Oh save us all from those who'd save us all, for they are sick. They're suffering from Saviour Syndrome. It's the epidemic of our times. But no one who's infected knows they've got it. They think they're doing good. They think they're acting with the angels.

Saviour Syndrome abounds. There was an outbreak in the paper last weekend.

A sufferer argued that every bottle of booze should carry a health warning. All alcohol is dangerous, he said, so it's a moral duty to protect the public from it. Not to do so is to abdicate responsibility. It is like leaving loaded guns about a kindergarten.

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Now if you find yourself weighing this proposal and thinking that on balance it may have some merit, you are infected. For this disease is highly contagious, and made all the more dangerous by dint of the victim not knowing they're ill. And it spreads most readily in government.

It suits a parliamentarian's nature to perceive a threat to little folk like you and me and cast himself in the role of Lord Protector, to fling himself between us and the impending danger, the guardian of our pink and innocent defencelessness. It's what such people like to do. They puff their chests out at the very thought.

And so quite soon, and without anyone knowing quite how it happened, we could reach a point, here on these islands in the southern seas, where it is not merely proposed in a serious Sunday newspaper that wine should carry a health warning, but that it actually does.

The next step is of course familiar. A warning would prove insufficient because we bolshy little people failed to heed it. Greater measures would be needed for our own good. And on would go the excise tax, to double the price of a bottle of wine.

Wine, I repeat, wine. A drink as old as civilisation. Wine the bringer of joy. Wine that has been traded round the world since trade began, that was shipped about the Roman empire in massive amphora, that was the Mediterranean's gift to the world, that has softened the pangs of pain for 50 centuries, that has eased the mortal heart, wine, the friend of all food and the mother of love, a poem on the tongue and a physic against grief, an unadulterated good. And we would make it something to be feared and regulated. How could this be?

But, squeal the saviour syndromists, wine is booze and booze kills. It rots organs, causes cancer, stills the beating of beloved hearts. This cannot be allowed to happen. For it is written, lives must be saved.

To which the answer is lives can't be saved. They can only be extended. And in the extension of life for its own sake there is no virtue whatsoever.

It is a common observation that everything these days causes cancer. And it is true that there is far more cancer around than once there was. But the cause is not smoking, or bacon, or wood smoke, or asbestos, or a calming glass of Chateauneuf du Pape. It's longevity. For modern medicine has tacked 20 years or more on to the average life span. And that's when the cancers come.


Ah but, exclaim the saviours once again, ah but, if you only listened to our diktats and ate what we say and drank what we say and did what we say, they need not come. You can live on and on in relative ease, a little shrivelled perhaps but uncancered and un-heart-diseased and… but not of course uneverything.

For if you imagine that by being virtuous you will somehow escape mortality's jail, you're wrong. For each and every one of us there's something waiting round the corner with its jaws agape.

Consider my mother. She has been moderate in all things, all her life, in part by nature and in part by circumstance. Ate little meat, drank next to nothing. She passive smoked my father's cigarettes but passive smoking never hurt a soul. She liked her vegetables, took ample exercise.

And her reward for such abstemiousness, for living by the gospel of our self-determined saviours? She's now, aged 95, condemned to an overheated nursing home, disabled, demented, demeaned and doubly incontinent, racked with misery and surrounded by a lounge full of her equally wretched peers. She should have drunk more wine.

In a film called My Life as a Dog, an old bloke in a Swedish village goes up on to his roof in winter to fix the tiles. Everyone frets for his well-being. They try to coax him down.

"Go away," he shouts at them, "I'm all right."

Let that be our catch cry. Let him be our mentor.