Our writers admit they've put the hic in pandemic

Confessions of the corona-holics: Gin-o’clock getting earlier every day, cocktails to cope with home-schooling, and guzzling rosé by the gallon. As it emerges the number of problem drinkers has doubled, our writers admit they’ve put the hic in pandemic

It’s one side-effect of Covid that has sparked a rise in problem drinking, with middle classes the worst offenders. 

Health officials have released a questionnaire to work out if you are drinking too much, with a score of 13+ for women and 15+ for men indicating alcohol dependence.

Here, our gallery of writers come clean about their very own alcoholic lockdowns…


Rachel Johnson

I should point out that my husband likes a drink and would never be first choice to run the UK Temperance Movement

Every night during the sunshine-soaked spring of lockdown, my husband and I had an evening ritual.

As soon as the sun went over the yardarm — never before 6pm, we had to maintain some standards — we would take bottles of Exmoor Ale or Chablis, put them in the Polaris (an off-road truck) with the puppy, along with the bottle opener, and drive up a hill to watch the sun set.

It made lockdown much more bearable, but the problem was, we did this without fail every evening. I never gave my liver a night off — I gave it a hammering. ‘Did I drink too much during lockdown?’ I asked my husband. ‘Am I drinking too much now?’

I waited for his answer. I should point out that my husband likes a drink and would never be first choice to run the UK Temperance Movement.

‘Not nearly enough!’ he replied heartily, as he pressed send on his Wine Society monthly order (he has a fresh, pink, reasonably new liver thanks to a transplant by the NHS and therefore thinks that he can start all over again).

The real answer is yes. I drink every night most weeks. I went out to dinner last night, for example, and had a cleansing Peroni followed by two fortifying large glasses of red.

I try not to drink to excess (six or more drinks in one session, according to the questionnaire), but I find it hard to get through an evening without the relaxant of a large, cold glass of white Burgundy. I want to drink less, but find it hard not to drink. When dry, I want to hurl plates at my family by around 9pm — and cannot resist temptation.

On the plus side, I’ve never drunk in the morning, or to oblivion ever since I threw up as a schoolgirl all over a wine bar in Kensington.

I sometimes want to blurt out, as I see my husband bustling towards the fridge at happy hour, that I would find it easier not to drink every night if he occasionally had a night off, but he ignores this fanciful notion.

The consequence? I have put on half a stone and can no longer wriggle into half my wardrobe — but far more importantly, I know how bad regular drinking on a long-term basis is for my body.

I scored 8 on the quiz, which experts say is borderline harmful, and I must admit I don’t think my liver or waistline would survive another lockdown unless the Government banned the sale of alcohol.

Until then, there’s every reason to cut it out, but I can’t.


Beverley Turner

There’s a reason why gin is called ‘mother’s ruin’

‘There are going to be thousands more heavy drinkers after lockdown,’ I mused to my other half in mid-April as I poured us yet another two glasses of rosé (with ice cubes — it was only 3pm, after all) and headed out into the sunshine.

We were well into the rhythm of isolation by then, a day which seemed to revolve around how early I could pour my first drink.

I was genuinely fascinated by how much more compelled I was to navigate towards the drinks fridge than usual.

Was it the fact that I didn’t have to drive my children to swimming or netball club?

Was my daily tipple taking the edge off the ever-present anxiety that we were all going to die if I brushed shoulders with a neighbour? Was it the fact that we were effectively on an unexpected staycation and we Brits cannot countenance a sunny holiday without booze?

I concluded it was all of the above, plus, I was seeking refuge from the rigours of home-schooling three kids more interested in screens than spellings.

There’s a reason why gin is called ‘mother’s ruin’. And mothers of the past didn’t even have to deal with the torturous forces of Microsoft Teams or Google classrooms.

I also blame online shopping. Twelve bottles of Picpoul de Pinet look bad in a supermarket trolley. But when it’s arriving under the cover of a Morrisons delivery man, it seems a shame not to take advantage of his muscles.

The liberation of daily lie-ins also gave night-time drinking a pleasurable freedom unfamiliar to anyone who does school runs or a daily commute.

The usual nagging voice reminding me about the dawn alarm at 10pm as I edged towards another glass was conspicuously, joyously absent.

There were only two days during lockdown I didn’t drink. It took deep reserves of self-restraint not to watch the garden grow dark with a glass of Provence Rosé. But I remember reading the liver needs time to recover, but can do so rather quickly, hence getting back on it the day after.

I scored 12 on the questionnaire —which I don’t think is so bad. Although it qualifies as harmful, I’ve never assaulted anyone, needed an early morning drink or been warned by a health professional.

But it’s back to normal light drinking during the week — at least until the next lockdown.


Toby Young

I became so alcohol dependent during lockdown that I fired off a furious email to the chief executive of Majestic when I discovered it would take over a week to deliver a box of wine

I didn’t think my drinking could get much worse, but it has in the past six months. Since the lockdown was imposed, I’ve steadily drunk more and more.

I scored 28 on the questionnaire and was slightly taken aback to discover that, for men, any score that’s above 15 indicates ‘alcohol dependence’.

In truth, I got off lightly. For instance, when I answered the question, ‘Have you or someone else been injured as a result of your drinking?’ I ticked C (‘Yes, during the past year’) but could have ticked a D if there had been another answer designed to ferret out the really heavy boozers: ‘Yes, last night.’

No, I didn’t run anyone down. I fell over while getting out of the Uber my friends had poured me into after a work lunch went on for longer than anticipated. This was at 9.30pm.

I became so alcohol dependent during lockdown that I fired off a furious email to the chief executive of Majestic when I discovered it would take over a week to deliver a box of wine. I could just about understand food deliveries being delayed, but wine? Surely, alcohol delivery men are key workers?

In the past, when my drinking has got out of hand I’ve stopped and gone cold turkey. Indeed, I gave up for two years when I was courting my wife in order to persuade her I didn’t have a ‘problem’. Rather shamefully, I started again on our wedding day.

I see a dry January in my future. If I fall over while getting out of an Uber again, I may end up in the divorce courts.


Shona Sibary

I didn’t bother doing the quiz. I know I drink too much. Pre-Covid, I would have happily described myself as a ‘daily moderate’.

Basically, one or two glasses of wine in the evening, possibly preceded by a cheeky gin and tonic. Anything to take the edge off my four self-entitled children and, well, you know, life.

But since the beginning of lockdown, the wheels have come off.

I didn’t bother doing the quiz. I know I drink too much. Pre-Covid, I would have happily described myself as a ‘daily moderate’

You know when you are mulling over whether to make a Margarita or a Porn Star Martini on a school night things have got a little out of hand.

Back at the beginning, it seemed perfectly acceptable to start cocktail hour at 5pm. Or 4pm. I wasn’t being driven to drink by the demands of home-schooling young children all day (I gave up on that pretty early on), but by my older teenagers insisting I partake in Instagram’s daily ‘down a pint’ challenge and beer pong in the garden.

For us, it was a way of keeping spirits up while simultaneously downing them at an alarming rate. I think at one point in April we were averaging a bottle of vodka every two days.

I admit it felt like being on holiday. Normal rules ceased to exist and I struggled to care whether none of us got up until noon.

I learnt quite early on that probably the best approach to lockdown with teenagers was taking the path of least resistance. So I didn’t just turn a blind eye to them using the ironing board to line up nightly Jagerbombs, I actively got stuck in. And, I’m not ashamed to say we had a blast.

The problem now, of course, is trying to revert to behaving sensibly. We should — and will — stop. Just maybe not tonight.


Rowan Pelling

I entered lockdown thinking I’d suddenly stopped liking alcohol

I entered lockdown thinking I’d suddenly stopped liking alcohol. For three weeks, no wine touched my lips — something that’s only ever happened when I’ve been pregnant.

It later transpired this was the first symptom of Covid-19, rapidly followed by loss of appetite, leg pains and a fever. When the virus retreated, I returned to booze with renewed gusto. My score of ten on the quiz doesn’t surprise me.

Many evenings involved ‘Zoom cocktail hour’, where it seemed rude not to brandish a Negroni, or three. Campari became my new tipple of choice mixed with something stronger because the vibrant colour cheered me up.

Slowly, stealthily, my home boozing accelerated. I’ve always been a social drinker — who can stop at one glass when in your own kitchen. But all that ‘me time’ led to self-soothing with whatever was on offer at our local Sainsbury’s. Once I found pink grapefruit tonic; my gin consumption doubled.

When the lockdown rules finally relaxed, I started seeing other school mums for outdoor drinks. One friend has a particularly lethal way with Margaritas and would dispense them from a large cocktail shaker into glasses we brought from our own homes.

There was an infamous evening when I had one too many. As I tried to cycle home at midnight, everyone warned me I shouldn’t mount my bicycle until I’d cleared a large patch of gravel on the path.

‘No, no, I’ll be fine!’ I assured them. Three seconds later, I was flat on my back with my bicycle on top of me.

‘Then I picked myself up, got back on the bike and fell straight over again — like a sozzled Buster Keaton performing midnight stunts.

That’s when I realised lockdown had dismantled my booze brakes. I’ve only just got them back in working order.


Kathy Lette

During this whole coronavirus catastrophe, I’ve been very picky about what I drink — it has to be alcohol

During this whole coronavirus catastrophe, I’ve been very picky about what I drink — it has to be alcohol.

I realised that alcohol is not just a social lubricant but also an anaesthetic. During lockdown a stiff drink or ten often felt like the only way to cope with the angst, confusion and mounting death toll.

With the first easing of lockdown, I was so overexcited to see my best girlfriend after a two-month separation that we downed nearly a whole bottle of vodka.

A classic Ab Fab scenario shortly ensued when my 27-year-old daughter arrived home from a teetotal picnic in the park with her equally responsible friends to find her mother disco dancing around the living room in her bra and her godmother — the one with a PhD from Cambridge — throwing up in the loo.

When I woke in the morning, my my mouth was like the bottom of a budgie cage. All I could eat for the rest of the day was soup as everything else was too noisy.

Sure, only the recycling blokes know how much your alcohol consumption has risen during lockdown, but the hangovers are harder to hide.

Chastened by my darling daughter’s sensible sobriety, I tried to explain that I’d decided to donate my body to science so was simply making sure it was preserved and pickled for posterity.

But, of course, dignity is the one thing that alcohol doesn’t preserve. ‘Do you think you’re starting to drink to excess?’, asked my 29-year-old son as I poured a hair-of-the-dog.

‘Not at all . . . At the moment I’ll drink to anything!’ I joked. ‘Besides, if I go for a blood test I’m sure they’ll find a small amount of blood in my alcohol system.’

But his admonition hit home. So, am I cutting back? Yes. Although, miraculously I scored a mere five in the quiz, I’m now only drinking at weekends. Will I give up completely? No way.


Jackie Clune 

The first few evenings were hard, facing the alarming death-toll stone cold sober

At the start of lockdown, I would have scored a 12 on the questionnaire, as a highly functioning and regular guzzler of wine and whisky. When the Government closed all the drinking establishments, friends called from the pub in its last hours to invite me for ‘one last drink’ — but I was already half cut.

The announcements depressed me so much — with four teenagers, including one whose GCSEs had just been cancelled, and no work in my beloved theatre for the foreseeable future — that I went to my Happy Napa Valley place.

In March and April, my boozing started earlier and earlier — a sun downer at six became a fixer at five, and soon I was hitting the bottle just as Witty and Johnson hit the podium for the daily briefing.

My husband Richard and I got through 24 bottles of wine and two litres of whisky in three weeks. Then, in May, I woke up one day and thought, ‘Enough!’ I could see which way this was going. I could feel myself sliding into dependence — and it scared me. So I quit.

The first few evenings were hard, facing the alarming death-toll stone cold sober. But after a week I felt so much more positive. I started writing again — a novel I have almost finished thanks to my sober lockdown.

As for that alcohol questionnaire, I’m happy scoring a big fat zero.


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