According to my team of researchers, Bulgaria has the cheapest beer in the world. At least one bottle of rakia, that well known cure-all affectionately described as the ‘Spirit of Bulgaria’, can be found in most houses here and many people make their own. Bulgaria's 2019 grape harvest amounted to 195,000 tonnes, of which about 182,000 tonnes were processed into 120 million litres of wine.
I’m not especially fond of the beer which is refreshing in the heat of our summer months but predominantly yellow, fizzy and without flavour, like in most countries in southern Europe but it’s cheap and much nicer and better for you than Coca Cola. The rakia, often labelled as ‘firewater’ by foreigners who have never taken the time to really sample and savour the many different kinds and grades of the distillation, can be an extremely pleasant and worryingly moreish tipple. Some of our wine, largely underrated in the snobbish world of the sommelier, is spectacularly good as well as being reasonably priced; that produced from the red Mavrud and Melnik grapes being my personal favourites.
Bearing these details of affordability and accessibility in mind, I’m sure you can imagine how difficult it is for we in the East to follow the ‘Dry January’ routine that many in the consumerist Western world pursue to detoxify their ravaged internal organs after the orgy of overindulgence during the celebrations that mark the darkest days of winter.
To be honest, I’ve never even attempted to abstain from alcohol for the whole month of January. I’ve always been rather fond of a drop of the pure and on occasions in the past have been known to have transferred significant volumes of whiskey from the bottle to the digestive system during the first twenty minutes of New Year’s Day, so any plans to be pure myself for the entire month were found to be in tatters during their embryonic stage.
However, so as not to stand out from the crowd, for decades I have made New Year resolutions such as giving up abstinence and celibacy and I can boast that, unlike many people, I didn’t break my resolutions during the whole of those years in which I made them. In 1958, when I was eight weeks old, I vowed never to vote Conservative or watch the Queen’s Christmas Day speech on television and to this day my resolve in this respect remains completely intact. Other things I’ve blocked from my life on a long term basis include badger baiting, television programmes presented by Ant and Dec, cauliflower and Luton.
My thirdborn child and I seeing in the New Year in 1991.
Down the years there has been many a first of January morning when I have sworn never to touch a drop of alcohol again in my life but, as I eventually peeled back the bed covers to be hit by the ice cold light of day, I realised what a foolish notion this was and toddled off to the pub for a livener as soon as the packet of paracetamol had stopped shouting at me. Consequently, the process then had to be repeated on the second of January by which time the scale of the problem had subsided a little, and so on with gradual improvement on each successive day. Usually by the beginning of Lent I was stone cold sober and ready for a party.
My character has never been such that I have been unable to go without a drink but I have always been the sort of person who is easily cajoled into something. My dear old Nan, who was from Sunderland in the north east of England, was never what you would call a drinker but she liked her whiskey and, with a twinkle in her eye, encouraged others to join her on special occasions and at New Year in particular. Apparently when I was only a few weeks old I had a terrible ear infection and I wouldn’t stop crying. The whole family was sick of the awful noise I was making, especially in the middle of the night, so my Nan put a teaspoon of whiskey in my milk to make me sleep and shut me up. It worked a treat and friends and family have been giving me alcohol for the same reason ever since.
One morning in March 2020, my dear Priyatelka and I woke up to a kitchen littered with empty bottles and that taste in the mouth that makes you wonder if a rat had crawled in and died. I was sure that if even a healthy rat had crawled into my mouth the alcohol fumes would have killed it. We both vowed there and then that we would never touch another drop of drink again. In fact, we both vowed that we would never again need to vow that we would never touch another drop of drink again. So from that day forth we have been as dry as the tank in a Saudi Arabian dehumidifier, and the rate at which share prices in the Bulgarian drinks industry have plummeted has been inversely proportional to the rate of regeneration of our livers.
This year my dear lady and I will definitely be having a dry January and, having already completed a successful dry most of March and dry all the months up to the end of December, I’m sure we will find it easy. All that needs to be done now is to find the Bulgarian words for smug and sanctimonious.
Наздраве, приятели, и честита нова година!