Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The NiND Commissions #3: Nepalese Frog Worship

I said in exchange for a donation you could have four hundred words on any subject. My dear twitter friend Jon Beech has gone for Nepalese Frog Worship, because he's, well, cussed like that.

If you'd would like to commission 400 words on any subject (even one as boring as this), here's how to go about it.

If you really want the full SP on Nepalese Frog Worship, read on. And, er, thanks Jon.

Image from http://old.himalmag.com website
Turn my head slightly to the left you say? Like that? You sure?
The Worship of Frogs in Nepal: Nepalese Frog Worship

Yes, this is actually a thing. But why? Why would them Nepalese, normally the first people you'd trust with your luggage, spend their downtime deifying 'umble amphibians?

Well that's where you go round making a fool of yerself with yer rayyycist assumptions, innit. Because it's the Sherpa Nepalese what do the shovin' anna humpin' whereas it's yer Jyapu Nepalese what worships the frogs.

According to a cheerfully loquacious treatise on the subject:

"Frogs are scavengers in nature and play a very useful role in the eradication of pests… that damage the paddy crop… Rice was the principal food and the Jyapu peasants were the main rice growers in the Kathmandu Valley, even in the distant past... Life was sustained by a good harvest of it; if the harvest failed, the tribe starved. So the frogs that protected the rice crop began to be venerated as godlings.”

Note excellent use of the semi-colon in the above excerpt. It's a dying art.

So for the Jyapu farmer, Nepalese frog worship is a relatively uncomplicated thank you to their mystically helpful croaky friends for keeping them alive. The frogs stop doing what they do and the farmers die. This is a theologically transferable concept.

1) Does it keep you alive?


2) Would you be fucked without it?


3) Any idea how to stop it fucking off and leaving you in the shit?


4) Well, pray it fucking doesn't then. And look grateful about it.


The big world religions tend to think they're cleverer than that because they've gone beyond the animalistic and elemental into worshipping abstract notions:

Judaism - God is an expression of who we are us as a people and will stay with us and within us down the generations, providing we stick to the rules and stop mucking about.
Christianity - God is love, man. Stick that in your pipe.
Islam - Toughen up dudes, it's a mad, bad world out there.
Hinduism - Life is One Many Crazy Rides.
Buddhism - … and, relax.

Possibly. To be honest I wasn't paying much attention during this phase of my education.

So there we go. How did a meditation on Nepalese Frog Worship end up demonstrating the paucity of my theological competence? I blame you, Jon Beech.

That must be 400 words.

Christ - 397.

Ach, sue me.

Friday, 21 February 2014

The NiND Commissions #2: Brave and Handsome

This blog post has been commissioned by NiND* donor Nick Frost (not that one). 

This is what Nick Frost looks like as imagined by the magnificent Tokyo Sexwhale**,

which is a pretty good likeness, although I can't remember ever seeing Nick use his left eye as a laser beam like that. 

Anyway. Nick made a donation to further incentivise me on my epic quest, and commissioned the following thus:

"If you would, tell us how your friends, family and others now seem once they've had a drink or two. I've heard this is one of the hardest parts of being sober."

Thank you for your suggestion, Nick, and your kind donation. This one's for you:

The Long Distance Loneliness of the Last Sober Person in the World Room

Snappy title. Ninety per cent of us in this country do alcohol. And we do it well. As Greg Proops said: "the British drink like someone is going to take it away from them." 

That's fine, everyone's got to have a hobby, but being sober around fellow countrymen and women whilst they indulge their passion for giggling bollockry can be an unenticing prospect.

Indeed, as Nick alluded to in his brief, being trapped in room with a bunch of drooling, incoherent, over-opinionated berks is only fun if you're one of them.

This still has the power to surprise. Here's Simon Pegg on his decision to go teetotal:

“The only downside about not drinking, is if you go out with your friends, at about 10 o’clock every single one of them becomes a complete c---. And you just think “Well… Eh? Wha? Why is this happening!?” And it’s because you also were a complete c--- when you were drinking. You just didn’t notice. Even my wife will become this bizarre cackling stranger, who I don’t really like.” (RHLSTP*** 20 Nov 2013)

Alcohol's capacity to completely destroy the self-awareness of even the most poised among us is fascinating. Lloyd Cole sent it up in three words in an ancient Melody Maker interview:

Q: What are you like when you're drinking?
A: Brave and handsome.

A more laborious illustration of the same point was made in a Big Train sketch which featured a panicky man running Day of the Triffids-style through a post-apocalyptic suburban environment (i.e. a completely unapocalyptic suburban environment filmed through a shaky camera and soundtracked with over-the-top dramatic music). He would encounter people staggering around, who were shouting incoherently and trying to attack him. 

He tried to get help by knocking on the door of someone's house. The people inside seemed to offer him sanctuary, but as soon as he thought he was safe they turned on him, offering him alcohol and eventually trying to force it down his neck.

In a later sketch, we see the explanation for the set up as it was re-run from a different perspective, with the protagonist shouting at people and attacking them. He has a moment of clarity and says: "Ah! So it was me who was completely pissed and everyone else was sober. It all makes sense now"

Coping mechanism

That's not to say I mind being sober around drunk people. It can be an efficient way to solicit gossip. Alcohol is a truth drug, and with the correct prompts, people open up voluntarily. I should know, I've been indiscreet enough times myself. 

If you haven't got anything better to do, observing the rhythms of an evening until all the coherency has been squeezed out of it can be very entertaining. If you have other responsibilities, or a burning urge to be at the gym at 6am, it's acceptable to turn up somewhere at 8.30pm and leave on the dot of 11pm. If you really can't cope with two-and-a-half hours sober, talking to people you work with/like/are related to then you shouldn't be there in the first place. If you have to turn up to a do, but don't want to, access to alcohol rarely makes it better. Again, trust me on that one.

There is one unavoidable downside to staying dry during social occasions - it's hard to mask your fatigue. Alcohol is one of the four energy sources your body can process (the other three being fat, carbohydrate and protein), so whilst your brain is getting a psychoactive boost from the booze rinsing through it, your body is being energised by the alcohol washing around it. This heady combination is what creates that chattery buzz in a bar as people "come up" at more or less the same time. But it can also temporarily disguise the fact you are running on empty. Without alcohol it's that much harder. After a while you just have to admit to your friends you are tired and its time to go home. 

At that stage of the evening you will not mind being around drunk people because you are about to leave them to do what drunk people do. Conversely, there is a chance you will miss out on high jinks. At the age of 25, that might have been an issue. Nowadays, for me, no longer.


* If you want to know what this is all about, start here.

** Tokyo Sexwhale wrote the best review of The Dark Knight Rises ever

*** If you want to listen to some of the most entertaining conversations in recorded history, then download (for free) the Richard Herring Leicester Square Theatre Podcasts (iTunes link here).  He chats for over an hour to some of the funniest people in the world, swears a lot and introduces Stephen Merchant with the immortal line: 

" talking of paedophiles definite paedophiles, will you please welcome  we won't find out for a few years but we all knew I hope he's there. will you please welcome... if he's there, and if he's not left because of what I just said. Stephen Merchant!  [Merchant appears] Stephen Merchant!  I mean, look at him, though"

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Thought crime

Update: think I've found the solution.

I had a dream. I was with a producer and a cameraman at an airport and we were all very tired after a long day. My colleagues wanted to eat - I wanted to watch the winter Olympics on the TV in the bar, so I bought a round of drinks and went to sit at a table on my own with a good view of the telly.

As I settled in to watch the snowboarding, finally relaxing after the stress of a hectic shoot, I realised I had a partially drunk pint of bitter in my hand.


My reactions were, in this order:

1) Oh no! I've broken my pledge!
2) Oh **** this drink is going to cost me upwards of £500. ****! What was I thinking?!
3) Wait a minute… I might be able to get away with this…

                                                                          … how will anyone ever know…?
4) But then my colleagues must have seen me with the pint when I brought their drinks over.
5) Or did they?
6) Oh, hang on a minute, this isn't actually real, is it?

Then I woke up.

So there you go. My subconscious' first thought is to cover up and dissemble.

I am very disappointed with myself.


Friday, 14 February 2014

The NiND Commissions #1: Motivation

This blog post has been commissioned by NiND donor Matt Ford. If you would like me to write a minimum of 400 words on a subject of your (or if inspiration deserts you, my) choosing, please check the rules, and then make a donation.

If you would like to know who you will be donating to, click here. If you would like to know how I'm getting on with my pledge to go without alcohol for a year, please sign up to the email alert service by putting your email in the box on the right of this page, or if you can't see the box, by clicking here.

If you want to know how you can make money out of my pledge, click here.

Have y'all finished clicking here? Then we'll begin.

It was Matt who gave me the idea of soliciting donations in exchange for writing. In an email response to one of my NiND blog posts he asked: 

"Do you do blog requests? I would like to hear you write about the value / impact of motivation…..in relation to diet / no drinking / exercise etc."

It's a positive pleasure to get any response to a blog post, let alone a request. Matt - this one's for you:

Fat man

I've always struggled with my appetite and I've never been that keen on exercise. I've been overweight most of my life.

I'd say my natural, healthy adult weight is around 11 stone. 12 stone is bearable. 12st 7lb is unacceptable.  Right now I'm 11st 6lb, so I'm not happy, and I won't be until I've got rid of that 6lb.

The last time I was 11 stone, I was 15 years old. I had got fed up with being fat so I spent the summer holidays avoiding anything sweet. The weight fell off. It was great.

Within two years I was back up to 12 stone and university in Liverpool exacerbated the problem - eating, drinking, whilst failing to do any exercise whatsoever saw my weight balloon to 13st 4lb. Thank god there are very few surviving photos from that time. I looked a mess.

Determined to do something about it, I joined the student union gym, and because I was unemployed and poor (the union were relaxed about me not giving them any subs) I lost enough weight to take me down to 12st-something.

I stayed at that weight for the next few years until I moved to Oxford in 1998. I was single, I had no money, and I fell in with a bunch of reprobates who seemed to get most of their calories from alcohol.

Over a period of time the weight slowly disappeared without me really noticing it. I suppressed my appetite (for food, anyway) without thinking and I got down to 11st 4lb. I remember being surprised, because I certainly didn't feel healthy.

Within 6 months I was back to 12 stone.

I moved back to London in 2001, started earning a bit of cash and the weight crept up again. If I ever went over 12st 7lb the alarm bells would ring and I'd try to do something about it. I'd get down to about 12st 2lb, relax my grip, and then the weight would climb up again.

Ten years of that.

In 2011 I got seriously determined. It coincided with being asked to do something for Comic Relief. A combination of watching what I ate and stress saw my weight fall to 11st 7lb. I was so delighted I celebrated all the way back to 12st 7lb.

I was livid with myself. Really mad this time. When I'm carrying that much weight I just don't look right. I hated it - I'd done something about it and then in the space of a few months let it all go again.

Within 6 months I'd got back down to 12 stone and vowed I would never weigh 12st 7lb ever, ever again.

The vow worked, slowly. In 2012 I joined a gym, which maintained my weight, and in 2013 I went through a period of not drinking, exercising (solely at the gym) and calorie-counting, using the myfitnesspal app I downloaded onto the iPad I got for my 40th birthday.

Eat less

Calorie-counting is a revelation. If you need to eat less than 2000 calories a day in order to lose weight at a reasonable lick, then you need to re-learn everything you know about what you eat, when you eat and the amount you eat. Try surviving the morning on the manufacturer's suggested 30g serving for a bowl of cereal. Weigh it out. Then try comparing it with what any sane person would call a normal bowl of cereal. That's how you end up eating more calories than you think.

Two words that should be in your thoughts at all times: portion control.

Diets are bunk. If you go on a diet, you will lose weight for the period of time you are on the diet. Then it goes back on. If you want to lose weight and keep the weight off you need to adjust your entire lifestyle, which can be done, and can be fun, but not without a lot of determination.

Forget special foods (see diets). I have three kids who I often have to make meals for. One has a mild gluten intolerance. One is fussy. One likes to throw his food around the room. One of the few pleasures we get as a family is sitting down together to eat something we all enjoy. I'm not going to start making life any more difficult.

Finally, and this is a controversial one - weigh yourself every day. Most experts recommend doing it once a week. When you gain weight as fast as I do, that's nowhere near frequently enough. Keep on top of it. If your weight is heading in the wrong direction, it's best to know about it early so you can make further adjustments to your lifestyle.

Go to the gym

The other side of the coin is exercise. If you exercise, you will not lose weight. It doesn't happen.

But… exercise is great at helping you maintain your weight, it tones you up, makes you feel better, and over time it improves your metabolism. It also puts you in an environment where you are receiving implicit and explicit healthy messages. It generally makes you more energetic, focused and determined. This will help you reduce the amount you eat.

If you want a trick to help with your motivation to exercise, go to gym classes. They're free at my gym and they serve three purposes:

a) they give you a set time to be somewhere. No one likes missing appointments. Miss the class and you're taking a place away from someone else who could have been there. Bad you. Don't do it again.

b) they force you to exercise different parts of the body in different ways. Going to the gym and spending 40 minutes on the treadmill is dull, time-consuming (relative to how fit you're going to get and how much weight you're going to lose), and not that good for you (hammering the same joints, time after time...)

c) you learn new exercises to use on your own when you're not able to attend a class.

You will also develop a relationship with the class trainers who will give you advice on exercise and nutrition.

When you're not attending classes, do not use your iPod to listen to music - learn things. As well as entertaining myself with Kermode and Mayo and Frank Skinner on a weekly basis, I also get through This American Life, the FT's brilliant Banking Weekly, Moneybox and TEDtalks. It's like a little download to your brain whilst you're on the hamster wheel.

No fun

There's no doubt that the last couple of years have made me re-evaluate my drinking. Drinking has always been enormous fun, but it's also expensive and time-consuming. Last year, at times, it started to feel like a bit of a chore. If you want to be at the gym at 6am, you don't want to be doing it dehydrated, with a headache. So you if you stop having fun whilst you're drinking because you're annoyed it's going to mess up your schedule, what's the point?

I didn't plan it like that. I just found myself in the very weird place (for me) of preferring to go to the gym at 6am than be a bit tipsy the night before. That process happened very very gradually, because it still doesn't feel like the sort of person I want to be. I feel like I'm trying it on for size.

The upsides - health, wealth and waistline, nowadays outweigh the downside - less fun. But I am at a stage of my life where I don't need to be thinking about fun. I need to be thinking about earning money, providing for my family and doing some serious work.

The pledge

Taking a year off booze was a natural progression. I have tried long periods before, but I've always cracked when a special occasion comes up, or I've had a hard day, a good day, or there's a drinking buddy I haven't seen for ages coming to stay.

This time round it felt different, largely because I have worked myself out well enough to know what the triggers are and how to deal with them.

The first thing I had to do was tell everyone I knew. Then I had to bind myself into it with a double-donation cashback-guarantee. Then I had to make it fun, hence the blog.

And so far, that side of things has been fun. The response (particularly from the charities I've been supporting, who have been downright lovely) has been amazing. The amount of money people have already parted with has been humbling, and whilst there have been a few occasions where I thought - "ooh, a pint would be nice" - I've never come close to acting on it. Nick is not drinking. It's my thing.

Right now, six weeks in, I can feel myself moving from the life-is-quite-dull-when-you're-sober stage to that intensely annoyingly energetic phase. Yesterday I started a blog project I've been meaning to have a go at for a while, wrote eight letters on the train and started the horrendous process of re-mortgaging our house. This morning I got up at 5.15am to go to the gym, got home, made breakfast for my wife, took the card, chocolates, toast, tea and flowers upstairs only to be told that the kids don't have school today and therefore she was rather looking forward to a lie in. I left her to it, had a shower, walked to the station and got to work in Southampton for 9am, having written this on the train. And I've got a smile on my face.

Nick is not losing weight

Annoyingly my weight has stubbornly refused to change much this year. Half way through January I dropped to 11st 3lb, but it soon came back up to 11st 6lb. Because I'm not drinking, I'm not calorie-counting, I'm not weighing myself every day and I'm indulging my sweet tooth. I'll try to sort that out before the summer.

I am the laziest, least motivated person I know. But I do like to surround myself with motivated, energetic and intelligent people. I am slowly learning from them by example. We can all get there in the end.


Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Free writing for cash

Buried away at the bottom of my last blog post was an offer to write you a minimum of 400 words on any subject that took your fancy in exchange for a donation to the four charities I am supporting in my quest to stay sober throughout 2014.

Since that post (just over 3 days ago) I have received six donations totalling £325.

Which made me thing there might be something in this. So here is the offer again with a blog post all of its very own:

I propose to add further value to the potential double-cashback guarantee of this endeavour and warm fuzzy feeling you get from doing a Donating to Worthy Causes by offering to type you some sentences in exchange for money.

To commission me to write a (minimum) 400-word blog post on a subject of your choosing, all you have to do is make a donation here and communicate your subject matter to me in as much detail as seems relevant.

It can be alcohol-related or non-alcohol-related. It can be serious or frivolous. It can be a pet subject, or it could be the first thought that pops into that pretty little head of yours.

Or I could write you something for someone else. After all, Valentine's Day is just round the corner, and people are having birthdays, like, every day.

So if you want a filthy love poem or an in-depth treatise on the macroeconomic policies of the Balkan states, chuck some money in the online tin, and advance your commission.

These are the only rules:

I interpret your commission as I see fit.
Every commission gets posted on this blog (though if you want you can keep your name out of it).

Okay? Go for it!


Commissions so far:

1) Motivation
2) Brave and Handsome
3) Nepalese Frog Worship