No booze would give me the blues

Prince Harry in Nepal © Getty images
Prince Harry: a lot happier since he took up yoga

Cutting back on alcohol may make sense – but in January? Our columnist balks at the idea.

Like Jack Lemmon in Under the Yum Yum Tree, one feels sorry for people who don’t drink “because when they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day”. So naturally, one is shocked to hear that, “in recent years, the concept of ‘dry January’, or swearing off alcohol for the first month of the year, has gained in popularity around the world”, as Jason Daley writes for Smithsonian magazine.

Worse, this is not just some Californian fad either. The trend started in 2014 when the UK non-profit Alcohol Concern (now Alcohol Change UK) came up with the “booze-free challenge”.

The idea of quitting drinking has even spread to people who you’d think would know better. This includes the sixth in line to the throne. The Duchess of Sussex has apparently “persuaded the hard-partying Harry to replace alcohol and caffeine with still mineral water”, says the Daily Express. Prince Harry now “eats well, doesn’t poison his body, exercises, does a bit of yoga and is a lot happier”. At least that is what is reported. One wonders whether His Royal Highness would agree with that last bit.

An alternative to dry January

Thankfully, not everyone is so abstemious. “This year, like every year since I started drinking in the mid-1970s, I am not resolving to give up alcohol in the new year,” says Lucy Kellaway in the Financial Times. After all, “man is social”, “alcohol improves social occasions” and “people who drink are more connected to others and have more friends”. At the end of a long day I invariably sip a glass of wine as I cook, read or watch TV, and why not? After all, alcohol “not only make me more agreeable to my friends”, but also “makes me more agreeable to myself”.

She has a point, so instead of dry January, why not try Paris Lees’ Champagne diet? “The rules are simple,” she says in Vogue. You forswear any drink unless it’s champagne. That way, you get most of the benefits of quitting alcohol completely but “without feeling like you’re limiting yourself if you happen to be at a special event and find that yes, you would like a drink, thank you very much”. The theory is that this should mean you drink less. Unfortunately, in practice, “I’ve found you just drink more Champagne”. Still, it works better than dry January. “I’m all for cutting back on the booze… just not in January. Isn’t life rough enough, darling?”

If you’re going to continue to give yourself a good soaking in January, it would be nice to do it in style. Back in October of last year, a 1945 Burgundy was “sold for a record-breaking £424,000”, says Colin Drury in The Independent. That would do nicely.

The price smashed the world’s previous high mark for a standard bottle: a 1869 Château Lafite Rothschild that sold for £177,000 in Hong Kong in 2010. A bottle of 1926 Scotch in the same auction went for £641,000. Amazingly, the latter amount didn’t break the record for Scotch, which still stands at £910,000. One suspects even Ms Lees might be willing to make an exception to toast the season with that. Happy new year.


Tabloid money… Professor Boffin’s “billionty million” pound begging bowl

“Every time a boffin says he needs a billionty million pounds to fund a mission to the third moon of Jupiter, we’re always told it’ll further our understanding of where we came from,” says Jeremy Clarkson in The Sun. “And it never does.” In 2006, a probe was launched to fly past Pluto. We were told the furthest outpost in the solar system was very cold. And before anyone said “you don’t say”, Professor Boffin was back with his begging bowl.

If he could have another couple of trillion, he would like to look at “Ultima Thule”. The ultimate roof box? No, as it turned out last week. It’s a 20-mile lump of rock in the shape of a peanut. Can we please “stop pretending that space is a big encyclopaedia of facts we need to know”? It isn’t. The moon has taught us nothing and missions to Mars have only given us a very good film starring Matt Damon. All we know about the bit between is that it’s cold and empty.

“Dry January isn’t on my agenda,” says Janet Street-Porter on Mail Online. Five million Britons have taken the challenge to abstain from alcohol all month. The booze industry has co-funded public health campaigns promoting healthy drinking, but the grim truth is that a third of alcohol is drunk by 4% of the population. It would be better if more money were spent on dealing with people with serious addictions.

It suits the industry to promote “dry January” as a small sop to the more unpalatable notion of a healthy lifestyle. Yet if dry January were to flow over into February and March, then they would be worried. It’s been estimated the drinks industry would lose around £13bn in a year. Dry January – a short, sharp bit of faux-abstinence – suits it perfectly.

“If prizes were handed out for bare-faced, brazen cheek, both the rail network and the government that sanctions its demands for more of our cash would be sure-fire Oscar winners,” says Nick Ferrari in the Sunday Express. Never mind the late trains, the news that fares would rise by an average of 3.1% was “a massive kick in the buffers for passengers”.

A commuter earning an average salary and travelling from Chelmsford, Essex, to London has to spend 13% of their pay to take the train. In France, a passenger would only pay 2% of their average salary. In Ireland, it would be 3%, and in Germany, 4%.  Every one of us who uses the trains deserves more for our money from the rail network.