Are you having one too many Quarantinis?

So, are YOU having one too many Quarantinis? Social butterfly LIZ HOGGARD never drank at home, but now (like many others) she’s sipping her way through self-isolation

  • Liz Hoggard explored alcohol consumption across the UK during quarantine
  • She said we ‘re impressing friends online with colourful mixers and garnishes 
  • She warns that there are new rules of etiquette for virtual social events

Surreptitiously I glance at my watch: 4.30pm — still too early? Wouldn’t hurt to start chopping the mint and crushing the ice. Those pink peppercorns add a bit of zip to the glass. And where’s my laptop?

The cat gives me a droll look, as if to say: ‘Isn’t wine o’clock getting earlier every day?’

I confess I’m the original social butterfly, normally out every night for films, theatre and cocktails with friends. So when the UK lockdown was announced last week, I realised with a heavy heart that it was going to be a lonely summer chez Hoggard.

I never drink at home. It’s no great temptation. I’m a social drinker who loves the company of others too much. My most cherished evenings have involved dancing in friends’ kitchens at 2am.

Liz Hoggard (pictured) explored how the UK’s alcohol consumption has changed amid the ongoing coronavirus lockdown 

So, with the prospect of being quarantined solo for months, I imagined a nun-like existence of early nights, improving novels, and cocoa (the news is so painful at the moment that the only solution is to go to bed at 9pm). Would I go insane?

But actually, the social diary has never been so full, as our friends and colleagues find ingenious ways to stay in touch remotely. This evening I’m joining a WhatsApp video chat with friends abroad, followed by a Zoom conference call with great pals. We’re also going to try to sign up to the Houseparty app (if it’s good enough for Camilla…). And cocoa most certainly isn’t on the agenda.

I’m not the only one swopping martinis for alcoholic ‘quarantinis’. A friend with type 1 diabetes has been self-isolating for weeks, so her neighbours gather outside her garden to raise a toast with her. And there are lovely photos of people having a drink outside the homes of their grandparents’ (now known as Distance Drinks).

No one’s getting completely trolleyed you understand (we’re all mindful of our immune strength). Though if the zombie apocalypse is looming, well, is it really quite so important to drink fizzy water between each glass? And who on earth can watch the News at Ten sober?

In this new parched-earth landscape, as we frantically hope scientists will find a vaccine, alcohol suddenly seems like a patriotic duty. A small communal way to raise cheer. The Government has even deemed that off-licences are essential and can stay open.

Normal service no longer applies. My friend Eve drank a bottle of champagne with caviar for breakfast this week, and Whats-Apped the pictures to me. It was her birthday — what else was she meant to do solo?

Liz claims ordering new flavours of beverages is a tiny distraction from world events, that makes us feel productive (file image)

Of course, for the Instagram generation what your drink looks like is as important as the taste. So now we’re searching out colourful mixers and garnishes to impress friends during online sessions.

A colleague enthuses: ‘I’m having FaceTime Fizz at 7pm. Waitrose does these brilliant tins of English fizz — one big glass a go, perfect!’ I blame Fleabag. When she shared gin in a tin with the Hot Priest on the BBC show, it went viral. In my fridge I have pink grapefruit tonic water with bergamot, and raspberry gin and sicilian lemon tonic in a can.

Ordering new flavours is a tiny distraction from world events. It makes us feel productive. I’m even buying a kitchen garden herbs set, so I can grow my own mint and basil to garnish that G&T.

And of course we have the excuse that we’re improving our tech skills. At 50+ it’s very easy to just stick with what you know (Facebook, texting), so it’s great we’re learning to use new apps and social media platforms over a bottle of wine with friends (where we can make mistakes away from those judgy millennials).

Connecting online is the new normal, from Pilates classes to therapy and book groups. ‘Zoom is where we now work, go to school and party,’ The New York Times reported recently.

But be warned, there are new rules of etiquette about virtual drinking (inevitable when we’re uptight English people). Don’t let anyone know you’re planning to leave their party early to head to a more exciting online gathering.

Liz advises pacing yourself with a non-alcoholic tipple for your first virtual drink of the night, and then moving onto units in your next session (file image)

Personally I’m a virtual social butterfly, abruptly leaving one chatroom as another friend is dialling in for a drink; crashing into a new session; and then double-booking nights out (or rather in). It’s only week two, and the virtual diary is nearly full. How did we ever find time to leave the house?

With so many parties to choose from, it’s good to pace yourself with a non-alcoholic tipple (Seedlip and Fever Tree Aromatic tonic, say) for the first virtual drink of the night, and then use your units for the next session.

But people can get angry if they spot you’re saving your alcohol for a more interesting companion. ‘Oh, I see, I’m not the fun one,’ a friend said to me, accusingly.

And at the risk of sounding like a Fifties housewife, dressing up for drinks is starting to become A Thing. A nice frock. A slick of lipstick. Maybe even a bra (none of us are wearing bras now, right?).

After a day in tracksuit bottoms it’s cheering to make a bit of an effort. ‘I put on make-up last night for Skype. I never do that for my husband,’ a friend told me.

It’s interesting how squiffy you can feel after just one drink when you’re catching up with friends after a day of terrifying headlines.

I’ve always loved the maxim ‘Drink better. Drink less’, which roughly translates as ‘Have one fabulous martini, rather than a vat of house white’ — though I’ve rarely managed to observe it. But weirdly the new virtual drinking feels quite mindful.

Liz warns that you need to be careful if you’re online shopping after a virtual drinking session (file image)

The conversation with our friends is better, too. We haven’t talked so much about things that really matter in years. I’d argue it’s like public-service broadcasting.

Our very different groups of friends can give the best advice in a crisis — where to find eggs (rarer than hen’s teeth); the best way to cook aubergine; or the only TV show midlife women should be watching (Better Things on BBC iPlayer — you’ll thank me).

Though you do need to be careful if you’re doing a spot of cosmic ordering (aka online shopping) after a virtual drinking session.

A friend left a Skype session several vodkas to the wind, having been tipped off about a new local fresh fruit supplier that delivers.

She immediately went online and ordered a luscious-looking basket of apples, pears and bananas. Except upon delivery she realised she’d, ahem, panic-bought a 5,000-piece premium quality jigsaw puzzle — admittedly the jigsaw picture was of a luscious-looking fruit basket. I think the vodka fumes still haven’t quite settled.

Errors aside, it’s touching we all want to stay connected. Friendships that have lain dormant for years are suddenly firing again, and we’re getting sneak previews of each other’s houses/children/husbands.

But there is a serious side, too. On Thursday night everyone in my street went to their window or front door, glass in hand, to cheer and applaud the brilliant NHS workers who are fighting to keep us alive. As spoons and sieves were banged, we all raised a toast to the new heroes of the 21st century.

I’ve never met most of my neighbours before. We couldn’t hug, or even stand close, but it felt like the most wonderful Distance Drinks. I imagine no pub or wine bar meet-up will ever feel so special.

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