The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing found that better health and education were positively associated with an increased risk of harmful levels of drinking among older people. There are, clearly, two ways to deal with this information. One is – if you’ll pardon the pun, and there’s no reason you should – soberly. To say “My goodness! I shall put the cork back in the bottle, the cap back on my hip flask and a stopper on my flagon of Old Toejam! Life is a brief and easily inglorious span and I wish not to truncate it any sooner than necessary through the mindless ingestion of socially acceptable but nevertheless toxic substances! And while I’m at it, bring me some of this kale and Pilates I’ve been hearing so much about!”
The other is to polish off your glass of Merlot and either dismiss the latest middle-class boozing scare as the result of a study clearly sponsored by Big Neurosis or exclaim “Too right, doc!” and get one of your fellow graduates of '85, with whom you are dining out on the terrace, to pour you another. Because the point – nay, the very definition – of being middle class is being allowed to do as you will with your own body because that body is no trouble to anyone else. Sober, it goes to work, saves for its pension, keeps its home nice, supports its aged parents and pours its love and energy into bringing up its offspring so that they can do all of the same in their turn. Drunk, it doesn’t go out and puke all the way down the high street or beat anyone up. It barely moves off the terrace until it’s time to call a cab or stump upstairs to bed. Worst case scenario, it pees in the airing cupboard and earns a slap from its wife the next morning. Or, if female, has a cry about how much it loves the cat/misses its children and gets an eyeroll/hug from its husband. Either way, very little social fabric is rent.
Doctors have too narrow a definition of what’s best for us. “Not dying of liver or associated painful diseases”. Pah! Pshaw! What about dying of boredom? Can you imagine sitting through a dinner party sober? Or any other kind of party? Or enduring another day at work, jammed in with a thousand other people in a building crammed into an overcrowded city that is crushed into our packed little isle, surrounded by sea under a grey and lowering sky without a glass of Chateau de la Vie C’est Merde at the end? The countries that manage their drinking well – who do it with style and finesse, as an elegant addition to the day and not as a race towards vital oblivion – are generally countries with good weather, good architecture and good conversation. We are an island race, cramped and crabbed by hundreds of years of damp and lack of piazzas. Without booze, we make small talk for years. There would be couples celebrating their ruby weddings without yet knowing their spouses’ first names.
Of course it is best not to drink to excess. It’s best not to drink at all. Or smoke. Or sit down when you could be standing up. Or stand up when you could be jogging. Or jogging when you could be marathon running for charity while going vegan. Life is a series of trade-offs. Using your social capital to pay for a few extra drinks in later life is one of them. I certainly hope to have a good bit invested by the time my turn comes.