Following Dr Jennifer Wallis’s fundraising for Sobertember last year, on behalf of Nacoa, she has decided to go a whole year with no alcohol to raise further funds. She is a historian and lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London, whose work focuses on medical and psychiatric history.
Over four blog instalments, Jennifer will be writing about the experience of abstaining from drink for one year, her research, and reflecting on alcohol and the family from her unique historical perspective.
Tippling and Temperance; or, some thoughts in 600 words on six months of sobriety
I’m halfway through my year of sponsored sobriety for Nacoa, which seems an appropriate point to reflect on it – not least because, with Christmas imminent, it seems I’m constantly being told to drink something alcoholic.
Looking through my notes for inspiration, I came upon Tippling and Temperance, a 1289-word pamphlet on the virtues of temperance written in 1890 by Charles W. Bateman (a first edition of 455 words had, he said, been too brief to properly detail ‘the perils of intemperance’). Temperance pamphlets were nothing new in the late 19th century, but Bateman’s was a little different. Every one of those 1289 words begins with the letter ‘t’. Here are his opening lines:
‘Temperance tends to thrift; tippling to tatters. Trite truths these. Talented thinkers talk to the thriftless, tiresome throng, to teach them these timely truths; thus trying to touch their torpid thoughts, though they tauntingly titter. The titanic tantalizer, Thirst, topples their treasured theories.’
I’m not sure Bateman would have won any literary prizes for this rather unusual way of moralizing to his readers, but reading out his prose might be an interesting party game after Christmas dinner…
So does ‘temperance tend to thrift’? Or, have I saved stacks of silver by staying off the sauce? Well, not a vast amount. The standard non-alcoholic beer options are relatively cheap in pubs, but they’re often pretty uninspiring. I certainly go out to pubs less – drinking sugary juice or Coke all night isn’t a terribly tempting thought (he’s got me doing it now…).
Several pubs seem to have minimal stocks of non-alcoholic beers, apparently assuming they might sell one or two bottles a month. Given that more people are choosing to go alcohol-free, or simply to practise ‘mindful drinking’, I’m amazed at how poor some pubs are in this respect (and I’ve found restaurants worse). The range of non-alcoholic alternatives on websites like Dry Drinker show that there are plenty of tasty, good-quality products out there; pubs simply relying on Becks Blue is lazy (and do not, on any account, pour your Becks Blue into a glass so you can smell its chemical tang while actually swallowing it – I speak from experience).
But the tide seems to be turning, with initiatives like Club Soda providing hints and tips on stopping or cutting down alcohol consumption (plus a resource that maps pubs who are good at catering for the alcohol free). And earlier this year the UK had its first mindful drinking festival, where visitors sampled alcohol-free ‘booze’ and discovered the joys of a night out without the next-morning hangover.
I have to admit that I’m quite enjoying not drinking, somewhat to my own surprise. I started the challenge as an obvious way to raise money for a charity that, as the child of an alcoholic parent, I think does hugely important and often overlooked work. I didn’t really think too much about how it might change my personal attitudes towards drinking. But there is something wonderfully liberating about having a night out with friends (in a bar that stocks decent non-alcoholic options), going home feeling clear-headed, and feeling fine the next morning.
I’m unlikely to get to the level of temperance sermonizing exhibited by Bateman (please intervene if I do), and I have little interest in ‘converting’ other people to being no/low alcohol, but I can see why one of my non-drinking colleagues told me I’d ‘never start again’ once the year was over. The nights out are less boozy, but otherwise exactly the same. ‘Tippling and temperance’ can go together – provided bars and restaurants recognise that drinkers and non-drinkers alike are prey to ‘the titanic tantalizer, Thirst’.