I blame my father. I have never been able to work out why he made me a member of the Sons of Temperance movement when I was only three years old, but he did. He wasn't a teetotaller himself nor did he hold particularly strong views about drink. My brother - who was enrolled at the same time - always claims that it was the influence of the chap next door - for some reason he was always known as Wiggy - who was big in the Sons and who collected our weekly sixpence. For whatever reason, I became a card carrying member. Long before I was ever tempted to sip a milk stout or pass through the swinging doors of the public bar, indeed long before I had lost my milk teeth, I was a fully-fledged, stone cold sober abstainer. Before people get too worried, I have to say that it didn't last long. Wiggy mysteriously vanished from our lives (the rumor was that he had run off with the barmaid from the White Horse) and natural teenage rebellion set in. I took to alcohol with the enthusiasm of a convert and I have never looked back since.
Before I go much further I need to put in a word of warning of the "do not try this at home" variety. I am well aware of the potentially harmful nature of alcohol, both in a medical and a social sense. I am also aware of the fact that many people have a very real problem with potential addiction to alcohol. However, I have been blessed with a meritorious relationship with alcohol : I am able to enjoy its effects without in any way becoming dependent upon it. One night I am quite happy to go to the pub and have three or four pints, and then for three or four nights I am happy to have nothing more intoxicating than a mug of strong tea. And so I am able to enjoy alcohol, and all the things that go with it : the real ales, the cozy pubs, the industrious breweries, the sun-stoked vinyards and the salt-lashed distilleries. And, of course, the bottles.
Strangely enough, bottled beer is not at the top of my alcoholic hit parade. Call me traditional if you like, but I always think that beer should gush out of a hand-pump under the guidance of a comely barmaid (OK, call me a traditionalist and a sexist if you like). Lager I drink out of bottles and I prefer it that way, but that is mainly down to the fact that it is difficult to find a half-decent draught larger in this country. Wine should come from bottles - never boxes. But, in my mind, the finest content of any bottle must be a single malt whisky. Pride of place in my room is given to a small collection of single malts which I have acquired over recent years. I am working my way through them, when the spirit takes me, so to speak. When the last drop is eventually consumed you might think that all I will be left with is the bottle. But there will also be a warm aftertaste and a powerfully rich memory.