Along with many other people, I gave up drinking for the month of January and then resumed with gusto on February 1. But my 13-year-old son Fred, the only Christian in my household, urged me to give it up again for Lent. ‘Why not keep me company?’ he asked, having decided to forego sugar. But he didn’t just demand I stop boozing. He’d spotted the fact that when I go through a teetotal phase I compensate by stuffing my face with nuts and chocolate, thereby piling on the pounds. So he insisted I give up all three for 40 days.
At least, he told me it was 40 days. In fact, the first day of Lent was February 17 and the last day is April 3, which is 46 days. When I mentioned I’d embarked on this superhuman marathon on London Calling, my weekly podcast with James Delingpole, several listeners got in touch to say Sundays don’t count. And they had a point. If you take the Sundays out, then the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter is exactly 40 days.
‘How about it Fred?’ I asked. ‘Shall we give ourselves Sundays off?’
‘You can if you want,’ he said. ‘But I’m not going to cheat.’
I thought seriously about that, obviously. In the end, though, I concluded that showing Fred how to comply with the letter but not the spirit of a resolution probably wasn’t great parenting.
Caroline had no intention of joining me and that presented a problem. How could I stop her methodically working her way through all my favorite wines during my 46-day trial? When I stopped drinking in January I kept my spirits up by splurging on Gevrey-Chambertin and Meursault, but by February 16 I still had quite a bit left. I didn’t think I could bear to sit there every night and watch Caroline drain bottle after bottle of the good stuff. My solution was to buy her a case of Bread and Butter Chardonnay and another of Pinot Noir — two of her favorite wines and really not bad. Dinner-party wine, I call it, as in stuff that’s good enough to take to a friend’s, but not so good that you mind when other people who know less about wine than you glug it down like it’s Coca-Cola.
As you can imagine, lockdown has been that bit harder without booze. When I’ve stopped drinking in the past, the really boring bit is that my mood completely stabilizes. I miss the drama of being a boozer — the feeling of self-loathing when you wake up with a hangover and the avowals that you won’t drink again that night, followed by the gradual lifting of your spirits, the cheeky gin and tonic at 6 p.m., the satisfying pop as the cork is pulled out of the first bottle, then the second pop as you joyfully defy your inner puritan and, as you drain that bottle, the first inklings of the despondency you’re going to feel the next morning.
With no alcohol, that carousel grinds to a halt. It’s like being stuck in the interval of a play — constantly waiting for something to happen, but nothing does. And the psychological samey-ness of each 24 hours is exacerbated by the Groundhog Day monotony of lockdown. It’s prison without the contraband. All Captain Mainwaring and no Private Walker.
My one indulgence is instant noodles. Fred had worked out that I have such an addictive personality that if you stop me servicing one bad habit, I will quickly replace it with another. He’d done his best to anticipate what those would be, and head them off at the pass, but he didn’t factor in Kabuto chicken ramen noodles. Caroline buys these for the kids as a cheap snack — they absolutely love them — and late one night, when I would normally be cracking into a second bottle, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. Holy mackerel! I remembered pot noodles from my youth as being virtually inedible — a student vice never to be revisited — but this was like the same dish prepared by a Michelin-starred chef. I particularly love shoveling the noodles into my mouth as my face hovers just above the bowl, letting the wonderfully pungent aroma envelop my senses. I’m now on three pots a day and gaining at least two pounds a week.
Roll on Easter Sunday. Needless to say, I’ve gone overboard on the wine ordering again, this time buying a case of Chassagne-Montrachet and a case of Château Rayas from Goedhuis & Co. They are currently sitting in boxes on the kitchen floor, a constant temptation. I think I may allow myself one ‘cheat’, which is to open the first bottle at midnight on Saturday. Fred would disapprove, but the sainted one will have gone to bed by then.