The weekend weather forecast is set to scorching and barbecues across the land are degreased for their annual coming-out party.

The beer stored between the stockpiled tins of borlotti beans and bags of flour has been moved to the fridge, where the first rosé of the season (hastily ordered from whatever wine delivery service could offer the quickest slot) is chilling.

So far so normal for the Grand National weekend. Except, of course, we're living in anything but normal times. The nation's favourite horse race won't be taking place at Aintree this year, but as a virtual simulation with bookies' profits going to NHS charities.

We won't be inviting friends and neighbours over to share our charred sausages unless online via videoconferencing apps such as Houseparty or Zoom. We're not all set for the weekend when every day feels like Sunday.

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NeedToKnow3

This week the World Health Organisation has urged people to reduce their alcohol consumption and increase activity in order to be fighting fit against Covid-19.

Drink Aware advises that the last thing we should be doing to protect ourselves is upping our alcohol intake. It suppresses our immune system, meaning we'll be less able to fight off the virus should we catch it, affects our sleep patterns and can negatively affect our mental health.

And yet, and yet... as so many of life's everyday pleasures - the coffee with a friend, the trip to the cinema, the drive to the countryside - are denied to us, it's natural we should turn to one of the few that isn't.

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Earlier in the year, we laughed at Americans boycotting Corona beer. Now we're drinking it like there's no tomorrow and eyeing up the hand sanitiser for its alcoholic content. The pubs and bars may be shut, but Brits are clinging on to their boozy habits, just coming up with inventive ways to enjoy their tipples under lockdown.

Here's a few ways that we are drinking now...

Very social distancing

Social distancing has, ironically, made socialites of us all. We're contacting old friends and family as we slow down and reassess what matters and who we love. Adults, giddy with excitement of having finally mastered videoconferencing, are holding nightly parties online complete with drinks and salty snacks.

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Our teenage children, who've been hanging out on Houseparty for years, roll their eyes at the hypocrisy of this increased screen time.

One friend tells me that they now do a weekly newspaper quiz with friends over drinks on Zoom. "With extra top-ups if we get the questions right."

Another describes what she views as the absurdity of virtual drinking parties.

"We all dressed up in our best clothes to amuse ourselves," she says, but noticed that whatever glad rags were being worn on their top halves everyone still clung to the elasticated waists of their lockdown tracksuit bottoms below.

There's poker parties, bridge games, communal cooking, book groups and simultaneous viewings of Tiger King on Netflix... all held online and lubricated with wine.

One friend has cocktails delivered by her favourite bar: "I tell myself I'm doing my bit to support a local business."

Every hour is happy hour since we're doing all our socialising online, geography melts away as those on the other side of the world become as near to us as neighbours.

Cocktail hour at home. Photo / Getty Images
Cocktail hour at home. Photo / Getty Images

And as our social life extends to different time zones, so does cocktail hour. A working day without a commute ends early, and at about four midlifers find ourselves saying, "it's six o'clock somewhere in the world" like ruddy-faced retirees. Whereupon we mix ourselves the perfect "quarantini", offering spurious medicinal benefit with its honey and lemon, or a gin fizz where the fizz is supplied by an effervescent vitamin C tablet.

There are even Creme Egg cocktail recipes for those who want to give their drinks a seasonal twist or to increase their lockdown weight gain still further.

Off-licences essential services

The evidence that we're reaching out for the wine more comes from more reputable sources than just WhatsApp memes. A week ago, the Government designated, "off-licences and licensed shops selling alcohol" as part of the essential services that could remain open.

While grocery sales increased 20.6 per cent in March, sales of alcohol jumped by 22 per cent or a staggering £199 million. Majestic Wine has now closed its real-world stores but before doing so experienced a surge of last-minute dashes to fill trolleys. Its website crashed on March 21 because of "unprecedented demand" and still bears a banner explaining the new rules it had to introduce in order to cope with the nation's orders.

The founder of direct sellers Laithwaite's Wine, Tony Laithwaite, suggests on its website that "hopefully wine can provide some pleasure and relaxation - much needed at a time like this". We find ourselves all drinking to that.

Rules, what rules?

The idea that one should limit alcoholic intake to 14 units had just managed to filter through one of Britain's biggest problem groups - the middle-aged drinker and their love of wine o'clock.

We'd diligently started tracking our consumption and drinking high-class (and cost) non-alcoholic alternatives like Seedlip and smashed citrus beer. But now, with so many other new laws to live by (two metres, one walk a day, no binge-buying loo roll), it's a relief to throw a few of the old ones aside.

It's wine o'clock somewhere. Photo / File
It's wine o'clock somewhere. Photo / File

I only have to look at my own "Try Dry" data (the Alcohol Change UK app for Dry January and beyond) to see just how much more I'm imbibing. In January I drank only once, February had 17 alcohol-free days and March... well March was all going well until the 19th when the updating stops abruptly in order to avoid the shame of the remainder of the calendar filled with the black symbol of a wineglass silhouette.

School's out for summer and beyond

We love our children, we really do, but the vast majority of us choose to send them to school for 39 weeks of the year for a reason. Few of us can help with maths beyond primary levels and so are looking to alternative life lessons we could be imparting.

We've been trying to teach my children useful skills like typing, using a washing machine and bleeding a radiator.

This now extends to mixing a perfect drink as if we're all Don Draper from Mad Men.

Early to bed

While it's true that alcohol interferes with a good night's sleep, especially for women experiencing menopausal symptoms, it can help us to pass out quickly.

Staggering to bed early is a more enticing prospect than the News at Ten with its grim tallies and no hint of the end of lockdown.

Although alcohol is a factor in much of the domestic abuse that is feared to rise, for others it can help oil the wheels of romance. If sharing a bottle of wine helps couples iron out the tensions of working alongside each other, this can only be a good thing.

In Wuhan, divorce petitions have risen and leading UK family lawyer Alex Carruthers, of niche practice Hughes Fowler Carruthers, suggests that: "Confinement is likely to place increased pressure on a couple's relationship. I've already seen examples of this extra tension breaking the camel's back and being enough to end the relationship."

Beer goggles help us cope with our screen self-image

Vanity requires the disinhibiting benefits of booze. Nobody looks good on FaceTime or Zoom. We resemble captives in a hostage video as our eyes flicker in a bid to avoid catching sight of the little image of ourselves in the corner.

Foreheads double in size and shine, noses expand, the fuzziness of the picture fails to blur out wrinkles and extra chins.

Since our social interaction for the foreseeable is going to be exclusively through the unflattering filter of a front-facing camera, then we're all going to need to be tipsy to get through it.

Cheers everyone!

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website