Talking through “not not-drinking” with my best belovèd. We have a friend who has similar tussles with drinking alcohol to dependent excess. It’s something we’re discussing together, and separately, as it “should” be, and happily is among friends who have known each other for around thirty years.

Without going into granular detail on the psychological commonalities we share – not today at least – something we were discussing and finding interesting is a collective uneasiness with the idea of sweeping declarations.

Swearing off it forever, I mean.

[GRAMS: Shirley Bassey “AAAAAAND EEEVAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH”)

… forever ever?

We want to get to the bottom of why this seems to cause as much uneasiness as the concept of moderation appears to be a laughably remote ideal.

One qualm is clearly a factor of the substance itself. Its addictive qualities. The chemical effect, its reliability, and the self-sustaining strength of the hit. The booze insinuating. So… one might dismiss that, and clamber on the wagon galloping away west, surely? Only then there’s a worry of hitching oneself to something that will become equally oppressive in time. Oh dear, hooked up with the cannibals!

There’s labelling stigma – self-applied or not. There’s a distrust of fundamentalism. The concept of saying no to anything for eternity seems so limiting. As much as saying yes to something might be, even.

As we went through all this, we realised quickly that what we were discussing was not so much the thing as the ways one might think about the thing.

So, what is worth considering further, we thought, is the urge to extremes. Why it has to be all the booze available, or no booze at all, is not really about the booze.

[Scene: a lounge in York, recently. Two sofas, one cafe au lait, the other espresso, form a coffee-coloured chevron. J sits curled on the espresso with laptop computer, making M’s heart come all undone chuckling at links. M is watching the TV, which faces them at a slight angle to the apex. BBC4 presents Holy Flying Circus.

Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin

HFC is a ‘fantastical’ account of some of the problems suwwounding the welease of Monty Python’s Life of Brian. M, a fan of Python for many years, has stopped commenting with delight on how similar the actors (particularly Rufus Jones) are to their real-life counterparts, and started enjoying the programme. Time passes. J looks up from the PC.]

J: So, we have to get the tickets to Turkey today.
M: Mmmm?
J: For the wedding.
M: Oh, yes.
J: We said coming back on the Friday.
M: Gets us in when again?
J: 1am on the Saturday.
M: Mehhh… but Sunday morning was the alternative.
J: Yesss.
M: Yes, do it do it do it.
J: [Beat] £670.
M: What, each?
J: No, that’s for the two. £335.
M: Each.
J: Yes.
M: Bit steep, innit? Who’s this with?
J: Jet2.
M: I thought that was a budget airline.
J: Well… it is. That’s still cheaper than the ‘proper’ ones.
M: Hmmm. Well, yes, carry on.

[J clicks and scans, illuminated by the screen. M goes back to watching Holy Flying Circus, illuminated by the screen. The story is well-written and well-done, M concludes, suitably Pythonesque meta-humour, asides and time-shifts, jumps into surreal animations and puppetry that tick his boxes. Meanwhile, also ticking boxes, J continues her tussle with e-commerce.]

J: Do we want to check in online for £10, or at the airport for £36?
M: Is that each?
J: No.
M: Goodness. Well, online, obviously. [pause] So, they’re charging us to check in, online?
J: Yes.
M: Isn’t it included in the price?
J: No.
M: Hmmph.
[Holy Flying Circus continues for a few minutes. M expresses mildly though with some heat…]
That’s a total outrage! Charging us, to check in online, for tickets that we have bought, online, on an aeroplane! It’s not as if we can’t check in. We need to check in. Just include it in the price! [Pause] I’m writing them a stiff letter.

[The Holy Flying Circus continues.]

J: Right, it’s £42.50 for baggage.
M: Okay. Right… £42.50!
J: Yes. So it’s £21.25 each.
M: Is that both ways?
J: Yes.
M: So it’s £85?
J: Oh, right, no, that’s the price for there and back. We’re only taking one bag.
M: Oh, THAT’s okay then.

[M briefly imagines a film depiction of him dragging a massive case, containing J’s entire wardrobe and a pair of his shorts, with some difficulty, through an airport. J breezes ahead looking all 60s aviation chic in headscarf, sunglasses and cocktail dress. She smiles and waves at someone in the middle distance, possibly Mick Jagger. Meanwhile the case spins round on its wheels, M struggling to make it comply. He is dragged from his feet in the background as J blithely proffers papers at the check-in. On Holy Flying Circus, the Pythons sit in the office of their legal counsel, discussing blasphemy prosecutions. Gilliam, as usual, drifts into a bawdy animated aside as he reads the journal in question, Gay News. As the fantasia concludes, Cleese clouts Gilliam round the head with a newspaper and the scene continues.]

J: I said, Where do we want to sit?
M: Well, anywhere.
J: We have to pick – it’s £4.99 to guarantee our seats.
M: That we’ve paid £345 for. No! Wait. £335 for the seats, £10 to get to the aeroplane to get to them.
J: Yes. But the £10 is a total check-in fee.
M: Oh. But still. £4.99, to get to sit in a seat you’ve paid for.
J: Yes. £4.99 each to make sure you get a particular one, next to the other.
M: Do we have to sit next to each other?
[J performs a moue-and-peering-over-spectacles manouevre.]
M: Right, yes, yes, of course. [Peers at seating plan] What about those blue ones at the front?
J: £15.99.
M: Get any ones together that aren’t blue.
J: Right.
M: I am definitely writing them a stiff letter.

[The show proceeds. Michael Palin, the Nicest Man in the World, has dinner with Terry-Jones-as-wife and Michael-Palin-as-his-own-mother. M is giggling to himself.]

J: Do we want to have dinner?
M: We’re NOT having a meal! It’ll be £1,000. No.
J: It’s another £10 each.
M: And what do you get for that? Like, a bread roll and a can of Efes?
J: It’s a three course meal and glass of wine. They’ve got another box next to it reminding you that it’s a four-hour flight.
M: They probably waft the smell of baking bread through the plane as well.
J: We’ll take a packed lunch. Put that in the letter.
M: [Grumbles incoherently]

[There is a pause of card detail completion length. During this time, the action on BBC4 moves forward to the eve of the great heavyweight title debate, Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark v John Cleese and Michael Palin. Cleese in particular is becoming vitriolic. Comic on-screen warnings signpost the swearing; the effect on M and J is subtle.]

J: Fucking hell!
M: Now what?
J: I’ve just got to putting the payment through, and there’s a fucking £26.10 booking fee.
M: WHAT?
J: A booking fee! £26.10! It didn’t say fucking ANYTHING about a booking fee, anywhere, on the site until I just got to the check-out.
M: So… right. They’re selling us a fucking ticket, that we have to pay extra to use, plus some sort of… fucking personal belongings tax, plus a, a, a… spatial location fee to ensure that we can definitely sit near each other on the plane.
J: In our £335 seats.
M: In our three hundred and thirty fucking five pound seats.
J: Yes, well. These are the cunts that want to charge you for going to the toilet.
M: For fuck’s sake. I am fucking definitely writing them an extremely stiff letter.
J: I’m sure they get fucking hundreds.

[J and M are crushed as a giant animated foot, decked in Jet2 livery, descends with resounding raspberry noise.]