A comedian's guide to a month without alcohol: Intro & Day 1
September 3, 2017
ONS figures show that in 2017 the UK is becoming more ‘clean living’ and spending less on domestic alcohol (and tobacco) per household…but spending more on eating (and drinking) out. The Family Spending Survey shows that the average UK household spends £11.40 a week on alcohol and cigarettes. Apparently at the start of this century, families were spending roughly £20 a week on such items. Overall in the UK, we spend £30,000 on alcohol every second as a Nation, and £15 billion a year on the stuff. I drink 4-5 nights a week at the moment, which only shocked me when I realised (a) I left university long ago and (b) even though most nights this only amounted to literally 1-2 small cans (probably a pint and a half) that I was most weeks probably just over the advised British Medical Association’s advised number of units for an adult male.
When going about ones’ daily life in the UK, it is easy to believe that a sole cheeky drink to take the edge off each day (that we more often than not drag ourselves through on this Sceptre’d Isle) is wholly acceptable and nothing to write home about. However, it struck me this week when I heard myself express - out loud - for the first time that “I have a drink almost every night” - to my mum of all people - that I felt a sense of shame; not necessarily to her, but to myself strangely enough. So, I have made the decision (on a whim I should add – and without consulting my girlfriend) to abstain from alcohol for precisely 1 month. A sign engraved on a mural on the wall of the effervescently cool Brooklyn Brewery reads 'Beer has dispelled the illness which was in me'...which is apparently a quote from late Egypt. If I hadn't done already, I suddenly realised the size of the task that awaited my participation: if the people who built the Pyramids - the single most impressive engineering marvel in human history - couldn't do it without beer, what the hell was I in for...
Now, let’s get one thing straight: I don’t like the taste of alcohol…because alcohol the actual chemical compound itself is a foul taste and a lethal one in high percentages (we humans can only really handle tiny percentages at a time). What we love as homo sapiens is the taste of alcohol based on its method of production, it's percentage and how it is mixed with certain other ingredients, be it over large periods of time in charred oak barrels, with some apples thrown in, or be a ripe harvest of hops and some carbonation.
However, let's get one other thing straight – I love the taste of beer. Genuinely. And I find this genuinely odd considering I loathed the taste of beer when I first tried it…and then again when I tried it at a house party, and then again repeatedly at bars, restaurants, summer BBQs and clubs (yes – I still remember the days when clubs existed as an exciting and standalone entity on a night out). I love it so much that if you were to pay for me to go back to university and do a degree on Ancient Greece (don’t please – the fees are now extortionate) when it came to the day of our Greek Gods seminar I would happily stand up in class and state to a professor my belief that if one had slain a Greek God in battle, his blood would have consisted wholly of a crisp pilsner or a 6.5% pale ale. At a push, a stout.
I’d like to admit that I pride myself on quality over quantity when it comes to the sacred amber fluid, but this would be a lie. Yes I prefer quality over quantity – but this is because I am forced to drink slow and appreciate every sip, because of 2 reasons: 1 – I am now 31 and anything over 4 pints will give me a hangover. 2 – I am 50% Asian. Yes, that’s right – for 4,000 years one of the oldest civilisations on earth went along merrily inventing all sorts of useless things like...kites, as well as all sorts of useful things also like gunpowder (I wish the world hadn't to be honest) and paper and printers, but somehow the Chinese forgot to invent alcohol as we in the Western world know it. They did however, invent a rice-based wine…which they drank for 1,000s of years…but that is of no use to me in the span of my life’s existence in the 21st century (nor is my lifelong teetotal 55-year old Asian mother with her 25-year-old-looking skin).
This all means my body is in a constant battle about whether it likes (and can stomach) alcohol in anything resembling a mid to significant amount. It doesn’t help that my other 50% DNA originates from 3 cultures that love to pride themselves on their love of imbibing copious gallons of brew: the South Africans, the Irish and the Scottish. From the moment a beer lands on my tongue, the battle is on, and trust me – getting the South Africans, the Irish, the Scottish and the Chinese to come to an agreement (over my bodily functions) is harder than getting them all to agree to sanctions against Russia or the escalating problem over North Korea*. Ironically as a proud advocate of world peace (I’m not a Miss World winner) when presented with this golden opportunity for all conflict to cease (in my body anyway) I am very hesitant and quite against it; it’s as though I’m willing to be a war dog and fund repeated conflict in order to satisfy my own personal needs even if it does result in some manageable inconveniences on the side (the ‘asian blush’ cheeks after literally 1 sip). My body is essentially the human version of American foreign policy. Anyway, with all this scene-setting in mind…let’s get to it…
A few house rules to clarify, for my challenge:
1; Since I love the taste of beer, non-alcoholic beers are allowed. After all, this is a test of alcohol deprivation on the mental and physical state of a British millennial, not subjective fancies of flavour (that’s a challenge no one would ever win).
2: I’m allowed to have carbonates – fizzy drinks (yay!), fizzy water (nay!). After all, this is a test of alcohol deprivation on the mental and physical state of a British millennial, not a revelatory new diet or sugar-effects-on-health experiment.
3: I’m allowed to go out and hang around with drinkers – this is not an AA test, and I’m strong-willed enough (I think) to be able to resist the curious looks and head shakes of friends and nearby strangers (including bar staff) when I ask for
4: I’m allowed beer-flavoured snacks. I can’t actually think of any off my head, and the thought of them sounds disgusting (Walkers: stop your novelty flavours and don’t you dare go near my beloved Pilsners)…but I’d like the option.
5: I’m not allowed stews that have been cooked from any kind of beer or stout – this would be cheating to me, so yes: hearty Guinness beef stews are out.
Some things I predict might happen in the next 30 days:
I will feel healthier
My skin will look better (or just less yellow: I can't be sure if that's my genetics or just the colour of ale infiltrating my skin)
I will see adverts for alcohol everywhere
I will be richer
I will lose some loose friends
Good friends may fall silent for the month
I’ll speak to my parents more
My girlfriend will significantly more of the wine in the bottle at dinner
03/09/17 - DAY 1:
Arrive in Exeter St David’s for a Torquay connection for a school comedy workshop I’m running tomorrow. First thing I see as I hang my head out the window as we roll up to the platform is an old building with (in big letters) Exeter Brewery. I’m the easiest convert with feet and a wallet in the West Country – I instantly want a beer…and a local one at that (somehow I convince myself I’m able to taste the localness of any beer I drink…when I really can’t). However, I’m proud of myself when I decline the mini-wine bottles and Peroni on the shelf of the station’s Starbucks…ordering myself a green tea instead. Price? = £1.80. Saving on choosing this over overpriced Peroni? = £2. I’m 2 pounds better off but (probably in developing Peroni weight that night around the gut too), but I am now hungry when a beer would usually satisfy the estomago (my degree-level Spanish finally coming in useful for the purposes of alliteration). I settle onto an overpriced packet of Kettle Crisps.
I board my connecting train and begin to munch my crisps in harmony with nature and the rare silence of the collective commuter hum-drum, only to find some university lads stumble on just before the doors close and surround my table with a big plastic portable bag of dirty laundry and an unusually large amount of cocktail sausage snack-packs (transporting laundry you’ll get your mum to do is hungry work). My ears then prick up at the ‘jingle jingle’ sound of…no, not Santa Clause (it’s September – although I’m not counting out the possibility that he hides for 11.5 months of the year in rural Devon)…but in fact the jingling sound of a 4-pack of unopened Coronas hitting the train table. I stupidly glance over: they look ice cold. Images of a tanned Vin Diesel leaning over and offering me one generate over and over in the dream factory (technical term) area of my brain. I then wave them off (not really – they’d probably punch me with an empty Corona bottle), and glance over to see that there is what can only be described as a behemoth of a bottle…clearly once containing non-other than that old favourite…Lambrini...
Now, this bottle would be something I imagine The Incredible Hulk being made to down on his stag do by Iron Man…were that unlikely scenario ever to arise in the next Avengers film (I hope it does). Oddly it is having the impressively simultaneous effect of putting me off large bottles of shit alcohol whilst making me crave a small portion of good alcohol; hat I can say with confidence is that I’m either noticing alcohol all around me due to a lack of me possessing it, or alcohol is indeed all around us. I get to my hotel after a 5 minute walk from the station - passing the bright lights of The English Riviera (all the palm trees look depressed) and arrive to find the bright lights of an Appleby's - a pub - in which you have to walk through the bar to get to the hotel (what a baptism of fire this first night is proving to be). I walk with invisible blinkers on...to the reception to grab my keys and bolt up to my room...before bolting the door shut and munching on some free custard cremes. I then realise I don't have the wifi password so trek back down to reception to find out the wifi password is on the breakfast menu on the front desk...I now realise I have the exact same copy of the menu - and therefore the password - back in my room, and for a split moment I turn to the alluring ambience of the Appleby's bar...with its dulcet tones of The Killers, the sound of a cue hitting a pool ball, and the knowledge there'll be at least 1 locally brewed beer I haven't educated my pallet on as of this moment. However, as of the following moment, I decided to run back upstairs to the comfort of one remaining custard creme, a surprisingly good sea view...and some Netflix. Who knew avoiding alcohol could be this hard? Roll on Day 2...
*hopefully by the time you are reading this, the problem will not have escalated, it may not even exist – who knows, you could be reading this having stumbled upon this website completely by chance in the year 2245…long after my demise.