My first taste of booze was back in the early 1980s, when I was bit a small child getting a sip of wine at the Sunday lunch table. My parents, being middle-class, hadn't quite evolved their culinary tastes beyond Hirondelle, Blue Nun and - I shudder as I write these words, such are the memories of evil they bring back - Yugoslav Laski Riesling, with a picture of a twig and a small bird on the side of the bottle.
They hadn't evolved their food tastes much either. Apart from roast dinner, food consisted of still-frozen veg or baked beans on the side of a plate that contained some form of mystery meat, often liver, with great crunchy domes of mashed potato. It was like school dinners at home. 'Curry', for example, was a despicable Uncle Ben's affair with sodding great lumps of carrot and sultana in the middle of a lake of brown slop surrounded by flavourless rice. No wonder I hated curry until I was 27. No wonder I hated everything, really, come to think of it. But it was the wine that really made me retch. Yugoslav Laski Riesling.
Yeurgh! Just writing those words sends a torrent of sickly-sweet Jesus Juice rushing over my tongue once again, reminding me of how I was put off alcohol for years by the sheer horror of the taste of it.
That's why I think Dave Cameron's got it wrong, on this matter as well as just about everything he's ever said. I know he's trying hard to try and appeal to people who hate others having fun, and I'm sure his plan to tax the poor by making the things they enjoy more expensive, as outlined today, will go down well with the middle classes who hate the idea of poor people, vagrants and generally bad sorts who don't drive Volvos being able to get trolleyed. Why should they?
The Conservatives say they will raise tax on super-strength beer, cider and alcopops to tackle binge drinking if they win the next general election.
But not, interestingly enough, Pimm's, champagne, brandy or port. Trebles all round at the Conservative Club later then (until I burn it down, of course).
Tax on alcopops would be trebled, but money raised would be used to reduce tax on low-strength beer and cider.
What kind of posturing madness is this? Does Cameron not understand that some of the finest beers, the most beautiful creations in the world, are high strength? Does he not know that down in the West Country we brush our teeth in zyder? Well, probably not, I imagine. Strong drinks = oiks in the Tory Big Book of Simplifying Complicated Things. Oh well.
Does he really think that sticking a few pence on the cost of an alcopop is going to make the blindest bit of difference? Really? Presumably he also believes that alcopops are a new invention. The fool. He'll never have found himself rolling around the streets at 3am after a couple of bottles of MD 20/20, the precursor to this wonderful world of fruity liquor we have nowadays - yes, the orangey delights or the kiwi fruit awfulness were the highlight of many a formative drinking session of mine - they tasted just the same pouring out of my nose and mouth while hunched over someone's front garden as they did going in - sometimes it seemed even nicer. Mind you, I couldn't afford charlie to get off my nut, so there you go. Different strokes for different folks, isn't it?
There have always been high-strength, low-cost options for drinkers who want to squeeze that extra bit of value-for-money out of their intoxication. I don't mean the three-litre option of Zeppelin or Omega cider (or Natch, round my way) - no, there are other things to resort to. Not only was there 20/20 in my youth, but also the loveliness of Thunderbird wine - nowadays, the best pound-for-pound puncher in the drinks world is the much-overlooked delight of sherry. So what Cameron will do is stop kids drinking alcopops and get them on the Harveys Bristol Cream. Is that really progress? I suppose if you're a Tory, it is. Makes people a better class of person if they're pissed on sherry as opposed to pissed on some loganberry flavoured nonsense, doesn't it? Not really, but another triumph of style over content.
If Cameron really wanted to stop kids drinking, he should bring back terrible 1980s sweet wines, the kind of thing that made me sick to my stomach as a child, and make them 10p a bottle. Better still, hand them out in school playgrounds to give kids a harsh taste of alcohol and make them never want to try the stuff again. Well, it's an idea - which is more than Cameron has about alcohol.