A comedian's guide to a month without alcohol...Days 6-16
September 18, 2017
08/09/2017: DAY 6
School workshop today Richmond. One of our most popular topics: employability. I tell students to think of it like 7 slices of a pizza – which make you a rounded person. None of them are alcohol, and I think, 5 minutes before starting, that maybe under the ‘soft skills’ slice I should mention that alcohol can help with those essential transferable traits like initiative and confidence but definitely not communication skills (memories of slurring my way through a night in Seville in 2007 on my university year abroad come flooding back). The session is in Richmond, and it is pouring so heavily that I feel I’m Aquaman and submerged completely under the ocean. I fear this is the type of sudden weather switch (it was much warmer and sunnier the day before) that provokes unwanted ‘man flu’. I feel sharp for the workshop, after another great sleep, and I glance in the mirror in a Richmond coffee shop I’ve stopped in for lunch, and wonder if I’m looking healthier or if that’s just the fact I’ve gone near clean-shaven for the first time in a year and now look about 12 years old. I travel down to Brighton for a gig. I write some new material on the train from Victoria, and decide to buy a waving cat on arrival in Brighton – if I can (a) gain local knowledge on the existence of Chinese supermarkets (b) locate said supermarket (c) pray said supermarket is open. I get directed, after a brutal lesson in pissing off a Chinese buffet owner by coming into his establishment soaking wet (man flu imminent surely) and expressing that I don’t want to order anything, but actually require directions to a Chinese shop, where I will be giving my hard earned money. I’m basically pissing on his business (and wetting his floor – not with metaphorical piss but with Sussex rain), and trying to imitate a waving cat, as it turns out he doesn’t speak any other English apart from “yes” and “buffet”. I find a Chinese supermarket…it’s open! I choose a black cat, and a carton of my favourite soya drink when I’m in HK. I pass a host of incredible pubs and bars on my walk to the gig…which happens to be in Kemptown, which is about 5 years’ walk from Brighton Station. I have half a decade of walking past drinking establishment windows, oogling at the drinkers and imagining myself inside them (the buildings, not the drinkers). I have to do the same 5 year walk after the (very nice) gig, in which I left with my waving cat and a bottle of Mexican cola which I’d ordered and drank at the comedy venue (no 0% beers here). This has been the hardest day yet for resisting the alcohol. It is a Friday. And I am in Brighton. Lucky I bought that 6 pack of Becks Blue 0%s at Tesco in town on the way to the gig. I sneakily poured one during the gig, and I open another for the train ride back to Victoria. I place the waving cat on the table and start his hand moving; he waves at me with a look of approval on my face at the 0% Becks and a good gig done. I nod back, and fall asleep…worrying about the imminent man-flu coming my way tomorrow morning.
09/09/2017: DAY 7
It is still raining, a lot. Oddly no man flu as of yet (I half expected it this morning on waking). Decide to venture to where many a man has ventured in North London; Alexandra Palace. I’ve made the last sentence a grand statement as I’ve lived in N4-N8 for over 7 years, in which time I’ve never even hopped on a bus (literally 10 minutes) up Stroud Green Road, through Crouch End and to the steps of Alexandra Palace. I have of course seen it 100s of times – whenever I am whizzing back to Kings Cross from comedy lectures up north, and on the revelation that a colleague associated with our non-profit has opened up her own business – a Sushi restaurant created and run by her and her Japanese (she’s English) husband. I hop off at Muswell Hill, and stroll over to Kimura Sushi (highly recommended) which is half food market, half fresh sushi with a lovely exposed kitchen area. I stare at the wonderfully crisp Japanese beers whilst I wait for her to come off the phone in her office. We catch up and I tell her about my challenge. She tells me that beer in Japan is marketed primarily to women (Bill Murray has probably stolen the whisky market). I find this really interesting and press her as to why. She says it’s more popular with women (or at least just as popular as with guys), so popular in fact that they’ve designed miniature beer cans marketed to the busy (aren’t they all) business women who want to “take the edge off the day” but don’t want to get drunk. These cans are brilliant, and I actually wondered what a perfect invention little cans would be (perhaps 100ml) so one didn’t have to get drunk but one got the perfect little kick of that first taste of beer. You can have your fix of beer whilst still being at optimum functionality physically and mentally (or at least a high 90%). My friend then reveals to me that there is in fact a little French book called ‘La Première Gorgée de Bière’, which is about the joy of the small pleasures in life, and how one can firstly notice them and then savour them in a state of simple present-minded bliss. I decide to order it on Amazon. Feeling so confident about not drinking, I buy a Kirin beer bottle from Kimura Sushi, and put it in my bag for 24 days’ time. I don’t even crave it, but instead feel that it is a treat worth waiting for. The feelings of wanting alcohol are definitely subsiding. Tonight I get invited out for drinks with my girlfriends’ friend and I accept instantly. Normally I would be dreading drinks where I wasn’t allowed alcohol, pre-empting how I’d ‘perform’ to others my reasons for not drinking, in the most awkward way…and often ending up giving in at the slightest push from a chum (and probably having more to drink than usual). This time I’m almost looking forward to telling people I’m not drinking. Am I starting to feel emboldened about saying to people I’m not on alcohol? The drinks don’t actually end up happening but my lodger requests the lounge so she can cook for a friend who is coming over. My girlfriend and I see it as the perfect opportunity to go out to explore some non-alcoholic options in Highbury pubs, inbetween a nice gluten free pizza place we haven’t been to for a couple of years.
10/09/2017: DAY 8
Still no man flu – perhaps the idea of “less alcohol, higher immune system” is actually not the myth I thought it was at university. I wake up and have a Sunday morning coffee in bed. I glance at Instagram and my internet search algorithms ensure that due to my search for alcohol over the last week on social media streams, I am treated to a video of the Danish ice cool (incredible cheekbones of) Mads Mikklesen – who is waxing lyrical in English about the pleasures of cycling…whilst he cycles, in the most trendy Skandi-designed home. He says about the destination being one where one can contemplate the world, take in breaths of fresh air and not the breath of your fellow commuters. His destination? A pint of Carlsberg Export. This is where my heart sinks: I have one of the coolest guys in the world, waking me up with his hygee home and cheekbones (one of these possessing more manliness than my entire bone structure) and telling me that the happiest nation in the World ride a bike en route to that first crisp taste of ‘Probably the Best Beer in the World’. I then listen carefully to the very end of the advert, and he reveals that the beer was an interruption to his actual work destination. But, on watching it a second and third time, I wouldn’t put it past every Danish person to be able to wake up, ride to work, without a helmet and therefore with hair just as they sculpted it (the “I didn’t sculpt this at all I just left the house after waking up” look), sip a scandi-artisan coffee whilst they pedal, before arriving at work and necking a Carlsberg, before working for less hours than us yet getting way more done (Danes drink more than most of their other European counterparts, and work less hours a week than most, yet are in the top 5 most productive nations in Europe). Thankfully, my first thoughts on seeing Mads eloquently caressing his pint (he makes it look like beer-drinking look like beer ballet…or beer porn that only a Dane could pull off), are not that I really want to ride my bike to the pub without a helmet before ordering a pint – instead my mind asks “I wonder if Carlsberg do a non-alcoholic beer? What Danish 0% alcoholic beers exist?” I start googling. I find Carlsberg 0.0%, then realise the website I’ve stumbled upon: The Alcohol Free Shop (alcoholfree.co.uk). I get excited. My cursor whizzes straight over to the menu on offer: lagers, wheat beers, stouts & dark ales…I feel like a teetotal Willy Wonka. The combinations are endless and endlessly appealing. I notice the Bavaria 330ml bottle that I had at the WoodBine last night. It’s quite malty, but very crisp and lovely. They’ve got it on offer at £17.49 for…wait for it…a 24-pack. I scramble for my phone and hit calculator. That is approximately 73p per bottle. You could probably add £3 on top of that for the alcohol duty and pub fees if you order it out. I’m treated to a range of awesome gluten-free beer options on the site: Bitburger Drive, Clausthaler Premium, Krommacher, Ambar, Bernard: all cool and probably German, Cheers Alcohol (ironic), Jupiler (most likely 2019’s most popular name for kids born in Shoreditch or East Dulwich), and…Jever Fun (just plain odd). All in all I count 16 different brands. Not bad. Not bad at all. I’m starting to delve deeper and deeper into the site and wonder if I’ll ever drink again. I then realise the irony in the fact that alcohol is probably taking up more mind space than ever before, but I remind myself that the challenge was to avoid embibing it…not thinking about it (or the lack of it). I think about it so much that my coffee goes cold and I almost miss my grm class. I think a lack of alcohol for what now amounts to just over a week is playing tricks with my mind and the way I look at Europeans in a longing way to be as cool as them, and that I feel we’re drifting away from them. Or perhaps it isn’t the alcohol at all, and is just Brexit. Who knows, definitely not me – I’m on my hangover from hangovers.
Roll on Day 9…
11/09/2017: DAY 9
Today is tattoo day…I’ve waited 3 years to get my next one, as my rule in life is to only get ones when something in life comes along organically that is so good in the moment that you have to have a vibrating needle push ink furiously under your skin. I found a beer can in the summer at Ludlow Beer Festival, which had an image of a hammerhead shark on, that I kept the can, photographed it – and then sent it to my tattoo lady, ‘Auntie Eve’. I realise, whilst in the worst pain I’ve been in for any tattoo yet, the irony in the fact that the closest I’ve been to alcohol so far this month is the inky-bloody pattern of a beer logo being permanently marked onto my lower arm. I have a gig this evening near my house, in a hard-core (but friendly) Arsenal bar on the road connected to the old Highbury Stadium (best stadium-to-flat-conversion ever, if you’ve not yet googled it). They have a couple of alcohol-free beer options, and I decide to go for a Carlsberg. The gig goes well, and during the performance I even end up not using the microphone, whilst having my second 0% bottle in 1 hand (£3 a pop) and a pair of chopsticks in the other (a joke that needs no more explanation – just come and watch me perform).
12/09/2017: DAY 10
I start work in my flat for the morning, with BBC Radio 6 music news announcing to me that The Foo Fighters are taking over a pub in E2, called the Foo Fighters Arms…to launch their new album (apparently there will be Dave Grohl beer and Taylor Hawkins pork scratchings). I am overjoyed and mark such an irreverent event in my diary, yet equally dismayed at the fact I won’t get to taste the beers named and in dedication to a band I consider to be the finest live rock act currently rocking today (this decision comes after seeing them 4 times in 10 years…peaking with their 2.5 hour set at Glastonbury this year). I’m praying there will be Foo Fighter 0% ales, yet I’m feeling strong enough to not give in even if they don’t…whilst my Foo fan friends drink up the stuff all around me, no doubt. I get back home to Cheshire, where I’m rendezvousing at my parent’s house due to work. My dad and I go to the cinema (no craving for a beer here, as I’ve never actually been one for alcohol during a big screen experience), but I do feel like one when I see my dad order an ice cold Tiger beer in front of me. I express overzealous delight on seeing that WildWood’s drink menu includes Heineken 0% (zero is currently my favourite digit…I’m seeing it everywhere). I ask my dad if he wants to try it, but he says he’s got too much Tiger beer in his mouth and would need some water to wash it down before getting a proper taste. I look at him and have a father-son moment of “wow. We’re such fans of beer we’re discussing the specifics of proper sampling techniques)
13/09/2017: DAY 11
Don’t go for a swim as I’d planned, and my run a alcohol free dream-within-dream deep Inception sleeps are over…as I am awoken around 3am by the sounds of a howling wind outside my window. A storm is hitting Cheshire. My neck is sore, and I’m getting my regular tension stiffness…which it seems the alcohol was playing no part in (I’ve narrowed it down to the cause being posture, a heavy bag, my fear that I walk like an Ostrich…or kettle chips). I plough myself with coffee between 7am – 1pm, before beginning my 2 hour workshop with 120 sixth form students in a less-than-acoustic-hall and a lapel microphone that stops working less than an hour in. Despite the tiredness today, I am feeling overall more energised since the 2nd September, and my jokes are coming sharper (learned ones and improvised ones). I’ll definitely use this month as a lesson learnt: no alcohol at least 24 hours before a school talk and/or a gig. I’d usually want a beer on the train back to London, but then I realise that “usually” really means “recently”. Today I’ve been thinking a lot about specific situations in which a ‘drink to not get drunk’ has become normalised in my daily personal and professional routines. I fear it has become far too regular; people use the word ‘usually’ as a psychological safety net for backing up their habits which may not be that good for them. I realise I’ve been doing the same; for years I went without drinking a beer on the train (or even thinking it was an option) but I must admit that in the last couple of years the idea of a can of beer to take the edge of has become more and more frequent on my mental wave lengths, especially when on my own. I realise this is perhaps because I’ve spent more time on my own over the last couple of years – due to my comedy lectures growing more and more across varying ends of England…meaning more solo time. Am coming to realise that I don’t need to normalise alcohol as an essential part of alone time, or contemplative down periods. I look over at my water as I type up this diary, London-bound, from home. I’m full from a great home-cooked meal, and I realise that even if I wanted a beer I wouldn’t be able to fit it into my stomach anyway: I probably ate too much, but I always do. I realise yet again that I’ve not had to get up to go for a pee in the night (as I always seemed to be doing when I had a beer every night).
14/09/2017: DAY 12
Went to an opening for a pop-up fry bar – by my befriended gym buddy, who owns a great restaurant in N4. Had a 0% beer before leaving so I had to placebo of not wanting anymore when I get there. I decide to have the only non-alcoholic option at the opening, which is an exotically described ‘sprite with a bit of cherry in’ (my gym buddy makes the words oddly poetic in his Sunderland accent). I leave after filling up on 1 cherry sprite (annoyingly the ice stops me actually getting to the cherry) and a lot of food. Starting to think of my stomach as a small car park with premium spaces, and I’m actually enjoying filling up the spaces in it with really nice food (or any type of food if I’m honest) instead of how full I feel after a beer – as nice as it always is. Leave for a gig about 7.30pm. It goes so so – the room is quite flat, and I’m on the headliner spot (last) which sounds fun…if you’ve got a crowd that’s chomping at the bit. This one was a lovely fairy-lit intimate comedy space, but it was cold and the audience reception even colder. I ended up getting there at 8.05pm (5 minutes after the first half began) so out of politeness and not wanting to put off the first act with me strolling in, I sat in the main pub area with a nice 0.5% German beer (our European neighbours officially state this as ‘alcohol free’). I feel a slight blush…but perhaps this is the nerves? Or am I now reacts to the effects of alcohol after denying my body of it for what amounts to less than 2 weeks? I pontificate as to whether I come off alcohol for an entire year, just to see if I collapse drunk at the smell of hops (they’ll find me passed out beside the Truman Brewery in London). Because the gig doesn’t go so well, I still automatically think of a beer to drown my sorrows. But I instead dart for the exit door, and feel proud on entering the tube station, homeward-bound, that I resisted. I sleep really well…yet again.
15/09/2017: DAY 13:
Nothing of note today - a rainy one and on seeing the rain outside I decide to challenge it by trying to neck as much water as possible. I worry that even though I'm 'off alcohol' for the last 13 days, I've only not ordered a 0% alcohol drink for about 3 of them. I decide that today, after my 2 back-to-back gym classes, I'll spend the rest of the day drinking solely water. This willpower lasts until about 4pm, when I have to go and shop at Tesco as I'm making gluten free pizzas for my girlfriend. Tesco have decided to put the alcohol aisle (huge compared to the rest of the store just like at Sainsbury's last week...this is becoming a pattern) right on the walk up to all the tills. I spot a St Peter's, and decide to treat myself as I need something to do whilst the pizza dough is mixing and I'm blending up the base sauce. I stick to one, and then end up having so much water to compensate (and crisps: I'm developing a dangerous addiction to crisps whilst alcohol is absent), that I need to go to the loo twice in the night. Roll on Day 14....
16/09/2017: DAY 14
Today I get up and do what every single man in London wants to do on a Saturday morning: wake up at 8am, travel to London Bridge, slap some makeup on and get slapped in the face by the odd tourist by spending 9 hours underground with no vitamin D and phone reception. I am, of course, joking. The day in my zero-hour scare attraction job goes quite quickly, and I have plenty of time to think about the last 14 days, and the fact I'm nearly (nearly) halfway through this challenge. I think of the 2 bottles of beer I've got in the back of my fridge, which I'll be cracking open with glee on Tuesday 3rd October (I'm going with a 30 day challenge...none of the 31 day bollocks, I could have gone with 28). I get home and have a nice night in...cracking open a 0% beer when I get back...and putting my feet up, as my girlfriend is cooking. I eat an entire bowl of crisps (seriously - this is becoming a worse addiction than the alcohol), and realise I'm pretty full before dinner gets served. I fall asleep with the cat on me (he always chooses me no matter how much my other half tries to wrestle him over to her side) watching The Mighty Boosh - which my girlfriend wanted me to put on, before she routinely falls asleep 5 minutes into any TV or DVD request. I stare outside at the crap weather, and imagine all the people out now rammed into bars in Shoreditch (including my parallel universe-self) and then I stare down at the cat again, and up at the sight of Noel Fielding as the Moon (still genius) and my glass of water, and my girlfriend contently in deep slumber...and decide I'm the happiest i've been in a long time.
17/09/2017: DAY 15
I head to a ceramic market on Church Street, Stoke Newington – as my girlfriend decides we need some new pots as it gives her the perfect excuse to justify new plants (our house is become an Amazon rainforest – ironically with some things ordered from Amazon). We are venturing home with three new plants and a new pot from the market, at which point I notice a fair in Clissold Park, with some incredible food stall smells wafting towards our four collective nostrils. I catch a glimpse of one stall that reads ‘Famous Last Stand Co. Craft beers and ciders’. I feel indifferent, and glance at the Jamaican food stall with much more wide-eyed wonder. Another gig tonight – I’m on second from last so it’s a long night ahead with 12 acts on. I feel fuzzy – perhaps from a hard gym class and my 9 hours zombying and wielding a chainsaw yesterday. I worry I’ll forget all my material to try out, and my friends are watching this one too. It goes really well, and I’m fuelled by a Becks Blue (0%) and a big pint of coke.
18/09/2017: DAY 16
School talk this evening; at one of my favourites – a quaint boarding schools interspersed around the village of Uppingham in Northamptonshire. I get there early, run through my university choices talk, type up some stand up notes from last night…and answer some emails…in the pub. In such a small village, there’s only about 2 places where life still lives (separate from peoples’ humble abodes); in this case it’s a pub, or a gastro-pub. I go for the pub, and sit – once again with a coke. The only alcohol temptation today being in M&S Food at St Pancras. I spot the endless large and small cans of craft beer and ale as I walk towards the sandwiches area. I glance at one or two interesting new craft ale names I haven’t seen yet, then I decide to see if M&S can still justify selling ham and coleslaw – 2 things I absolutely love when they’re not together, but on seeing them married in bread I just can’t get my head around how wrong it is; just like Dawn Porter and Chris O’Dowd. I look up as I type this and see a man to my left drinking alone at the bar – I think they’re paid to do that in these country pubs to add the necessary charm (rural method actors) – and 4 women drooling over a baby to my right. The method actor looks glum – as he glares into his pint, whilst the baby’s club are laughing away…with not a drop of alcohol in sight.