My name has been in the papers every other day since you and I last met. Not so much ‘in’ as ‘all over’. Allegations of ever weirder behaviour.Serious crimes against children. I used to laugh it off, but that is more difficult now that alcohol is in the picture.In the land of conspicuous consumption, alcohol is the Devil’s weapon. Worse still, while the prosecutor poured out his allegations in Southern California, I was promoting alcohol in Northern California (at Whisky Live in San Francisco). The notion that Michael Jackson may have given alcohol to a child made shock headlines, but I plead guilty. Here’s how it happened.I was not quite 40 when it began. I had a new girlfriend, and we were living together in my house. She had a daughter, who was seven. Suddenly, I was a parent. A good one, I hear from the daughter, now an adult and a parent herself.At dinner, my girlfriend and I would usually have beer or wine (or a cup of tea if we were eating fish and chips). Whatever we were having was offered to her daughter. If she fancied beer, I gave her a small glass. If wine was being served, hers was diluted 50-50 with water. Tea was usually Assam, but I would brew Darjeeling or Orange Pekoe if either was requested.
Spoiling the child? Definitely not: the proof is in the person. Whatever my girlfriend and her former husband have done for their daughter, and whatever parenting I contributed, we are left in no doubt that it is appreciated. The choice of drinks at dinner was not a test, but I hope it taught her to enjoy aromas and flavours, to be discriminating, to listen to advice, make up her own mind, and take responsibility for her desires and decisions.If she insisted upon a soft drink, I warned her that it was not very good for her health, but left her to choose. Nothing was banned.Perhaps this denied her the pleasures of forbidden fruit. If she felt deprived, she did not show it. When she went to college, I missed her, as I knew I would. Like any other parent, I sometimes worried about her, but she was demonstrably a responsible young woman, and had good judgement. Not having had a university education, I cannot speak from first-hand experience, but I believe it can involve a lot of drinking. She knew how to drink, and was unlikely to find herself in trouble after a few beers.Did alcohol have a diabolical effect on her? Apparently not. She had fun at university, and left with a degree in economics. She worked for a year or two as a production manager in a documentary film company, married a young micro-biologist, is a good wife and mother, and is now studying law.She still enjoys a beer. Her interest in whisky is academic. If a new bottling appears in her local liquor store, she is immediately on the phone asking whether I have sampled it.I hope she will eventually develop the taste for a dram, as her husband has done. The appreciation of drink is an art, which has to be learned, and I was doing my best to be a good teacher.If my namesake abused both alcohol and children (and at the time of writing, that is far from proven), the jocular beginning of this column may seem inappropriate. The accusations against him were, indeed, shocking, though in Britain, fewer people perceive alcohol as the work of the Devil.People who would never invoke Lucifer are nonetheless ready to raise alarms over ‘binge drinking.’ The purpose of alcoholic drinks is to provide pleasure, not to cause damage to people or property. You could say the same about cars, for example.Binge drinking is the alcoholic equivalent of joyriding. And about as joyful. Those of us who enjoy a drink should teach our children to do the same. We wouldn’t have them drive a car without a few lessons, would we?