Saturday, 14 March 2015

A rare break from the sauce

Now, let’s get something straight here, I don’t think any of my friends would call me parsimonious nor particularly abstemious when it comes to have a drink or two at a party or social function. There are some occasions though, be it for a break from the rigours of hospitality or for a spot of heavy exertion (usually more the charitable kind rather than the coital... sadly!), when a man needs to abstain and sup on something soft, non-alcoholic and altogether more refreshing than the juice of the grape or a drop of the hop. Yet I find myself, as was the other night, at something of a loss. It seems that the non-drinker at events or a piece of organised fun, finds themselves short-served in terms of choice. In the words of the fictitious barrister in Pink Floyd’s The Wall: ‘This will not do!’. 

About a month ago I made a rather rash decision to sign up to a rather grueling sounding charity event at a city dinner the other day. The fact it was for a good cause and that I was trying to be keen was a lethal combination. As I nursed a sore head and a congealing bacon sandwich at my work desk, I wondered why I had been so foolhardy. Anyway, there was nothing else for it and, having paid the entry fee, purchased the team t-shirt and signed some sort of waiver I was committed. As this seemed a while ago, I gave it no second thought until now. As I write this we are but a couple of days away from the challenge! (Although the publication date is, as you will not hesitate to point out, after the event... artistic license!).

A couple of weeks ahead of the event, I decided that I would take a more restrained approach, cut down on the booze, curtail the fatty foods and take up alfalfa and kale to fashion myself into a Seb Coe circa 1979. Perhaps I should have given myself a little more of a cushion than a week.  The first run proved difficult, the second painful, the third more so... i felt it could not get much worse! 

To complement this effort to become a man-machine in a short space of time, I decided that I would fore-go a night of drinking at a corporate shin-dig I had been invited to. I was in good company as one of my colleagues had also said they were going to stay off the sauce for the evening, so I did not feel I was letting the side down too much. 

I went straight from work to the event, having felt somewhat chagrined at having to buy a brand new dress shirt as a frustrating consequence of leaving the other at home... you’ve never seen such a quick trip to Marks & Spencer’s. Of course the collar size, which claimed to be a 15 1/2, was far to big and the garment itself would become a magnet for vibrant sauces and coolis over the course of the dinner. I do moan somewhat but it was a pricey shirt - I hope the dry cleaner can save it! 

Not drinking, I ensured that I had a cigarillo or two on the way to the event, and it was a comfort as I negotiated the cool night air (the venue was a 25 minute walk from the office). One rather gauche fellow decided to let me know how much he hated me smoking in a public place by swearing at me and spitting at my shoes... charming. Un-phased I managed to make it to the venue unruffled, not a hair out of place, and made my way to the bar for something refreshingly non-alcoholic. 

“What can I get you sir? Champagne, wine, beer?”
“Have you got anything non-alcoholic?” I asked, spying ice cold Coca Colas in the fridge. 
“You’ll have to pay for that sir, but I can offer you an orange juice. That’s complimentary.” 
“Oh...okay, I had better take that.” I said, rather begrudgingly. 

Now, I was a guest, but it was not a free event and given the current culture of rhetoric and culture of cutting down or not drinking I think it’s bizarre that we consign non-drinkers to the indignity of concentrated orange juice. It’s not particularly good for you, crammed full of sugar and for me, its slight viscosity is just a little unnerving. However, I was in semi-training and for lack of a better option without having to make a dent in my wallet, I acquiesced. Heavy, cloying and artificial it made me think that surely non-drinkers deserved something better than this? 

I am being a bit unfair, at a paid event, where you are expecting more drinkers than not, why would you consider the minority aside from a courtesy glass of the citrus stuff? Perhaps in this environment there is a little bit of leeway, but it is endemic of how unimaginative and unsatisfying most non-alcoholic beverages are and how little consideration is given to them.
At another event it was J2O, basically an alcopop without the measure of vodka; a further one shook things up with some Ocean Spray cranberry juice. It seems rare to find something truly interesting to engage the abstinent audience. The soft drink market is so lucrative yet the evening market, from pubs to corporate parties seems neglected. I’ve yet to see a selection of great ‘mocktails’ which closely-match the body and punch of their spirit-laced counterparts, or a gutsy alternative like a Virgin Mary offered to guests not interested in knocking back the vino. 

This was not to be had and, after the one glass of OJ (I am sure I could have had more if I had asked) I moved onto water for the rest of the evening whilst 80% of my table sipped/quaffed fine wine and were full of merriment. Never mind, I consoled myself that the next day I would wake up with a clear head, raring for the day to begin. 

On a more serious note to this rather inconsequential (and dry) experience, what is implied is that the non-drinker is on a back foot, even the occasional one like me. It seems there is a real gap in the evening market and hospitality sector for someone daring to do something adventurous. Come on contractors, restaurateurs, mixologists, hotel manager sand barmen, give us something different to both satisfy the cravings of those who abstain and also those of us who want the occasional break from the hard liquor! 

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