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Why me and booze are taking a break

'I'm giving up porn," I announce solemnly as the entire family sits down to dinner one night.

Everyone looks at me like I'm mad. It's not the reaction I was expecting. My eldest chuckles. Someone else chokes. My 10-year-old looks at me wide-eyed over a fork frozen in mid-air "Food on the plate," I gesture to him with my chin. "Knife and fork please."

"You're . . . giving up . . . porn," says my wife, cutlery suspended in front of her like a steering wheel.

"What? No! Drink. Alcohol. I'm giving up alcohol," I say. "Until Christmas."

"You said porn," my eldest confides.

"I did?"

Of course, there's a perfectly innocent explanation. I'd just been reading an article about male preoccupations, vices, the things men do. Beer, gambling, smoking, pornography and so on. I never even look at porn. I have no interest in it. The word just slipped out. I didn't mean it.

"Right," says my wife.

"Methinks he doth protest too much," mutters my son.

"And I'm banning Shakespeare too," I say under my eyebrows.

But my self-righteousness has evaporated. I'm only happy her parents weren't there.

Things don't go much better at my local.

I steam in after a brisk winter's walk, doors banging behind me, brushing the cold off like bugs.

"Pint," says the barman. He's telling me, not asking me.

"Coffee," I correct him, rubbing my hands together, trying not to sound pious and failing. "Two sugars," I add dangerously. I don't want people thinking I've turned into a health nut.

As an afterthought, I toss my car keys on to the bar. I'm not even driving, but this is week one on the wagon and I feel like I need an excuse not to be drinking. The gesture is wasted on the bartender, who has turned his back and is cursing over the coffee machine My friends roll in.

We're all locals, we only know each other through the pub and routinely hook up over Sunday pints to talk about everything and nothing, to decompress, a process I usually look forward to.

"Another coffee?" the barman asks me, emphasising the word 'coffee'. I'm sure I sense an undertone of sarcasm.

"Bottle of beer," I say this time, through gritted teeth, sounding a bit like a bad ventriloquist. "Non-alcoholic."

My mate continues the act of placing his coat on a nearby hook in slow motion now, eyeing me suspiciously. "Why?" he says, suddenly sounding betrayed. "What's up?" Clearly something must be wrong with me.

So, why did I go on the dry? Give up the gargle just as party season approaches? It's a reasonable enough question and it all started with a visit to the doctor.

I'd gone with a cough made worse by persistent heartburn -- an uncomfortable case of acid reflux.

"Do you drink?" asked the doctor.

"Who doesn't," I shrugged.

"Much?" she added.

How much is 'much'? Much of muchness. One or two. Maybe two or three times a week. And wine at dinner. But I can feel myself becoming defensive.

"Well, there's your problem," says the doctor, folding her arms. I don't like the word 'problem'. But is it really as simple as that? To be honest, I'd prefer a tablet or some syrup. A prescription in return for the €50 surgery fee would be nice.

"If you say one or two, generally it means more," says the doc. "People generally understate their consumption."

Do they? Not in my experience. I've lost count of how often I've overheard a conversation on the train or in the supermarket checkout queue. "I had a few cans before I left the house, then three pints here and four more there and by the time everyone arrived I was twisted. I didn't get home until four. The head's hangin' off me today," or words to that effect. Everywhere. All the time.

"Even if you're not overstating matters," says the doctor back in the surgery, and I hate the way she says 'matters' like it's some big deal, "that level of consumption will cause you problems in 10 years time," she says. "Given your age," she adds, and I wince.

In the end, my wallet makes up my mind for me. I'll forego the usual overindulgence in the run-up to Christmas and save myself money and brain cells. Simple.

The whole first week I'm astonished at how many social occasions crop up to which booze is central. A late lunch with a columnist, a dinner presentation, a meeting here or there and generally in some pub or other. God help me when the Christmas season really kicks off.

But as the weeks wear on, I feel less conspicuous going Ballygowan over beer or juice over Jemmy. It does get easier. I'd been most concerned about spoiling other people's fun, that my choosing not to drink would put a dampener on a party atmosphere or 'wreck their buzz'. But that's not the case.

But the first time I really feel in my element not drinking is when my wife and I are going to a function in town one night, first of the season.

"You have a drink," I tell her, "I'll drive." And I can't help saying it as if I'm making some sort of sacrifice. In truth, I relish just being able to say it at all and mean it. I bask in the glorious self-righteousness of the moment. I look forward to being able to form a thin line with my lips and look on stoically as she enjoys her wine. "I'm designated driver," I'll confide to the nearest stranger.

"Of course," she says,chucking me the keys. "You're off booze until Christmas, I almost forgot."

I instantly regret making my announcement at the dinner table which, to be honest, I'd only done to explain why I hadn't bought any wine.

If only I'd feigned forgetfulness, then this night would now be mine. How heavenly to finally have been the one to turn around first and say under my breath, "Are you sure you haven't had enough?"

Now all I can do is shut up and drink my soda and lime. Or eat my words. Christmas never seemed so far away.

Me and my big mouth.


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