Amusing without presumption

James Wallis 10 November 2007

James Wallis

The perplexing American novelist Henry Miller, once said: “The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.” Well put. Disappointingly the drunkenness is supposed to be metaphorical, but I think there are plenty of us out there who, of an animated evening, or a lazy sunny afternoon with bugger all else to do, would prefer a more literal interpretation of Miller’s aphorism. How worthy drinking seems to become when ennobled by Miller’s judgement as a means of life’s great fulfilment, yet how ignoble we feel the morning after. And in its advanced stages, I think there is a pretty strong case to doubt the awareness-boosting properties of drunkenness. But it still makes for a pretty phrase.

Mankind’s relationships with fluids are generally fairly uncomplicated. We obviously like to drink them. We also enjoy floating on them, swimming in them, and blowing bubbles in them. Occasionally we are forced by circumstances entirely beyond our control into creating spontaneous street art with them. It is prudent, sometimes, to guiltily wipe them away from the scene of some shame or other. Anybody who enjoys a sporting life will know the profound and desperate pleasure afforded by a gulp of cold water during intensive exercise.

Our cosiest relationship with any liquid though, is with society’s favourite poison – booze. For the tongue-tied British in particular, alcohol is a prime social

lubricant, a squirt of WD40 on the powdery gears of new acquaintances. If the conversation flags, take a sip of your pint, or better still drop a penny in some poor bugger’s full glass of red. It’s a grand facilitator for all kinds of enterprises, as any devoted veteran of the formal circuit will tell you. I heard a convincing rationale for the government’s extension of

licensing laws recently. Apparently it’s to deal with our aging population. Up the birth rate.

Mankind’s relationships with fluids are uncomplicated

For the 16-24s, alcohol is the overriding lifestyle choice. Broadly speaking, no matter how devoted we are to our studies or our sports or our health, we do our level best to store drinking away in a separate mental compartment, well away from our serious and worthy pursuits that it can so badly prejudice. Unfortunately, being a clever bunch, we can’t do this very effectively. We can’t even convince ourselves – hence the ‘cycle of shame’. Not a Cantabrigian alternative to the famous ‘walk’, but the process of binge-guilt-health…binge. For some of us, the cycle takes but a matter of hours, and for some of us a few days, but it goes round again so that, pining for

relaxed and meaningful social interaction, and just because it makes us feel so good, we damage

ourselves (so very pleasurably) once more.

As we grow older we are advised to sometimes enjoy our booze ‘in moderation’. Obviously it’s much less fun that way, but it’s

probably for the best, and it can pave new avenues of pleasure when it comes to ‘tastings’, and good booze. I never believed in it myself until I was cornered by the father of a friend of mine who, newly enthused by the great tapestry of fermented grape juice available to sophisticates, forced me into an amateurish,

blundering crash course in wine tasting.

This turned out to be a great deal of fun, and not just

because we got catastrophically pissed at it. The

‘nosing’ and what have you of wine tasting isn’t actually

complete bollocks and stupid – it actually is revealing,

enthusing and exciting. Suddenly there actually are gooseberries detectable in what normally just smells like wine. It’s good stuff, and you’ll enjoy it. The same goes for whisky. Have a go at a nice, peaty, twelve-year old single malt. Don’t mix it with Coke. You might find that you like it.

The thing is that nice wines, and even worse, nice whiskies, are fairly pricey, so this activity becomes kind of self-limiting (in the same way that your overdraft is limited). I probably wouldn’t advocate making this the priority approach to booze just yet, and don’t bother bringing a nice Grand Cru to

formal, because some idiot will penny it. But be aware that there is another way. When we all have jobs as

bankers, and grinding, empty, unsatisfying lives, maybe it’ll help shine a ray of awareness onto it all. That’s what it’s all about, apparently.