February 2005 - A Month Without Alcohol
After the excess of Christmas, spaceman vowed to do something drastic in terms of lifestyle and a New Year's resolution to give up alcohol for a certain period was born. The first thought was to shelve the booze for January. However, a New Year's Eve party chez spaceman left the inevitable beer backlog in the kitchen, so much so that it was blocking the main thoroughfare. Now, willpower is something, but denying consumption of lager with such an adjacent and accessible stash would inevitably be beyond spaceman. Besides, there were a number of social engagements already planned for January.
Spaceman's thoughts went further ahead in the timeline. February. Pros: shortest month of the year (a mere 28 days!), nothing planned socially, no threat of holidays. Cons: giving up alcohol for a month. And thus February was chosen. And this is the story of the gain and pain of abstention from the ale...
Tuesday 1 Feb
The first few days are bound to be the trickiest. Having had five (or six) consecutive nights on the beer, the first problem would be withdrawal symptoms. As long as there were still remnants of the amber nectar in spaceman's bloodstream there would be an ingrained, albeit mild, craving. Having said that, spaceman had deliberately made an attempt to ease the pain of self-denial. The last three evenings were relatively volume-light affairs. In fact, the last night consisted of a mere brace of Carlsberg cans, entirely staged so that the last drink was sunk on the 31st of January, leaving the sobriety to start neatly on the 1st of February. Contrived? Of course, but easier to explain and a nice package of four weeks to control one's urges for.
It's not made easy from the start. A work-related trip on a Virgin Express train to London always throws up a quandary, a choice of two paths, a play-off between relaxation and the unnecessary pursuit of drinking on one's own. However, so determined is spaceman not to fall at the very first hurdle (cannily having told as many as people as possible beforehand to make the challenge somehow more attainable - more people to make excuses to if it all goes horribly wrong), there is not chance of temptation being succumbed to. Water is fine. This time the finely-balanced equation: annoying people on train + inevitably running late (behind bloody local services) vs solitary alcohol consumption + extortionate buffet coach prices, is upset by the heavyweight entry: Teetotal February Challenge. One down, 27 more to go.
Wednesday 2 Feb
Having had a relatively easy first day, spaceman's resolve is tested on the second day. Meeting an old university friend (TC) in a bar in London, which is chosen for the screening of live cricket match on Sky Sports (the second one-day international between England and South Africa, proves a tricky proposition. Firstly, TC, having gone to the pub the long way round (the instructions were lost in mobile phone translation), orders a pint of bitter ahead of arrival. No chance of an alliance in sobriety, then. So here it is. An old friend (testing spaceman with questions on whether a beer is really required), a smoky pub, an exciting cricket match (not remotely a contradiction in terms, cricket-sceptics - it even went down to the very last ball, whereupon England snatched a draw from the gaping jaws of victory). But spaceman comforts the still mineral water with strengthening conviction, while watching TC sink five bevvies over the course of the night. That's 48 out of 672 hours nailed.
Thursday 3 Feb
Surviving the rigours of a pleasant evening in the pub/local Italian are one thing, but coping with a stressful, hassling day at work is another. Not only that but, having complimented Virgin trains on their recent punctuality, they slip once again into time slippage oblivion. Repeatedly the apologies come bouncing round the carriages via the intercom, with the ETA in freefall until eventually they stop mentioning it. The slow crawl from Wilmslow is the last straw (due to aforementioned local services). Having arrived in Manchester Piccadilly over half an hour late, with any chance of nipping to the gym to work of the accumulated anger a day in the office sometimes brings scuppered by the travel delays, the last thing spaceman needs is the arrival at the flat of spaceman's girlfriend, just a wee bit squiffy and smelling like a distillery. Spaceman grins and bears it until finally drifting into a clear-headed but aggravated sleep. This is going to be tough.
Friday 4 Feb
When spaceman first decided to go through with this (some say futile) attempt to deny the pleasures of the hops, the problem days were cited as the four Fridays and Saturdays. They are, if you like, the backbone of the month, and if they are defeated the rest will surely follow. So after a fairly exhausting week, with the prospect of a birthday meal at Albert's Shed (next to Dukes 92) for a work colleague ahead, spaceman openly fantasised about having a couple of cold tinnies before din-dins.
The meal passed smoothly in the sense that spaceman did not to have to put up with the "go on, just have one beer" banter, the fellow diners seemingly respecting spaceman's "valiant" effort. Indeed, the comedy level was maintained, but the smoothness broken, by the dithering clumsiness of an apparently new Albert's Shed waiter who, in attempting to deliver drinks to the table whilst juggling a tray of more beverages, succeeded only in tipping the entire contents of a bottle of white wine down spaceman's girlfriend's back, who took it in remarkably good heart considering. Not so the birthday girl.
Luckily, Albert's Shed is near to the flat and a swift change was fairly easily possible and normality was resumed. Apart from the fact that the staff seemed to give us a wide berth and fail to deliver us even replacement drinks for a considerable time. A reduced bill, a couple of angry words and a million apologies later, and we finally leave, spaceman having sat in the same spot for nearly three and a half hours (the not-as-obvious benefits of not pouring bottle after bottle of Peroni down one's neck). With everyone deciding to return home following the meal (last orders were gone and last trains imminent), another day was conquered in spaceman's quest. Only 24 days to go.
Saturday 5 Feb
Day 5 passes without incident as spaceman figures that one of the easiest way avoid the temptations of alcohol is to avoid the general public. A night in watching the last few episodes of the first season of 24 (already seen but still exciting) does the trick.
Sunday 6 Feb
Spaceman figured that Sundays would be relatively easy. But that was reckoning without shopping. Worse than that: clothes shopping. More stressful than most other things in life, spaceman felt driven to alcohol when shops were imminent. However, a relatively successful visit to a number of high street stores before relaxing in HMV (and buying seasons two and three of 24 - yup, well and truly hooked again). The evening was fine: a trip to the Great Northern cinema on Deansgate to watch the highly amusing Team America: World Police (although, it's one of those films that seems strangely funnier looking back).
Monday 7 Feb
A long and horrendously depressing and stressful day has spaceman pining for the ale on the way home, but a night (what little there was left) on the watching quality TV (the first couple of episodes of season two of 24 on DVD sandwiching the latest "epi" of ER on Channel 4 makes things OK somehow. That's a whole week now, and the first time in a while for going that particular distance without drinking.
Tuesday 8 Feb
With the alcohol completely out of spaceman's blood stream and the regular habit of buying cans of beer to relax seemingly kicked, this is proving easier than spaceman originally thought. A trip to the gym precludes any desire to drink. And bingo! 8 days are gone.
Wednesday 9 Feb
The prospect of a juicy England vs Holland international friendly football match live on BBC1 has spaceman momentarily pining for an accompaniment of ale, but the game was so drab and lacklustre that all thoughts of possible drinkage fly aimlessly out of the window. Furthermore, the sheer effort of leaving the sofa to purchase lager from the nearest Sainsbury's is far too much for the effortlessly lethargic spaceman. It turns out to be easy in the end.
Thursday 10 Feb
The mid-week days are far easier than the weekend, and it's proving that way. It may have been possible that beer didn't even cross spaceman's mind. And with that, the big one-oh is accomplished.
Friday 11 Feb
Oh no, the weekend is back round again. After a mentally tiring week, spaceman is happy to stay in and watch DVDs, after going to the gym (which is surprisingly busy for a Friday evening). Several episodes of the second season of 24 later and spaceman is tucked up in bed, yet again as sober as an Islamic judge.
Saturday 12 Feb
Yet again, spaceman chooses the easy path, i.e. staying in. A succession of guests visit through the late afternoon and evening (well, not that many, but enough to keep spaceman occupied) and no-one suggests a visit to the pub. Which suits spaceman. That's two weekends done (more or less - Sunday night is effectively a work night). Twelve days also possible equals spaceman's previous no alcohol record (from a very vague memory, it was Sunday through to the following Thursday). Apart from school days, obviously. Which is an achievement in itself.
Sunday 13 Feb
Into the unlucky for some (not for spaceman) thirteenth day and spaceman tries to analyse the health benefits of not drinking. Apart from being slightly clearer of mind and sharper of step, spaceman hasn't noticed a massive difference. Apart from to the wallet. It has only been twelve days, and something more fundamental would inevitably be required for drastic changes, but there's been no real weight loss or anything like that. Perhaps the walks to the bars cancel some of it out. And with there being no guilt (to the body) as a result of drinking, the impulses to go to the gym have been less (although, due to more opportunity, spaceman has still been going reasonably regularly - bloody work doesn't help). Perhaps the next two weeks will change things.
Monday 14 Feb
Not for spaceman and girlfriend the conventional and clichéd visit to a restaurant where all the tables would be pulled apart, where lingering soft-eyed looks and sweet nothings would be all the rage (spaceman's a romantic really). Anyway, working late doesn't help, so the option chosen is a take-out curry from Shimla Pinks while watching classic TV - ER (live) and Shameless (video catch-up). Hell, you don't need alcohol to have a good time.
Tuesday 15 Feb
Another trip down to London, but this time in the morning. A visit to the hotel gym after work followed by take-out pizza and CSI: Miami suitably entertains spaceman and there is no remote desire to consume any alcoholic beverages. Possibly a first. (Not really.)
Wednesday 16 Feb
After working an exhausting near-12 hour day, spaceman and a work colleague (Jonesy) visit a nearby pizzeria (yes, more pizza) late in the evening. Jonesy sips patiently at a single bottle of Peroni while spaceman's thirst is quenched with a large bottle of still mineral water (no lemon in glass please!). It's becoming effortless, this no alcohol thing.
Thursday 17 Feb
Come Thursday and it's time to travel back from London after another exhausting day at work. Spaceman even had to refuse the offer of several bottles of champagne and two cases of bottles of Becks as part of some random office success celebration thing. It's just not fair. However, a relaxing quiet coach and a Virgin train running on time ease spaceman's frayed nerves without recourse to beer.
Friday 18 Feb
Spaceman's tactic for Friday and Saturday nights recently has been simply to stay in and avoid any possible temptation. This weekend is no exception. Home-cooked food and 24 on the DVD (spaceman's habits are becoming a tad repetitive as a result of the ongoing abstention, but what the hey) makes the evening fly by.
Saturday 19 Feb
The temptation of watching Ronnie O'Sullivan play Jimmy White in the semi-final of the Masters snooker tournament is strong enough to prevent spaceman wandering aimlessly into any pub or other (although spaceman did dine for lunch in the Mark Addy). Besides, spaceman cannot face any chilled drinks after having spent possibly the coldest afternoon in the history of the universe at Boundary Park, watching Oldham continue on their bad run of form and results against the questionable might of nearby Stockport County (whose away fans' chants sound strangely like 'Chelsea' or 'Celtic' rather than 'County'. Spaceman starts to wonder what will happen on return to booze, and whether consumption will jump up (playing catch-up) or drop down (losing the taste) from before the break. Spaceman's habit has certainly been broken (damn that malicious monk...).
Sunday 20 Feb
Spaceman's laziness reaches epic proportions as pretty much the entire day is spent on the sofa. No chance of beer reaching spaceman's lips that way (although that isn't the reason). Hey, it's cold out. And there's the Masters snooker final to watch. Spaceman is a big Ronnie O'Sullivan fan and to see him cruise to a 10-3 victory is indeed a pleasure. Long may it continue.
Monday 21 Feb
Spaceman's thought process doesn't involve beer any more (except when writing this page). Monday is therefore a simple task to survive teetotal. Spaceman finally gets off the sofa to visit the gym, plus it's ER night. That's three whole weeks now. And the feeling of better health is coming through. Or perhaps it is psychological.
Tuesday 22 Feb
A cosy night in watching 24 is all there is to note from an otherwise dull midweek day. Needless to say, beer does not pass the lips of spaceman, nor even make spaceman's thought process. Despite the depressing (from an English point of view) mauling of Arsenal by Bayern Munich - Liverpool are left to fly the English colours.
Wednesday 23 Feb
Spaceman intends to get to the gym, but again fails. The long working days (and subsequent late teas) and cold winter nights are hampering spaceman's willingness to exercise. No gym, but no beer either.
Thursday 24 Feb
Spaceman has another quiet one, finishing off the second season of 24. What a great programme. Jack Bauer (aka Kiefer Sutherland) is great. It has definitely been, together with GTA: San Andreas on the PS2, an alcohol replacement.
Friday 25 Feb
With the end in sight, spaceman braves the local bar Cask with a couple of mates. Forced to put up with the sight of beer and the assault on the senses that is a smoky bar full of drunken people, spaceman chooses a pint of lemonade for starters (too sweet, too fizzy), but swiftly switches to mineral water to cleanse the palate and remove the bloatedness. Spaecman's mate Doylie proves particular unhelpful by waving freshly poured Cruzcampo in spaecman's face. But, the remainder of those present at the table lean more towards respect than ridicule for the self-denial. It keeps spaceman going even though the temptation of ice colde beer was very, very strong. After all, the line that there is "not long to go now" just means that spaceman might as well have one now. The 23 days racked up so far is impressive enough. One last effort required.
Saturday 26 Feb
Spaceman's girlfriends' parents come round, and bring with them the gift of eight chilled cans of Grolsch (oh, the agony!), not to mention an array of mustards; a good combo. A night in watching the opening episode of Quantum Leap while eating home-made lasagne helps things, but it doesn't stop spaceman regularly asking for Grolsch, only to be greeted with constant denials.
Sunday 27 Feb
Well, it's the home straight now and a Sunday is taken in spaceman's stride, now that the torturous Friday and Saturday are over. The 100 greatest cartoons (another list, but one of the better ones, allowing plenty of reminiscing) on Channel 4 pass the time in the evening. Inevitably, and deservedly, the Simpsons won, but Transformers was a little low down for spaceman's liking (presumably only getting the boys' votes). Spaceman becomes dizzy with excitement at the prospect of being able to drink in 48 hours' time (although people speculate whether spaceman will stay up until midnight on the Monday and have a beer then - that's not going to happen).
Monday 28 Feb
Spaceman again heads down to London on the train and finds it a doddle to complete the month's teetotalism. It's been a long (short) month, during which spaceman has felt healthier, lost a few (but not lots of) pounds, watched a lot of DVDs (to the detriment of a social life) and saved a lot of money. It's been by far the longest period that spaceman has gone without a drink since starting university (spaceman was a late starter in alcohol terms) and it won't be happening again for a while. But it proved spaceman could do it if required. Spaceman is not an alcoholic!
Spaceman gets straight back on the bike (or whatever), sinking several ales and a curry with an uncle in London. It slips down like milk and it's like spaceman has never been away. Mind you, the feeling of the hangover the next morning is not a welcome return. As Homer wisely says: "Alcohol - the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems". Amen to that. Beer - we salute you.