This is a book I wrote in 2013. For practical reasons I have had to exclude the images that I put in the book.


Although it's a well known fact that facts are not well known, one well known fact is that food makes you fat. Therefore I propose to you a food-lite diet that may help you lose weight, and put you in a good mood to boot.

But of course you will realize that we are just having a bit of fun here, and that this book is not to be taken seriously. (Well, not too seriously.) Yet it may indeed help you lose weight, at least over the three weeks for which the diet runs. After that, who knows what will happen? Perhaps you'll expand like a balloon, or you, and your life, will collapse in a befuddled mess.

In many ways there's nothing very funny about booze. Yes, it brings a lot of people pleasure, but it also causes a lot of problems for a lot of people. Quite frankly I wouldn't mind if they banned the stuff. But few governments would be prepared to do that because of the tax revenues that they get from allowing the mind manipulating liquid to be sold. Alcohol has been around for a long time, and you can be pretty sure it's going to be around for a long time to come.

Based on my own hard-earned experience of gaining weight and losing weight, drinking vodka and (forgive me, Lord, for I know not what I do) drinking water, this is my own non-too-serious, high proof, low nutrition diet book. It covers a period of an imaginary twenty-one days. If you follow the suggestions in this book, you may or may not lose weight, but you're certainly going to feel pretty weird and wonderful by the end of the three weeks, and isn't that really much more important than worrying about your weight?

Remember, though, that despite what you might read here, you must always drink responsibly. And whatever your state of inebriation, you should always be considerate towards other people. For example, when undertaking a thirty-minute bus or train journey, you should only take two cans of white cider with you, and you should keep them out of sight of other people, and you shouldn't let anyone catch you drinking. Next, you must of course check with your doctor before doing anything that involves food and/or drink and/or strenuous exercise (for example, pulling the cork out of that third bottle of wine.) If you are fortunate, you may well find that your doctor is something of an expert on booze, and they may not only to give you tips on how to drink surreptitiously, frequently and in great volume, but they may also help you stagger further down the path of dissolution by encouraging and aiding you to become addicted to prescription drugs.

But for the time being we are merely concerned with losing weight whilst remaining as cheerful as possible, so let us begin the diet. During it I shall be holding your hand, metaphorically speaking. That is, I will be with you in spirit, if not in body.

Day One

The first thing to do at the start of a diet is to weigh yourself. This is not merely a matter of jumping on a set of scales and looking at the dial or read-out. Oh no. It involves much careful preparation. You must start by waking up early on the day of the initial weigh-in (the first day of the diet). I usually rise at 5.45 a.m. I then go and sit on the floor in the lotus position in the corner of the kitchen. There I meditate on life, the universe, and all that. At 6.00 a.m. I cease to be naked and go and adorn myself in glittering raiments, composed of track suit trousers and a hoodie top. Naturally I am be-booted with the latest and trendiest trainers.

I look as though I am ready for serious physical exertion. But you know that before you engage in any very demanding physical activity, it is not just important to be prepared physically, but also to be prepared mentally. The mind must be committed to the task ahead. It must be made firm and resolute. It must become a thing of steel.

So what do we do next?

Well, I don't know about you, but I mix myself the first vodka and water of the day and sit down in front of the television. I never exercise. I believe in Henry Ford's dictum: “Exercise is bunk. If you are healthy, you don't need it: if you are sick you should not take it.” I also go along with what Neil Armstrong said: “I believe that every human has a finite number of heartbeats. I don't intend to waste any of mine running around doing exercises.”

The purpose of drinking vodka and water early on in the day is not, as you may be thinking, mere pleasure-seeking. It is to purge the mind and body of physical and mental evil. You drive out the bad spirits by introducing a more benign one into your body and brain.

Below are illustrations of the complicated machinery needed to create a vodka and water cocktail.

(Image of tumbler.)

(Image of cocktail shaker.)

As you can see, all you require is a short tumbler and a cocktail shaker. Actually you don't even need a cocktail shaker. You can just pour the vodka and water straight into the tumbler and start drinking. However, if you want to impress your family and friends (and perhaps even yourself) with your debonair elegance, suavity and savoir-faire, you can use a cocktail shaker.

You may not be able to tell from the above photo of my personal shaker, but it already has 'the necessaries' in it for the pre-breakfast beverage. It has been about a third filled with ice, any water from that has been poured out, then two measures of vodka have been poured in (my favorite, when it's on special offer, is Russian Standard) and four measures of water (Badoit does it for me, otherwise I get the stuff out of the tap). All you have to do now is shake it, pour it, and drink it. (Yes, that was an Oxford comma.)

So the day has begun. I'm sitting in front of the television watching news on Al Jazeera. You will be doing whatever you want or need to do. Apparently some people work for a living. Coming from Britain, as I do, where no one works except fools and horses and foreigners, this seems strange. Yet obviously someone must make cars, build houses, and put baked beans in tins. So if you are one of those who toil for a living (perhaps you work as an actuary, with sweat dripping from your brow), we must put plans in place for indulging in The Vodka And Water Diet when we are at work, at home, when we are out and about, and indeed for all situations.

For our first day, however, let us imagine that we are free to do what we want today, and that all we need to do is start the diet and weigh ourselves. The thing to do now then, if you are drinking your first vodka and water of the day and sitting and watching the television, is to flick through the various channels to see if there's anything better on. When you've found the program you like most, the next thing to do is to go through the schedules to determine what you'll watch later on.

By this time it is probably about 7.00 a.m. and you will most likely still be feeling the effects of nocturnal dehydration, so another vodka and water is called for. Either ring for the butler, or go and pour another one for yourself.

With your second drink in hand, sit down again and sip it. If you really did, like me, get up early, you could now have a little snooze. But remember the trick they teach you if you become a member of a London club or some similar classy establishment - always put your drink down before falling asleep. This self-awareness impresses onlookers and makes them think you have the foresight and resolve of a James Bond or a Lara Croft.

If you are determined to stay awake, you might want to do some planning for your three weeks of dieting. You should have a target in mind for the amount of weight you want to lose. I would normally aim to lose about two or three kilograms a week while on The VAW Diet. (I still haven't really got the hang of thinking in kilograms rather than good old-fashioned pounds and stones. To me, kilograms are just some new-fangled unit of weight recently invented by the Europeans. In my country we sometimes still actually weigh things in bricks and feathers.) You of course will have your own target for your desired weight-loss. Perhaps it will be greater than my target, perhaps less. Remember, however, that the general rule of thumb is that for every liter of vodka you drink (if it is combined with water, and if you get your food intake right), you will lose about half a kilogram in weight.

The first day of this three-week diet is a special day. Because all the other days will be straitened by a tortuous regime of strict self-denial, we allow ourselves to be a little lax on this first day. All we are trying to do for the moment is to weigh ourselves and perhaps get a little taste of what the following days may bring us.

I have to do some writing each day, and you no doubt have duties, chores, work and pastimes that you must attend to. Do you have children? Children love The Vodka And Water Diet. Of course they aren't allowed to join in. There are strict rules governing the minimum age at which citizens are allowed to drink alcoholic beverages. In my country the age limit is that you have to be at least eighteen, so naturally everyone starts drinking when they are fifteen or fourteen or even younger. In France I believe the minimum age is six, so long as the drink is diluted with water. (Perhaps French kids could go on The VAW Diet after all.) In America, the minimum age I believe is fifty, so long as you have letters of permission from both parents and all four grand-parents.

Children love The Vodka And Water Diet because it makes mummy, daddy, or both, so much more fun to be with than usual. Laughing, falling, calling for Huwie in the bathroom. Such jests and japes! And if mum/dad should suddenly collapse in a heap and start crying and wailing about how terrible life is and how they bitterly regret having children, the kids find this both entertaining and enlightening. In such a situation a child will often put a little arm around a parent's shoulder and utter words of consolation along the lines of, “There, there, you silly old booby, think of all the people in Tokyo, having to eat sushi and drink sake and living in apartments no bigger than rabbit hutches. That's what true suffering is. But at least you've managed to pass on your genetic inadequacies to me, the child you so much regret having.” And then when mummy and daddy come out fighting from their maudlin, self-pitying phase, all red in tooth and claw, and they start yelling and screaming and swearing at each other, and punching and scratching and biting, it not only gives the kids time to hide, it also fills them with a delicious frisson of nervous expectation. What is going to happen next? Will daddy take his belt off and threaten to give me the thrashing I deserve? Will mummy put her face right up against mine and then shake me as if I were a rag doll, at the same time telling me how much her life has been made a living hell by her having me?

Who knows? We only know that unpredictability, uncertainty and instability make life stimulating and exciting for children (as does poverty too, apparently), and drinking makes it all the more gripping for them.

Seriously though, the important thing with alcohol and children is for adults to show kids how drink improves, inspires and civilizes people so that the kids say to themselves, “When I'm old enough, I want to be like these adults I see around me, and if culture and wisdom are to be found at the bottom of a bottle, that is where I shall search for those things when I'm older.”

I think this is the way that children think, but I have to admit I'm no expert on the creatures.

You will be surprised to hear that on this first day of your diet you are allowed to have breakfast. Yes, really! But don't worry, you have the rest of the morning, until about 11.00 or 11.30, to do the things you need to do around the house - getting the kids off to school, working, smoking, whatever - before it's time for breakfast. Remember, however, that throughout the rest of the morning you have to have a drink of vodka and water every hour, on the hour.

For breakfast in my country (on the rare occasions when I am there these days) I like to go to one of the outlets of a big national pub chain called Wetherspoons. These are like McDonalds for grown-ups. They finish doing their good, cheap, standard breakfast at midday, so I like to get in there at about 11.45. If I get my timing wrong and arrive at, say, 12.01, my day is ruined. After midday they only serve the more expensive all-day breakfast (as well as all their normal meals, of course), so in effect I end up eating a very early lunch instead of having a satisfyingly late breakfast. (Lunch at midday? Euuuuw! as teenage girls used to say a few years back.)

No doubt you normally have your own schedule for meals, but remember that you and I are now on a strict diet, and so today, to join in with the spirit of things, you should do what I do and go out and have breakfast somewhere just before midday.

You'll be aware of course (assuming you are still aware of anything at all after the five or six vodkas and waters you should have drunk by now) that eating establishments don't like you just to eat, they want you to drink something as well. Of course there is always tea and coffee, but these beverages make your teeth go yellow, and they contain caffeine, which is a known hallucinogenic, developed by the C.I.A. during the Second World War, and tested, to the great long-term detriment of the men's physical and mental health, on their own troops. My advice to you would be to steer well clear of these government-created and propagandized drinks. Alcohol will do you much less harm than tea and coffee in the long run.

When I'm out, I generally don't drink vodka and water (other than drinking my own supply that I take with me), so instead for breakfast I will have a soft drink. This might be something like Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay. But only one standard-sized bottle (unless I'm particularly thirsty). Of course you must have what you want, but I really believe a bottle of wine helps your breakfast go down more enjoyably.

But if this is The Vodka And Water Diet, why are we not drinking VAW with our breakfast? Because it's too expensive to buy, that's why. If we're going to have VAW when we're out, it's more convenient - and certainly a lot cheaper - to take our own supply with us, made up to our liking, and neatly stored in our own personal flask. But I also think it's so much nicer to sit quietly and comfortably working your way through a bottle of wine with a meal rather than having to get up several times to go to a bar for refreshments or to have to keep calling a waiter/waitress over.

But the choice is yours. If you want to stick rigidly to VAW - which is surely the healthiest drink ever invented - then please do, but you are allowed some flexibility with this diet as far as drinks are concerned.

Remember that when you're out and about in public and you're stoically, even determinedly, quaffing alcoholic beverages, you should never look like an incontinent drunk, but rather you should appear sober, self-controlled, and ideally even rather sophisticated.

While grazing on breakfast and sipping wine, I like to peruse a newspaper. But you, unlike me, are probably not from the stone age. Perhaps you have a pill or tablet or whatever they call them. I believe it's a type of computer, and you can read newspapers on them, or so I'm told, although I don't really see how that is possible. But the point is that eating and drinking should be secondary either to absorbing interesting and potentially useful information, or taking in what the people around you are like and what they are up to, or both of those things. In this way you feed the body and the brain. Of course you may even have got a companion or companions with you, in which case your eating and drinking will be a background activity to interacting with those people.

I find that breakfast, if hurried, can take as little as two hours, so let us imagine that we have finished it and that we are now beginning to think about lunch. I have, as Blackadder's manservant said, 'a cunning plan'. (Not that cunning, I suspect, otherwise it would be Baldrick who would be driving around in Astons and Bentleys and crashing McClarens, and not Rowan Atkinson.)

Remember what the Beatles sang?

“Let me take you down, 'cause I'm going to …”

What they should have said next is, “… show you how to buy a flask in which to keep a handy supply of vodka and water.”

It's obviously too early and too soon after breakfast for lunch just yet, so what we're going to do to pass some time is to go and find a cheap jewelers (obviously if you're blessed by wealth, you will go to a posh people's trinket emporium - Asprey, for example) and buy ourselves a flask for our VAW.

My own flask is a medium size one, made of stainless steel, covered in leather so that it doesn't feel cold to the touch, and with a screw-top on it affixed to a bar which is hinged to the flask so that the top can't be dropped and lost. When I bought it (off Ebay, for less than $10) it came with a couple of little stainless steel cups (which I almost never use - the only time I ever used them was when I shared some of my vodka with Andrew) and a little funnel to make it easier to pour drink into the small neck of the flask.

Here's a picture of it:

(Image of my flask.)

The funny thing is, I've just seen an identical flask in a shop over here in Voronezh, Russia, where I'm writing this at the moment. I guess these flasks are churned out, perhaps in the millions, by some factory in China. But they're cheap, and they do what they're supposed to do, so I'm not complaining.

You will of course buy a flask that appeals to you, and you will buy it from wherever you want. Remember, however, to choose thoughtfully, for the long term, because sometimes your flask will be your best - and perhaps your only - friend.

Now you are equipped with a flask, you obviously want to try it out. But this means either you have to go home to tap your vodka and water resources there, or you must replenish your supplies here, in public, amongst, as the Greeks used to say, before they were taken over by the Germans (and by the Russians in southern Cyprus), 'the majority'. My advice is to nip into a big supermarket, acquire a half-bottle of vodka, and pop into the bogs.

The problem is that a half-bottle of vodka won't fit into your flask, especially if you're going to dilute it with water. So you obviously need to evaporate the vodka and reduce its volume. The way you do this, when you're squatting on your perch in your cubicle, is to drink half your half-bottle of vodka. This is a test of your manhood (even if you're a woman). If you can do this in less than fifteen minutes, I have no idea why you're reading this book. You should be my guru, not me yours.

Once you've drunk half your vodka, flush the toilet in order to convince bystanders that you've been doing only the usual stuff in your cubicle. Then go out and top up your bottle with water. If there are other people there, fanny around until they've gone.

Once your vodka bottle is full of the perfect 50/50 mix of vodka and water (I actually do 66 2/3 water against 33 1/3 vodka), sally forth again to your cubicle. There you pour the goodies into your flask until it is full. Again you will find there is still residue left in your vodka bottle.

Drink it.

With your flask safely ensconced in preferably an interior rather than an exterior pocket, leave your cubicle, ditch the empty vodka bottle, and go out and brave the world.

You are now equipped with all you need to see you through life.

I have to say that many is the time I've fallen asleep on a supermarket toilet whilst trying to perform this apparently simple routine. It has only been the rude rap on the door and a cry of, “Oy! You! Get out, or we're calling the fuzz!” that has aroused me from my slumbers and made me vacate the premises.

And now it is time for us to steer ourselves towards lunch.

For me (or moi, as we people who did badly at school and then tried to make up for it by doing evening classes at our local college like to say), for a good, cheap lunch I like to pop into my nearest city, go to the Chinese quarter, and head for a particular restaurant that does a cheap, but excellent and very varied, buffet. I love this place. It costs about the equivalent of slightly more than one hour's pay for someone on the minimum wage, and for that you get about fifty different dishes to choose from.

But first of all, how to get to the city? Public transport, of course. In this case, train.

I often travel by train because I've never quite grasped steering wheel technology. Left hand down, you go left. Right hand down, you go right. But what happens if you try and pull both hands down at the same time? It's all too complicated. Plus there are too many cameras everywhere these days, trying to issue you with fines and put points on your driving license.

Remember what was said in the introduction? Good manners dictate that you will never draw attention to yourself when drinking in public, and on trains and buses we know that we are limited to two cans of white cider for a half hour journey. For longer journeys I would actually reduce that to one can per half hour, or I would just resort to my trusty flask whenever I felt the urge. But at all times we must keep our drink and our drinking discreetly concealed from all other people sharing the transport with us.

Sometimes this is physically impossible. In that case, if we know we have no choice but to be observed, we carry out our toping completely openly, with complete confidence, and without any sense of shame.

But what if you are a driver and you want to drive yourself into the city for lunch. Or what if you have a chauffeur to drive you there?

In a sense you have fewer problems. When driving a car you can drink freely, so long as you play by 'American Rules'. That is, your drink must be kept concealed in a brown paper bag. If you have a chauffeur and can nestle in the back seat of a nice big car, you have even more liberty. You can drink as much as you like and the chauffeur will say nothing and pretend not to notice.

But let's assume that we're going by train. The key to successful drinking is skilful concealment combined with an outward appearance of belonging to the clergy, but you're having a day off and are out of uniform. Always keep your ticket handy. This is in case an inspector should approach. With your ticket in hand, you are then free quickly to conceal your drink if you happen to have it out at that moment. When the inspector is next to you, produce your ticket without being asked for it, smile in a friendly fashion, and then when the enemy has moved on, resume quaffing.

Bear in mind that other passengers are not your friends. They are potential informants - fifth columnists who have the potential to 'grass you up' (or even just tell you off to your face). You don't want this to happen. All you want is to be able to enjoy your tincture in peace and let the journey pass as pleasantly as possible.

In all fairness, if you're a novice drinker, knocking back a couple of cans of white cider in half an hour can be quite difficult. All I can say to you is this - you need persistence, you need dedication. Do not give up.

If you are traveling in Singapore, put your empty drinks cans in the first trash receptacle you come across. If you are in Europe, throw your empty cans down in the street. Then spit on the sidewalk as well for good measure. That's what we all do over here. In my country you have to tiptoe around the dog turds, the trash, the empty drink cans and last night's vomited-up fast food whenever you go walking anywhere.

So we've arrived in the big city. Now let's walk down to the Chinese quarter. There in our favorite restaurant we are shown to a table where we can watch people's comings and goings. We tell the five-foot tall waitress that we're having the buffet, and we ask for a bottle of wine. We ask for the cheapest one they do. (Or at least I do. You, as always, can drink whatever takes your fancy and is affordable for you.) For me, I believe there's no point paying more per unit of alcohol than is necessary.

Then we get up and go and help ourselves to some food.

The next couple of hours are like breakfast, but even more enjoyable. There's so much more food, so much more variety. And of course because we have to keep getting up to go and get another selection of dishes, we are in fact exercising.

How self-righteous we should feel.

I would suggest you merely have the one bottle of wine with your lunch, but again, feel free to do as you will.

As at breakfast, you may be saying, “This is The Vodka And Water Diet. Why don't we drink some VAW?” Of course you can if you want to, but this first day is special. You are in Liberty Hall. The more rigorous aspects of the diet will kick in after today.

At the Chinese buffet I like to take just a very small amount of every dish on offer. I've seen people load up their plates with huge amounts of the first three or four dishes they come across, thinking that they have to stuff themselves with as much food as possible for the fixed price they are paying, but all that happens is that they get too full too soon, and then they can't enjoy all the other good dishes on offer. Remember that if you eat little, you can always eat more later if you want to, but if you gorge from the trough right from the off, you will not be able to sample other delights later on.

A good time to finish lunch is at about five or six in the afternoon. You will appreciate, therefore, that working could interfere terribly with this diet and with this whole pleasurable way of life. That is why I always advise people never to have a job. Jobs take away your freedom. They eat up your time. They take your life away from you. You should not live to work, you should work only because you love your work. Of course you may also find that you have to work just to get money. But in that case you should ask yourself why you aren't bright enough to get money by doing work you love, or indeed why you aren't bright enough to get money without working at all.

Work can be a considerable obstacle to The VAW Diet. But I'm sure we'll be able to find a way round any obstacles that your work may put in your way.

One of the problems with driving a car rather than using public transport while you are on this diet is that the police frown on people who have imbibed too generously and who then get behind the wheel of a motorized vehicle, or, even more suicidally, behind the handlebars of a two-wheeled motorized vehicle. When I got my motorcycle license in my early twenties, I immediately rushed out and bought a big, secondhand Suzuki GS850. I then made the mistake of going on it into the town nearest to where I lived and having a few ales. This was something I always used to do in a car, ever since I got my car driving license as a teenager. In those days, drink driving wasn't so frowned upon, especially for people who lived in the countryside, as I did. Indeed it wasn't unheard of to find the local bobby standing next to you in your local pub, and after he'd had a few beers with you, he'd happily get in his car and drive off to wherever he had to go.

The big difference between a motorbike and a car is that cars don't fall over, which is what my motorbike did when I clambered onto it, inebriated, at the end of a pleasant evening in the pub. Somehow, with the sort of strength that sometimes come from being severely under the influence, I managed to lift my hefty bike back upright, and get on it, and stay on it as I rode it all the way along a winding country road back home. It must have been a nerve-wracking experience, however, because I never mixed drinking and motorbike-riding again.

So, to drive or not to drive whilst on this diet - that is the question. It's difficult. Driving is often quicker more convenient and more comfortable than using public transport (plus you don't have to mix with the plebs), but there are the risks of having an accident, getting caught by the rozzers, possibly getting fined, getting points on your license, or even getting jailed.

Personally I think it's not worth the risk. Of course the ideal way to travel is on foot, but that is only feasible if you restrict yourself to going short distances.

You can see why people these days quite often like living in cities, without a car, with plentiful public transport, and with everything on hand.

Walking, however, still has its dangers. For example, one young fellow I knew had too much to drink at a get-together one night. He also fell out with his partner. Despite being inebriated, he was sensible enough not to attempt to drive home. Instead he left his car at the place where the gathering was taking place, and he set off to walk back home.

He was hit by a car and killed. (Admittedly this was in the middle of the night on an unlit road, he was wearing dark clothes, and also he was walking drunkenly in the middle of the road.) Perhaps he would have got home safely if he'd driven. We'll never know. The person who hit and killed him wasn't under the influence. But the point is that even if you walk, there is still danger. So perhaps, if in doubt about the safety of walking, you should get a lift, or take a taxi. Maybe use public transport. But that can be hazardous late at night too.

Perhaps you should just drink at home.

By the way, the boy who got killed (he was one of my cousins) - his father died of a broken heart a few months later.

But let us get back to being bright and cheerful. If I have had a good lunch, I might afterwards pop into a bar near where I've just eaten and I'll have a quick beer or two. Perhaps watch a bit of sport on the TV, or listen to some music on the jukebox. (Do they still call them that?) I might even chat to someone in the pub, although to be honest I usually find talking to ordinary people less edifying than reading a good book or browsing on the internet.

You can go into a bar and have a drink too, if you like. Any drink you like. You'll notice that you are not, on this first day, being restricted to vodka and water. This is a special day. You are free. As Patrick McGoohan said, “I am not a number, I am a free man.” (Of course if he'd been a woman he would have said, “I am not a number, I am a free woman,” but you get the idea.) On this first day you can indulge, for on all other days you should be constrained and very disciplined.

The big decision now is whether to head home or stay out a bit longer. It's almost certainly too late to get into any museums or art galleries, if that is your leaning, but there should be something on at some cinema or theater somewhere. Maybe there's opera. (I've never been to the opera in Britain because it's too expensive, but in Kiev, or other places in East Europe, I can go and see something at the opera for about what it costs to buy a cup of tea in a café in Britain, so I seize the opportunity.)

Let's say we've spotted something worth going to see. Off we go to the theater or whatever venue it is taking place in. We get into the cheap seats, slump back, and enjoy the show.

Just don't snore!

One of the problems of drinking alcohol is that it can suddenly catch up with you and make you fall asleep. Sometimes this doesn't matter. For example, when having sex. If a man falls asleep during sex with a woman, the woman is often quite pleased, and will just push him off and then happily go to sleep. If a woman falls asleep during sex with a man, the man won't even notice, and will carry on quite unperturbed.

But try to stay awake. And remember that you have your flask of vodka and water with you, so you can keep yourself bright and alert by taking the occasional sip from it. If security come to try to evict you, slur something to them, like, “I'm perfectly sober, mate. I've paid for my ticket and I'm not going anywhere.” It undermines the validity of your message somewhat if you then throw up all over yourself.

After your evening's entertainment, you really should head home. Bed is beckoning. Head back the way you came - by bus, train, car. You'll probably struggle to find your key when you get home, and when you do find your key, you'll probably struggle to put it into the lock. Don't worry. Other people like to see drunk people struggling to get into their own home. Even more fun is to see them trying to get into someone else's home in the belief that it is their own place. Check that you are trying to get into the right abode before you persist any further.

Assuming you've got into your home, you'll obviously now want a drink. My suggestion is … vodka and water! You could also seize this opportunity to top up your flask ready for tomorrow, as it will most likely be empty by now.

You may also find you are a little peckish. My favorite pre-bed snack when I was in my teens and twenties was a two-egg omelet made with fried bacon, fried tomato and with cheese in it, finished off under the grill with extra cheese on top. Why not try that? Heavy drinking can be counteracted to a certain extent by an intake of protein.

If you've had enough to eat and drink, it is now time for bed. But remember that today we've been focused on one thing and one thing only, and that is weighing ourselves so that we know our start weight for the diet we are now on. Before you weigh yourself, however, go and drink a liter of water. This is not so as to make your starting weight a bit higher. Rather it is to combat the likelihood of suffering dehydration during the night, and in the morning too. Alcohol does cause dehydration, so we want to counter it in advance.

When you've drunk a liter of water, go and get onto your weighing scales. Don't bother to take off your clothes or your shoes. Just get on the scales. Peer down at the dial or read-out and then make sure you write down the number you see there. If you don't write it down, by tomorrow you'll have forgotten it.

You have now completed your first day on the diet. You know what you weigh, and you should know what you want to weigh by the end of the twenty-one days that the diet lasts. So you can now happily go to bed. You can keep your clothes and shoes on if you want to. That's perfectly normal and acceptable after a day's heavy drinking. And there's no need to wash or shower or clean your teeth.

You have been a saint today. You will sleep the sleep that only a drunk person can sleep.

So, night night!

Day Two

The great thing about alcohol is that it knocks you out, but you can find you wake up not too long afterwards and then find it difficult to get off to sleep again. What you may have found last night therefore is that you woke up in the middle of the night. If you did, you will almost certainly have wanted to go to the loo. That's the penalty you pay for drinking so much liquid (not just alcohol but water too). However, bearing in mind you had to get out of bed to relieve yourself, you could then also have seized the opportunity to take off your clothes and shoes, and to slip back between the sheets starkers. This is healthy, and is a much more natural and healthy way of sleeping than with your clothes and shoes on. It also adds an element of interest if you have someone else sleeping in the bed with you.

If you were lucky, you will have fallen asleep again after that. If unlucky, you will have spent the rest of the night tossing and turning, feeling pained and distressed, thinking black thoughts, and vowing never to touch alcohol ever again.

Don't worry. These negative thoughts and sensations will pass. They are nothing that another dose of vodka and water cannot cure.

So, when the morning comes, as OK Go said in This Too Shall Pass, you must have 'a hair of the dog' - that is, a shaken, chilled vodka and water.

You could say that that constitutes your breakfast, and that you don't need anything to eat, but I'm not sure about this approach. I used to eat much less when I was younger than I do now, but it could leave me feeling light-headed and woozy. It did, however, also leave me a lot slimmer.

Eat if you must, but really it's better if you don't.

Research shows that if you have a restricted diet, and perhaps fast as well occasionally, it leads to you living longer. Probably this effect would be offset by having a high alcohol intake, but who cares? You'd be skinny and happy and have a life that was long enough for most people. Really you'll have to decide on this for yourself - the balance between food intake and alcohol intake. I'm in favor of the latter and against the former. Almost certainly you want to cut down the amount you currently eat, and I think the occasional fasting day (or even several days in a row) is a good idea (subject to your doctor's clearance). And you must eat less 'junk' food (preferably none at all). For me, 'junk food' means carbohydrates and processed food.

There are two sorts of diet that appeal to me. The one sort is what you might broadly call the Atkins/Dukan type of diet with low carbohydrate and high protein. The other one is called something like the stone age diet, or Neanderthal diet. In this one, you just imagine you're a hunter-gatherer, so any food that you could take off a bush or tree, or pull out of the ground, and eat raw - that food is allowed. (At least that gets rid of things like bread and potatoes and pasta and rice.) With the animal protein side of things, some people would say you can't have it if you can't eat it raw (but I suppose you could at least have sashimi, or steak tartare if you're brave) and others say you can have cooked animal protein so long as it is not processed in any way other than by cooking. Certainly cutting down on processed foods, carbohydrates and weird, purely human fabrications like confectionery seems to make sense, as does eating raw food rather than cooked food whenever you have the choice. Perhaps we'll touch on vegetarianism and veganism later on.

It's almost certain that you need to cut down on your calorie intake as well as the sheer bulk of food you eat. Combine that with doing some sort of exercise, and that's pretty much all that needs to be said about a healthy diet and lifestyle.

And then we go and spoil it all by allowing alcohol! Actually, at the risk of making things even worse, when I lived and worked in Russia, a lot of the girls there seemed to exist on a diet that consisted almost solely of cigarettes. Now that would be a good book - The Cigarette Diet. The men tended to add vodka to the cigarette diet, creating The Vodka And Cigarette Diet. This latter one might make an appearance later in this book. On it, you look slim and good looking for twenty or thirty years, and then you die of not just liver failure but lung failure too.

But back to today. You've had a little drink to lighten your mood. Now you can either have a light breakfast or no breakfast at all. The sort of stuff I'd be tempted to have when not going for a thousand-calorie British breakfast would be something like a bowl of muesli with fruit juice over it, or a couple of boiled eggs, or a one-egg omelet with mushrooms or tuna or cheese in it, or just herbs. (I've got a lovely little twelve-centimeter Kuhn Rikon crêpe pan that I use for making one-egg omelets.) Sardines on toast are nice, but going with the ethos of cutting down on carbohydrates like bread, you could just have the grilled sardines on sliced tomatoes and chopped onion, with herbs, salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil.

The choice is yours.

Today we're going to imagine we have a work day ahead of us. The problem here is that there are so many different types of work. I've done pen-pushy work, teaching, factory and warehouse work, and helping out with different bits of building work along the way. You'll have your own work, or not, as the case may be. The people I like are the ones who, when you ask them what work they do, say they are writers or artists. This often means that they've never managed to sell any of their work, but they enjoy doing it as a hobby, and have been blessed with a wealthy enough spouse, or a good divorce settlement or a decently adequate inheritance, not actually to need to do a proper job.

I, of course, am a writer, but I'm not even 'moneyed'. How dumb does that make me?

As Oscar Wilde said, “Work is the curse of the drinking classes.” It isn't always easy to combine drinking with working. Some jobs are better suited to it than others. Teaching English as a Foreign Language, for example. (Oh yes, I've had some merry lessons in the classroom.) Acting too is a field in which you can get away with a certain amount of inebriation. I once saw Peter O'Toole on stage in London performing in Man And Superman, completely whacked out of his brains, but able to remember all his lines and out-act anyone else who dared to venture on stage with him. But in more conventional employments it can be difficult to be a serious drinker.

How times have changed. Can anyone remember the days when banks actually had bank managers? Those guys (always men then) used to finish work at lunchtime and go off to play golf. No one ever knew if they were drinking too much because they were never at work long enough for anyone to see what they were up to.

The other way to combine drinking with working is to own your own decent-sized business. I once worked in a car parts factory where the owner lived abroad in a tax haven. No one even knew if he was alive, let alone drinking. And even if they had known, it wouldn't have made any difference to him because he was the boss and could do what he liked.

Being at the top of society or at the bottom of society are the best places to be if you're serious about drinking.

But perhaps you have a proper job. It will either be of the manual variety or of the 'all I do is talk' variety. But you will have people overseeing you, checking up on you, in which case you will need to watch your step while on this diet.

Let's imagine we're off to work. Before we set off, let me say one other thing about dieting and losing weight. Someone once said, perhaps a little facetiously, but probably fairly truthfully, “The upper classes don't eat. They have meals.” People these days quite often snack throughout the day. Restrict yourself just to having set meals at set times. That alone will help you get the weight off. Workplaces can make this difficult by having vending machines lurking around the place, selling sugary drinks, confectionery and stodgy snacks designed to give you little nutrition and lots of calories. If you've got these machines where you work, steer clear of them.

With drinking booze at work, the best thing is to do it openly, but by concealing the drink in some other liquid so that it looks as though you're drinking something innocent. For example, have a bottle of mineral water, but before you get to work, drink half the water (there's no need to waste it, for in the not too distant future, water will be more precious than oil) and top it up with vodka. Then when people see you sipping throughout the day what appears to be water, they will not only not be suspicious, they will also be somewhat impressed by your healthy habit of drinking water.

The reason why vodka is 'the evil of choice' for us is that it is beautiful, clear and clean. It is the embodiment of goodness and badness. It is the purest drink available. It is alcohol and water. We, being mere humans, bring it down to our level by diluting it further with water.

And what about people who drink whisky or gin, brandy or Jack Daniels? They may be connoisseurs, they may be ignoramuses, but we are their guiding light. We are the purest drinkers on the planet.

By the way, if you want to 'go Russian', fill your water bottle (and your flask) with neat vodka.

Today we'll imagine we are going to work at two places. We'll go to a warehouse to do some manual toil, and we'll go to an office where we have to shuffle papers around and perhaps sit in on the occasional meeting. (So strenuous! So useful to society! What did Thomas Sowell say? “The least productive people are usually the ones who are most in favor of holding meetings.”)

Now, bear in mind that drunk people always think that no one else can tell they are drunk, despite the alcohol fumes, and the face that is either grinning or scowling darkly or glowing red. You just cannot get away with a high booze intake in a conventional work situation. Perhaps you might think you can if you're high enough up, but if there's anyone above you, someone will shop you. Even if you own the business or control the organization, your drunkenness will cause others to exploit your personal 'laxity' and take advantage of the situation, and of you, in some way. So, today is nothing like yesterday. Moderate tippling is called for. (That is, if you want to drink alcohol at all. It isn't compulsory, you know. You could just make do with neat water.)

We're off to the warehouse then. Somewhere about our person or our belongings we have concealed our flask of vodka. Or maybe not. One warehouse I worked in quite a lot over the years (just in the two or three month run-up to the busy time at Christmas and then into the New Year) didn't allow people to take mobile phones into the workplace, or wear jackets, and everything in the way of food and drink had to be taken into the warehouse inside a transparent plastic bag so that the security guys could see what was going in and what was being taken out. Also there were random searches of the workers on their way out at the end of each shift. All workers also had to go through a scanner. Despite all this, agency staff would still try to nick things like small electronic gadgets, but of course they'd get caught, sacked on the spot, and prosecuted. Actually with all the security cameras around the warehouse, the thieves usually wouldn't even make it to the end of the shift because their thieving would have been spotted when it was taking place. On several occasions I saw people being marched off the premises by the police.

So, there's no way you're taking your flask of VAW into the warehouse. But you desperately want to have a tipple every now and again while you work. So how do you make that possible?

You leave your beautiful flask at home (or in your car, if you're driving to work, so that you can get to it during the half-hour break half way through the shift) and instead you take into the warehouse a bottle of water or soft drink that has been 'infiltrated' with vodka. Actually, although soft drinks, being totally artificial chemical concoctions, are pretty much banned on this diet, this is one situation when their use might be justified. Low class people, such as warehouse workers, habitually drink 'pop', so if you take in a bottle of pop with vodka in it, you will look utterly normal and not arouse any suspicion. A bottle of doctored water might make you look a bit too middle class, and therefore you run the risk of standing out a bit and drawing attention to yourself, which is the last thing you want.

Remember not to be too generous with the vodka. Your pop-vodka mixture shouldn't be strong enough for it to leave any noticeable smell of vodka on your breath, nor should the drink itself have any noticeable smell, or even taste, of vodka if someone should happen to sniff, or even drink, the contents of your bottle.

Addressing the food side of things, the most important thing in a manual working environment is to keep away from the snack vending machines. If you're going to have any food, take your own in to work. Something like a little salad and some fruit. No sandwiches. No pasta or rice in the salad. No potatoes.

The lower classes are distinguishable in various ways from people higher up the socio-economic scale, but one characteristic they have is that they eat junk food - exactly the sort of food you find in vending machines in working class workplaces.

I remember a couple of fairly avid drinkers at the warehouse I used to work in. During the main break in a shift (but not in the couple of short breaks either side of it) workers were allowed off the premises. This was so they could go to their cars, perhaps make phone calls, or walk up the road to a nearby burger bar, or in the other direction to a nearby shop. The shop was on a housing estate where one of the keen drinkers lived. The tactics for having a mid-shift drink were various. People with cars could just keep their drink concealed there and they would go and sit in their vehicles and knock back one or two cans during the break. The two keen drinkers I'm thinking of didn't drive, so sometimes they would have hidden - before the shift began - some beverages in the bushes outside the warehouse so they could then grab them at the beginning of break and then either sit in someone's car and drink them, or, if they were walking round to their housing estate where the shop was, they would be able to drink while walking there. If they made it to the shop, they could get some more drink there of course, but also there was a pub opposite, and sometimes one of these two guys, and sometimes both of them, would pop in there for a quick pint of lager or whatever tipple they fancied.

One of these two guys eventually got reprimanded for driving a forklift truck while under the influence, but because there was quite a strong union at the warehouse, I think he got away with it, at least initially. But bad habits have a habit of biting you on the bum eventually, so if they didn't manage to sack him then, I'm pretty sure the bosses managed to get rid of him eventually.

The other guy also got the heave-ho. The last time I saw him, he was standing in the doorway of his local pub, opposite the shop, with a drink in his hand, looking like a complete wreck.

As for you and me, all we have to do is make it through the day (that is assuming we're working the day shift). If you've managed to smuggle some booze in, just have enough of it to give you a pleasant buzz while you're working through the shift.

I remember that I once worked at another place - a printing works - and I made a point of eating pork scratchings from the vending machine. Partly this was because they were a good price, partly it was because I knew these scratchings were a brand I liked, but partly it was because I believed they had more protein and less carbohydrate than the potato and cereal-based snacks and confectionery that the machine was otherwise filled with. I wonder if I was right. Even if I was, however, I still don't think it was a healthy choice of food.

So let's say we've successfully got to the end of the shift, earned our daily bread (which, now we're on a diet, we couldn't possibly bring ourselves to eat) and we're now on our way home. Before we get there, let's imagine what a day in an office might have been like.

In an office environment you're probably not going to be searched, but it could be that you will be with people who are a little more perceptive, a little less 'rough', than you were mixing with in the warehouse, and these people might be a little more inclined to tell you off, or shop you to someone in authority, if they detect that you are … how shall we say? … a little chemically enhanced.

The acceptability of drinking while working depends very much on the work environment you are in. I believe that in the old days when the British newspaper industry was based in and around Fleet Street in London, drunkenness amongst journalists was not just accepted, it was practically compulsory. It went with the job. And to be fair, in creative lines of work, drink or drugs can give you a certain amount of inspiration. Maybe if you're a journalist today you can still get away with drinking heavily, but I rather doubt it.

But let's assume you work in a conventional office. You can probably take your flask of vodka, or vodka and water, in with you. But do you want to? If you drink it like you might drink it at home, on the hour, every hour, you'll almost certainly get 'sniffed out', and if you can't drink properly in that way, your options probably are to drink like you did in the imaginary warehouse, just having a small dose every now and again to keep you 'topped up' but still totally in control of yourself and utterly presentable as far as your impact on other people's eyes, ears and noses is concerned. Otherwise you could refrain from taking your booze into the office with you, and instead just do what I believe is still fairly common and acceptable, and that is to have a couple of drinks when you pop out somewhere for lunch.

Office workers usually get an hour off for lunch, rather than the half hour that is typical for manual workers, so that at least gives you time to get enough booze down your neck to make the afternoon slip by in a pleasant alcoholic haze. And this way, foregoing any secretive vodka sipping whilst working, not only will you not cause yourself problems at work, but you can tell yourself that you will reward yourself for your self-denial and restraint when you get home. Perhaps you'll even stop off for a drink somewhere on the way home. Indeed if you have your flask with you, you can partake of its contents as soon as you leave the office.

Let's assume you've got home safely after your day's work (whatever sort of work it was). Now you're free to do what you want as far as food and drink are concerned. (Hopefully while at work you followed my advice and just had a little salad for lunch. Better still, maybe you had nothing.)

So, what are you going to do now?

I don't know why, but for today I'm imagining you to be single, living alone and with no one to tell you what to do, or, worse still, to tell you off for anything that you happen to choose to do. On other days we can imagine you living with someone, being married, having kids, being with friends, living in a commune, sharing a house with students, being on holiday, going out and about - whatever. Most situations can be made tolerable with vodka and water. Also most situations have not only disadvantages to them, but advantages too.

So now you're free to do what you want.

I'll be interested to see how committed you are to the liquid side of this diet. I can manage three days, maybe four, drinking a bottle of vodka a day, or the equivalent, then I have to lay off and recuperate and shake off the depression, and laziness, that comes from having too much alcohol.

How dedicated will you be? How much 'alcohol stamina' will you have?

As the idea of this diet is to lose weight, and as you only have to stick to it for twenty-one days, I suggest you don't have any dinner this evening. Just have a quiet night in. Have a few drinks. Take vodka and water as a slimming tonic, or, if you decide you really do need some nourishment, have a bottle of wine - Champagne if you can afford it and you like it. In England I drink Cava as a quarter-price but perfectly acceptable substitute for Champagne (in Spain the Cava is even cheaper of course), but that's basically because I'm poor and I can't afford Champagne anyway. In Russia, if I go down the road to our local Gvozdi in Voronezh with Vicky for a drink and a bite to eat, and I fancy wine instead of, or as well as, beer, I drink 'Russian champagne' (are we allowed to call it that?), but that's because it's the cheapest wine on their menu.

Next in terms of desirability is a New World white. Rosés are the weird bastard children of the wine world, so if you find yourself wanting some, it may be because you've suffered some recent emotional trauma. If you're in need of color, why not go the whole way and have a bottle of red? Take it to the limit and have a bottle of Barolo. I've only drunk it twice - once in Bewdley (from an off-license that is long since gone, and from which I used to get Beaujolais Nouveau on the day it came out), where I remember the bottle had a neck that wasn't quite vertical, and then once in Lviv where I was so half-cut, probably from drinking Lvivske beer all day, that I went out to a restaurant with a girl and ordered a bottle of Barolo as my own personal indulgence, paying five-times what I would normally pay for a bottle of wine when out, and then had to fume inwardly when the girl I was with insisted on drinking it with me.

Of course if you want a proper meal you could make yourself a Bloody Mary with a quarter-liter of tomato juice, four measures of vodka, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and, if you wish, a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco sauce according to taste. Apparently it's regarded as smart to stir it with a stick of celery and then eat the celery.

Now that is what I call a healthy meal.

All that remains for you to do now is relax, while away the evening by doing something active, like writing a book, or passive, like reading one, and hope that tomorrow will be a more exciting, sociable and action-filled day.

Don't forget to drink some water before you go to bed.

Day Three

Hopefully you've woken up feeling as perky as Pecorino and as bright as a button. Unfortunately that feeling won't last long, because today we're going to imagine you're a student living in a room in a house that you share with other students. Five of them in fact.

So how do you wake up? Well, you've got two lectures to attend today. The first one is at ten in the morning, so naturally you wake up at … eleven in the morning. Never mind. There's another lecture at two this afternoon, so if you go to that one, that will be a fifty-percent attendance rate, which is quite good really. It will certainly be adequate if you succeed in your ambition of eventually getting a job in the public sector, where you will be expected to take one day off sick and one day being retired for every one day on which you actually do any work.

Having successfully woken up, how do you feel? You're a student, so of course you feel depressed. You've chosen the wrong subject to study, you're burdened with debt that it will take you years to pay off, and the people you're sharing a house with are just … like … so … you know!

You roll out of bed into the junk scattered on the floor and heave yourself to your feet. God, you're sexy! Why don't other people recognize it? Today you're not going to shave. It doesn't matter whether you're male or female, you're not going to shave. Looking grungy is the new 'looking groomed'. You stagger over to a pile of worn, crumpled clothes on the floor in the corner, pick up a few of them, sniff them to find the ones that are nearest to being clean, and throw them on.

You're on The Vodka And Water Diet because when you split up with your last boyfriend/girlfriend they said that in comparison to their new partner you were like a lump of lard coated with fat and then covered with a thick layer of flab. For some reason this hurt you (talk about being oversensitive and insecure!), so you decided to lose weight. Fat Frank, who props up the bar down at your local pub, said The Vodka And Water Diet was reputed to be effective, so you decided to give it a try.

There's a mug on a dressing table in your room. You pick it up and peer inside. It's stained brown from all the coffee you've drunk out of it, but that means all the germs will also have been killed, so you don't need to wash it. From a shopping bag that is also sitting on the dressing table, you grab the budget bottle of vodka you bought from the convenience store on the corner, crack it open, and pour a generous helping of it into your mug. Then you go over to the wash basin in the corner of the room and top the mug up with water. You then knock it all back in one go.

You know that the more you drink, the sooner you will be slim, and your natural beauty will shine out on the world once again, and maybe somebody will fancy you and you'll be able to get laid again.

Retching slightly, you grin at your reflection in the shabby, cracked mirror above the basin. You half-fill the mug with water, and go back to the vodka bottle. Topping up the mug with the elixir of beauty, you saunter happily out of your room to see what the other inmates of your shared student house are doing.

They are in the kitchen, which most of the time also acts as a sitting room. There's a TV perched on one of the work surfaces. It's switched on and it's playing a Felix The Cat cartoon downloaded from The Pirate Bay.

“Mornings dudes and dudesses,” you say.

There's a sort of communal grunt by way of response.

“Want some breakfast?” asks Alpha, standing over by the cooker and doing something magical and mysterious on it. “I'm cooking haute cuisine. It's got Spam and beans in it, but I found a half-eaten doner kebab in the fridge, so I put that in as well.” Alpha looks meaningfully over at you and says impressively, “I'm going to put it on a plate when it's ready.”

You smile and sip your vodka and water. “I'm on a diet,” you say, holding up your mug. “Vodka and water only for me now, at least for the next few days. Anyway, I'm vegetarian. I can't eat murdered animals.”

“Spam isn't an animal,” says Alpha.

“Yes,” you say, “but what about doner kebab? That's got four legs.”

Beta looks up from the academic tome they are sitting reading at the table. “Remind me,” they say. “When did you become vegetarian?”

You think awhile, and then hazard a guess. “It must have been last Wednesday, I reckon.”

“Stick to it,” says Beta, returning to their book. “Vegetarianism is our only hope for saving the planet.”

Gamma speaks up. “Have you got vodka and water in that mug?”

“Sure have,” you reply, taking another mouthful.

“Aren't you going to share it with us?” grumbles Delta.

“There's water in that tap over there,” you say, pointing at the sink and smiling. “I could get you some.”

Delta stands up. “Okay, I'll get us four mugs of water. You go and get the vodka.”

You groan. “Geezer, that sucks. Okay then. But you get the next bottle.” You point at Gamma. “And then you get the one after that. And then you, Beta. Then it's your turn, Alpha. Alright, I'll go get my bottle of slimming juice.” You leave the room, but as you do so, you turn back to your mates. “When I go to my lecture this afternoon, I want to have the skinniest, drunkenest brain they've ever seen.”

The next two hours degenerate into a cheerful drinking session. The conversation gets better and louder. You decide that you'll all go out tonight. Do a bit of pubbing and clubbing. See if you can pull. It's days since you got laid by someone you'd only just met. Leave it any longer and you'd probably turn celibate.

Your bottle of vodka disappears. And then so does Delta's. Gamma tries to induce you to have at least something to eat before you go off to your lecture, but you shake your head.

“I'll make you vodka ice cream,” says Gamma.

You shake your head again. “The freezing point of vodka is about minus twenty-seven degrees Centigrade,” you say. “Nothing with vodka in it will freeze in our freezer. You won't get vodka ice cream. You'll just get cold milk with vodka in it.”

“Damn you, Einstein, for your all-encompassing knowledge,” grins Gamma. “How can one person be so lazy and yet so brilliant?”

You grin. “I'm not lazy,” you say, your speech a bit slurred. “I just like to keep very still while my brain is working.” Then you fall off your chair.

Instead of eliciting the sympathy you hope for and expect, your temporary loss of your sense of balance elicits laughter. But your mates help you back onto your chair.

“You need something to mop up that booze before you go to your lecture,” says Alpha. “Listen, you might not be able to have vodka ice cream, but have a glass of milk.” They go over to the fridge, get some milk, pour it into a glass, and bring it over to you. “Here, knock this back. It'll line your stomach and make you sober.” Then they pull the glass away. “No, wait! You'll go into shock if you drink pure milk on top of vodka and water. You'd better have some vodka in it.” They grab the vodka bottle that's on the table and pour a splash of vodka into the milk. Then they give you the milk. “Down it in one,” they say.

Obediently you knock it back. You gag slightly. Now you have some understanding of what it's like giving a swallow blowjob to a guy who's packing a full load.

“That's disgusting, man,” you say. “That's like someone's squeezed an alcoholic cow and put its juice in me.” You slump over the table a little. “And you know, dude, I'm vegan. That's just cruel.”

“You're not a vegan till next week,” says Beta. “You have to do your vegetarian apprenticeship first.”

Gamma comes round behind your chair. “Come on, gang. This detritus has got a lecture in twenty minutes' time. Let's get them on their way.”

You get heaved to your feet. Your bag and books and papers are fetched from your room, and then you are escorted from the house and pointed in the direction you have to go in to get to your lecture.

“Don't forget, we're going out on the pull tonight,” Delta shouts after you. “Don't have any more to drink till then.”


It's funny how difficult walking can be. Babies have always known this, but it can come as a surprise to drunks. You, however, now find walking pleasantly entertaining. You know you look superior and elegant to passers-by, but for some reason they appear to be swaying from side to side and getting in your way. What's wrong with them?

“Don't you know who I am?” you hear yourself saying. You stop and lean against a nearby wall, but the wall moves out of the way and you fall over. “That's a very philosophical question,” you mutter as you drag yourself to your feet. “Did I just fall from grace?”

Somehow you make it to the lecture hall, but the lecture has already begun. Sheepishly you open the door and stick your head in. Everyone, including the lecturer, looks at you. There is a stony silence.

“Sorry,” you mumble. “The cat ate my homework.”

“Good lunch, was it?” asks the lecturer, frowning.

You shake your head. “Food is strictly off limits. It's for my own health.” But the sudden cranial movement has made your brain shake inside your skull. You don't feel normal. “Excuse me for a second,” you say. “I've dropped something.” You retreat into the corridor, closing the door of the lecture hall behind you so that you are out sight. Then you throw up in one smooth, fairly quiet, really quite neat, single-spasmed contraction of the gut. You look at the outcome that is now residing on the floor of the corridor.

Standing firmly upright, you open the door of the lecture hall again and march in. Then you stop dead, look at the lecturer, and say solemnly, “It's all white. Everything is all white now.” And you proceed up the steps between the ranks of students, tripping over only once, and slump into the first empty seat you find.

“As our Lord said to the Möbius strip,” you call down to the lecturer, “pray continue.”

“Thank you,” says the lecturer with a mockingly deferential nod of their head. “If it pleases you, I will.”

And you settle back in your seat and doze.


Someone is shaking you rather roughly by the shoulders. “What is it?” you mumble. “Fire?” You open your eyes. The lecturer is glaring down at you. You look around the hall. Except for you and the lecturer, it is empty. “Was it that bad?” you mutter. “Did they all walk out?”

“That,” says the lecturer, “is probably more than you're capable of doing. Do you know what slightly took the shine off my lecture?”

You shake your head. Your brain wobbles, but it's not as bad as earlier on.

“You!” says the lecturer. “You snoring all the way through my lecture.”

Don't some people get one on them? As my daughter's mother used to say to me, “You've got the pig on you.”

“I don't snore,” you say calmly. Then you think for a moment. “Actually, come to think of it, a few of the people I've slept with have said I do.”

“Come on,” says the lecturer harshly. “Get up! I'll get you a taxi back to wherever you live.”

You're helped down the steps to the door of the lecture hall. As you go out into the corridor, you look down at a semi-dried milky puddle.

“Don't worry about that,” says the lecturer. “I've called someone to mop it up.”

You smile proudly. “That,” you say, “will one day be vodka and milk ice cream. Watch out Ben and Jerry.”

The lecturer helps you outdoors, where they call for, and pay for, a cab to take you home.

You are safely on your way back to your mates.


Back at your student digs, your mates decide it's best for you to retire to your boudoir and have a rest until it's time to go out in the evening. They say they'll wake you at about eight o'clock.


Mildly to your surprise, they do what they said they would. You half-expected that they would go out without you if they found you still asleep. So you drag yourself from your pit, shower and prettify yourself, and put on your second-best glad rags. These are the clean ones. You're making an effort tonight. Also you've sobered up a bit. Even so, you feel slightly heavy in the skull and slightly light in the body.

You go and join your friends in the kitchen.

“Hi, folks,” you say, entering the room. “Remember the rules of engagement tonight. If any of us cop off with someone, none of us is to interrupt, interfere or participate in the fornicatory doo-dahs unless specifically invited to do so.”

There are grunts of agreement.

“You're looking fragrant,” Beta says to you. “Fancy your luck tonight, do you?”

“My people have expectations of me,” you smile, “but if I strike out, I'll call on your services.”

“I'm not your dirt bag of last resort,” says Beta. “And anyway, as Carly Simon said, you had me several years ago when I was still quite naïve. What she didn't add was that in your case, you only had me in your sad, deluded imagination.”

“You hurt me, comrade,” you say. “You wound me deeply.” You plonk yourself down at the table with the others. “Should we have a beverage or two before we go out so as to get us in the mood?”

Alpha looks over. “You mean shall we have a few drinks here so that we don't have to pay so much buying drinks when we're out?”

You grin. “You've got the gist of it,” you say.

Alpha sighs. “We've still got my bottle of vodka untouched from earlier on. We can have that. I'll go and fetch it.” They walk all the way over to the freezer, take out their bottle of vodka, and pour out five shot glasses. “May your children have the fathers you say they do,” they say.

The table of young, idealistic people knock back their shots.

“I was thinking,” you say. “I might just get a half bottle of vodka from the corner shop on our way out and take the occasional sip from it every now and again this evening so I don't have to buy many, if any, drinks. I'm a bit skint.”

“Good thinking,” says Gamma. “I'm down on the dollars too. I think I'll do the same.”

Beta and Delta say they'll do likewise.

“Cheapskates,” says Alpha. “Why didn't you all arrange to have a rich dad like me who could at least give you a decent allowance to survive on?”

Gamma laughed. “Someone in college told me you actually got your money by being on the game.”

Alpha snorted. “If that was true, with my looks and sexual prowess I'd be so rich I wouldn't be living with you lot, would I? Come on, let's have another shot. When this bottle's finished, we ought to make a move.”

They pour out the shots. You knock yours back. “Yes,” you say, illustrating your slow reactions. “By the way, which club are we going to? Which one's best this night of the week?”

“Cummin Inn?” suggests Gamma.

“What about Opens Early?” suggests Delta.

“Three Fingers is probably best tonight,” says Alpha. “Perhaps have a couple of drinks in the Star Bar first.”

“I second that,” you say.

The others agree with you. All of you then have another couple of shots just to empty the bottle. You chat a bit about past relationships and about how your university courses are going, then you go off and give yourselves a final sprucing up so that you're looking your best. Then you all head off.


At the Star Bar, you and your friends order a round of drinks. They order 'pop' and discreetly top it up with vodka once they're back at the table. You order a mineral water. Having drunk some of the water out of your glass, under the table you surreptitiously top up your glass with vodka from the half-bottle you bought from the corner shop on the way over here.

You, alcoholically and financially, are a happy bunny.

Standing at the bar you notice a couple of attractive specimens of the opposite sex. That's to say, after all the vodka you've drunk, they look pretty attractive to you. You're feeling pretty attractive yourself too. You go up to the bar on the pretext of getting yourself another mineral water. While you're up there, you try and chat to these two characters. They cold-shoulder you, but you persevere. What's wrong with them? Can't they see you're quite a catch? Reluctantly they eventually hob-nob with you. They reveal that they too are moving on to the Three Fingers night club after they've finished their drinks here.

“Might bump into you there then,” you say, sensing that, for the time being at least, they want to be left alone. And with that, you diplomatically withdraw with your water to your table, there again discreetly to top up your glass from your vodka bottle.


Not too long later, you and your friends move on to the Three Fingers. There you continue with your cheapo water-vodka drinking. By this time you know for sure that you're sex on legs, and you get up and dance to prove it. The other dancers seem to be giving you a fair amount of space, presumably so they can get far enough away from you to see you all the better. You're in heaven in your own little world, idolized and adored by the gaping multitude, many of whom for some reason have their backs to you.

After about half an hour you're thinking about grabbing yourself some more drink when you notice that a few meters away from you are the two good-lookers you briefly talked to in the Star Bar. You use your elbows to part a passage through the other dancers to get next to them.

The great thing about night clubs is that they are supposedly designed for chatting up and for being chatted up, but what they do is play music so loud that it's impossible to be heard by other people or to hear what other people are saying to you, yet somehow, in a primitive, deaf-dumb-and-blind-kid sort of way, it seems to work, and communication is established.

You manage to convey to these two that if they come over to the table where you and your friends are sitting, they will be eligible for free drinks. Short of offering people money, property and material possessions, offering them alcohol is about the best way of getting them to do what you want.

Over at your table, you are surprised to find you can all just about hear and understand each other. Your new friends tell you what drinks they want, and you go up to the bar and get them. You get a fresh glass of mineral water for yourself. Coming back, you hand the others their drinks.

“Myself, I don't drink,” you tell them.

They look surprised, disbelieving, then slightly impressed.

“No way!” one of them says. “What's that you've got there?”

You hand your glass over. “You tell me,” you say rather smugly.

They try it, then hand it to their friend, who also tries it. “Water?” they both say together incredulously.

Your glass is handed back to you. “Water,” you say with a smile. You take a sip of it, inwardly grimacing at its present lack of vodka. “You see,” you continue, “I'm on a diet.”

“A diet?” the other two say. “What sort of diet?”

“It's called … The Water Diet,” you explain.

They look baffled.

You explain further. “For twenty-one days I'm only allowed to consume water.” You sigh. “There are other things I'd like to get my lips around, but that isn't possible without other people's permission.”

The two opposite you smile.

“Maybe we could give you permission,” one of them says.

You smile back. “That would be nice. I'm so hungry I could eat anything.”

Your two new friends enjoy your company increasingly. The ice is broken. They are warming to you. The three of you begin to get on rather well.

Imperceptibly, under the table, you get some vodka into your glass. You're not unhappy with the way the evening is progressing.


At the end of the night, after buying your new friends more drinks and continuing to keep yourself surreptitiously topped up, you invite them back to your place. From when you get to the kitchen, after having stopped at the convenience store on the way to buy a couple of bottles of vodka that you say are for your mates and for any house-guests that might be staying over, it is only a short time and a short distance to get your guests into your room. Knowing that any imbibing will be impossible to conceal, you take three glasses in with you and announce that for the first time in three years, you will have a drink. You say it's because you like them so much that you want all three of you to be doing the same things together.

And that is what the three of you proceed to do, not just with drinking, but also in the demanding but entertaining field of synchronized mattress gymnastics.

It's messy, but someone has to do it.

Day Four

How much sex would there be in the world if alcohol didn't exist?

I've got no idea, but I suspect it would be a lot less than there is at the moment. Alcohol gets people uninhibited, and casting off inhibitions is what gets people into bed together. It lets them do things they wouldn't do if they were sober.


Today with our diet we're going to look at a posh woman and see how she handles the diet, and how it fits into her life, or at least into this particular day in her life. Her name is …

What's that? You want to know how our student friend got on last night? Quite well actually. Eventually they did manage, after all their exertions and contortions, to get some sleep. Unusually though, they woke up quite early. This was because of a pressing need to get out of bed and go to the loo. They needed to get rid of some of that water they'd drunk yesterday. As an aside, if you drink only vodka and lay off the water entirely, you will never need to visit the toilet. Members of the monarchy know this, and this is why, when they have a full day of engagements ahead of them, and therefore can't be sure when they might have an opportunity to nip off and point Percy at the porcelain, or for my lady to top up the porcelain lake, what they do is drink only vodka, eschewing all other liquids. This means they can go the whole day without requesting one of their servants to bring them their monogrammed potty.

All members of royalty carry their own personal flask of vodka with them.

But let's get back to our student. Having got out of bed and headed towards the wash basin in the corner of the room, they manage to relieve themselves after a little gymnastic contorting. (Oh come on! You didn't really think a student would go all the way down the corridor to the bathroom just to have a piss?) Then they turn around and look at their bed, and at the two people in it.

That's funny, they think. Last night I went to bed with two really attractive people and had great sex, and now I've woken up only to find two mingers in my bed.

My friends, this is the result of suffering from the alcohol-induced optical illusion know to optometrists the world over as 'beer goggles'. If you drink sufficient alcohol, not only do you suffer from the delusion that you yourself are irresistibly attractive, you also suffer from the illusion that other people are too. You will, in fact, if you drink enough, be prepared to sleep with anything that has a pulse and isn't awake enough to say 'no'.

Our student friend had indulged in some pretty active and inventive sex with their two new acquaintances last night - perhaps too active and indulgent. Indeed this morning our student's genitals were aching quite noticeably. And the hole at the back where stuff is supposed to come out and not go in … well, that ached too. Also, rather surprisingly, their jaw felt as if it had almost been dislocated.

What had they been doing?

Our student looked in the shabby, cracked mirror over the washbasin. Their cheeks were red raw. Their hair was sticky and matted. Then they noticed an itching sensation down their front. Looking down, they saw on their torso, and increasingly around their midriff, a lot of rather odd red spots. Their gaze continued further down to the region of their genitals, which seemed, in the midst of a blanket of redness, to be … almost … green.

Surely genitals shouldn't be almost green?

Oh my God, thought our student. What did I do last night? And exactly who are these two people that I did it with?

What they had done, of course, was what they wouldn't have done if they had been sober.

So let that be a lesson to you. Either be strong-willed enough not do things when drunk that you wouldn't do when sober, or don't drink. If you do drink, lock yourself away from other people so that not only will you not be tempted to do anything unwise, but even if you are tempted, you won't physically be able to give in to your urges.

And now back to our posh woman and her day on our excellent, health-giving, vodka and water diet.


Mwah! Mwah! “Have a good day at work, Hugo, darling,” said Jackie to her husband, planting air-kisses near each of his cheeks. “Make lots of lovely money for us, won't you?”

“I'll do my best, darling,” said Hugo, or, to give him his full name, Nigel Hugo Tarquin Peregrine de la Ponsonby Smith. What is it with people who use their second name as their first name? Is there something about their first name that they're ashamed of?

“You've never let me down yet,” said Jackie, whose name was actually Jaquelina, “and I'm sure you won't today. Now go on! Your driver's waiting.”

Hugo obediently left for work. Like many posh people, he was basically a thief in a suit. He worked in finance. But calling someone a crook is rude, so people like Hugo are normally described as being 'something in the city'.

Jackie turned to her two children. She could never remember their names. Fortunately she had someone to do that for her. A girl from East Europe or somewhere. She could never remember her name either. It was Taramasalata or something like that. “Now you two,” she said to her children. “You can play and watch cartoons for another half hour until …” she looked at her watch and made out the time from amongst the diamonds, “… half past seven. Then ….” She looked across at a rather attractive young Ukrainian woman.

“Tanya, Mrs. Smith,” said the young woman.

“Mrs. de la Ponsonby Smith,” Jackie corrected her. Like many Smiths who have done well in life, she lived in mortal dread of being thought of as a common-or-garden Smith. She turned back to her children. “Tanya will take you upstairs and get you ready for school, and then when she brings you down, mummy will drive you there.”

“Come on Toby. Come on Tabitha,” said Tanya to the two children. She held out her hands and the kids ran up and grabbed them. Then the three of them went laughing and chatting out of the room and down a corridor to where the children had their own play room.

Toby and Tabitha, thought Jackie. I must remember their names. Perhaps I should make a note. And I should make a note of that girl's name. What was it?

Straining to remember, Jackie gave up and went into the kitchen. She picked up some tablet ebook-reader sort of thing and looked at the screen. It showed The Vodka And Water Diet.

“Seems quite simple,” she said to herself. “I just drink vodka and water, every hour on the hour. I can have other drinks too if I want to, except that one that the poor people drink. What's it called?” She thought. “Yah, beer. Fortunately I can't stand the stuff anyway. And then I don't eat much food, if any at all, and if I do, I eat the minimum amount I can survive on, and that food should be raw fruit and salad, and nuts and seeds, and maybe cooked flesh if I'm not going to be vegan. And I absolutely can't have processed food, and definitely no carbohydrates.”

She put the tablet thing down and patted it. “Reading the book on this thing has saved cutting down thousands of trees.” For a moment she was thoughtful. “But,” she said, “I'm glad Hugo made a killing investing in that tree-felling operation in the Amazon rain forest a few years back.”

She looked around. “The fellow who wrote this book said he drinks Russian Standard vodka and Badoit water, but he's a writer and bound to be poor and have no taste whatsoever, so what vodka and water should someone like me drink? Come to that, what vodka and water have we actually got in the house?” She shook her head and tut-tutted. “Hugo drinks bucket-loads. I'll go and see what he's got in his drinks cabinet.”

She went out of the kitchen and into another room where there was a big drinks cabinet. Looking in it, she grabbed a bottle and inspected the label on it. It said 'Grey Goose'. “Grey Goose?” said Jackie. “Never heard of it. But it'll have to do.” She looked in the cabinet again, reached in, and came out with a rather lovely flask. “Essential to the diet,” she murmured contentedly. “And it's rather aesthetically pleasing too.” Carrying the vodka and the flask, she went back to the kitchen. Putting the drink and the flask on the table, she went over and looked in the fridge. Her eyes rested on a jar sealed with a screw top and containing a clear liquid. “Water blessed by Father O'Sertian when he came to dinner last week,” Jackie squealed. “How could I have forgotten it?” She thought back to that evening. “And that young nephew he brought with him was such a lovely, sweet little boy too.”

Taking the jar of holy water with her, she walked back over to the table. There she mixed herself a flask full of vodka and water. Then she popped the flask into her handbag. It was a black 1984 Hermès Birkin. Don't even ask what it cost, but it was a lot more than Tanya got paid in a year.

Having sorted out her VAW supply, Jackie looked at the vodka and water that remained on the table. Then she looked at her watch. It was half past seven. It was then that her two children and Tanya appeared in the doorway of the kitchen.

“Hello, mummy,” said Toby and Tabitha in unison.

“What are you doing, mummy?” asked Toby.

Jackie looked at the vodka and water. “Just tidying up, darling,” she said. She gazed at her children. She hoped that Tabitha would marry a rich man and that Toby would become a rich man.

“We're just going upstairs,” said Tanya. “Then we'll be down at eight ready to go off to school.”

“Don't be late,” said Jackie, waving them away.

Tanya, Toby and Tabitha disappeared.

Turning back to the vodka and water, Jackie thought briefly, and then she went over to a cupboard and took out a lovely hand-etched crystal glass tumbler. Going back to the table, she put the tumbler down and picked up the vodka bottle. “Two measures of this stuff,” she said, pouring a generous version of 'two measures' into the glass. Then she put the bottle down and picked up the jar of holy water. Unscrewing the top, she poured some of the blessed elixir into the tumbler, saying, “And four measures of this.” She then resealed the jar, put it down, picked up the tumbler, and looked at it lovingly. Indeed she looked at it more lovingly than she looked at her children. “This,” she said, “is my version of The Vodka And Water Diet.”

And with that, she took a couple of healthy gulps from the tumbler.

After that, she busied herself in the kitchen, putting on a TV for the financial and business news. Then she stood still.

“But which drink was that?” she asked herself. She looked at her watch. It was a quarter to eight. “But surely that was only my six o'clock drink? What about my seven o'clock one?” She shook her head. “Do things properly, Jaquelina,” she said to herself, “or don't do things at all.” She smiled. “I didn't get where I am today ….” She stopped and quietly remembered John Barron playing C. J. opposite Leonard Rossiter's Reginald Iolanthe Perrin in The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin. She laughed. “I didn't get where I am today without making enemies.”

She mixed another drink and drank it quickly. Then she mixed another one and started on that in a more leisurely fashion. “This,” she said with a smile, “is my eight o'clock one.” She took a sip. “I must finish it before I have to take the children to school. I can't drink while I'm driving. That's illegal.” She hesitated. “Or is it only illegal if the police catch you doing it?”

As she was polishing off her third drink, Tanya, Toby and Tabitha reappeared.

“The children are ready, Mrs. de la Ponsonby Smith.”

“Good,” said Jackie. She put the tumbler in the sink for the cleaner to wash up, then she put the vodka and holy water in the fridge. Unaware of the rather quizzical looks of her children and Tanya, she grabbed a car key that was hanging on a hook. “Come on,” she said. “Let's go.”


The journey to Toby and Tabitha's school was managed perfectly safely, despite the three drinks that Jackie had consumed. This was because they were in a huge four-wheel-drive that flattened all obstacles before it and intimidated drivers of lesser vehicle to move out of the way. Over here in Britain we affectionately call such cars 'Chelsea tractors'. Little people look up to them and their drivers with the utmost fondness and respect.

Near the school, Jackie parked outside someone's house, blocking their driveway, and Toby and Tabitha jumped out. “See you at closing time,” Jackie called out as she drove off. Then she corrected herself. “I mean I'll pick you up when they throw you out.”


Back at the house, she busied herself with telling the cleaner what to do, and telling the gardener-handyman what to do. That's what rich people do. They tell other people what to do.

Rather cleverly Jackie had stopped on the way home from her children's school and bought another bottle of Grey Goose. She put it in Hugo's drinks cabinet to replace the bottle she was drinking from.

Having had her ten, eleven and twelve o'clock VAW's (the nine o'clock one she had taken in the form of a couple of gulps from her flask), it was now time to meet up with another yummy mummy for lunch. They were meeting at San Pretensio's Italian Bistrette. (Eat your heart out, Jamie Oliver. You call your places Jamie's Italian, but we all know you're not Italian.)

Jackie jumped in her 4×4 and set off.

The two great things about being in a big, posh 4×4 is that you can look down on the lower orders, which is of course what the lower orders crave and expect (and secretly rather enjoy) and the other thing is that if you crash into one of them in one of their ghastly cheap little tin boxes on wheels, they get killed and you don't, because your car weighs as much as a tank and is built like one, while their cars are made out of recycled baked bean tins.

At lunch, Jackie and Samantha had a great time together. I suppose it's fortunate rich women's husbands don't get to listen in on their wives' conversations, but we can. At least today we can, with these two.

“Is that another drink you're having, Jackie?” Samantha asked.

“I have to, Sam,” giggled Jackie. “It's this special diet I'm on. It's called The Fuck Food Diet. No, hold on, that's not right. It's The Vodka And Water Diet. It's great. And it makes you feel so good. It really loosens you up.”

“I can tell,” said Samantha.

“You know,” said Jackie. “After all these years, I still can't believe I got someone like Hugo to marry me. And stay married to me!” She took a sip of her drink and laughed. “Are men stupid, or what?”

Samantha giggled. “I know. I feel the same. All I do is spend my husband's money, and the idiot loves it!”

Jackie leaned forward conspiratorially, “You know, Sam,” she said, “I've never told anyone this, but when I left uni and started work at Hugo's bank as a secretary, I couldn't make ends meet.” She leant back in her seat, her drink in her hand. Half-closing her eyes and nodding her head as she gazed across at Samantha, she said, “I went on the game for a few years. It was the only thing that kept me afloat. When I finished work in the evening, and sometimes at weekends too, I'd prop up the bar in one of the five-star hotels here in London and wait to get propositioned. I always did.” She leant forward. “I earned a fortune. That's how I got that little house of mine in Mayfair. I still own it.” She leant back. “Just in case. You know what I mean? If Hugo dumps me, I'll still have somewhere to go while I'm divorcing him.” She took another sip of her drink. “Actually, to be honest, I really enjoyed what I did. I'd have done it anyway for free with some of the guys I went with. But I needed the money, so getting paid made it doubly worthwhile.” She put her glass down. “Of course I gave it all up when Hugo showed he was serious about me.”

“Well,” said Samantha rather quietly, “I suppose we all have a past.” She looked at her watch.“Is that the time? I've got to dash.” She stood up. “Listen, don't worry about the bill. I'll settle up for both of us on the way out. Your treat next time.” She walked away, then stopped and turned. “Oh, Jackie, will you be at the Save The Puppies And Kittens charity do tonight?”

“Yes,” said Jackie.

“Great,” said Samantha. She had a big smile, but narrowed eyes. “See you there then.”

And with that, she left.


Some rich women are incredibly busy. Some of them don't really have a moment they can call their own. Jackie had not only done all that she had done in the morning, and then had lunch, but now she had to spend an hour and a half shopping, and then she had to dash off to pick up her kids from their posh kids' school.


What is it with other drivers? Have you noticed that when you've had a drink and you're driving perfectly well, other road-users are all over the place, and they seem to do the silliest and most inconsiderate things.

Jackie picked the kids up, got them home, and off-loaded them onto Tanya. Then she spent a little time dealing with emails, paperwork and money matters.

Everything was, it seemed, in order and under control.

When Hugo got home that evening, Jackie reminded him about the charity do they had to go to, and she ordered him to go upstairs and get ready. A short while later he came back downstairs looking very smart, and, in a chauffeur-driven car, they set off.


At the charity do there were a lot of familiar faces. Jackie was a little tanked up by now, to put it mildly, but she was … what shall we say? … bubbly. Of course she had her flask with her, from which she could take a nip when she needed her alcohol level topping up. Her husband had earlier accused her of being tipsy, but she had denied it, declaring that she was merely on a special diet that required her to take a particular medication and to abstain from food, and one of the known side effects of the diet was that it could make people seem a little light headed.

Her husband seemed skeptical.

Over on the other side of the room, Jackie spotted Samantha, but when Jackie tried to catch her eye, Samantha turned away and continued chatting to the other woman she was with. The two women put their heads together rather conspiratorially. Then the other woman looked over at Jackie, and then spoke with Samantha again and laughed and shook her head. Another woman came over and joined the two women. This woman also looked across at Jackie, but instead of laughing, she frowned disapprovingly.

What was going on?


It was a funny evening. Of course a lot of money was raised for puppies and kittens, which was great, and everyone seemed to be getting on well and having a great time. It was just that people were being a bit funny with Hugo and Jackie. Well, not with Hugo, but with Jackie. People seemed either to be laughing at her a little bit, even mocking her, or disapproving of her in some way, but definitely something wasn't right. It was as though Hugo and Jackie, although as rich and socially well-connected as they had ever been, had had their status down-graded a couple of notches, and they were somehow being cold-shouldered by other people.

Just what was it with all those funny looks, and so many people whispering to each other as they looked at Jackie? Something was going on. Something had happened.

Or something had been said.


Well, friends, as the great Rolf Harris used to say - “Can you tell what it is yet?”

Of course you can. Jackie had revealed too much during her intoxicated lunch with Samantha, and word of what she had said had been spread all over London in the blink of an eye. (Which just goes to show you - never trust a friend.) Jackie had revealed stuff about herself that she shouldn't have revealed, and now her lubricious past was common knowledge.

And you know what it was that had loosened her tongue? That's right - too much vodka and water.


So what lesson can we learn from this?

You've got it - dieting can make you say and do things that you later regret.

So please be careful if you go on a diet of any description. The consequences may be much greater and much worse than you expect.

Day Five

I appreciate that many of you would prefer this well-researched and scientifically proven diet to be presented in the form of a conventional and straightforward diet book, packed with useful, slimming recipes … so that is what you will now get.

Over here in Britain, where we pick the low-hanging fruit, genetically multiply it, then pay it to multiply further, we have rare spots of brightness. Some of them are talented in the realm of food and drink. Some of them are merely given to indulging in food. Some of them are given to drink. A talented spotlight of my 'youf' (this is how Britain's illiterate 'yout' now tink dat yout is spelt - thanks, comprehensive schools and socialists) was Graham Kerr - the Galloping Gourmet. A later version of 'the drinking chef' was Keith Floyd. Unfortunately sometimes a big personality entails having a shorter than usual life, and that was the case with Floyd.

I was booked to appear in a slot on the Morning Moan program on the Bestli Fux TV channel so that I could give viewers some idea of what sort of food and drink they should consume if they were on The VAW Diet. I turned up at the studio on time, but then when the program producer came over to say 'hello' to me, she said she couldn't let me go in front of the camera because I was 'unphotogenic'. What does that mean? Is it shorthand for ugly? Also she said I was 'packing a few pounds'.

You cannot live as I have lived and not end up looking like this, my dear.

She then said she was calling in someone else to replace me, but that this other person would present the same drinks and dishes that I had been going to present … and I would still get my fee! Imagine what a happy bunny I was. I didn’t have to work, but I was still going to get paid.

Of course I made a token protest, but after several seconds I yielded. Why should I care if someone else was going to work to earn me money?

The guy they called in to go on the show in my place was Slam Fetter, the celebrity chef. He looks just like I did twenty years ago, except he's rather taller and better looking than I was then. Also he has more charisma and he's a better cook.

When he arrived about half an hour later, he came over to me and shook my hand.

“Alright, mate?” he said. “Sorry you weren't cut out for this sort of thing, but don't worry, I won't let you down. I'll present your stuff exactly the way you would have done it yourself.”

He beamed me a big white TV smile.

“Nice teeth,” I said.

“They cost a fortune,” he said, “but you need them if you want to get on in this business. Why don't you get yours done? And get some cosmetic surgery too. Do that and I reckon you could go far in this business.” He looked down at me like a father who's just discovered he's got an idiot for a child. “Listen,” he went on, “I've got to get ready. I'll be on in a minute.”

And with that, he was gone.

Ten minutes later I saw him start the presentation that I should have been doing if I hadn't apparently fallen from the fat and ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.


Slam Fetter looked straight into the camera from the kitchen that had been mocked up in the studio. His eyes twinkled. His white teeth glistened.

“Gooooood moooorning!” he boomed.

He sure knew how to please a daytime TV audience.

“Now listen,” he began. “We were supposed to have the author of The Vodka And Water Diet here today - Paul Bowden - but he's … indisposed.” Slam looked to one side at someone off camera. “Perhaps he's been following his own diet and he's lying in a heap in the gutter somewhere.”

He laughed and looked back into the camera. “Remember what they used to say about Jeffrey Bernard? Jeffrey Bernard is unwell. Well, Paul Bowden is unwell. So …” and here his smile became even more dazzling, “…you'll just have to make do with me.” You could hear the producer's knees parting, no doubt along with those of many of Slam's female viewers.

Slam reached to one side and grabbed a carton of V8-style tomato-vegetable juice. “There's a load of crap talked about mixing a Bloody Mary. This is how I do it, and I don't see why you shouldn't do it this way too.” He slid a glass across the work surface, poured in some juice, pulled into view a bottle of Russian Standard, poured some of that into the glass, poured some more juice in, and stirred the mixture. “Make it about four parts juice to one part vodka. You've got juice, vodka, nothing else.”

Slam knocked back the drink in one go and banged the empty glass down on the work surface. “And no, you don't have to stir it with a stick of celery. You can stir it with a spoon. You can stir it with your finger if you like.” He winked at the camera. “I know I sometimes like to get my fingers stuck into a nice big Bloody Mary and waggle them around a bit.”

He pushed the empty glass away and pulled a clean tumbler into view. “You know it's called The Vodka And Water Diet. I know it's called The Vodka And Water Diet. But variety adds spice to life, so try this.”

He put a flat absinthe spoon across the top of the new glass, put a sugar cube on it (unusually this was a brown sugar cube), grabbed a bottle of La Fée, and poured some of its rich green contents over the sugar and into the tumbler.

“Toss me a lighter,” he said to someone off screen.

Someone chucked him a cigarette lighter, which he caught adroitly.

“You're a good tosser,” smiled Slam to the invisible off-screen person.

He clicked the lighter and set light to the sugar cube. Then he threw the lighter back to its owner.

“You don't toss too bad yourself,” said a voice off-screen.

“Years of practice,” said Slam. Then he added casually, “In the gaps between my five marriages, that is.” He watched the burning sugar cube in silence for a few seconds, and then he poured a little bit of water over it from a jug so that the cube crumbled and dissolved through the spoon into the absinthe, making the drink go cloudy. He picked up the glass and put it to his lips. “This,” he said, “is potent stuff.” He knocked it back in one go. Then he put the empty glass down and half-filled it with neat absinthe. “But if you want to show you're a real man - even if you're a woman - try drinking absinthe straight.”

He knocked back the neat absinthe, put the glass down, and pushed it to one side.

“Now,” he said, “I'm going to show you a few simple dishes of the sort that suits The VAW Diet. Quick, easy and simple is the key here.”

In front of him was a chopping board and a twenty centimeter Zwilling Damascus chef's knife. Briskly Slam sharpened the knife on a steel. “What you're looking for on this diet is to keep away from stodge and carbohydrate. You want to try to keep your food as natural and as raw as you can. So,” he took a bag of something from someone off camera, “here's a bag of stir fry from a supermarket. Now, what do you do with stir fry? You probably think you stir fry it of course.” He shook his head. “But no you don't. What you do is eat it raw. Treat it like a salad.” He tipped some of the bean sprout and shredded vegetable mixture onto the chopping board. “Get it down into pieces one or two centimeters long so it's easy to eat.” He quickly roughly chopped it. “Put it on a plate.” Here he put a little pile of it on a white plate about fifteen centimeters square. Then he reached to one side and pulled into view a jar of cheap supermarket chutney. “This stuff costs pennies, but basically this cheapo chutney has the same ingredients in it as the fancy-label stuff. Put a dollop of it on the chopped up stir fry.” He did that. “Now, what are you missing? You're missing protein. With this, I'd suggest a pork chop, lightly fried in unsalted butter, with the fat left on the chop.”

He put the gas on under a heavy Le Creuset frying pan, put a slice of butter in it, then went over to a fridge, took out a pork chop, and walked back and placed it in the pan. “Normally I'd have taken the chop out a good half hour ago to let it 'relax', if I can put it like that, but on TV, in a hot studio, we have to satisfy 'elf 'n' safety' and keep meat refrigerated.” He looked at the sizzling pork. “Don't worry about eating animal fat, unless you really don't like the stuff. It won't do you any harm. What you want to be avoiding is processed food.” He leaned forward, his arms outspread on the work surface, and looked straight into the camera. “Now on this diet, what would I be thinking of having for breakfast?” He grabbed a clean tumbler, put a dose of vodka in it, then a splash of water from the tap. “That's right,” he said, taking a sip from the glass. “Vodka and water.” He put the glass down. “Do you remember that large, well-known, multi-national company that was selling mineral water a few years back, except that the stuff they were selling wasn't mineral water, it was just ordinary tap water? Well let's not be pretentious when it comes to water. Nine times out of ten, the stuff out of the tap is going to be good enough for our needs. Paul Bowden says he likes Badoit. For me it's got too much flavor, too many bubbles, and it taints the vodka. But it's all down to personal choice. You've got to find the vodka and the water that suits your own taste.”

Slam picked up the tumbler again and drained it. Putting it to one side, he went on, “Of course there's nothing really stopping you mixing your vodka with something other than water. When I've gone through my big drinking phases, I've been partial to having vodka with fruit juice.” He turned the pork chop over in the frying pan. “And of course you can drink alcoholic drinks other than vodka too.” He bent down and produced a couple of bottles from under the work surface. “I got these from a supermarket on my way in this morning. This one,” he pointed at one of the bottles, “is ready-made Bellini cocktail. And this one,” he pointed at the other bottle, “is ready-made Kir Royal.” He put the bottles back under the work surface. “Why not have one of those for breakfast?”

He took the pork chop out of the pan, cut the meat off the bone, roughly chopped the meat and the fat, and put the pieces on the stir fry salad. “There you go,” he said. “A meal could hardly be simpler.” He looked into the camera. “Now listen,” he said. “I know Paul lets you go a bit crazy on the first day of the diet, eating and drinking what you want, but after that first day you have to keep the food down to a minimum. You get your buzz from drinking for the three weeks that the diet lasts, but to compensate for that indulgence you have to eat as little food as possible.”

He turned and went over to a fridge and took from it a small bowl and a plate. Coming back to the work surface with them, he said, “In fact I would even venture to suggest that you only eat one meal a day, if you can manage with that.”

He smiled at the camera. “Just make that one meal a good one.”

He looked down at the bowl. “Here I've got some broad beans.” Then he looked at the plate. “And here I've got a small piece of tuna steak that I've already lightly cooked.” From one side he produced a beautiful Japanese knife and began to slice the tuna into slivers on a chopping board. Inside the cooked, crusted exterior, the interior of the tuna appeared almost raw. “Mix the tuna with the beans.” He put the pieces of tuna into the bowl with the beans and jumbled them together. “Finely chop a small amount of onion. Put that in.” He did that. “Then salt, pepper, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, and chopped herbs of your own choice.” He put the first four of these ingredients into the bowl, then looked up. “I'm in a funny mood today,” he said, “so I'm going to put in basil and mint.” He grabbed a small amount of these herbs, quickly chopped them with a hachoir (mezzaluna), and put them into the bowl. He stirred the contents of the bowl with a spoon.

“There you go,” he said, showing the contents of the bowl to the camera. “A perfect, low calorie, carbohydrate-free, nutritious meal.” He pushed the bowl to one side. “Remember,” he went on. “You want to be eating less, eating better, and drinking more.”

Slam now went over to a fridge and came back with another plate. He put it down on a work surface. Slicing what was left of the onion from the tuna and bean dish, he threw the onion slices into a frying pan that had somehow magically appeared on a gas hob while he was off camera and had sizzling olive oil in it. “We don't have enough time to do all these dishes to completion,” he said, addressing the camera, “but give some sliced onions a head start.” He took a couple of rashers of bacon from the plate. “Then add some bacon.” He put the rashers in with the onion. “Then some sliced liver.” He took the couple of slices of liver from the plate and put those in the pan. “I'm using lamb's liver, but you can use liver from whatever animal you want.” He smiled at the camera. “You're going to be giving your own liver a bit of punishment during your three weeks on The VAW Diet, so you might want to rope in someone else's liver to help yours out.” He looked at the pan. “This needs less than five minutes.” He turned over the onions, bacon and liver. “And do you know what I'm going to finish it off with?” he said to the camera. He grabbed from off-screen a tub of gravy granules. “Yes!” he laughed. “Ready-made gravy!” He spooned some of the granules into a cup. A kettle was handed to him, and he poured some of the boiling water into the cup. He got rid of the kettle and stirred the gravy. “But,” he said, “we want to make it interesting and individual. Myself, I might add some mushroom ketchup, or a little balsamic vinegar. But,” he reached to one side and grabbed the jar of chutney used in the first dish he had done, “I might put some of this in.” Slam put a spoonful of chutney into the small amount of gravy he had made and stirred it all together. It looked thick and rich-red-brown. Taking the onion, bacon and liver from the pan and putting them on a plate, he poured the gravy over it.

Slam looked into the camera. “Are you getting the idea? We want quick. We want simple. We don't want to be focusing much on food at all. But what we don't want to be eating is rice, pasta, bread, potatoes, and other gunk like that. For example,” he pulled into view an apple and some hard cheese, “you know what a ploughman's lunch is. It's basically bread and cheese.” He smiled. “And maybe some chutney. But we're keeping away from bread. So what we might do is this.” He took the apple and sliced it around the core, making the slices about half a centimeter thick. “Slice some apple like this. Cut the slices into fairly regular bite-size pieces. Do the same with some cheese. This is Kefalotryri. Put the pieces of cheese on the pieces of apple. Stick them on a plate.” He did this. “And eat them.” He popped some apple and cheese into his mouth. Eating the mouthful quickly, he then reached over, grabbed the bottle of Russian Standard, took several glugs of neat vodka from it, and slammed it down on the work surface.

“And that, my friends,” he said, “constitutes a meal on The VAW Diet.”

In silence Slam tidied up the work surface. “Going back to the idea of eating liver so as to give your own liver a helping hand,” he said, addressing the camera again, “I had a Moroccan dish of chicken livers when I was on holiday recently. Not in Morocco, by the way. I was in Malta. What made it a little bit different was that the chicken livers still had the chicken hearts attached to them.”

There was a disapproving noise from somewhere in the studio.

Slam grinned and looked off camera at the unseen culprit. “It tasted good,” he said. He looked back to camera. “That's how they were cooked, but I can appreciate that some people might not like the thought of such a dish.”

He appeared to think for a second. “Take a conventional dish like chili con carne. Here outside Latin America we always serve it with rice. On our diet, however, we would forego the rice and simply make it with chilies, meat, tomatoes, onions and beans.” He thought again. “Indeed you could even miss out the beans.” He paused. “And take fish and chips. Do people like us on our diet have chips? No, of course not. But there's no reason why you shouldn't have fried fish if you want to, and that includes having it in batter or breadcrumbs. That's an allowable indulgence. Personally I won't have it that way, but you can. But definitely no chips. No fried potatoes. Instead why not have the fried fish with salad?”

Slam pulled some ingredients towards him. “Here's a couple of absolutely bog-standard dishes that anyone can do. Take an avocado.” He took one and deftly halved it and took the stone out of it. “Get the flesh out of it.” He quickly did this with a spoon, then chopped up the avocado flesh. “Put it together with some prawns.” He fetched some prawns from a fridge and put them with the avocado. “Add vinaigrette, made out of extra virgin olive oil - cloudy and unfiltered is my favorite - vinegar, mustard and seasoning.” Slam did all this quickly and efficiently, the twenty years of working in commercial kitchens showing in his actions. He then poured (or 'drizzled', as some TV chefs like to say these days) some of it over the dish. “And that,” said Slam, “is your meal for the day. It's a classic dish from several decades ago, but it still meets the requirements of an intelligent eater.”

Slam looked into the camera. “If you're going to be eating a lot of salad, getting a salad dressing to suit your taste is pretty important. Experiment with different oils, juices, vinegars, mustards, and seasoning. And alter the proportions, always keeping the amount of oil significantly greater than the vinegar.” He looked down, then looked up again. “For me personally, I stopped having vinegar with my salad dressing some time ago. Now my salad dressing at home with my wife and kids is always raw virgin olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, ground sea salt and peppercorns.”

Slam pushed the avocado and prawns to one side.

“Asparagus wrapped in Parma ham,” he said. “I'm going to cheat. Here's some tinned asparagus.” He pulled an open tin into view. “Obviously this is already cooked.” He took some spears of asparagus out. “I can just wrap each spear in some of this amazing, incredibly thinly sliced Parma ham that I've got here.” He did that. “And I would say that this needs nothing else.” He pushed it to one side. “But actually there are all sorts of slight variations on this meat and asparagus theme, depending on who you listen to. Some people say put some dressing on it. Other people say get the raw spears of asparagus, having taken off the woody part towards the bottom of the stem, wrap them in ham, glaze them with melted butter, and put them in the oven and bake them. Another person will say cook the spears for a couple of minutes in boiling water first. Someone else will say put several spears of asparagus together in each slice of ham. The point is that often there isn't an absolutely right way to do a particular dish. There isn't just one 'correct' recipe. There are many slightly different ways of preparing any given dish, and one of those ways will appeal to you more than the others.” Slam paused and smiled. “Experiment,” he said. “Find out what you like. As for me,” he went on, “I definitely think the asparagus needs some degree of cooking in water before going in the oven. But also I love adding cheese inside the ham with the asparagus. Fontina I go for. Parmesan too. But I especially like Gruyère or Emmental.”

From one side, Slam produced a clean tumbler, put some vodka in it, and the same amount of water. “Drink this on an empty stomach, my friends,” he said with a smile, “and you'll be flying as high as a kite.” He knocked back the drink. “Now,” he continued, putting the empty glass down, “if I was having breakfast, what might I have? I might have muesli with some fruit juice poured over it.” He winked. “But I'd put vodka in the fruit juice. I might have grilled sardines on sliced tomato and onion with salt, pepper, herbs, lemon juice and oil. I might have a boiled egg. How much more simple do you want me to get? And what about lunch?” He thought briefly. “Of course ideally we should really be aiming to have only one meal a day. In that case, if I'd missed out on breakfast, I could afford to do myself a decent lunch. But the other approach to The VAW Diet is to have the usual three meals a day, but to make sure they are small and light. But no matter what you do, there is no snacking at any time between meals. Either you have a proper meal at a proper meal time, or you don't eat anything.”

He poured himself more vodka and water and took a sip from it.

“Let's say I'm just going to do myself a lunch and nothing else for the rest of the day. I'm going to want some fruit, either to start or finish. But for the main part of the meal I might perhaps do this.” He started preparing something, then looked up again. “By the way, during your time on the diet, don't drink tea or coffee, or indeed any hot drinks. If you're having something other than water or an alcoholic drink, make it fruit juice.” Looking down again, he pointed at an escalope that had appeared in front of him. “Some people disapprove of veal, so this is a turkey escalope. You need to flatten it, and you can do that using a mallet or a rolling pin. Put the escalope between some greaseproof paper while you're doing that to it. When you've flattened it so that it's thin and tender, put it into a pan of sizzling butter and seal it on both sides. Then add to the pan some chopped-up anchovy fillets, capers, rosemary, chopped-up tomatoes, chopped-up orange segments and some chopped chorizo sausage. Then cook all these ingredients together for about five minutes.”

Slam put the escalope to one side and pulled into view a frying pan with the finished dish in it. “I did this earlier on to save time. Season it with salt and pepper according to taste. And that is it. Serve it up, and enjoy.”

He took another sip of vodka and water.

“Having just used an escalope, and mentioned Parma ham earlier on in the program in connection with asparagus, you could of course do saltimbocca, like this.” As he gave instructions, he prepared the dish. “Gently fry some finely diced onion in olive oil. Put a slice of Parma ham on a very thin escalope - veal or turkey. Put a sage leaf on the ham. Roll it up with the escalope on the outside. Secure with skewers or with cocktail sticks. Do as many of these as you need. Brown them in the hot oil with the onions. Then put in some chicken or vegetable stock and white wine, cover, and simmer gently for a quarter of an hour. One variation is to replace the wine and stock with Marsala wine and butter. There's another variation with cheese instead of sage.”

Slam pushed the prepared but uncooked dish to one side. Thoughtfully taking another drink of VAW, he continued. “What I think goes without saying on this diet,” he went on, “is that you steer clear of puddings completely. Personally I'd also tend to avoid soups. Once in an amazing bar-restaurant called Balogan City in Galerea Chizhova in Voronezh with Paul I had goulash served in a beautiful, carved-out, pot-shaped loaf of fresh brown bread with a bread-knob on its bread-lid! It was adorable. The only reason I was able to get butter to put on my bread after I'd eaten my goulash out of the loaf was because the girl Paul and I were with that night had ordered blini and salmon 'caviar' and she'd been given butter to go with it. However, she didn't want it, so she gave it to me.” Slam winked at the camera. “If you know what I mean.” He cleared some space on the work surface. “I don't know why I just told you that, because that dish was exactly the sort of dish you should avoid. It was delicious though.”

Of course Slam had never been to Voronezh with me. The story was true in that it had happened to me when I'd been in the Balogan City restaurant with my friend Vicky, but how he'd found out about it, I have no idea. I hadn't even put the story in my book.

Slam went on. “I suppose the ideal sort of dish for this diet would be something like plain grilled or baked fish with a little salad. Marinating the fish can make it more interesting of course.” He took a lime, squeezed its juice into a bowl, added zest from its rind, poured in a little olive oil, added salt, pepper and marjoram, then went over to a fridge and brought out a fresh mackerel. Returning to the work surface, he ran through the ingredients he'd just put together. Then he continued, “Now just make a few cuts on each side of the fish. This obviously is mackerel. Put it on a flat dish or baking tray. Pour over the marinade and leave it in the fridge for at least half an hour. Turn the fish and re-spread the marinade at least once. Then grill the fish and serve it with a simple salad. I'd go for rocket, tomato, onion and anchovy-stuffed olives.”

Slam took another sip of his drink. “By the way, I had leaves from wild garlic in a salad a few days ago. It made a good and slightly unusual addition to the usual salad stuff. You can put the plant's little flowers in too.”

He put his glass down.

“Shellfish, of course, is ideal for The VAW Diet. What could be better than moules marinières? A bit of alcohol in there in the form of the white wine. There's butter and often a little cream too, along with onion, and there's herbs of your choice.” Slam looked into the camera. “I hope you're getting a good feel for the sort of food you can have on The VAW Diet. Really it's a matter of knowing what you should be avoiding - sugars, carbohydrate, processed junk - and then reducing what is left to the minimum amount on which you can survive, or at least the minimum you feel happy living on.” He finished off his vodka and water and poured himself another one. “Talking about marinades, try marinating fresh shrimps in vodka, chili, lemongrass and garlic, then cook them quickly in hot oil. Another recipe I like with a bit of vodka in it is to fry some chorizo in a little oil, splash in a little vodka to loosen up the flavorsome stuff that's stuck to the bottom of the pan, then add some clams. Heat the mixture through, and eat it. Of course normally you'd expect to serve those dishes with some form of stodge - pasta or noodles or rice or potato - but we're going to miss out on that.”

Slam looked at his watch. “I'm afraid we're out of time folks. I wish you all the best on The Vodka And Water Diet, and hope you lose all the weight you want to lose. Also I hope the diet makes you feel good about the world, about life in general, and about yourself. He pushed his glass to one side. “Now I think our lovely weather girl is going to tell you about the weather you can expect today.”


So that was the performance I should have given, but which I knew that Slam Fetter had given so much better than I ever could have done. Off camera after his performance I thanked him for standing in for me. However, his mind was already moving on to other things. Before I left, we shared a drink - vodka and water, of course - and then a security guard showed me out of the studio and onto the street.

On the way home I decided that some people, like me, had to make do with being mere writers whilst others moved on to seize the fame, glory and wealth that can come from appearing on screen - be that the big screen or the small screen.

Day Six

Barry can see he's going to have a problem with The Vodka And Water Diet. So can his wife Sheila. But she sees a slightly different problem to the one he sees.


Barry had worked in the public sector, so he had been able to retire in his early fifties on a reasonable pension. His parents had died, and so had his wife's, and they'd inherited some capital, so all in all they were pretty well sorted financially. Certainly there was no need for either of them to look for work. It meant that both of them had plenty of free time, and they weren't short of a bob or two to spend in that free time.

In his retirement Barry liked to fill his time with his passion for real ale in the company of his friends.


It was breakfast time at Barry and Sheila's house. Barry was sitting expectantly at the table in their big kitchen while Sheila busied herself doing something with food.

Barry turned a page of the newspaper that he had delivered to the house each morning. He was one of a dying breed of people who liked to fondle paper as they read words. He was OK with the internet, but he still liked a good old-fashioned newspaper to get his news and opinions from.

He looked at a picture of a female celebrity on a red carpet, her tits almost hanging out of a 'barely there' dress. What was it that women said? They wanted to be respected for their brains and their ability, not their bodies. And then they did this.

Barry looked across at his wife. She was a homely creature, well suited for coping with the tolerance and endurance that is required to make any marriage last.

He turned to another page in his newspaper.

“I don't know how the lads are going to cope with me being on this diet,” he said. “They'll rib me something rotten.”

“Be a man, Barry,” said Sheila. “Tell them that you've just got to get some weight off, and this is how you're going to do it. It's only for three weeks. After that you can go back to drinking beer again.” She put some ice cubes in a transparent plastic cocktail shaker, added two measures of the local supermarket's own-brand vodka to it, and about twice that amount of water from a bottle.

“I've got you some Malvern Spring Water,” she said, closing up the shaker and giving it a few vigorous shakes to mix its contents.

“What is my life coming to when I have to drink water?” sighed Barry. “It's not natural for a man to drink water. Next I'll be wearing fluffy pink slippers.”

Sheila put the shaker down. She returned the water bottle to the fridge and the vodka bottle to the freezer. At the same time she took from the freezer a tumbler. She poured the drink from the shaker into the tumbler and took it over to her husband. “There,” she said, putting it down in front of him. “Take your medicine like a good boy.”

Barry - all hundred kilos of him - picked up the drink and sipped it through his shaggy full-face beard.

“It tastes like water with alcohol in it,” he said, putting the glass down.

“No shit, Sherlock,” said Sheila. “I can't wait for your next discovery.” She emptied the ice out of the shaker, rinsed the shaker, dried it, and put it away in a cupboard ready for its next use in an hour's time. “Guess what you're having for breakfast?” she said.

Barry sat there in his moth-eaten cardigan and his trousers with their expandable waistband. “Would it be the usual - bacon, sausage, eggs, black pudding, fried bread, tomatoes, beans and mushrooms?”

Sheila smiled at him. “No, darling,” she said, “it wouldn't be the usual.”

She turned round and got busy slicing some lamb's liver half a centimeter thick and then cutting it into bite-size pieces. Next she sliced and cut up an onion in a similar fashion. Then she did the same with some fresh pineapple. Melting some butter in a pan, she softened the onion, then added the liver and cooked it briefly, turning up the heat. Next she put in some salt and pepper. Then in went the pineapple for just long enough to make it hot. When everything was properly cooked and heated through, she served it up on a plate and placed it in front of her husband.

Barry looked at it. “You haven't gone foreign, have you?” he asked.

“The whole world's gone foreign, Barry,” said Sheila. “Half the people who live in this country are foreign, and half the half who aren't foreign have gone to live in a foreign country.”

“You can't put pineapple in food,” Barry protested.

“I just did,” said Sheila. “Eat it. By the end of this diet I want you looking like a movie star who's spent a month living off nothing but anorexia.” She turned and busied herself with the washing up.

Barry ate his breakfast in silence. When he'd finished it, he put down his knife and fork. “Bit unusual,” he said, “but not bad.” He got up and took his plate over to the sink. “Compliments to the chef,” he said.

His wife said nothing, but just got on with washing up and drying his plate and cutlery. Eventually she said, “What are you going to do now?”

“I'll take the dog for a walk,” said Barry. This was hardly surprising. What was surprising was that Sheila asked him the same question every day.

“When I get back,” said Barry, “I'll spend a little time on that model I'm working on at the moment.”

This wasn't a six-foot blonde Ukrainian with a mouth like a Hoover. It was a Pocher self-assembly kit of a model 1932 Bugatti 50T Surprofile. It was ridiculously complex and had cost Barry a ridiculous amount of money to buy, but it kept him harmlessly and happily occupied and it stopped him being tempted by other even more indulgent and expensive vices.

Apart from beer drinking of course.

“And then?” said Sheila.

“I thought I'd just pop down to the pub for a couple of beers with Dave and Nigel.”

“Okay,” said Sheila. “I'll do you some lunch for when you get back from the pub.”

“Good,” said Barry. “What will it be?”

“It'll be a surprise,” said Sheila. “Now go and walk the dog. I want you out of the way so I can clean this kitchen floor.” She went over to the fridge. “But before you go, take that old cardigan off that you're wearing and put on the jacket I bought you from Primark, and put this in one of the pockets.”

Barry came over to her and she handed him a flask. It felt full. “That's your vodka and water, so if for some reason you find you're not here and you're not in a pub, I want you to take a drink from it, every hour on the hour. I want you sticking to this diet.”

“Will do, my love,” said Barry obediently. And he went off to find the dog.


Barry actually spent so long out walking the dog that morning that he did have to call on the services of the flask his wife had given him, and when he got back to his wife he told her proudly that he had drunk all the flask's contents, just for her.

“That's a bit more than I expected you to drink,” said Sheila, “but at least I guess it means you're really going to try and give this diet a go. Keep this up and we'll soon have you as trim and slim as you were when we first started going out together thirty-one years ago. But remember, no snacking. While you're on this diet you only get fed when I feed you, not at any other times. So when you're in the pub with your mates, don't have any crisps or nuts or pork scratchings. Do you understand?”

“Yes, dear,” said Barry.

“Good. Now off you go to your room. Go and build that toy car of yours.”

“It's not a toy, darling,” said Barry. “It's a faithful reproduction.”

“You could have bought a real car for what that thing cost,” said Sheila. “Secondhand, I mean. Now up you go, and I'll bring you some vodka and water at ten o'clock and eleven o'clock. You're still going down the pub at lunchtime?”

“Yes,” said Barry.

“Good,” said Sheila. “Give me your flask and I'll top it up ready for when you go out”

Barry handed over his flask.

“Off you go,” said Sheila, busying herself with refilling the flask.

Barry went up to his room, where he had strategically concealed a big bag of salted peanuts to keep him going until it was time for him to go to the pub.


At just after midday he was in the Black Horse pub. There were several pubs in the market town where he and Sheila lived, but this was the one with the best choice of real ales. He had walked there so he didn't have to worry about drink driving. Nigel and Dave were standing alongside him at the bar.

“What are you two having?” asked Dave.

“I'll have a pint of Old Cranky's Knee Wobbler,” said Nigel cheerfully, “and a packet of prawn cocktail crisps.”

“Good choice, squire,” said Dave. “Always a good idea to have some solid nutrition to soak up the liquid nutrition.” Dave had worked in local government before retiring at the age of fifty-five on health grounds. He had been diagnosed with repetitive strain injury in the index finger on his right hand, believed to have been brought on by clicking the left button on his computer mouse so much at the office where he 'worked' as he browsed porn sites and whiled away the hours until he could retire.

“And what are you having, Barry?” he said.

Barry hesitated. “Lads, I've got something to tell you.”

“Don't tell us your sex change operation has been cancelled again,” laughed Nigel.

Nigel had been a social worker until he'd retired. Like Barry, he had a full beard, but the sparse hair that remained on the sides and back of his otherwise balding head was kept long. He liked to think he looked like an aging rock star. Because it was a mildly warm day, he was wearing shorts that showed his knobbly knees. Below them, his feet were encased in sandals and short, dark socks.

“No,” said Barry. “That's still on for next week.” He hesitated again. “Listen, lads, I'm on a diet.”

“A diet?” Nigel and Dave exclaimed incredulously.

“What's a diet?” said Nigel.

“Good God, Barry!” said Dave. “You're practically skin and bones as it is. There'll be nothing left of you if you go on a diet.”

“Dieting is dangerous,” Nigel said earnestly. “It starves the brain of essential amino acids. If you go on a diet you'll be talking gibberish within a week.”

“Nothing new there then!” laughed Dave.

“Be sensible, Barry,” said Nigel. “You can diet when you're at home. We know you're only doing this to keep Sheila happy. This is her idea, isn't it?”

“Mostly,” admitted Barry. “But I wouldn't mind losing a bit of weight.”

“What diet are you on?” asked Nigel. “Is it that new one - the Crapkins Diet? You can only eat crap, but afterwards you can talk it and shit it too?”

“It's The Vodka And Water Diet,” said Barry. “I have to drink vodka and water on the hour, every hour.”

There was a joint sigh of relief from his friends.

“That's alright then,” said Dave. “Nothing wrong with that. In fact I think I might even join you. But I'll have whisky and water.”

“And I'll have an Irish whiskey chaser after every beer,” said Nigel.

“There you go,” said Dave. “Now we're all on a diet together.” He patted his big tummy. “I feel healthier and slimmer already.”

“Me too,” said Nigel.

“So Barry,” said Dave, “it's my round. What are you having? A pint of …?”

Barry wavered, and then said, “I'll have a pint of Fudge Nudger.”

“And crisps?” said Dave.

“Cheese and onion,” said Barry. He felt relieved that his mates were being supportive during this difficult time.


When Barry got back home to Sheila, he sat down at the table in the kitchen. His wife looked at him. Her eyes narrowed and she came round the table and sniffed near his mouth.

“You've had beer,” she said.

“I had one when I first met Dave and Nigel at the pub, just so I could explain to them this diet I'm on,” said Barry.

“Smells like more than one,” said Sheila.

“I had a second one when we had our last round,” said Barry, “just to fit in with them, you understand.”

“Right,” said Sheila. “So you had a beer with them so you could explain to them that you're not drinking beer for the next three weeks, and then you had another beer with them before you left so they would understand you're not drinking beer for the next three weeks?”

“Yes,” said Barry. Sometimes being married could be a challenge. “Actually I've done a sort of deal with them so I don't make them feel uncomfortable. I've said I'll have a beer with them in the first and last rounds, but apart from those two beers, I'm only drinking vodka and water.”

“And you didn't have any snacks?” asked Sheila suspiciously. “Crisps, or anything like that?”

Barry's eyes opened wide as if he could hardly believe the question was being put to him. “No, darling,” he said. “I told them that it's like a commandment that cannot be broken - I mustn't eat anything between meals.” He smiled at his wife. “The only place any solids will pass my lips is here at home with you, my angel.”

Like any woman who has been married a long time, Sheila knew that sometimes silence is the best accusation. She gave Barry that look that let him know that she knew she was being lied to. Then she just shrugged her shoulders. “At least I know what you're up to when you're at home, so I suppose that's the most I can expect.” She went over to one of the kitchen's work surfaces and busied herself. “Lunch in about fifteen minutes,” she said.

Barry busied himself doing a puzzle in the newspaper.

Sheila got a frying pan and put some butter it. Then she put the pan over a gentle heat. Leaving it, she went over to the fridge. From it she took out a couple of chicken breasts. On a chopping board, using one of those cheap knives that supposedly never needs sharpening, she butterflyed them. She put them in the hot butter and put a lid on the pan. Next she got a mango and extracted the flesh and cut it into long thin strips. She turned the chicken breasts over in the butter. When they had cooked for about ten minutes, she took them out and put them on two plates which she then put in a warm oven. She put the mango strips in the pan to warm through, and then she put them on the plates with the chicken. Then into the pan went a good helping of double cream which Sheila stirred so that it blended with all the pan juices. She seasoned the sauce with salt and pepper, then poured it over the chicken and mango. Taking the plates over to the table, she put one down in front of Barry, and she sat down with hers on her side of the table. Then she and her husband enjoyed their rather nice, very simple lunch.


After lunch Barry and Sheila watched TV. Sheila made sure her husband got his hourly cocktails of vodka and water. Sometimes Barry and Sheila would have dinner before Barry went out to spend a couple of hours in the pub with his mates, but sometimes he would go early and come back not too late, and then they would have something to eat together. This evening they decided to have dinner at seven o'clock and then Barry could go to the pub at eight for a couple of hours.

At five o'clock Sheila went to the kitchen. There was a little TV in there, so she could watch a quiz program that Barry didn't enjoy, and then watch other things while she got dinner ready. Barry preferred the satellite channels with programs about history, wildlife, geography and so on - factual stuff - so he stayed in another room watching TV there.


Dinner was simple - roast pork with red cabbage with apple, and cheese and grapes to finish. The roast pork was just a small joint of pork, rolled, with the skin scored and some salt rubbed on it, roasted in the oven. The red cabbage with apple was made by gently frying and softening a small, finely chopped onion and a crushed garlic clove in oil. After a few minutes, finely shredded red cabbage went in, and then a sliced and chopped cooking apple, peeled and without the core. A couple of teaspoons of golden syrup were then added. It was all allowed to cook for ten minutes, occasionally being stirred. Then in went a little lemon juice, a couple of teaspoons of red wine vinegar, and some salt and pepper. After that it was covered and simmered for about an hour.


Sheila and Barry had their dinner on trays in front of the TV in the sitting room at seven o'clock. Of course Barry had his seven o'clock vodka and water with it. Naturally he had had his earlier hourly VAW's too. After the meal he went off to the pub. This was a different one to the lunchtime pub. He was again meeting up with Dave and Nigel, but also there, as it was evening time and their work was finished for the day, would be John and Kevin. Their work was what prevented them joining in the revelries at lunchtime. Even in the evening they couldn't drink too much - at least not on weekdays - because of having to be fit for work the next day. So if it was a working day the next day, they just stayed at the pub for a couple of hours.

Lunchtime, Barry, Dave and Nigel bought a round each, so that was three pints of beer. In the evening, with John and Kevin there as well, and with everyone wanting to buy a round to keep things fair, that meant that was another five pints that Barry drank.

That's quite a lot really, or at least it would be for most people if done regularly and consistently. Certainly it totted up to make for quite a high alcohol intake, and a high calorie intake too.

Because of this, Barry decided not to have the hourly vodka drinks that he was supposed to have. On top of all the beer, he really felt it would be too much. Indeed after the first day on The VAW Diet (and admitting to himself that he wasn't really sticking to it at all well anyway) he decided not to have any down the pub the next day. Of course he didn't let on to Sheila, and he still let her drip feed him vodka and water when he was at home. But then also, because his wife wasn't feeding him much in the way of carbohydrate at home, and he really did rather crave it, when he was out at the pub with his mates he would have a packet of crisps or some other sort of junk food snack with every beer he drank.


Not surprisingly, by the time Barry's three weeks on the diet were up, he actually weighed more than when he'd set out on it. He had, however, spent those three weeks in even more of an alcoholic haze than usual, and he had rather enjoyed that, so he surprised his wife by volunteering to go on the diet again to see if it would work better the second time around. But Sheila was having none of it. She decided that Barry would never change, and she would just have to put up with him the way he was, as she had already done for over three decades now.


I think Barry's performance on the diet just goes to show that you can lead a beer drinker to a sensible drink like vodka, combined with water and a sensible food intake, but their addiction to their high volume, low alcohol, gut-expanding beverage, to which they often add an intake of high-carbohydrate junk food snacks, prevents them from doing what is sensible and changing what they eat and drink.

Their hearts (or should that be their stomachs?) over-rule their brains.


Just in case any of you are thinking that Barry's approach to the diet was really fairly reasonable … no it wasn't! However, it was perhaps only to have been expected. Some people are simply too set in their ways, and are too much the slaves of their appetites, to change, even if only for a period of three weeks.

Let's be clear about this - on The VAW Diet, the vodka and water is supposed to replace any other alcoholic drinks you might ordinarily have. And yes, you can perhaps get away with replacing your normal drinks with something other than vodka and water, but not with a bulky drink like beer. If you must have something other than VAW, have some other clear, low calorie cocktail, or use white rum or gin instead of vodka, or maybe drink white wine. Also you're not supposed to supplement your normal diet with the sort of dishes you're supposed to have on this diet - small meals that contain little or no carbohydrate, preferably no processed food, instead eating only lean animal flesh (if you want to eat meat at all), raw fruit and salad. Maybe you could stretch that to having some cooked, low-carbohydrate vegetables if you really don't fancy living on raw stuff for three weeks. But at any rate you are supposed to replace your normal fare with these meals, not add to it with them.

Got that?

Day Seven

Would you say that Barry yesterday was a metrosexual - suave, debonair, urbane, witty, sophisticated, skinny, well-dressed, well-groomed, wearing make-up, smelling nice and looking as though he does a job that is fascinatingly creative?

No? I suspect you're right. He probably wasn't.

OK then. Today we're going to take someone who's from slightly higher up the evolutionary, biological, social and financial ladder (if all those ladders can be combined into one).

But this one's 'a lady'. (And she's still single too, boys, so if you bump into her, you might be in with a chance of getting yourself quite a catch. Except that by the end of today, you might find that this 'lady' has already found herself 'a buyer'.)


I'm never entirely sure what a person means when they say, “I'm in PR.” I think the person is basically saying they're in one of those 'joke' occupations that other people don't realize is a joke. You know … like being a business consultant, that sort of thing. Basically they're in a 'waffle waffle, piffle piffle, now give me a shed-load of your money' occupation, screwing gullible people who either don't know what they are doing, or who do know, but who lack confidence in their own knowledge and abilities.

“I'm a consultant,” someone might say to you.

“In what particular field?” you ask.

What they should then say is, “Actually I'd be prepared to charge anyone bucket-loads of dosh per hour for talking to them about anything, because basically I'm not prepared to work for a living, I'm only prepared to talk.

If you call in a consultant (of the business type and similar, rather than say the medical type) you're admitting you're inadequate in some way. However, if you yourself are a consultant, your advice might not be any good, but you can at least feel smug about the fact that consultancy is a legal way to earn a living, whereas prostitution and obtaining money by deception, which may or may not be the two main ingredients of consultancy work, generally are not.

But whereas some consultancy work might just involve waffling on a bit, confirming in writing what you've said, and then sending your unwitting victim - I mean client - as big an invoice as you think they'll be able and willing (however reluctantly) to pay, PR, on the other hand, can apparently involve doing a bit of genuine work. Someone 'in PR' may actually go out and do something and make something happen, so with PR the invoice may be for real services rendered.

As an aside, one of our princes married someone in PR, so that indicates to me that PR must be vaguely reputable, or at least not disreputable.

PR, of course, stands for 'public relations', which means advertising or promoting something or someone, or presenting them in a particular light (otherwise known as 'spin'). It's about trying to manipulate people's minds so that if they are aware of something or someone, they see that thing or person in a way the PR person (or more accurately their client) desires. Otherwise it is about making people aware of something or someone of which/whom they are not currently aware.

All of this can work out much cheaper, more efficient and more credible than paid-for advertising, which people tend either to ignore or to distrust. So instead of paying an advertizing agency, or radio or TV station, or a newspaper, or some website, tweeter or blogger, you pay a PR firm, and they then get in touch with these people who, hopefully, pass on your desired message for free, and therefore more convincingly, to the people you want to get it to. Of course you then have to pay the PR firm even if you don't now have to pay the media people that you would otherwise have had to pay.

Angelica was 'in PR', and she is the woman who interests us today.

The firm Angelica worked for was one of the big ones based in the capital. She was an account executive who got in contracts from big clients and then oversaw their promotions. Consequently she was pretty well paid - very well paid in fact.

Do you want to know what she looks like? Well, imagine Barry's wife Sheila. Then think of someone shorter, dumpier and even plainer.

No, I'm only joking. There are no women like that in PR. They're all glamorous and madly attractive. Angelica herself was about six feet tall (one meter eighty-three), slim and quite beautiful.

“In that case,” you may say, “why would she feel any need to go on The Vodka And Water Diet?”

The thing is, when you get photographed or get filmed, which Angelica did, perhaps not every day, but often enough for it not to be an unusual occurrence, you end up looking as if you're a bit fuller of face and figure than you really are. So to look ideal in pictures and on screen, you actually need to be slightly underweight. This means that in the flesh you can end up looking - how shall we say? - a little odd, even scrawny, a little peculiarly proportioned, but you look great when filmed and photographed. So that was why Angelica had decided to get a few kilos off and to tone up what flesh was then left. So a few days ago she had started on The Vodka And Water Diet. (Adding exercise to The VAW Diet makes it an even quicker and more certain route to svelteness and beauty.)

We'll join her on a Friday at home in the morning before she sets off for work.


It's a shame you can't see her getting out of bed. If you did, you'd see how good she looks. She's alone in her mews house, so she doesn't get dressed, she just goes straight into the shower room which is en suite to her bedroom. There she showers in a rather leisurely, luxurious way, listening to the radio while she does so. Then she goes back into her bedroom and gets dressed. Sometimes she'll dress in trousers and jacket, almost in a masculine style, but today she's in quite a short skirt, a lightweight top, and a jacket. Because of her height she doesn't need heels, although she will occasionally wear them to accentuate her dominant height even more.

Going downstairs, Angelica goes into the kitchen. Although her house is worth about ten times what an average person's house is worth, because it's in the center of the capital it's actually a bit pokey, but it suits her bachelor-girl lifestyle.

Having said that, Angelica was thirty-one a couple of months ago, and she can feel her body-clock ticking. Recently she's begun to think that it's about time she settled down, got married and started a family. It's just that so many men these days seem so second-rate in comparison to her. It's difficult for 'achievers' like Angelica to find someone who can physically, mentally, socially and financially match up to them, let alone surpass them. Naturally as women raise their economic and social status higher and higher, the fewer men they are able to find around them that they regard it as being desirable, or even merely acceptable, to pair off with.

Angelica put the international news on the TV and then went over to the freezer. From it she took out a bottle of Beluga vodka and a tray of ice cubes. Getting a simple Dartington crystal tumbler from a cupboard, she put some ice cubes in it, then a single measure of vodka. The bottle of vodka and the ice cube tray went back in the freezer, and out of the fridge came a bottle of Ferrarelle water. Angelica put a good splash of the water in her glass, and returned the bottle to the fridge. (By the way, the ice cubes had been made from Ferrarelle too.)

Sitting down at the table in the kitchen, she sipped from her glass and went through her organizer to double-check on what was lined up for her that day.

When she had finished her breakfast - which was simply that one glass of vodka and water - she washed, dried and put away the glass. Then she mixed vodka and water into a beautiful bright pink and silver flask, and put it, along with a couple of little steel cups and her organizer and purse, into a rather yummy shoulder bag. Swinging the bag over her shoulder, she left the house.

She had a Porsche in the garage of her mews house, but she didn't use it all that often. Being in the center of a big city, it was generally quicker and easier to walk and use the metro than to drive or even to take a taxi. So she walked to the nearby metro station, travelled a couple of stations on the train, got off, and walked a few hundred meters to the glistening, modern, high-rise office block where the PR firm she worked for was head-quartered.

All the time she pretended not to notice the glances, and even the occasional direct stare, that her striking looks attracted.

If you've seen the Bond film Casino Royale, you'll know the bit at the beginning of the film where Bond goes up in a glass lift on the outside of a smart office building so he can do his second 'wet job' and qualify as a 'double-0'. Angelica went up to her office in a similar lift. The great thing about such women in such lifts is that lesser mortals existing on the lower levels of life get a chance to look up these women's skirts. That's the only situation in which such people ever get to be in that position.

Going from the lift to her company's offices, she was greeted by the receptionist, Sharon.

“Good morning, Miss Angelica.”

“Morning, Sharon,” said Angelica, striding on to her office.

Those legs of hers sure are long. As ZZ Top said, “She's got legs, she knows how to use them.”

But not many guys got the chance to find that out.

In her office she got down to business. “How are we doing with Ford's presentation of their new sports car in Mexico?” she said to her personal assistant, Arabella.

“James is on top of it,” replied Arabella.

“Good. Tell him to crank up the expenses and do the best kickback deals he can with all the suppliers and service providers involved.”

“Will do,” smiled Arabella.

“And what about **

  • ********?” asked Angelica, naming a well known celebrity who had recently been hauled in by the police for sex offences allegedly committed over three decades ago.

“I've contacted one of your tame journalist friends and asked him to leak the names of the four women who have made accusations against **

  • ,” said Arabella. “They've all got what you might call 'background'. He'll do the leaks through untraceable accounts on social media, and then make sure his media cronies pick it up and run with it.”

“Good,” said Angelica. “Tell him I'll treat him by way of a 'thank you'.” She looked through the messages on her desk, and then through some other paperwork. “That talentless slapper married to the footballer …”


  • ?” said Arabella.

“Yes. For that range of make-up that's coming out with her name on it, how are we doing with lining up all the celebrity mags to do the promo interviews and photoshoots?”

“They're all lined up. She'll be on the go all next week doing the promo work.”

“Good,” said Angelica. “That'll probably be about the only work she's done since she landed on her back underneath that half-witted ball-kicking spouse of hers.” She looked at her watch. “Fancy a tipple?” she said to Arabella. “I've just started on The Vodka And Water Diet.”

“No!” said Arabella, wide-eyed. “My friend tried going on that diet and on the first day she threw up in her waste paper basket at three in the afternoon.”

“She'd probably made the mistake of having food at lunchtime,” said Angelica. She took her pretty flask out her bag, along with the two little stainless steel cups, and poured out two measures of VAW. She passed one cup to her assistant.

“Thanks,” said Arabella. “You know, if we do three weeks of this, we're going to be so skinny we'll look as if we're on The Cocaine Diet.”

“Perhaps we'll try that one next,” smiled Angelica.

“Again?” laughed Arabella.

They knocked back their drinks.

Angelica wiped the two cups with a tissue so they were clean and dry, and put them back in her bag. “Listen,” she said. “I've got some work to do - calls to make, letters to write. You go and do all the things you have to do, then do you fancy lunch at one o'clock?”

“That would be nice,” said Arabella. “I'll come back just before then.” And with that, she left the office, leaving Angelica to get on with her work and her diet.


At lunchtime the two women went round the corner to a posh bistro-pub.

“What shall we have?” asked Angelica.

“What are you having?” said Arabella.

Angelica looked at the menu and thought. “Scallops poached in Champagne,” she said eventually.

“And to drink?”

Angelica smiled. “Vodka and water of course.”

Arabella thought. “I'll just have vodka and water,” she said eventually. “I eat too much anyway.”

“In that case I'll just have a vodka and water too,” said Angelica.

(Let this be an example to all of you as to how the truly dedicated approach this diet.)

When the two women had drunk their 'starters', they ordered fresh drinks for their 'main course'.

Angelica looked across the table at Arabella.

“Do you know how old I was last birthday?” Angelica asked.

“Ooh … twenty-five?” asked Arabella, wide-eyed and questioning, despite knowing full well what her boss's age was.

“Thirty-one,” said Angelica. “And you know it.” She took a sip of her drink. “I'm getting broody, Arabella. And I'm even getting a bit tired. Tired of working. Tired of being independent. I've been so strong, so driven, so ambitious for so long, but I'm beginning to feel that I'd like to have someone looking after me for a change instead of me always having to look after myself, and look after other people too.”

“You don't mean that you …?”

“Yes. I want to settle down with a decent man. Have a family. I want a big, strong, high-earning, high status man to provide for me and protect me.”

“But you earn a good salary,” said Arabella. “You don't need a man to provide for you.”

Angelica took a sip from her drink. “In this city,” she said, “even my salary doesn't go very far. But apart from wanting more money, I want to start a family, and for that I need the right man. I want babies, and coffee mornings, and mums' meetings.” She shook her head. “I can feel my reproductive potential decreasing by the minute.”

Arabella reached across the table and took her boss's hands in hers. “What are you going to do about it, Angelica?”

“I'm going hunting,” said Angelica. “I'm going to hunt for a good man. Then I'll let him catch me.” She laughed and finished off her drink. “Fancy dessert?” she said. “We've just got time.”

“OK,” said Arabella, finishing off her drink.

And the two women ordered another couple of vodka and waters.


During the afternoon, Angelica busied herself with the various tasks she had to see to - organizing people, making things happen, touting for new business, and putting an attractive gloss on the unsavory, the worthless and the downright false. Then when the day was over, she wended her way home, mixing with the masses and the elite who co-mingle on the metro in any capital city. All the time, however, her mind was dwelling on what the next phase of her life would - should - be like.

At home, she thought a bit more. She was successful. She had done a lot of good work for and with a lot of important people. Money was not a problem for her, other than in the sense that her 'small wealth' wasn't adequate for the rather grand future lifestyle that she was beginning to shape for herself in detail in her mind. She had looks. She had fairly high social status. She had an accurate idea of her 'worth' - especially to a man. She knew she had what many alpha males wanted. Now she wanted - needed - to get such a man, as a husband not as a boyfriend, which is what she had been satisfied with so far. She wanted children. She wanted the status of being 'Mrs. Somebody', where Mr. Somebody really was a somebody. She wanted him to do the work and bring home the bacon. She could take care of their house - or houses - and the kids, and the family's social life, and hubby would be the earner while she would be the spender and organizer. Outside of her husband's work, everything would be her domain.

You've got to give it to Angelica - she knew what she wanted. And she was the sort of woman who usually got what she wanted.


At nine o'clock that evening Angelica went out to Keller's club, where some of the smartest people in the city liked to gather as they warmed up for the night ahead of them. Often she would go with a couple of girlfriends, but tonight she went alone. As usual she got approached and chatted up by several men. At least they tried to chat her up. (Angelica even had one very pretty girl come over and try to chat her up.) But Angelica was being ruthlessly selective tonight, so the sort of guys that might have interested her up to now for a casual relationship or even a one-night stand were not of any interest to her now. She was after someone of substance, someone who could commit and who would be worthy of her commitment.


It's amazing how women can find out what they need to know about a man with just a few astute questions. It makes no difference whether the answers given to the questions by the man are true or false, because a smart woman can spot the difference immediately, and giving a false answer gets him disqualified on the spot, as does giving an answer that reveals he does not meet the woman's requirements.

Men who revealed they were not what Angelica was looking for were quickly given the brush-off by her.

At Keller's, one man came alongside Angelica at the bar and casually started talking to her. He wasn't pushy. He wasn't trying to impress her - or at least he wasn't trying too hard. He had that ease that shows the presence of sufficient wealth and status to justify self-confidence.

Angelica chatted with him. She too had that charm and sure-footedness in conversation that comes from having great and well-honed mental and social skills.

Angelica found this man interesting and worthy of her time. She scored him nine out of ten. Only a slight … homeliness? … stopped him from being a ten. But then she realized that if he'd had a sharper edge to him, he'd be good boyfriend material rather than ideal potential husband material. At any rate she decided he was worth further investigation, so she subtly began to probe him for more information.

His name was Christoph, and he clearly reciprocated the interest that Angelica was showing in him.

After they had chatted for a good half hour, they decided to go on to another place, a night club, together.


It would be nice to report back that Angelica and Christoph 'got it off', and that they banged each other's brains out at the end of the night. (Then I could have the pleasure of giving you a graphic description of what they got up to.) But they didn't. Angelica knew the rules. Easy come means easy go. She'd banged a few bankers in her time - and yes, folks, unfortunately I have to tell you that Christoph was an investment banker, and a very big, rich one at that - but Angelica knew that, if anything, he was for keeps, not for the short term. So she showed him that she was fussy about who she let between those long legs of hers. If he wanted that particular delight, he was going to have to pay a high price for it.

Alright, let's admit that other guys had had the enjoyment practically for free, at least relative to what Angelica was planning on getting out of Christoph long term, but they had just been ships in the night or short-term boyfriends, but a man who's going to marry a woman has to commit much more in terms of money, time, emotions and resources if he is to get a similarly big, long-term commitment from her.

So Angelica made Christoph work hard for what he wanted, and by the time he got it, he'd put so much time, money and effort into it that he decided he might as pay the ultimate price to keep it.

That meant marriage, and sharing all his assets and income with Angelica.

And so it was that Angelica got her perfect husband, had children, a beautiful townhouse in the best part of the capital, a much bigger country house outside the capital, a circle of friends from the highest level of society, and she became an enviably contented wife and mother.


I suppose you'd like me to tell you that this 'happy ending' was due to Angelica's adherence to The VAW Diet, and if you follow it, you too will end up rich and socially successful. Unfortunately it wasn't, and you probably won't. Angelica decided she needed to keep her wits about her if she was to get what she wanted, so she cut out the vodka - indeed all forms of alcohol - while she let her prey pursue her. She did, however, stick to the light, largely raw vegan food aspect of The VAW Diet, although with the occasional bit of cooked fish or some shellfish.

Even after she'd got Christoph, she kept off the booze, except for rare, usually celebratory, occasions.

Her drinking days were behind her.

I suppose you could say that the parts of The Vodka And Water Diet that led to her success were the W and D parts - the diet part and the drinking only water part. This approach - missing out the vodka - is absolutely the best if there's something you want in life that requires you to keep a completely clear head rather than having the often unpredictable inspiration that alcohol can give you.

Day Eight

They say that being old may not be great, but it's better than the alternative of being dead. How true that is, I have yet to find out, but I suspect it rather depends on your health and circumstances.


Doris, for some reason, is looking for something to fill her time - her remaining time. The VAW Diet might be a rather pleasant, 'buzzy' way of filling time, but I can't recommend it as the best diet for someone in their mid-80's, especially if, like Doris, you live alone in a small house with only memories and photos for company. In such circumstances it can become easy either to think nothing, or to think too much. So perhaps beyond a certain age The VAW Diet is not a wise choice. But then again, perhaps a certain day will come when it is the right diet.

Doris had decided that day had come.


Have you ever sat in an armchair for three hours, looking at the same room you've sat in for the past thirty years, thinking only about the past? Thinking only about what had been, but was now no longer? Thinking about what could have been, but never was?

Doris sat in her armchair and looked at an old black and white photo on the sideboard. It showed an attractive young woman. The woman was Doris's mother, dead many years now. The photo had been taken when Doris's mother had been courting Doris's dad, who was now long since dead too.

Doris turned her head slightly and looked at another photo. This was of her son, Joseph, and his wife and two children. Joseph had sent the photo last year from Australia where he and his family lived. He'd wanted to email it, but Doris didn't do email. She didn't do computers. So he had had to post it the old fashioned way.

Why was Australia so far away, thought Doris? Why had her son gone there?

He'd always said it was because his company had told him to go there. So it must have been a coincidence then that his girlfriend here in this country had been Australian, and that she had returned to her homeland, and that shortly afterwards Joseph had announced that he too had to go to Australia.

And he had gone there and married 'that girl'.

It's funny how even your own children lie to you.

Why couldn't Joseph have married a girl here?

Joseph and his wife now had two lovely children, but Doris had never seen her grand-children in the flesh. She had only seen pictures of them.

Perhaps my son will come and see me at my funeral, she thought, and bring his wife too, and they'll bring my two grand-children with them. Then although I won't be able to see them, they'll see me.

The thought of getting an inheritance, no matter how small, from a dead person can induce people to do what they couldn't be bothered to do when that person was alive.

Doris looked across at another photo. This was of her late husband, Harold. How many years was it since he had passed away? Twelve? For twelve years she had grieved, silently, deep inside. Not a day went by when she didn't think of him, remember him, miss him.

Sometimes we miss someone in the depths of our soul, but we put on a cheerful face so as not to reveal our sadness.

Doris shook her head. Come on, Doris, you had a husband, you have a son, you have grandchildren, you've had a good life.

And now you're old, and alone, and lonely.

What was the point of being alive now?

Doris looked down at her slippered feet. She spent too much time in her dressing gown and slippers these days. But she hardly ever saw anyone, so what did it matter?

She raised herself with difficulty out of her armchair. She was heavier these days than she ever remembered being. Shorter too. Why was it that people got shorter when they got old? And often they couldn't stand upright any more. Doris knew she stooped, but even if she really concentrated and made an effort to stand up straight, when she looked at herself in the mirror she could see that her spine was curved and her shoulders hunched, and her head was tilted forward and down as though she was looking for something she had dropped on the floor.

She went slowly from the sitting room into the kitchen. She didn't notice it these days, but her kitchen was dirty, and it should have been updated years ago, but if you don't have anyone else in your home with you, you get used to whatever is around you. You become blind to the state it is in. You become blind to the state you are in.

Alice, the care assistant who came to check on Doris once a week, had told Doris about The VAW Diet. Apparently Alice's daughter Stacey was on The VAW Diet and was quite pleased with the results she was getting and the way it made her feel. Stacey had recently been dumped by her boyfriend, Wayne, and she wanted to make herself slimmer and prettier so he would feel bad about no longer getting what he used to get from her. To aid the process, she had gone to bed with Wayne's best friend. Wayne didn't know about it yet, but Stacey was going to make sure he found out. She was quite looking forward to hearing about the effect it had on him, and on his relationship with his best friend.

Doris didn't really feel any great desire to lose weight, but The VAW Diet sounded interesting, and because she had nothing much to occupy her time these days, she thought it would be good to have something to do and to focus on, so she had decided to give the diet a try.


Doris ferreted around in a plastic carrier bag that lay on the work surface in the grubby kitchen. At the bottom of the bag she found a miniature bottle of vodka. It contained about five centiliters - enough for one big mouthful for a proper drinker. The stuff was called Absolut Blue. Personally I don't like Absolut. It's too 'metallic' for my tastes. I like my vodka to have a degree of softness. But Doris was not only not a vodka drinker, she wasn't a drinker of any sort, so she wouldn't have known the difference between a hard, metallic vodka and a soft one. All she thought was that if Alice's Stacey was enjoying being on The VAW Diet, it was working for her, and she was managing to lose weight, then she would try it for herself and see what results she got from it.

Doris didn't drive - she never had done - and her house was in a place that wasn't even big enough to be called a village, so once a week she walked down the road to the main road and there she caught a bus to the nearby town. There she would buy two carrier bags of food, take them home on the bus, and that food would then last her a week. It was on her most recent trip that she had bought the miniature bottle of vodka.

That weekly shopping trip was the most exciting thing she did these days.

Looking at her miniature bottle of vodka, Doris wondered how much weight she could lose. And what was she going to eat today to try to fit in with the diet? Yesterday she had pulled some baby potatoes and a past-its-best cabbage from her garden. Maybe she could have those later on with her lunch.

But no, she couldn't eat potatoes on this diet, could she?

She undid the top of the little vodka bottle. She couldn't do the drinking part of the diet as it was meant to be done because she was nowhere near robust enough, but she'd do her best.

She filled the cap of the bottle with vodka, then tipped the capful into a mug. Then she put some water from the tap into the mug so it was about half-full. Then she drank the contents of the mug.

She couldn't taste the vodka. It was just like drinking water.

Perhaps this diet wasn't going to be so hard after all.

Now, what about breakfast?

Normally Doris had a little porridge for breakfast, but today she was going to have … nothing. She meant business. Losing weight was her goal. And the diet only lasted for twenty-one days. She could forego breakfast each day for that long. It would do her good.

She made her way back into the sitting room and sat down again in her armchair.

Actually that vodka and water was making her feel a little bit funny, a little bit sick. Isn't it strange that some people drink alcohol for pleasure, she thought.

She looked over at the photo of her son with his wife and children. Then she looked at the photo of her husband.

During their marriage Doris had cheated once on Harold, and she knew that Harold had cheated at least once on her.

She looked across to the far side of the room where there were two more photos.

One was of her sister Daisy, who had died several years ago. The face that looked back at Doris was young and pretty. Her sister had never married or had children.

Next to the photo of her sister was another photo of a pretty young woman. This was Doris herself in her younger days.

Doris smiled as she remembered those days.

Before she had married she had had so many romances. Not like they mean these days. In those days everything was more innocent. You didn't get a council flat and generous state benefits by letting lads have sex with you until one of them got you pregnant. In Doris's day, if an unmarried girl had got pregnant, or even been suspected of having sex, she had to leave home and go and live somewhere else where people didn't know her. So romance stopped at kissing and a bit of fumbling.

But Doris had been so good looking, such a pretty young thing, that she had never been short of hopeful suitors.

In those days young people went to dances - a vertical expression of a horizontal desire, as someone once said. It was the only way in which young people were allowed to have physical contact in a socially acceptable way.

Doris thought back to the boys she had known before she met her future husband. She had had a lot of fun. It's amazing how far you can let boys go and still tell your mother with a straight face that you hadn't let them go too far.

But then, when she was nineteen, the time had come to think about settling down. In those days men earned the money, and women looked after it. The man handed over his wage packet at the end of the week - it was all cash in those days - and the wife would hand her husband back some pocket money for beer and fags. (I'd better just remind Americans that 'fags' here means cigarettes.)

One day Harold had gone down on one knee and proposed to her. But before that, he had done what men don't do any more - he had asked Doris's dad for permission to propose to her. Of course there may be various reasons why men these days don't ask a girl's dad for permission to propose, but probably one of them is that lots of girls (and boys too, of course) don't have their dads around anymore, they just have step-dads, or 'uncles', or mummy's latest partner, or no one.

But when Doris had been young, the courtship, engagement and marriage game was played by rules. Doris had accepted Harold's proposal, and they had got engaged. They were engaged for over a year, and then they had got married. Once Doris was married, she had been a good wife, and then a mother, and Harold had been a good - or at least acceptable - husband and father.

Doris thought back over her married life. She thought about having her son Joseph and bringing him up. She thought about her mum and dad. Her mum had lived for quite a few years after Doris's dad died, but of course Doris's mum had eventually died too.

It's strange when people die.


I remember my mother's brother dying when I was maybe five years old. That was the first death of which I remember being aware. My mother was hugely upset by it, so naturally I was too.

After that, other people died, but with the increasing roll call of deaths, and with my own aging, other people's deaths became less and less significant to me and had less and less effect on me. I just accepted death as a natural part of life, something inevitable that simply had to be accepted.

Then as I headed into middle age, the intellectual realization that I too would one day die became a more visceral realization of that fact, and the idea of my own eventual inevitable death was rather less easy to accept than the actual fact of other people's deaths.

But then with the passing of a few more years, and with the experience of more suffering and more joys, I accepted with equanimity, even serenity, perhaps even cheerfulness, the fact that I would no longer exist, and my giving and taking, my pain and pleasure, would have come to an end.


Doris had long ago accepted mortality - other people's and her own. She was not afraid of death.


For a long time Doris sat there reminiscing. Some memories were happy, and they brought a smile to her face, others were sad and they brought tears into her cloudy eyes.

She looked at the clock. It was almost lunchtime. She was supposed to have had some vodka and water every hour, on the hour. Now she had messed up her diet.

She got herself stiffly out of her armchair. “I must do what I must do,” she said.

She was speaking to no one except herself.

She made her way to the kitchen. She ought to have some sort of food. But what could she have? Potatoes were out of the question. Baked beans on toast? No, because you weren't supposed to have bread, or any sort of carbohydrate really. Were beans carbohydrate, or had she heard somewhere that they were protein?

She didn't know the answer.

She shook her head as she struggled to think. She didn't have any meat in the house. There were some tomatoes, some onions, and she had some tinned stuff in the pantry.

She picked up the copy of The Vodka And Water Diet that Alice had borrowed from Stacey to lend to her. Flicking through it, she came across a simple recipe that she thought she had the ingredients for. It was Poor Person's Curé's Omelet.

She went to the pantry and took out a couple of tins of something. She also got a little tub of dried mixed herbs, a small onion, and some butter from the fridge. Putting all those things on the work surface, she found a small frying pan. Then she hesitated. What about her vodka and water? She was about three or four doses behind her quota.

She looked at the vodka miniature. Perhaps if she just had another capful, that would be good enough. It would 'show willing'.

She poured a capful from the miniature into the mug she had used before, put in a good splash of tap water, and drank it.

She really wasn't sure she liked vodka. Even though she couldn't taste it for certain, she thought she could feel it, and it wasn't an entirely pleasant feeling. It had some sort of effect on her mind.

She went back to preparing her lunch. She put the frying pan over some heat, and put some butter in the pan. Then she finely chopped the small onion, put it in the butter, and then opened the two tins she had taken from the pantry. One was tuna, one was cod's roe.

She wondered whether really she should be using soft roe - tinned herring roe, something like that. The book had been a bit vague about this.

She took about a tablespoonful of roe from the one tin and put it in the pan, and then she scooped out a smaller amount of tuna, which also went into the pan. She mashed both of them up with the butter and onion, and let the mixture dissolve down. Into a small glass bowl she cracked a couple of eggs, beat them, and then she poured the fishy mixture from the pan in with the eggs. She whisked everything together, and returned it to the pan. To save washing up, she put some butter into the used glass bowl with some mixed herbs and put it in the microwave. It went on 'high' for a few seconds to melt the butter. Then she took the bowl out, put a splash of lemon juice in it, stirred the 'sauce', and poured it out to cover the bottom of the plate on which she was going to have her omelet. Turning her attention back to the frying pan, she finished cooking the omelet to her liking and then turned it out onto the plate that had the melted butter on it.

And that was Doris's lunch. It was to be her only meal that day.


I have to confess to having the probably frowned-on habit of cooking my omelets fairly briefly in a pan and then finishing them off by putting the pan under a grill so that the top of the omelet cooks that way. My uncle, by contrast, would cook an omelet as usual in a pan on a hob and pull the solidifying sides of the omelet towards the center of the pan so that the still-liquid beaten egg could flow to the sides of the pan and cook. While the top of the omelet was still slightly runny, but all the bottom of the omelet was cooked to some extent, he would fold the omelet over - one half folded over onto the other half - and serve it up, still moist in the middle.


After lunch, which Doris had on a tray in her armchair in the sitting room, she went back into the kitchen and washed up. Then she went and sat back down in her armchair again.

It was so funny to head towards the end of life after having done so much with so many people. Of course she hadn't really done much at all in comparison to many people. Her lack of money and her humble station in life had limited what she had been able to do. Indeed she had never even been abroad. She had only once been to London. She hadn't liked it. Too many people. Everyone in a hurry.

No, she was happy enough where she was, and she was happy enough with the life she had, and she was happy enough with the life she had had. Why should she want more? She didn't want more.

She had had enough.

She leaned back in her armchair, closed her eyes, and sank back into her memories. A little smile appeared on her face as she thought of things she had done, things she shouldn't have done, and things she ought to have done.

The clock on the wall ticked. Time passed.

Eventually Doris opened her eyes and looked at the clock. Surely it was time for another drink? She really must try to do this diet properly.

A solitary tear ran slowly down one of her cheeks. She wiped it away and with a struggle got out of her armchair.

Somehow the distance from her armchair to the kitchen seemed to be getting longer as the day wore on, and it was a relief to Doris when she got there and was able to support herself against the work surface. She was a little out of breath.

After she had recovered slightly, she picked up her tiny bottle of vodka, unscrewed the top, and poured a capful of the slightly oily liquor into her mug. Then she put some water in it and drank it.

Putting the mug down, she let her mind drift away again. In her imagination the years fell away from her and she was once more young and slim and pretty, sparkling and full of energy and high spirits.

For a while she stood, motionless and silent, a distant look in her sightless eyes. After what seemed like an eternity she pulled herself back into the present.

She wanted to go outside, to be in the garden, to be nearer to nature.

With difficulty she went over to the door that led from the kitchen out into the garden. Stepping out into the fresh air, she breathed it in deeply. Somewhat unsteadily she made her way along the path that ran down the middle of her unkempt garden as it sloped gently to a hedge about twenty meters away, on the other side of which was a back lane that rarely got used by pedestrians or traffic these days.


At this point, not for any particular reason, and not because it is especially significant, and not even because I think you'll be particularly interested, I want to tell you something.

My mother has just come into her house where at the moment I'm writing this part of the book. She has been out this afternoon to play bridge (the card game, that is) in a local group. The group is run by Clare and Dennis. (I've changed their names.) Clare is 'the expert' who teaches the group. Dennis's job is to help his wife and the group, to fill in at tables if needed, to make cups of tea, and generally to make himself useful.

At a certain point this afternoon, Dennis, in a good mood, went into the kitchen to make some tea. (The group meets at a nearby village hall, and village halls always have kitchens, as well as loos of course.) A noise came from the kitchen, so Clare went in to see what was going on. A few seconds later she came out, flustered, and asked if anyone knew any first aid.

But it was too late for that. Her husband was already dead. Without warning his heart had just given up.

An ambulance was called, but all they could do was take Dennis's body away.

Obviously the bridge meeting ended there and then, and mother is now waiting to see if the bridge group will eventually resume, but of course that depends on how Clare reacts to her husband's death.

Sometimes death warns you of its impending arrival, sometimes it comes unexpectedly. Sometimes it comes when you are in company, sometimes it comes when you are alone.

Now, let us continue.


Doris's garden was what you might call a 'working garden'. There were no flowers there - well, not many, and those that were there were wild - but really the garden was given over to vegetables, and increasingly to weeds.

Doris got to the bottom of the garden and sat down heavily on the stump of a big old tree that had once stood there.

She turned and surveyed her garden.

Memories came flooding back. She could see her son when he was just a boy. She could see her husband. She could see her sister. She could see her parents.

Where were they all now? Dead, or, like her son and her grandchildren, far away. Either way, they were not with her, or she was not with them.

For some time Doris sat there thinking and remembering.

The light began to fade. It was autumn, and the nights were drawing in. The leaves were starting to discolor and to fall from the trees and bushes around the edge of the garden.

Those changing, dying colors were beautiful. So warm, so comforting.

It was time to go in.

Doris got to her feet and made her way slowly up the path back to the house. Once indoors, she made her way towards the sitting room. But she felt a little unwell. She didn't feel right.

She leant against the frame of the sitting room doorway. Perhaps she would go upstairs and lie down. Yes, that was what she would do. It was early, but she was ready to call it a day.

Making her way back into the kitchen, she picked up her mug and the half-empty miniature bottle of Absolut Blue. When she got upstairs she ought to have a little vodka and water. It might help her to get off to sleep. Perhaps it would help her to stop thinking and remembering so much.

She made her way upstairs, step by step. What was wrong with her? It wasn't normally this difficult.

She went into the bathroom and put some water in her mug. Then she went to her bedroom and sat on her old metal-framed double bed. It was the bed in which she had slept with her late husband Harold. It was the bed in which their son Joseph had been conceived. Although the bed was ancient, Harold hadn't wanted to get rid of it. Then after Harold had died, Doris had decided that she didn't want to get rid of it either. In a funny way, sleeping in it kept her close to her late husband - not as close to him as she would like to be, of course, but ….

She smiled. Some memories should be kept to oneself and not told to other people.

Doris put a capful of vodka into the mug of water and drank it slowly, then she undressed and put on her old cotton nightie. Getting under the sheets and blankets, she closed her eyes. Her breathing slowed. And slowed.

Her eyes remained gently closed, and then a serene smile appeared on her face.

She was with her husband.


Downstairs the clock ticked. Upstairs next to Harold's and Doris's bed the mug and the little bottle of vodka remained untouched.

By the time they were eventually touched by someone, Doris had indeed lost a lot of weight.

Day Nine

Once when I was young I had the good fortune to meet the celebrated writer Tufnell Park, who is now of course long gone. It was his example and his encouragement that set my feet on the path to literary mediocrity.

I thank you Tufnell.

Tufnell was quite an extraordinary man. A writer of the old school, he was a hard drinking character. After doing some dead-end jobs early on in life, he then stumbled upon journalism, being eased into it by a friend of his who had been sponsored and trained by one of the big local newspaper groups. Tufnell got sponsored, completed his journalistic training, and after that he never looked back.

On a local newspaper a lot of the work involves getting out and about and meeting and interviewing people. Stories have to be followed up not just to report them but also to see if they might not be all they seem or if there might be an even greater story lurking in the shadows just crying out to be exposed to the reading public. This meant that Tufnell was often on the road traveling between people and the stories they had to tell. The advantage of this was that it left him largely free to indulge in his love of drinking. Not being overseen and supervised for a large part of the day, he could stop off at pubs and other watering holes and have a drink. Of course like all sensible topers he also always carried his trusty flask with him. I have to admit, however, that it didn't contain vodka and water. Rather it contained an undiluted and rather good single malt whisky. In those days vodka wasn't as popular and commonplace as it is now, and men who liked their liquor tended to opt for whisky.

Whenever Tufnell stopped off at some place for refreshment, he might sometimes have whisky, but quite often he'd have some sort of beer. He was quite prone, especially in the winter months, to drinking Guinness.

Of course these days journalism has changed a lot, not least because newspapers are disappearing and the job of a journalist (if you can even get a job as a journalist) is probably more demanding and even worse paid than it used to be. Certainly, however, there is less tolerance for journalists becoming quirky, free-rolling 'characters' and doing things according to their own rules.

But we are talking about in Tufnell's day, and it was different then, and he could pretty much get away with doing what he wanted so long as he submitted the right amount of copy of the right quality on the right subject matter by the right time. Also bear in mind that in those days the police weren't so hot on persecuting motorists, either for drink-driving or going too fast or for anything really, so long as no actual harm had been done to anyone's person or property, so Tufnell could pretty much behave as he wanted without there being much risk of his being caught or being told off if he was caught.

Now this is supposed to be a diet book, designed to help you get slimmer whilst also floating happily along in a haze of alcohol fumes, so here I'm going to concentrate on Tufnell's eating and drinking habits and where he might have been going wrong or going right vis-à-vis our diet, rather than spending much time on his purely journalistic endeavors.

A fairly typical day might begin with his popping into his newspaper's head office at about ten in the morning. He'd still be hung over from the drinks he'd had the day before. Of course if he'd been on The VAW Diet (which didn't exist at that time) he would have consumed several vodka and waters by that time of day, the number depending on what time he'd got up and therefore started drinking, and they would have alleviated any suffering he might have been going through due to having a hangover. But generally he didn't have his first drink of the day until lunchtime.

From our point of view Tufnell is getting his day off to a poor start. He's not starting drinking soon enough. I hope none of you would ever go through a whole morning without touching alcohol. A few early drinks brings you two benefits. Firstly they get rid of any 'down' mood you may be feeling due to the previous day's drinking (or indeed due to any cause at all). Secondly they lift your spirits and make you feel positive about the day ahead, and indeed about life in general.

So Tufnell started drinking too late in the day, but there is worse to come, for usually on the way to work he stopped off at a 'greasy spoon' café so that he could have a big, cooked, full English breakfast.

Not good! If you must have breakfast you could have something like muesli and fruit juice if you're feeling a touch vegan, otherwise you could have, say, one egg, scrambled, combined with a single slice of smoked salmon. Or perhaps just have fruit in the form of a slice of melon or half a grapefruit. Best of all, if you're only altering you're eating and drinking habits for a period of twenty-one days rather than permanently, have nothing. Surely it isn't too difficult for you to keep your food intake down for that length of time?

So with the benefit of hindsight we can see that, food-wise, Tufnell got his day off to a bad start by eating food he didn't need to eat, and then, having chosen to eat, he chose to eat the wrong sort of food, and then, to top it all off, he ate too much of the stuff.

This latter failing gives rise to another problem. In the days when I first got to know Tufnell, pubs in my country didn't open all day every day as they do now. There was some variation in opening hours, but it was fairly typical for a pub to be licensed to open at midday, stay open for a couple of hours, then close for the afternoon and re-open in the late afternoon or early evening, perhaps staying open until 11 p.m. Sundays were a bit special in that pubs might open from midday until 3 p.m., then close, re-opening at 7 p.m., finally closing for the day at 10 p.m.

The problem with these limited opening hours (which I believe were introduced in the First World War to stop factory workers having too much opportunity to get drunk) was that it tended to encourage drinkers to down as much booze as they could in a limited time before the final bell sounded for that session. Even then, “Time, gentlemen, please,” was often taken as a signal quickly to order and drink one last pint of beer before it was throwing-out time.

I suppose that was the old equivalent of today's binge drinking.

As an aside, it was interesting that in those days in some counties in Wales, pubs weren't allowed to open on Sundays, so if you were in such a county and you wanted a drink, you had to drive across the border into a neighboring county that was 'wet' rather than 'dry'. This 'Sunday restriction' was based on religious considerations.

But back to Tufnell. We find him at work, full of food, but devoid of alcohol. Worse still, he's had tea or coffee, and we know that these drinks pickle the lining of your stomach and make it much more difficult for you to absorb nutrients from the food you eat, which results in you having to eat more food, and therefore take in more calories, than is good for you just so that your body is able to get the nutrition it requires.

Information about stories that might be of interest would come into the newspaper's offices from various sources and Tufnell would sift through the stories and decide which ones to follow up. Then he would make a few phone calls, and, after agreeing things with the editor, he would pop out to meet people, ask questions and delve deeper. If it was a very local story he might be able to get to where he needed to go to on foot, but otherwise he would have get behind the wheel of his old Jaguar car and drive off to wherever he needed to go.

Quite often he would have to call in at one or more of various police stations in the area. He was on very friendly terms with many of the more senior police officers. They were the people from whom he got a lot of his information, and they would pass news on to him about whatever incidents had taken place since Tufnell's last visit. Of course the biggest, most newsworthy incidents were the murders. They didn't happen often, but when they did, Tufnell would have to go to the scene of the murder, find out about the victim and any alleged perpetrator, meet witnesses, and so on. Occasionally he would be notified early enough to get to the scene of the crime when the body was still in situ. Tufnell always pretended not to be affected by anything he saw or heard, instead putting on a dispassionate front of cool professionalism, but sometimes the experience could leave him feeling disturbed and 'out of sorts'.

Those were the occasions when he felt a stronger urge than usual to have a stiff drink, and that was when his flask of whisky came in especially handy.

In those days police officers were as partial to a tipple as anyone else, and during a chat with a senior police officer in a quiet room in a police station it wasn't totally unheard of for the police officer to take out a bottle of the strong stuff from a drawer or cupboard and share some of its comforting contents with Tufnell.

I'm pretty sure those days have gone now.

Tufnell would also sometimes meet up with his police contacts after work. There were one or two pubs, and a particular club, where senior police officers liked to congregate. There they would let their hair down even more than usual in Tufnell's company and tell him things that were probably too 'juicy' for him even to put in his newspaper. But Tufnell always liked to know what was going on, even if it was unprintable.

But let's say this is still a fairly typical day. Tufnell, having got the information that he needed, or at least having got what information he could, would then do one of two things - either he would phone in to the office and dictate the article or articles he had composed (remember there was no internet in those days) or he would go back to the office and type up his copy there himself.

By then it would be lunch time. This was really the pleasant part of the day for Tufnell. He liked his food, and he liked to have a few ales with it.

Again I think you can guess where he's going wrong in terms of our diet, and how our behavior would differ from his. Firstly you remember Barry on Day Six? We said then that beer drinking was something best avoided. Not only does it have too many calories, but the sheer volume of it makes you bloated and distends your gut unattractively. Perhaps if Tufnell had limited himself to drinking whisky he could have got away with eating the food he ate, but the sort of meals he liked were also too bulky and had too many calories as well being made up of lots of carbohydrate.

If we were going to have something for lunch, it might be something simple, like a Dover sole, grilled after it has been brushed with melted butter that has had some lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper added to it, served up with some spinach that has been steamed for two or three minutes to wilt it, washed down with the best suitable white wine we could afford.

Another simple lunch that I like is chicken with chicken liver sauce. Cook the chicken in whatever way you like, then the sauce can be made in various ways. One way is to gently fry some pancetta in olive oil and add chopped shallot and some torn sage leaves, then in go some chopped chicken livers with a little red wine or Marsala wine and some tomato purée. There seem to be lots of variations and additions for this sauce, so you can experiment to suit your own taste. I've read recipes where people like to add chopped capers and anchovies. You might put some truffle or some truffle oil in it, or perhaps add some grated cheese of some description. Maybe try some chopped mushrooms instead of, or as well as, the pancetta. For me, I'd go for a red wine with this dish, but everyone should go according to their own tastes.

Tufnell liked what people in Britain sometimes call comfort food or nursery food. Basically it's stodgy and bulky. If you think of a typical British Sunday roast, that might be a good example - lots of meat, roast and boiled potatoes, carrots, greens, maybe roast parsnips, plus any other vegetables you care to think of, all swimming in a pool of gravy that's been made out of gravy granules.

These days British food is all foreign, or so it seems. Ask people what their favorite food and they'll say pizza, spaghetti bolognaise, chili con carne, curries and Chinese food. At the time that we're talking about though, there wasn't so much foreign food around, but there were still Chinese and Indian restaurants and takeaways. Tufnell would occasionally make use of such places. You also have to bear in mind that pubs in those days tended not to serve cooked food, so eating out was usually done in restaurants, or occasionally in somebody else's home.

So at lunch time Tufnell would have to find some suitable place where he could eat and drink. Generally he wanted to drink beer, but occasionally he would have a bottle of wine. Often, if possible, he would eat and drink in the company of friends, acquaintances or work colleagues.

In journalism at that time it was almost compulsory to be a heavy drinker. If you weren't, you were almost seen as if you were disapproving of those who were, and you didn't want to fit in with them, so you were likely to find yourself being mocked a bit and pressurized into joining in. If you absolutely refused, you might then find yourself being given the cold shoulder and excluded from your fellow writers' company. Also your promotion prospects might be harmed by your seeming to be 'stand-offish' and 'unmatey' and not fully 'a company man' (or perhaps that should be 'company person', but actually journalism was pretty much male dominated in those days, and even if a journalist was a woman she was still expected to conform to the drinking regime adopted by her male colleagues).

Tufnell was a convivial fellow, so if possible he would always have a big, rather liquid lunch in congenial company.

You won't be surprised to hear that, with such a healthy appetite, he was a rather big, solid man. Certainly no one could describe him as being underweight.

A good lunch set him up nicely for whatever work he needed to do in the afternoon. He would go back to the newspaper's office afterwards to see if there had been any developments while he had been out that he needed to follow up.

Working life several decades ago was rather more leisurely than it is today. Your parents might remember the time when banks had bank managers. The manager's job was to establish good relationships with the bank's clients, borrow money from them at 3% interest and lend it to other clients at 6% interest. Bank managers in those days would even take the bank's clients out to lunch if they were important enough. I remember going out to lunch with our bank manager (mother's and mine when we were in business together). He took us to a rather nice restaurant just outside Wolverhampton. Being fond of game, I had pigeon. It was an unwise choice. Pigeon can be a rather dry, tough meat, and difficult to separate from the bird's bones and tendons. I remember the embarrassment of wrestling with the bird maladroitly with my knife and fork, and the dead, cooked creature suddenly flying off my plate onto the table.

Of course civilized people pretend that nothing has happened when something embarrassing happens, but even so, the lesson is that if you're having a meal with someone that you need to make a reasonable impression on, make sure you choose dishes that are easy to cut up, and/or bone, and eat.

But the really great thing about being a bank manager in those days was that, having got to the bank at 10 a.m., you could then leave to go home, or play golf, or do whatever, by 3 p.m.

It was a bit like that in journalism too in those days. Of course occasionally, usually in rather exceptional circumstances, a journalist like Tufnell would be called out at unusual times of the day or night to report on a story that couldn't wait. Generally, however, it was photographers who got called out at the anti-social hours more often than the journalists.

So in the afternoon, after he'd spent a couple of hours doing whatever needed to be done, Tufnell was then able to slip away from the office, saying he had to go somewhere and see someone. Then he could meet up with friends or other work colleagues in some hospitable hostelry and revel in chit chat and booze. Generally no eating was done during this post-work session.

Really it was quite a jolly way of life, and it could all be passed off as work in one way or another because it involved maintaining personal contacts and obtaining and passing on information which might at some point be revealed to the reading public.

At some time in the past, Tufnell had been married, but he had got divorced a long time ago. Apparently his wife had been quite a stunner, and from a pretty 'smart' family too. It was Tufnell's charm that had won her over, but by the time she had begun to see the self-indulgent reality behind Tufnell's appealing charm, she realized she had made a mistake in marrying him, so she promptly divorced him.

She didn't get any money, and she didn't get any property, because Tufnell spent all the money he earned, and the property that he had lived in with his wife was rented.

After his divorce he had had a few relationships of varying lengths, but these days he wasn't interested in 'the fair sex' (does anyone still call women that anymore, or even regard women as being 'fair'?) and he lived as a bachelor, alone, and was therefore quite free to stay out drinking as long and as late as he wanted.

The upshot was that Tufnell would often stay out socializing until late and then he would make his way home, heading back to his nice detached house in one of the city's better suburbs. (Once he knew he was not at risk of having his home taken off him by a woman, he had bought the house he lived in now.) Because he practically never cooked at home, he would often stop off on the way back to his house at a fish and chip shop not far from where he lived. He could then get back home while the fish and chips were still hot, and tuck into them while he watched the news or some documentary or comedy on TV, depending on how he was feeling and what was available on the various channels that particular night.

You all know what fish and chips are, I hope. They're fried, battered fish with a generous helping of fried potatoes. If it wasn't for the potatoes it would actually be a not particularly unhealthy meal, but it's the chips that spoil it from the point of view of our diet. So by all means have fish and chips, just have them without the chips. Instead, as we were saying about having Dover sole, have your fish with some non-fattening vegetables or, better still, a salad.

You can see that Tufnell's eating and drinking habits are - were - all wrong. He ate the wrong sort of food, drank beer, and tended to do it all infrequently but in large amounts. What he should have done, if he were like us, is drink small doses of nice, clean vodka diluted with water at regular intervals throughout the day, topped up once, or maybe twice or three times, a day with raw vegan food, possibly with the addition of some animal protein if so desired.

I think we agree that Tufnell would have benefitted from going on The Vodka And Water Diet perhaps at least once or twice a year, but of course he's dead now, so it's too late for that. He was only fifty-eight when he died. It was in a car accident. What was ironic was that Tufnell wasn't drunk, but the driver of the other car was.

Day Ten

I'm a Buddhist, or at least I would be if I wasn't a promiscuous alcoholic.

I believe very much in non-attachment and living in an ascetic manner, but without taking it to excess. You know the sort of thing - “Yes, please, waiter, I'll have another vodka and water, and perhaps Caesar salad for lunch if I may? Yes? Many thanks.”

Self-denial takes many forms, but I heartily recommend my form of it. Yet I like few things more than to see other people denying themselves the things that I indulge in. It brings satisfaction and serenity to my soul - even more so if I can see that the other person is suffering a degree of anguish and torment from their self-denial.

The VAW Diet can help you gain inspiration. It liberates the soul and lets the mind soar on wings of fancy. If you're a writer or one of the other creative types, this is no bad thing. If you're an auditor for the American government or the European Union or some other semi-criminal organization, it can be helpful in enabling you to come up with ways of concealing sordid underlying truths. If your job is to stand at the end of a conveyor belt and check the quality of lengths of pipes coming out of a plastic extrusion machine (a job I've done), having your mind float away and go elsewhere can allow your body to carry on by itself doing the work that otherwise your mind, if it was to remain aware of your automaton-like activity, would find unbearable. VAW-induced inspiration may even help you to dream up ways of escaping from your present life into a bigger, better one.

If you combine The Vodka And Water Diet with Buddhism, you get a double dose of inspiration. There are no limits to what you might be able to imagine. Of course there may be limits to how well you are able to put into effect what you have imagined, but hey, that's life!

When I was going through my practicing Buddhist phase I once went on a short Buddhist retreat. It only lasted three days and three nights, but it had a profound effect on me. It taught me that self-denial sucks, and that life is actually much more enjoyable if you copy Lord Darlington and say, “I can resist everything except temptation.”

Of course in reality self-denial and self-discipline are absolutely essential if you want both to get on in life and to keep your life orderly and controlled. The great thing about Buddhists is that they don't go to extremes. They seek out The Middle Way. You can have a little of what you fancy, but don't abandon yourself to it completely. Also sometimes deny yourself a bit of what you want. Don't get obsessive about anything. This applies to your behavior, and your attitude towards, and treatment of, other people.

As for me, I'm not so presumptuous or intolerant as to ever criticize other people. I merely point out to them the error of their ways and advise them on how they can improve themselves and become a better person - like me, for example.

Setting off to go on to this Buddhist retreat, I packed a few meager possessions and some comestibles and potables into an old leather Gladstone bag, chucked it in the back of my Bentley Continental R, and drove off towards the house in the back of beyond where the retreat was being held.

Buddhists such as myself care little about possessions. I could quite happily live in a hedge, dressed only in rags, living off berries and rainwater. But the Bentley is certainly quite a nice way to travel.

When I arrived at the manor house where the three-day retreat was to take place (Where do these Buddhists get their loot from? Apparently even the Dalai Lama is able to swan around the world and stay in nice hotels with an entourage.) I was shown to the dormitory where I would be sleeping with my fellow inmates.

“No chance of a room to myself?” I said to my saffron-robed guide.

“To share your physical presence with others is to have them share their minds with you, and that way you are better able to be a part of … The Universal Mind.”

They don't say that to you when you check into a Hilton or a Ritz, do they?

“I take your point,” I said. “OK. Which is my bunk?”

“Lower bunk or upper bunk?” said the monk.

I'm aware of my status. “Upper,” I said.

“Near the door here, or near the door to the bathroom at the far end?”

I did some quick calculating. “Near the bathroom, I think,” I said.

“Then this,” said Robey One Kanobey, leading the way to the bunk furthest away and pointing to the upper berth, “is your place of horizontal renewal.” The monk looked at his Rolex watch. It looked almost as expensive as mine. “Join us in the entrance hall in twenty-five minutes' time,” he said. “Until then you can relax and refresh yourself.” He smiled. “Perhaps meditate a little.”

“Will do,” I said, smiling back.

When he had gone, I got my flask out and took a few pleasing swigs of vodka and water. Then I ate several slices of salami and a couple of Kalamata olives from a Tupperware box in my bag. After that I replenished my flask with vodka from one of the several plastic bottles of the stuff I had stashed in my bag (sneaky rule number one - don't run the risk of people hearing the sound of chinking glass - put your booze in plastic bottles) and went into the bathroom to top the flask up with water. When I came out into the dorm again, three other people were there - two men and a woman.

I greeted them, discreetly keeping my flask out of view. Turning my back to them, I tucked it into an inner pocket of my jacket and then turned to face them again. We chatted pleasantly for a while, and then one of them said it was time to go to the reception hall for the initial group gathering.

In the hall we were addressed by a new monk.

“No doubt …,” he paused and smiled, “… you have come here for a variety of reasons. It is not for me, or for this place, to provide you with the answers you seek, but we can give you the time and the space you may require to look within yourself, for that is where the answers to your questions lie.” He looked at us. Then he turned towards the front door. “We shall go outside and look at the air. We shall try to see each molecule, each atom, that makes up the air. Then we shall look even deeper into the very spirit of the air. We shall try to see ourselves as being part of the air. We shall become part of the air. But we shall realize that the air is also part of us.” He smiled enigmatically. “Perhaps the air will help us answer our questions.” Then he said briskly, “Now, follow me!” And he led us outside through the front door.

He really was wearing some lovely shoes under his saffron robe - Tricker's or Church's I think.

Leading us a good fifty meters away from the house, across a manicured lawn, he turned to us. “You may stand, or you may sit. If you wish to sit, there are mats over there.” He pointed to a pile of mats. “Help yourself. Then find a position, choose a direction in which to look, and let us examine the air.”

I got myself a mat. You know that old Arab saying? Do your work lying down if you can. If not, do it sitting down. Only if you can't do it in either of those two ways should you do it standing up.

I positioned myself as far away from our holy man as reasonably possible, putting myself directly behind a fat woman. Discreetly I helped myself to some more refreshment from my flask. Then I looked at the air.

There was bloody loads of it everywhere. It's amazing how most of the time you just take it for granted, but really it's quite profound stuff.

I started meditating on a holiday I was planning on taking next month. I made a mental note to get some more condoms.

Our monk wandered amongst us. When he came near me, I tried to look beatific and as if mentally I was on another planet. When he had moved far away from me, I took another quick sip from my flask. We'd been scrutinizing the air for over half an hour by this time, so I was getting thirsty.

However, when a little later I tried to have another surreptitious nip, the monk unexpectedly turned and stared eagle-eyed at me. I smiled at him and calmly put the flask back in my jacket, but I had to accept I had been caught out.

After more than an hour of gazing at the air we were suddenly told it was time to go back indoors. Once inside, we were led into a large room with lots of sofas and armchairs in it, like a crowded upper-class drawing room.

Another monk now took over.

“We shall now,” he said, “introduce ourselves to each other.” And we did that thing of going round the room and giving our names and a bit of personal info about ourselves. I made up the usual crap about my past and what I do now. After all, Buddha said, “There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth - not going all the way, and not starting.” Now he didn't advise us which was the better mistake to make, but I like to think he would agree with me in believing that you should keep as far away as possible from staring along the road to truth. Certainly you don't want to reveal any truths about yourself if some of those truths might be a bit unsavory, or at least likely to prove not wholly pleasing to anyone who might hear them. Don't even let other people see the beginnings of any paths that might lead them to those truths.

Our group of twenty people - which I realized was the number of bunk beds in the dorm I was in (three doubles down each side of the room, and four doubles down the middle) - was quite a mixed bunch. You had the usual tossers who had made money one way or another - inheritance, divorce, business, financial skullduggery - and then decided to masquerade as not being materialistic. Then you had the dropouts who would do anything except work to get through life. Lastly you had the sad, confused people, the real screwballs, who were looking for the meaning of life. Poor sods! As if life has any meaning other than whatever meaning you decide it has for you.

At the end of the introduction, our routine for the next two days was set out. (After that, we were leaving, of course.) Rise at six, get washed, showered, whatever, then meditate. Breakfast at eight. Then gardening and property maintenance after that. (They're not dumb, these Buddhists. They know not just how to get free labor, but how to get people actually to pay to do laboring for them.) Lunch was at one o'clock. Then a group discussion. Then more meditation. Artistic endeavor next. Break for tea at four o'clock. Then more meditation, with yoga for those who were so inclined. Free time until dinner at seven. More free time after that. Then a final discussion session and a last meditation session before bedtime at ten o'clock.

On the whole it was all fairly pleasant and not too demanding. Possibly, however, it was the group discussion sessions that were to be my undoing and which put me off becoming an out-and-out, truly devout Buddhist.

By the way, the reason why I pack some protein in my bag when I go away is because when you're staying at someone else's place, you can't be sure what you've going to get to eat, or when you're going to get it, so having your own supply of food, of your own choosing, gives you more control and flexibility over your diet and your eating regime. Likewise putting vodka - or whatever your favorite tipple is - in your luggage allows you to have at least some control over your drinking regime. Of course you can get water almost anywhere, and it's heavy stuff, so generally there's not any point in carrying it around with you, so the only drink I take with me when I'm going to stay somewhere is neat vodka. (Allow a bottle a day if you're not going to be able to get out to the shops to replenish your supplies, and, as mentioned, it's not a bad idea to put the stuff in plastic bottles to muffle any noises that might be made if containers collide.) As far as the protein is concerned, I'm partial to sausage of the cured type and maybe three centimeters across. This is because it's easy to grab and quickly and discreetly bite a chunk off. I suppose if you're a veggie-vegan you'll take nuts or something like that to keep you going.

The rest of that first day went well. For lunch we had bread, cheese and pickle. I left the bread and just had the cheese and pickle. In the group discussion afterwards, people revealed a little more about themselves (but I didn't) and began to address what they were looking for from this three-day retreat. Mostly it seemed to me that they wanted to resolve personal problems and decide what to do with their lives.

All wonderfully teenager-ish.

Tea was hot drinks and biscuits and cake. Not my sort of stuff these days, so I excused myself, went to the loo, and had a slug of VAW. Dinner was a choice of salads and soups, vegetable curries and bean-based dishes. I just had salad, and then had some meat when I had a chance to nip into the dorm and grab my salami. (“Oooh, no missus!” as Frankie Howerd used to say.)

All in all, the day was going well. During the free-time periods I got to know my comrades better. None of them were people I was likely to want to keep in touch with afterwards, but it was interesting to listen to their stories and opinions.

It's always best, I think, to keep your mouth shut about yourself and let others talk and give you any information and knowledge they have and reveal something about themselves instead.

At the end of the day we had our final group discussion. Several people declared that they felt they were beginning to make some headway in addressing the issues they wanted to resolve. When I was asked if I felt I was making any progress, I dutifully said yes, but actually I'm not sure what issues I have, other than wanting to live well and pack more into my life. I just like doing things, and, when I'm not doing things, I like living comfortably. The only reason I was here was because it was another experience for me.

But of course I didn't say that. Troubled people like to think that everyone else is troubled, and I didn't want to disillusion the people of that ilk who were in the group by letting them know I was a happy bunny who was just looking for education and entertainment.

After meditation it was time for bed. I didn't need any more food, so I just had a few leisurely under-the-duvet glugs of the magic tincture. I also seized the opportunity to pour some more of the stuff into my now-empty flask, topping it up with water when I went to the bathroom. The bathroom was a communal room, befitting a dorm, where the wash basins were lined up facing each other down the center of the room, the toilets were in a row of cubicles along one side of the room, and the showers were in another set of cubicles on the opposite side. I think there's never any point letting other people see those habits of yours of which they might disapprove, so I topped up my flask with cold water from the shower when I went into a cubicle for a good pre-bed dowsing.

By the way, I had two spare flasks filled with the necessary 'medication' in my bag. The thing with unusual situations is to be prepared. If I found the flask I had on me was empty, I could nip into the dorm and quickly replace it with another one.

That night I slept as well as you would expect to sleep in a room with nineteen other grunters, snorers and wheezers.


The next day got off to a good start. Breakfast was an anemic collection of cereals, so I gave that a miss and just had some fruit juice and some tea. I prefer to have nothing or a 'continental' breakfast - meat, cheese, eggs, tomato, that sort of thing. After breakfast I rather enjoyed helping out in the grounds of the manor house. Not being much given to work, especially of the physical sort, it was refreshing to do some temporarily, and to watch others doing it too.

Lunch at the retreat was OK. I just had nuts and fruit. I was managing to keep my mind's and body's spirits up - literally - but even though I tried to be as discreet as possible, I was pretty sure my vodka imbibing was spotted occasionally.

I even enjoyed the afternoon 'arty' session that day. I've always rather fancied being an artist, but I have even less talent for art than I have for writing, so if I did it I'd have to 'do a Damien' and produce amateurish stuff and hope to connect with a buyer/dealer who would create a reputation for me, then I would get other people to do, say, paintings for me, and then I'd put my signature on their work, thereby multiplying its value by a hundred, and sell it as my work through an international network of art dealers conning the gullible rich into paying a fortune for it (dividing the money received 50/50 between me and the dealers). Of course I would pretend 'my' work was profoundly meaningful and I would give each piece a pretentious title that was, however, essentially meaningless, like 'The Physical Impossibility Of Life In The Mind Of Someone Dead'.

The point is, why work when you can get other people to work for you? Especially if you can arrange things so that you profit more from their work than they themselves do.

My first inclination that the tide of my friends' opinion was starting to turn against me was during the end-of-day group discussion. The fat woman that I had hidden behind on the first day to discreetly quaff my VAW asked me, in front of everyone, if I felt I had any particular problems that I felt needed to be addressed. If so, she assured me the group was here to help. And then the monk organizing our group for that session said, “Yes, Brother Paul. Is there anything you want to share with us? We are, after all, here to help one another.”

I certainly wasn't going to share any of my VAW with them. Nor was I going to share with them any of my profound wisdom connected with it. They could buy my book if they wanted to know what my attitude to it was and what opinions about it were. The same applied to my concealed sausage.

Yet I couldn't escape the realization that my drinking had been spotted by more people than I was aware of, and that the people around me, who were largely conventional, but whose conventionality was largely hidden by having too much money and time on their hands, looked askance at 'deviants' like me.

I hung my head, apparently in shame, but really just to give me time to think. Then I looked up. “Sometimes I struggle to control my weight,” I said. “Sometimes my appetite gets the better of me.”

“Remember what Buddha said,” said the monk. “It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, by heaven or by hell.”

So now I'd got Buddha against me too.

“But,” the monk went on, “is there not something more profound troubling you?”

Accusation by the use of questions - a good lawyer's technique.

“My uncle died recently,” I said. “I was very close to him. I miss him a lot.”

A lanky, scrawny beardy-weirdy, like a retired social worker, spoke up from the other side of the room. “As Buddha said, you only lose what you cling to.”

“Indeed,” said the monk. “Your uncle has gone, but you have not let him go.”

Someone else spoke up.“You feel he has deserted you, and you are angry about it.”

“As Buddha said,” said the monk, “you will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.”

Fuck me! All I'd wanted was a few interesting, peaceful days away, and now I was getting this!

I nodded my head almost wearily in acknowledgement of their perspicacity and sagacity. “I must meditate on this when we have our meditation session later,” I mumbled. Then I looked down at the floor - which wasn't far away, because, like everyone else in the group, I was sitting on it in the lotus position - to signify that for the time being I wished to say nothing further.

During that end-of-day's meditation session I meditated on how in future I would avoid getting involved in group events like this.

Afterwards, in my bunk bed, I was grateful for my spare flasks, one of which I put under my pillow as a comforter and true friend. In the middle of the night, having emptied that flask, I got down off my bunk and made my way into the communal bathroom with my two empty flasks, leaving me with one still full one in my bag, and with one of my plastic bottles of vodka from which I could top up the two flasks, but then I had the paranoid delusion that I was being watched. Just as I was completing my refilling mission over one of the washbasins in the middle of the bathroom, my nemesis, the fat woman, entered the room.

As casually as I could, I gathered together my equipment and smiled at her. “I always like to have some water to hand,” I said, making my way past her. “It flushes out the body, cleanses the mind, and purifies the soul. Good night.” And with that I retreated back to my bunk. I put the vodka and one flask back in my bag so that I now had two there, and I kept the other flask clenched closely to my bosom as I lay in my nocturnal haven.

I wondered if that woman would try to 'grass me up' tomorrow or cause trouble for me in any way.


The next day - our final day - was for me a day of evasion - evading other people's looks, and indeed evading people completely if possible. Was everyone ganging up on me? I felt, or imagined, disapproval everywhere. Other members of the group looked at me strangely. Then I caught the fat woman talking to another person, and she and the person she was talking to looked over at me with a mixture of derision and pity.

So the fat woman had grassed me up after all. Damn her! That wasn't very charitable of her. Not very Buddhist at all.

Somehow I got through the day. I was so depressed I had muesli for breakfast. For lunch what I really fancied was roast lamb shank in a rich gravy with steamed carrots and steamed green beans, but instead what I got was something called a nut cutlet. How many nuts did they have to murder to make my cutlet? In the afternoon art session I painted a black cat being pursued by a black dog at midnight in a coalmine that was empty and had had all the lights switched off because the miners had gone on strike for higher pay and better pensions. For dinner I would happily have had nothing - well, perhaps just quails' eggs, boiled and halved and topped with a little caviar - but instead, in order to fit in with everyone else, I had brown rice (brown, for God's sake!) with mushrooms in some gooey sauce. And throughout the day, during the group activities, and when we had free time and everyone wanted to socialize and chat and be earnest, people had either approached me with a caring smile on their face and some vague and inexplicably kind words of encouragement, or they had kept their distance and frowned at me as if I had something contagious.

It's a shame intelligence isn't contagious. If it were, we'd wipe out the 'tards in three generations.

During that final day's end-of-day group discussion, everyone said how much better they felt in comparison to how they had felt when they first arrived on the retreat, and how they were either now clear in their minds about what they needed to do when they left the retreat, or how they at least felt they had avenues they could explore further and meditate on when they got back home.

Eventually it was my turn to speak. I thought about how glad I would be to get back to one of my homes where I could behave as I wanted to. (That's not absolutely true. At any of the places where I live, there are usually one or two people involved in my life whose views on, and reactions to, my behavior I have to take into consideration, at least to some extent.)

I cleared my throat and spoke to the group and to today's head-honcho in the saffron dress. “I feel that this retreat has taught me that, like everyone, I have problems that I need to address, but that I have been avoiding dealing with those problems. I need to face up to various facts. Ignoring them will not make them cease to exist.”

There was an approving murmur from the group.

I felt encouraged, so I continued. “I would like to thank this group for helping me arrive at this realization. I feel that we all share one mind …”

More approval.

“… and that I have felt you all …,” I looked at the fat woman, “… supporting me and subconsciously advising me and guiding me, without words perhaps, but definitely with spirit. You have given me encouragement. You have given me the strength to deal with my issues, to improve, and to grow.”

This stuff was going down well with the punters, I can tell you.

I drew to a conclusion. “I would like to thank you all. I cherish each and every one of you. We are all one, and I get great comfort from being a part of you.”

Yes, I'd nailed it! They were on my side. They had to be after all that praise and gratitude. Now all I had to do was keep my mouth shut, get through the meditation session - I was definitely going to meditate on my upcoming holiday most earnestly, and I might even add on a few days in Amsterdam so I could bone that short hooker with the big tattoo that runs all up her left side - and then it was off to my bed and my salami and vodka and water.

The day, from my point of view, ended satisfactorily.


On the final morning, when we were all going to leave, we breakfasted on food fit for children and rabbits, then we mingled and chatted as we were each in turn called into the head-monk's office for what you might call de-briefing, as well as parting advice. I went in for my five-minute session.

Inside the chief-monk's office, the furniture was exquisite and the carpets looked as though they had been hand-woven by silkworms. I sat down in a leather chair on the opposite side of the desk to where the monk was sitting. I noticed his chair placed him higher up than me.

The monk smiled. “And how has your time here been, Mister Bowden?”

“You mean on this planet, or …?” I smiled too. I can come over all 'Dalai Lama' when I want to.

The monk became a little more serious. “I was thinking more of your time on this retreat.”

“I've enjoyed it,” I said.

“I was really wondering,” said the monk almost sternly, “if you feel you have benefitted from this retreat in any way. For example, has it helped you with your drink problem?”

I tried to look as though I didn't understand. “Drink problem?” I said. “Oh!” I said, as realization apparently dawned on me. “That's just a diet I'm on. I need to get a bit of weight off.”

“That would be the piss-head diet then,” said the monk.

“The Vodka And Water Diet actually,” I corrected him.

The monk looked at me. “Three things cannot be long hidden, Mister Bowden - the sun, the moon, and the truth.”

“Yes, but truth is relative,” I said.

“No one saves us but ourselves,” said the monk. “No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”

“I've got a car,” I said.

“The mind is everything. What you think, you become.”

“I want to think myself slimmer. Just a couple of kilos off would do me for the time being. I'm not really in too bad a shape, you know.”

The monk looked at me. “It is a man's own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil ways.”

“I quite agree,” I said amicably. “Definitely got to keep the old brain under control.”

“All wrong-doing arises because of mind. If mind is transformed, can wrong-doing remain?”

“Probably not,” I said.

The monk stood up and extended his hand. I stood up, extended mine, and we shook.

“You want to get yourself sorted out, mate,” said the monk. “Send the next person in, will you?”

“Will do,” I said cheerfully. And I left.


Driving away from the manor, I took a sip from my flask, glad to be heading back to normality. Luckily Bentleys pretty much drive themselves, so I was able to relax and think. What I had learned was that it can be tricky being with people who do not share your world-view, so it's best to avoid such people if you can. However, if you can't, it might be a good idea to curtail your normal behavior and try to act and talk as much like them as possible.

I wouldn't go on another Buddhist retreat, but if I had to, I'd leave my usual behavior, and sustenance, at home.

Or I'd learn how to eat, and especially to drink, even more secretively than I managed to do on this retreat.

Day Eleven

Sally and Dave are lower-middle class. They like to throw a dinner party every three months for the only two other couples they know with any degree of intimacy. They're throwing a dinner party tomorrow.

A dinner party, by the way, is where you're not allowed to eat food while standing up, or off a tray, or while watching telly, and it is compulsory for you to talk while you're eating.

Both Sally and Dave are on The VAW Diet. Sally's on it because she's depressed and she's put on a bit of weight recently, and Dave's on it because he's depressed and he just wants an excuse to be smashed out of his brains all the time.

Why, you may ask, are they depressed? Of course it could be because they're lower middle class. Surely that would be enough to make anyone depressed. Have you ever met anyone who's said “I'm lower middle class and proud of it”? Of course not. It would be like admitting you're fifty-years-old and like playing with model train sets, or that you spend almost as much time tending your ten-meter by ten-meter garden (or yard, as I believe the leading invaders of Iraq are wont to call it) as you spend doing your normal day job. But the lower middle classes actually do those things.

The lower middles classes never have a gnome in their garden because that's common, but they do like to have a little concrete statue and a tinkly little fountain that they bought from the local garden center.

No, Sally and Dave weren't depressed because they were lower middle class. After all, like all such people, they couldn't bear to face up to the fact that they were 'of that ilk'. They thought they were yer actual pukka middle claaarrrsss - you know, like barristers and brain surgeons. The problem was, Dave was only a salesman for a little private firm that manufactured water pumps. Except that he wasn't. That was what he used to be. Now he was unemployed because a few months ago his firm had gone bust. His ex-boss, who rather inexplicably still drove around in a big new Merc and lived in a lovely posh house in a nice suburb and seemed still to have plenty of money to spend at the golf club, blamed it on the Chinese. (Damn those Chinese, always making things we want at prices we're prepared to pay!) How, said the boss plaintively, was it possible to compete with people who would work for a farthing a day and put in a seventy-hour week?

To tell the truth, Dave's boss had been getting fed up with the business in recent years. Its best and most profitable times were in the distant past, so going bust had actually been a good excuse for him to settle into a long-deserved and well-earned retirement. It was just a pity his company hadn't been able to pay all the money it owed to its suppliers and other creditors, or to its staff. Even the company pension fund had been shown to have barely a penny to its name, most of its money having been used to buy an annuity for the boss a couple of years back. And it turned out there was no way of retrieving any money from the boss for creditors and ex-staff because everything that he appeared to own was actually owned by his wife.

So that's why Dave was depressed. He was jobless and unsalaried. And try as he might, he hadn't been able to find another job. Water pump salesmen are not as in demand as they used to be. This lack of work and income, and therefore status, had led him down the slippery slope to the door of The VAW Diet.

I have to say, you should never go on The VAW Diet just because you're depressed and you think the alcohol element of the diet will alleviate your depression. It won't. Quite the opposite in fact. The VAW Diet is a physically and spiritually noble path that must be entered upon with 'right thinking' and 'good intent'.

And what was Sally's reason for being depressed? We know that she was on the diet because she wanted to get her figure back, but the reason why her figure had ballooned a bit recently was at least in part due to the fact that she was depressed by her husband's situation. Imagine how terrible it is for a lower middle class woman to have a husband who is jobless. Perhaps more important than the joblessness was the resulting drop in household income. Sally was at least as much worried about their deteriorating financial situation as about their declining status.

But, I hear you ask, were her own job and income not sufficient to maintain a reasonable standard of living and her and her husband's standing in the eyes of others?

No. As a National Health Service receptionist she was on about the minimum wage plus half as much again, which in normal times was a useful adjunct to her husband's double-that-amount salary, but now, as the sole income coming into the household, it was quite inadequate.

So that was why Sally was on a downer and why she was on The VAW Diet. In short, both of them were on the diet for the wrong reasons. Rather than aiming for something positive, they were using it to distract them from something negative, and, as we shall see, an alcohol-based diet can make a negative situation even worse.

Although it had been a few months now since Dave had lost his job, he and Sally had still told no one. They kept hoping that another job would turn up, and then they could pretend to other people that he had simply moved on from his old place for better pay and prospects.

When Dave had first lost his job, initially there had been no great financial problem. Like a lot of people, Dave and Sally had enough money in the bank to pay the bills for about a month. But after that money had gone, they had no further savings, and they still had to find money to pay the mortgage, pay the household bills, buy food, and so on. Of course Sally was bringing in her income, but that wasn't sufficient to meet their overheads. Fortunately their son Harry had left for university last year, so he wasn't aware of what his parents' situation was (they hadn't told him), but unfortunately occasionally he asked them to send him money because he was struggling financially, so that was another drain on their resources. What worried Dave and Sally most with regard to their son was that because these days every Tom, Dick and Jane went to university - most of the universities being second-rate, and most of the qualifications they awarded having little or no value in the jobs market - their son would come out into the real world in another two years time, deep in student loan debt, and he would have about as much chance of getting into a decent career with good prospects as he would have had if he'd never wasted time going to university at all.

After the first month without work and without Dave's income, Sally and Dave realized that they had to do one, or both, of two things - get more money from somewhere, and/or learn to live much more frugally (whilst still keeping up appearances, of course). But because they didn't want to reveal their predicament to anyone, not even their parents, they couldn't borrow any money to keep themselves afloat. They couldn't really go to their bank, because they had their mortgage with their bank, and if they suddenly said, “Dave has no job, we have little income, and no savings,” the bank might say, “No problem. Put your house on the market, sell it, pay us what you owe us, and move into somewhere smaller and cheaper.”

The problem was, house prices had plummeted in the past few years since they had bought their place, and it was now worth less than the amount of mortgage they had on it. In short they were in negative equity, or, as the Americans say, they were underwater, and if they were to sell up, they would have nothing, or even less, because even after giving the bank whatever money they got from the sale of their house, they would still owe the bank money.

Sadly it's surprising the number of people who are in that situation these days.

So in desperation they had turned to the so-called payday lenders. Of course Dave no longer had any payday, but Sally did, so she was the one who signed up for the loans. These were reckoned on a weekly basis, and the interest that was charged, although it seemed not unreasonable when looked at on a week-by-week basis, was actually immense if you looked at it over a longer time-frame. And so they had started off with a little debt, and paid it back, and borrowed more, and paid that back, and borrowed more, and so on, until now they were effectively borrowing just to pay back part of the interest on the total debt that they owed.

They were in a real financial mess. And when people's finances go wrong, their relationships go wrong. Dave and Sally's relationship was no exception. What had up until recently been a generally good marriage, as marriages go - and this one looked as though, if it hadn't yet gone, it was thinking of departing soon - was now like a battlefield. Like the Battle of the Somme, but on a fairly quiet day.

The falling out started, as such things do, with bickering. The great thing about bickering is that you can pretend that what you just said didn't actually mean what it obviously meant.

“What did you just say?”

You lean over and give the other person a little peck on the cheek. “I was just joking, silly,” you say. And for the time being, hostilities are suspended.

But eventually open warfare breaks out, and that was the stage Dave and Sally were at. Women, despite the fact they say such things are not important, often lose respect for a man when a man loses his money and employment status. Then the sniping begins. And the withdrawal of 'affection'. (When was the last time you heard about prostitutes selling 'affection'?) After that, it's into hand-to-hand (or face-to-face) fighting.

I once had a fight with a woman. They're much stronger and fiercer than you might imagine.

Often women prefer to fight with words rather than fists simply because the man they've fallen out with is probably bigger and stronger than they are, and therefore they're likely to come out the loser if they fight physically. They like to say something that puts the man down and points out his inadequacy. Sometimes they even deliberately try to provoke the man into doing something physical to them so that they can tell the police about it and then get a court order evicting the man from the marital home. It's also useful to be able to bring up a bit of alleged domestic abuse when trying to get the best divorce settlement possible.

In such situations the poor bloke has to try to reign in his anger and fight back with words too. Or he can appear to yield meekly but then give expression in some surreptitious, concealed way to the rage he is feeling about his situation.

That was Dave's approach. He feigned obedience and submission to his wife, but increasingly he hated her and wanted to get his own back on her for the things she said to him and the attitude she adopted towards him.

Indeed that same feeling of resentment and dislike that Dave had towards his wife was now beginning to spread outwards, and he found himself increasingly negatively disposed towards people in general. He even felt resentment towards relatives and friends who were living comfortably and contentedly and who were happily paired off - in other words, people who (at least in his imagination) had everything he didn't.

He wanted to do something to 'get at' them. He wanted to share the negativity in his life with others.


As mentioned, Dave and Sally had to throw a little dinner party tomorrow, and they would have to pretend that everything was normal. But we're mostly interested in The VAW Diet, so what we really want to know is two things - how are they getting on with the diet, and how, bearing in mind their dire financial situation, are they going to afford the food and drink for the dinner party?

Firstly, how could they even afford the vodka necessary to be on The VAW Diet? Well, to a certain extent that was where their payday loan money was going. But Sally was in control of the finances now, so although she could always find enough money to get her own booze, if Dave caught her in a bad mood, she wouldn't give him the readies he needed to buy the drink that he now so craved. (Did I tell you that alcohol is addictive?) So what did Dave do in that case?

He resorted to shoplifting.

Actually he had become quite a dab hand at shoplifting. The problem was, however, that as far as vodka is concerned, at least in this country, in the supermarkets and other self-service shops here, security caps are put on bottles of spirits. You need a special gadget to get the caps off, which the people at the check-out have, and if you don't have the security cap off the bottle and you try walking out of the shop with a 'lifted' bottle, the security top sets off an alarm. Consequently Dave had no choice, if he was going to lift any form of alcohol, but to lift less potent booze. In his case he chose wine. Occasionally he'd even pinch a bottle of Champagne. He would of course also pinch food. The staples of his diet were meat and cheese.

However, that still leaves the question unanswered as to how he managed to get vodka if he couldn't steal it and his wife wouldn't bung him the money to buy any.

We'll find out later.

As for Sally, she got her food and drink in the conventional way - she bought it. Not very imaginative perhaps, but an effective and popular method of acquiring things. Not surprisingly she wasn't by nature a vodka drinker, but she could see that, especially combined with water, it was a very clean drink, and it was rather nice to be drinking it rather than tea and coffee and teeth-rotting soft drinks.

Food-wise, her diet was better than her husband's protein-heavy one. She got her protein mostly by eating fish and shellfish, rather than red meat or poultry, and she made sure she had a reasonable amount of salad and fresh fruit each day.

Let's therefore give Dave seven out of ten on The VAW Diet scale (being generous to him because of the effort and ingenuity he's putting into trying to abide by the broad principles of the diet), and we'll give Sally nine out of ten, only keeping back the one point because she is really eating a little bit too much to be a perfect example to other people, and she should also be having the occasional fasting day (or days).

And now to see how Sally and Dave are getting ready for tomorrow's dinner party.


“You,” said Sally rather sternly to Dave as she stroked her pussy, a little tabby called Wiffles that was sitting contentedly on her lap and purring, “are going to pull your weight around here a bit more. If you can't get a job, then you can at least do more work around the house and garden. Keep the place neat and tidy. Keep it clean. Make sure everything's kept in good repair. And do you know what you're going to do tomorrow?” She knocked backed some of the vodka and water in her almost full highball glass. Rather predictably it was Smirnoff and Evian. There was even a slice of lemon in it. She popped a cashew nut into her mouth from a little dish of them on a table beside her chair.

Dave topped up his glass from the bottle of rosé Cava he had nicked from the poshest supermarket in town and took a sip. “Have I got to cut the grass?” he asked. He picked a slice of Bresaola from a plate on the table near his chair. Folding the slice of meat, he popped it in his mouth.

“Yes,” said Sally, “you can do that. And make sure it's the only sort of grass you get involved with tomorrow. Apart from that, you're in charge of the food for the dinner party in the evening. Normally it's me that does the slaving in the kitchen while you do all the nattering with our friends. Well tomorrow it's me doing the talking and you doing the slaving. At least that way it's less likely you'll be able to put your foot in it by saying something you shouldn't.” She looked at her husband. “I do wish you weren't drunk all the time.”

That was a bit rich coming from her!

“I'm not drunk,” smiled Dave, only slightly slurring his words. “Anyway the weight's dropping off me, and that's the most important thing.”

“Getting a job and bringing some money into the house is the most important thing,” snapped Sally. She stood up, making Wiffles jump off her lap. “Feed the cat,” she said. “I'm going to bed. You sleep in the spare room or on the sofa down here as usual. It makes no difference to me. But remember you've got to get all the food for the dinner party tomorrow. I don't care how you get it, just get it. Then you plan the meal and prepare it.” She headed for the stairs. “Good night.”

“Night night,” said Dave. He watched his wife through narrowed eyes until she had disappeared from sight, and then he got to his feet, went into the kitchen and fed the cat. As he did so, he began to form an idea of the meal he would serve up tomorrow evening.


At half past two in the morning, Dave, still in his clothes, got up off the sofa, took a swig of wine, and quietly let himself out of the house.

He had an appointment with the bins behind the nearby convenience store where all the unsold food that had reached its sell-by date got thrown out.

Day Twelve

The day started well, relatively speaking. Sally came downstairs, sipping VAW from a full glass. She looked contemptuously at the still-sleeping form of her husband.

“Get up, you drunk slob,” she said, giving him a kick. Not bothering to see whether the husband-abuse had had the desired effect, she went into the kitchen and took a pear out of a fruit bowl.

That, along with her VAW, was her breakfast.

Going back into the sitting room, she saw that Dave was sitting up, holding his head in his hands. “I'm going to have a shower, then I'm off to work,” she said. She munched on her fruit. “Don't forget to cut the grass. And remember you're getting the food for the dinner party tonight, and you're in charge of preparing and cooking the whole meal. Do something decent. I suppose that means you'll have to nick something decent.”

“What about drinks?” asked Dave.

“You choose what drinks to serve,” said Sally.

Dave looked at his wife. “You couldn't let me have a bit of money, could you, just in case there's something I can only get by paying for it?”

“Strangely enough, darling,” said Sally, “no, I couldn't give you any money, because the only money I've got is mine, and it's staying mine. You should be grateful that I pay to put a roof over your head. Go and get your own money. If you can't get any money, you'll just have to use your initiative to get what you want.”

She went upstairs. As she did so, she said over her shoulder, “That's assuming you've got any initiative. If you have, that's all you have got these days.”

It's not easy being sneered at by a woman who's turned her back on you.

Dave heard his wife go into the bathroom. A few seconds later, he heard the electric shower being turned on. Quietly he crept upstairs and went into his wife's room. (Of course it used to be their room before he was banished from it.) He opened the door of one of the bedside cabinets. In it was a half-full bottle of Smirnoff. Quickly he glugged down the equivalent of two good double measures from the bottle. Then he put it back. After that he went downstairs again and went into the kitchen.

Deception and concealment are important ingredients in any relationship, especially marriage, if it is to endure for a long time.

In the kitchen, Dave looked in the fridge. There on the shelves was all the salad and fruit he had got out of the bins behind the convenience store in the early hours of this morning. In the compartments at the bottom of the fridge were some vegetables that he had found.

People, I tell you these bins behind food shops are like gold mines. Everything you could want is there. Why are there so many people in the world whingeing that they're starving? Don't they know that if they just went round in the middle of the night to the back of the shops that sell food, there's as much discarded food there as they could ever possibly want?

Dave took his scavenged food out of the fridge and trimmed it, getting rid of any of it that was visibly starting to go off. Then he washed and cleaned what was left. But then he heard Sally coming downstairs. He grabbed the kettle, took it over to the sink, and started filling it with water.

“I'm off to work,” Sally said. Dave turned round and saw her putting a flask into her handbag.

“Your day's vodka and water?” he said.

“Yes,” said Sally. “I'm not eating anything until the dinner party this evening.” She looked at her husband. “I've locked my bedroom door,” she said, “so you can't get in there to get any money or booze.”

“The thought never crossed my mind,” smiled Dave.

Sally looked at him suspiciously. Heading for the front door, she said, “I'm off. Do everything you're supposed to do today.” And with that, she was gone.

Dave was a free man for the day!

The first thing he did was cut the grass. Work before pleasure. It disarms your enemies. The second thing he did on coming back indoors was to go upstairs, get a chair from his bedroom, take it to the landing at the top of the stairs, stand on it, and reach up into the loft through the hinged panel in the ceiling. Reaching into the loft, his hand fell upon a half-full bottle of Zubrowka Bison Grass vodka. He took it down. Putting the chair back in his bedroom, he went downstairs again, poured himself a large vodka, topped it up with tap water, and settled down to watch the international news on satellite TV.

Now, you're probably wondering how Dave was able to have his own vodka supply, bearing in mind the stuff was almost impossible to steal and therefore had to be bought. Also why, when he had his own 'tincture', had he pinched some of his wife's? The latter was merely his way of showing to himself that he still had some independence of spirit and was not totally obedient and subservient to his wife in the current situation. Of course it was also satisfying to get one over on his wife, even if only in a small way. As for how he was able to afford his own vodka supply, that will soon become clear.


Later that morning Dave switched the TV off and went out. He would have to go down town to get food and drink for the evening, but first he needed to go somewhere else.

To his elderly mother's house.

Despite his wife's insistence that no one should know that he had lost his job, and his income, Dave's need for money over-rode all other considerations. Also a mother's love for her only son can be counted on to over-ride all other considerations too. So Dave had told his mother about his lack of work and money, and about the terrible state of his marriage, and his wife's attitude towards him and her treatment of him. His mother, who had never liked Sally, had immediately volunteered to 'sub' her son with as much money as he needed, within the limits of what she could afford.

So that was how Dave was able to get the money he needed to be able to buy vodka and be on The VAW Diet.

After visiting his mother and getting a top-up of cash, Dave walked down town to do some shoplifting. Normally, of course, lower middle class people don't shoplift, but poverty can induce people to do a lot of things that they would never normally do.

Dave was surprisingly good at shoplifting. His age, respectable appearance and carefulness enabled him both to do it well and to get away with it.

On his mental shopping list, or shoplifting list, he had various items he needed to get. He managed to 'lift' them all. To do so, he went into several supermarkets, going first into one, getting some things, then coming out and hiding those things in a convenient but well-concealed location, then going into the next supermarket and doing the same, and then going into the third and final supermarket, again hiding what he had managed to pinch. With all his 'swag' safely hidden, he went to a pizza place for lunch.

Now you may ask whether it is right for a good VAW dieter to go to a pizza place for lunch, but Dave needed to get a bit of food inside him. You'll see why a bit later.

The lunch he had consisted of a bottle of dry white wine - perfectly acceptable on our diet - and a buffet lunch where there were mostly salad items to choose from, although there were also slices of a couple of different types of pizza and a pasta dish too, all of which Dave treated himself to. Normally those latter items wouldn't be allowed, or at least not recommended, on our diet because they're carbohydrate-based.

After lunch Dave went into a shop and bought a couple of bottles of vodka. Then he went to where he'd hidden his horde of stolen goodies and he retrieved the various shopping bags and then made his way home with them. Apart from the vodka there were several other bottles, so it was quite a lot of weight for Dave to carry.

Back home, having put all the stuff where he wanted it, he got a medium sized saucepan and went upstairs with it, along with his two new bottles of vodka and the almost empty one he had been drinking from in the morning. Upstairs he went into the bathroom, put the plug in the washbasin, got the mug that held his toothbrush, toothpaste and razor from by the bath, and, having taken the things out of it, he half-filled it with the last of the vodka from the bottle he had been drinking from that day. Then, after bracing himself, he knocked back all the vodka in one go.

There was one of those terrible pauses where you know something is going to happen but you're not quite sure what it is. Then it happened.

Dave convulsed, and heaved, and heaved again. Then he threw up the contents of his guts - or at least as much as wanted to come up - into the washbasin.

This is what it looked like.

(Image of sick in washbasin)

Letting himself settle down a bit, he used the mug to scoop the spew out of the washbasin and into the saucepan.

Having rinsed out the washbasin and the mug, he made sure the bathroom was clean and tidy and looking normal. Putting the saucepan and empty vodka bottle on one side, he fetched the chair from his bedroom and climbed up to put his two new bottles of vodka into their hiding place in the loft. Putting the chair back, he then headed downstairs to the kitchen with the saucepan and the empty vodka bottle. He put the saucepan on the hob, and then went and threw the bottle into the recycling bin outside, burying it under all the other stuff in the bin so that Sally wouldn't spot it if she happened to look in there (probably while throwing her own empties away). Having done that, he went back into the kitchen, opened a tin of supermarket own-brand vegetable soup - very cheap, and hardly worth stealing really, but he had stolen it anyway- and he poured the contents into the saucepan on the hob.

He had just made Drunk Sick Vegetable Soup, a satisfying dish to serve up to people you dislike, like spouses, or friends who are doing much better than you.

All it required now was to be heated up when it was needed for the dinner party this evening.

Dave opened a bottle of red wine, sat down in front of the TV with it, and settled back to relax until his wife came home.


Sally arrived back from work just after 5.30 p.m. When she arrived, Dave, knowing her timing, had switched off the TV and was busy in the kitchen doing something with the vegetables, salad stuff and fruit he had got in the early hours of the morning.

“Hello, darling,” he smiled.

“Don't you darling me,” Sally snapped, and without saying anything else, she went upstairs.

Dave frowned, but took the opportunity to drink some more red wine and relax again.

When Sally came back downstairs it was almost seven o'clock. She was a bit tipsy. She had a glass of VAW in one hand and an empty vodka bottle in the other. “I haven't eaten all day,” she muttered. “I hope you've done something decent for when Derek and Sarah, and Dagmar and Susan arrive in half an hour.”

“I think you'll enjoy the meal I shall be offering up for everyone's delectation,” said Dave.

“Pompous prat,” said Sally.

“That's right, dear,” smiled Dave. “Why don't you go and unwind in the lounge until our friends arrive?”

“I think I will,” said Sally. And with that she disappeared into what we would probably call the sitting room, but what Sally and Dave called the lounge.

In the kitchen, Dave drank some more wine and opened a couple of tins of cat food. He opened the tins at both ends and pushed the solid, pinkish-brown meaty food out of each tin onto a chopping board in two tube-shaped blocks.

The thing with Cat Food Pâté is that you have to find the right brand of cat food that has the appropriate color and consistency. You then get it out of the tin in one piece, slice off four rounded sides from the upright tube so that you are left with a square-shaped stack, and then slice the stack crossways so that you have little square slices about one centimeter thick.

Magically the cat food has been transformed into pâté.

Dave did this and arranged the squares on six side plates, which he then took into the dining room and put on the table there. He went back into the kitchen.

The doorbell rang. “I'll get it,” he heard Sally say. He heard her open the front door, and then he heard Dagmar and Susan's voices, but then he heard Derek and Sarah's voices too. Both couples had arrived at the same time. He heard them going into the sitting room, chatting and laughing.

Dave got six little glasses out of a cupboard and poured some Manzanilla Pasada sherry into them. It was one of the drinks he had managed to pinch that morning. Putting the glasses on a tray with a dish of green olives and a dish of almonds, he took the tray through to the sitting room. He was greeted with delight.

Derek was a retired policeman. His wife Sarah was a midwife in the National Health Service. Rather unusually, although Derek had a perfectly good index-linked public sector pension, because he was only fifty-four years old and he didn't like having the endless free time on his hands that his retirement would otherwise have given him, he had qualified as a Heavy Goods Vehicle driver and he now did occasional stints driving lorries for a local agency. The money he earned meant that he and Sarah now had more income than when he had been working as a policeman. Of course Sarah in due course would also get a generous public sector pension. Even further down the line they would get state pensions as well, which would top up their unearned incomes even more.

As for Dagmar and Susan, Dagmar was something in shipping insurance. Dave had never quite understood exactly what it was that Dagmar did, but he was always flying off to different parts of the world, checking up on things. As for Susan, she worked as a receptionist at the local college.

When the six of them had chatted for a while, and when Sally and Dave were beginning to feel a little stressed by pretending how well Dave was doing at work, everyone went through to the dining room. All, that is, except Dave, who went into the kitchen. There he toasted several slices of granary bread. When the toast was done, he put it on a decent-sized plate, along with a few knobs of butter dotted around the edge for anyone who wanted butter with their pâté, and then he took the plate through to the dining room.

Everyone enjoyed the Cat Food Pâté (although of course Dave didn't let on that it was just cat food). With it, Dave served glasses of Valpolicella.

After they had finished their starter, Dave went back into the kitchen, leaving everyone else to continue chatting. In the kitchen he heated up the Drunk Sick Vegetable Soup.

That too, like the pâté, went down a treat. Here's a picture of how presentable the soup looked.

(Image of sick soup)

Just as an aside, depending on what the vomiter has had to eat and drink before throwing up, their sick can sometimes be a little bit acidic, so in this situation what I do is soften it with some balsamic vinegar and a little demerara sugar.

With the soup Dave served a rather good Burgundy wine.

Back in the kitchen afterwards, he finished steaming some brown rice that he had already partially steamed, and then he quickly stir-fried some vegetables. He finished the vegetable medley off with spices, soy sauce and sesame seed oil.

In his own mind Dave called the dish Steamed Brown Rice With Scavenged Spicy Stir-Fried Vegetables.

He served glasses of Vouvray with it.

After another stint in the kitchen, he served up the pudding. It was Mixed Found Fresh Fruit With Wanked-In Whipped Cream.

I'm sure you don't need instructions or a recipe for this dessert because the name of it tells you everything you need to know. If you do decide to add that little extra 'something' to the whipped cream, make sure you are alone and will not be interrupted while preparing it (and presumably make sure you're male as well).

You just never know what chefs are getting up to in the kitchen, do you? Probably it's best not to know.

Dave served glasses of Asti Spumante with this dish.

When the meal was over, Dave and Sally and their guests retired to the sitting room (or lounge in their lingo) to chat for a while before it was time for Derek and Sarah and Dagmar and Susan to leave. Just for fun, Dave disappeared into the kitchen again and quickly prepared a final little dish to amuse his guests.

It was Chocolate Bunny With Orange Fruit On Head. With it he served glasses of richly sweet Tokaji wine.

Below is a picture of this amuse-bouche.

(Image of chocolate teddy with orange fruit on head.)

All in all, it was a good evening, and when the guests left, everyone was in a good mood. Even Sally was quite pleased with Dave's culinary and sommelier skills. Indeed she physically showed Dave just how pleased she was with him.


So, what can we learn from Sally and Dave, their situation, and their behavior?

Well, we might form the opinion that if you get your diet and your food and drink right, your spouse will view you a lot more favorably than they otherwise would.

But here I'm going to ask a question. Does alcohol make a bad situation (e.g. a failing marriage, joblessness and financial problems) worse, better, or does it not change the situation but just make it more bearable?

It may seem to make the situation more bearable in the short term, but I think it unlikely that it would make it better in the longer term. For making things better you generally need a clear head (except possibly in the creative arts), and really Dave would almost certainly have benefited from sobering up and concentrating on doing absolutely anything necessary to find new employment, or perhaps to create some business of his own and work to make a success of it.

But why on earth did he serve Cat Food Pâté, Drunk Sink Vegetable Soup and Mixed Found Fresh Fruit With Wanked-In Whipped Cream to his friends? We know he was basically feeling negative towards everyone because of his own circumstances, and serving such dishes to his wife would be perfectly understandable because of her treatment of him, but even though he resented that his friends had work and a sufficiency of money and seemingly happy relationships, surely that shouldn't have been enough to make him do something so unpleasant to them.

It was only because he was permanently drunk that he chose - in a sneaky, undetected way - to vent his resentment against them. He would never have done it if he had been sober.

So beware. Alcohol can make your thoughts more negative than they would otherwise be, and it can then also make you act on those negative thoughts.

Finally of course, never trust a chef who is alone in the kitchen preparing food for you … and who is drunk.

Day Thirteen

If I were rich I wouldn't buy many possessions or much property but I'd do a lot of things, go to a lot of places, attend a lot of events, and socialize more than I do at the moment. Ideally I'd be able to do all that without having to work, although I would nonetheless almost certainly choose to do some form of work. That would be my idea of freedom. To be free in that way requires you to have an adequate amount of unearned income. To get that, unless you somehow got money other than by working for it, you must have made enough money in the past for it to provide you now, and in the future, with enough income to enable you to live as you want.

What I don't want money for is so that I can spend my life shopping, which seems to be what a lot of people want money for.

Of course getting enough money to live the way we want to live is an insurmountable obstacle for most of us. To get money we have to keep working. Often we end up sacrificing our time - our lives - doing something we don't really want to do just to get money to live. Generally we don't make and accumulate enough money to allow us to stop working.

Of course some fortunate people enjoy their work so much that even if they had enough money never to need to work again, they would still keep on working.

That must surely be true happiness.

In my country we have an alternative to making enough money not to have work anymore - you go on the dole. Better still, you go 'on the sick'. This means you don't even have to bother going into a government office on a regular basis to 'sign on'. Many people in my country do this. Like many other Western countries we raced full pelt down the road to being a socialist welfare state with a bloated government and an excessive number of people employed in the public sector as well as masses of people on taxpayer-funded pensions and social benefits. Governments now spend money without restraint and they tax everything. Even taxes don't give them as much money as they want to spend, so they borrow money and get their central banks to create new money in ever-increasing and unrepayable amounts. The consequence of all this 'anti-natural-selectionism' and theft-funding of governmental and personal irresponsibility is that it is now possible, and even desirable, to live in many Western nations without working. Indeed the system actively encourages people not to work if they would otherwise only be able to get low paid work.

Recently on television we had one fellow who did in fact work for many years, but who then lost his job. Because he had moved in with an unemployed mother who had a lot of kids - by different fathers - and she was therefore entitled to lots of 'free' money from the state as well as free accommodation for herself and her brood, this man realized that it wasn't worth returning to work unless he could earn about fifty percent as much again as he used to get when he was in work, which was clearly impossible, and so he resolved to stay on benefits indefinitely.

That's socialism and welfarism for you.

Living a life of taxpayer-funded idleness like this (preferably with a cash-in-hand job or business on the side), you won't be affluent, but at least your time is your own to do with as you please, within the limits of what you can afford. You're essentially a person of leisure but without being able to afford to do the things that people with money can do.

These are the people for whom daytime television was invented.

I used to know two couples who lived next to each other. The one couple worked and had no kids. The other couple was like the sort of people just described above. They didn't work. They also had five kids, all under the age of sixteen.

Both couples tried The Vodka And Water Diet.


Wayne and Sharon lived at number twenty-three. Martin and Deborah lived next door at number twenty-five. (It was all even numbers down one side of the street, and odd numbers down the opposite side.) Martin had a job in a warehouse as a foreman, supervising the various shifts - 06.00 to 14.00, 14.00 to 22.00, and 22.00 to 06.00 - on a weekly rotating basis. Deborah had a part-time job as an assistant manager in a charity shop. Jointly their incomes enabled them to get by and live tolerably comfortably in their terraced house. Running two cars - old secondhand ones - was a bit of a drain on their resources, but it was necessary because of their work.

Next door, Wayne hadn't worked for years. Even then, over ten years back, it had been only a brief stint as a casual laborer in a factory. Sharon had never worked, being too busy having and bringing up her kids. The first of these she'd had at the age of sixteen. The two eldest kids weren't Wayne's, having been fathered by a couple of other blokes before Wayne entered Sharon's life, but the youngest three kids were his.

Both couples ended up trying The VAW Diet at about the same time purely by chance, but they discovered this coincidence one day when they were chatting in the street outside their respective houses. They thought it would be interesting to see how they got on with the diet and to compare notes on how they were progressing and what the end results were.

In truth the two couples had an occasionally slightly fractious relationship because essentially they were as different as chalk and cheese - in lifestyle, in behavior, in mentality. Martin and Deborah saw themselves as being essentially middle class, whereas Wayne and Sharon didn't concern themselves with thoughts about class at all, being happy just to be themselves - rough and ready and, in their own eyes at least, naturally friendly and approachable people.

Actually they could get a bit nasty if crossed or provoked.

Martin, who was more timid and less confrontational and physical in nature than Wayne (and than Sharon too for that matter) was inclined to be a little wary of his sometimes uninhibited neighbors. Deborah, for her part, tried to avoid contact with Wayne and Sharon if at all possible, but she was always polite if she had to speak to them. Deep down though, she wished she and Martin could move house and go and live in a nicer area away from such people, but lack of money prevented them from doing that.

You might ask how Wayne had managed to avoid work for so many years. Easy. He was depressed. Yes really. He was supposedly depressed because he couldn't find work (which was hardly surprising as he never looked for it) and also he was depressed by not having as much money as he would have liked. Depression is grounds for being considered incapable of working where I come from, and the government will put you on the sick and give you free medication, money and somewhere to live.

Wayne had long ago looked up the symptoms for depression and he could put on a pretty convincing performance for the doctors and medical panels he occasionally had to go in front of to convince them to certify him as being unfit for work. Because they always did do this, it meant he got his state benefits without having to bother with the chore of having to go to the Jobcentre every two weeks to sign on, which is what he would have had to have done if he'd been found to be capable of work.

As for medication, Dave got a free supply of 'happy pills' to alleviate his depression, but he didn't bother taking the pills for the simple reason that he wasn't depressed. Instead he sold them to some junky friends of his. In that way he earned himself some useful extra cash.

Unlike Martin and Deborah, Wayne and Sharon didn't own the house they lived in. They rented it from a private landlord, and the local council paid the rent and council tax for them.

Actually Martin and Deborah didn't really own their own home either because it had a pretty hefty mortgage on it, so really the mortgage company owned their house.

One of the problems with working for a living is that to some extent you have to please, or at least satisfy or meet the requirements and demands of, the people you work for and with. Therefore turning up for work tipsy can cause you serious trouble, and if you're spotted quaffing further tincture while on the job, your employment is probably finished.

Wayne and Sharon didn't have that problem of course, but Martin and Deborah did. (Don't ever call Deborah Debby!) Now, people like you and me - or like me at any rate - might just have tried to do what we wanted - drink - in a sufficiently discreet way that we didn't get noticed (although we probably would get noticed, not realizing that the alcohol fumes we were giving off and the whacked-out way we looked would alert other people to our actions and our condition), but Martin and Deborah were made of more noble material.

“I can't drink at work,” said Martin to his wife, “and I can't go to work drunk. So I'm going to have to modify The VAW Diet.”

“I was thinking the same too,” said Deborah. “What should we do?”

“I won't drink alcohol at all in the six hour period before I have to go to work,” said Martin. “Obviously I won't drink at work either.”

“Me neither,” said Deborah. “But that should still leave us with something like ten hours in the day when we can drink vodka and water, every hour on the hour.”

“I'm sure that's what The VAW Diet author would recommend people in our circumstances should do,” said Martin.

No I wouldn't! I'd tell you to go to work drunk, drive there drunk, drink at work, lose your job, then become self-employed or start a business so you can behave the way you want, or go and marry a rich person who also likes drinking, or go on state benefits.

“Yes,” said Deborah. “I'm sure that's what he'd recommend. And what about food?”

“I suggest we don't eat when we're at work. Obviously we can't eat when we're asleep (talk about being bright!), but when we're awake, every third drink we have, I suggest we then have a little food of a suitable sort with it. I'm going to suggest we have no cooked food. Naturally we shouldn't have any junk food or carbohydrates, or indeed any processed food at all.”

I have to admit Martin is talking sense and he's got a pretty good grasp of the food side of The VAW Diet.

“Okay,” said Deborah. “That's what we'll do.”

“Excellent!” said Martin. From somewhere behind him he produced two tumblers half-full of clear liquid. “Here you are, darling,” he said, handing one of the tumblers to his wife. “I poured us both a large vodka each, topped up with slimline tonic water.”

And when did I recommend slimline tonic water?

Next door, Wayne and Sharon were also planning their approach to The VAW Diet.


“Fuck me, Shaz,” said Wayne. “This vodka and Red Bull don't half do the trick.”

“Do me one too, lover,” said Sharon, watching the TV while she did the ironing.

“I'd do you one any time, old girl,” Wayne chuckled. He poured his partner a stiff one (he and Sharon weren't married - Martin and Deborah were) and passed it to her.

“Ta, you're an angel,” said Sharon. She knocked back half the glassful, then carried on ironing. “I think I might be pregnant,” she said.

“This must be strong stuff then,” said Wayne, looking at his drink. “And quick-acting too.” He grinned at Sharon. “Seriously, Shaz, you tell me who did it to you and I'll go and sort him out.” He thought a moment. “Maybe we'll get some maintenance money out of him.”

“You done it, you dozy fucker,” Sharon laughed.

“Well I hope it doesn't come out looking like me,” said Wayne. “Do you want some crisps? Look, I got some chocolate too. It was on special offer.”

“Are you supposed to eat stuff like that on this diet?” Sharon asked.

“Yes, of course we are,” said Wayne. “The bloke who wrote the book said you should try to eat raw food.”

“Isn't that stuff cooked what you've got?” said Sharon.

“Chocolate isn't cooked, you tit,” snorted Wayne.

“Crisps are,” said Sharon.

“But we're not cooking them, are we?” said Wayne. “That's what the diet bloke meant - try to avoiding cooking any food yourself.”

“Alright,” said Sharon. “Put some crisps and chocolate on me chat mag on the arm of the sofa there where I can reach it.”

One of Wayne and Sharon's three youngest kids who were playing games on their computery-things in the corner of the room spoke up. (The two eldest kids were out.) “Mam,” he said. “Can I try some of your drink?”

“Go on then,” said Sharon. She picked up her glass and passed it over to him. “Only a bit, mind.”

But then of course the other two kids wanted some too, so Wayne went and got another glass and poured them out their own vodka and Red Bull that the three of them could share.


You see then that both couples were adapting to the diet, and adapting the diet to themselves, in their own ways.

I can't tell you what they did on each day of the diet - it would take up too much time and space - but I can give you a flavor of what went on and what they had to eat and drink and how the diet worked out for each of these two couples.

I don't need to tell you what Martin and Deborah drank - they drank vodka and water. If only all people were as obedient! Of course they'd already agreed their eating regime. What we don't yet know was exactly what they ate. Really what they had were more like snacks than proper meals, but of course that, along with the strictly controlled, and really quite moderate, drinking was what allowed them successfully to lose weight.

I'll give you a few examples of the sort of little meals they had. Here goes.

A generously-sized and fairly thick slice of smoked salmon with six quails' eggs.

A bloater with a poached egg.

An apple and a handful of mixed nuts.

A freshly boiled crab.

A quickly fried slice of beef with some steamed samphire.

Eggs Florentine and eggs Benedict, but without the dough-boy underpinnings.

Wild mushrooms and bacon.

All the above, by the way, are individual meals and not one huge meal! In addition, Martin and Deborah made sure that they also had enough fresh fruit and salad to keep themselves healthy and to stop their innards clogging up.

If you are at all worried about the risk of getting scurvy, you can replace one of your VAW drinks with vodka and freshly squeezed lemon juice. To avoid rickets you should drink this while sitting outside on a sunny day.

We see then that the two people in our 'nice' couple were pretty much perfect exemplars of healthy, disciplined, dietary behavior. They didn't go to work drunk. They didn't drink at work. Their intake of food and drink was healthy, regular, not too frequent, and meager. Their lives remained on an even keel. Consequently the weight began to fall off them.

But the problem with working varying shifts is that it messes up relationships quite a bit - I mean in the sense that either it stops a couple being together, or when they are together, one of them is having to sleep while the other one is up and about. I once worked not varying shift patterns but twelve-hour night shifts in a warehouse. I won't tell you the domestic problems that arose from that for me, but several of the guys who worked the same shifts as me, when they finished a shift they would go home and instead of going to bed to get some well earned sleep they had to stay awake and get the kids up and fed and ready for school and then take them to school. This was because their wife/partner was getting ready for work, having a normal 9-to-5 daytime job, then disappearing off to work, leaving the childcare duties to her man.

But Martin and Deborah coped with the problems and stresses of their rather disjointed lives. Fortunately, of course, they didn't have kids to complicate matters even further.

They were a great couple really.

But what about Wayne and Sharon and their brood?


“Are you drinking white cider?” asked Sharon.

“Yeah, love, but it's got vodka in it,” said Wayne, not looking up from the game he was playing on his tablet.

“That's all right then,” said Sharon.

I would like to tell you that Shaz and Wayne dined that evening on devilled kidneys, served with no accompaniment, or live mussels that were cooked briskly with a generous dose of dry white wine and some not-too-finely-chopped onions until the mussels opened … and then cooked for two minutes more! (Sorry, but I'm still angry about the otherwise excellent chef in Bewdley who served me still-gooey, cooked-until-just-open mussels back in the 1980's. I've never got over the experience.) Or that they had pâté (not Cat Food Pâté, but the proper stuff, homemade) wrapped in tripe which was in turn wrapped in thinly sliced beef, then seared quickly round the outside in chili-infused oil. Or that they had tofu in a Malaysian curry sauce with sliced peppers.

Maybe they did.

Let's listen and find out.


“Fancy a pizza, Shaz?” said Wayne.

“Is that allowed on The VAW Diet?” said Sharon.

“You could have a Hawaiian,” said Wayne. “Ham and pineapple. Very healthy. Completely natural. Not many calories.”

“Or I could have a Brazilian,” laughed Sharon, “and make you eat it.”

Wayne sniggered.

“Go on then,” said Sharon. “And get some pizza and pop for the kids too.”

“Pass us your phone,” said Wayne. “I've got no money on mine. I'll get the pizzas delivered. I couldn't be bothered to go round the corner and get them.”

Sharon gave Wayne her phone and he ordered the pizzas. Handing the phone back, he said, “I've got to go in front of one of them medical panels again in two weeks' time. They reckon I might be capable of working.”

“Don't be silly, love,” said Sharon. “You're sick.”

“The idea of working makes me sick,” laughed Wayne. “I'll tell 'em that. I can't work 'cos just the thought of working makes me sick. Anyway the bit of work I did years ago is all the work I plan on doing in my life. I didn't like work then and I know I sure as hell wouldn't like it now. Also I'm not stupid enough to work just so I can get even less money than I get now for not working.”

“You tell 'em,” laughed Sharon. “But maybe don't tell 'em that last bit.”

“Perhaps,” said Wayne, “I'll tell 'em I've got a drink proplem. I'm pissed all the time. I can't work 'cos now that I'm on The VAW Diet I've become an alky.” He paused, then he said to Sharon, “I saw one them big new tellies down the shop yesterday. Fucking huge it was. Do you fancy one? This one we've got here is getting a bit old.”

“Can we afford it?” asked Sharon.

“Kev said he'll give me some folding if I deliver some smack for him. We could use that as a deposit and get the telly on tick.”

“Go on then, love,” said Sharon. “If that's what you want.”

Then the doorbell rang and the pizzas arrived.


You know, we said about Barry that some people say that they're on The Vodka And Water Diet, but really they're not. Still, I mustn't be churlish. This is a free world, as they say in Guantanamo Bay, and people must be allowed to do as they wish.


Towards the end of our two couples' mutual diets something happened.

Martin, who was working 14.00 to 22.00 shifts that week, was mowing the back lawn, being the dutiful, tireless husband that he was. It was about eleven in the morning, and Deborah was out at work.

You should have seen the difference between Martin and Deborah's garden and that of Wayne and Sharon. The 'nice' people's garden was immaculate. Perhaps it was a bit too intricate and complex for its small size, with its paths and pergolas and pagodas and perfection. (I exaggerate, but you know what I mean - the lower middle classes can have awfully twee gardens that are too complicated, with too many 'features' and ornaments in them for their size.) The scroungers' back yard, on the other hand, was like a children's playground that had been drone-bombed by the Americans.

As Martin concentrated on mowing his lawn neatly, Wayne poked his head over the fence that separated their back gardens. “Hey, Martin!” he said cheerfully. “How you doing?”

“Hello, Wayne,” said Martin warily, switching off the mower. “I'm doing fine. And you?”

“I'm fucking chuffed as a chuffed fucker,” laughed Wayne. “This diet's fucking ace, isn't it? I don't know if I'm losing weight, but my head's buzzing so much all the time that I feel really great.”

“Good,” said Martin. “But the main point of being on the diet is to lose weight. Seriously, is it working for you and Sharon? Are you both weighing yourself regularly?”

“Nah!” said Wayne, taking a drink from a bottle of Soave. (Now that does get my approval.) “We'll just weigh ourselves at the end of the diet.” He paused. “Shaz is up the duff again,” he said, “so she's bound to put on weight. Silly cow! Fancy getting pregnant when you've just gone on a diet.” He took another swig from his bottle of wine. “Listen, Martin, our lawnmower's packed in. When you've finished doing your lawn, is there any chance I could borrow your mower just to give our grass a quick once over?”

Martin walked over to the fence that separated their gardens and looked at his neighbor's 'lawn'. It appeared to be a mixture of rubble, sand, kids' toys, turds and weeds. (Wayne and Sharon had one of those unpredictable breeds of fighting dog as a pet, and that was where the turds came from, in case you were wondering.)

“Tell you what, Wayne,” said Martin. “There's a bit of a knack to using this thing. I'll have finished my lawn in a couple of minutes. How about if I come round and cut your lawn for you? I've got plenty of time before I have to go off to work”

There was no way Martin was letting his dodgy neighbor get his hands on his lovingly maintained mower.

“You're a gent,” said Wayne. “Me and Shaz are just going to have a barbecue round here, so we'll pay you with food and drink.” He took another swig from his bottle of wine and belched. “This Soave's fuckin' ace. Do you want some?” He held out the bottle to Martin.

“No, thanks,” said Martin. He explained about not being able to drink because of having to go to work for the two-till-ten shift.

I think you can guess what happened when Martin went round to Wayne and Sharon's place.

Although Martin and Deborah were 'better' people (if I can put it like that), Wayne and Sharon had the stronger characters. Not self-discipline, you understand, just more over-bearing characters. So when Wayne and Sharon both said to Martin, “Go on, have a quick drink. Just the one won't do you any harm,” Martin accepted the proffered glass of wine simply because he didn't have the nerve to say no.

He wished he had his wife with him to whisk him away under some contrived pretext.

Of course one drink led to another, then another, then another.

Martin cut Wayne and Sharon's grass as best he could, and then he politely and obediently sat down, as ordered, with his hosts. Yet more wine was drunk. Food was cooked on the barbecue.

And so the late morning dissolved pleasantly into the early afternoon.

Actually the food, from the point of view of our trying to make ourselves look slim and beautiful, was not bad. They had lamb chops, pork chops, chicken drumsticks, and song birds that they managed to catch by putting glue on tree branches.

OK, that last bit I made up, but I just suddenly remembered being in a Mediterranean country years ago and seeing a breed of songbird on the menu in a restaurant.

So the barbecued food was good, but the drink was also surprisingly good. Who would have thought that Wayne would produce a bottle of Est! Est! Est!? It's amazing what those little independent corner shops get in sometimes.

Unfortunately Wayne, who was a tricky, rat-faced little bugger with a malicious streak in him, was spiking Martin's drinks with little doses of vodka.

He wanted to see just how drunk he could get his neighbor.

Eventually it was time for Martin to go off to work. “It's been a lovely barbecue,” he said with a rather red face as he got to his feet. He patted his stomach. “I've lost four and a half kilos since I started on The VAW Diet. Deborah's lost just a bit less. How much weight have you two lost so far?”

“About the same,” said Wayne. He turned to Sharon and winked, then turned back to Martin. “I'd report them missing kilos to the police if I were you. They might get them back for you.” He stubbed out his fifteenth cigarette of the day. “Shall I phone the fuzz for you?”

“I don't want anything to do with the police, the state I'm in,” Martin said with a grimace. He grinned. “No, I don't want those kilos back that I've lost, not ever again.” Again he patted his stomach. “This were pure middle-class fat, my friend. That's all they were. A reward of sorts, I suppose, for the many years of hard work I've done and the money I've earned.”

Wayne and Sharon were silent.

Martin looked at his watch. “I'd better go,” he said, “or I'll be late for work.”

Wayne got to his feet. “Take it steady on the way to work, man,” he said. But there was a strangely hard edge to his voice.

“Will do,” said Martin, wobbling a bit on unsteady legs. “I'll drive slowly. And I'll keep out of sight a bit at work this afternoon. I don't really want anyone seeing me, at least not until I've recovered a bit.”

“Good idea,” said Wayne.

Suddenly Sharon's eldest daughter came rushing out from the kitchen into the garden. “Mum, I think that fuckin' Kev's got me fuckin' pregnant.”

Sharon got up and went over and hugged her big, fat, fourteen-year-old daughter. “There, there,” she said comfortingly. “Don't get het up. It'll be alright. Being a mum ain't so bad. When you're sixteen the council will find you somewhere to live near us. Me and Wayne will help you with bringing the kid up.”

“I must be going,” said Martin, obviously uncomfortable with the situation.

“I'll give you a hand carrying the mower back round to your place,” said Wayne. “Then I'll make sure you back your car out onto the road safely.”

“Thanks,” said Martin.

They took the mower back to Martin's place. Then, after a quick wash and change of clothes, Martin climbed into his car, backed out into the road under Wayne's watchful eyes, and drove off to work.

Wayne went back into his house and into the back garden.

“Sharon, love, give us that spare SIM card we use for duckin' and divin'.”

“What for?” said Sharon.

Wayne didn't answer, but instead just winked at her. She went and found the SIM card and gave it to him. He took it and put in his phone. Then he dialed a number. After holding the phone to his ear for a few seconds, he said, “Hello? Police? I've just seen this bloke, pissed as a fart, driving his car.” He gave the registration number of Martin's car, the place where Martin worked, and the route he took to get there. When the phone call had ended, Wayne took the SIM card out of his phone and threw the card on the barbecue. “I'll get another SIM card tomorrow with a new number,” he said.

“Nice one!” laughed Sharon. “That'll stuff one up Mrs. Snooty's arse when her husband gets caught and banned for driving under the influence.”

“And,” said Wayne, “it'll teach Martin not to be so full of himself just because he works for a living.” He lit another fag. “More fool him,” he muttered.

And with that, he and Sharon and Sharon's pregnant daughter settled back into their life of leisure, tucking into more barbecued food and knocking back more booze.


Martin didn't get to work that day. Before he got there he was pulled over by the police, breathalyzed, found to be over the permitted alcohol limit for driving, and was then taken to a police station. His car had to remain parked by the side of the road where he had been pulled over. At the police station he was charged with driving under the influence of excessive alcohol. After that, he had to cool his heels in a cell until Deborah finished work and was able to come and pick him up in her car.

Martin ended up getting fined and having his driving license taken off him for a year. This caused problems as far as getting to and from work was concerned, but eventually everything got back to normal. Ultimately the whole thing was just a blip in his and Deborah's marriage. They were too strong a couple for it to be of any long-term significance.

But Deborah made sure Martin learnt his lesson from this experience, and although she couldn't be sure that Wayne and Sharon had 'shopped' her husband, she knew that they were the ones who had led Martin into getting drunk that day. Consequently she insisted Martin had nothing whatsoever to do ever again with Wayne and Sharon and their ghastly brood of brats. Deborah herself, on the rare occasions that she came face to face with her loathed neighbors, treated them with an aloof froideur.

Eventually Martin and Deborah were able to move to a nice lower middle class housing estate (the one where Dave and Sally lived, actually) and every day they woke up feeling a mixture of joy and relief that they had managed to get away from the nasty, idle benefit-scroungers they had lived next to for so many years.


So what lessons can we draw from this? Perhaps the lessons to be drawn from this situation, and that one particular day in particular, are that a) some people are horrible, b) some people are your neighbors, c) some people are both, d) hard work doesn't necessarily get you a better life in material terms than that enjoyed by quite a few scroungers, parasites and crooks in this world, e) trust no one, and f) you should have the strength of character to say 'no' to someone's insistent offer to join them in a drink if acquiescing and saying 'yes' to them has even the slightest potential to disadvantage you in some way.

I think that's enough lessons for one day.

Day Fourteen

I have a friend who's a poet. Personally I hate poetry. If it's raining outside, why not say it's raining outside? You don't have to say:

Pitter patter

Smitter smatter

Tiny raindrop feet skidded

Down the glass

And fell upon their arse.

Just say it's fucking raining!

Do you remember the excitement a few years back when a previously unknown poem by the English romantic poet John Keats came to light?

She fucks like a bunny.

Her cunt tastes like honey.

I'd find her funny

If she cost less money.


(Apparently in sports stadia now, one side chants to the other “You fuck like a bunny, your cunt tastes like honey, I'd find you funny if you cost less money … Oy!” But then the other side chants, “Show me your arse, I've got a pass, your boyfriend's away, I'll have my way … Oy!” And then they keep making up their own stuff from there.)

At the time there was considerable debate about whether the fifth line was actually by Keats, but eventually it was decided that it was a later addition by another, less talented, poet.

But to me poetry is just a long-winded way of saying what can be said much more succinctly in prose.

Of course my friend Percy the Poet doesn't agree with this view. He's a poet and he wants you to know it. He's not on The Vodka And Water Diet. He just drinks a lot and eats very little.

Same thing really.

Do you remember what Ezra Pound looked like? Almost certainly not. Look him up and burn his image into your brain, because this is what my mate Percy looks like. He certainly attracts some stares as he walks around London.

Percy was saddened when the singer-songwriter Robert Palmer died. He wrote the following ditty.

All the girls the same.

What's in a name?

I once pushed Sally up her alley.

Clap the clinic's

Now my second home.

Playing guitars like sexy men

Side to side

Palmer rocks 'em.

Tall and dumb

They're like his appendix.

Once gone, never seen again.

Why is it that poets can't just say what they mean? And why don't they write in rhyme anymore?

I had breakfast with Percy the other day. It was three in the afternoon and we met at a pub in Soho. He had a young woman with him. She was easy on the eye despite her rather 'goth' appearance.

“Who's your friend, Percy?” I asked him.

Percy lit a fag. (We were sitting outside, by the way, so we weren't doing anything illegal.) “Why don't you ask her, man?” he said.

Percy likes to imagine he lives in the time of the nascent Rolling Stones (with Brian Jones owning the name and refusing to sign it over to the other band members just before he's found dead in his swimming pool).

Dear Lord! I thought. Don't poets like to turn everything into a mystery or a drama or both?

“Hello, my dear,” I said to Percy's young female friend. I reached across the table and took one of her soft teenage hands in my firm, manly grasp. “Are you another one of Percy's nieces?”

Percy tapped my hand with a long, artistic finger. “Speaky, no touchy,” he said.

I withdrew my feeler.

“The poor girl needs feeding, not groping,” said Percy, sucking in about a day's worth of cancer in one go. “Let's pool our resources and buy her a lettuce leaf.”

The girl was so delightfully thin she looked as though she'd struggle to work her way through a whole lettuce leaf.

She spoke. “My name's Layla,” she said. “And I'm not hungry, but I could do with another drink.”

Layla had a rather squeaky voice. Presumably when Percy had sex with her she was a squeaker rather than a screamer. At least that would be marginally less annoying for anyone who happened to be compelled to listen to their performance.

“I'll go and get you one, my dear,” I said, getting to my feet. “What would you like?”

“Isn't she supposed to have vodka and water?” Percy said. “According to that book you wrote, that's what she's supposed to have.”

“I'll have vodka and cranberry juice if it's all the same with you,” Layla said to me.

“Of course it is,” I said. I turned to Percy. “And you, Percy?”

“A large Jack Daniels, please.”

“Do you want any food?” I asked them both.

“Food makes you fat,” said Percy. “You said that. So I'll give it a miss.”

So this was going to be a liquid only, three-in-the-afternoon breakfast. There's much to be said for this sort of meal.

I went off and got the drinks. For myself I got a Death In The Afternoon - Hemingway's cocktail made with absinthe and Champagne. I also took the remainder of the bottle of Champagne that the girl behind the bar had to open to make it.

Back outside, I put the tray of drinks on the table.

“How's that diet book of yours doing?” asked Percy, taking a sip of his drink. “Selling well?”

“Not too badly,” I said. “At least it's paying for these drinks, and that's the main thing. Actually I was thinking about doing a re-edit of it and changing one of the days so that it's about you.”

“Cool, man!” beamed Percy. “Then I'd be famous. Or rather I'd be more famous.”

“Famous in your own breakfast time,” I smiled. “At least you're famous at this table.”

“Man, you need to let people know what a great poet I am,” Percy said. He looked thoughtful. “Did you know,” he went on, “that Attila The Stockbroker isn't actually a stockbroker?”

“No kidding?” I said.

“No, really,” said Percy. “And not only is he a poet, but he's also not a bad musician.”

“I'm noting this down,” I said earnestly, “in my mind.”

Percy poeted the following:

His forebears were the butchers on the field at Peterloo.

I remember my friend Peter when he went to the loo

Cos he wanted a poo,

Because that's a really good reason for going to the loo.

“You can have that poem for free,” said Percy.

“Thank you,” I said. “I'll put it in the book.”

“Are you going to put me in your book?” Layla asked.

Noticing her glass was empty, I said, “Help yourself to this Champagne if you want some. And yes, if you like, I'll mention you in the book. Shall I say you're six feet and look unbelievably glamorous?”

“I am six feet tall,” said Layla. “And I reckon I am sort of glamorous, in an emo sort of way.”

Emo! I thought. How did we arrive at our weird modern nomenclature?

Politely I said, “You are indeed, and that is how I shall describe you.”

“I once spoke to Roger McGough,” said Percy. “It was at this gig of his. Nice dry style he's got. But here's something he didn't write.”

Take comfort from this -

You have a book in your hand.

That makes life grand.

But better still is to find your cock's so big

It barely fits in your hand

Or anyone else's.

“That's one of mine,” said Percy, “inspired by one of his.”

“I'm sure that Mr. McGough would be delighted to know that he has acted as a source of inspiration to you,” I said. I turned to Layla. “Do you write poetry, my dear?”

“I'm more into visual stuff,” she replied. “I do videos as art installations. I try to make dull things seem interesting.” She took a smart phone out of one of the pockets in her long, black coat. “Can I film you a bit?” she asked.

Stupidly I felt flattered. I tried to tidy up my rather straggly mustache a little and make sure my glasses were level on my nose, and then I let her film me as I struggled not to appear self-conscious or artificial.

“Have you got any more poetry readings lined up?” I asked Percy.

“Yes,” he said. “A few. Actually I'm doing a reading at one gig where Benjamin Zephaniah is appearing. I wrote a little poem about him.”

That Benjamin Zephaniah

He ain't no social pariah.

He's a contributor, man, to de universal mind.

He's like Hercules wid riddim

Got his wisdom in his dreadlocks

And he ain't afraid to put de pox on de poetry police.

I bet he wears mismatched socks

Cos he's a rebel.

But does he know a word what can rhyme wid 'police'?

I just thought of 'fleece'.

Scarper everyone, the fleece is comin'.

“Very good,” I said politely. “Very much in the Zephaniah style.”

Percy was encouraged. “Here's something else I wrote,” he said.

Ted Hughes spewed his views in verse.

Could have been worse.

Sylia Plath obviously thought life was.

I waited for more, but apparently that was it. Sometimes you don't always know when a poet has finished a poem, or even started it.

“I always liked that Philip Larkin poem,” said Percy, “that goes 'They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do.' I wrote a similar poem.”

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

That's cos they're pathetic and sad.

But they ain't worth snuffin'

'Cos their house is worth nuffin'

Now that the property market's collapsed.

“Excellent,” I said. But really I was wondering if what Percy does can really be called poetry at all. Yet I suppose that if he's appearing at a gig alongside Benjamin Zephaniah he must have something going for him, and some poets and poetry-lovers somewhere must like his work.

“I'd like to be like the late Seamus Heaney and win the Nobel Prize In Literature,” Percy went on. “You get good money for that. Something like a million dollars, I think.” He sniffed. “I wouldn't want to be Poet Laureate though. In fact I'd turn it down if they offered the position to me. They don't pay enough for it to be worthwhile.”

I often wondered how Percy managed to get by financially. Despite his carefully cultivated air of bohemianism and being a man of the people, I suspected that really he came from a pretty decent middle class family, and either his parents supported him (if they were still alive - he was always rather evasive about his background and family) or he had a trust fund or he had inherited money.

I noticed he and Layla were quite successfully working their way through the bottle of Champagne. Indeed it was now empty, as were all our glasses.

“I'll get some more drinks in,” I said, getting to my feet.

“Have they got any of that Somerset rat-flavored scrumpy?” said Percy.

“Yes, I think I saw it on one of the pump handles on the bar,” I said.

“I'll go for that then,” said Percy.

“Me too,” said Layla.

Disappointedly I realized she wasn't filming me on her phone anymore. Was I too boring even to be filmed by someone who liked to film boring people?

I went into the pub, taking in the tray with our empty glasses and the empty Champagne bottle. I got us three pints of Somerset Ratted Scrumpy cider. I also got us another bottle of wine, but this time just the cheap, dry, white house wine. I went back outside with the drinks, realizing as I did so that I'd forgotten to ask for wine glasses to go with the bottle of wine. As I sat down, Percy said, “That Alan Jenkins is alright.”

“I'm glad to hear it,” I said.

“But,” Percy went on, starting on his cider, “I can't be doing with that John Burnside.”

“I'm sad to hear it,” I said.

“Here's one for you,” pronounced a beginning-to-be-slightly-pickled Percy.

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day,

I went round to your house and asked your mum if you could come out to play.

She said you were trying to give up the habit of going out with me,

So like a rabbit I hopped off and went to see

If Luke was in.

In he was, as Yoda might have said.

We stayed at his place and amused ourselves looking at the stuff under his parents' bed.

We had fun.

When it started getting dark, I made my way back home.

On the way I stopped off and had a crap in your front garden.

I paused to make sure he had finished, and then said, “Poignant, Percy, poignant, but the hero of your poem will have to be careful. They can do DNA testing on crap these days to find out the crapper's identity.”

“The heroes in my poems have crap that's impossible to DNA test,” said Percy.

I couldn't think of any response to that statement.

Percy began to chat to Layla about what they still needed to do that day. (Don't forget that for them their day had barely begun.) As they talked, I drifted into reverie, thinking about all the things I'd dreamed when young that I would do in life, and almost all of which had never come to pass.

Then I heard Percy say, “We'll have to make a move in a minute, man. We've got things to do, places to go, people to see.”

“I quite understand,” I said, pulling myself back to the present. “I too have several things on my 'to do' list.” I saw that Percy and Layla had finished their glasses of cider, so I finished mine and then said, “Let's just knock back this bottle of plonk before you go.” I shared the wine out three ways, pouring it into the empty pint glasses our cider had been in. Of course an ordinary bottle of wine only contains the equivalent of three large wine glasses (or six small ones), so it wasn't really much to drink.

As we drank our wine, Percy said, “I was thinking about you the other day, Paul, and I had an idea about something you could do. I thought it might appeal to you.”

“Go on,” I said. “What is it?”

“You could write a book about a detective who's a poet,” he said.

I nodded my head. I wasn't quite sure what to say. Eventually I said, “And would this poet detective by any chance have an assistant, a help-mate, who is a tall, slightly exotic-looking female?”

“I hadn't thought of that,” said Percy, “but if you want him to have an assistant like that, why not?”

“Sounds like a good idea to me,” said Layla.

I sipped my wine. “I'll definitely give it some serious consideration,” I said.

“We could split the royalties,” Percy went on. “Split them three ways if you put Layla in the book as my assistant.”

“So you're the character on whom I base this fictional poet detective?” I said, feigning surprise.

“Come on, man!” said Percy. “I bet I'm the only poet you know, and you've got to base the character on someone.”

“And you need someone to base his assistant on too,” said Layla.

“Indeed I do,” I said. I sipped more of my wine. Percy and Layla knocked back all of theirs in a few gulps, and then they stood up.

“Got to dash,” said Percy. “Time and tide wait for no man, as Geoffrey Chaucer said, and as people before him had probably been saying for hundreds of years.” He adjusted the scarf around his neck so that it looked neat but not too neat. “Think about that book idea. It could be a best seller.”

“I will, Percy, I will,” I said, standing up. “I hope the pair of you have a good remainder of the day.”

“Who knows what the remains of the day hold for us?” said Percy. Then he added, “And the night too, of course.” He winked at Layla and grinned. She smiled and took his hand.

Percy turned back to me. “Remember that poetry can change the world, Paul. If we replaced all the politicians in the world with poets, the world would be a better place.”

“That's almost certainly true,” I said, slightly skeptically. I suspected that such a world might quickly descend into chaos. Anyway, achieving it was about as likely as suddenly discovering a hundred English words that rhymed with 'world'.

Percy smiled, and said:

The world uncurled, unfurled, then whirled and swirled

As into the flames of Hell the politicians were hurled.

Had Percy suddenly become something of a mind-reader?

“You can put that in the chapter on me you're going to put in the new version of your diet book,” said Percy. “It's a couplet,” he added helpfully.

“Just like we are,” said Layla.

“We sure are,” said Percy, smiling at her. He turned back to me. “See you, man,” he said.

And with that, he and Layla walked off, hand in hand. Then Percy turned and called back over his shoulder, “And don't forget to send some of those royalties to us if you write a book about a detective who's a poet.”

Then he and Layla were gone.

I sat back down and finished what was left of my wine, thinking about what had been said, and what I might or might not do in the near future. Then I went inside, ordered another bottle of wine for myself, picked a newspaper out of the rack of them on the wall, and sat down for a leisurely drink and read.


I didn't have any food that day. Nor, I suspect, did Percy and Layla. So you can see that from a dietary point of view it was a good day. Alcohol, good company and pleasant conversation is all the nutrition your brain needs. As for your body, if your brain is functioning well, do you really need to concern much about putting food into your body?

Perhaps we should all focus more on feeding our brains rather than our bodies.

Finally, as Dave Grohl said, I've got another confession to make. You know that poem at the start of today - 'She fucks like a bunny'? It wasn't written by John Keats. It was Percy the Poet what wrote it, including that last line.

Day Fifteen

I once spent a day with the dictator of North Urethra. I can't remember whether it was in Africa or Asia, because in those days I was a little bit whacked, having been on The VAW Diet continuously for several years.

The dictator was a congenial fellow called Kim Mbokoba Yong. He let me call him Kim. In appearance he was rather like Idi Amin used to be (before he died), but perhaps not so dark. Indeed perhaps not nearly as dark. I really can't remember things all that well these days.

Kim had sent for me to go and see him in North Urethra because, being a large chap, he wanted to go on The VAW Diet to shed some weight and become more svelte. Now, most people in those days just bought, stole or borrowed a copy of my book, read it, and followed its (admittedly at times rather vague) guidance. Kim, however, being a dictator, had a slightly different approach to things, and so he summoned me to his country to spend a day with him and go through the diet with him face-to-face.

The way he summoned me was a bit unusual.

I was sitting in a pub in Uxbridge, where I live, in the north west part of Greater London, minding my own business, reading a newspaper, munching on dry roast peanuts, and drinking a pint of dry cider. (Apart from occasional discreet sips from my flask, I almost never drink vodka in pubs and restaurants.)

I noticed a tall, slim, rather elegant man looking at me.

Now two things are rather odd here. Firstly this is Uxbridge we're talking about. No one around here has been described as elegant since the 1950's, when chaps wore hats and carried tightly furled umbrellas. Secondly, I'm middle-aged and definitely not 'a looker', so even the most desperate man is not going to be eyeing me up as the potential cash-recipient in a rough trade deal.

I looked at him, and he continued to look at me. I looked away, then back again, but he was still looking at me.

I hoped he didn't think I was flirting. I decided to be bold. “Alright, mate?” I said to him. “It's turned out pretty nice today, hasn't it?”

We British are conversationally inventive.

“Indeed it has,” he said. He came over and sat down at my table. “Are you Paul Bowden?” he asked.

He wasn't some woman's husband from a long time ago, was he? Or had one of my innocent little frauds been found out? I hate it when the past catches up with me. I decided to be as evasive as I knew how.

“Yes, I am,” I said.

He reached out a well-manicured hand. I held out my gnarled one, and we shook.

“You are the author of The Vodka And Water Diet?” he asked, double-checking.

I nodded my head.

“You look exactly the same as on the cover of your book,” said the man. He smiled, and added gratifyingly, “but younger.”

I straightened my glasses and stroked my somewhat unkempt mustache. “Thank you,” I said. I could put up with this sort of honesty all day.

“I work for Kim Mbokoba Yong,” the man went on.

I tried to look knowledgeable and impressed, but obviously failed on at least one count.

“He's the President of North Urethra,” my man continued.

“In ….”

He laughed. “That's right! At least you've heard of it and know where it is. Many people don't even know whether it's in Africa or Asia.”

I chuckled. “Such ignorance!” I said.

He leaned towards me.“My master has asked me to invite you to spend a day with him. He wishes to go on your diet, and he wants to make sure that he is doing everything right. He wishes to hear all about the diet from you directly.”

He could see that I was hesitating.

“He will pay you handsomely, and he will make available one of his jets, as well as cars here and in North Urethra, to take you from your place to one of his palaces and back again.” He took a rather exquisite and expensive-looking leather messenger bag from around his shoulders and handed it to me. “He has asked me to give you this as a little present. Look inside it.”

I looked inside the bag, and there I saw a bottle of Beluga vodka, a little box of very fine chocolates, and another box. Opening that box, in it I found there was fifty grams of Beluga caviar, a lovely little mother of pearl caviar spoon, and a miniature bottle of vodka. Also in the bag was a green leather box with a gold crown on it. Taking the box out of the bag, I opened it, and there inside its cream-colored suede interior nestled a very heavy, very expensive-looking, gold Rolex wristwatch. Presumably the case and bracelet were made from solid gold, hence the weight. Dotted all over the watch were sparkling little gems of various colors.

“Well,” I said, “this all looks rather nice. Certainly I'd be more than happy to meet your master the President.”

Like all sensible writers I basically have the mind of a backstreet prostitute and will do almost anything for money, or indeed for any tangible benefits whatsoever.

“Excellent!” beamed the President's aide. He stood up. “Will it be alright if a car comes to pick you up from your home tomorrow at about six in the evening? The driver will take you to an airport where a private jet will be waiting to fly you to North Urethra. It's quite a long way, with a stopover for refueling, but you'll be able to sleep on the plane.”

“Fine,” I said. “Six it is.”

“Good,” he said. Again we shook hands, and then he was gone.

It was only then that I wondered how he knew where I lived so as to send a car round to pick me up.


Isn't it funny how cramped those small private jets are? You can't stand up in them. (But then, as William Lear said, “You can't stand up in your fucking Rolls-Royce either.”) It's quite put me off wanting to be a multi-millionaire. I'll just go straight to being a billionaire and get a jet with some decent headroom in it.

The journey wasn't bad, but it was quite long. I managed to sleep in a plush seat that folded down into a bed, and there was a hostess who attended to my needs when I was awake, bringing me snacks and drinks.

By the time we landed, morning had broken. (For some reason, that still makes me think of Cat Stevens.) As I got out of the plane I was hit by the heat. And this was only the beginning of the day. But then that's Africa and Asia for you, isn't it?

A big, black car was waiting on the tarmac for me. The driver ushered me into the back where it was lovely and cool. The driver got into her seat - yes, rather unusually the driver was a woman - and we set off, wafting silently out of the airport. Barriers and gates opened magically before us.

The driver turned to me. “I'm taking you to one of the President's palaces, Mr. Bowden. The President is very much looking forward to meeting you.”

“And I am very much looking forward to meeting him,” I responded cordially. I noticed she looked rather fetching in her taut, dark uniform. “How long will it take us to get there?” I asked.

“About an hour,” she said.

I relaxed back into my seat and took in the passing views as we glided along. I felt cosseted by the car's luxurious interior, but also removed from the world we were passing through, separated from the ordinary people outside.

I always find it funny - funny peculiar I mean, not funny ha-ha - to see wealth and poverty cheek by jowl. There are so many poor people, and so few rich people. The rich are so rich, and the poor are so poor. It's like two completely different breeds of human beings living in two completely different worlds that have been placed adjacent to each another and that occasionally overlap and intermingle uneasily with one another.

Why do people choose to be poor? It makes no sense. Don't they know that being rich is much nicer?

We floated along, heading into town, going through some plush city streets, then into less nice streets, then through some grim outer suburbs, and then out the other side of the city into expansive countryside.

As we all know, there is really nothing to look at in the countryside. Admittedly in England the countryside can be quite picturesque in a picture postcard sort of way, but here the landscape under the searing sun was largely barren and featureless. Sometimes there would be peasants walking along one or other side of the road, burdened down with the tat and the primitive essentials that are the only things poor people have in their lives.

I closed my eyes and daydreamed.

Some time later I suddenly felt us turning sharply and I opened my eyes to find that we were driving into a walled compound through a pair of wide, tall gates with soldiers in sentry boxes standing on either side of them. Now we really were in another world. We drove through verdant, lush grounds with gardeners dotted around, beavering away diligently, watering and tending to plants, cutting grass and raking gravel surfaces.

How was it possible to have such grounds in such a hot climate? I suppose anything is possible if you're rich enough.

Then there ahead of us was the Presidential palace.

Sometimes I think the poor don't appreciate just how rich the really rich are. And a good job too. They'd be so peeved if they knew. Who knows what they might do then? But I suppose they'd just grumble and then get back to work, doing all the things that the rich want them to do and that the rich themselves don't want to do, leaving the rich free to get on with being rich, staying rich, and getting even richer.

We came to a halt outside the front of the palace and I was taken into the vast building by my lovely driver. The entrance hall alone was several times bigger than my two-room apartment in Uxbridge. A flunkey appeared and asked me to follow him. We walked along marble-floored corridors. The palace was cooled admirably by efficient air-conditioning. Then just when I thought we must by now have walked to another country, my chaperone stopped, turned to his left, opened two impressive double doors, and ushered me into a room.

A man got up from a table. “Mr. Bowden!” he boomed. “How lovely to see you.” He walked towards me.

Now I'm only about one meter seventy-three, if that these days, but this guy was, I would say, one meter ninety-five, and broad with it. He took my little hand in his and shook it. Then with a smile he pointed towards my other hand, or rather my wrist.

“I see you're wearing that watch I sent you,” he said. “I hope you like it.” He leant towards me. “There's only six others in the world like it. I know where all seven of those watches are. My Swiss spies keep an eye open for them to appear on the market, so if you ever try to sell yours, I shall know about it.”

My plan to flog it and buy somewhere nicer to live now looked like a potentially unwise move.

“I shall never sell it,” I said with a nervous laugh. “I intend to treasure it until my dying day.”

The President laughed. “And who knows when that will be, Mr. Bowden? Such things are in the hands of the gods.” He narrowed his smiling eyes. “And sometimes,” he whispered, “the gods are in the hands of people like me.” Then he was all laughter and jollity again as he took me over to the table where he had been sitting. He sat me down in a chair next to his and we started chatting.

He told me to call him Kim. I reciprocated by saying he could call me Paul. Quite frankly he could have called me anything he liked and I wouldn't have objected. What he wanted first of all was to clarify with me how flexible The VAW Diet was with regard to the drinking regime. That was soon cleared up by me saying that the more the alcoholic drinks tended towards colorlessness and transparency, the better they were, so long as the alcohol wasn't too diluted, and that basically you could drink as much alcohol as you wanted or could cope with. Then he asked for guidelines on what was regarded as permissible food. I dealt with that by saying that as little food as possible should be eaten whilst on the diet, and that the food should ideally be raw salad, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, with the addition of simply cooked animal flesh if desired. Carbohydrates and processed foods were a complete no-no.

“Excellent!” Kim said. “Then we shall spend today on the diet and you can double-check that I am starting off correctly.” Briskly he clapped his hands twice, and from somewhere two servants appeared with trays bearing silver dishes and two plates and some cutlery. Then another two servants came from somewhere else bearing drinks. Everything was set out on the table in front of Kim and me. Then the staff disappeared.

“Breakfast!” said Kim. “Tell me if you approve.”

For me to drink there was a bottle of Russian Standard with the bottom half encased in ice. Kim had a bottle of Stolichnaya kept cold in a similar fashion. To dilute our vodka there was Gerolsteiner water.

As for the food, Kim pointed to the items on his plate. I had the same on mine. “Alligator meat,” he said, pointing at one piece of flesh. Then he looked more closely at it. “Or maybe it's crocodile meat.” He pointed at the next item. “Just a little bit of snake.” He moved on. “These of course are frog's legs.” He looked up at me as he pointed at the last thing on his plate. “And because I know that you English like this sort of thing, this is a lamb's kidney fried in butter, wrapped in bacon, and then quickly fried again.”

It was, I have to admit, a pretty good breakfast.

We tucked in, and as we did so, we chatted. He asked me if I was happy with his choice of vodka. I said I was. He told me that after we had finished our breakfast, he wanted to show me something. A couple of things actually.

It turned out that the first thing he wanted to show me was his flask. Unlike mine (bought off Ebay for about $10) his was specially made for him from pure, solid gold, with a stainless steel frame inside and stainless steel inserts in the neck and screw-top to make the whole thing sufficiently strong and rigid. There was wonderful, intricate engraving all over the flask.

“You like it?” Kim asked me.

“It's superb,” I said, and I meant it. Actually I felt rather envious. This single trinket of his was probably worth more than everything I owned put together.

“You say,” he went on, “that I should drink the equivalent of a double measure of vodka every hour on the hour during my waking hours, ideally with some water, but someone who couldn't cope with that much vodka could reduce it to just a single measure. Also it is okay to drink vodka neat if desired, although really it's much healthier to take it with water.

“That's right,” I said. I looked at him and smiled. “I have a feeling, Mr. President … I mean Kim … that you will cope easily with drinking a double measure of vodka every hour, but of course all people on The VAW Diet must drink only the amount that they feel happy with. In order to discover that, they may have to experiment.”

“Of course,” smiled Kim. He leant back in his seat and sighed. “The most important thing of course is that I should be happy.”

“Of course,” I concurred diplomatically.

Suddenly the double doors to the room burst open and a man, looking bruised and battered, his clothes disheveled and his hands handcuffed behind his back, was shoved by unseen hands into the room. As he fell sprawling onto the floor, three men came into the room behind him. Two of the men were big and uniformed and armed, and the other man was …

Kim stood up. “Kimtu, what is the meaning of this?” he roared at the third man.

The man, who was podgy, pasty-faced, pale, and even shorter than me, but wearing an obviously expensive suit, smiled. “This is the leader of the party that has been opposing you,” he said, pointing at the roughed-up man on the floor. “I thought you might want to have a chat with him.”

Kim suddenly changed from being angry to looking delighted. He turned to me. “Paul,” he said, “this is my brother, Kimtu Yong.” Leading me across the room, he introduced me to the stunted one, who nodded at me but otherwise was clearly not interested in me. Quite frankly, genetically I was a little perplexed. I couldn't see any likeness between Kim and Kimtu at all.

Kim spoke to his brother. “Take our politically ambitious friend here away …,” he pointed at the battered opposition leader, ”… and put him in our special room. I'll have a chat with him there later on.“

The two guards dragged the poor guy to his feet and practically carried him out of the room. Kimtu followed after them, closing the doors of the room behind him.

Kim leaned towards me, which felt a bit intimidating as he towered over me so much. “Democracy is a precious jewel that must be protected and treasured, Paul,” he said, smiling. “I always do everything in my power to associate with, learn from, and help those whose views differ from mine. Because who knows? Perhaps they are even more in tune than I am with what my people want.”

“I find it inconceivable that anyone could understand your people better than you do,” I said. “But I admire your tolerance, open-mindedness, and desire both to learn and to serve.”

I was getting the hang of this thing of lying and just saying what the other person wanted to hear. It must have come instinctively to me after living in Britain for so long and listening to career-politicians who would say anything if they felt it would allow them to keep their jobs and so keep their snouts in the taxpayer-funded trough.

Kim's eyes twinkled with pleasure. “I only want what is best for my people, Paul. For myself, I want nothing. I see myself as being merely the humble servant of my nation.”

Well, I thought, I suppose humble servants do sometimes live in splendid palaces.

But I said nothing.


The other thing that Kim wanted to show me were the grounds of his palace. Of course he had properties everywhere - he said he even had a place in London, in Belgravia, which is about the poshest and most expensive part of the city - but apparently this palace we were in was his favorite home. Or did he say it was one of his favorite homes? I forget. Anyway he liked this palace of his a lot, but he especially liked the gardens and the wide open spaces around it.

We went outside to inspect the grounds. The bizarre thing was, we rode around the grounds on zebras.

Now, my horse riding skills are pretty rusty, and I never remember riding a zebra when I was young, but it turned out it wasn't as difficult as you might imagine. I was nervous that the animals might be a little, you know, wild and frisky, but Kim said they'd been hypnotized when they were young to make them think they were donkeys, so actually they were very placid and biddable.

As we rode around the palace grounds, which were intricate and ornate within the walls that enclosed the area immediately around the palace, but then outside the walls became simpler, although still tended, until at last, as they extended into the open landscape, they eventually turned into bare, wild scrubland.

I asked Kim where he had got the zebras from.

“I imported them,” he said.

“Where from?” I asked.

Kim shrugged his shoulders. “I'm not sure,” he said. “Some African country, I believe.”

As we rode on, we occasionally took nips of vodka and water from our flasks.

When we got back to the palace, Kim excused himself and said he had to go and talk with his 'political friend', but that I could amuse myself in the grounds or the games room or the cinema room. He said I could have a look at his car collection if I wanted. Then he left me while he went off to attend to business. For a while I wandered around the palace grounds again, but then I went and had a look at his cars, which were kept in a huge underground garage. The car I really liked was a 1996 Bentley Continental R. I sat in it and drooled over it for quite a time. Then I went to see if I could find the games room. Going back inside the palace, I didn't see anyone I could ask to find out where it was, so I wandered around the ground floor of the palace getting ever more lost and disorientated. Then I thought I heard someone screaming. I headed towards where I thought the sound was coming from, and eventually found myself standing in a corridor outside a door. On the other side of the door I could hear a man intermittently screaming and then making the most pitiful moaning sounds. I listened, half-frozen with fear myself, not knowing what, if anything, I should do. Then suddenly one of the room's double doors opened and one of the guards I had seen earlier was standing there looking at me.

I cleared my throat.”I'm looking for the games room,“ I croaked.

Kim appeared behind the guard, looking at me over the man's shoulder. “Ah, Paul,” he said with a smile. “You're looking for the games room?” He spoke to the guard in a whisper and then turned back to me. “This man here will take you to it.” He seemed so relaxed and affable, and there was now no noise coming from the room in which he and the guard were standing, that I began to wonder if I had imagined all those sounds of pain and suffering. Then I noticed Kim and the guard had their shirt sleeves rolled up as though they had been engaged in something that required a lot of physical effort.

“Thank you,” I said. My voice was almost inaudible.

Kim took his solid gold flask out of one of his pockets, unscrewed its top, and took a drink from it. Then he screwed the top back on. “Lunch in an hour's time?” he said.

I nodded my head.

“I'll come and find you,” he smiled. And with that he disappeared back into the room.

The guard came out of the room into the corridor, closed the door behind him, and escorted me silently through the palace to the games room. There he left me. I amused myself playing various table games, and then eventually Kim came and fetched me for lunch.


Lunch was a Tom Collins, followed by half a dozen raw oysters for each of us, helped down with a bottle of Muscadet. Then came lobster thermidor with a bottle of Chardonnay. We finished off the meal with a shot of neat Belvedere vodka.

After lunch, Kim and I chatted for a while, and then he disappeared again. Something to do with affairs of state, I think he said. So I just relaxed. He had a library with some interesting books in it. I found a 1958 Jonathan Cape first edition of Michael Nelson's 'A Room In Chelsea Square' (obviously without Nelson's name on it as it was published anonymously). It's one of my favorite books, and if it had been owned by someone other than Kim, I'd probably have pinched it. As it was, I just settled down to re-read as much of it as I could before Kim returned.

When he did, he said he'd laid on a little sporting entertainment for me - shooting 'with a difference'. He smiled rather enigmatically when he said it.

I put the book back on the shelf from which I had taken it, and we left the palace and drove out of the walled grounds and into the open wilderness in a rather bonkers-looking customized Hummer. The walled grounds around the palace and the landscaped area immediately outside them were patrolled by armed guards, but here out in the wild scrubland we were alone.

Then in the distance, in what I would call 'the middle of nowhere', I saw a crane. It was a bizarre thing to see in the wilderness. The crane was the sort that has a telescopic boom fixed on the back of a truck. You extend the boom and raise it up in the air, and then you can lift and lower things with the hook that hangs from the end of the boom. There was an operator sitting in a cabin on the truck at the base of the boom.

As we got nearer, I could see there was a big bag or sack hanging from the crane's hook onto which a large bull's-eye target had been crudely painted.

Kim's driver stopped the Hummer about a hundred meters away from the crane, and she (I'm sure Kim had a thing about women drivers) and Kim and I got out of the vehicle. She opened up the back of the car, revealing two rifles, some spare magazines, and lots of boxes of ammo.

Now, I was in a couple of gun clubs when I was young, but that was a long time ago, and my knowledge of rifles was then, and indeed still is, almost non-existent, but I recognized the couple of Kalashnikovs that lay in the back of the vehicle. On my travels around east Europe I'd had a couple of goes with them.

“Are you OK with a Kalash?” asked Kim.

“Sure,” I said. Some movement caught my eye and I looked up and noticed that the crane operator had begun to move the boom from side to side so that the bag hanging from its hook also started to swing from side to side.

“Moving target?” I asked.

Kim nodded his head. Then he laughed.”Be careful not to shoot the crane operator. Good ones are hard to come by. And of course try not to hit the crane.“ With that, he handed me a Kalash and a full magazine, got the other gun for himself, and, after a slight pause while he put a magazine in the gun and gave his weapon the once-over, he immediately started taking what looked like well-disciplined pot shots at the swinging bag.

I put my gun on semi-automatic, checked the sights, and started to do the same.

You know, it's not easy hitting a sack that's maybe one-meter square, perhaps twenty-five meters up in the air, and swinging from the boom of a crane about a hundred meters away.

I could have sworn there was something moving around inside the sack.

“Is there something inside the bag?” I asked Kim after missing it consistently with my first few shots.

“I've filled it with puppy dogs and kittens,” said Kim with a straight face. Then he smiled. “Only joking! I know how you English love animals. I think the bag has just got trash inside it.” Then he resumed shooting.

He hit the bag, and something definitely moved inside the bag.

“Let's put the Kalashes on automatic,” said Kim. “We've got plenty of ammo and quite a few spare magazines already filled.”

So we did just that. And then even I managed to hit the swinging sack with a few shots. Kim got it with some more of his shots too.

I thought I heard noises coming from the bag in the distance. A red color began to spread over the surface of the bag in patches.

Kim signaled to his driver, who spoke into her phone, and the crane's boom stopped moving from side to side. Gradually the red-stained sack stopped swinging.

Certainly there was nothing moving inside the bag now.

Kim looked at me. “Probably some old tins of red paint,” he said. He handed his gun to his driver. I did the same, and she put the guns back in the Hummer. Spent cartridge cases lay all around us.

“Let's go and play in the games room back at the palace,” said Kim, getting into the car. “Perhaps snooker?”

“Snooker it is,” I said, joining him in the car. Snooker's one of my favorite games. Unfortunately I'm no good at it because of my poor eyesight and lousy physical co-ordination.

Our not unattractive driver climbed into the front of the Hummer, and Kim and I were driven back to the palace.


We must have spent a good two hours playing snooker. As we did so, we chatted and drank vodka and water. Kim won all the games. (I'd like to say I deliberately let him, but he was simply much better than me, and of course his height was a great advantage in being able to reach across the table.) Then at last it was time for dinner, so we put down our cues and went off to the dining room.

As we sat down at opposite ends of the long table there, I noticed that there were several covered dishes on the sideboard a few meters away from us. There was one particularly big dish with a large domed cover. A servant approached it and, standing between me and it, lifted the cover to show what was under it to Kim. I only caught a fleeting glimpse before the cover was put down again, but I thought I saw the head of Kim's political opponent from this morning. The chin of the severed head was resting on a pair of hands with their fingers intertwined.

I looked at Kim.

He looked at me and smiled. “Yes, Paul?” he said.

“I … I … I was just going to say that I'm looking forward to dinner,” I stuttered.

“Me too,” said Kim happily. Then he added, “I was hoping someone else would have been able to join us for dinner, but it looks as though he can't make it. Never mind, no doubt he is with us in spirit.” Did Kim then actually wink at me? He went on. “I know the fellow was tied up all afternoon. Something to do with his work, I believe.” Kim examined the splendid gilt and silver cutlery on the table. Then he looked up again. “I guess he just wasn't able to get away.”

The servants began to serve us our dinner. I was glad to see that they left the big domed dish untouched throughout the meal.


The dinner was good. We drank Ketel One with still Ferrarelle water. We also had Champagne. For a starter we had scallops, monkfish and shredded chorizo. Then for the main course we had a tian made with thinly sliced onion, courgette (zucchini), aubergine (eggplant) and tomato, obviously with oil and herbs, but with garlic omitted. It was served with slices of meat, which I thought was pork, but it tasted somehow slightly different from usual.

“Pork?” I said to Kim.

“Mmm!” said Kim vaguely. “From my own estate.” He took a mouthful of the meat on his plate. He was obviously enjoying it. “I hang it well,” he said.

“It certainly tastes good,” I replied.

And it did. It was just that there was something a bit unusual about it.

To finish we had a terrine, again made from Kim's excellent pork, served with sweet chutney.


After dinner, Kim had another little surprise for me. We went and sat in the cinema room, and drank and chatted for a while. Then Kim casually fiddled with a remote control, and a few seconds later there was a porn film playing on the big screen in front of us. Kim fiddled with the remote control a bit more, fast forwarded through the film, and then stopped at a part where a well-proportioned man and an equally well-proportioned woman (although in a different area of the body) were in the sixty-nine position, providing each other apparently with a considerable amount of pleasure.

Kim turned to me. “Is it true that the English invented this position?”

I thought quickly. “Yes,” I said. “In London in the Swinging Sixties, the 1960's, we discovered that it was possible to have sex outside marriage. We came up with all sorts of novel ideas in that decade. Then in 1969 - hence the name 'sixty-nine' - we came up with this position. We also discovered it was possible to have sex with the lights on, so not only could we have sex in this position but we could also film ourselves doing it.”

“Very inventive,” said Kim. He clapped his hands, and a girl came into the room.

The poor thing had forgotten to put any clothes on.

Now I'm not an expert on judging people's ages - even the police and my doctor look like children to me these days now that I'm middle-aged - but this girl looked jolly young.

“I want you,” Kim said to me, “to show me how you do sixty-nine. I want to learn from a master.”

“Oh, really!” I demurred. “But surely this girl should be for you, not me?”

He looked thoughtfully at her. Then he clapped his hands again, and another girl came in. The funny thing was, she was the spitting image of the first girl.

Kim looked at me. “Identical twins,” he said. He stood up. “Now let's undress and I will watch you perform with your twin, then I will copy you and do the same with my twin.”

It's rather difficult to refuse a tyrant's request (because really it's an order), and I wasn't inclined to try as I quite attached to life, even at my fairly advanced age, so I ended up suffering the indignity of having to reveal my unfit middle-aged body and then reluctantly having to inflict portions of it on this poor woman-child.

When Kim stripped off, he turned out to be much bigger than me, and not only in height and width, and it soon became apparent that there wasn't going to be much that I could teach him. To top it all, he seemed to be giving his twin more pleasure than I was giving mine, even though my girl was polite enough to feign getting some degree of satisfaction from my endeavors.

Quite frankly I was glad when the lesson came to an end.


After our exertions it was time for me to leave and to set off on the long journey back home to England. A car was waiting outside the front of the palace to take me to the airport. As Kim and I walked out to it, he handed me a bag. In it was his gold flask, the copy of A Room In Chelsea Square that I had been reading earlier, and a large bundle of American $100 bills. I thanked him profusely, and he explained that actually the flask was a second one that he had had made especially for me when he had had his own flask crafted. We said our goodbyes, and I wished him well with the diet. As I was about to get into the car, he called out to me, “Paul, I'd like to meet the actor Chuck Norris. Do you know where I can find him?” He was smiling, and I realized he was playing games.

I laughed. “You don't find Chuck Norris,” I said. “Chuck Norris finds you.”

Kim also laughed. “Did you know that Chuck Norris beat the sun in a staring contest?”

“I know Chuck Norris can make onions cry,” I said.

“Some magicians can walk on water,” said Kim, “but Chuck Norris can swim through land.

“Chuck Norris can kill your imaginary friends,” I said.

“Chuck Norris doesn't have a good aim,” said Kim. “His bullets just know better than to miss.”

“Chuck Norris's blood type is AK-47,” I said.

“Chuck Norris can hit you so hard it makes your blood bleed,” said Kim.

I settled into the backseat of the car and then turned and said, “It was Chuck Norris who put the 'laughter' in 'manslaughter'.”

Kim laughed happily, then waved farewell. “Have a good trip home, Paul. Maybe we'll meet again someday.”

“I hope so,” I said, hoping the exact opposite.

With that, Kim disappeared back inside his palace.

In the back of the car I was surprised to find sitting next to me the elegant young dude who had approached me in the pub in Uxbridge. Where had he suddenly appeared from?

“I thought I would accompany you to the airport,” he said.

We set off with the same uniformed woman driver at the helm who had driven me to the palace that morning.

At the airport, the young man saw me onto my - I mean Kim's - private jet. As he turned to leave he said, “Let us hope the President succeeds with your diet. He has set his heart on losing quite a lot of weight.” He paused. “He gets a little irate if he doesn't get what he wants.”

I sincerely hoped Kim would get absolutely everything and anything he wanted.

“Of course there will be a car at the other end to take you to your apartment,” said my friend. He turned to leave. Then he said over his shoulder, “Oh, by the way, Mr. Bowden, the President has kept a video of you performing with that girl just so that he can look at it every now and again to make sure his technique is correct.”

And with that, he was gone. A few minutes later, I, my stewardess and my pilot and co-pilot were up in the air and winging our way towards England.


I don't think I've ever been as glad to get back to my little pad in Uxbridge as I was when I eventually arrived back there the following morning.

Can I just take this opportunity to ask you never to type 'old young tube' into an internet search engine? If you do, you might just come across a video of a bespectacled, mustachioed, middle-aged man illustrating with the help of a young female that wonderful sexual activity that we invented in London back in 1969.

As I went to sleep that night I dreamed about Frank Sidebottom and Jake Thackeray. Sometimes comedy acts don't always have funny endings.


Two weeks later, I picked up my mail from where it lay on the carpet by my front door. As usual it was mostly junk mail, but in one of the envelopes, with nothing written on the outside, there were two sets of Bentley car keys, on simple but rather beautiful Ettinger leather fobs, and a car registration document with my name and address on it. I opened the front door of my ground floor apartment, and there outside was parked Kim's Bentley that I had so lusted over at his palace.

He had given it to me.

So that, boys and girls, is how I got my Bentley Continental R. And let me just say that I will never ever hear a bad word said against tyrants and dictators. They're the most warm-hearted, lovely, generous people you could ever wish to meet.

Day Sixteen

I once knew a chap who went by the name of Jake L. N. Hyde. He was an actor. At one stage in his career he worked with a somewhat more famous actor, Sean Bean, a chap known for being rather macho. Jake never earned even a tenth of what Mr. Bean (Sean, that is, not the Rowan Atkinson creation) earned, but he fancied himself as in some ways being like his admired one-time co-actor. What follows is, apparently, an account of how Jake once 'acted' one particular day. I wasn't with him that day, so I'm having to go on what was told to me afterwards by a mutual friend.


Some people read The VAW Diet and then go on it. Others never read the book (and have probably never even heard of it) but they are nonetheless on it (sort of) just by their inherent natures.

Jake was one of those people. Actually it may be that his food and drink intake might have come from copying, if not Mr. Bean, then some of the other 'inspired' actor types he mixed with in the course of his work.

The day we're talking about was a fairly conventional working day for Jake. Of course as an only moderately successful actor a conventional day for him didn't involve any acting at all. Most of the time he was unemployed (officially, at any rate, so that he could sign on and get Job Seekers Allowance and Housing Benefit), and during those non-acting periods he worked as a cash-in-hand pub and nightclub bouncer.

But on this day he was actually acting. He got up at 5 a.m., shitted, showered, shaved and dressed, and at 05.30 a car came to pick him up from his pokey rented studio apartment in the center of London to take him to the studios just outside the city where they were filming Bingbat The Warrior King, a TV series set in a mystical modern-medieval time, full of conflict, scheming alliances and betrayal.

In the car, Jake read through his lines for the day to make sure he'd got them implanted in his brain. Early in his career he'd done a lot of stage work in 'rep', so this wasn't difficult for him. As he read through his lines he took out his flask and took a sip of vodka. It was cheap stuff from the corner shop near where he lived. He didn't dilute it with water. He thought water was just stuff for cleaning your teeth with.

When the car arrived at the studios (after the initial early morning pleasantries with the car driver, Jake didn't bother speaking with him for the rest of the journey), Jake reported in so that the people who mattered knew that he was on set. Then he went off to get make-up and wardrobe dealt with. This was always quite a relaxing start to the day. It was interesting hearing the gossip from the rather nice young man who did his make-up. This person was sleeping with that person, and the make-up man was sleeping with this person, and that person was sleeping with another person - a woman, would you believe! - and …

Dear Lord! It made Jake feel he was virtually a monk. He'd had his fair share of the ladies, mind you. His semi-fame and his liberality with the surprisingly little money he earned saw to that. But in comparison to some of his fellow actors and actresses, and the other people involved in the screen and stage industries, he was practically a paragon of virtue. At the moment he actually had a girlfriend, much younger than him, but he suspected that, as she was yet another aspiring actress, she was only sleeping with him - on the rare occasions that she did these days - because she hoped he could and would somehow pull some strings and get her into the business, or at least introduce her to someone who had more connections and influence than Jake himself had, and with whom she could then sleep so as to work her way another rung up the ladder to that distant, elusive, almost mythical thing - stardom.

Jake, however, had no intention of helping her, not that he could anyway. He was just stringing her along for whatever length of time she was prepared to remain involved with him. He certainly wasn't going to allow himself to be used as a stepping stone by anyone. He had worked his way up to his currently lowly position the hard way, and as far as he was concerned, others could do the same.

When make-up and wardrobe had been done to the assistant director's satisfaction, Jake had another sip of vodka and went out on set. There it was a matter of standing around, or sitting around, and waiting. The great thing was that if it was obvious he wasn't going to be needed for a while, he could always nip back to the communal dressing room he had the use of, or one of the loos, and relax and have a drink of vodka out of sight. He also kept a spare flask in his bag that he had brought with him just in case it turned into a long day and one flask of vodka proved not to be enough.

What Jake liked about being on set was the banter that went on between takes and re-takes. It was good fun nattering with the other 'talent' and the crew, hearing what was going on, seeing if there were any opportunities coming up for future work. There was always lot of joshing and joking, but it was all good natured.

Well, mostly it was all good natured. Occasionally you'd get a 'luvvie' who was pretentious and stand-offish. The guy in the lead role of Bingbat The Warrior King was a bit full of himself. And why? Because once every two years he managed to land a minor role in a Hollywood production. Oooh! Get her! And the woman who played his wife was a bit the same too.

But the girl who played their daughter, Princess Kreytonia, she was fun. According to some of the guys on set, she was especially fun if you could get her behind closed doors.

Jake suddenly heard her speaking to him. “C'mon, Jakey,” she said as she came over to him, all smiling and teasing. “Give us some of what you've got in that flask of yours.” She had just finished filming a scene, and now there was going to be a break as the crew got the set ready for the next scene. Jake handed over his flask and Princess Kreytonia took a good gulp from it. She winked at Jake as she handed it back to him. “I reckon I could get everything in that flask in my mouth.” She leaned towards him. “And I wouldn't spit any of it out. I'd swallow it all.” She pulled back again and burst into laughter. “Don't forget, Jakey, in the next scene you're fighting for my honor.”

“Have you still got any to fight for?” laughed Jake.

“I wish!” she said. “I traded my honor in for my first acting role.” She gave Jake a peck on the lips. “See you later, Jakey.” And she wandered off, looking happy.

Jake helped himself to some more vodka, then he settled down to wait until he was called on set.

When eventually the call came, he and some of his fellow actors did a run-through of the fight scene they had to shoot, and then they got down to work. There were the usual mistakes that called for a cut and another take, but eventually, after the seventh attempt, the director was happy. Then there was a bit more hanging around, another scene was shot, then it was lunchtime.

Of course booze isn't served at crafty (craft services) on TV and film shoots, for obvious reasons, but Jake liked to get himself a fruit juice and then discreetly top it up with vodka. Then he would grab some 'picky bits' - fruit, salad, a bit of chicken - and mingle with the rest of the people there. Quite often it was interesting to speak to the extras. Usually this was where Jake would pick up his next bed-mate if he needed one (or if he wanted one to supplement his current one). Extras always seemed to want to get into 'proper' acting, but in all his time in the business, Jake couldn't think of any 'proper' actor he knew who had got into the business by starting off as an extra. Anyway it was often enlightening and entertaining speaking to these people.

After lunch it was back to work. Jake had his vodka to keep him going, and if he did get hungry he could always stroll past crafty and see what he could find there. But as a back-up, along with his spare flask he also kept some nuts and dried fruit in his bag in the dressing room. He wasn't a big eater though. They say the camera tends to make you look chubbier than you really are, so Jake tried to eat as little as he reasonably could in order to keep his weight down and stay lean and fit and in good shape for his audience.

He was in another handful of scenes during the afternoon. There were one or two minor revisions made to the script in a couple of scenes, but these changes were quickly absorbed when the scenes were blocked and the read-through and rehearsal were done. Everyone here was professional, so everything went smoothly, or at least as smoothly as things could be expected to go in the world of filming.

It was a fairly short day that day, or at least not as long as some of the shooting days could be, and they were finished by just after 7 p.m. Now they had two days off until they had to be back in the studio.

Outside the studio, Jake's driver was waiting take him home. Once he was back in the center of London, Jake did a quick half-hour of hard exercise in the gym that he used near his apartment, then after going home and showering and sprucing himself up he went off to a little bistro-style restaurant not far away. There he had boeuf bourguignon with a bottle of red Burgundy (Côtes de Nuits). After that, he walked round to one of his local pubs.

In this particular place Jake was well-known, generally for good reasons, but not entirely, because sometimes when he was 'in his cups' he could have some of the annoying characteristics of the self-regarding luvvies of whom he so disapproved and was so disparaging.

Tonight got off to a good start, however. He was in a good mood and on sparkling form due to having had just the right amount of alcohol to get him into that desirable, balanced, positive state.

But things in life tend to balance out. What goes up must come down, and the brighter the light in which you find yourself basking, the darker the shadow that will ultimately overwhelm you.

And so it is with alcohol.


Tonight there were plenty of familiar faces in the pub. Of course the place drew its clientele from those who lived nearby, but because it was owned by quite a famous movie director it was also a haunt of people who worked in the music, media and show biz worlds and they would come from further afield. This 'celebrity factor' was well known, so the place was something of a magnet for tourists who would turn up hoping to spot faces that they recognized from screen and stage.

Jake settled down on a stool at the bar with some of his friends from stage and screen and they began as usual to entertain, and perhaps even try to out-do, each other with their admittedly fascinating but sometimes rather risqué anecdotes.

Jake, as you might have guessed from his earlier on-set exchange with Princess Kreytonia, was generally called Jakey by his friends. Sometimes he would drink beer when with them in this pub, but tonight he was on the vodka. This was how a surprising amount of his income was spent. After all, it might not cost much to buy a bottle of vodka from your local supermarket or corner shop, but you can get through a small fortune when you're buying one large vodka after another - for yourself and friends - in a pub, club or restaurant, especially if that place is in central London, rather up-market, and is frequented by celebrities and tourists, all of whom have, or like to appear to have, plenty of money to spend.

At one point as the night progressed, a man came up to Jake, mid-anecdote, and said, “Excuse me, I hope you don't mind me interrupting you.”

“Not at all,” laughed Jake, full of bonhomie and good cheer. “What can I do for you? Do you want to get to the bar?”

“No, no,” said the man, who was middle-aged and looked as though in his youth he'd dreamed of becoming an accountant and that his dream had then come true. “I hope I'm not mistaken, but … are you Jake Hyde?”

“Indeed I am,” smiled Jake.

The man looked inordinately pleased. “My wife thinks you're great,” he said. “One of our country's best actors, she says. She won't believe I've actually met you in person. I don't suppose …” He hesitated. “I don't suppose I could get your autograph for her, could I? She'd be so pleased. And, perhaps I'm going too far here, but could I get a photo on my phone of you and me together?”

“Of course my dear fellow,” said Jake happily. Actually he loved it when people recognized him (well, most of the time he did), especially when it happened in front of other people who were 'in the business'.

He turned to the girl behind the bar and got her to give him one the pub's cards. Asking the man what his wife's name was, he wrote a little greeting to her, signed the card, gave it to the man, and then posed with an arm around the man's shoulders as one of Jake's friends took a photo with the man's phone of the two of them together.

When all this had been done, Jake said to the man, “Let me get you a drink.”

“Oh no,” protested the man. “I couldn't.”

“I insist,” said Jake. “You're a decent chap and you've been very polite. I only wish all people who came up to me were like you. Now, what will you have?”

The man asked for a pint of bitter. Then, with his drink in hand and with gushing gratitude, he withdrew. This is what all adoring fans should do after they have been allowed into the presence of a celebrity (even a minor one).

A short while later the man left the pub with his treasured autograph and his photo of Jake and himself safely stored on his phone. He had already sent the photo to his wife, and she had sent a suitably excited text message back. He was hopeful that, when he got back home in a couple of days' time from this business trip to London, his wife would reward him with a bit of nooky, although no doubt if she did, she'd be fantasizing that she was doing it with Jake Hyde.


As an aside here, let me mention another downside to boozing - it can make you overly generous, spending too much money not just on yourself but on other people that you would not normally be generous, or so generous, with, and it can make you buy things (and - how shall we put this? - services, perhaps of a personal nature) that you wouldn't normally spend your money on if you were sober. So beware!


As the night progressed, the drinks flowed, quite often at Jake's expense, and the talk got louder and more raucous. Of course it's hardly surprising that people in the entertainment world can be rather loud, especially when they're getting sloshed and becoming more and more uninhibited. Their voices have, after all, often been trained (if they have worked on stage, at any rate) so that what they say can be heard a good many meters away.

Some people find it interesting to watch and listen to people like Jake and his friends behaving in the way they were behaving now, but others find it extremely irritating. Unfortunately a couple, a youngish man and woman, were sitting in the pub watching, and unavoidably listening to, 'the luvvies', and they fell into the latter category. They quietly finished their drinks and, above the din, debated whether to head home or to have one last drink here 'for the road'. They decided to have one more here, so the man - quite a burly chap who looked like he worked out, judging by the size of the arms sticking out of his torso-hugging T-shirt - got up from the table where they were sitting and made his way over to the bar.

“Excuse me, mate,” he said to Jake. “Can I get to the bar?”

“Of course you can,” laughed Jake. “There's a gap down there where you can get to it.” He nodded his head towards a gap at the bar that the man would have to wade through a crowd to get to.

There was a bit of a silence. Then the man said, “Yes, but I want to get to the bar here.”

“Listen, my man,” said Jake. “My friends and I here are talking. Now get to the bar down there. You have no need to interrupt us or disturb us.”

The man looked at Jake. “Firstly,” he said slowly, “I am not your man.” He looked Jake up and down. “But if I've got you weighed up right, I bet you wish I were. Secondly it's you and your friends who are doing the disturbing - you most of all.”

“Oh, I say!” protested one of Jake's friends. (Some 'luvvies' do actually talk in their everyday lives as if they're acting in a period drama.)

Jake got off his bar stool and stood up, and then realized that, big as he was, he was a fraction shorter and quite a lot less bulky than the man he was squaring up to. But he stuck his chin out and said the immortal words, “Do you know who I am?”

I suppose this is marginally less bad than when some diva who is being prevented from getting her own way says, “Don't you know who I am?”

“You're that geezer,” said the man, “off the telly, aren't you? You do a bit of play acting. Dressing up and stuff. Like an overgrown kid.”

“I'll have you know,” said Jake, drawing himself up another centimeter, “that I went to RADA.”

Actually he'd gone for an audition there but failed to get in.

“What's that then?” said the man, looking bemused. “School for performing poufs or something?”

There is that terrible moment when actors believe they are - or at least have the characteristics and qualities of - the people they have been paid to pretend to be. Commonsense should have dictated that Jake ought to have backed off by using some well-judged humor and then bought the man off by offering to get him and his woman friend a drink. But instead …

“I'm going to teach you a lesson,” said Jake.

But before Jake could begin teaching, the man delivered a totally unexpected right hook to the left side of Jake's face, and Jake fell back against the bar.

It became immediately obvious, however, that Jake was determined to press on with delivering his lesson. He lunged at the guy, and the two of them careered around the bar, grappling with each other and trying to get in as many blows as they could to some point of weakness on the other person's body.

After several stunned, silent seconds, Jake's friends stepped in to pull the two men apart.

That is where it should all have ended. Unfortunately some of the other guys in the pub, and even a couple of women, had been equally annoyed by the loudness and 'show-offishness' of Jake and his friends, and they saw the present situation as a good opportunity to vent their annoyance, not by stopping the fight, but by joining in to support the guy Jake was wrestling with, and to start fighting with Jake's friends too.

The resulting mêlée was only brought to a halt after about a minute when the bar staff yelled out that if it didn't all stop at once, they'd be locking the doors and not opening them again until the police arrived to take down names and addresses and arrest people.

Reluctantly people disengaged from one another. Some sat down, obviously intending to stay, but Jake's antagonist left, as did those who had supported him in the brawl.

The manager of the place came over to Jake. “Jakey,” he said, “you're barred.”

“What?” cried Jake. “I didn't start the fight.”

“You're barred, Jakey,” repeated the manager.

Jake got to his feet. “I'm leaving anyway,” he grumbled. He headed for the exit. Then he turned and said, “You ought to be more careful about the sort of people you let in here.”

“I will be in future,” snapped the manager. “And that's why from now on … you're barred!” He turned to Jake's friends. “And you lot too. Out!”

Jake's friends, muttering, followed Jake out into the street.

Outside they debated what to do next. As it was now about one in the morning, eventually they all decided to head home. All, that is, except Jake.

“I need another drink,” he said. “You guys go home, and I'll see you … whenever.”

With that he staggered off down the street and disappeared around a corner.

The place he was heading for was the Chico Gummo Harpo Zeppo Club, a private members club for people in the arts and media who'd been refused membership of the Groucho Club. He got there safely and, once inside, he settled down at the bar. Ordering a large, straight vodka, he nursed the left side of his face.

“Been in the wars, have we?” asked the rather camp barman with a smile as he gave Jake his drink.

“Nothing that a bit of make-up won't be able to cover up when I'm back in the studios on Monday,” said Jake.

“Nothing like a bit of slap to hide a good slapping,” laughed the young man.

“You know,” said Jake, “I just lied to some bloody oaf that I'd been to RADA. Why did I say that?”

“Unfulfilled desires?” suggested the barman. “Envy? Feelings of inadequacy?”

“Sean Bean went to RADA,” said Jake. “Why couldn't I go to RADA?” He knocked back his vodka, wincing a little. “Anyway, thanks for making me feel better. Now I know I'm unfulfilled, inadequate and full of envy I think I'll just go and kill myself.”

“Don't,” said the barman. “You'd probably only make a mess of it. Are you having another one of these?”

Jake thought. Then he said, “No. Two large gins, two pints of cider. Ice in the cider.”

The barman laughed. “Why not make it a pair of quadruple whiskies and another pair of pints … please? Go on, Jakey, have another large vodka. On the house. I can see you're down in the dumps.”

“Okay,” said Jake. “You've twisted my arm.”

He nursed the generous vodka the barman gave him and took a sip from it. Putting the glass down, he said, “I could have been a star, you know.”

“Oh no, here we go,” groaned the barman.

Jake began to regale his unwilling one-man audience with tales of the lucky breaks that had almost, but not quite, come his way, and how some of the people he had worked with had gone on to great things, and how he had auditioned for three - or was it four? - leading roles over a decade ago, and almost - almost - got them. After those rejections he'd subsided into doing supporting roles and he had accepted that …

Here he stood up, put his hand on his heart, and proclaimed, “I will never play the Dane.”

He sat down again, and the conversation between him and the barman settled into a sort of matily humorous banter.

At three in the morning, after several more vodkas, Jake got unsteadily to his feet. “I almost made it,” he mumbled.

“Made it to where?” said the barman. “Infinity and beyond?”

“I could have made it,” said Jake. “And if I didn't, it was entirely my fault.” He teetered slightly on his rather wobbly legs. “We are oft to blame in this, 'tis too much proved, that with devotion's visage, and pious action, we do sugar o'er the devil himself.”

“Good night, Jakey,” said the barman.

“Good night, stout fellow,” said Jake. “With your youth you are as yet a new-hatch'd, unfledged comrade, yet this night you have been a fine comrade to me.”

“Mind the steps,” said the barman.

Jake turned, walked a few paces, and fell down the steps. The barman helped him up, and he staggered out into the cool night air.

Somehow he made it home.


Late that same morning, Jake woke up to memories that initially were dim but gradually became clearer. Depression, shame and remorse flooded over him.

“Oh God!” he groaned. “Did I make an arse of myself last night? I believe I did.” And he buried his head in his pillow.

When he awoke again at midday, he got up. “I'm never going to drink again,” he muttered, staggering to the bathroom. Having performed a perfunctory version of his usual morning personal hygiene ritual, he went to one of the cupboards in the kitchenette area of his studio apartment, took out a bottle of cheap, corner shop vodka, and mixed himself a big strong vodka and water. Then he got his phone and called one of his friends that he had been with last night.

“Tommy, is that you? You sound as bad as I feel. I know. I can't believe I was such a prat last night. No, it was good of you and the others to stick up for me. It's just now that I'm half sober I feel such a fool, and I've got that awful depression I always get after I've drunk too much. Yes, that's right, I'm just having a drink now to pick me up a bit. I feel so ashamed of not handling that situation last night more cleverly.” He laughed. “Yes, me and my big actor's mouth. That's the great thing about us thesps, sometimes we can talk our way out of trouble but often we talk our way into it. Listen, Tommy, do you think you, me and the others from last night should …? Yes, that's what I was thinking. Okay, meet you there in an hour's time. You'll call the other lads? Great.”

With that, Jake ended the call and went and poured himself another drink. Then he got dressed and left the apartment.


A short while later he was sitting with his friends in the pub they had been in last night. They were groveling profusely to the manager, who knew them of old and had barred each of them several times over the years. He knew the routine.

“Alright,” he said. “But from now on, watch your step. If any of you put a foot wrong ever again, you're barred, but this time for life. Understand?” He tried to look stern, and Jake and his friends tried to look both contrite and saintly.

“OK,” said the manager. “Now, what'll you all be having?”

And so the cycle began again.


If you're a drinker already you'll know about the mood rollercoaster ride that alcohol takes you on. One minute you're pleasant and affable, next minute you're garrulous and over the top, being annoyingly loud, but imagining that really you're being fascinatingly entertaining. Then you might get aggressive, or you might get sad and full of self-pity. Whatever stages you go through, if you drink too much you're likely to end up saying and doing things that you later regret. You might hurt yourself, you might hurt other people. Probably you'll do both. Then when your head clears you'll feel depressed and ashamed and you'll realize that you owe apologies somewhere to someone.

If you're not a drinker and you decide to take up drinking as part of your way of life, even if only temporarily by going on The VAW Diet, the affect it has on your thoughts and moods and on what you say and do may take you by surprise, so beware.

Don't say you haven't been warned.

In the end only you will be able to decide whether drinking is worth the price you have to pay to indulge in it.

Day Seventeen

You remember the chef Slam Fetter who had to stand in for me when I was booked to appear on the Morning Moan TV program? His food, I think you'd agree, was pretty normal. But he has a friend who is also a chef and his food is … well, not your everyday food. To be honest it's not the sort of food I care for, but it might appeal to some of you. This chef's name is Shenton Astoria. You may have heard of him.

Shenton has his fingers in many pies. He writes cookery books. He's written an autobiography. (When I say he writes books, I mean someone writes them for him, but under his guidance, with him having final approval, and with him putting his name on the cover when it's finished.) Of course he also appears on several very successful TV shows, and he owns, in partnership with investors, several restaurants. He also allows his name to be used in quite a few restaurants in the world's top hotels. He is also the creator of menus, in return for a suitable licensing fee and/or for a percentage of the sales of all dishes on the menu, for a multitude of food establishments. He licenses his name to be used on a number of lines of cookware and kitchen products, as well as on lines of food that are produced with his name on the label. There is even a magazine that has his name as its title. Basically Shenton will put his name to anything in return for getting money for it to be used. All in all, he has income coming in left, right and center from all corners of the globe around the clock. He is a rich man.

Yet his passion is still cooking and he would never contemplate retiring from the trade no matter how much wealth or income he had.

His flagship establishment is Bull Manor Hotel in Berkshire, England. It is a beautiful period mansion set in glorious countryside, some of which is used for growing the food that is used in the hotel's famous restaurant, known as the Piccolo Room. Most of the time Shenton lives at the Manor, although he also has a place in London and several homes abroad. His wife (his fourth one) gets more use out of those other properties than Shenton does, but he doesn't mind because he loves Bull Manor, and that is where he likes to be if he isn't forced by work commitments to be somewhere else.

Sometimes he will work in the kitchen for the lunchtime shift as well as the dinnertime shift, but today he had to go to London to do some filming for TV, as well as doing a book-signing in a well-known book shop, and he didn't get back to Bull Manor until the middle of the afternoon. But now he is in the kitchen, with his staff, getting everything ready for the customers who have booked in to be served exquisite, inventive food this evening.

A commercial kitchen is a busy affair. Sometimes noisy, sometimes aggressive, but it always has to be absolutely regimented. It's not just that the cooking itself is difficult, but that getting the food out to the guests quickly and on schedule makes everything doubly difficult.

To get a seat at a table in Shenton's restaurant you have to book a long way ahead, and then you have to be prepared to pay through the nose. (However, if you're famous or powerful, somehow a table can usually magically be found for you at short notice.) Actually I think the menus are fair value for money considering what the food is like. The only thing that can bump up the cost to exorbitant levels is if you go bonkers on the drinks. That's why when I go to these sorts of places (on the rare occasions that I do) I only drink water. I save the boozing for before and afterwards (and during too, to be honest, if I can guzzle some VAW out of my flask without being spotted - often achieved by going to the loo and nipping into a cubicle).

So today Shenton was in charge of the kitchen for the dinnertime session. His wife Lorelei was still in London. She would be coming back tomorrow morning to join him for lunch. Unfortunately these days not only did Shenton and Lorelei not spend much time together, but when they did, they tended not to get on very well. Indeed Shenton sometimes thought that the only connection between him and his wife these days was his money and his properties. She certainly knew how to make use of both of those things, that was for sure.

The problem was, Shenton, like a lot of chefs, was used to the loud, aggressive environment of a commercial kitchen, and sometimes he would treat his wife the same way he would treat his chefs - that is, directly and quite harshly and demandingly, but (at least in his eyes) quite fairly. He also had some Mediterranean blood in him from his somewhat mongrel ancestry, and that didn't exactly give him a phlegmatic character. Indeed his sometimes abrasive manners hadn't gone down well with his first three wives.

They obviously weren't going down well these days with his latest one, to whom he had been married for just under two years now. (It's funny how disliking a man doesn't stop a woman from marrying him though … if he's rich enough.) But Shenton was hoping that tomorrow's lunch with Lorelei would give them the chance to clear the air and see if they couldn't come to some sort of arrangement that would let them carry on being married in a reasonably amicable way.

For now, however, Shenton's mind was focused on the forthcoming evening rush.

One of the exciting things about the restaurant industry is that the customers only see the serenity and tranquility that prevails in the dining room, but behind the door that leads from the dining room into the kitchen there is another side to things - frantic activity, stress, getting behind with things, making mistakes, applying quick fixes, and doing things that customers fortunately don't, and shouldn't, see or know about.

Tonight there was a top politician coming in, and several characters from the media, plus plenty of rich business people, and even a few 'old money' landed gentry and aristocracy. But there would also be plenty of ordinary people too, for whom a meal at Bull Manor was a long anticipated, long-waited-for treat, and for whom the meal may well even be the only time in their lives that they would experience such fare and such service. Whoever they were, Shenton's aim was the same - to give them the best gustatory experience he could, and to deliver it with the best possible service that his staff could provide.

Strictly speaking it's illegal, in the UK at any rate, to choose staff on the basis of their looks, but Shenton's front of house staff were uniformly fine looking specimens of humanity. Indeed over the years they had been the pool from which he had drawn two of his wives (not Loreilei, however) and many lovers. The impression the staff made on his customers, and on him, was very important to Shenton.

The favorite menu in the Piccolo Room was The Tasting Menu, so I'll try and focus on this just to give you a 'taste' of the sort of food, and drink, that you would be served if you found yourself, temporarily or permanently, in this milieu.

Of course you might inhabit this sort of rarified environment already, in which case what follows will appear perfectly mundane to you.


It's about an hour before the first guests of the evening are due to arrive. Some of the chefs are drinking beer, others are having wine (cheap plonk). Most are not drinking alcohol at all. But Shenton is. He likes a particular Belgian beer. He's also eating some grilled meat with melted cheese on top. His staff are either picking at cold morsels, or they've rustled up a ten-minute snack - pasta, noodles, sauce, bread, cheese, meat - quick, easy stuff.

Having got a bit of energy in them to get them through the evening, they are now ready for work. They - or at least many of them - have of course been working since the morning, through lunchtime, and through the afternoon.

Some things can be done in advance in a commercial kitchen, some things can't, but if they can be, they always are. There's no point the staff putting more demands on themselves and making their lives more difficult and stressful than they are going to be anyway when it is time to produce and serve up customers' meals.

Eventually the first customers start arriving, and the Piccolo Room begins to fill up. People are guided to their tables. But first they are asked if they want to see the kitchen. This seems rather strange to those who are new to dining at Bull Manor, but to experienced hands it is not unexpected, and they know the routine.

We'll concentrate on a couple for whom this is their first experience of Bull Manor. They are two people we have briefly met before - Dagmar and Susan, the friends of Dave and Sally from a previous 'Day' in this book. They're used to eating well, and often Dagmar eats in some pretty fancy places on his business trips abroad, but this place is out of their usual league. It is a special treat to celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.

They are ushered into the kitchen by the restaurant manager (or maître d'hôtel as some like to say) and they are impressed by the quiet industry of all the chefs in there, and the cleanliness and orderliness of the unexpectedly huge room. And look! Over there, talking earnestly to a couple of sous chefs, is Shenton Astoria himself. Noticing that Dagmar and Susan are looking at him, he glances over at them and smiles. Then he carries on talking to his staff. Dagmar and Susan are shown out of the kitchen and taken to their table. They can hardly wait to tell their friends they've seen the great man himself.

The thing with a Tasting Menu is that it comprises a lot of small dishes, so really everything has to go like clockwork to keep the flow of dishes coming out of the kitchen to schedule. Also, strangely enough, this is one of the occasions when watery VAW is an appropriate drink to have throughout the meal. It would be difficult to choose a wine that suited, or at least somehow went interestingly with, all the different dishes. So, as their 'fall back' choice of drink, Dagmar and Susan order a large, weak VAW each. When it arrives, they are told that it has been made with 100-proof Stoli and Ty Nant water.

That's about as simple and pure as a VAW gets.

As it turns out, they are getting served with a drink as an aperitif anyway. Four drinks in fact. But of course this being Bull Manor, there has to be a twist to them. The twist is that these drinks are 'nitro cooked' on a Mini Teppan Nitro at the table by one of the staff. (I see nitro cooking as just ultra-fast freezing, but perhaps I'm missing something.) The drinks, after being poured in a small amount on the plancha over the end of little sticks, come off as rather fun little lollipops. Quite an innovative way to start the meal. The 'cocktails' are a Manhattan, a sour, something based on one of those brightly colored Curaçao liqueurs , and a Black and Tan (a beer-based one, so in some people's eyes not strictly speaking a cocktail).

Next, it is on to solid food - sort of. Dagmar and Susan have placed in front of each of them a small black porcelain box. When they take the lid off, steam rises from inside, and there they see a single mussel sitting in its opened shell. Inside the mussel itself is a blob of white foam, and in the foam is what looks like a pearl. The mussel is actually a green-lipped one from Thailand, hand-picked by a carefully chosen pre-pubescent girl so that its perfection is not tainted. The foam is surf foam from the sea in which the mussel has grown, and the 'pearl' is really a tiny ball of melon that has been placed in a live oyster for six hours to absorb the oyster's exquisiteness and then transferred into the foam in the mussel.

Yet surely something is wrong. It looks as though somehow Shenton Astoria has left the mussel's beard on it. But a waiter suggests to Dagmar and Susan that they should eat the mussel with its beard. They do so, and discover that the beard is fine-hair pasta that has been poached in cuttlefish ink.

As the two porcelain boxes are taken away, Dagmar jokes, “I don't think we're going to get fat eating this stuff.”

Susan shoots him daggers, then looks around to check that no one else has heard her husband's down-market jest.

Next up in quick succession come several dishes. There's a single queen scallop wrapped in a crunchy frog-skin crackling, served with a frog broth gravy that is poured out by the waiter from tiny gravy boats carved from frog bone. After that there is beef steak … with a difference. Almost raw, it is three centimeters long, one centimeter wide, and a millimeter thick. Under it sits a similar-sized piece of potato that is actually mashed sweet potato that has been boiled in peach juice, shaped, and then fried briskly in sesame oil. On top of the beef is a single shrimp, cooked in the juice from the oyster that the melon ball in an earlier dish had been allowed to nestle up to.

“Surf 'n' turf,” says Dagmar, smiling at his wife, but she ignores him.

After this there is what appears to be a black olive on a plate from a doll's house. In fact it is black olive tapenade that has been turned into a froth and then frozen into the shape of an olive. When Dagmar and Susan put this little delight into their mouths, it evaporates into nothingness, leaving just the flavor of the olive. Exquisite!

Next comes caviar. Well, to be more exact, on a vast, square white plate there is one black-gray egg from a sturgeon, and one orange-red egg from a salmon. Dagmar and Susan are also given a microscope each, and a pin and a surgical scalpel.

“See,” says the waiter with a knowing smile, “what is in the eggs.”

Dagmar and Susan set to work diligently with the tools provided to them. Putting their salmon eggs under their respective microscopes, they surgically slice delicately into the gelatinous outer covering … and behold! There inside is a piece of raw salmon meat shaped to look like … a salmon! A very tiny one, obviously, but under the microscope they can see that it is perfectly detailed. Little scales have even been carved onto its flanks.

When they slice into their sturgeon eggs, what do they see under the microscope? Yes, a miniature, perfectly sculpted figure of a sturgeon carved from lightly cooked sturgeon flesh.

With relish Dagmar and Susan eat their miniscule morsels.

Next comes a dish composed also of caviar. This one, however, is a ring composed of eleven beautiful, gray sturgeon's eggs, and in the middle of the circle is a tadpole, baked in a single wafer-thin sheet of filo pastry. Dagmar and Susan decide that the tadpole will have been boned and gutted, so they pop their tadpoles in their mouths whole. Then they eat the caviar. At their table, everything is peacefulness and pleasantness.

But you should have seen the fireworks in the kitchen before the dish was brought out to the table of our couple of gourmands.


“What have you fucking done?” Shenton shouted at the expediter who was arranging the caviar into circles on two plates. The expediter looked confused.

“How many eggs are there in those circles?”

The expediter counted. “Twelve,”he said.

“And what,” said Shenton, “if the customers these are going to are Russian?”

The expediter looked baffled.

Shenton calmed down and put a fatherly arm around the young fellow's shoulders. “The Russians,” he explained, “regard sturgeon's eggs the same way they regard flowers.”

The expediter still looked lacking in comprehension.

“Flowers,” explained Shenton, “must always be given to Russians in odd numbers, and the same applies to caviar. If you give caviar to a Russian, there must always be an odd number of eggs.” He took his arm away. “Now,” he said briskly, “you cannot increase the number from twelve to thirteen because if our customers are westerners, they will regard that as unlucky. Therefore you must take one egg away from each circle so that our customers get eleven eggs.”

And that, my friends, is how the master passes on his skill to his acolytes in a commercial kitchen.


Back in the Piccolo Room, Dagmar and Susan are having their next dish served up. In front of each of them, two little mirrors are placed vertically facing each other on top of another horizontal mirror. Having provided the two diners with dark glasses, two servers then don similar glasses themselves. One server switches on a 4,100 lumens torch and shines it onto one of the upright mirrors in front of Susan so that the searing light bounces between the upright mirrors. The other server then cracks a quail's egg open so that its contents fall into the blinding light. As the egg falls, it cooks, and by the time it lands half a second later on the bottom mirror, it has solidified into a gorgeous teardrop shape. The two upright mirrors are taken away, and the egg stands there on its mirror-plate ready to be savored, first with the eyes, and then with the tongue. The process is repeated for Dagmar, the dark glasses are taken away, and the servers withdraw, leaving Dagmar and Susan to enjoy their individual light-cooked quails' eggs.

After this comes the next dish. It is a little marshmallow, but it is made out of cheese. Then comes what resembles a tiny window frame made from seaweed, but the panes of glass in it are made of carrot sliced so thin that it is transparent. The handles on the windows are made of Giuseppe's dried tears wrapped in gold leaf. (Guiseppe is Shenton's son from his first marriage to an Italian girl who used to work for him as one of his waitresses. After their divorce she returned to Italy with their son, but Shenton is still on speaking terms with her, and she occasionally sends him some of his son's tears which are extracted from the boy by making him think about how much he misses his father.)

After this there is dolphin milk ice cream. Then two little boxes, like the boxes you get rings in from jewelers, are put in front of Dagmar and Susan. When they open their boxes, out comes a little waft of kitten fart - delicate and light - but a piece of vanilla pod has been put in the boxes so that the wind that comes out has an even sweeter and more seductive smell than usual. It reminds Dagmar and Susan of childhood innocence.

Next there comes truffle candy floss. Then there is a baked potato with tomato ketchup. No, don't worry, I made that one up! Really what comes next is a plover's egg omelet, made with just one plover's egg. Then there is flower stamen tempura, but it is brought to the table in sealed plastic bags which are popped in front of Dagmar and Susan the same way that children sometimes pop another kid's packet of potato chips. The aroma that comes out is beyond description. It is like you imagine heaven to be, but better.

After that there are tiny pigeon blood pancakes. Then the Teppan Nitro appears again. Rose water foam is squirted onto it, and as the foam hits the plancha it solidifies into a delicate honeycomb structure. When Dagmar and Susan put this in their mouths, it dissolves immediately, leaving just the taste and scent of roses and a hint of moisture.

Next comes slug fricassée with brown crab meat. Then comes tofu Torremolinos, but the tofu cubes have been given a thin, brittle outer shell of caramelized onion, and the Torremolinos waits as a surprise lurking in the center of the cubes, ready to take Dagmar and Susan unawares.


People, I have to tell you there were many more dishes served that night. But I won't tell you what they were. Do you know why? It's because I want you to go to Bull Manor and experience Shenton Astoria's glorious food for yourself. I will tell you, however, that the meal ended with Shenton's trademark dish - a teaspoon of sweetened snake venom soup. When you pop the glorious liquid in your mouth, the tingle on your tongue endures for several minutes, acting as a reminder to you of the several hours of gustatory delight you have just sat through.


After their sumptuous meal, Dagmar and Susan drive to the nearby cheap hotel where they are staying. On the way they stop and buy themselves some fish and chips. This is because they're still hungry. Shenton Astoria's dishes might be wonderful, but they're not exactly filling.


As the last customers left the Piccolo Room that night, there was a feeling of quiet satisfaction in the kitchen. A good job had been done well. The customers had been given an experience they would remember for the rest of their lives.

As the winding down and the tidying up began, the beer, wine and snacks reappeared. The tension and aggression that had existed during that evening's shift now evaporated like a frog foam curdle that had been filmed in Taste-O-Vision and then exposed to the bright light of day. Then the banter began. There was laughter and tomfoolery. For some chefs it was a relief to know that they would soon to be heading off to bed. For others, the night was still young, and after they finished work they would be going out to have some fun.

One by one the chefs and the ancillary workers left the kitchen. Then the cleaning staff came in. Their job was to have the kitchen looking like new by the following morning.

Shenton Astoria leaned back against the door of a stainless steel refrigerator and looked contentedly at the heart of his empire. It was the love of his life. Then the other current love of his life approached him, her hips swinging from side to side. She was a rather tall, not at all unattractive waitress. She had one button too many undone on her blouse. Without saying anything, she kissed Shenton on his forehead and then on his lips.

“I'm starving,” said Shenton. He took a rather gorgeous Zwilling serrated-edge knife, grabbed a loaf of white bread (yes, white!) baked by his own pastry chef and full of airy holes, with an almost harsh texture and a crust to die for, and cut himself a slice about two centimeters thick from it. From nearby he grabbed a jug of cloudy green liquid - an absolutely unadulterated, unfiltered oil from the real first pressing of olives from the Iraqi estate of a businessman friend of his.

He looked at Anya, his waitress girlfriend (or should that be mistress?). “What does Jamie Oliver do?” he said.

Anya smiled. “He drizzles.”

“And what does Shenton Astoria do?”

Anya put her arms around Shenton's neck and looked down into his eyes. “Shenton Astoria,” she said, “speckles.”

Shenton kissed her. Then he dipped his fingers into the jug of olive oil, withdrew them, and flicked them over his slice of bread so that the oil flew off in drops and speckled the bread. Then he licked his fingers, picked up the bread, and ate it.

With his oral appetite temporarily satisfied, he and Anya went upstairs to his apartment and to bed to satisfy other appetites.


The following morning Shenton was up early, making sure everything was ready for the day's business. When he was happy that it was, he handed over to the sous chef who was going to be the executive chef for that day.

At midday Lorelei arrived. It's amazing how unpleasant it is for a man to see a wife when he's just spent a pleasant night with a girlfriend (who may indeed end up as his next wife) but he attempted to be polite as they drove off in his Range Rover to the nearby town. There he parked up, and he and Lorelei walked to a café that had seating outside. It was one of a national chain of eateries, but Shenton liked it. He enjoyed people watching, and he quite enjoyed having people look at him and then realize that they recognized him.

Ordering drinks, he and Lorelei sat down. They looked at each other.

“You have a love bite on your neck,” said Shenton.

“So have you,” said his wife.

They drank their drinks in silence. Because he was driving, Shenton was only drinking vodka. His wife was drinking Prosecco. Suddenly Shenton reached across the table and stuck his first and second fingers up his wife's nostrils.

“What the fuck do I pay you for, you useless tart?” he snarled.

“What would you know about tarts, you McDonald's reject?” snapped back Lorelei, pulling her husband's fingers out of her nose and giving him a huge slap across the face.

“I,” glared Shenton, “could make a delicacy that would astound the world from the snot out of your nose.” He snorted with derision. “You wouldn't even know where your nose is unless some guy was sticking his prick up it.”

I have to say, folks, that I quite enjoy seeing a husband and wife fight in public. It shows that although they might once have been stupid enough to get married to each other, at least now they're bright enough to know that they can't stand each other.

Shenton and Lorelei went at it hammer and tongs. He pinched her nose, grabbed her throat, squeezed her cheeks together with his two hands, and did other 'playful' things (as he would describe them later when questioned by journalists and the police). As for Lorelei, she had a crack at taking retaliatory action but I'm afraid I can only give her two points - one for poking him in the eye with her finger, the other for stabbing his hand with a fork that she grabbed from a neighboring table.


What makes marital disputes so awful is not the fight itself, but the fact that every person over the age of three these days has a mobile phone with a camera on it, and they film everything they see. Shenton and Lorelei's fight got filmed on someone's phone, and the footage then found its way onto the internet and into the newspapers.

Being exposed as being publicly 'indecorous' (is that a fair way of describing their behavior?), neither of them was prepared to back down in any way, and so after a few days divorce lawyers were contacted, property and money were discussed, and Shenton bowed to the inevitable and paid off Lorelei and sought solace between the thighs, lips and fingers of Anya.

Shortly after Shenton's divorce from Lorelei came through, Anya became Mrs. Astoria number five.

Which just goes to show that although you may be brilliant in one area of life, you can still be a fool in other areas.

Day Eighteen

Occasionally I have six quails' eggs for breakfast. Not soft-boiled, as a pretentious chef might have them, but boiled for five minutes until they're nice and solid. I might also have half a tomato, diced, and a shallot, finely chopped and then speckled, as Shenton Astoria would say, with some olive oil and lemon juice and sprinkled with a little sea salt.

Today I thought we'd look at a couple of dietary ideas, one more serious than the other. You have to guess which is which.

The first one is the well known philosophical experiment (game?) called Schrödinger's Vodka And Water. In this experiment, a bottle of vodka and water (two thirds water, one third vodka) is put in a soundproof fridge that can't be seen into without opening the door. Inside the fridge is a Geiger counter that has been adapted so that if it detects radiation it makes a hammer slam against the bottle of vodka and water, shattering the bottle. A little piece of radioactive material is also put into the fridge. (You can get radioactive material from pharmacies or large supermarkets. Just ask.) After one hour you return to the fridge. Now, without opening the door, how can you know for certain that the bottle of vodka and water is still intact?

You can't. If the unstable radioactive material has decayed at all, the radioactivity will have triggered the Geiger counter and it will have shattered the bottle of vodka and water. If there has been no radioactivity, the drink will still be there to be savored.

So open the door quick! If the bottle has been smashed, you'll have to get some more vodka and water and either start the experiment again or have a drink to console yourself for wasting good drink and making a mess of your fridge.

And if the bottle is still intact? Get it out of the fridge and drink the contents. You've got away with it this time but you may not be so lucky next time.


Here's the second idea for today. You have water but no vodka, and no food. In other words you fast for a whole day. Actually I'd suggest you do this at least once a week (subject to getting advice from your doctor of course) because fasting is supposed to bring a lot of benefits to your mind and body. It has also been shown that fasting and having a meager but natural and nutritious diet extends the life spans of animals and therefore presumably does the same for humans too.

It's worth a try anyway, isn't it?


As a bonus I'm going to suggest another approach to today's dieting and you have to decide whether it's a good or bad idea. If it's a good idea, perhaps it's an approach to food and drink that you should adopt permanently.

Today, as on a fasting day, you can have water, but again no vodka. However, you do get to eat. Lucky you! Or not, depending on what you think of the following proposed dietary regime.

You can have any raw food you like. Some people who are addicted to eating meat will presumably be forced to eat raw fish or meat, but I think really it is a good idea to go 'raw food vegan'.

Strangely enough I knew a young woman who spent years being teetotal and vegetarian (vegan plus eggs and cheese). Very healthy she was too. Then for some reason she started having occasional small amounts of alcohol and she also started eating meat. I've no idea what brought on this change, but she was always perfectly healthy when she was on a teetotal, vegetarian diet. I didn't know her for long after her diet changed, so I don't know whether the change had a good effect, bad effect or no affect on her.

As far as I know, you can live perfectly healthily on a vegan diet, but if you're interested in this type of diet you should look into it for yourself and find out whether there are any potential health drawbacks with it. For example I don't know whether it's necessary, or beneficial, to take amino acid supplements with this sort of diet.

So what would be a good way to start the day on such a diet? How about getting a slice of watermelon or some other type of melon and blending it to turn it into a drink? According to how thick you let it turn out (you might or might not add a little water) and how cold you chill it or semi-freeze it, if you cool it at all, you can govern whether you end up with a thin drink, a smoothie or a 'slushie'. Leave it in the freezer too long and you'll end up with a lollipop.

A variation on a simple melon blend is to add cucumber to it, and perhaps some mint.

Could vodka go in such a drink? Absolutely! Yet I really do think it pays to have some time off from boozing every now and again. What I've found is that if I drink every day for several days in a row I begin to feel depressed. Also of course there are significant consequences, mentally and physically, from drinking continually over an extended period of time, particularly if that drinking is what doctors would regard as excessive.

My attitude tends to be that either you shouldn't drink at all or you should drink enough to get the alcohol-induced effects you like - cheerfulness, chattiness, courage, confidence, complete intoxication, unconsciousness, whatever - but definitely it makes sense to have some periods where you keep off the booze altogether.

As an aside, check you haven't got diabetes or some other disorder that makes it unwise for you to drink alcohol.

Making your own drinks and then treating the drink as a meal in its own right is healthy and is a good and pleasant way to lose weight. You can experiment and create your own mixes. This, after all, is what smoothie manufacturers do. Some fruits, like lemon, lime, orange, and other citric fruits, create a sharper, more acidic drink, while other fruits, like pineapple, banana and mango create a softer, sweeter drink. Then there are vegetables you can add. You might want to put in some raw carrot, onion or cucumber and blend them, or maybe some cooked beetroot. An elderly Russian woman I used to know recommended onion juice, cabbage juice and potato juice to help cure various ailments and maladies. Celery is supposed to be good for your health.

There must be an infinite variety of blends you could concoct out of all the different fruits and vegetables available. When you've created your raw vegan food blend you can pop some vodka into the mix if you're having a drinking day.

Having mentioned both vodka and potato juice in the last two paragraphs, it reminds me that of course vodka can be made out of potatoes as well as grains (and other things too). There's a British potato vodka called Chase vodka. It's made by the guy who successfully built up and then sold the Tyrrells potato chips brand and it is apparently one of the best vodkas in the world. Blue Ice and Chopin also do potato vodkas, but the biggest seller is Luksusowa. If you do a search on the internet you'll find other potato vodkas, as well as vodkas that are based on things other than grain or potato.

Going back to our raw vegan food diet, what about raw vegan food that is a bit more solid than a smoothie? Obviously then you're going to be eating salad, herbs, fruit, nuts and seeds. This alone is very healthy, but the thing to do when you're used to this diet is gradually to train yourself to eat smaller and smaller meals, and of course also have fasting (water only) days.

If you want to go down a broadly vegetarian route, but not necessarily be vegan, there are a lot of 'sub species' of vegetarian diet - vegetarian itself (with eggs and cheese), pescetarian (veggie with fish), flexitarian (or semi-veggie - a person on this diet is generally veggie but will occasionally eat meat), lacto-veggie (no eggs, but cheese allowed), ovo-veggie (no cheese, but eggs allowed), fruitarian (only fruits, seeds, nuts, or what might be described as any stuff that falls naturally from plants, the idea being that it can be eaten without having to kill any plants), or macrobiotic (part diet and part philosophy with a focus on grains and beans).

Complicated, isn't it? But I think the general gist is essentially what was suggested early on in the book - keep as far away as possible from processed food. The further removed food is from the state it is in when it is growing in the wild, the less beneficial it is likely to be for you. As for any so-called food that just isn't found in the wild at all - at least not in the form in which it's being offered for sale to you - it's likely to be positively bad for you.

As an aside, when I'm doing a spell on a vegan diet, instead of using a vinaigrette dressing on salads I tend to go for just a speckle (or should that be a drizzle?) of olive oil and lemon juice, plus salt and freshly ground black pepper. Really this is because vinegar is a fermented product and therefore in my mind it has a link with alcohol. Also I see it as being not completely natural, unlike juice that has just been squeezed from a lemon.

One of the criticisms of vegan food is that it tastes bland, but that isn't necessarily so. It obviously depends on what you put in it. Try throwing in some chili, or ginger, or spices. Experiment, and you'll find that raw vegan food can be wonderfully varied and tasty.

As mentioned, ideally you should only drink water - nothing else - and of course no vodka, or indeed any booze of any kind, during detox days. And surely it's got to do you good to keep off the tea and coffee and all other caffeine-containing drinks. Definitely you should have no soft drinks. They're just ghastly, unnatural chemical concoctions. Even commercially made fruit juices can have undesirable ingredients in them. Instead of having fruit juice or smoothies, it's better to drink water and eat some fruit.

With fruit, don't forget to wash any chemicals and wax off their surface if you're going to eat their rinds or skins.

The other thing with going veggie - to whatever extent - is that sometimes you can quite satisfactorily do a veggie version of a dish that normally has meat in it. Think of beef Stroganoff or chili con carne where mushrooms are used as a substitute for meat.

Whether to go for veggie versions of meat products - veggie burgers, veggie sausages, and so on - is not something I'm sure about. If you want something that looks and tastes like meat, eat meat. If you want vegetables, nuts and so on, then just get some and eat them in their natural state (but cooked if so desired).

If you do go raw food vegan, you don't really need to think much. You just decide what you want to eat, maybe cut it up a bit, maybe mix it together if there are several ingredients, and that's it. It really is the best, simplest, healthiest, most natural food.

Let's say you're having a vegan day but you fancy having something cooked as well as having salads and simple items of raw, natural food such as an apple or a handful of nuts. Here are a few more ideas to go with your glasses of water.

You could try roasted peppers stuffed with fried vegetables, herbs and seasoning, possibly with the addition of rice. Aubergines (egg plants) and marrows (or squashes) are also good for stuffing. Talking of aubergine, there is of course the well know dish Imam Bayildi where aubergines are stuffed with chopped and fried onion, tomatoes and garlic, along with some of the scooped out interior of the aubergine. If you're a cheese-eater (remember the description of the French in The Simpsons as 'cheese eating surrender monkeys'?) and egg-eater, you could go for a dish made up of aubergine sliced and coated in beaten egg, fried, then layered in a dish. On that layer you spread a tomato and onion mixture that has been cooked and softened in olive oil. Then you put slices of mozzarella cheese on that layer. Repeat this as many times as you want, or as the dish you are using will allow, and then sprinkle grated hard cheese (e.g. Parmesan) on top and bake it in the oven so that the ingredients soften and dissolve into each other. It's delicious, oily, rich food, with every forkful or spoonful having to be pulled up to the mouth at the end of a long, stretchy strand of melted Mozzarella cheese.

Of course you might regard sandwiches and baguettes with suitable fillings as being good, easy, convenient vegetarian food, but I'm increasingly 'iffy' about eating bread at all. It isn't what I would call natural food. (You don't exactly find bread growing in the wild, do you?) But if you like the idea of sandwiches, baguettes and suchlike, then there are endless fillings you can put in them. Certainly they're handy as a quick snack or as food you can carry around with you.

What do you put on bread if you do have it - oil, butter or margarine? Margarine seems a very unnatural substance. However, there's nothing wrong with butter if you're not averse to dairy products. Ideally, however, I like olive oil on bread if I am going to eat bread at all. (When I'm being pescetarian rather than vegetarian I like having grilled sardines on oily toast as a snack or for breakfast, 'speckled' with lemon juice and seasoned with salt and pepper.) You can also spread tomato puree or tapenade or other spreadable vegan mixes on bread instead of going for oil, butter or margarine.

One sort of food I'm very much against is the sort of fatty fried batter or pastry-based foods you buy from street stalls or in fast food shops. Over here in Russia they sell chebureki and pirozhki, and while they may be stuffed with cabbage or potato and so qualify nicely as vegetarian fare, for me they just count as stodge - that is, they are a form of unhealthy, processed/cooked food that has lots of carbohydrate and lots of calories in it, but which has little nutritional value. The same applies for pizzas and pasties and baked potatoes with fillings and pancakes with fillings and all the other cooked 'convenience' foods.

Burgers (presumably veggie burgers in this instance) seem to be made with some weird airy bread that has no substance to it. Strangely enough, having said that, in England I always thought that after an evening's drinking, a kebab (shaurma, gyros, burritos and similar) with slivers of meat in it (if we're off being vegetarian for a moment), and plenty of finely sliced salad, was actually one of the healthier sorts of fast food to wolf down to soak up the booze and get rid of hunger pangs.

Pasta, rice, noodles (lapsha), couscous, buckwheat and so on are the usual 'bulking material' for a lot of vegetarian dishes. With one of these as your 'background' you have a great variety of vegan mixtures (almost certainly cooked) you can add to it. With couscous I think of a hearty spiced vegetable stew poured on top of it. With noodles I think of Chinese and Japanese dishes, perhaps with crunchy vegetables and a strongly flavored sauce. Rice again can lead you to think of something Japanese or Chinese, but there could also be Italian risotto or Spanish paella. Of course with paella people tend to think of it having seafood and chicken in it, but it can also be made quite successfully just with vegetables.

Going back to couscous and dishes from Morocco and other North African countries, they're adept there in combining fruit and spices with vegetables to produce intriguing flavors.

Buckwheat (or grechka, as it is called over here) and its porridge-like version, kasha, are something that for some reason I don't find myself eating anywhere other than here, but it goes well with meat (if that's what you're into), as well as - like couscous and rice - with some vegetable stew or a sauce. I occasionally add some cooked buckwheat when I'm making a mixed salad.

Pasta is a favorite of mine, as it is for many people. Forget the ubiquitous spaghetti Bolognaise for a moment. There are plenty of vegetarian dishes you can do with pasta. One slightly unusual one is pasta with leeks and mushrooms. The obvious one that would come to most people's minds would be pasta with a tomato and onion sauce. A vegetarian 'take' on a Bolognaise can be achieved by using mushrooms instead of meat. Of course there's also veggie mince made from Quorn or soya.

Talking about substituting one thing for another, vegans sometimes wonder what to do with dishes that call for eggs. One suggestion (if you don't want to buy egg substitute from a health food shop) is to use some sort of flour mixed with water or some soya milk. In sweet dishes you might try substituting mashed banana where an egg is called for.

Talking of things that mash up well, avocado is good for this. You can cheat and buy guacamole and have it with some pasta for a quick, easy dish.

There are various vegan 'cheeses' available in the shops, made, I think, from soya. A popular dish using this would be macaroni cheese. (I think the Americans say mac and cheese.)

Having mentioned vegan egg and cheese substitutes, you can see how you could do a vegan pasta carbonara (although you would also have to miss out the ham or bacon that normally goes in it). Aubergine (egg plant) can have a reasonably firm texture, like mushrooms, so it can be used in place of meat in some dishes. Also there are some dishes where you can include soft nuts - cashews, for example - to give a little extra texture and 'bite'. One example of a dish along those lines is pasta with broccoli, pesto and pine nuts.

Tomatoes, courgettes (zucchini) and basil go well with pasta. You could put these ingredients together raw (except for the pasta, of course) but generally the tomatoes and courgettes tend to be cooked to soften them.

You can do a vegan version of an Alfredo sauce (which usually has cream, butter, garlic, parsley and Parmesan cheese in it). Usually some sort of meat gets put in with the Alfredo sauce before it goes on the pasta, but one variation is to have it with very thinly sliced zucchini (courgette). The vegan version of the sauce is made by soaking cashew nuts in water, blending them, and adding nutmeg, thyme (or parsley), lemon juice, garlic and seasoning. Here you see the blended, soaked cashew nuts are standing in for the butter, cream and cheese in the conventional recipe. I serve this with flat ribbon-style pasta.

Cannelloni can work well with a vegan stuffing, as can lasagna. Tofu and spinach work well as a slightly bland filling for these pastas.

If I had to give just one simple vegan pasta dish as my favorite, I would probably plump for pasta with oil, garlic and chili. Food doesn't get much simpler than that. Another very simple dish is pasta and pesto.

We shouldn't forget beans, peas and lentils if we're on a non-raw food vegan diet. (Or should I say lentils, pulses, legumes and grains? I always get confused about the exact meaning of all those different terms.) Of course chick peas get used quite a lot in Moroccan cooking, but my favorite chick pea dish has to be that old favorite stand-by - hummus. For scooping it up and eating it, use sticks of zucchini, carrot, pepper, cucumber, celery, etc.

Having mentioned peas, try pasta with peas and artichokes. Of course the famous combination is peas and ham, whether it is with pasta or made into a soup, but the other 'pea combination' is pea and mint. Peas, mint and vegetable stock make a good soup.

When I think of beans I think of refried beans, so popular in Mexican food. (Perhaps refried beans could be used instead of meat in a lasagna.) Also, as mentioned, you can do a chili con carne - with red kidney beans, tomatoes, onions and chilies, served with rice if you like - but with mushrooms or some soya product or Quorn as a substitute for the usual meat.

In some dishes where meat is normally called for, you can sometimes replace the meat with potatoes or sweet potatoes.

Beans - and not just soya beans - are useful for making into burgers. Beans also go well in stews. I quite like a mix of beans in a salad, with maybe some vinaigrette if I'm going off my usual rule of using oil and fresh lemon juice. Bean and barley soup is also good. Stopping being vegetarian for a moment, one of my old favorites is tuna with either broad beans or green beans, with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and mixed herbs.

Just think of those poor tuna fish being encircled, corralled together, then hacked to death. On some tins of tuna they put the supposedly reassuring information that the fish has been 'caught by line'. Are we supposed to feel happier because the fish was pulled out of the water and then allowed to die on the deck of a fishing boat?

Seriously (and really what could be more serious than inflicting pain and death on a living creature?), there are different reasons for becoming vegetarian. The most noble reason is to avoid animals having to suffer and die. Then there can be religious beliefs that impose full or limited vegetarianism on a particular religion's followers.

Farming animals for human consumption is a very inefficient way for humans to get the nutrition they need. Rather than feeding animals on vegetable matter and then eating those animals, it is surely much better and more efficient for us to eat the vegetable matter ourselves.

Although intellectually I believe in all of the above, what most persuades me to be vegan is my own health, especially as with middle age the decades of excessive drinking and eating are starting to take - indeed have taken - their toll. So now I like raw food veganism because of the health benefits it brings.

Going back to vegetarianism and lentils and the rest (i.e. not necessarily raw stuff), corn can make a good contribution to one's diet. Over here in Russia, on the street they sell freshly cooked corn on the cob. I find it too messy to eat like that. Regrettably I have to tell you that I prefer to get it out of a tin. (Isn't that terrible?) As well as using it in salads, it obviously also goes well in soups and chowders.

I've just thought of polenta. It's not something I greatly enjoy, and indeed I very rarely have it, but it is of course very popular in certain countries. One thing I will say is that if I had to choose between polenta and tofu, I'd choose the former, so I suppose that's some sort of recommendation for it.

With lentils, once they've been cooked they can of course go in a salad, but they also work brilliantly in stews and broths. Ditto with grains. There's a dish called Hoppin' John made with rice, but I've seen a version of it made with barley. Another dish I've seen is wheat with fennel and peppers.

Some TV chef - it might have been Slam Fetter - once said that a recipe is just a guide. You don't have to adhere to it religiously. You can add or take away ingredients to make it more to your liking, and increase or decrease quantities and proportions. Of course in some dishes some ingredients are sacrosanct. Egg Florentine is not going to go down too well without the spinach or the white sauce … or the egg for that matter.

Having mentioned chickpeas earlier, I suppose we have to mention falafel. You can eat it as a snack by itself, put it in salads, put it in pita bread, maybe have it with hummus. It is so useful and versatile. Basically it's boiled chickpeas mashed with onion, garlic, coriander, parsley, cumin and flour, seasoned with salt and pepper, then fried.

Just to finish this section, here are some recipes that use lentils. A slightly unusual one is pasta with lentils and lemon. (It's exactly what it says, with the addition of oil, onion, garlic, herbs, seasoning and yogurt.) There are various recipes for lentil soups. I quite like one with red lentils, carrot, tomato, onion, oil, chili and vegetable stock. There is a hearty dish called Gardener's Pie that has lentils and root vegetables in it. It is topped with mashed potato. Leave off the potato topping and you have a lentil and root vegetable casserole. Finally there's a Moroccan soup called Harira. This has meat in it (a small amount), but you could do a vegetarian version of the soup just by missing out the meat, or you could substitute something for the meat, such as fried mushrooms.

But in the end I still really think that the ideal diet is a raw vegan diet, and the best drink is water.

Yesterday I had a fasting day, eating nothing and drinking only water. Today I was going to do the same, but a friend of mine tells me that we've been invited round to his mother's house for something to eat this evening, so bang goes that idea. I'm expecting the meal to be borscht followed by meat and salad, so that's pretty healthy.

When I try to be vegan or vegetarian, in practice I end up being flexitarian. Left to my own devices I don't have meat, but if I go somewhere where meat is being offered as part of the meal, or if I'm with people who are all eating meat, then I have meat too. It's easier for me to fit in with others than to stand out as being different in a way that irritates them or makes their lives more troublesome than need be simply because of my insisting on adhering to particular dietary rules.

Of course some veggies have much more 'backbone' than I have and they stick to their principles unyieldingly.

If you find you have the inclination and more importantly can muster up the commitment to go on and stick to a raw vegan diet, the benefits and advantages are pretty considerable, although like me you may decide that a degree of flexibility is advisable when with others. Of course the next step in this sort of 'lifestyle diet' is to be teetotal. The benefits and advantages of that too are immense and pretty obvious. Yes, perhaps it can make life seem a little more boring than it is when viewed through a haze of alcohol, but at least you don't get yourself into embarrassing situations, or harm yourself (and others) or say crazy things. But the most important benefit is the improvement in your mental and physical health. A consequence of the improvement in your overall condition is that you often also reap social and financial benefits that would otherwise never have come to you.

At the end of the day it's your choice. Do you want the excitement and/or the sensory stimulation that comes from being drunk, or do you want sober sensibleness? And if you choose to go on a vegan raw food diet - at least for a certain amount of time, if not forever - you will have a much simpler life. When you go shopping you need only look at the fresh food, and when you get home … there's no cooking! This decluttering of life helps to free up your mind and your time for more constructive, useful, profitable things.

Imagine being on a raw vegan diet. For a meal you might just have a piece of fruit, or a handful of nuts, or a simple salad.

By the way, I've seen some 'raw food' websites on the internet whose recipes involve playing about with the food a bit more than is to my liking. Indeed it seems to me that the food has really been turned into processed food. I believe food that is described as raw should be in the state in which it is found in nature, or at least very close to that state. Having said that, here's a 'semi-processed' vegan dish you might like called Baba Ghanoush. You put soaked cashew nuts, garlic, aubergine (eggplant), lemon juice, olive oil and salt in a blender and blend it. You can look up the proportions online or just do the mixture according to your own taste. Blend it to the consistency that suits you.

I think sun dried food is acceptable in a raw food diet, although possibly it's not really desirable, so here is a simple recipe you might like - pea pods filled with a sun dried tomato mixture. You soak cashews and pine nuts, blend them together with sun dried tomatoes, onion, lemon juice, garlic and salt, and then put the mixture inside pea pods. Then you munch on the pods.

Guacamole is a well known dip, but there are lots of other dips that you can make. You can make one out of soaked cashews, coconut, cucumber and lemon juice. Add salt and maybe also herbs and spices to give it your own individual signature. You'll probably have to add some water to it to thin it to a texture that suits you.

Really though, on a raw vegan diet you're going to be eating a lot of salads, but this is where you can combine and mix up whatever ingredients appeal to you and work for your taste buds, and you can do it in whatever amounts and proportions you fancy. I've seen broccoli and raisins, apple and fennel, even Brussels sprouts and figs as suggested combinations. Let your imagination run riot.

Some years ago there was a fad for putting kiwi on salads. Recently I've had several salads with strawberries on them. Increasingly, however, I've come across salads ('posh' ones) with flower petals in them. These fads are a bit silly, but I suppose they make food more interesting.

Take whatever raw ingredients appeal to you, do as little to them as possible other than cut them or tear them, then combine them and maybe add oil, lemon juice, salt, herbs and spices, and that is your meal.

That sort of food, with a glass of natural, untreated water, constitutes the best possible diet … until you decide to go back on The Vodka And Water Diet! But even then, the ultimate form of The VAW Diet involves eating raw vegan food and drinking water. It's just that the water has some lovely, inspiring vodka added to it.

Whatever you choose to eat and drink, make sure you stay healthy, both physically and mentally, and you keep yourself happy, productive, sociable and successful.

Day Nineteen

This 'Day' is being written back in England. Yesterday here we cooked roast duck and had it with the usual trimmings you'd expect in this country. These included roast potatoes, roast parsnips and roast carrots, as well as some greens. There was an orange and onion gravy to go over the veg, but I also made port wine and morello cherry jam sauce. It's completely simple. You just put together equal amounts of port wine and morello cherry jam in a saucepan and then reduce it down until it has thickened to the consistency you want. With the meal we drank a bottle of Marcillac - Domaine du Cros, Lo Sang del Pais. To round it off we finished off what was left of the bottle of port that I partially used for the sauce.

I would hold that meal up as an example of the sort of meal you shouldn't be having too often on The Vodka And Water Diet.

With the few leftover vegetables and the leftover meat and the leftover carcass, which still had quite a bit of scrap meat on it, I made a simple soup. I simmered the carcass over a low heat for a couple of hours, made sure all the meat had come off the bones and that all the bones had been taken out of the broth, then I added the other meat and vegetables and put the mixture through a blender. I let it cool down and then I put it in the fridge.

That was yesterday, this is today. This morning I scraped the fat off the top of the soup, heated up the soup, and had it for breakfast. To help it go down I had a glass of Bloody Mary and then a glass of vodka and water to 'clean the palate'.

A slightly unconventional start to the day, I admit, but not a bad one. Indeed today was a slightly unconventional day anyway. I still do a bit of English teaching (English as a foreign language) every now and then, and I'd agreed to do a three-hour session with a friend of a friend of mine from 9 a.m. until midday. For some reason English lessons are divided up into 45-minute blocks, so three hours is four lessons, in the middle of which the teacher and student have a little break. (Vodka and water time!) The girl I had to teach was pretty, smartly dressed and young.

Young for me now is anyone under the age of forty, so to give you a more exact idea of her age I'll say she was either half-young or doubly young.

Do you know how many pretty young maids in all my years of English teaching have come up to me and said, “Paul, these English lessons I'm having with you are quite expensive and they're difficult for me to afford. Is there any way I could pay you other than with money?” (Did you notice that they speak English quite well after I've taught them?)

I'll tell you how many have said that. Rounding it down to the nearest ten, the number is … zero. So if you go into TEFL teaching thinking that that is what is going to happen, prepare to be disappointed.

After the lesson (and my mid-lesson VAW) I refreshed myself further and examined the really rather paltry amount of money I'd earned. However, in comparison to the pittance authors earn for writing books, it was a small fortune. If TEFL teaching is an occupation for losers, book writing is an occupation for foolish dreamers who aspire one day to become losers. Would-be authors should get proper jobs and just treat writing as a hobby. Perhaps TEFL teachers should adopt the same attitude towards their pocket-money-paying 'work'.

I now had a free afternoon ahead of me. Foregoing lunch because I had had such a hearty breakfast, I decided to go to Worcester to the horse races. (I was staying at my mother's house not too far away from Worcester.)

The great thing about a day at the races is that not only do you have to pay to get in, but you then don't actually get to see much because the horses and riders (the two are often, but not always, together) are so far away, and you are then also able to lose whatever money you have remaining on you by making losing bets at the bookies on races that are probably fixed anyway.

Of course I did all those things, but I still enjoyed myself because for me the best thing about being at the races is drinking, watching people, and thinking about the Marx Brothers.

“From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”

I digress. Did you know that some, maybe many, bestselling books are bought but hardly ever read (at least not beyond the first few pages)?

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”

At least Groucho seemed to share my view that TV is basically a device that helps idiots waste their lives.

Talking of idiots: “He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot but don't let that fool you. He really is an idiot.”

Appearances can be deceptive though. I've seen lots of rough-looking people that you'd think wouldn't have two pennies to rub together getting out of expensive new Range Rovers, and I've also seen people who look slick and suited and booted and who are utterly charming but who then turn out to be complete nobodies. But generally if someone looks like an idiot, talks like an idiot and behaves like an idiot, it's safe to assume that they're an idiot.

You get a good mixture of people at the races, and because they're generally held on weekday afternoons it means that the people you don't get there are the sort of plebs who are tied down in some mundane fixed-hours job.

Horse racing people are often interesting people.

I'd come into Worcester on the train (you can walk to the racecourse from the train station in Foregate Street) and I went back the same way. I'd had a few pints of cider at the races, plus the occasional nip of VAW from my flask, so I was feeling pretty content. For some reason I thought of the Groucho Marx quote that I and some of my teaching friends in Russia would say to each other when we were interested in the same girl.

“Remember men, we're fighting for this woman's honor; which is probably more than she ever did.”

That reminds me of when Princess Kreytonia was talking to Jake Hyde on the set of Bingbat The Warrior King.

Once I got back to mother's house, walking back there from her local train station, I made the mistake of deciding to cycle to the shop round the corner for another bottle of Russian Standard. (Supplies in the house were getting perilously low.) I have to tell you, reader, that the diet we are on does not combine well with two wheels. Four wheels, yes, even three, but two, no.

I remember hiring a little Yamaha Virago motorbike on a holiday in Rhodes (the Mediterranean island) some years ago. How on earth do they expect a drunk rider to steer, change gear, slow down and indicate, all at the same time? The manufacturers are obviously deliberately making life difficult for people of our ilk. Because motorbike riders have to wear crash helmets in Britain, I took the opportunity to ride without a helmet. My uncle said that doing that was more dangerous than having sex without a condom. He was right, but probably not for the reason you're thinking. After a day's riding under a glaringly hot sun I was so severely sun burnt that I looked like a red light that couldn't be switched off.

By contrast I've never suffered any degree of sun burn from having sex without a condom.

In Ibiza recently I hired a scooter. I haven't ridden one for many years. And do you know what? Despite bike and rider both being well lubricated, I almost didn't fall off once.

I felt quite proud of myself as I maintained my balance riding round the island. Indeed I felt so proud that when I was almost back at the hire place, I stopped off at a roadside bar for a celebratory drink. It was only when I got back onto the bike that that I fell off for the one and only time that day.

No harm done though, either to bike or rider.

However, for motorcycling safety I have to recommend a trike. (I mean a three-wheeled motorbike). They had them for hire near where I was staying at Playa de Palma on Mallorca. The great thing about trikes is that even if you're completely whacked, it's almost impossible to fall off them. (That is until you stop and park up and then stand up to get off the trike.) If you do hire one from the place that I did, I can recommend riding round the coast to Magaluf. There you will see the cream of British high society at rest and at play. Such sophistication, such quiet elegance.

Getting back to my decision to bicycle round to the local shop to get more inebriating fluid, I didn't get very far before the bike developed a sense of imbalance. Some sort of mechanical fault, I suppose. After wobbling all over the place and falling off a couple of times, I decided to keep off the thing and walk alongside it and push it. That proved much safer. Indeed the bike repaid my consideration for it by holding me up a couple of times when I was about to fall over. Using a bicycle in this way is much better and safer than trying to sit on it and pedal it and steer it all at the same time.

Eventually I got back to the house with 'the goods' (two bottles thereof). I tested each to assure myself of their purity and genuineness, and then I realized that I couldn't put my feet up and relax with a drink because I was booked to do a radio interview in Birmingham in a couple of hours' time. I quickly spruced myself up and changed my clothes, and then, as I felt I was in danger of being late, I called a taxi to take me to the train station. There I caught a train into 'the big city' (big for a provincial boy like me anyway, and that's despite the fact that these days when I'm in England my home is in Uxbridge on the edge of the much bigger city of London).

I had been booked to do a short interview about The VAW Diet with one of the city's radio stations. This particular station also broadcasts over the internet, so I thought that the interview might be heard much further afield than just in Birmingham and therefore it had the potential to drum up some much appreciated sales for my book.

I just about managed to get to the radio station on time, and the young female interviewer and I settled down in a studio to record the interview. It wasn't going out live, but would be broadcast the next day, so I didn't have to worry about making mistakes, or pausing to think, or anything like that, because anything that didn't sound good could be edited out later.

I took a quick nip from my flask and we began recording. After the initial introductory pleasantries and banter, it went like this:


Interviewer: Well, listeners, presumably to get himself in character, our guest today has just had a drink of something. Can I ask what it is, Paul?

I adjusted my glasses, stroked my mustache, and wiped my nose on the sleeve of my suit.

Me: Vodka and water, as you'd expect.

Interviewer: (chuckling) So that really is what you live on?

Me: I wouldn't say I live on it, but it's a significant part of my diet.

Interviewer: Don't you find that it's terribly addictive and can cause a lot of problems? Have you ever got so bad that you've had to go to Alcoholics Anonymous?

Me: I tried going to AA a few times, but I found it so stressful having to say 'My name is Paul' and all the rest of it, and having people looking at me and hanging on my every word, that I had to have a few drinks to give me some Dutch courage before I was able to go to the meetings. Eventually I had to stop going because the stress of it all was too much for me. Once I stopped going, I found I drank less. That is, I drank less at the times when the meetings were being held.

Interviewer: But hasn't being on a high alcohol diet caused you problems?

Me: I find the problems come when I eat. Food seems to go to my head.

Interviewer: In what way?

Me: (taking another nip of VAW) I notice that when I eat food after I've had a drink, I become more talkative, I get louder and - how can I put this? - friendlier, but also more assertive, and then my face gets flushed. Worst of all, however, my sense of balance begins to go.

Interviewer: That's because of the food you've eaten and not because of the vodka you've drunk?

Me: You think so too, do you? That's why we need to advise your listeners to go easy on the food. They should treat food with extreme caution.

Interviewer: I'm sure that's good advice. Is there any other advice you'd like to give our listeners?

Me: Life is a whim of several billion cells to be you for a while.

Interviewer: What?

Me: It's a Groucho Marx quote.

Interviewer: You like Groucho Marx? He died a long time ago, didn't he?

Me: 1977. He was 86 years old.

Interviewer: Don't you think that drinking heavily will shorten your life and you won't get to be as old as Groucho was when he died?

Me: No, I'll get old. I'm sure I'll get old. In fact anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough.

Interviewer: Do you think that being constantly drunk is a good principle by which people should live their lives, along with eating sparsely?

Me: Those are my principles, and if you don't like them … well, I have others.

Interviewer: What other principles?

Me: Women should be obscene and not heard.

Interviewer: That sounded sexist, Mr. Bowden. Are you sexist?

Me: I have nothing against women, although sometimes after half a bottle of vodka I wish women had something against me.

Interviewer: Are you married?

Me: Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution? Someone once said you should try everything once except incest and morris dancing. They should have added marriage to that list.

Interviewer: So, are you married or …?

Me: I'm available. Keep playing your cards right and you could be in with a chance.

Interviewer: If I was going to settle down with someone, I think I'd like it to be with someone who was sober, and financially secure too. Don't you find that your drinking impacts negatively on your ability to earn a living?

Me: (Taking another sip from my trusty flask.) I see you attach a great deal of importance to money. I admit that while money can't buy happiness, it certainly lets you choose your own form of misery. Money frees you from doing things you dislike. Since I dislike doing nearly everything, money is handy. I have just enough not to have to do what I dislike, but not enough to do what I like. I am, however, rich in time.

Interviewer: (Laughing, but I suspect at me, not with me.) I'd like to see how many pairs of shoes I could buy if I had plenty of time but no money. Seriously, don't you think that anyone who drinks a lot is going to come unstuck financially, and probably in other ways too? You can't be drunk and successful, can you?

Me: (Laughing back at her.) I beg to differ. What about Keith Richards? Or Orson Welles?

Interviewer: The latter was successful when young but a failure when old.

Me: Hunter S. Thompson?

Interviewer: Blew his brains out.

Me: Oliver Reed?

Interviewer: Died drunk in a pub in Malta.

Me: Ernest Hemingway?

Interviewer: See Hunter S. Thompson.

Me: Boris Yeltsin? I know he's dead, but he got to be President of Russia, and his family are still rich.

Interviewer: Any more?

Me: Winston Churchill?

Interviewer: Another piss head leader.

Me: Are you supposed to say piss head on radio? Anyway, in today's terms Churchill made more money than you're ever likely to make, or marry. And what about Alexander the Great? Conqueror of a large part of the world. You couldn't get much richer or more successful than him.

Interviewer: Remind me how old he was when he died.

Me: He didn't quite make it to thirty-three. But the point I'm trying to make is that it's perfectly possible to be successful, including being financially successful, and be a big drinker. Admittedly that's only if you're in the right line of work or if you just happen to be doing the right things or are connected with the right people, but let me tell you about a friend of mine who became quite rich, and it was all down to drink.

Interviewer: Go on.

Me: I had a friend called Gervaise, a big drinking buddy of mine.

Interviewer: Gervaise? I bet he was a bit of a hard nut.

Me: Despite his somewhat poncey name, and his hard drinking, he was a wow with the ladies. One day, in one of the drinking establishments he frequented - actually it was in the bar of an old hotel in the West End of London - he got chatting to an elderly woman. She was also partial to the sauce, and they got on like a house on fire.

Interviewer: Is getting on like a house on fire a good thing?

Me: As you well know, it's an expression indicating that people have formed a bond and are very much enjoying each other's company. Now, as the days went by, they bumped into each other more and more often - by chance or design, I don't know - and they spent more and more time together. Then one day Ethel …

Interviewer: Ethel?

Me: Ethel, for that was her name. One day Ethel invited Gervaise back to her place. Now, Gervaise, having squandered his earnings and a small family inheritance on unceasing drinking, lived in a rented room in a shared house, and he was rather expecting that Ethel would live in similar squalor. Imagine his surprise then when he visited her place and found it to be a multimillion-pound house in Chelsea. Gervaise asked himself two things. Firstly, how did she come to live in such an expensive property? Secondly, why did a single person who lived all alone have such a large home? (The house had six bedrooms.) Then he noticed that the property was poorly maintained. This implied that although the property might be worth a fortune, Ethel herself did not have much capital or income with which to maintain it.

As he and Ethel spent more and more time together, Gervaise delved deeper into Ethel's 'back story'. It turned out that Ethel had, as a young woman, married a very rich businessman. Their marriage had not been blessed with children, but they compensated for that by having a very active social life, hence the large house, needed for holding parties and putting guests up.

Ethel's husband had died at a fairly young age, and he had left her the house, some money, and his business. Ethel had no knowledge of business, and no interest in it, so she had sold it. She had continued to be socially very active, but high-class socializing is an expensive game in which to be involved, and consequently over the decades her fortune had dwindled. As her money disappeared, so did her rich, high-class friends. Now, alone and nearing the end of her days, she comforted herself with drink and the company of other drinkers like Gervaise in various bars around London's West End.

Gervaise realized that this elderly woman - she was about three decades older than him - needed his comfort, support and assistance, so he suggested that he moved in with her. That way not only would she always have a drinking buddy on hand, but he could also do odd jobs around the house and try to get the place back into a more respectable condition.

Ethel took him up on his offer, and so Gervaise moved in.

As Jane Austen didn't say in Pride And Prejudice, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single elderly woman in possession of a valuable house must be in want of a much younger husband.”

So that was Gervaise's plan - to get Ethel to marry him. He would have preferred just to have got Ethel's house to marry him, but unfortunately the house and Ethel went together. This union he soon accomplished. Whether it was because Ethel was naïve, or whether she knew exactly what Gervaise was doing and realized that her house might as well go to him as to anyone, I cannot say.

Interviewer: This is a terrible story, completing lacking in morals or scruples or principles.

Me: That's right. It's a love story, and a love story should always have an element of bricks and mortar about it. Anyway Gervaise, having achieved his matrimonial goal, now worked on the second part of his plan. This was to allow - indeed encourage - his newly acquired elderly wife to take even more of her medication than she normally took. (That's alcohol to you and me.) He, of course, being much younger, was much better able to cope with their increased drinking, but it soon began to take its toll on Ethel's already rather frail health.

Eventually the inevitable happened, and after a short spell in hospital, Ethel passed away. I would like to say that Gervaise was inconsolable, but perhaps ecstatic would be a better word. By this time he had been married to Ethel for just over two years.

Now, he and Ethel had never discussed making wills, and Gervaise just assumed that Ethel hadn't written one. Therefore under the rules of intestacy he would inherit everything. Imagine his surprise then when a few days after Ethel's death he got a letter from a fancy firm of London solicitors saying that Ethel had written a will shortly after marrying Gervaise. A copy of the will was enclosed, and it quite clearly stated that not only should everything go to the Doris Darklee Charity For The Treatment Of Destitute Alcoholics, but it also specified that nothing whatsoever should go to Gervaise.

Imagine Gervaise's shock! How could his beloved wife abuse him in this way? She was abandoning him to homelessness and poverty. This couldn't be what she intended. Indeed the more he thought about it, the more Gervaise became convinced that his late wife really meant to leave everything to him, and that therefore she must have written a later will to that effect. All he had to do was find it.

He scoured the house from top to bottom, searching for the will that would confirm his belief was correct. When he could find no such will, he realized that although Ethel must have wanted to draw up such a will, she simply hadn't got round to doing it. But what was important, reasoned Gervaise, was that she had wanted to do it. Without doubt she must have wanted to do it and she must have been intending to do it, but unfortunately death cruelly took her away before she had got round to putting pen to paper.

The question was, how could Gervaise help his late wife achieve her true desire?

Then he saw the light. If Ethel had wanted to draw up a will leaving everything to him, but she had been too ill and alcohol-befuddled to do it, it must mean that she had wanted him to do it for her. Therefore just as it was his job to maintain the house, so it was now his job to draw up the will that he knew Ethel would have drawn up if she had been able to.

So Gervaise drew up a new will for his late wife leaving everything to himself. He dated it three months before her death, and got it witnessed by two drinking buddies of his in return for promising to let them share in some of the proceeds from the eventual sale of the house, which basically constituted pretty much the whole of Ethel's fortune.

Gervaise didn't want the house, he just wanted the money from its sale.

There was a bit of a hoo-haa with the lawyers who had drawn up the genuine will, but eventually the faked will was accepted. Gervaise got the house, sold it, along with all the valuable antique furniture in it … and then he disappeared.

Since then, neither hide nor hair of him has been seen. His two drinking buddies didn't get a penny, but they realized that they couldn't really say anything to the authorities about their role in the affair because it would only get them into trouble for being part of the scheme, and then they still wouldn't get a penny anyway.

(I took out my flask, took a long swig of VAW, and put the flask away.)

And that is the story.

Interviewer: And the moral of the story is …?

Me: (I groaned.) The moral of the story is that you can be permanently drunk and still get, and stay, rich.

Interviewer: Thank you, Mr. Bowden. I hope there were children listening to that fairy tale of our times. And talking of time, I'm afraid this interview has run out of it. Thank you for coming in to the studio today.

Me: (Taking several big gulps from my flask.) My pleasure.


After the interview I had to dash. There was an opera on at the Symphony Hall and I'd arranged to take an old friend of mine to see it. This was someone I used to know a few years back. Being of the other sex, the relationship had, as usual, run its course and fizzled out after a year or two. I had contrived a falling out (not difficult to do - you just have to have one drink too many, behave obnoxiously, and then let the other person tell you that they never want to see you again) and since then we hadn't had any contact with each other. Then suddenly one day I'd got a message from her wondering if I'd like to meet up. We exchanged a few messages, then we'd arranged to meet up next time she came up to my home city of Birmingham. (I still don't think of London as being my home city even though I now live there - or at least on the edge of it - when I'm in the UK.)

I got to our arranged meeting place on time, and there was my old squeeze, just as I remembered her. I had the tickets, and as there was only half an hour to go before the opera started, I assumed we would just go straight into the concert hall. My friend, however, suggested a pre-concert snifter. It was then that I realized why I used to like her so much.

We went to the bar and ordered a couple of G&T's for ourselves.

I showed her my trusty flask. “There's only a bit of drink left in it,” I said, “but it should help keep us going until the first interval.” We were watching Eugene Onegin, so there would be two intervals.

My friend suggested we buy a couple of large VAW's each, drink what we could before the opera started in a few minutes' time, and pour any VAW that remained into my flask.

Clever girl, my old friend. If only all women were like her.

We sat together side by side through the first act. For some reason we found ourselves holding hands. How did that happen? And she's still a married woman. I shall never understand 'the fair sex'.

In the first interval we left Symphony Hall and went to a shop across the way where we bought a half bottle of vodka. We poured enough of it into my flask to half fill it, then we went back across the road to Symphony Hall, nipped into our separate loos, and filled both the flask and the bottle up with water from the basins there. I hung on to my flask and my companion kept hold of the bottle.

We were now set up for the rest of the performance, and we wouldn't need to queue at the bar and pay through the nose for more drinks during the second, final, interval.

Clever, huh?

The end of act 2, scene 2 always makes me think of the way this opera scene is portrayed in Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley. There it's so well played, with bright red fabric representing Lensky's blood spreading across the stage.

In the second interval we mingled with other people just so that we could stretch our legs. Discreetly we sipped VAW, me from my flask, 'her' from her bottle. (I can't tell you her name because to do so might annoy her husband.)

When the opera ended, my friend fancied something to eat, so we went down to the Chinese Quarter and tucked into the buffet at that favorite place of mine I told you about on the first day of this diet. We shared a bottle of white wine with our food. When we had finished, my friend said she had to go back to her hotel.

You know when you've had a great time with someone you get on really well with and that you find attractive, and then you have to go your separate ways at the end of the night?

No, me neither. So 'she' and I went back to her hotel room and spent the night there together. In the morning she went back home to her loving, unsuspecting, husband.

That is the magical effect of The VAW Diet - it brings people together and lubricates relationships.

Day Twenty

This is a day in the Baltics. Except it isn't. It's a day on the Baltikas, because I'm back in Russia.

In car magazines, and on the motoring shows on TV, they used to talk about going from 0 (zero) to 60 (miles an hour, that's almost 100 kilometers an hour) as quickly as possible. We're going to see how quickly we can go from Baltika 0 to Baltika 10. (That's 11 possible chunders on the beer chunder scale.)

Let's get started.

I'm in Novorossiysk. Since the last time I was here a few years back, they've managed to introduce a law making it illegal for people to buy alcohol in shops before 11.00 in the morning (although you can buy it in cafés and bars, etc.). Brilliant! They switch the water off in the morning in many apartment blocks (including my friend's), and then they prevent you from buying vodka to console yourself with. No wonder it's going to be China that takes over the world, not Russia. I'm sure the Chinese have hot and cold running water all the time. (No?) But I suppose at least the drink situation isn't as bad as in Oslo, where I seem to remember being refused to be allowed to buy beer in a shop because it was after eight o'clock in the evening. Instead, to 'get my fix' I had to go and sit in a bar across the street from the shop, paying through the nose to sit and drink beer. I'll admit, however, that I was happy there, sitting and drinking, looking out through the window and watching all the pedestrians and motorists go by.

But today I am on a mission. I can find Baltikas 0, 3, 7 and 9 anywhere, but I need to track down the other numbers. My friend Andrew has to be at his workplace by nine o'clock in the morning and usually I go with him and stay and keep him company while he works (he has his own little business maintaining printers and copiers that people bring to him) but today we've agreed that I'll go off until lunchtime (beer o'clock!) so I can pursue my beer mission

Leaving him at his office, I go off across the road and over to the market. There I go to a drinking hole I know. I go up to the counter and order myself a draft Baltika 7. They actually warn me about it being strong, as if I've never had it before. Number 7 is light-colored and I would say only of good-average strength.

Next I do the foul deed on your behalf and I drink a bottle of Baltika 0 (Nol', or zero) alcohol-free beer.

I don't understand why anyone would drink an alcoholic drink that has no alcohol in it, but I suppose if you're one of those who does, this particular one is drinkable enough. It's light-tasting, and if you just want something 'beery' to quench your thirst without giving you a buzz or getting you high, then this will do the trick.

But don't ever expect me to drink alcohol-free beer again, for you or for anyone.

After this sobering interlude I inadvertently forget the 'no alcohol to be sold in shops before 11.00' rule (it isn't even 10 a.m. yet) and I set out to indulge in my rather despicable habit of drinking in the street by going and buying a bottle of Baltika from a shop. Andrew tells me that drinking in the street is illegal in Russia nowadays, but I've yet to be stopped for it by the police. Possibly, however, that's just because they haven't yet seen me doing it as I do try to be a little bit discreet about it. Also I've seen plenty of other guys drinking in the street here (not as many as I see in Britain these days though), so I'm not convinced that it is illegal. Perhaps it's only illegal if you're doing it and you're visibly drunk, in which case it's the drunkenness that's the problem, not the public drinking.

Anyway I go into a 'prodykti' (food) shop, where I am reminded by the 'dyevushka' (meaning 'girl', but used to address any female shop assistant, waitress, etc.) that I'm not allowed to buy drink before 11.00 a.m. So then I go to another café I know where I drink (on your behalf, of course, not for my own benefit) a half-liter of draft Baltika 3. This is a beer I'd have as my breakfast on a summer's day. It's light-colored and I think light in alcohol, so it's not going to do anyone who drinks it too much damage.

Now I realize I have to go and break some bad news to Andrew. There's nowhere on my excursions around Novorossiysk where I've been able to find the other Baltika beers - 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 10. (Number 9 is one that I can get in just about any shop.) That doesn't mean they aren't here, it just means I can't find them. So I tell Andrew I'm taking a bus to Krasnodar, a city I used to live in years ago about three hours away by bus from Novorossiysk, and where I used to go to a particular kiosk that sold all the Baltika beers, as well as many other beers besides.

I hope you appreciate the effort I'm going to on your behalf.

I head back to Andrew's office and tell him of my plan. He's fine about it as he's going to be working until at least five o'clock and so can't do anything with me until then anyway. (Normally after work we go off for an evening's drinking, although if it's summer we usually first go down to the 'beach' so that Andrew can take a dip in the sea.) All he says is to catch a bus back as early as possible so I'm not too late getting back to Novorossiysk.

So off I go, out of the office and up the hill past the new Red Square shopping center, turn to the left, and walk along the road to the bus station. There I'm lucky enough to get straight on a bus leaving for Krasnodar. On the way up to the bus station I have cunningly popped into a shop and bought a can of Baltika 9, which I put in my little shoulder bag.


At this stage I need to tell you that while re-writing (at a later date, in Voronezh) the account of this particular day of the diet, I did actually have a can of Baltika 9 to drink, and my Russian lady friend that I was staying with suggested I take a photo of it for the book … between her boobs, of all places. So I did, with the camera on my very cheap phone.

This is the picture:

(Image of can of Baltika 9 between Vicky's boobs.)

As you can see, it's very blurry. While I was here in Voronezh, my old phone, which I'd bought in Russia when I lived over here in Krasnodar about seven years ago, packed in, so I just went out and bought one of the cheapest phones I could find. This is the sort of photo you get if you try taking a picture with a cheap phone.

Now, back to our day on the Baltikas.


The bus journey between Novorossiysk and Krasnodar (and vice versa) is one I've done often. We have one stop-off along the way. Sometimes at the bus station where we stop I get a beer, and sometimes I get an ice cream. There's a basic 'bog' where passengers can relieve themselves, although some of the blokes just go over to one side and have a slash so as to avoid having to hand over a few rubles to the woman who looks after the public loo. On this occasion, however, after going to the loo, I crack open my can of number 9. If ever you want to find something to knock you out for the second half of a modestly long (by UK standards) bus journey in a decrepit bus, this is the stuff to try. It's light-colored, but packs a punch with about 8% alcohol.

I doze nicely for the rest of the journey. Getting to the bus station in Krasnodar, I remind myself that I'm on a time-sensitive mission. I must get back to Novorossiysk for the evening's drinking. Tracking down and drinking all the numbered Baltika beers in one day is no easy task, but I feel sure I'll manage it.

By the way, I only inadvertently found out that Baltika make beers other than the ones that have their name on the label. I often drink bottles of Zhigulevskoye (often in the street!) when I'm staying at my friends' places in Novorossiysk and Voronezh. Looking at the label on the back of one of these bottles the other day, I saw that it was made by Baltika. It turns out that they have a brewery in Voronezh.

From Krasnodar bus station I walk around the corner to a place where some trams go from. In the past when I used to teach in Krasnodar I would come back from spending a weekend with Andrew and I'd get here, have a beer from the shop next to the tram stop, and drink it before getting on a tram. Then I'd go and teach my first English lesson of the day.

I always felt that having a little lubrication before a lesson made it pass more smoothly, both for me and for my students.

Now once again, after all these years, I go into the shop by the tram stop. There I see something I didn't expect to see - a bottle of Baltika 8. The whole reason I've just spent three hours on a bus coming from Novorossiysk to Krasnodar is that I know there's a kiosk near one of the markets in the center that sells all the Baltikas, or at least it used to when I used to live here. Of course I'm hoping it still does. That's why I've come here. But to find one of the rarer numbers in this shop is a pleasant surprise.

Now we all know that you should never pass up on an opportunity, so I buy the bottle and ask the shop-girl to pop the top off for me. (My teeth are getting a bit too fragile for me to do it the way I used to do it, levering the top off with my canines.) Then I stand outside and drink it while I wait for a tram to take me nearer the city center.

The beer is light and seems sweeter and 'fruitier' than 3 or 7. In fact I like it. It's just a shame it's not easier to find this stuff.

I see a tram approaching, so I finish my drink and put the empty bottle in a bin. Then I get on the tram and head in the direction of Krasnaya Street, which for me, and everyone else, has always been the main street in Krasnodar.

Eventually the tram gets to the sharp right corner into Kommunarov, which is a couple of streets away from Krasnaya, and I get off. I'm near one of the main markets. This is where the kiosk is where I used to be able to get all the Baltikas.

I am transported back to heaven. It's so many years since I lived here.

I get to the kiosk and buy a bottle of number 2 and drink it on the street. It's light and easy to drink (destroying the memory I thought I had, which was that even numbered Baltikas were dark and the odd numbered ones were light). Not as special though for me as number 8.

I used to know an American guy here, Jim (I've changed his name), who bought a little house in a courtyard a few meters from where I'm standing now. He was one of the American missionary crowd. In other words, not a piss head like me. But he was quite tolerant of my foibles, which included women in those days. I finish my beer and, having binned the bottle, I walk round to Jim's courtyard. I recognize his funny little house, walk up the steps, and knock on the door. Does he still live here, I wonder, or has he long since moved on to pastures new?

A few seconds later the door opens and there stands Jim. Middle-aged and short, but full of energy, he doesn't seem to have changed much in the several years since I last saw him. He vaguely recognizes me but obviously can't quite place me, so I remind him who I am and the time I spent with his church-going crowd. Recognition dawns on him and he invites me in. We begin to chat, and then I explain what I'm doing, trying to drink all 11 numbered Baltika beers in one day.

“Go for it, dude,” he says. “If you think the readers of your book will find it interesting, why not?”

He asks me if I want something to eat. He's vegetarian, so he suggests he does us a cheese omelet with some salad. I say that sounds good, and ask if it's OK if I go out and get another couple of beers to have with the food. He's fine with that, so I pop out and get a Baltika 4 and a Baltika 6. I'm actually looking for number 1, and for number 5 too, but I can't see them in the impressive display of dozens of different beers in the big kiosk window. Also I realize 10 isn't there. When I ask about these in my appallingly bad Russian, all I get is a blunt, 'nyet'. I get the 4 and the 6 anyway and head back to Jim's place with them.

Over what I suppose you'd call a late lunch (it's after two in the afternoon) I open the beers and we talk about Russia (the bits of it we know in the south west anyway) and how it has changed. We share the beers. The Baltika 4 goes down well. A darkish beer, it has some of the bitterness I'm used to from drinking pints of bitter in Britain.

The Baltika 6 is for me a remarkable drink. I remember the first time I had it and the impression it made on me. I'd also at that time recently drunk a black Krusovice beer, and the number 6 I felt was in the same league and similarly distinguished. Very distinctive. Very special.

Jim and I agree that Russia has largely lost the charm it used to hold for us. It's so been taken over by capitalism and consumerism that now you might just as well be anywhere. When Russia was poorer, people were friendlier and more welcoming. They couldn't afford to do fancy things or go to fancy places, so they would invite you to their home. They'd gather together a few friends and neighbors, everyone would contribute some food and drink, and a little party would ensue. Now everywhere is dotted with shopping malls and superstores, and people are focused on earning and spending. Just as in the West, money and things have become more important than people. And of course prices have shot up. When I go food shopping in Russia now, I end up spending as much as I pay in Britain, and for some things I have to pay a lot more than I have to pay in the big supermarkets back home.

I ask Jim why he stays here. Originally, although I shouldn't say this, especially as he's 'churchy', I think he came over to try to get a young, attractive Russian wife. But that was then and this is now. When I first came to Russia thirteen years ago it's true that there were lots of Russian women hoping to escape poverty by marrying a rich (or more likely pretending to be rich) Western man, but now there are plenty of rich, or at least comfortably-off, Russian men around, so the incentive to marry a foreigner and go and live abroad has largely gone. Of course some Western men still fancy 'bagging' a Russian woman because even now they still tend to be slimmer, better looking and better dressed than their Western counterparts. However, in my experience Russian women are not always easy to get on with, sometimes being rather brittle and volatile, so if a Western man does get a Russian wife he might find that he's bought himself what seems to be a pretty package but what's inside might not be quite the charming, docile, sexy wife he was expecting.

Jim tells me he actually spends quite a bit of time outside Russia now, either travelling or being with his family back in America, so I've been lucky to catch him over here. And yes, at some time in the not too distant future he probably will sell this house and leave Russia for good. But he still has missionary friends here, and they justify his remaining here for the time being.

He never did get himself a Russian wife, and he says that now at his age he isn't really bothered any more.

I tell him that at my friend Andrew's apartment in Novorossiysk they switch the water off completely in the daytime, and at my friend Vicky's apartment in Voronezh the hot water goes off sometimes, and occasionally the water will even go off altogether … and the heating … and even the electricity.

Ah, Russia!

Jim laughs and says that, yes, although there are cars everywhere (the traffic in Novorossiysk is a nightmare), everyone has smart phones, there are cinemas and sushi restaurants all over the place, and the big international shop brands are everywhere, the infrastructure here is still dodgy. So in Russia now you get the appearance of Western wealth, with high prices to match (prices over here are certainly much higher than they were a few years back), but behind the façade there is inadequate infrastructure, bureaucratic inefficiency, corruption, decaying properties, and more poverty than you might suspect.

I don't want to overly criticize Russia though, because at least it's a country that is heading upwards, whereas the West is going down the pan, except for the privileged minority at the very top of society.

It makes you wonder whether a corrupt, semi-dictatorial oligarchy isn't in fact in some ways better than our equally but more discreetly corrupt 'representative democracy' (democracy, my arse!), where government and the public sector is as bloated and all pervasive as you might find in a communist society, and where crazy post-second world war socialism has turned the laws of natural selection and human development on their head to produce people who don't want to take responsibility for their lives, and who are dependent on the State either because they are inadequate or because they are parasites.

I certainly believe that Russia has a better future ahead of it than have many Western countries I can think of.

I tell Jim that it's been great to see him and have a meal and a drink and a chat, but I have to head back to Novorossiysk. I ask him if he'd mind coming over to the kiosk with me to ask about the missing Baltika beers I'm after, what with his Russian being much better than mine because of the length of time he's lived here. He agrees, and we head off.

Over at the kiosk, he asks about beers 1, 5 and 10. They say they no longer get them, and they think they don't even exist. But I know I've drunk number 10 in the past. As I remember, it was sort of aromatic in some way with a distinctive flavor unlike most bog-standard beers and lagers, but it was so long ago that I can't remember exactly how it was distinctive. As for numbers 1 and 5, I thought I'd drunk them in the past because I believed that when I lived here in Krasnodar in my early years in Russia (2000 onwards) I had managed to drink all the Baltikas from 1 to 10. (I don't know if they had '0' - nol'/zero - in those days.) But perhaps I'm wrong. After all, I believed the even number beers were always dark and the odd numbers were always light, and I was wrong about that.

So it seems then that I might have already drunk all the available numbered Baltikas today. Whatever, it's obvious that if 1, 5 and 10 do exist, I can't find them, so I'm not going to be able to drink them.

I thank Jim for his efforts and we say our goodbyes, exchanging email addresses so that we can keep in touch. Then I catch a tram back in the direction of the bus station. Once I've walked the few hundred meters to the bus station from where I get off the tram, I buy a ticket back to Novorossiysk. Less than half an hour later I'm on the bus and heading back there.

The journey is uneventful, and when I arrive back it's about 8 p.m. I text Andrew and he tells me he's been for a swim in the Black Sea earlier in the evening and now he's in a café down by the beach with a couple of the other guys, so I make my way down there and join them.

They're about on a par with me as far as being under the influence of beer is concerned. We have more beer (the local Novorossiysk one) and then at some point vodka makes an appearance. The evening unfolds pleasantly. It's nice being able to drink and chat with friends and watch people passing by. One thing I notice is that more and more people here in Russia are decorating themselves with tattoos, as so many people do in Britain these days. It's regrettable really. Adopting the bad aspects as well as the good aspects of western life is a big mistake. I imagine that with the increase in junk food outlets and restaurants and big supermarkets over here, the Russians will eventually suffer from the same obesity problems that we in the West have. Presumably also the women here will gradually become like western women and cease to be feminine and slender and smartly dressed, which is the way they generally are at the moment, and instead they'll look like badly dressed batter-blobs.

One of the guys suggests ordering shashlik. The rest of us go along with this. However, if I weren't trying to fit in with everyone else, I would do without food tonight because I've taken in so many calories from drinking so much beer (and now vodka as well), but the shashlik is only meat and slices of raw onion, and normally it would in fact be exactly the sort of food I'd recommend for a non-vegetarian who is on The VAW Diet.

By about midnight we're all rather merry and the banter is in full flow, so I'm somewhat surprised to hear Andrew say to the others that really it's time that he and I made a move and went home. (I'm staying at his place, sleeping on the floor of his one-room flat, so in practice when he goes, I have to go.) Of course he's got to go to work tomorrow, so actually it makes sense. The others are fine with this. They're going to stay and have a few more drinks, then maybe go on to the place nearby that is open around the clock and that gets a lively crowd in it late at night and through into the early hours of the morning.

Andrew and I head off and look for a taxi. Usually we'd take a marshrutka for a quarter of the cost for the two of us, but at this time of night, and after so much drink, a taxi is a more appealing way of getting home. We find one, get in and head homewards.

Except we're not heading home after all. Andrew says he wants to call in at his office. He wants to show me something on the internet. He doesn't have internet at his flat, so that is why we need to go to his office.

I'm intrigued by what might be so interesting on the internet that it can't wait until we get to his workplace at nine o'clock tomorrow morning (or, being more accurate, this morning).

When we get to the building where Andrew's office is located, we have to ask the security man to let us in. He's reluctant, but concedes, so long as we don't stay too long. In his office, Andrew fires up his computer, gets on the internet, and shows me a website. It's for a massage place up on Kutuzovskaya, not too far from where we are now. It costs two thousand rubles to have a girl for forty-five minutes. This wasn't exactly the way I thought we'd be finishing the day, but I go along with it - out of politeness, you understand. There are nine girls shown on the website. Physically they all look pretty decent, and you can see the faces of a couple of them, but Andrew wants me to choose one, and perhaps a second one in case my first choice isn't available, and then he'll phone and see if the massage parlor can 'accommodate our wishes'. He points out to me the girl he fancies, so of course I choose one of the others, plus a spare.

Andrew makes a phone call. After he's finished speaking to someone at the other end, he tells me that if we get there in thirty minutes time we can have the girls we've chosen. Then he produces some vodka from out of a drawer and we have a couple of shots each and chat a bit. Putting the vodka back, he switches everything off, locks up the office, and we go out into the street, thanking the security guard on the way out. Once outside, Andrew flags down a taxi and we take the short ride round the corner and up the road to the massage place.

I think I've only once been to a massage place in Novorossiysk, many years ago. It may even have been this one. I can't remember. And I can't remember what I paid. But I remember when I first came to Russia I could get a girl brought round to my apartment (actually the guy - the pimp, or minder, I suppose you would call him - would bring three or four girls round for me to choose from) and it cost six hundred rubles to have her for an hour. Now thirteen years later it's two thousand rubles to spend forty-five minutes with a girl.

But … mustn't grumble! I just wanted to illustrate the sort of inflation that's taken place in Russia during that time.

My girl is called Alla, young and slim as you'd expect, with short blonde hair. She doesn't speak English, but I don't think that's important. I'm pretty sure it won't detract from the experience. We go to our room. Andrew and his girl go to their room. We get down to business.

I won't bore you with the details of what Alla does to, for and with me. I'm sure you know what goes on in these situations. In fact it pretty much follows a set routine (unless you're one of those men who has … what shall we say? … special needs), with some variations of position, and … how can I put this? … speed and frequency of delivery. But by the end of the forty-five minutes I'm not feeling dissatisfied in any way.

Of course I'd handed over my two thousand rubles before being allowed to wander through the garden of earthly delights.

Alla and I leave our room, and I find Andrew already waiting for me. He's already called for a taxi to take us home. We say our goodbyes to our girls and to the person in charge of the establishment, and we go outside. A couple of minutes later a taxi turns up, and about ten minutes after that we are being dropped off by Andrew's apartment block.

Once inside Andrew's flat, he again magically produces more vodka from somewhere, and we spend half an hour drinking and watching the box. Then we retire to bed, or rather Andrew retires to his bed and I retire to my pile of sheets and blankets on his floor.

This is the only real disadvantage to having a bachelor friend whose home only has one room (plus kitchen, bathroom and balcony) and who doesn't have a put-you-up bed, camp bed, spare mattress, or even an inflatable mattress.

Perhaps I should get him something comfortable for me to sleep on. It would be like giving myself a present.

Fortunately I'm used to sleeping on floors - goodness knows I've done it enough in my time - so I soon fall asleep.

All in all it has been a good, interesting day. Interesting drink, and plenty of it, not too much food, some travel, time spent with friends, and nooky with someone new.

Yes, not a bad day at all.

Day Twenty-One

So this is the last day of our three-week diet. This is when you get to weigh yourself to see how much avoirdupois you've lost.

But not just yet.

Assuming it is the beginning of your day, you will want a generous glass of VAW while you think about what food you will have today, and in particular about what you will have for breakfast. But actually our food for today is already decided … by me! It will consist of … cigarettes, for you are going on a special variation of The VAW Diet known as The Russian Variation. So while I explain what it is, enjoy that glass of VAW you're drinking. It may be the last one you have (today, at any rate).

When I first went to Russia, having come from Britain where men are men but so are the women, I was struck by how slim, attractive and well-dressed the women were in comparison to what I was used to. In provincial Britain a well-dressed girl is one that wears an anorak over her hoodie over her tracksuit. In London of course it's rather different, and everyone, male or female, wears a pin-striped suit and bowler hat and carries a tightly furled umbrella. The women are recognizable only because their shoes have higher heels.

As I got to know Russian girls better, I discovered that although they quite often looked like models, the probability was that all their meager earnings as shop girls or office drones went on their fascinating and fashionable clothes, but most likely they still lived at home with their mom and dad (or their mom and step-dad, or just their mom).

But I was intrigued by how they managed to keep so slim.

The answer was simple. They hardly ever touched food. Instead they smoked. Somehow they got most of their nutrition from cigarettes.

So you have probably guessed that our diet today - The Russian Variation - will involve smoking cigarettes rather than eating food, in which case you would be right, but you are probably also assuming that you will be drinking vodka and water. Wrong! Russians never drink vodka mixed with water. It is a concept that is utterly inconceivable to them. Indeed I have never seen a Russian mix anything with vodka (although I suppose some of the posh Russkis must drink cocktails). If they drink vodka at all, they always drink it straight. Therefore that is what we shall be doing today. We're going to drink neat vodka, and smoke cigarettes. That is The Russian Variation of The Vodka And Water Diet.

So make the most of that glass of VAW you're drinking. When you've finished it, pour yourself a shot of neat vodka and knock it back in one go. It'll probably make you gag this early in the day, but you might as well get used to it.

Those eye-candy Russian girls that I used to know - did they drink vodka? On the whole they didn't. They could if they had to, for a toast for example, but most of the girls I knew didn't drink much at all, if anything. There were exceptions of course. If anything, the women I knew who drank liked to drink cognac. Some would drink the occasional beer. But the serious drinking, and especially the vodka drinking, was for the boys.

Because I find it a bit difficult to drink neat vodka, I used to give my friends, and waiters and waitresses, something to laugh at by showing them what a complete western 'wuss' I was by asking for fruit juice when we ordered vodka so I could drink my vodka mixed with juice. This was a perversion barely known in Russia. But actually in those days vodka and juice was my staple diet, along with the occasional beer. At least it helped keep me thin. The only food I was ever tempted by was cheese, sausage, salad and fruit, and I wasn't even inclined to have them very often. I would almost go so far as to say that if you choose your fruit juices carefully, vodka and fruit juice is possibly the only food you will ever need.


So our diet for today is simply neat vodka and cigarettes. Nothing else. No water. No food.

But don't worry! You're going to feel great by the end of the day when it comes time to weigh yourself.

But I can hear some of you say, “I don't smoke,” or, “I used to smoke and battled hard to give it up. I can't start again, even for just one day.”

All I can say to you is that if you don't smoke, you'll have nothing to eat today.

I myself almost never smoke these days except when I'm exceptionally drunk, and even then I try only to smoke other people's cigarettes. Yet as a schoolboy I did smoke. I started off smoking Friburg & Treyer. As I ripened and matured during my teens, I would sometimes smoke a pipe. (I think I must have fancied myself as some deeply thoughtful Bernard Levin-style precocious pre-bald William Hague type.) Then I progressed to smoking Balkan Sobranie Ovals. I'm not sure - but it was a sad day for civilization when it happened - but I think eventually they were banned because they were made by hand, and were therefore regarded as unhygienic in the new dawning age of 'health and safety'. (Children, never put anything in your mouth that has been touched or licked by another human being.) At a certain point it became impossible to buy these 'smokables' in their beautiful hard white box. Now, on the rare occasions when I want to indulge in the cancer sticks and I volunteer to buy them myself, my fag of choice (again I remind my American readers that I'm not proposing to put a homosexual in my mouth and suck on it) would be Sobranie White Russians. The funny thing is, I haven't been able to find any here in Russia. The only place I know for certain I can get them is in Ukraine. When I stay in Sevastopol I know a kiosk down by the seafront where they sell them. But here in Russia I will at a push buy Sobranie Black Cocktail cigarettes, which are really too showy for everyday smoking, and also uncomfortably strong for me. Otherwise I just go for a mass-market American brand like Marlboro.

Over here, in what I would call 'the clever part of Europe', the girls often like to smoke those thin cigarettes - Vogue, Winston Blue Slims, stuff like that. I should think a man with big lungs could smoke one of those girly fags with just one long intake of breath.

By the way, how did your first neat vodka of the day go down? Normally I can't drink neat vodka unless I've had quite a lot of less potent drink first. Even then when knocking back neat vodka, even in company, I quite often have to hold my nose as I drink it just so that I'm able to get it down. There's something about the 'spirit smell' of neat strong drinks that makes me want to gag.

I did warn you, however, that this diet might not be easy, and that it might require considerable dedication and perseverance on your part.

The big question is, apart from drinking neat vodka and smoking cigarettes, what are you going to do today? For me it's not too difficult. I'm with a friend, and she's OK with me writing and drinking and smoking. The only activity of the three that she's indulging in with me is smoking.

But what about you?

The ideal scenario is either being at home, where hopefully you can do what you want, or you could be at work, but that's assuming work is a place where you're either the boss and you can do what you want anyway, or it's a place where you're not the boss but no one minds you nipping out for a fag every hour, as well as nipping to the loo for a few gulps from your flask (which now contains neat vodka, remember, not vodka and water).

Here in Russia, by the way, you can still generally smoke indoors in cafés, bars and restaurants, etc. - for the time being at least - so although I'm not a habitual smoker, I value Russian (and Ukrainian - Ukraine being the other country I live in) liberality.

Perhaps you're a person of leisure (i.e. unemployed, or with some form of unearned income that makes it possible for you to do what you want with your time), in which case, assuming your companions, if any, are prepared to tolerate your drinking and smoking (or, better still, they are actively indulging in it with you), then you can carry on and just behave as you want.

The important thing is to stick to the prescribed routine of neat vodka and a fag on an hourly basis as a minimum until it is time tonight, just before you go to bed, for your final weigh-in.

Regardless of how you're going to spend your day, I have a suggestion to make, and it is this - as you work your way through your booze and fags, why not take a photo of yourself every hour? See if you visibly change as the day progresses. You could even video yourself. Try doing some talking to camera. Perhaps you'll remain utterly composed as you go through the day. Perhaps you'll start slurring your words and talking crap. Who knows?

The interesting thing about people who drink is that they're almost always convinced that they're not drunk, even when they are. And when they're being silly and boring and boorish they think they're really being quite fascinating. And when they become impertinent, insolent, interfering, rude and aggressive, they think they're being helpful, or justifiably assertive, or they're making a good point or correcting other people's errors.

There seems to be quite a difference between the way drinkers see themselves and the way others see them.

So why not film yourself as the day progresses? Then when you're sober look at the pictures and footage that you've taken. Perhaps put something up on YouTube or one of the other sites that allows you to be seen by strangers who will view you for free and abuse you for the same price.

The artists Gilbert And George recorded themselves getting progressively drunk in 1972 in a work entitled Gordon's Makes Us Drunk. Gordon's of course is a brand of gin. It helped make these two artists famous. Perhaps filming yourself will do the same for you. Of course it might just embarrass you and turn you into a laughing stock.

To show that I am with you in body as well as spirit, I'm smoking Winston Blues which I've cadged off the girlfriend (she of the Baltika 9 boobs fame) and I've got myself a bottle of Belenkaya vodka. A few years back I used to expect to pay around the hundred rubles mark for a drinkable cheap vodka. These days the cheapest vodka I can get costs nearer two hundred.

The one thing you're going to find about today is that you'll feel at a bit of a loss at meal times, but just tell yourself it's a fasting day. The first day of the diet you were allowed to eat as much as you wanted, now on the last day you're fasting. Yin and yang. Everything is in perfect balance. Harmony reigns.

You could be working. You could be socializing. You could be looking after kids. You could be traveling. You could be an artist (one of God's chosen people - don't believe anyone else who lays claim to that title). As for me, I shall just be writing. Maybe I'll have to pop out to do a bit of shopping, or just go out and stretch my legs. Otherwise I shall be having a quiet time with my adored Vicky. Later we've got a double dose of Hugh and Laurie as Jeeves and Wooster to look forward to on the telly tonight (dubbed into Russian of course).

So as you go about your business, doing whatever you are doing, I shall be sitting here, drinking and smoking, occasionally pontificating on something that grabs my interest, and thinking about how I can branch out into the visual arts - photography, video work, film making, painting, that sort of thing. Then tonight you and I shall each do our final weigh-in, and we shall see how well we have fared with our dieting. Have we lost weight? If so, how much have we lost?

Having mentioned the visual arts, this is a well known 'staged' photo of Salvador Dalí done in 1948 called Dalí Atomicus (stress on the second syllable of Dalí please!):

(Image of Philippe Halsman's photo Dalí Atomicus.)

When I first saw this when I was doing an art course years ago, what impressed me was the sheer amount of work that had gone into it - the easels and chair being suspended, the chair being held, the water and the cats being thrown (this isn't a picture for animal lovers) and Dalí having to leap into the air. I wasn't surprised to find out that the photo had to be taken twenty-eight times to get it right. Even then, it was later altered so that the wires holding up the easels and chairs couldn't be seen, and a painting was put on the empty easel that Dalí is apparently painting a canvas on.

The photo was titled Dalí Atomicus because at the time Dalí was working on the painting at the right of the photo, which was called Leda Atomica. As so often in his work, it featured his wife Gala.

And what's all that got to do with dieting and losing weight? Well I'll tell you. Anything in life really worth achieving calls for belief, effort, perseverance, attention to detail, and commitment.

You are photographing and filming yourself as you go through the day with your vodka and cigarettes, aren't you? I shall probably have to do a YouTube video for this book, and that mean's I'll have to go in front of a camera. Yes, with my funny face, my Russian Standard and my Badoit.

You should have managed to get to lunchtime (let's say around one p.m.) by about your eighth drink and at least an equal number of ciggies. Now let's be honest, you'd have to be a resurrected Oliver Reed to be able to do this diet drinking double measures of vodka every hour. If that's what you've done, I admire you. That's about the best part of one standard-sized Russian bottle (half a liter) so far. It's more likely, however, that you've just been having a single measure every hour on the hour, in which case I hope you agree that that is really quite reasonable, moderate drinking.

We have a bit of a problem here because different people think of different amounts when they talk about measures and shots and bottles. In Britain, bottles of spirits are usually 750 milliliters, but I think they can sometimes be 700. In pubs, single measures are generally 25 ml but they can be 35 ml. So doubles are usually 50 ml but might be 70. Yet if you think of drinking vodka in 'shots', a shot is, I believe, just over 44 ml. (Let's round it up to 45 or even 50 ml.)

The point is, everyone has their own 'capacity', and everyone should know how much they want to drink, or whether they want to drink at all. The amount you drink is really for you to decide.

Let's press on, for it will soon be time to weigh yourself and see whether three weeks of boozing whilst limiting your food intake, and even fasting occasionally, and keeping as far away as possible from processed food and carbohydrates, has done the trick and enabled you to shed a few kilos, pounds, ounces or grams from your skeleton.


Assuming you're proceeding pleasantly through the afternoon of your foodless, nicotine and alcohol-fuelled day whilst remaining self-controlled and affable, and whilst taking hourly photos or videos of yourself as you get more and more drunk and hungry and high, here is another picture for your consideration:

(Image of Earl Kitchener with the words 'Your Country Needs You'.)

Of course the chap in the poster is 1st Earl Kitchener who was appointed Secretary of State for War in Britain at the start of the First World War. The poster is always held out as being produced in order to induce men to sign up to fight 'for King and Country', but in fact the image isn't a poster at all. Yes it was produced at the beginning of the war in 1914, but it was for a magazine cover. This image, as you see it here, was never produced as a poster.

“So what's the point of this in connection with our diet?” you may ask.

One point is that you don't have to be under the influence of alcohol to be mistaken and deluded, and it is possible to drink but have a perfectly realistic view of life and a pragmatic approach to it.

The second point is that your country really does need you, or rather your money is needed by all the people employed in the government and in the public sector, and indeed by everyone who is financially pocketing tax-payers' money in any way. Those people need you to keep buying drink and cigarettes and paying a vast amount of money in taxes and duties so that your money can be transferred to them to enable them to live. When these recipients of your money are no longer willing or able to work, you'll still have to keep transferring money to them to pay for their pensions.

Did you know that in Britain (maybe it's the same in your country), most of the money that you hand over when buying booze and fags goes to the government in the form of tax? It's this money that allows there to be so many taxpayer-funded people in modern western societies.

So keep buying lots of booze and fags!


Over here it's now late afternoon, and I must pop out and get a second bottle of Belenkaya. The first one went down well, but I want to see how far into a second bottle I can get before it's time to weigh myself and fall asleep next to Vicky. Also she's just told me to go out and get some more Winston Blues 'tonkiye', so I'll see you in a few minutes.


Okay, I'm back. We're on the home straight now. Doing the evening shift, you might say. Soon we'll find out how well this diet has worked out for us (or perhaps what we'll find out is whether we actually stuck to the diet or not - regular vodka and water, sparse, natural, low carb meals, and the occasional spell of fasting, remember?).

But for the rest of the evening we can coast along on vodka and cigarettes.

Here's an old cartoon I recently came across, by the American cartoonist Dick Dorgan. It features, I think, a character called Biltmore Oswald, described as 'a hapless (naval?) recruit'. But he's one of those people who seems always to come out of situations alright.

(Image of Dick Dorgan cartoon.)

He was a character in stories written by J. Thorne Smith, Jr. back in the early 1900's.

What I like about the picture, of course, is that there's drink in it! I've got no idea why Biltmore Oswald is winking, although I suspect it might have been a bit of a trademark gesture of his. I guess to work it out you'd need to find the exact bit of story-telling that the picture was illustrating.

But what this image really makes me think about is how drink, in moderation, lubricates social interaction and social occasions. It loosens people up so that they can put aside some of their natural defensiveness, and perhaps even their natural predatoriness, and they can relax and enjoy other people's company.

But of course everything can go awry if even just one person at a gathering has too much booze. The trick is to know how much is enough, and to be able to stop before going too far down the alcohol-lubricated slope.

Now, I shall leave you to indulge in your own thoughts and activities until it's time to go to bed, and that is when we'll do the final weigh-in for this dietary journey we've been on.


And so the time has come. As far as the final drink of the night is concerned, I'm cheating a little. I've actually added a splash of Campari to my vodka - purely for medicinal purposes, you understand.

(Image of glass of vodka with Campari.)

I've been to the loo and made myself as empty as I can be. (Not difficult after a day without food, and drinking nothing but shots of vodka.) If you haven't done the same, you should go and evacuate yourself now.

Done? Excellent! Now it's time to get naked, as I believe young people say. I am already in that condition, but if you're not, I'll wait.

Are you naked now? Good. Now get yourself in the immediate vicinity on your weighing scales, making sure that they are properly 'zeroed'.

Step on them.

I remember what my starting figure was, and I can see what I weigh now. I'm pleased to say I've lost a fraction over five kilos. I was hoping to shed more, quite frankly, but I'm not dissatisfied, and in all honesty I did stray from the diet somewhat in terms of what I drank and what I ate.

And you? What do you now weigh? And did you really stick to the diet?

Remember that it is possible to live on The VAW Diet for all eternity, but most people seem to like to take a break from it for a while and then return to it, so if you haven't lost all the weight you hoped to lose, have a rest and then try The VAW Diet again.

Now I'm off to bed. I'll just finish my drink and put out this cigarette, and I'll say good night to you.

I wish you a light and carefree future.

Toodle pip!


You may have guessed that parts of this book are not intended to be taken entirely seriously. And yet sometimes, reading between the lines, and occasionally taking what is said at face value, there should be one, two or even three broad messages that come through to you from this book as far as food and drink are concerned.

To mildly paraphrase Henry David Thoreau - “Water is the only drink for a wise person.”

As far as food is concerned, it should be as natural as possible. This means that your food should be raw. Therefore the raw vegan diet would seem to be the ideal diet. If you stray from it, as almost all do, then your guiding principle should be to keep as far away as possible from processed food. Anything that goes beyond the simple cooking of raw natural ingredients, and then perhaps combining them, is venturing into the realm of processed food and junk food. The more processed the food is, the more you should avoid it.

The wrong sort of food is often identifiable by the amount of carbohydrates in it.

Meals should be small. Almost everyone eats too much, and almost all people eat far more than they need.

Occasional fasting (subject to the usual 'consult your doctor first' caveat) is beneficial.

Now to the tricky subject of alcohol. I'd be happy if it didn't exist at all, or, if it had to exist, if it was completely banned, but it does exist, and it isn't banned (not here in the West anyway), and it isn't going to be any time soon.

So is alcohol good, or is it bad?

A friend of mine says that when I don't drink, I'm too dull, serious and boring. When I have some drink, I liven up and become more interesting. If I have too much to drink, I just become silly.

My late uncle used to say that the Americans regarded the British as being 'two large whiskies under par'. In other words, the average sober, sensible Brit needed a couple of stiff drinks to be able to chat and behave as openly and easily as an American.

The message then seems to be that a little booze may be a good thing. It loosens you up, makes you relish life more, and makes you easier to get on with.

So, let's agree - no alcohol is good, but a modest amount of alcohol may also be good, and too much alcohol is bad.

Of course one person's 'too much' is another person's 'not enough' … but I still think a little tumbler of vodka and water on the hour, every hour, is about right!

Fiction | Diet | Lifestyle

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