I consume 100 times more booze than my father did. Now Ive became aware that harmful drinking affects older people most, I seem I need to do better, says Guardian columnist Ian Jack
Recently I calculated that every year I drink about 100 periods as much alcohol as my father did, and at least 200 times as much as my mother. The annual total in dad’s case came at most to a dozen small bottles of brew plus a whisky at New Year, while over the same 12 months Mum might have two or three glass of advocaat mixed with lemonade, and at New Year a pair more of sherry. These tiny amounts have to be measured against my own domestic uptake of getting on for three bottles of wine a week, or let’s say 150 bottles a year, which takes no account of the uncertain number swallowed outside the house at restaurants, farewell parties, burials and the homes of friends.
I console myself with the fact that I hardly ever drink feelings or beer, instead like the brandy-befuddled shepherd whom Richard Hannay satisfies in The Thirty-Nine Steps, who can’t understand his condition: the shepherd considers himself a teetotaller because he” keepit aff the whisky “. In fact, compared to the good and sober habits of my parents, my intake is shameful. They would be worried by the ritual that occurs more evenings than not: the creak of the corkscrew, the glug of wine into glass, the question:” Oh, shall we have another ?” In their day, the booze that was kept in the house hardly ever left its little cupboard. A bottle of cognac and a bottle of Glenlivet, given to my grandparents at their wedding in 1899, lay there unopened. Slowly their gilt labels (” Bruce& Glen, wine merchants, Dunfermline “) became black with the passing years.
I don’t think my mother was ever in a saloon, and my father entered them only reluctantly after pressure from his workmates or brothers-in-law. We were a respectable household. Some father-gods in the neighborhood drank on a Saturday night. Others-” family boys”- took their wives and children to the pictures. The typical Scottish bar hid behind painted or heavily curtained windows; when the door swung open you glimpsed a proscribed interior of talkative men and tobacco smoke. Later, on the last bus home( from the Regal cinema, in my lawsuit, from the Volunteer Arms in his) one of these men might be sick, the yeasty liquid changing its course across the floor as the bus ran up or down a hill. Or there would be someone in overalls-” still in his working clothes”, other passengers might say sorrowfully- who needed the conductor’s help to get down, having stayed in the pub till 10 pm instead of going home to have tea with his wife.