I drink less now, said Bear. Without you around.
He’s come over to help me paint my kitchen and I’ve offered him a beer.
-You always drink more than me.
He shrugs this off as a scientific, body-mass issue.
-I don’t drink every night anymore. You were always ahead of the game when I got home. I had to catch up.
-That’s because I work at home these days. I’m gagging for a drink by five. And it’s not my fault how much you drink.
Bear misses pubs. He loves craft beer, real ale and the tradition of sitting in a crowded fetid space full of other blokes drinking beer. I’m not keen on pubs. I can’t follow a conversation over the noise and the crowds make me claustrophobic. Also, for me, pubs are very masculine space. In Australia, where I grew up, women weren’t allowed to drink in public bars until the early 1970s, in my lifetime, and a traditional Australian pub is about as female-friendly as a dockyard urinal.
I’ve always done most of my drinking in the comfort of home, and now that’s where I do all my drinking. Red wine. I’m careful to pour only half a glass at a time. Two glasses is enough to blur the edges of the day. If I manage two nights off a week, I’m doing well. This is harder than it should be, and it’s not entirely the fault of COVID.
My local glass recycling bins are overflowing and surrounded by bulging plastic bags of bottles. Early in the new year, I saw a well-dressed older couple posting what looked to me like a month’s worth of wine bottles into the two holes of my nearest purple skip. These holes always remind me of an educational children’s toy, the kind where the kid has to put the shapes in the right hole, to teach them the vital life lesson that square pegs don’t fit.
If a bottle of wine is half decent, it’s impossible to stop at two glasses, and even half a glass more gives me a headache. My cunning lockdown plan has been to switch to Leffe blonde. Waitrose sells this in four-packs of small bottles. The last time I had two bottles of monk-brand beer, in Amsterdam, I was laid low the whole next day, so I can rely on myself to stop at one. Bear, disbelieving my quarter-pint capacity, still insists it was the Indonesian takeaway.
I live in fear of Brexit-induced shortages and regularly top up my stocks of Leffe. The last time, the very nice older lady working the Waitrose checkout complimented me on my choice, an almost conspiratorial moment.
-I don’t usually drink beer, but we had friends around at Christmas, and they brought a large bottle of this, and it was lovely.
This was my only real-life conversation that day. I’ll be back before too long, for another Leffe pack of four. Perhaps I can even recycle the empties on the way, if there’s room in the purple skip.