I didn’t even realise that today was Saint Patrick’s day until I turned up at what turned out to be a Saint Patrick’s day party and had a can of Guinness thrust at me.
“Nope,” I said firmly, “I’ve given it up for Lent.”
“Although I suppose Saint Patrick’s day is a feast day,” I added, “so officially I’m allowed.”
“But I think that’s cheating,” I explained, working my thoughts through out loud, “so I’m not having any. No, sorry, I can’t. I mustn’t.”
At which point I thought: Lark, stop being a literal protestant. You’ve proved you don’t need to drink, you’ve proved you can even turn down a drink on this most important feast of Saint Patrick, but it’s not even about self-discipline now, it’s a superstitious avoidance of alcohol for reasons which at best you’re hazy on but which this particular day you can’t even find justification for in medieval religious law. Do you want a drink? Have a bloody drink then.
So I had a drink.
Which is not to say I got plastered. I tasted a tiny bit of the Liffey, I chased it with a single lager, and that was all.
Alastair arrived at the party as I finished my lager and told me with contempt that I had failed. I patiently explained to him that, having proved I was self-disciplined enough to give up, turn down and generally abstain from alcohol, on this day I was demonstrating that I was not bound to an irrational fundamentalist adherence to a self-imposed regime of suffering, and also that – faith and begorah – I think Saint Patrick was a jolly good chap.
Alastair replied “you make it sound like some kind of triumph when in fact it’s just a dreadful capitulation.”
But it is clear that Alastair’s abstinence has become something of an aggressive obsession, and as he himself admits he is now afraid to so much as walk past an off-licence for fear of contamination. And lest you feel this is all empty self-justification, let me remind you what we have learned this week about the dangers of obsessive religious fundamentalism: it only leads to you creeping up on your next door neighbour and attempting to strangle him to death.
That’s right. Alastair is well on his way to becoming the next Harold Bishop. And there, frankly, but for the grace of God, go I.