To drink or not to drink? Cheers

By Shepparton News

I feel sorry for people who don’t drink.

When they wake up in the morning, that’s the best they are going to feel all day.

These aren’t my words — they come from a business card once used by Bob Stainsby who ran the Terminus Hotel in Shepparton for decades.

His son Rob passed me the card when I caught up with him this week for a chat about his family’s long association with the distinctive hotel on High St.

The little saying made me smile for several reasons.

First, it’s now politically incorrect.

These days, it’s not good to reinforce the benefits of alcohol. After all, we are reminded daily that it is at the centre of so many of society’s problems from health to crime to family violence and road trauma.

Secondly, implicit in its message is the idea that a hangover is normal for people who drink.

This may be true for binge drinkers, but for social drinkers who can survive on a polite single glass at a network event — hangovers are not normal.

They also do not exist for the committed alcoholic who has gone way beyond the pain threshold and for whom drink is a way of life and ultimately, death.

Thirdly — the little saying is funny because it comes from a publican who has a vested interest in alcohol and all its associated evils and joys.

This goes to the heart of the mysterious double-edged chimera that is alcohol.

Publicans have a licence to sell happiness, but not so much that it makes you sad.

For millennia, alcohol has freed the spirit, loosened tongues, turned the timid into show ponies and put fire into the hearts of soldiers.

It is there in every society and culture — whether explicitly or not.

Lord mayors and judges drink it, doctors drink it, so do priests and accountants.

Drinking is documented in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, in the Qur’an, in Greek and Roman literature as old as Homer and in Confucius’ Analects.

Then there are anthropologists who believe that our love affair with alcohol can be traced back to our monkey ancestors who enjoyed eating fermenting fruit from the forest floor.

So all our towering achievements in science, the arts and philosophy perhaps come from a bunch of drunk monkeys.

For anyone who has ever enjoyed an alcohol-fuelled discussion with friends, this may not come as a surprise.

Many great ideas have come from a bottle.

But then they have to wait for the next cold sober day to be put into action.

I remember when I smoked, all the interesting people at parties were outside smoking.

The ones inside talked about the decor and TV shows. The people outside talked about revolution and sex.

It’s the same with drink.

People who drink get wild thoughts and sometimes lose control.

People who don’t drink are safe and tightly controlled.

Somewhere in the middle lies the answer to balancing the eternal human struggle to find a balance between sorrow and joy, light and dark, pain and comfort — or how to repair the damage after insulting your wife’s mother during a bottle of Spateburgunder.

John Lewis is chief of staff at The News.