Prior to coming to University I was what some may call a seasoned drinker – being 23 and having been committed to inebriation since the age of 15 – I feel I can say I know a little about the sometimes cruel mistress that is alcohol, although admittedly I am still doing my apprenticeship in getting blotto by some standards.
So when I heard the news from the ‘New England Department of Medicine’ that daily intake of the old booze can improve your health I . . . well . . . reached for the bottle!
‘Drinking a glass or two of wine, beer or any other kind of alcohol everyday can significantly reduce the risk of suffering a heart attack, according to a large new study that is the first to examine whether drinking occasionally or daily is the best strategy for taking advantage of alcohol’s health benefits. Research also shows clearly for the first time that drinking any kind of alcohol — not just red wine — can protect the heart.’
I rolled this information around my tongue with an approbation usually reserved for a Tennessee Twist (other bourbon based cocktails are available) from Grizedale bar. It’s so tantalising, not just the occasional drink, the daily drink. As we were all told in our childhoods ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’. Now my decision to hurl the acidic heartburn inducing fruit into the bin and reach for the corkscrew seems a good one.
It was the so-called French paradox that started the inquiry into the medicinal effects of alcohol in the first place. American physicians, while taking their sober tours of Paris went to restaurants where they predicted from observation that all the diners would be dead or dying within a year. Then they went back — perhaps after attending a few funerals for their own colleagues — and saw the selfsame French still sluicing away and looking more joyously fit than ever. We’ve all met more old drunks than old doctors, haven’t we?
Well, that surely couldn’t be right, what is about the French that prolongs their merriment? But an unsmiling and forensic look at the statistics confirmed that there was less heart disease in France, and meticulous scientific investigation then isolated red-wine consumption as the key variable.
The relationship between the odd tipple and mental well-being is much more oblique, and even more fraught. But methinks there is a connection. The Ancient Greeks hit upon fermentation and employed it to lubricate their symposium. They would then review their decisions in a sober light, if the intoxicated and sober mind matched, the decision was a good one. In moderation, yes of course, if you insist . . . but how was ‘moderation’ established except by transcending itself just a bit? John Keats expressed this point with a beautiful deftness of touch in his ‘Ode to a Nightingale,’ which is actually not all that much about birdsong:
‘O for a draught of vintage! that hath been / Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth, / Tasting of Flora and the country-green, / Dance, and Provencal song, and sun-burnt mirth! / O for a beaker full of the warm South! / Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene, / With beaded bubbles winking at the brim…’
These are, indeed, matters of the heart as well as of the mind. For me alcohol has prolonged conversation, made me more vivacious and sometimes, most importantly, made experiences less boring. But something in the Puritan soul is committed to keeping people/themselves on the ‘straight’ road, even when it may not necessarily be for their own good.
I pretty much subscribe to the Christian position on alcohol which condones ‘the fruit of the vine’ and holds that alcohol is a gift from God to make life more joyous, but of course warns against the sin and vice of over indulgence. Common sense and conscience play their role.
One of my favourite things about alcohol is the sheer number of terms us Britons have for getting drunk, it actually esteems my patriotism more than . . . the Olympics did. Here is a few: sozzled, three sheets to the wind, sloshed, wasted, hammered, inebriated, blotto, steaming, lashed, Brahms and Liszt, bladdered, hammered, off your face, merry, squiffy. The list goes on. I urge people to comment below other terms for drunk which they have heard, it would be interesting to see how many there is.
In conclusion, make no mistake, this is not an ode to getting wasted, I am highly critical of the binge drinking culture which pervades this country, I’d like to see a tightening on opening times and higher duty placed on alcohol. Little and often is my modus operandi. I am just committed to happiness in the pursuit as well as the pursuit of happiness.
By Matthew Page
[Image Credit: Kyle Sullivan]