Why I’m leaving the mental arithmetic at home (along with the car)

  • List.co.uk
  • 22 December 2008
Why I’m leaving the late night mental arithmetic at home (along with the car)

Late night mental arithmetic. I’ve done it, you’ve done it. Pretty much everybody’s done it at some point. And over the simplest of questions:


A swift look at the watch. Some brow-furrowing. A quick conflab about how long you’re planning to stay out and perhaps a quick tally of how many you’ve had.

"OK, go on then. But just one more then I’m off. I’ve got the car."

I’m sure someone told me once that it takes an hour for the alcohol in a pint of beer to leave your system – before you feel clearheaded again – so if you’ve had two pints over two hours you should be under the limit. Late night mental arithmetic made simple, and by and large this used to be a pretty easy game to play, but a few things have happened in my life over the last few years that have thrown a spanner in the works.

Firstly, I’ve stopped drinking the rank dishwater that passes for lager in most pubs, and developed a taste for finer beers in life, usually continental ones. These beers are strong though, (not to mention more expensive, but that’s another story) usually above 5% and way over the 3.5% norm. I found out the other day that one pint of the full strength beer can put you over the limit. Or one glass of wine. Not surprising though when you see the size of the wine glasses these days. Sometimes I expect to see a goldfish in them.

But, something else has changed my attitude as well. I got stopped by the police - twice in the same week. Five years since I passed my test with barely any interest in my car from anyone and then twice in one week. Last Christmas I was driving into town on a Sunday morning and was pulled over for doing 36.6mph (said the speedgun) in a 30mph zone. I apologised, saying I hadn’t noticed (I hadn’t). You know how it is. The car in front was going the same speed but I was the one who was stopped. Then a funny thing happened. He breathalysed me. Yep, at 9am in the morning. I’ve never started drinking that early. Not even on a stag night. The two guys were nice about it when they realised I was sober. I got a friendly warning and they explained that they can breathalyse you now for any moving traffic offence which means if you are stopped for having a faulty brake light, you can also be breathalysed. They catch loads of people every year who are driving the morning after a big night who are way, way over the limit without even realising it. Too often the fuzzy head is put down to a hangover when often they’re actually still drunk.

Things didn't turn out so well for my friend Colin though, who is 27 now, but last year had just qualified as a secondary teacher when he got caught for drink- driving. He was coming home after seeing a band one night and had three beers over the course of the whole evening and reckoned he was fine to drive as he’s stopped drinking hours ago. He got stopped on the way home. He was over the limit. He got fined £2,500 and banned from driving for a year. It could have been a lot worse for him though. Luckily he’d already accepted a job offer at a school for his first teaching post, so didn’t have to face the shame of having it brought up at every single interview and being pretty much unemployable, but smaller things have made more of a difference.

He had to be driven everywhere by his girlfriend for a year. He’s not allowed to drive the school minibus and had to tell his colleagues it was because he had a drink-driving conviction. Somehow it got back to one of the kids in school and now every child in the school knows him as the ‘alcoholic teacher’. All from three pints of beer. He’s changed as a person since it happened and is not the carefree cheery guy I used to know. He split with his girlfriend eventually. It was pretty horrible. He’s looking to move schools, as the taunting from the kids is really getting to him, but he can’t find another job.

So I count myself lucky that I get to tell Colin’s story as his and not my own, as there were probably been times in the past when I have driven home over the limit and completely unaware of being moments away from changing my own life forever. Colin is lucky in way. It’s only his own life he’s messed up.

Thinking about the culture of alcohol in Scotland - and let’s face it, drink does oil the wheels of weddings, work socials and funerals - it struck me that the bit about being in the pub with friends I enjoy the most isn’t drinking (you can do that sitting in some bins down an alley with a bottle of vodka if you want to) it’s the relaxing. Laughing, talking and relaxing. I just can’t relax any more if somewhere in the back of my mind I’m thinking about driving home later on. Or thinking about Colin and how I never see him out these days. I just can’t be bothered with the hassle of worrying about it and calculating how sober I feel.

Now, I get my transport home organised in advance, have a carefree evening of drinking as much as I like, or, if I have the car I just don’t drink at all. I drink or I drive. But not both.

And I relax. Mental arithmetic was never my strongpoint anyway.

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