At what age does it become infra dig to get drunk in public? Some people might say that it’s always unacceptable, no matter how young and student-like you are. But the older you get, the more embarrassing it becomes.
Take my own behaviour at James Delingpole’s book party. At the advanced age of 48, I really shouldn’t stay at book launches for more than half an hour. The sensible thing would have been to pop in at 6.30 p.m., drink a single glass of wine, buy a copy of James’s book and then be home in time for supper.
Well, I had no problem getting there early. It was the leaving part that proved difficult. James’s book is called Watermelons, the label he gives to people who are green on the outside but red on the inside. Unfortunately, by the time I left at around 11p.m. I was the opposite of a watermelon: red in the face and green around the gills. I was so blotto, I ended up heading to the Groucho Club in a taxi with a bunch of pissed hacks, even though I’ve been banned from the Groucho since 2001.
I was bleeding at this point, having fallen and hit my head, though you probably wouldn’t have noticed on account of the fact that my suit and shirt were liberally covered in red wine. Not a good look for a man approaching his sixth decade.
Before I relate how the evening turned out, let me offer a few excuses. For one thing, there were waiters running around with bottles of champagne. Usually at these events you have to battle a scrum of freeloading hacks crowding round the bar, which means you’re lucky if you manage to drink a couple of units per hour. But not on this occasion.
Then there was the excellent company. It was like a gathering of every right-wing nutjob — sorry, centre-right intellectual — in the western hemisphere. Looking around at all these distinguished authors and journalists, I was reminded of Jabba the Hutt’s nightclub in Return of the Jedi. What a bunch of freaks! ‘I’m among my own people at last,’ I thought.
But the real villain of the piece — the man I blame for everything that happened subsequently — was Nigel Farage. The Ukip leader turned up at about 9p.m. and after a robust exchange of views I challenged him to a drinking competition. Farage is something of a legend in this department — the sort of fact that would deter a sober man from engaging in such a contest, but has the opposite effect after you’ve had a few.
Well, dear reader, all I can say is that his reputation is thoroughly deserved. After God knows how many vodka shots — I lost count after number six — Nigel was his usual dapper self, whereas I was lurching around like an OAP on roller skates. I believe I broke a glass, though I have no recollection of it, and the hour between 10p.m. and 11p.m. is now a black hole.
Okay, so I’m in the taxi, on my way to the Groucho, bleeding from the head and surrounded by hard-drinking colleagues. It could have all gone so horribly wrong — or, rather, even more wrong — had it not been for my wife. She called to see why I hadn’t come home, quickly established that I’d lost the power of speech, and demanded to speak to the driver. She then told him, in a tone that brooked no opposition, to bring me back to Acton immediately.
As you can imagine, this caused much merriment among the assembled hacks who immediately started doing Indiana Jones impressions and making whipping sounds. But after Caroline had spoken to each of them in turn, they quickly came around to her point of view and slunk out of the cab.
Half an hour later, the driver deposited me on my doorstep, unconscious.
‘You’re too old to get that drunk,’ Caroline said the next day, and it’s hard to disagree. This sort of behaviour was undignified when I was in my early thirties, but it’s positively humiliating in my late forties. To ram home the point, she made me get up with the kids at the crack of dawn the following morning — not an experience I want to repeat in a hurry. Even now, over a week later, there’s still an imaginary sign above the doorway to my garden office saying ‘doghouse’. I won’t be out of it for some time.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.