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I coulda been a drinker …

Remember when drinking used to be fun? I mean really happy fun. Not the nasty pre-legal teenage experimental years when you’d dread the next conversation that started ?you were crazy last night margaret?. But before the sensible drinking years where conversations included the words ?leathery edge, vanilla hints and buttery finish?, without any sense of irony.

I think everyone has a golden age of drinking. It’s that time when you’ve been drinking long enough for it to be part of your life, but still new enough to be unpredictable and exciting and have you sitting on the pavement at 2am laughing your ass off. My peak drinking years were 25-29. Me and then-fiancee Steve had become home-owners which meant we could be all grown-up and entertain people. And drink wine. Neither of us had been big wine drinkers – Steve drank beer and tea and although I had dabbled with some fruit flavor wines at the Ringlestone Arms in my teens, I mainly drank cider or scotch and american (whisky and ginger ale, I just liked the way it sounded). To mark our new sophisticate lifestyle, we bought a ?drinks bar? from Ikea. A ridiculously large 5ft tall cabinet in best quality black ash that had taken Steve 2 days to assemble. It opened up like a 1970s hostess trolley to reveal a 30 bottle wine rack, wine glass holders and various shelves where we shoved the small bottles of dark rum that Steve brought back from Tobago, a bottle of Baileys and one of Banana liquor that neither of us fought over when we eventually split up. Even the wine racks were wasted on us, given that we drank everything we bought. That was the thing back in them olden days, wine was instant gratification. Occasionally, we?d stumble across a wine that we really liked and would stock up with a couple of extras. That was the case with Jacobs Creek — our first Australian wine experience. All my previous knowledge of Australian wines had come from the Monty Python sketch, Australian Table Wines, which I had fully memorized.

This is a bottle with a message in, and the message is BEWARE!. This is not a wine for drinking — this is a wine for laying down and avoiding.

We soon became Jacobs Creek converts and would get all snobby in the off-license about people who still bought Ernst and Julio Gallo. Yes, nothing could match that feeling as we opened up our impressive monster-bar to reveal the mighty Shiraz to our friends.

It was so damn easy to drink — we could get through at least a bottle of wine each over the course of an evening. And I could even mix drinks. Grape and grain? Sure, no problem. I?d get hangovers but they were the happy kind, the proof of a good night out and easily cured by a big fry-up at the Irish greasy spoon and a white wine spritzer for lunch.

When I got to 30, things took a turn. I’d still drink but it was mostly with friends after work and it was done more in the spirit of blotting out than having fun. The hangovers got more mean-spirited. Steve and I split up. Then I left my job and went traveling across the US for a few months and got my drinking legs back. It was hard not to, especially if you’re very competitive and traveling with a group of Irish lads. Nothing much beats drinking red wine from a box while perched on the edge of the Grand Canyon at sunset, with 20 strangers who’ve become your best mates.

Back to London and working for AOL. Stressful job which meant long lazy evenings in the pub across the road were replaced by short sharp one-glass visits before heading back to my desk for a conference call with the US. This is probably when my alcohol tolerance started to drop. It wasn’t immediate, more of a slow seep than a gushing but it was an irreversible trend which has only quickened since we moved to the US. Nowadays I’m a complete lightweight, which is probably part of the problem as I’m 20 pounds lighter than when I left London. I can still drink wine but it’s more of the ‘couple of glasses with dinner’ style. I can’t go out to a club and drink fancy cocktails — but then I never really go out to clubs anymore. They’re as alien to me as a touch-tone phone is to my mother.

Two weeks ago I had a gin and tonic. The last time I had gin and tonic I was 19, working at Pontins holiday camp, swigging my G&T from a pint glass and crying like a girl. Classy. Nineteen years later, gin, tonic and I reunite and the years just wash away. I come home, make myself sick and wonder what the hell I’m doing with my life. That not being enough apparently, I had a ‘mind eraser’ last night. This is kahlua and vodka with a pointless splash of soda. I ‘had’ to drink it because it was the opening gambit to a stand-up contest I was in — Spite Club at the Velveeta Room in Austin. The mind eraser lived up to its claim. I can only be sure of this, because I followed it with 2 large plastic cups of the Velveeta’s white wine — a wine which inspired the Monty Python’s line:

“ Appelachian controle, specially grown for those keen on regurgitation — a fine wine which really opens up the sluices at both ends.”

Somehow I forgot this fact. Twice.

Worst of all though, we leave for England next month and I’ll just be reminded of how great a drinker I used to be. Perhaps Erik and I will relive some of our favorite times together in London, like the night of October 3, 1997, when I got drunk, touched his bum in the Goat In Boots on Fulham Road, went home with him in a taxi and never left. Makes a girl proud.