17 December, 2005

In abstinentia

At this time of the year I'm always more conscious than ever of the abstemious lifestyle I've come to lead.

I don't smoke, I don't drink, I don't eat meat, I don't gamble, I don't like parties and I don't own a mobile phone. This litany always provokes hoots of derision at work, as if a) this particular set of circumstances couldn't possibly be contrived by someone themselves and must therefore have been visited upon me against my will, or b) nobody could seriously wish to live like that, and therefore I am to be pitied. And mocked.

The fact is I've chosen to refrain from all of the above because I don't enjoy them. Simple as that.

I've never smoked, but used to have several friends who did, and while their habit didn't bother me when they were off elsewhere, long periods of time in the company of profusive smokers always made me nauseous and triggered a recurring nightmare of being trapped in a small room slowly dying of asphixiation.

I also used to share a house with two people who smoked, and every evening they always made great play of getting their cigarettes out as soon as I'd left them all in the living to go upstairs to bed. In the morning I was always the first up, and hence always the one to empty the ashtrays. Another person I used to live with was a virulent anti-smoker, but who was always first in line when one of his mates turned up with a joint. I could never understand this hypocrisy, same as I don't understand those "vegetarians" who eat fish. You either are or you aren't; there's no middle ground.

I hate going to clubs or loud parties so I just don't bother. Not that I get many invitations, but sometimes there'll be some do on at work, for which we are all notionally asked to attend. I just don't go. I reckon I've reached a point in my life where I don't have to put myself through stuff I don't like. Nobody misses me anyway.

A year spent in a hall of residence at university put me off meat for life; they used to serve stuff with the veins still poking out. I've never needed a mobile phone, so I've never bought one.

That just leaves the one thing that intrigues people at work more than any: the fact I don't drink. They think there's some big secret in my life, that I'm a recovering alcoholic, or used to have a bad drinking problem when I was younger, or that I'm just fibbing. It's nothing of the sort, of course. I just never liked drinking. I felt I had to do it because everybody else did, and the culture of - in particular - university invites, if not demands, the excessive intake of alcohol or else you're ignored, shunned and generally socially excluded.

The number of nights I had to play host to people getting pissed was mindboggling. It wasn't so much what they were doing to their lifestyles that bothered me; it was how they were impinging on mine, and demanding I live my life on their terms. The irony is that most of them ended up getting better exam results, better degrees and by far better jobs than me (they were mostly scientists and mathematicians).

As soon as I left university and lived on my own I rarely found myself in the context where I had to drink, so I gradually drank less and less, until I decided I might as well make a virtue of it and stop altogether. I'm a bit of a hypochondriac as well, so I reasoned the more I can do to make myself healthier, and the more things I can refrain from, the better.

Hence my teetotal condition, which my work colleagues regard as tantamount to an illness. They quite happily boast of getting through half a bottle of wine every weeknight. Don't they get bored of it? Don't they run out of money? I guess I'll never understand, and it's not really my place to try to. Out of sight, out of mind. Or as Lorca puts it in Blood Wedding, cry if you want, but do it at the door.

And well, they do say abstinence makes the heart grow fonder. Or so I've heard.


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