Misery loves company, so for January, on top of being dry, I seem also to be vegetarian.
The alcohol bit is easy. I don’t follow government guidelines for much of the year, and a dry month every now and again acts as my penance. I don’t drink heavily but I drink fairly often, which makes me the target audience for the miserable ‘middle aged drinkers in early death time bomb, thousands to die, universe crumbling shock horror’ stories out there. I fully intend to be a burden on the NHS, but not yet, so the wine goes back in the rack, and the cork goes firmly back into the whiskey bottle until, by the end of the month, I can sense the last drop of Lagavullin leaching out of my system and a glowing sense of self-righteousness settling on me. I also store up ‘it’s my turn to drive’ points each time we go out, which helps.
The vegetable bit is trickier. Tom came home for Christmas and started talking about cows, the methane emissions from their farting and the amount of water involved in their lives, and their transformation into fillet steaks. All he said was that he had given up beef for ever but, after the family had thrown the topic round the dinner table a bit in our post rational way, this had somehow transformed into three of us going vegetarian for the month of January. (Alex wished us well but said something to do with students and Pepperoni Pizzas, and deferred.)
So, as the last Cheyne Stokes breaths of 2018 rattled off into the night to make way for 2019, I once again became the person I swore not to be. ‘You can’t stop breathing just because the night never seems to end,’ said poet Curtis Tyrone Jones, but it sometimes seems like you can. I find these abstinences go in phases, particularly with maturity;
- You don’t tell anyone for a day or two in case it was all an awful mistake, or that you trip up on the first evening.
- Cutting out meat requires great planning if you aren’t going to be a miserable salad muncher. The fridge needs to be full of helpful delights, like dried mango peel and thick, creamy Greek yoghurt. Cutting out alcohol needs wonderful teas.
- Faux enthusiasm. When you assert dishonestly to anyone who will listen how you are already feeling the benefits, and that you might do this for the rest of your life. Evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers says that self deception plays a pivotal role in the human psyche, and who I am to argue?
- Somehow knowing at any point in time precisely how many hours and minutes are left in the period of self-denial.
- Self righteousness. The evangelical aura that settles on you in the last two or three days, and how all around consequently hate you. You know how it goes: there is no smugness like the smugness of telling the supermarket check-out lady that you have brought your own bag.
- The fall. Discovering in the early days of the following month that nothing changed, and no habit altered.
All this came together last night in a joyless trip to Sainsbury’s to gather the ingredients for Garbanzos con espinacas(chickpeas and spinach to you and me) from the Moro cookbook. I only realized that I had taken a trolley reserved for disabled people when, on asking an assistant where the saffron was, she put her hand on my arm and said ‘don’t worry, dear; I’ll fetch it for you’. From then on it was an exercise in shame management, not helped by my irrational decision to limp heavily for in the last two aisles. The resulting mess was the nastiest thing I have ever cooked, but virtue, it appears, is a hard habit to break.
So not a lot, probably. But somewhere down there over Christmas has emerged a settled view within the synapses of my brain that, never mind anyone else, I can and should do a tiny bit more as a citizen of Planet Earth to make it a better place. Sadly, that realisation makes me surprisingly happy.
Meanwhile, only two million, two hundred and thirty-four thousand, six-hundred seconds to go.