At 5pm sharp, every single evening, an internal signal tells me it's cocktail hour. It might be triggered by the obvious dip of the sun westward or the need to divide the day between work and play, but it rings loud, as if created by a muscular man hitting a gong.
And so I prepare the ice, scoop the bottle of vodka out of the back of the pantry (keep away kids!), maybe some vanilla-based punch from Reunion Island for spice, throw it all together with coconut water and serve in those rounded wine glasses that arrive as gifts from cashed-up loved ones. If the vodka has run dry, I'll take rosé over ice.
With my glass I wander out into the backyard to watch the sunset or just to squash the afternoon's hungry mosquitoes. The first glass, as if I even need to tell you, is the cliched weeping angel on tongue. Every single mouthful, every little sip, kisses my lips, embraces my throat, warms my stomach. If there is a heaven, I find it at cocktail hour.
My wife is the same. Comes home. Pulls out the shiraz, fills a glass and heads outside. Totally on auto-pilot. When your life is divided into days that are 12 hours of work and eight sleep, with a few in-between to commute and shuffle kids to school, that cocktail hour assumes terrific importance.
Occasionally, and more often than I might want to admit, I feel an uneasiness when my kid asks me for a taste of my "coconut water" or comes running into the kitchen when he hears the cork pop out of the punch or the "pffffft" from the soda mixer bottle.
When he says to me,
"Does that have vodka in it?"
"Ah, a little."
Four fingers, held vertically.
My parents never drank, or at least never drank in front of me. Sometimes my grandfather would pull a long-neck of beer out of the fridge and pour him and my dad a small tumbler. Pa would always offer a taste, and I'd take it, but I didn't like it.
At night? With pals? A different story. But at home. Never. I wasn't opposed to the idea, it just never occurred to me because I grew up without booze. I didn't associate dinner or sunset with alcohol, in any form.
As you get older, when your friends or lovers do it, it becomes increasingly churlish to say no. And, so, after years of saying no, it becomes natural to pop the cork. And so the cocktail hour bell rings.
Other friends I knew had dads who'd be into their first stubby within 10 seconds of arriving home and would inhale four or five by dinner; or mothers with endless glasses of wine. Sometimes both.
And what's remarkable is how much these friends imitate their parents.
I wonder, how will my kids treat booze when they're legally welcome at the bottle shop? Will they see it as a balm to soothe away the pains of working, as a delicious aperitif before a home-prepared dinner or will alcohol become an unhealthily big part of their lives?
A friend spoke to me last night about his experience of drinking in front of kids. At his kids' school fete - and this is a school in a well-heeled, leafy suburb of Melbourne - they've always had a bar, but it was cordoned off. So if you really felt like you needed a drink at 10 am on a Saturday morning while you were with your kids, you could walk in, and observe the going-ons from your pen. Money raised, parents liquored, a win all-around.
This year, after much debate within the organising committee, the cordon was removed. The parents could stroll through the school grounds with their kid on one hand and a boutique beer or organic wine in the other.
Apart from one instance of a recently divorced parent getting drunk and making a terrible scene (kids screaming, dragging 'em by the arms), it was a success. A hundred grand raised for new computers or whatever it was they needed.
But, still. Is drinking in front of the kids the right thing to do? My pal's philosophy is simple enough. "Them seeing me drink frequently, though not drunk, is not ideal. Them seeing me drink occasionally, and being OK with it, is OK. I don't think it's ideal that it's considered the norm."
What about you? Do you drink in front of your kids?
Read more on Alcohol and kids:
- Teaching healthy drinking habits now
- Drinking culture and children a toxic cocktail
- Alcohol in films influences teen drinking habits
- How young is too young to talk about underage drinking?
- Alcohol for teenagers 'never safe'
- Setting boundaries around alcohol use
- Can kids and alcohol ever mix?