Reflections on 13 years sober

You only get one life.

Two’s company, three’s a crowd. There’s no room in a relationship for excessive alcohol.

I tried to stop drinking – and failed – about four times. This time, so far so good.

It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere. And?

If I hadn’t stopped drinking, I’d possibly be six-feet under by now.

The Seven Deadly Sins are almost compulsory for alcoholics. Not always by choice. Now I can choose my sins.

One over the eight was normal. It may as well have been just called nine.

I used to think three score and ten would be a good – if optimistic – age to reach. Now I hope it’ll just be the start of another chapter in my life.

I’ve no idea if I stopped drinking earlier than I needed to, or in the eleventh hour. I honestly don’t care.

Recovering alcoholics are a dime a dozen. I’m not special. I’m just me – faults and all. But that’s cool.

Thirteen might be unlucky for some, but for me it’s the number of years I’ve been sober so far.

And I’ve never felt so lucky.


Everyone is toasting — except the bride and groom

I recently spent a lovely few days in Manchester with my girlfriend and my wife.

Don’t worry, that’s the same person — we were there to get married.

The trip was wonderful, but it did confirm that being treated as both an adult and a non-drinker can sometimes be very difficult.

We held our wedding at Manchester’s beautiful Town Hall. As part of the package all the guests had prosecco for the welcome and for the toast, and wine for the table. In addition we had a free bar.

Now here’s the issue: there were no adult alcohol-free alternatives.

We — I’ll be 13 years sober in June and my wife is 5 months pregnant — had to bring our own. To be fair they didn’t charge us corkage but they claimed no one has ever raised the issue before.

I really find that hard to imagine. Especially as I know how many weddings we supply drinks to at The Alcohol-Free Shop.

Our attempts to eat out at restaurants met with similar frustrations.

First up, big compliments to TNQ and Sweet Mandarin in the Northern Quarter. Both are great restaurants and both had one alcohol-free beer (although Sweet Mandarin didn’t have it listed on the menu — something I hope they’ll fix soon). More choice would be better though, and wine would be perfect.

But two other restaurants were not so good. Gio’s, opposite the Midland where we stayed, is a lovely friendly restaurant where I’ve eaten many times before, but they have no decent options at all.

I ended up with tonic water. It was either that or the horrible J20. They didn’t even sell San Pellegrino — a strange omission for an Italian restaurant. There may be some logic to this, but I have no idea what it is.

Possibly the worst offender though, and one that shows a deeper problem, was Rosso.
Rosso, at the top of King Street, is one of Manchester’s finest restaurants. Owned by ex-Manchester United and England footballer Rio Ferdinand, it’s set in a beautiful converted bank and has a very good reputation.

So on the last afternoon of the trip, before heading off to the airport, we went to Rosso for lunch.
The food was really lovely, and the surroundings beautiful. But, you guessed it, they had absolutely no alcohol-free adult drinks at all.

When I asked if they at least had an alcohol-free beer, I was told they didn’t but that we could take advantage of their lunch-time menu offer of bottles of wine for only £9.99.

When I explained my sobriety and Bea’s pregnancy, we were offered two drinks from the menu (I think they were some sort of apple/cider drinks). The waiter seemed to suggest they were alcohol-free but the menu said they were nearly 5% ABV. So, thanks but no thanks.

They did have San Pellegrino though — one up on Gio’s — but the 330ml drink I ordered from the menu turned out to be a tiny 200ml bottle.

So we ended up with one San Pellegrino each and a bottle of water. The cost of which was roughly the same as the discounted bottle of wine.

This presents two problems. Firstly, it leaves a customer like myself feeling slightly cheated that other diners are enjoying a bargain bottle of wine for only £9.99, whilst I’m paying the same for soft-drinks.

But more worrying is it actively encourages people to drink a bottle of wine (or more, I believe the offer is not limited to one) during lunch time.

Of course, there are times when it’s fine to drink at lunch. I’m not a prohibitionist and people can do what they want as long as it doesn’t affect other people.

Some of the customers were clearly people who don’t work (at least not 9 to 5) and were on a day out in Manchester from Cheshire or so. Apart from the question of getting home safely, what’s the harm?
But others were obviously having a working lunch.

When you price soft-drinks at the same price as a bottle of wine, you are — possibly unwittingly — pushing people towards that option.

At the very least, offer a similar discount on the soft drinks. Or better yet, stock some decent alcohol-free adult alternatives.

The idea that people won’t buy them doesn’t wash anymore. List it, promote it, and you’ll sell it. We have customers telling us this all the time. In fact we conducted a survey recently and from over 400 responses we found 66% said they would eat out more if restaurants offered alcohol-free beer or wine.

The food at Rosso was great but — given the choice between eating great food at Rosso with soft drinks, or great food at TNQ or Sweet Mandarin with an alcohol-free beer — I know where we’ll be going next time. And if any of them start listing an alcohol-free wine — bonus points. I’ll be spending even more.

Funnily enough, many years ago we were invited by the then manager of a previous restaurant where Rosso is now to take in some samples of our alcohol-free drinks. We arrived to find the head sommelier refusing to see us on the basis ‘he would NEVER stock any alcohol-free drinks’. We weren’t even allowed past the entrance, despite being invited by the manager!

Look, it’s simple. There are lots of options these days. And especially the restaurants in Manchester. We — The Alcohol-Free Shop — are just a few minutes away up Oldham Road.

Many adults don’t drink these days. And by offering soft drinks or water you’re treating us like children. We’re not. We’re paying adult customers and we deserve to be treated as such.

Visit our web site, give us a ring, or call in to our shop, and we’ll sort you out with some great drinks that will make your customers happy. List them on your menu and you’ll never be able to say ‘no one ever asks for alcohol-free drinks’ again.

(As a footnote – despite it being my ‘honeymoon’ – my very patient wife allowed me to visit Lisa Tse at Sweet Mandarin where we made this video about their lovely restaurant, their range of sauces, and why they stock alcohol-free and gluten-free beer. Enjoy!)

Joseph Ducreux [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Accidental Fat Man

This year I’ve seen amazing growth, unlike any year before.

No, I’m not talking business, although we did have a record year.

No, I mean in my body.

It’s quite an incredible transformation. I spent my childhood and adult life until my 30s slightly underweight. I was known for being very thin. And I always wanted to put weight on.

Try as I may, nothing worked. I could eat literally anything I wanted (well, anything I had permission to eat, I didn’t go around eating people’s pets, or parts of airplanes like the oddballs on kids’ TV in the days before ‘health and safety’).

I simply never put any weight on. Calories in a biscuit? I didn’t know. 10? 100? 1000? Not a clue. Ask someone else. Never needed to know. All I knew was one packet wasn’t enough, two was maybe pushing it. But I could push it so why not.

I was stuck at 9 stone for years. Nothing I did changed that.

Then I jumped (almost overnight) to a healthier 11 stone – although some of that was because of a drinker’s belly I developed near the end of my drinking career.

But in 2004 I stopped drinking so that put an end to that avenue for growth.

The copious amounts of sweets and sugar I ate after I stopped drinking helped for a while. When you stop drinking your body craves sugar, and sweets are a simple and nice way to cope.

But there’s only so much Kendal Mint Cake you can eat. Trust me on this one. I was eating several bars a day, for months. Honestly. That is not an exaggeration.

For those who don’t know what Kendal Mint Cake is, think of a bag of sugar, with a bit of mint flavouring, melted and shaped into a bar. That’s basically it. A bag of sugar.

It’s used by people climbing mountains to keep them alive. I think the climbing mountains bit is the key to the balance of all the sugar. Sitting down eating it doesn’t seem to work the same way. But I wasn’t going to stop drinking and climb a mountain so…

I just kept buying it. And eating it. By the box. The shop kept running out. And then one day I just stopped when I realised if I ever tasted it again I’d probably spontaneously explode leaving behind a faint whiff of mint and, well, a big mess that someone would have to hose down.

I still worry about the shop I was buying it from. I imagine they have fifty pallets of Kendal Mint Cake somewhere and wonder why they had the sudden sales growth and what the hell they are going to do with it all now. Either that or they look back and laugh about the freak who bought more Kendal Mint Cake in one year than they’ve ever sold in their history. Probably the latter when I think about it.

The 11 stone stuck for years though. So overall, since childhood, I had seen some modest growth but it clearly wasn’t sustainable.

No, if I was going to continue growing I had to do something about it.

I have to admit, most of what I did this year wasn’t planned.

I stopped running. I’d only been doing it for a while anyway, but it was already causing me to get fitter, lose a bit of fat, and generally tone my muscles. Bah.

Then I met Bea. Some people call the weight gain after meeting someone a happiness ring. But it’s just a fat belly because you don’t need to make an effort to look good any more, unless you’re planning to have affairs.

Our diet hasn’t been particularly healthy since we met. We’ve both been working a lot and the temptation to resort to ordering food in is high.

I’ve seen my belly grow. I’ve joked about it. The way we do, us men. You know what I mean. The type of man who proudly pats his fat belly and says “All paid for!” Except in my case it’s not beer, it’s sweets, a bad diet, and a total lack of exercise.

On the positive side, there’s no question my face looks better. I saw a picture from a year ago. My face was so thin. But if I end up in a heart unit that’s going to be the last thing on my mind (well, ok, the second thing if I’m honest… well, maybe the first if they have mirrors. Do they have mirrors in heart units? Sorry, I’m moving away from my main point … but do let me know in the comments section if they do, thanks).

Last night I weighed myself before bed. Big mistake.

I was, frankly, mortified.

‘No’, said Bea, ‘Weigh yourself in the morning, that’s the best time’.

So, I did.

And I was 2kg heavier this morning (thanks for the top tip Bea).

I’ll leave last night’s weight for you as a mathematical test, but this morning I was 80kg.

80. Eighty. Eight-Oh. 8 x 10. 4 x 20. 2 x 40. 1 x 80.

80 fucking kilograms.

That’s 12 stone and 8 pounds in old money.

This time last year I was 70kg.

At this rate, in a few decades, I will weigh as much as a planet or at least a dwarf planet (I haven’t actually calculated that, and Professor Brian Cox wouldn’t take my call, but it’s probably about right).

I am now, officially, for the first time in my 45 years on this planet, overweight. I am… a fat man.

Ok, I can hear some of you – not literally, being fat hasn’t given me any superpowers that I’ve noticed, yet – getting angry or maybe finding it funny that I think 80kg is such a problem. I certainly don’t mean to offend anyone who dreams of being ‘only’ 80kg but this is new to me.

I am a thin person not so much trapped in a fat body, but who has accidentally woken up in one, like a crap Ricky Gervais or Jim Carrey film. Yes, that’s it. I am The Accidental Fat Man (released straight to DVD soon).

I know many people would love to be ‘only’ 80kg but I’m only 3ft tall so….

No, I’m actually 5ft 9” give or take (about 175 cm or so for the ‘Europeans’) and I am now officially overweight.

And I’m set to become a father for the first time in a few months. And I’ll need to be fit for that.

And I’m getting married in March. And I need to look my best for that. I can’t have people looking at Bea instead of me…

So, today begins a new day. No more sweets. No more chocolates. No more fast food (ok, a bit of all of those but very rarely). And running again. I will be running again. I might even get a personal trainer to whip me into shape.

But the biggest shock of all this though is the realisation I am now, effectively, on a ‘wedding diet’. Me. One of the skinniest people to have ever walked the first world. On a fucking wedding diet.

Be careful what you wish for, it might just come true.