Why sunshine makes us want to get smashed

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There’s something about summer that makes us want to sprint to the nearest beer garden, says Catherine Gray. But, for her, it rarely turned out to be the picturesque pint she pictured

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By Catherine Gray on

When I quit drinking, back in 2013, there was one ferociously strong trigger that nobody warned me about. I expected to experience an itch for wine in a pub, a scratch for beer at a gig, an urge for Champagne at a wedding. Gotcha. Duly warned.

But it was when the sky turned from dove-grey to kingfisher-blue, and when the sun turned from a delicate disc to a blazing ball, that I experienced my most unexpected, urgent cravings.

There's something about sunshine that makes us want to sprint to a beer garden, inexplicably order rosé and throw it down our throats. Last year's April-July heatwave saw a £158 million surge in alcohol sales.

Why? Genius marketing. If NASA did moonshot marketing campaigns, the machine around alcohol would be the result. We're implicitly or explicitly told that getting drunk is the key to a sensational summer.

I was particularly haunted by Corona's “This is living” adverts; a mash-up of surfing, sandy toes, freediving and sunsets. Until I remembered that I can do all of those things without beer. And that surfing or freediving after beer is a dumbass idea.

Last year, Malibu used the strapline “Because summer” in their campaigns; Gordon's launched pink-gin spritz (served with strawberries); Martini went with a red-dress-clad model dancing around Rome's cobbled streets; Orchard Thieves depicted sunshiney rooftop parties; while the Bud Light ad featured a beach shindig replete with Chinese-lantern lighting, horse riding and dancing in animal masks around a bonfire (heck, I want an invite to that).

We inextricably link BBQs with Pimm's, pavement cafés with an Aperol Spritz, and park picnics with prosecco. We've been conditioned to do so, just as Pavlov's dogs salivated on the bell or Little Albert yowled at the sight of the white rat.

Personally speaking, it's in everyone's interests that I don't drink, given my propensity to take my clothes off in inappropriate places, break stuff, shout at people and pull men I don't actually like. So, the way I deal with the sunshine-craving is thus:

I dismantle the fantasy and replace it with reality. Has a white-wine spritzer ever resulted in my going on a spontaneous trip to the coast in a convertible, to try on joke sunglasses and jape around on a horsey carousel? Nope.

My vision? Throw on a summer dress, have a few and glide home at 9pm on a wine-and-sunshine glow, to make a wholesome stir fry . Did that ever happen? Did it hell

Even my more measured beer-garden fantasies never happened. My vision? Throw on a summer dress, have a few, laugh hard and then glide home at 9pm on a wine-and-sunshine glow, to make a wholesome stir fry and watch a film. Did that ever happen? Did it hell.

Because my sunshine drinking-sessions always started so much earlier, at say 4pm, they wound up being so much messier. As the sun dipped, I gradually shed my belongings, dignity, romantic standards and ability to say words successfully. I lost countless bags, keys, shoes and, once, a pair of bookends and a birthday cake. During one drinking-on-a-common howler, I was even turned away from a Be At One for being too drunk to get in. I know.

Secondly, I use drinking and sober split-screening. On a typical drinking Saturday, the first hour or two would be fun-times but, given I could cane a bottle of wine in two hours, thereafter my memory would start to fuzz, skip and be interspersed with horrifying episodes of me doing things I never normally would. Sunday would be spent wrapped in the duvet, self-loathing and dread of terse “about last night” texts.

Whereas my sunny sober weekends feature 9am yoga, long river walks, exhibitions, comedy shows and feeling good all the damn time, not just for a couple of hours.

Finally, I think about my long-term self. There was a brilliant Humans Of New York recently where she said she wished she'd done less partying, because "there are two selves. There's your short-term self, and there's your long-term self. And if you're only true to your short-term self, your long-term self slowly decays."

That, for me, sums it up. My overwhelming natural urge is to answer the “gimme!” urge of my short-term self. When I read about the Stanford marshmallow experiment, I was like, “who even ARE these kids who choose to wait, in order to get two marshmallows... psychopaths”.

But I have gradually learned to listen to my long-term self, a self who knows this for sure: a happy hour or two is not worth the remainder of my weekend being unhappy. The beer garden is just as dappled, friendly and sparkly with elderflower presse in my glass.

I'm now hanging with the confounding “big-picture” kids who waited for the double marshmallows. And I like it here, I really do.


Catherine Gray's book, The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober, is published by Aster

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