...and I've not had a drink for four days.
Four days down, 27 to go. I refer to my annual month of sobriety, which kicked off on Wednesday. It was going to be Monday, but I forgot and bought a four-pack on my way home from work -- and the best way to avoid temptation is to drink it. There is now no beer lurking on my fridge shelves -- except for the remnants of some terribly dodgy French beer which a friend brought round six months ago, and which is so bad that it poses no threat to my will-power.
So why am I embarking on this strange pursuit? It's actually my third year of doing this -- after a failure to quite make the whole month in 1996, I managed it quite easily in 1997. It's partly my annual sacrifice to the health gods - "I'll be good for one month if you let me pummel my liver into submission for the other eleven" - though the actual benefits to my well-being are probably somewhat limited. Instead of beer, I inevitably find myself drinking a variety of sickly soft drinks, whose E-numbers are probably more of a threat to me than a natural blend of barley, hops, water and yeast. I also tended to make up for a lack of beer by consuming chocolate. This is not so good when I mean matching stomach volumes...
It is also partly an assertion of my superiority over the demon drink. I am fierce in defending my independence, and refuse to submit to the control of anyone, be they psychotic Japanese ex-girlfriends, film censors or Tony Blair, without a really good cause -- such as a large, monthly pay-packet. This applies to chemical substances as well and, perhaps due to attending too many Victorian melodramas during my formative years, I am well aware of the perils of alcohol. By abstaining for one month, I show that I don't rely in any way on it.
This naturally has an interesting effect on my social life. Some things, such as karaoke, are out right away, simply because they are no fun at all sober. Others have a lot less appeal; it's surprising how much less fun it is to go down the pub and sip an orange-and-lemonade, when everyone else is slamming back the beers. It's true, of course, that you don't need to drink to have fun, but when you're with people who ARE drinking, the novelty of watching their.. sentences.... get...... slower........ and.......... slower............ will eventually wear off. And you realise that alcohol may be a depressant, but no alcohol is still more depressing.
For while drink may fuel aggression, it also increases tolerance -- like all drugs, it doesn't so much expand your mind as shrink the rest of the universe. Your standards drop alongside your reaction time. This becomes painfully clear in the field of film; there are plenty of movies where the pre-, during- and indeed post-consumption of alcohol is an essential part of the leisure principle. Thus, for the next month, a large percentage of my collection will be off-limits, and I will be forced to watch quality productions. This may yet prove to be the biggest test of my will-power -- can I hold out during the long, dark Hong Kong "comedies", without a nice, cold Stella to see me through?
I have, however, carefully scheduled things to lessen the impact. While in previous years, it has been a straight calendar month -- first to thirty-first -- this time it overlaps. I didn't want to make it August; one of the delights of last week's trip to Bradford was buying two pints and still getting change from three quid [that, and cloakrooms which cost a whole twenty pence!] September is out, as old schoolfriend Phil is probably coming down: beer will be consumed. In October, Chris, TCs American Ambassador, will be visiting and it would be terribly anti-social not to drink alongside her. November is the start of the Christmas party season. And alcohol is not a luxury, but a necessity to get through December -- see the current TC for details [I won't explain further. Go buy it]. So that's it for the year. The only good thing is that the 'month' now ends on a Friday: don't bother trying to call me at 23:59 on Friday September 18th, because I'll be on the phone to the speaking clock, bottle of Kriek in hand.
So I am sitting here, with a nice cold glass of Diet Apple Tango by my side - actually, it doesn't taste too bad for a concoction which is, in all likelihood, chemically closer to washing-up liquid than apple juice. A quick nutritional tip here: the ultimate diet drink is Dr Pepper, which contains no calories whatsoever. This is simply because no-one can bring themselves to drink it. However, with 27 days still to go, there's only one conclusion which can safely be drawn.
I think for the 1999 Exercise in Will-power, I'm gonna go for February...