Magazine article The Spectator

Units Minus Time

Magazine article The Spectator

Units Minus Time

Article excerpt

On Sunday, fielding in the gully, I passed some of the time between balls calculating how many pints of bitter I could allow myself when it was our turn to bat and drive home without being wildly over the limit. The arithmetic was fairly simple: the number of pints consumed, multiplied by two for the number of 'units', minus one unit metabolised for every hour we'd been playing. The delicious egg-and-cress sandwiches we'd stuffed down our throats at tea allowed me to massage the final figure slightly upwards. Though it behoved me, too, to take into account that I'd put one or both of my contact lenses in inside-out that morning and the world was a blur drunk or sober.

The Alcohol Awareness course I'd been on the last time I was banned from driving taught me how to make the units-minus-time calculation. On the floor of the classroom was a large clock-face. The nice lady teacher asked for a volunteer and this curly-haired giant who called everyone 'thee' and 'thou' stepped up. He was called Floyd, he said.

The idea of the game, said the teacher, was to imagine it was Friday evening. 'So what time, Floyd, would you go to the pub?' Floyd thought carefully. 'Well if it's Froiday,' he said, 'I wouldn't get there till about foive, maybe 'aaf past.' The teacher gently positioned Floyd on to the clock-face at half-past five. 'And how many pints would you have normally?' she said. 'About foive, I s'pose.' 'Which would take you up to what time, roughly?' 'Six o'clock,' said Floyd promptly. 'Because then I goes 'ome to change and 'ave me tea.' The teacher counted out ten blue cards or 'units' and gave them to him. Then she gently positioned him at six o'clock and the questions about his alcohol intake continued.

After having his tea Floyd returned to the pub, where he drank about 15 pints of bitter. Then he went home, where he polished off a bottle of vodka. By the time he'd reached the two o'clock in the morning mark he'd amassed 52 blue cards, having returned just eight to account for the alcohol he'd metabolised. His Saturday total of blue alcohol unit cards was 50.

The moral of the story, said the teacher, before the next person stepped up, was that that even if Floyd curled up with a good book on Sunday night, he'd still be well over the legal blood-alcohol limit for driving his car on Monday, and slightly over perhaps even on Tuesday morning. …

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