Sunday, 30 November 2014

Home straight sighted

I've already chosen my first drink when this is all over. Some very nice people sent me a Christmas hamper the other day.

It contained three bottles of booze, including a bottle of Fortnum and Mason champagne. I felt it would be appropriate to put the champagne aside for midnight on New Year's Eve.

The last drink I had as the pre-bong Big Ben bells rang out on NYE 2013 eleven months ago was champagne so it seems like a neat ending to the project.

I suspect thereafter the pattern will follow a similar one to the last few New Years Eves - watching the fireworks on the telly, switching back to Jools Holland straight afterwards and falling asleep on the sofa at 1am before dragging ourselves to bed ready for the 6am onslaught.

As the home straight approaches I have been planning a bit of a cheeky January. There are some old friends I haven't seen for a while, and I'd like to fix a night out to say thank you to those who have kindly put some money in the kitty.

In the meantime, I have work to attend to. A couple of sponsors have asked questions:

1) Could I write something on the metabolism of alcohol in relation to other energy sources?
2) Have I finished Dr Marjot's second book Addiction: A kind of loving?
3) Having left thousands of avid blog readers on tenterhooks with This is Hardcore Pt 1, could I write up This is Hardcore Pt 2, so everyone knows what happened in the second experiment?

To which the answers are:

1) Yes I'd love to, it fascinates me, but I need to get research time which I currently don't have.
2) No, but I'd love to. I spent a bit of time with it recently and finally understood a key part of the reunion/attachment theory, which I'd also love to write up, if I had the time.
3) See answer 1).

I will try to get something on one of the three subjects together before the end of the month, but, y'know... work... Christmas...

One thing I will be writing about over the course of the next 31 days is sponsorship. I'm not a good hustler, and the world is full of people constantly asking other people for charitable donations.

But the joy of seeing the money come in, the response from the charities (heart-meltingly grateful and charming with it) and realising what a very generous bunch of people I am lucky enough to know has made me determined to try to prise a few more quid out of those around me.

To be honest, the charitable donation element to this project has served its purpose. Having bound myself in to several early sponsorship commitments, a dual sense of pride and parsimony (I committed to refunding double any donation out of my own pocket if I did have a drink this year) stopped me from falling off the wagon.

There was one moment in late March where I know I would have cracked if the prospect of a very public humiliation hadn't stopped me. Whilst cussed determination might have got me through the last eleven months, it was entirely fuelled by your generosity.

If you would care to join the merry throng of freewheeling debit card dilettantes, this is how to get on it. If you would rather wait until 1 Jan 2015, then my double donation cashback offer becomes redundant and you lose any possibility of ever seeing your donation again. But you will actually know I have done what I set out to do. Either way, I am keeping the fundraising page open for a few weeks into 2015 to hassle people some more.

Finally if you think this is all massively over-indulgent, faintly pathetic and have absolutely no intention of making a donation - I can't say I blame you. I haven't really done much. Your eyeballs on this blog are reward enough.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

It’s a bit like being a vegetarian

Carrot on Steel - Nick Wallis (2014)
Being sober in a drinking world is like being a vegetarian. I don’t know why it’s taken me eleven months to realise this. 

The moral high ground, the generally feeling healthier, the creeping certainty other people are having more fun than you…

I respect vegetarians and vegetarianism.* I aspire to eat less meat. I could probably go quite happily without it.

Vegans are proper hardcore. I once tried a vegan diet and lasted two weeks. It’s a lifestyle which requires great bundles of morality and fibre.

Being teetotal is much the same. All these drunk people ruining the world, ruining themselves and me. Me. Me being a little bit special. Not just a better person, but also able to remind people of The Path I Have Chosen every time we go for a drink or a meal.

Richard Herring stopped being a vegetarian once he realised he probably liked slightly annoying people with his moral superiority more than he enjoyed not eating meat.**

I would hate Britain to become the sort of society where having a few sherberts after work is no longer considered okay. Where career, family and vegetariansim/environmentalism/charity/church/over-consumption of material goods become life’s be-all and end-all.

I’d like to think there is a place for hedonism, rueful recovery and the occasional opportunity to put aside our worries and celebrate being alive. So long as most of the time we’re all eating carrots.


* Though my friend Natt (a comedian and journalist currently pulling up trees at usvsth3m) points out vegetarians must not like animals as they clearly want to see far less of them around. Natt only eats animals who have lived well. If the restaurant doesn’t know the provenance of its meat, he’ll take  a vegetarian option.

** The person Richard told this to (Sara Pascoe, in another excellent RHLSTP) eloquently argued he should have remained vegetarian notwithstanding - if you believe in the idea of vegetarianism voting with your wallet makes a real difference.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Alcohol Awareness Week

I am making a start to alcohol awareness week wired up on coffee.

I am also reading on the front page of today's Times that more and more professional women are presenting with liver problems due to excessive drinking.

Better stop committing crimes whilst drinking
I am reading on twitter this morning (via Jeremy Hopkins) about a report which points out alcohol's role in protecting against heart disease only works for 15% of the population and a Guardian piece about older drinkers becoming more of a problem as younger people foreswear booze.

I am not even going looking for this stuff. It's everywhere. I consume the daily drip of news articles on alcohol (whilst bearing in mind most journalism on science is misleading and most medical studies have gaping flaws) and I look at our behaviour and I wonder. I really wonder.

Search the hashtag #alcoholawarenessweek and you get a barrage of frightening stats, advice and very well-meaning people desperately trying to stop you opening that extra beer or bottle of wine this weekend.

It is perhaps denialist and irresponsible to suggest an apparent level of hysteria. Health professionals and the emergency services see what alcohol is doing to too many people, daily.

Unless the reason WHY is Because You Enjoy It
If I've learned one thing this year it is that everyone who drinks is playing with fire. Alcohol is a seductive drug - once in our system it will make our brains demand more until we are well beyond safe limits. It then embeds itself in our neural pathways to ensure going back to unsafe limits becomes habitual. Even tiny amounts can permanently alter our behaviour, so that even when it is not coursing round our bodies, it directs us back towards a reunion. The more you drink and the more you have drunk, the more likely and often this happens until:

a) you stop drinking
b) you die

Is it a risk worth taking? Well that's the million dollar question. When I think about the happiest times of my life, alcohol has been involved. Would they still be the happiest times of my life without alcohol? No. They wouldn't have happened.

Important, richer and more fulfilling experiences like watching your child being born and getting married don't make you happy in the way alcohol can - these are far more profound episodes that make you a better person and give you a deeper understanding of life. Booze is irrelevant to that.

Still seems like a good deal
Alcohol is a useful short cut, a quick release and, handled properly, a way of shrugging off the stresses and responsibilities life throws at you. I contend (once it has left your system and only once it has left your system) it can put you in a better frame of mind to deal with those stresses and responsibilities when they return. Others vehemently disagree.

This year has taught me many things about my relationship with alcohol and the nature of the drug itself. I haven't been afforded any particular insight into my own spiritual well being. There is no clarity. But it has allowed me to stop and see what a teetotal life entails: hard work, fewer smiles, with death lurking at the end of it. I would certainly be a wiser and better person, but I'm not sure I would be happy.

It's premature to come to any firm conclusions right now.  It's what I take forward into next year, when I start drinking again, which will really measure how useful this exercise has been. Until then, happy Alcohol Awareness Week. Mine's a latte.

The Joys of Drinking

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Target reached!

Thanks to an extraordinarily generous donation to each of the four charities this blog is supporting (see picture above) I have now reached and exceeded my fundraising target of £1000.

I am very grateful to Kirstie and the Spence Family Trust who have donated the £400 those cheques represent. Writing one cheque is a physically and emotionally exhausting process nowadays, writing four is dedication above and beyond the call of duty.

I am, of course, most grateful to everyone who has put some money this blog's way. From Stephen the Crawley Town fan who chucked in a fiver the moment my Virgin Giving page went live to the stranger in Dubai who read an article in the Times of India written about alcohol by a man called Nick, managed to confuse him with me, but donated anyway in memory of his alcoholic father. Every time I get an email notification of a donation of any size it puts me in a proper happy mood. Which is helpful when you are not drinking.

I have a choice now. My totaliser stands at £1305. I could try doubling my target to £2000 and then spend the next couple of months hassling you to give me money. But why risk failure?

That said, I am sure the four causes I am supporting would appreciate it if you did have any spare cash, target or no - so please don't let my inherent lack of ambition stop you from clicking on the Virgin Money Giving button on the right hand side of this page.

Thank you - thank you for reading, thank you for donating and thank you for all the kind words you've said about this blog. Next post - how to get brain damage from drinking! Yay!


Tuesday, 4 November 2014

This is Hardcore pt 1

Here's another tale from Dr David Marjot's book, The Diseases of Alcohol. Don't try this at home.

In 1955 ten male prisoners were asked to take part in a scientific experiment. All were, allegedly, willing volunteers.

The aim of the experiment was to see if delirium tremens and/or 'rum' fits were caused by alcohol withdrawal.

The prisoners were sane and physically fit.

They started off being given a 133ml daily dose of alcohol every two hours across the course of the day. 133ml is the equivalent of an 18% vol bottle of port, or 13.5 units a day.

Each day the dose was increased.

The prisoners were soon being given between 367ml and 465ml of alcohol a day.

367ml is roughly equivalent to a 70cl bottle of 40% vodka and a 75cl bottle of 12% wine. A day.

465ml is roughly equivalent to a 70cl bottles of 40% vodka, a 75cl bottle of 18% port washed down with two cans of Kronenbourg. A day.

In all cases, both metabolic and behavioural tolerance occurred, brain activity slowed, and the men displayed symptoms such as tremor, nausea, vomiting, hyper-reflexia, anxiety and depression.

At one stage, one of the prisoners had to cut back on his alcohol intake because of nausea and vomiting. He developed hallucinations as his blood alcohol declined, but these disappeared once he got back on the programme. Dedication.

After 36 days of being given increasing doses of pure alcohol, the volunteers had their supply abruptly cut off.

Six patients rapidly became tremulous, hyper-reflexic, sweated profusely, could not sleep and lost weight. Two of the six had convulsions. Five of the six developed hallucinations and three of the six were disorientated. The other four showed only mild tremors, weakness and nausea.

It is not noted whether any or all of the men suffered lasting medical problems.

The experiment's basic conclusion was that it is possible to suffer from the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal whilst very drunk. Useful stuff.

It wouldn't happen nowadays, of course.

But it did happen again. A decade later, in the sixties. This time the experiment was expanded.


Sunday, 2 November 2014

Calories in alcohol

Drug takers in a drug den on my news telly last night
The BBC's Dominic Hughes ventured into a boozer on Friday on the back of a report which suggested, nay demanded, calorie information be made obvious on each alcohol purchase.

As part of the ten piece, Mr Hughes (above, left) asked drinkers to rank the above items in calorific order. If you can't see the choices in the picture, they are:

a) a pint of lager
b) a large (250ml) glass of red wine
c) a doughnut
d) a pint of Guinness.

Here's your answer:

Basically, five pints of lager = four doughnuts = 900 calories.

I don't want to be too glib, because one of the ways I learned to lose weight was by realising how many calories there were in everything, and then not eating as much.

Last year I lost a stone without drastically modifying my alcohol consumption. I still drank as much as I wanted, but there were times when I stopped myself from having a ("just one") pint because the effect it would have on me calorifically outweighed the effect it would have on me psychoactively.

However, in the general scheme of things 900 calories is a small price to pay for a cracking night out. I would rather forgo a posh dinner and stick to the five pints if it meant sneaking in under my calorie goal. Certainly my awareness of the calories in alcohol stopped me compounding the problem going home via the kebab van.

This year is different. I have not had a drop of alcohol. Yet I have not lost any weight.

For the last 22 years alcohol, and the carbs in its delivery system, were a regular part of my diet. You would have thought the weight would have been falling off me in 2014. Sadly not.

Have I been compensating for my lack of alcohol by eating more rubbish? Probably.

On balance, the more information you have about anything, the more likely you are to make a better decision. This kind of stuff:

is, therefore, fine by me. It won't work, it's not the answer, but it's a small nudge in the right direction.


All pics: BBC News