How I was called ‘gay boy’ for ordering a lemonade in a pub
- Credit: PA
I was teetotal for almost two years from September 2006. It wasn't easy at all.
The big problem was that my generation and my friends were raised in an era when getting lashed, trollied or wasted was compulsory on Friday and Saturday nights (and Sunday lunchtimes, when the pubs only opened from 12-3pm).
And so, on one occasion I was called 'gay boy' by the brother of a friend when I asked for a lemonade in a pub. And on plenty of other occasions I slipped away early from nights out with mates because they were getting drunk.
It's not that I have a problem with people getting drunk, but unless you're on the same trajectory, it's surreal. I felt like I was observing, not taking part.
When I told anyone that I didn't drink alcohol, I was looked at as if I'd landed the Tardis on their lawn.
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My children - aged 26 to 17 - are unlikely to face the same levels of incredulity, pressure and bullying when they have a 'dry' night - or month, year or lifetime.
The latest figures show one-third of 16-24-year-olds do not drink alcohol. Binge-drinking rates are down below one in five for the first time in decades.
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I'd be willing to bet that most of those teetotallers haven't been called 'gay' for choosing to shun booze. It's probably seen for what it is by their peers - no big deal.
The thing is, booze can be great - up to a point.
That point is different for each of us, but once we go beyond it, we go from sociable to antisocial.
Sadly, I suspect that many of today's 16-24-year-olds were put off alcohol by the behaviour of their parents, who largely fit into my age group - the 'golden' age of weekend sessions and two-day hangovers.
That may have been fairly low-level, including embarrassing public stumbling and slurring, or too much hugging and 'I love you' pronouncements.
More seriously, aversions to alcohol may have developed through seeing dad attacking mum - or vice-versa - after a skinful. Either that or witnessing the feral, booze-fuelled violence at places like Prince of Wales Road in Norwich on a weekend.
I kicked the bingeing habit before my children were born, so they didn't have the misfortune to see me at my worst.
But growing up, it was a rite of passage to get drunk in your mid teens - then to repeat the act time and time again as your teens turned into your 20s.
High(low)lights of my binge-drinking days included:
• Being picked up by the police when lying unconscious in the middle of a road
• Trying to fight with bouncers
• Going down the cobbled Gangway in Cromer in a trolley, falling out and almost braining myself on a tractor
• Sleeping under a bush
• Walking home to Cromer from the Highwayman at Sheringham, but turning left, not right, and ending up in Weybourne.
It was all so hilarious at the time - particularly when embellished the following weekend before an audience of friends. But if those teenage escapades continue repeatedly into your 20s, 30s and 40s, it's not funny, it's rather sad.
Some of my peer group got over the phase, but others continue to get hammered three or four times a week into their mid-40s. It's what is known as alcoholism, I would argue.
That's the risk we run when binge-drinking is a habit. And that is why we see so many people from my generation who are battling the bottle.
I would have no pride in my sons if they followed in my winding footsteps and collected their own tales of drink-fuelled inanity. But neither would they have any pride in telling me.
Society is moving on - so let's all raise a glass of lemonade to today's more sensible young people.