Would Oscar Wilde have made
such a drama out of
January, wonders Roger Ratcliffe

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The poet and playwright Oscar Wilde famously effervesced with witticisms and managed to utter one of the best shortly before he was about to draw his final breath in a dingy Paris hotel. “The wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death,” he is reported to have said. “One of us has got to go.”

While suffering severe writer’s block, Wilde was in the process of blowing what little money he had left on booze when he died of meningitis on the last day of November 1900 at the age of 46. So if such a thing had existed back then he would have been unlikely to effortlessly participate in Dry January judging by another of his famous quotes: “I can resist everything except temptation.”

I remembered those words while also trying to resist temptation and get 2023 off to an arid start. I’m sure they would also strike a chord with other partakers of Dry January. My own cracks at it faltered twice until temperance triumphed over temptation. A friend tells me he gave up after a fortnight, blaming the bottle of his favourite single malt he received at Christmas.

This year is the tenth anniversary of the annual month of abstemiousness. To do it properly you’re supposed sign up online for a 31-day pledge to stay off the bottle and have friends and family sponsor you for each day you are on the wagon. The cash raised supports a charity that campaigns for greater awareness of the effects of alcohol abuse. Just 4,000 UK drinkers took part in the first year but by 2022 the figure was 130,000. That’s surely the tip of iceberg (or should that be ice cube?). Like me, most Dry January participants just do it to give their bodies a break.

Before this year I managed to succeed only once, and although I have never considered myself to be anything like a heavy drinkerI freely admit that I struggled to stay dry. The problem was notso much that I longed for the moderate amounts of beer, cider and wine I normally drink. In fact, I surprised myself by how quicklyI got used to my glass containing diet cola or fruit juice. What Ireally missed was the social sideof imbibing.

Since the last time time I went dry brewers have managed to produce almost passable imitations of their big brand beers containing zero alcohol. Almost is the key word here, because on responding to a friend’s text “Fancy a pint” I discovered that while they may have managed to achieve something approaching the taste of the original drink, what is absent isthe conviviality induced by a modest amount of alcohol andgood company.

I once tried to do Veganuary too. That was a failure, and if it wasn’t cold at this time of year I would take my hat off to those people who managed to complete Veganuary and Dry January together. Such self-denial in the month that is said to be made gloomier by seasonal affective disorder (SAD) surely merits some kind of award.

I am too fond of animal products, and find the substitutes even less convincing than zero alcohol beers. Oscar Wilde, also a carnivore, didn’t mince his words. “I want my food dead,” he once wrote.

Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with theSunday Times Insight team andis the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow himon Twitter @Ratcliffe

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