I resolved to do something I had not done since my early teens: last an entire month without Coke. What followed was 30 days of joyless meals, mid-day slumps, and fever dreams fueled by caffeine withdrawal.
I could rhapsodise at patience-stretching length about my love of Coke. A meal is all the better for its presence; the impossible becomes possible in the aftermath of its sugary rush. I cannot remember exactly when my obsession with the black stuff began, nor will I pretend that my relationship with it isn't like that between a drug addict and his narcotic. But, following a long period in which I drank three or four cans every day, I resolved to do something I had not done since my early teens: last an entire month without Coke.
We're talking red Coke here, but we're also talking Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Coke Life, Pepsi, Pepsi Max, and any other cola variant. These wouldn't normally appeal—especially the foul pseudos you get from painfully healthy cafés ("Have you got Coke?" "Yes, we have Whole Earth Sparkling Cola." "It was lovely to meet you.")—but I had to purge from my diet even the wannabe-Cokes. Pepsi, despite the surprising fact that it consistently outperforms Coke in taste tests, is a wannabe-Coke: a too-sweet pretender to the throne.
Within a few minutes of deciding to give up Coke, my desire for an ice-cold one had gone through the roof. On the second night, I actually dreamt that Coca-Cola had invented a new, 530ml can, short and fat like a legless robin. Why? And why so specific a quantity? The caffeine deficiency was already sending me mad. As soon as I was denied it, I realised how much it meant to me. This was not going to be easy.
The caffeine deficiency was already sending me mad.
Almost immediately, cackling in my face, came a Nando's meal. Eating at the Nando's palace of chicken, in case you are unaware, entails having the option of an unlimited number of soft drinks. This is usually an excuse for me to consume enough sugar and caffeine to incapacitate an adult bear. Knowing on this visit that, for the first time ever, I was voluntarily rejecting infinite Coke was whimper-inducingly painful.
A particularly difficult Cokeless meal is a curry, of which I ate about six during my month of pain. Man has not invented a food I love more than Indian food, and there is absolutely no beverage I would choose in place of Coke. So to be denied such sublime chemistry is to feel unimaginable pain. In place of Coke I would drink lemonade, Tango, or water. To anyone else this might seem like a fair swap but, as any addict will know, only the real stuff does the trick. When you are denied your favourite drink, its substitutes are in fact less appealing than they were previously, by virtue of their being second choice.
In my shared fridge there stood a can of Coke at all times, taunting me, mocking me, waiting for my return from the other side. Giving some of the flat's Coke supply to visiting friends proved a bitter and joyless experience; unlike a heavy drinker during a month of sobriety, I looked down from no moral high ground. What I missed about drinking Coke was the simple hit it is able to provide in the middle of the day: the pick-me-up, the kick up the arse. I am aware as I write this how much like a drug addict I sound in my justifications; the truth is that the need for caffeine is very much like being addicted to a more sinister drug, as millions of people will know. Writing, for example, is something that is simply easier and more appealing after an injection of caffeine. Not having Coke meant that writing became less attractive and more monotone.
Coke is simply there. It's all around us. It's in our cocktails and our fast food outlets. It has taken over.
Coke is one of the most ubiquitous drinks on the planet (the company boasts of 1.9 billion servings sold every day) but to say that you love it isn't very fashionable; it elicits much the same response as the statement "I love air." Coke is simply there. It's all around us. It's in our cocktails and our fast food outlets. It has taken over. But it hasn't won through sheer ubiquity. It has won because it tastes so fucking good; in a freezing cold can best of all, in my opinion, followed by any glass receptacle; then last the unfriendly plastic bottle, its flimsiness betraying its inferiority.
As I neared my deadline, I began to almost snatch at the Coke in my flat; cans would captivate me as I walked past fridges bulging with them. Their red became all the brighter, their imagined content all the sweeter.
At long last I drank my first Coke alongside a bacon sandwich on a bright Saturday afternoon. I had bought a 330ml glass bottle—you don't see those every day—specially for the occasion, but I wasn't prepared for just how incredible it would taste. In those first few moments of the black stuff meeting my lips I felt like Sophie in The BFG tasting frobscottle for the first time: that rush of sweetness, surge of pleasure. It was like being reunited with an old friend, assailing me with a range of emotions.
Much like Frodo's enslavement to the ring, the drink's power over me is terrifying, but irresistible.