Monday, 25 November 2013

The reluctant teetotaller

I've been thinking about my relationship with alcohol rather a lot recently. We've been through a lot together, me and the wine, the beer and the cider. And all the rest of it. Yet it seems we have progressively fallen out of love over the past few years and may finally have reached the parting of the ways.

It's several days since I last had an alcoholic drink. This is not because I'm on antibiotics, have been told not to drink, any moral, religious, or financial reason. It's quite simply that I just don't like it any more.

If you are someone who witnessed the booze filled antics of the Jason of decades past, you might find this extremely hard to believe, but I am afraid it is true. I don't even set foot in pubs any more, that whole culture is something that no longer appeals to me. Perhaps I just got old, or boring, or maybe I just grew up. Who knows which, all I know is it is no longer for me.

So how did I get to this point? Well the easiest way is for me to take you on one of my little nostalgic walks back through time and follow my drinking journey from its humble beginnings nearly 30 years ago. Imagine it as a classic bell-shaped curve if you like where I now sit at the bottom right hand corner, having started in around 1984 and with the peak roughly in the middle, in the mid to late nineties.

It seemed growing up that there was quite a booze culture around family and friends and it was not just our family, it was the same everywhere. Every other uncle was a boozer, knocking it back at family functions as if there was no tomorrow. I think I had my first beer when I was about 14 at one such family function, pressed into my hand by an older relative with some condescending remark along the lines of "that'll put hairs on your chest". Quite frankly I hated it - in fact who does like their first taste of beer? I didn't see it catching on with me and it didn't for a while. In fact my first enjoyable experiences came with cider, its sweeter nature being the perfect training drink for the aspiring future boozer. My friend Francis from school lived in Kidlington and was involved with the local Young Farmers and invited me along to some of their barn parties where I soon developed a taste for this noxious brew. With the farm conveniently located near to a Tesco that specialised in cheap 3 litre own label bottles we were never in short supply, and never had any problem getting hold of it, even though we were only about 16. I was getting regularly served in pubs by then too. I wasn't big for my age by any means, but everything was so much more lax then.

On my first day at sixth form college in 1987, someone came up with the cunning plan of going for a drink at lunchtime. This cunning plan continued every lunchtime for the next two years. Half the college was in the Duke Of York across the road, now sadly demolished every day. It was good business for the landlord and he must have known we were under-age but I don't think he was that bothered. That pub was our playground and common room - beer, darts, pool, fruit machines, and of course, lots of the opposite sex. My tastes had progressed now and drank beer and spirits as cider fell out of favour and a lot of it got drunk, particularly with the various drinking competitions that used to get organised.

Over the next few years I moved into the work environment, and moved to Bicester and developed a whole new drinking culture around Bicester pubs, and always had one particular "local" which changed over time. First it was the White Horse, then The Plough, then The Hobgoblin and then The White Hart. Undoubtedly the peak of this period and the top of my bell-shaped curved was the time at The Plough when Bicester legend Tim "Boycie" Stuart was the landlord, from the mid to late nineties. I was single during quite a lot of this time and I'll be perfectly honest - I was down the pub virtually every single night. And I was drinking what I realise now in hindsight was a huge amount - an average of five or six pints per night. But crucially - nobody in the pub ever questioned this because they were all doing exactly the same. This is what is known as "normalising behaviour". You believe your behaviour to be normal because your peer group does the same as you. It can be applied to problem gamblers and drug users as well.

I don't need to make any excuses for my behaviour, the fact is, I was young, single, no kids, in my twenties and I was having a lot of fun. It didn't cross my mind for a second that all of this might one day give me health problems or that it was making me put on weight. I was having too good a time. Do I regret it? No, not really, why would I regret something that I enjoyed. Would I want to be doing it now? Absolutely not, I cannot think of anything less desirable quite honestly. My life has changed. However, many of my peer group from that time are still out there doing it.

So what changed? Well from my early thirties onwards my interest in big drinking events certainly began to decline. During the 2002 World Cup many of my friends thought it would be great fun to go out drinking all day for some of the games, which bearing in mind the event was being held in Japan and South Korea meant for some very early kick off times. After the first couple of games I'd had enough. Whilst starting as early in the day as possible in an attempt to get as drunk as possible in a day seemed to excite some of my peer group, the novelty had long and truly worn thin with me. Drinking to me was becoming more of a social occasion rather than an end in itself. From that point onwards, I never drank in the daytime again and refused all invitations to events that were clearly going to get "messy" as people often refer to it. Yes, messy is a good word, to me now it means a load of drunken bores who can't control their behaviour being aggressive and generally annoying me. So I avoid them.

I continued to drink quite a lot in the evenings during the first half of the new decade and was still out more nights than not but was definitely drinking less than before. I began to develop a taste for wine and would often think nothing of drinking a bottle or two in the evenings. During my last single period in the mid 2000's I had a last brief heyday of heavy drinking but then the real big change came in 2007 when fatherhood beckoned. By this stage I was seriously tiring of the pub scene but could not move away from it, the opposite in fact as I was by now running the karaoke nights. I didn't like the idea of being in the pub and not drinking, so unlike the private gigs where I had to drive and not drink, with the pub nights I used to leave my gear in the pub and collect it the next day, enabling me to drink. I suppose this was progress in a way, as although I was still in the pub drinking, I was getting paid for it. And that's another thing I haven't touched on yet - spending your life in the pub is bad for your health as well as your wealth.

Unfortunately the years of DJ'ing did show me how stupid, rude and unattractive people who have too much to drink can be, never more so than on the jobs I drove to and was therefore sober in a room of drunks. They think nothing of giving the DJ a bit of stick after a few drinks. I'd like to point out this is very much a minority of people, and the vast majority of people I met during my DJ'ing career were very nice, appreciative and friendly and if any of you are reading this, thank-you, I really enjoyed DJ'ing for that 95% of you. It was the other 5% that did my head in!

Being out DJ'ing meant I went out less and less often. I still liked to drink but drink was so cheap in supermarkets compared to pubs I much preferred to drink in the comfort of my own home at a quarter of the price. An evening on the sofa with Claire watching TV with a bottle of wine was an infinitely preferable choice.

As we had the kids, my consumption declined significantly continued to do so .I never drank in front of the kids and never got drunk. I didn't even fancy a drink any more, it just became a habit to get to a certain time of night and pour myself a glass of wine. 3 drinks of a night became 2, and then 1 until even a single glass of wine began to seem like a challenge. During the last few months I have been struggling with a few different health problems and started drinking lots of water instead and eventually I reached the point where it was getting to 10pm at night and I was thinking - I normally have my one drink a day about now, better get it over with.

Then during the past month I finished working Sunday nights at the pub, taking that particularly temptation away and reached a point where I finished a bottle of wine at home and then the next day just didn't feel like opening another one. And I didn't open one the next day either or the day after that. I hadn't stopped being a drinker suddenly, or out of any big decision. The whole thing just kind of fizzled out.

So where do I go from here. I'm not an alcoholic, I don't have to give up booze, I just don't fancy it right now. I've sort of inadvertently become a teetotaller without meaning to. It's impossible to believe I won't drink again because there will be holidays, meals out, social occasions. But in the future I can take it or leave it. At the moment all I crave is my Sainsbury's Highland Spring Sparkling Water at 40p for 2 litres.

The one thing I have noticed over the past couple of weeks is that my weight has begun to fall quite sharply. Booze is full of calories but that wasn't the only problem with me - it used to make me hungry. Even one drink would leave me raiding the fridge before bed. That doesn't happen any more. Losing some weight has to help - I've had a lot of back and feet problems of late so less bulk to lug about means less stress on them.

As for everyone else, well each to their own. There are plenty of young people out there at the weekend having a great time on it - that's fair play to them, it's their time now. As for older people, well it's up to them really, I guess it all depends on your responsibilities and life circumstances. Mine and booze don't fit.

We've all got our own personal long term relationship with drink. I wonder how yours compares to mine?

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