for getting a bit drunk. Even, for getting really quite drunk, actually, and all the chaos and pleasure and terrible decisions and unexplained bruises and mad truths it brings.

You don’t have to get really drunk and screw something up spectacularly in order to discover who you are and who you want to be, but ... it helps. You don’t have to get really drunk and spend an entire night standing in the kitchen of a party talking to a stranger about the pool scene in Showgirls and whether you felt understood as a child to become an adult, you don’t have to get really drunk with someone’s sister and laugh so much you are sick in a wallet to find a best friend, but, ditto. You don’t have to keep clear in your mind the promise of a beaker of old wine sunk very fast at 9pm to be a good mother. You don’t have to survive a hangover that you fear may have permanently affected your posture and left you feeling like composted regret to start drinking three pints of water a day. You don’t have to. But, you know.

All I’m saying, is, in the hurry to promote a healthier lifestyle, let’s please not discount altogether the sometime joys of "having a drink". Is that OK? I say this as an accidental sober person, skin glowing, head clear, the whites of my eyes frankly dazzling, waking each morning with the pep and optimism of an actual idiot. Let us not fear the occasional dawdle into drunkenness, the long lunch. Let us deal with the slapstick and fallouts, slowly and with care, as if adults. Let us enjoy the rare thrill of a cold drink at the perfect time, the cracking-open, the mischief. Let’s just have a little drink.

- The Observer