How was your Christmas dinner? Mine was entirely alcohol-free. I’m pretty much off the booze, on doctor’s orders.
And I can honestly say I’m not missing it.
The eagle-eyed among you will have clocked the qualification there. How much is “pretty much”?
Well, I’m down to the occasional glass of wine. Maybe two glasses a week. Somewhat to my surprise, I don’t feel the need for any more.
It’s only been a month, but after three and a half decades of pretty solid imbibing it’s a big change. And an interesting one. For one thing, it has forced me to decide what I should replace the booze with.
This is not as simple a question as it might at first appear. If I just switched to Coca-Cola or orange juice, I’d swiftly add late-onset diabetes to my lengthening list of what ails me.
Pubs pose a particular dilemma. I’m as metrosexual as the next Stockbridge guy – OK, perhaps a little more – but I draw the line at moseying into a saloon and asking the barkeep for an elderflower pressé.
This has led me to explore, with something of a heavy heart, the world of non-alcoholic beer and wine. And let me tell you, dear reader, it is not a pretty place.
Here is what I have learned. Most of the stuff sold as non-alcoholic booze is undrinkable. The beer is particularly bad, tasting mostly of Toilet Duck flavoured with hops. The wine is little better. Most is indistinguishable from Shloer. Although I did find a particularly toxic combination of water, grape juice and oak flavourings selling for £8.95 a bottle. With no duty to pay, mind.
But I persisted. And here, as a public service, is my pick of the bunch:
RED: Fre Red Blend. A de-alcoholised Californian red that’s just about dry enough to stand in for the Tesco own-brand chianti that’s been the house red in my gaff for many years. Sloshed into a wine glass while you’re cooking, it’s fine. No, honestly, it is.
WHITE: Torres Natureo. If you know this Spanish producer’s proper wine called Viña Esmeralda you’ll recognise the florals and apples in this one. Really quite lovely.
BEER: Becks Blue. Mumsnet alerted me to this one, with many a testimonial to how it got expectant mothers through pregnancy. It tastes like beer. Believe me, in this market that is recommendation aplenty.
I’m still looking for a non-alcoholic bourbon with which to make my favourite cocktail, an Old Fashioned. Relaxing with one of these used to be part of my Saturday night routine after a hard week’s work on this newspaper. Frankly, I’m not optimistic.
I LOVED last week’s story from Australia about the electronic tagging of Great White sharks, the most fearsome predators in the world. Apparently, this allows coastguards to detect when a shark is getting close to a beach. When it passes a sensor, the electronic tag sends a text to the coastguard, warning that a shark is on its way. Sharks that text. Whatever next? Crocodiles that Skype? I hope the text doesn’t say something bland like: “Shark Alert: 20 ft male. 500m NW of Wonga Sands.” That would be a waste of a great opportunity. The text shouldn’t go to the coastguard, it should go to every person on the beach. And it should read: “GRRRRRAAAAAAAH! ME SHARK! ME HUNGRY! ME COMING TO EAT YOU! I WANT YOUR LEGS!” That should get them out of the water.
THE death last week of Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Russian inventor of the AK-47 assault rifle, took me back to the only time I saw one in real life. I was on a reporting assignment in Afghanistan, accompanying a British army patrol down the main street of a dusty town in northern Helmand called Musa Qala. The town had been captured from the Taleban a few months earlier, and no-one was in any doubt where the loyalties of many of its occupants lay. As we passed a group of seated men, I noticed the youngest – a tense looking boy aged 14 at the very most – had a Kalashnikov gripped tight in his two fists. Now, I have raised two teenage sons. I know what 14-year-old boys are like. Calm and reason are not necessarily their most obvious attributes. So I did not let out a breath until we had turned a corner and were out of his line of sight. Thanks for that moment, Mikhail.