Now Scotsmen have a reputation for meanness. As generalizations go it is not without some substance, but a curious contrariety tends to occur around about the sixth whisky. Thereafter, from whiskies seven to fourteen the generosity curve steepens logarithmically. After fourteen it is hampered by incoherence. I judged my friend to be at around nine – just entering the spontaneous hugging stage.
“No thank you. I’ve given up.” I cannot doubt the pall my words cast upon the assembled party-goers. Silence fell. Someone turned off the music.
“Given up the drink? Ye’ll nivver do it, Hin. Ye must be mad!”
He was right, of course. He is right. Ninety percent of New Year’s resolutions barely survive to twelfth night, although abstinence from alcohol has a better chance perhaps than stopping smoking, travelling more, losing weight, ceasing to swear, or watching less television. Why? Because as a dutiful Scot (well, I do have some ancestry in that direction) I am honor-bound to forgo sobriety entirely between Christmas and Hogmanay. I therefore float into the latter in a sufficiently inebriated state to survive a Haggis, if someone deems it necessary to feed me one, or even to fully misunderstand why they’re hitting that damn great bell twelve bloody times. So I can hit the ground running. I am able to draw upon my reserve tanks until the 3rd January at least without another drop passing my lips. Thereafter it gets harder.
I discussed the problem with my Scots friend over a Coca-Cola: not a subject that seemed to interest him unduly but it helped me to take my mind off the fumes from the room, his glass, and him. It also distracted me from ‘Dead March in Saul’ which some wag had unearthed and put on the sound system.
“Can ye no see this is the time o’ year for drinkin’?”
“Is there a time of year for not drinking?” But he had a point. We are delving into deep midwinter, when a sallow sun can scarcely raise strength to crank itself over the horizon for seven hours, and the rain only ceases when the snow begins. The wind is a wild rider, Odin’s cart is heard to creak between the gallows trees and Thor’s hammer cleaves the sky.
All right, I’m getting a little carried away. We don’t have gallows anymore and those clashing sounds have nothing to do with battle at Valhalla: Ragnarok is more likely to occur at a football match these days, isn’t it? But you get the idea.
We are embarking upon three months of dark boredom interspersed with moments of terror. The ship of night has to carry us all the way through to March with absolutely no motivation for a stroll on deck and with sporadic cringing fear as we listen to the wind deconstructing our roof or watch the river come through the back door. Can there be a worse time to stop smoking? Is there any other season which competes with television for our attention less successfully? Is travel a temptation, given snowdrifts, high wind at the airport, or the discovery that the rain in Spain falls mainly on you? And yes, even the Riviera can be cold.
Do we wonder then, why abstinence in such conditions proves so hard to maintain? Party music is playing, glasses are rattling, food – wondrous, odorous food – is nature’s way of fighting the cold, and it looks so good; it tastes so sweet, it tempts, it flirts outrageously, it beckons…taken early, your resolution might survive the Week of the Leftover Turkey, but thereafter?
Twelfth night, then: outside, the wind is blowing, the window panes are laced with snow. Inside, there is laughter: harsh and defensive maybe, a little fearful possibly, but laughter nonetheless. Inside there is music to drown out the night. The smiling golden liquid glistens in the bottle, waiting to pour free.
“Will ye no just have a dram o’ this single malt, Freddy? It must’ae been a fine year, this!”
“No. Well, I shouldn’t. I promised not to, you know. I said, didn’t I? But then, I suppose just the one wouldn’t hurt.”