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Sober Life
by Sinclair Newton



Sober Life

We're talking desert islands this week, as opposed to ecologically-threatened, sybaritic ones. With or without the Poseidon Adventure, which José P Ribas goes on about (believe me, it's entrancing) on his eco page this week.

As it happens, I do listen to Desert Island Discs on the BBC Home Service, which you can get with a short wave radio in Ibiza without too much interference.

Not that I know when it's on: it's like Alastair Cook. He seems to be on all the time and for all I know he drones on about the same things every week.

It's radio wallpaper. Not exactly Radio Gaga, but I find myself wondering whether he's still alive and whether he ever has a drink.

It's that piggy-like Julie Burchill that started this by posing an intriguing question in the Guardian.

If alcoholism is a disease or an illness, she grunted, why can't you see it? I mean, you can see cancer can't you?

It's one of those "pull yourself together" directives people aim at anorexics and depressives.

But I think she had a point when she said there is a difference only a desert island could expose.

Get the picture: two men are shipwrecked. One has terminal cancer. The other is just an alcoholic. Both are going to die soon if their condition goes on.

What happens next on their dreadful island idyll is that the cancer victim dies a lingering death. But the alcoholic makes a complete recovery because he can't get a drink. He has no way of fermenting coconut milk, for instance.

His problem wouldn't just sort of go away, it would be gone.

I put this to one of those counsellors who earns a living from advising addicts by imagining their own problems in life are somehow compatible with the urgent urge that ruins a drinker's thought.

"Ah," she said. Actually she said something that sounded more like "Huh!"

But the cancer patient (I liked the idea of him being patient, if not a patient) could have a remission. And anyway the alcoholic could die from withdrawal. "That does happen you know," she said, as if she knew what I knew.

I'll digress here, and I will question whether counsellors should have had the problem they are counselling about.

Do you expect the consultant who treats your cancer should have experienced the disease to be sufficiently sensitive to treat you?

O.K., I'll concede that one.

But piggy Julie doesn't have this little local difficulty.

She's one of those people that can boastfully wear a tee-shirt saying: "DRINK PROBLEM? GIVE ME A DRINK AND IT'S NO PROBLEM."

Alcoholism counsellors should realise it would be ten times better if only you could take them out for a drink.

Sinclair Newton