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Face-off October 27, 2008

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

By the time the Russian and I have wolfed down dinner in (verbal) silence in about fourteen seconds flat, having toiled lovingly over the preparation for considerably longer, the bottle is still usually half-full, even if the glass is half-empty. This inevitably invites a moral dilemma of critical proportions.

The only way to achieve a moral victory is, of course, to put that glass cone – the cleanest and most unused item of kitchenware in the house – in the neck and put the wine-bottle away in some dark corner where it can supposedly be forgotten about until the next wine-drinking occasion raises its predictable head the following evening.

Yet even moral fortitude and rectitude have their downsides. Chiefly that they are the enemy of hedonism and doing what you’d really like and while I’m not desperate for life to be one long string of gleeful moments, I do worry that these positives, if they can be so called, might be even loosely tied up with guilt and before you know it people will be saying or you’ll be thinking, “Once a Catholic…” which makes me want to go and impale myself on a spire somewhere, or, at the very least, speed-convert to the Church of England.

And closing the bottle with the pristine cone has the added disadvantage, or, at least, mitigated benefit, of putting me in the Russian’s good books. “Molodets,” he’ll say as I trudge hunchbacked to the cupboard under the sink where undrunk wine keeps the cleaning products company. “Umnitsa,” he’ll continue as I return to my seat and sip languidly on gone-flat mineral water in a mood redolent of the day after your birthday. Because being in the Russian’s good books and creating a fraudulent image of sobriety and temperance is as morally wicked as lying. Unless I was willing to change my ways, which I sometimes pretend I am, but am probably basically not, it would be awfully naughty to create such a false impression. And so early in our courtship! I haven’t even met my father-in-law yet.

One unlikely permutation, which occurs about as irregularly as the Earth changing direction, is that I will experience a rush of primness and suggest the bottle be coned just when the Russian’s looking like he’d fancy quite a lot more booze. I am magnanimous and say the decision is his but may have to tut (and remind him of his above-recommended-guidelines consumption) with sneering frequency.

But far more likely is a face-off between me and the bottle. Dinner is over. If I’m trying to be French, the national barometer I think best aligned with good living – ignoring the statistics for liver cancer – then I should, by rights, push my glass away from me and do something proper like meet my mistress or smoke and have an intellectual conversation at the same time, preferably with raised voices and aspersions cast on the interlocutor’s sanity. But I am not French. And the wine bottle is a foreign body my cultural immune system tries to attack. “What do you want to drink more of me for?” it whispers waspishly, circumflexes and castles leaping like sprites off the label and dragging my heavy fingers back from where they came.

Eyes right to see how I’m doing with the Russian. Is he in a wine-coning mood? Or one of those festive ones where we may drink on as long as we can find some excuse for it? “It’ll spoil by tomorrow.” “It’ll help us relax.” “We’re alcoholics.”

But the most crushing defeat is if my beloved benevolently waves his approval at my drinking on but fails to join me. He will return to online-shopping and academia and I will be left with two more cauldron-sized glasses of occasionless wine to drink. Each delicious drop tinged with reproof and condemnation. The Russian might find me in my one-man snug and ask advice on some linguistic matter. I will try to make my eyes look perky or not to slur my words or hide my red-wine lips but in an attempt to appear beyond reproach I will knock over a cactus or tip over the glass. “Uh-huh,” he’ll conclude soberly and turn on his heels, mission truncated.

Still, the nights are drawing in – it’s now dark at 2pm – and we don’t want to be too perfect, do we? What’s the world come to if a man can’t sip away the winter blues in the comfort of his own home! I say almost non-stop wine-drinking is a seasonal and traditional rite till the onset of spring.

To your good health!


1. suburbanlife - October 27, 2008

Dare I say it? Yeah! It is comforting to sip away an evening after a good dinner, in the company of good friends or a good book of poetry. Do you know if there have been any studies done of seasonal alcohol consumption? I bet winter is heavily weighted with empty bottles. Somehow, summer requires the imbibing of lots of water, iced tea and other non-alcoholic cold drinks. And seldom do a couple have same drinking needs, or so i have found, and there waft about airs of unspoken criticism and holier-than-thouness ( those damned Catholics) when one of a couple decides to carry on with the sipping. G

2. sylvia - October 27, 2008

I made Delia’s sausage and cider stew this evening and finished off the last bit of cider left in the bottle – barely a small glass. was this wrong of me, or should I have let the children drink it as they normally do?

3. Katia Kelly - October 27, 2008

I think I will join you in a glass…
There! Do you feel less guilty?
My excuse du jour is that here in the States, the tension over the economy and the election is so thick that it would be impossible to relax were it not for a good wine.

4. narrowback - October 28, 2008

while my beverage of choice is barley pop rather than wine, I have to second Katia’s comment, I can’t wait until the morning of the 5th for “it” to be over and done with. It’s become a nailbiter as the right descends to slightly nuanced mccarthyism in an effort to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat (a yank sports reference). it’s pushed me off the bloody wagon for christsakes…

but back to the main topic which definately resonated with me. booze, catholic guilt & a significant other. check, check and check. I’ve found that when the SO is from a cultural background similar to mine the interaction can be almost playful. when they’re from a different milieu – another story…there’s been problems with presbyterians & jews

5. narrowback - October 28, 2008

and welcome back

6. Wierdo - October 28, 2008

I often feel guilty for drinking when my boyfriend is around – he doesn’t drink and I do….copiously.

But I find that alcahol helps with that…

7. marshaklein - October 28, 2008

I think that wine-drinking at this time of year could be considered a celebration of the harvest (doubly so if the wine is heated and spiced) and, therefore, can be classed as a seasonal activity. Seasonality is very “now”, which makes you culturally and politically aware, which are good things to be.

I second Narrowback’s caution re. presbyterians. At least Catholicism offers a chance of redemption. With Presbytarianism, there’s NO WAY BACK…

8. marshaklein - October 28, 2008

Oh, and welcome back from me too. I was about to email to check for vital signs, but your appearance on other blog comments threads made me think that work, rather than something more sinister, had kept you from blogging.

9. Mr D - October 28, 2008

Cool, I should celebrate my continual state of singledom: I can get pissed as much as I like without having to worry about synchronising with a significant other. I really hadn’t thought of that aspect. I’ll try to remember it next time I’m having an internal rant at the universe for the unfairness of my being single!

10. BiB - October 28, 2008

Mr D, yes, tread carefully. The extra things you have to worry about. And I happen to have a couple of things lined up this week which involve booze and leaving the house, which always has the potential for severe, acute, incurable moanitis. Drone.

Marshypops, yes, just work and uninspiredness, rather than anything more sinister. And I realise I don’t know anything about Protestant sects on the island. Well, in the Celtic bits, I mean. I’m sure if you go back a couple of generations in my family, there are as many wicked old Proddies as there are Catholics, but once you go beyond CofE and Lutheranism, I am none the wiser. In any case, Orthodoxy has also managed to espouse the pleasure-is-sin thing so let’s give each other a big old ascetic, ecumenical hug.

W., that is the good thing with booze. Eventually, it normally wipes out the guilt. Not that we must feel guilty, of course. Though the next-day guilt can linger. Still, New Year’s resolutions are sorted in good time for me this time round.

Narrowback, that’s interesting. I’d never thought about the SO coming from a different world being a factor. I’ve had five boyfriends in my life (and one girlfriend, but she doesn’t count. Not because she wasn’t nice, just that I spent the whole sorry teenage six months (or whatever it was) hiding from her. Poor her). The Russian is Russian. Two were French (both magnificent boozers, though one felt guilt about it). And two have been Engländers. Both also magnificent boozers in their time. The first one, the only significant ex, probably used to suffer the drinking-more-than-the-partner complex as I couldn’t yet booze like a proper grown-up. And I can remember furrowing my brow at him if he ever suggested opening wine with dinner. “What? Just for the two of us? What a thought!” So glad he’s got a nice (Malaysian. Never touched a drop in his life) boyfriend now.

Katia, that’s a brilliant excuse. Yes, I have to say I have election fatigue a bit and I’m not even there (or American). But looking forward to being up all night whatever day it is next week. Maybe I’ll even have a little Bierchen to help settle my nerves. Prost back. And thanks for the solidarity.

Sylvia, god no. I know this may sound a bit non-parental of me, but I think a grown-up’s alcohol needs should always take precedence over a young person’s intake. Unless you’re teaching them all nicely and civilisedly to have a little glass here and there with food or are giving them a sip of something exquisite to get their palates mature/inured, I say let ’em learn to drink like every other young person in the Anglo-Saxon world. Though cider is, admittedly, part of that process… And, mmm, sausages. Did it turn out delicious?

G, yes, let’s stick with the seasonal and different-needs thing. Though if you get boiling summer days – luckily, there have only been about three of those in the last two years – I am almost morally obliged to sit in one particularly lovely Berlin beer-garden and knock back beer like there was no tomorrow. And then there’s the Pimm’s-in-summer thing. Or might that only be pretend, people thinking they ought to drink it to make their lives feel a little more cricket-jumpers and backdrop-of-stately-homes? I had a Pimm’sy summer when I was about 18. Now it’s beer or wine all the way.

Cheers again everyone!

11. narrowback - October 30, 2008

I once gave a relatively new SO of a different cultural background a copy of Pete Hamill’s “A Drinking Life” (based on his youth and young adulthood in an irish neighborhood in brooklyn) and made him sit through a screening of a bad comedy – but educational nonetheless -based on an all boys catholic high school in 1960’s brooklyn, I never got the raised eyebrow over the drink ever again.

I guess its far more common to have to navigate different cultura, how did you know?”l backgrounds here in the states… in fact, now that I think of it, ethnic conflict between couples has been a rich vein for american comedy for most of its existence.

I’m sure I’ve told you the story of meeting a man at a conference and upon spying his nametage – Patrick Bazeleskis or some sort – I said “you wouldn’t be from marquette park in chicago?” ( a lithuanian/irish neighborhood ) and with a shocked expression he replied “Yes, how did you know?” – “there’s only one neighborhood in the world that would produce that name combination”

If you’re going to follow our election in real time you better be prepared to stay up ALL night…the first meaningful counts won’t come out until about 2 AM Berlin time & I won’t be shocked if we still don’t have a declared winner by 6 AM your time… if we’re lucky

12. narrowback - October 30, 2008

gack – major blip there. either I or the blog had a mini stroke

13. redneckarts - November 1, 2008

I find pills help.

14. helena - November 4, 2008

Living as I do (for my sins) with a Frenchman, I don’t have the problem of pushing away the wine bottle and I find the intellectual conversation, smoking and loudly questioning of the other persons sanity much easier – and louder – after a couple of glasses of red. (I’ve solved the problem of him dashing off to meet his mistress by being difficult, obstructive, slightly nihilistic and able to blow smoke rings while wearing too much eyeliner, thus usurping her position).

All of which means that I drink far too much because catholics from the north east of england don’t have any guilt about drinking alcohol ( the presbyterians on the other side of my family don’t drink but we don’t talk about that) and the French from the south of France start drinking at 6pm (commonly known as pastis time) and don’t stop until they can’t talk anymore… so it’s all cultural, natural and nothing at all to do with my alcoholic tendencies.

15. marshaklein - November 4, 2008

Thought you might be interested in this:


16. Arabella - November 8, 2008

Helena, that’s hilarious!

I might have to change my drinking habits and that’s very worrying. A couple of glasses of wine on a week night and I’m done. It makes me cranky and puts me from “god,I’m knackered after work” to immediately anxious then comatose.
But I love wine. Result grumpy. Shouldn’t I simply ditch the job?

17. BiB - November 14, 2008

Arabella, quite right. Ditch the job sooner than ditch drinking. Though I haven’t had a drink for ages now, but only because I’ve been worky. Friends arriving this evening though and from the north, so boozelessness will very much be put behind me.

Marsha, thank you. I’ve heard that Green geezer/Tina C woman once or twice before. Rather good, isn’t he/she? In any case, I listened (while it was still available). Glad Obama pipped her at the post.

Helena, Arabella is right. That is hilarious. But, also, as you say, cultural and natural and nothing to do with any tendencies at all. The French are excellent at boozing, aren’t they? But they seem to start later (I mean, in life. 6pm is early enough) than in England. When I used to visit a family I knew in Paris, the two daughters (late teens/early 20s) would go to bed sober at 10 and I’d sit and get slaughtered with the (divorced) parents who’d say amusing things like, “T’es adorable, mais t’as aucun droit de me dire ça,” as some accusation or other was flung across the table.

Redneck, I don’t know why I’m not a pills man. I was made for pills. Or, rather, I’m sure pills were made for me. But I’ve resisted the temptation for this long and I’ll probably go on resisting. Cigarettes used to help but, alas, that pleasure has long since departed.

Narrowback, no problem. Let’s blame wordpress. But, yes, even though it’s a different boozey culture, you’d think there’d still be some drinking solidarity with a Russian but there really isn’t. Not that either of us drinks as we ‘should’, i.e. he doesn’t down vodka and I don’t drink tins of beer in front of the telly. But still…

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