Whether it’s because somewhere along the line I had read or heard of the rigorous guidelines some alcohol-help organisations put about I am not sure, but for some reason I had it in me that once you have quit alcohol you should avoid any future significant involvement with anything alcoholic at all cost. I have a friend who went to rehab to cure his alcoholism and he was indoctrinated with this very message. He now won’t use mouthwash with alcohol in it, he has to be especially sensitive with his diet to ensure no wine has been used in the food preparation, and has other alcohol related eccentricities such as not having after-shave in the house. All these were instilled in him when at rehab on the basis that ‘one drop of alcohol from any source and you will become a raving alcoholic again!’
I admit I avoid food cooked in wine or beer but simply because I don’t want any alcohol so I don’t see why I should have to eat food prepared with it – it is unnecessary anyway, there are other ways of bringing out the flavour. I also still keep my star chart going every day where I proudly tick off how many days I have been alcohol free so I don’t want to feel guilty that the fish I ate was prepared in white wine. I do use alcohol based mouthwash however, nothing else seems to be any good (apart from some stuff that turns your teeth brown), but I don’t swallow it of course and I do use after-shave, so I am not paranoid about using alcohol.
So what was I putting off and what was I actually and quite honestly ‘scared’ to do?
For most of my life I have made home-made wine and/or beer. This started as a hobby when I was about fourteen and my mum bought me my first kit (bless her soul), but the hobby continued off and on, and when I was drinking lots of wine it became a cheap substitute for the shop bought variety, and also a great excuse to drink far more than usual without either feeling guilty or my wife knowing what I was up to.
‘I am just bottling another gallon’ I would shout when questioned, and as any wine maker will know, every gallon will provide you with five full bottles and ‘a little extra to experiment with.’
When I finally quit alcohol I had some ten gallons of home-made wine on the go in demijohns. I didn’t throw it away at first just in case I failed to quit and needed it to drink after all, and I also had a lot of money’s worth of equipment I was loathe to bin. I kept the wine under the stairs.
A year went by and still the wine remained under the stairs. Another year passed and my wife started to moan it was taking up space and that it had to go, it stayed. My 1000 days approached and we needed the space under the stairs for toys for my grandson. Even I agreed that the wine had to go. But why had I been so loathe to throw it away?
In my book I mention going to a wine tasting in South Africa last year, asking for a glass of my favourite ever wine purely to ‘smell’, and walking away having given myself thereby the ultimate test of my resolve. This was different. I knew when I took out all those demijohns and popped the corks, all the memories of hot summer days, gathering fruit, mixing ingredients, racking the wine and sampling my efforts would come flooding back. On top of that as I poured it away I knew the kitchen would be filled with fantastic aromas from all the different types of wine. I wasn’t scared I’d be tempted to drink any, I was scared I would have regrets.
I lined up the demijohns by the sink, I cut off the labels for posterity and removed the first cork - the contents smelt disgusting. I opened another one and it too smelt horrible so I started to pour the wine down the sink. As gallon followed gallon my wife came into the kitchen to see what I was doing as the stench of strong wine had invaded the entire house. She said the smell was so strong she even felt high on the fumes but I was having a great time.
I asked her to photograph me because I should have poured the wine away years before, and I don’t why I had been so scared - it was like cleansing myself of all those years of drunkenness and wasted life. I loved throwing it away and watching all those horrid drunken yesterday’s swill around the sink before they went down the plug-hole forever.
That was last week. This weekend we brought in the apple harvest from our small orchard, it was a bumper crop this year. Once upon a time the apples would have made some wonderful cider and a few gallons of wine as well. Instead we filled the freezer with peeled and prepared apples by the bag-full, all ready for a host of delicious winter apple crumble puddings, and if there is still any left, all washed down with some delicious sweet apple juice!