“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





03 February 2015


Febfast? Dry July? Uh-huh.
Why not try some self control?
Have every second day off 

Coming from an ancestry loaded with insatiable boozers and sanctimonious evangelical teetotallers - not many in between - this writer finds stuff like Febfast and Dry July about as useful as a knock on the door from the Jehovah's Witnesses.

When Sam Clemens - aka Mark Twain (below) - was asked by a reporter at a Melbourne press conference where he'd be going after his death he shot back "Heaven for the lifestyle; Hell for the company," which as far as I know was the first recorded useage of the term lifestyle. As this Febfast orgy of denial seems to me to be a lifestyle issue, it's worth wondering about whether having died with a perfect liver you'd prefer to spend eternity singing hymns upstairs around God's big organ with millions of Lutherans, or sit downstairs by the fire with folks like me.

In other words, with all respect due Mr Twain, bugger the lifestyle Heaven has to offer. And the company. There'll be plenty of Febfasters and Dry Julyars up there. The only reason I can think of visiting the Heavenly throng would be to check whether Beethoven's playing the organ with God turning the pages, or vice-versa.

As far as I know, my Father's only slip occurred when he and his Father visited the White Russian refugee family over the road. I have a very vague memory of sneaking out with the women of the household to watch the two of them crawling home through the pines after a night on the home-made vodka. It was about the same time as we went out to watch the Sputnik go over, and seemed to be on par with that as far as important events went.

Dad devoted the rest of his life to the redemption business. Apart from his regular pastoral duties, he spent years in some vague sort of management position at the Women's Christian Temperance Union, which never seemed to have any women on the board.

As a teenager my Mum got drunk and chundered on a ride at Luna Park when she ran away from home. She never boozed again. When I was about forty I tried to explain to her what Château d'Yquem tasted like, and she said "Ewwww, Philip, you know I'd love it that much I'd be an instant alcoholic," and that was about as far as that ever went.

My brothers and I were all trained to tip out wine and beer if we could find any, like in the back of cars of drunks and vagabonds when they called in to the Old Man's parsonage for a free feed. Sometimes I run into blokes I can't quite recall, and they immediately remind me that I owe them a dozen long necks of Coopers or whatever. 

The White brothers, well after their prohibitionist stage: left to right: Mark, Philip, Stephen and Paul ... photo Nadia Nottle (daughter of Paul and Marg)

In her recent BBC piece, Australia's new non-drinking puritans, Chris Raine, "an affable 26-year-old" runs a thing called Hello Sunday Morning, a "charity that encourages people to take a break from booze for between three and 12 months, and blog about it."

"You'd think that if you go into a bar and tell people your job is to tell people not to drink for three months then they would scatter, but people are really interested," he told her "over a chocolate milkshake in a trendy Melbourne cafe."

Over a chocolate milkshake, see? Late weaner? As for a blog written about not drinking?

Thank God I was healed of my proho wowserism at the age of eighteen, grew up, and spent my whole life since kicking for the boho team.

The author on the throne with sherry and spliff, 1972

There's a wave of dry interferist nonsense flooding the media as I write: reams of psuedo medical stuff about self-deception and self-worth and lurid descriptions of what a certain number of drinks per week can do to your pancreas or liver.

My Dad's brother, Robert, drank metho for about thirty years after his oilrig money ran out. He could drink quite a lot of it, neat, and laughed all the time. Twice he underwent surgery to have great lumps of liver chopped out but when he died after a two-bottle binge in his late sixties the post mortem said there was no liver left. He lasted a lot longer than the shadow-boxing Terry O'Rielly, another infamous drunk whose brother was the Governor of Northern Ireland. Terry lived in Victoria Square in a suit and tie, reciting endless reams of James Joyce and Sam Beckett. His fallback tincture  was unique: he'd put a slice of toast on an empty soup tin, tip a can of Brasso through it, and sink the strained spurruts in a gulp.

These are the sorts of consumption which need mental health attention before the liver cleaver comes into action, or the sanctimonious start hovering around, preaching. Unfortunately, mental health seems to have vanished as an issue if Australian budget allocations are any measure.

The daily dependence such alcoholics suffer is rarely solved by Febfasts or Dry Julys. Not to pick on the Lutherans, I was always fascinated by the Barossa's respect of Lent. For the whole six weeks from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday they won't touch a drop. Then they have the decidedly moist Vintage Festival where dancing on the tables is verboten, but Lent seems quickly outdone by the feasting and dancing on tables which that beautifully-organised riot incurs.

To reinforce my belief that there are a lot more old drunks than old doctors, one moderate theory comes from nutritionist Professor Charles Bamforth of the University of California, Davis. Of course he agrees that drinking too much is plain silly, just like eating too much.

But just as there's a difference between eating too much salad and stuffing yourself to bursting point eating Macca's, the Prof insists that care in the choice of drink is as important as the volume. Like there'd be a health difference between Red Bull with Baileys and a butcher of real ale, or a glass of organic red wine.

"The key is a little and often," he says. "You are seriously mistaken if you think that having a month without drinking will protect you from the effects of excessive drinking for the rest of the year ... The best advice is to drink moderately throughout the year ... Many people don't realise that drinking in moderation has significant health benefits and that moderate drinkers have a longer life expectancy than non-drinkers ... Regular moderate intake of alcohol is good for the heart and blood circulation.

"The great thing about beer," he continues, "is that it is low in alcohol and brewed from natural raw materials so it's a good source of important nutrients such as antioxidants, B vitamins and dietary silicon that promotes strong bones ... Indeed beer used to be known as liquid bread."

My preferred degree of abstinence was that maintained by Sir Frank renouf, the Kiwi tycoon who was for a time married to Susan Peacock/Sangster/Renouf (left). Sir Frank was a good bloke, and when I spent a few days with them in the late 'eighties he was a hale and hearty gentleman in his seventies who carried his tennis racket everywhere. As I learned taking him to visit Marg and Peter Lehmann, and Wyndham and Helen Hill Smith during a stay in Adelaide, he was also a thirsty old rogue.

When I asked the secret of his radiant fitness, his response was so simple as to stun.

"I drink only on alternate days," he said. "Every second day I abstain."

The old rascal went on to explain that the habitual boozer is often corralled by regular events, like after work on Friday nights, when one tends to make a bit of a mess. By rigidly holding to his schedule, such routines are soon broken.

Sir Frank went on to live another decade. I'll bet he's not singing hymns with the Lutherans.

1 comment:

Chris ‏@crazyeagles71 said...

brasso through toast????! I think i need a drink now.