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Sinead Ryan: Ah Tony, relax about the drinking. Sure, look at us, any more relaxed and we'd be horizontal...

TONY Blair's hysterically hyped memoirs aren't exactly laugh a minute stuff.

Being a PM is serious business. There's lots to interest Irish people, with his involvement in the peace process -- something he'll want to steer his anticipated interview on the Late Late Show towards, but wasn't everyone left slightly bewildered at his revelations about the demon drink?



YELLED

He admitted that he was "clearly at the limit", with things getting so bad that he was regularly resorting to, and here, gentle reader, turn away: "A whisky or a gin and tonic before dinner, then one or two glasses of wine, even half a bottle with it".

'God isn't that what we all drink', did you think? The poor fella getting himself all tied up in knots over it. Next thing he'll be telling us he's an alcoholic and sure that's just mad altogether.

But the British press had a field day. "Pressure drove PM to drink" they yelled, or even more accurately, that Gordon Brown did. Mind you, the dour Scotsman would have the same effect on most of us.

Drove him to drink? A G&T and a nice Chianti? It's hardly "PM turns into street bum", now is it? Did he learn nothing in Ireland? Did Bertie never bring him to the pub? What dinners did he sit down to in Government Buildings which didn't involve a courtesy G&T or three, a couple of bottles of vino with the grub and a few scoops afterwards? Sure that's your average rubber chicken dinner here. The very least in hospitality.

But Blair put the sober comments, pun intended, in context when he explained the sums.

"If you took the thing everyone always lies about -- units per week -- I was definitely at the outer limit", he said. "Not excessively excessive. I had a limit. But I was aware that it had become a prop."

Ah yes, the old "It's a small glass" excuse. No such thing of course in any self-respecting Irish household, but then again, it doesn't count if it's just wine, or you're eating.

We're only great at finding excuses which back up our theory that (a) we don't drink too much, (b) that units thing is old-fashioned anyway or (c) we Irish have a different constitution -- we can handle drink.

A feature I was commissioned to write on the whole 'units debate' was enough to sober me up for a while. Those little quarter bottles of wine you get in the pub? 2.5 units each. More than two of them in one go and you're technically "binge drinking". Six, and you're over your weekly quota. Or at least your liver is. You could probably carry on regardless.

I decided to skip alcohol during the week, expecting nothing to change except a grumpier self. Ahem. Well, I lost three pounds for a start; the skin looked better and there were none of those unexplained headaches first thing in the morning. Not related of course. Complete coincidence.

Stephen Rowan, who runs the Rutland clinic, says middle aged, middle class women are his biggest clients. Wine has become the new cuppa, he says. "It's fashionable to drink wine. Now it is everywhere and in many cases has replaced the cup of tea when you get together for a visit or a chat." Or after picking up the kids. Or at lunch. Or in the garden on a summer afternoon. Or. Or. You get the point, as any PM knows.

Blair says in his book that he could "never work out" whether alcohol was good for helping him relax, or bad because he should have been working. Tony, we know how you feel. It is a bit of an art form. If some of us were any more laid back about drink, we'd be horizontal (and not in a good way).

"I thought that escaping the pressure and relaxing was a vital part of keeping the job in proportion [but] I was never sure. I believed I was in control of the alcohol. However, you have to be honest: it's a drug, there's no getting away from it."

Well, unless you're Irish.


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