Early on in his memoir, Experience, Martin Amis describes how his half-brother, Jamie, at the time only four or five years old, managed - through a stunning combination of cunning and determination — to get drunk during a dinner with the family.
“Like many children in Spain,” Amis — one of England’s finest living novelists — writes, “Jamie was allowed to accompany his supper with a glass of red wine, heavily qualified with water.” That particular night, refusing water, Jamie bolted two or three glasses of wine. Then, before anyone could get to him, “he seized and drained an untended gin and tonic”.
“What followed was a stark paradigm of drunkenness, astonishingly telescoped. Jamie laughed, danced, sang, bawled, brawled, and passed out, all within fifteen minutes. Then about half an hour later we heard a parched moan from his room. Jamie was already having his hangover.”
Narrating the anecdote with his usual comic brio and undisguised relish, Amis puts in a footnote. “I didn’t find this at all shocking. In my house, back in South Wales, you could have a cigarette on Christmas Day at the age of five.”
At our house, I was, as a child, neither allowed diluted wine every evening nor a cigarette as a treat for Durga Pujo. But there was — unlike in the homes of many of my friends and cousins — no nudge-nudge-wink-wink associated with drinking.
We have built on that foundation with our little girl. When she so desires, she is allowed several sips of beer on Sunday afternoons; the occasional sip or two of wine or any spirit (“I must taste it, Baba, to see if I like it”). And, somewhat like Jamie, although less spectacularly, she on one occasion treated us to a telescoped paradigm of tipsiness after drinking with great delight several shot glasses of Bailey’s Irish Cream.
I am acutely aware that I might be in a minority in thinking that this is healthy practice. So I shall buttress my point of view with the findings of a study carried out by researchers in a Liverpool university.
The survey says that parents who permit their children to have the occasional — and supervised drink at home are “teaching them how to control social drinking at safe levels of consumption”.
Well, I am deeply suspicious of surveys, but can I help but love them when they say what I want them to?
Seriously, though, think about it. What’s wrong with giving a child an occasional drink? Introducing her to a unique delight, unlocking the vault of its pleasures, showing her that, in moderation, this is something to be enjoyed, and enjoyed with the family, can be no bad thing, can it? Why, it might — as the Liverpool survey suggests — actually dissuade her from binge drinking, or drinking and lying about it.
We tend to blinker our children and swaddle them in too many taboos: swear words, sex, booze… Why not bet on the child’s maturity and intelligence and bring things out into the open?