So up they've popped again. They are as reliable as mushrooms in autumn. But unlike mushrooms in autumn they need to be bopped on the head and pushed back down again because otherwise they'll be encouraged and they'll multiply and they'll start popping up in spring and summer and winter and then that will be that and life as we know it will be over. They are the hazardous-drinking hand-wringers.
They are merely a subset, of course, of the hazardous-everything hand-wringers, the perpetual worriers on behalf of others, the notional carers, the patronisers. Their ostensible concern rests on two premisses: one, that longevity is both a virtue and a duty; and two, that you and I are incapable of looking out for ourselves. Both premisses are false.
• Joe Bennett: Making sense of helping a friend write a play
• Joe Bennett: Table for birds passes the time
• Joe Bennett: My mongrel dog, the vet and the seven ages of man's best friend
• Joe Bennett: Who's ready to stand up for democracy?
Longevity is not a duty and neither is it a virtue. Indeed, it is often a curse. If you do not believe me, betake yourself to the local dementia ward. Or to the nursing home where my mother is currently spending the last few pointless, dread-drenched, bewildered years of her life. If she were any longer capable of wishing anything she would be wishing she'd done a bit of hazardous drinking when she could.
As for the notion that we cannot look out for ourselves, well if that is so then that is so. But the very definition of adulthood is looking out for oneself. Indeed, the main consolation for outgrowing the energy, zest and enthusiasm of youth is being subject no longer to authority figures telling one what one should or should not be doing. The corollary of that, of course, is a responsibility to accept the consequences of one's own actions. All of which is just fine by me. It's called being grown up.
Booze is a pleasure. The whole point of it is pleasure. From the pleasure of the taste to the pleasure of the conviviality to the pleasure of the disinhibition.
But it's not fine with some who believe I should somehow be protected from myself. Why they believe that I don't know. It should be no concern to anyone other than my intimates and my dog (and if there's a distinction between those it's a fine one) whether I die tomorrow or next year or next century. If I am doing them no harm, it's none of their business.
I can raise an army of the wise to endorse this point of view, many of whom I may have quoted before on these pages but I make no apology for quoting them again. A diamond sparkles no less for having been seen before. And here's a diamond that should be mounted on every meddler's forehead so he sees it in the mirror every morning. "No pleasure," said Kingsley Amis, "is worth giving up for two more years in a rest home."
And booze is a pleasure. The whole point of it is pleasure. From the pleasure of the taste to the pleasure of the conviviality to the pleasure of the disinhibition.
The hand-wringers may not realise this, but they resent pleasure. They are puritans. They don't actually care whether I go to my grave or not. They care only that I don't have a good time en route. It was Mencken who nailed the puritans with the fewest words. "Puritanism," he said, pouring himself a slug of rye and pulling on a cigar the size of a Polaris missile, "is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy."
Our lives matter little. The length of them matters less. What does matter is the pleasure we can give and the pleasure we can take. And if booze helps either, it's a good thing.
There's a puritan in Saki's story Sredni Vashtar. She's Mrs de Ropp, the aunt and guardian of 10-year-old Conradin. Conradin is supposed to be sickly so Mrs de Ropp has the puritan pleasure of stopping him doing things on the pretext that they might be bad for him. "Mrs de Ropp would never, in her honestest moments, have confessed to herself that she disliked Conradin, though she might have been dimly aware that thwarting him 'for his good' was a duty which she did not find particularly irksome."
There in a nutshell is puritanism. There in words a century old are the booze meddlers, the wowsers, the ostensible carers. Their pleasure lies in thwarting others.
And our response?
It should be that of the old man in a Swedish film called My Life as a Dog. The old man bathes naked in icy pools. He takes risks that might kill him. One day his neighbours spot him up on his roof banging in nails. One slip and he'll plummet to a messy death. They urge him to come down. He looks down on them with magnificent disdain. "Go away," he shouts, "I'm all right."