Another year of not drinking flies past – but this was the most challenging so far….

I’ve really struggled to write this post.

My first draft was long. Even for me.

Thankfully I only inflicted it on one person. And, as he’s a true friend, he was brutally honest about it (possibly redefining the word ‘brutal’…) but he was right.

The upshot is it’s 11 years since I stopped drinking. Another year come and gone. Another year of not drinking. Another year of real life’s ups and downs without the crutch of alcohol.

I’m really lucky, I don’t crave alcohol like many recovering alcoholics. It’s just something I’ve switched off in my mind. I can’t drink, so I don’t even think about it normally.

But I did have one close call with drink last year.

Very briefly… Last year I was on some (non-addictive, thankfully) tablets that had a very strong withdrawal effect on me. My Spanish doctor then totally, and incompetently, messed up the dose, and I also messed up that messed up dose… which lead to a really bad experience that caused the very premature end of a very promising relationship. And on that day I came close to drinking. Very close.

The only consolation out of all that happened is the knowledge it was the effect of the prescription drug that caused the problem (although I didn’t realise it until a week or so later). I simply wasn’t ‘myself’. Of course, try telling that to someone you’ve not known that long… Trust me, it doesn’t work!

Anyway, the good news I guess is that even at that low-point I managed not to drink, and if I can manage not to do it in that state, I can manage not to drink all the time.

“One day at a time” and all that, although personally I don’t subscribe to that saying. I don’t drink. I can’t drink. I never will drink. That’s how I cope with it.

For me that’s easier mentally than saying I won’t drink today because that opens up the mental option that I might drink tomorrow – and I won’t.

I don’t want to live constantly thinking I might drink tomorrow.

And I think that mentality can lead you to define yourself as a recovering alcoholic first and foremost. I don’t do that. I’m more than that. It’s just a part of me. I just don’t drink. Sometimes I sort of forget and then remember ‘oh yes, I don’t drink because…’ and I’m much happier living like that than constantly being reminded about it.

But whatever works for people is fine of course.

The only problem is this year my usual ‘celebration’ of another year ‘sober’ feels a bit less genuine. It’s all personal I guess, but I define sober as not drinking, but also not being out of control by any drug leading to problems that otherwise wouldn’t happen. And because of that terrible experience, I was out of control and it did lead to a problem that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.

Half of me says the fact I didn’t drink means I’ve still been sober for 11 years, the other half isn’t sure that’s a fair statement to make. But I haven’t drunk for 11 years, that’s the key thing.

At least those tablets weren’t addictive and, despite very severe withdrawals, I stopped taking them after that incident and I’m back to ‘my normal’. It’s just a shame it left such a mess behind. But we live and learn.

So, here’s to another year of living and learning. Cheers!

Music

Listening on the extremes

Extremes. I love them.

I joke about it in my blog description about Manchester and Malaga.

But I’ve just realised my two main formats for listening to music couldn’t be more different.

I love vinyl. I love my turntable (a Thorens TD-150 MKII – with a Shure M97xE cartridge and a superb hand-made Japanese SAS JICO stylus – that I’ve spent many hours modifying, seeing as you asked).

I love the raw beauty of analogue. A belt-driven platter going around at constant speed. The stylus resting on the vinyl – with just the right amount of force – working its way through the groves inevitably towards the centre, sending a tiny signal from the turntable into a valve pre-amp (which is both a phono stage and a line-in preamp, best of both worlds – and heavily modded internally too), which boost the signal enough to send it on to a Pioneer A400 amp and out to a 1970s pair of B&W DM5s (and, since today, also wired to a sub for extra bass).

The warm glow of the tubes just feels (looks?) special. And you can have lots of fun changing the tubes in valve amps (tube-rolling, as it’s known) to get a different type of sound.

Using vinyl is like smoking cigarettes or taking drugs. It’s not just the listening, it’s everything that goes with it – the whole process. From tweaking turntables and matching equipment, letting valves warm up, sourcing records, cleaning them, taking them out, and generally having to make quite an effort to get the aural result.

And I’m limited to what I have. I tend to only either buy records I love (or sometimes records I think I’ll love), or if I come across lots of cheap ones I might buy in bulk but that’s very rare. And it means I have some utter crap I really need to get rid off…

I can spend hours going through second-hand vinyl looking for a few gems.

The point is I don’t just buy records for the hell of it. Generally it has to be something I really, really, want on vinyl.

And once I have an LP on, I listen to it. No jumping around from song to song, or artist to artist. No playlists. No suggested artists.

Worst case, I might decide not to put the other side of the record on (mid-70s Bowie springs to mind – surely everyone’s are worn out more on Side A?) But in general, if I put an album on, I listen to the whole album before deciding what I feel like listening to next.

Digital is completely different. I’m not talking about sound quality – although I’m now using TIDAL with its HIFI option which is a world-away from Spotify etc and I can highly recommend it.

But I’ve just realised the absurdity of the extreme between the effort (and reward) in vinyl, compared with how I now play digital files.

Because the Mac Chrome TIDAL web site isn’t very good, I now use my iPhone to steam music from TIDAL.

So I now use a device – originally designed so I can make and receive phone calls when I’m out of the house – to play my music on my home system.

My phone is connected to my home wifi network. My internet connection in Spain is wireless too (it goes from an antenna on my roof to a bigger antenna on a ‘nearby’ mountain, and then out to the wider internet).

So the path alone from the TIDAL servers to my phone is crazy enough. But then once it’s on my phone it starts another journey.

It then goes via AirPlay to my Apple TV (actually I have a new Android box that also has airplay so I may ditch the Apple TV, AirPlay is about all I use it for now).

Then, still in digital form, it goes out via the optical cable to a DAC. Only then is it finally converted to analogue (a DAC is a Digital to Analogue Converter). Wow, that’s a lot of miles my music has travelled! A lot of effort, but this time not mine.

From there it goes to the same valve pre-amp that my turntable goes in to (hence the benefit of the line-in I mentioned earlier), through a pair of tubes which gives the sound some warmth and smoothness, then to the Pioneer A400 and out to the DM5s and sub.

And I love it. I love TIDAL (all music streaming is great, TIDAL is just the best quality at the moment).

I love being able to go from artist to artist, song by song. I might listen to an album too, sure. But often I just want to jump around. Maybe going down memory lane, or maybe just going randomly. Whatever. And all from the comfort of my sofa, without having to get up and take a record out, clean it, etc

As long as what ends up in my ears sounds good and makes me feel better, that’s all that matters.

Yep, I love extremes. And I love music.

Music

I was wrong about subwoofers…

Ok. I was wrong.

Having dissed subwoofers recently I decided to give one a try on my hi-fi.

I’ve got quite a few pairs of speakers – some in use for home cinema, some not in use at the moment – but my favourites are an old pair of 1970’s B&W DM5s. They simply sound so much better than anything else I have (including KEFs, Celestion, Tannoy etc – mainly floorstanders).

But the DM5s are stand-mounted and the frequency response is only 100hz to 20khz, so there’s a lot of bass lacking. Incidentally I did a frequency test today and it seems my ears drop off just under 14k at the moment – and of course that will only get worse with age 🙁 Still, at least my hearing is good for my age.

So I’ve connected the subwoofer to my main amp via the high-level outputs (the same that are driving the main speakers). The amp is 2 channel and doesn’t have any support for low-level output.

It’s going to need some tweaking obviously, but after just a bit of playing around it sounds much better already. I’m just not too happy about leaving the sub powered all the time, and it’s fiddly to turn it off and on at the back, and I know I often forget to turn it on.

Of course, now that’s just something else to look at improving in time  – a better sub – mine is very basic precisely because I didn’t care about them. I should have a clear out of gear I guess and get something decent.

See –  people say I can’t admit when I’m wrong?.. *

* Yeah, ok, it is easier when it’s in my favour of course 😉