Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Real ale

As I mentioned last night, one of my aims in all of this is to essentially recondition myself into someone with saner drinking habits by means of breaking down my current habits until I have room to form new ones. It's one of my core tenets that humans boil down to very little more than advanced chimps, so in the same way you can train an animal over time, it's fairly straightforward to train a human once you know how to circumvent their defences. In this case "their" is "my" but the principle still applies.

Drinking shandy is a good starting point for me as it helps to combat one of the habits I have, that I naturally have a fairly fast drinking pace. By that I mean my hand seems to move of its own accord towards the glass in a regular rhythm, emptying the vessel at a pace I'm accustomed to. Therefore, reducing the ABV of what I drink makes this whole job easier for me by removing the need for me to spend the whole night battling against my own arm's will. I will be adopting this tactic this Friday at my cousin's party, in tandem with alternating drinks: one lager shandy drunk slowly, one lemonade, and so on. The result is drinking half a lager over the course of more than an hour, but it takes a whole load of family pressure over the "not drinking" thing off my back.

One of the other problems I have is that I genuinely do like beer. I must qualify that by saying I like real ale, which is as important a distinction as saying you like Fentiman's Curiosity Cola versus Rola Cola or Weston's Organic versus White Lightning. If I didn't have a problem with taking drinking a bit too far sometimes I'd very much likely be a fully signed-up CAMRA member, possibly even a ticker. I intend to give a full post or two to the subject of why real ale and good pubs mirror something intrinsic in my character that I never want to lose touch with, but I think it is important to distinguish my passion for real ale from my wider drinking habits - the former is drinking for taste, sociability, contentment and bonhomie, the latter as a tool to help with other problems I have.

The second tactic I've been thinking about, then, is not a new one and indeed is something I've made some efforts to try to move towards over the past year. A few times I have thought to myself that my body doesn't lie to me, and if I don't feel in the mood for a pint of real ale, then I shouldn't be drinking. By and large I have managed this but it does unfortunately conflict with the hectic schedule I have and sometimes I find myself out and about in rapid succession and a possibly-dodgy pint of ale isn't always the most appetising prospect. After a week plus of hard thought on this, I can say with good assurance that it is nearly exclusively these times when I have ended up over-drinking and causing a problem. I've found that I'm normally a good-natured drinker when sticking to real ale but when I begin to add other drinks on top of that on a second or third night out, I begin to lose that control I cling to.

My aim with this extended period of very light drinking, such as the two shandies on Saturday, is to break the habits I've formed of becoming bored in the week and wanting to go out and do something. I have looked at many of the people I know for inspiration and a common theme seems to emerge, which is that they have a stronger sense of being able to wait for designated occasions when they can drink and perhaps have one too many, but it doesn't impact on their day-to-day lives. This is something I've never really learned, probably because I feel like everything I do runs at 200mph and slowing down is just against my nature. I do think though that I need to take a step in this direction.

What prompted me to develop this thought was hearing about The Rat Race Ale House in Hartlepool. What a fantastic venture, something I could easily aspire to myself. Everything about this sums up the vision in my head of what I think drinking is about and want to be. The pub is my natural environment and I love nothing more than sitting around with friends and a good pint of ale just having a natter. I can control my drinking with ale because it's a very predictable drink, quite smooth on the up and with few if any lingering effects the day after. It's also a pleasant drink, full of interesting and changing flavours, which I have never been able to say about Strongbow or cheap red wine. Seriously, when I picture where I'm at my most content, it's with a really good pint of ale in an old-fashioned pub.

So what is the tactic? Well, I aim to gradually move entirely towards sticking to ale whenever I find myself in a pub. It isn't always possible, so the commercial bitters must come next. And dare I say it, if I find myself in a pub with a really bad choice of beer, I'd like to think I could get through half an hour in there with a lemonade or a lager shandy rather than hitting the cider or spirits. Rather than a drink being just a drink, which I think is an attitude I've picked up from my dad, I want it to be something to be enjoyed and remembered; and since subscribing to a ton of beer blogs recently, I've found it's an area I'm genuinely interested in.

I would also like to travel a bit more to places like the Rat House, as it combines two of my favourite things: travel and ale. Maybe if I could do something like that once a month, in the week after payday, say, it'd give me the thing I need to look forward to to help me avoid just drinking any old time because I have nothing up ahead to keep me going. Again, I must repeat to myself, I do not want to project myself into being a social outcast by stopping completely, but I do want to treat drinking as something that should be enjoyed at the right time and with the right drink, and not just something to help me forget myself.

Tomorrow: racier than a greyhound strapped to a pigeon's back, Brian Blessed reads in deeply sensual tones a passage from Her Knickers Are On The Dancefloor: The Strongbow Years.

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