Business, Personal, Politics

We need to talk about drinks promotions…

Something is very wrong with the drinks industry and we need to talk about it – and tackle it – before it gets out of hand.

We all want to make money. That’s the ultimate aim of business.

Put simply – when you strip out all the niceties of sourcing great products, providing exceptional customer service, and all the other added value we do our best to provide – the bottom line is the bottom line.

What matters is how much money is left to pay the bills, the wages, and to re-invest in developing the business. And, ideally, if anything is left after all that, the profit.

All businesses face this, but most industries aren’t as heavily taxed as the alcohol industry.

For those who don’t know, let’s take spirits as an example (and if you do know, skip ahead to How do pubs make a profit?)

You can buy a 70cl bottle of Tesco’s own-labelled 37.5% vodka for £10.50.

Once you take the VAT off that (the VAT belongs to the government, not the retailer) you’re left with £8.75.

The duty on the alcohol is £7.26. So when you take that off the £8.75 you’re left with £1.49.

That’s the £1.49 that has to pay for the vodka itself, the bottling, transport, staffing and all the other elements of producing and selling that drink.

This is an extreme example of course, as we all know that the supermarkets – not just Tesco – use cheap alcohol to entice people into their stores to do the weekly shop where they make their profit.

This is intrinsically linked to the problem I want to discuss here but it’s harder to tackle so that’s a discussion for another day.

But it gives you an idea of the level of taxation on alcohol and the low profit margins involved in the industry, especially at the lower end of the market.

How do pubs make a profit?

Bars have to pay rent, business rates (which for a city centre bar can be huge), staff costs, the costs of building and maintaining the venue, music licences and lots of other bills and costs.

That can’t be done on £1.49 profit per 70cl bottle of vodka.

So when you go into a bar and you pay £6, £7, £8 (or more) for a spirit, you now know why it costs so much more proportionally than buying a bottle at a supermarket.

It’s understandable therefore that once a bar has a customer in, they want to keep them in. They don’t want someone coming in for one drink if they can keep them for two, three or more.

Straightaway this leads to one problem. It’s illegal to serve a person who is drunk. Plain and simple. You can lose your premises licence if you do.

But how many times have you been served when you were drunk? Or how many people have you seen served when they were clearly drunk?

Most bars will serve you until you become trouble. That’s their interpretation of drunk. And it’s clearly not the meaning nor the spirit of the law (no pun intended).

Again, this is understandable. If someone is drunk but friendly, why would you stop serving them – apart from to comply with the law?

And a friendly drunk can easily turn into a nasty drunk if you tell them they’re drunk and you refuse to serve them.

When you have the choice of selling another drink to a friendly drunk, or turning a friendly drunk into a nasty drunk, which would you choose?

And now imagine you’re not the owner of the bar, but a minimum wage bar worker trying to hold down a job while you pay for your degree.

I think it’s fair to say most of us would probably serve the drunk.

When supply and demand don’t match

Because of the cheap price of alcohol in supermarkets, more people are choosing to either drink at home with friends (or alone), or pre-load on cheap alcohol before going out and spending less when they go out.

We all know how many pubs have closed down in the suburbs in recent years and this is one of the main reasons (the smoking ban has had an impact too, but the large gulf between the price at supermarkets and pubs is likely the key factor).

But in the city centres, there’s no shortage of venues opening up. All competing with each other. All trying to do something a little different to entice customers and get them spending.

That’s great. It’s business.

But what happens when the supply (of venues) outstrips the demand (of customers)?

Long-term, the natural outcome is simple and logical. Bars will close and an equilibrium will be restored – for a time at least.

It’s the situation in the short-term that’s dangerous, and that’s where we are now.

Enter Drink promotions

So, we have too many venues and too few customers.

What’s the solution? What would you do as a bar owner to increase your share of a shrinking market?

Well, it seems many bars think drinks promotions are the answer.

Taking Manchester as the example, here are a few recent drinks promotions as reported by the local newspaper the Manchester Evening News (MEN).

All Star Lanes are running “all-you-can-drink” deals on weekend afternoons (midday to 4pm). With food starting at £7.50, you can pay £19 extra and then drink as much beer as you can – in a two hour time slot.

The Shack Bar and Grill in the Northern Quarter are offering “all-you-can-drink” prosecco deals, again in a fixed two hour time slot of 4-6pm on Fridays, for £20.

Rosylee is offering half-price prosecco whenever it rains (and yes, this is in Manchester).

And even Rosso, a high-end venue co-owned by Rio Ferdinand, is currently selling bottles of champagne at prices lower than supermarkets. As reported by the MEN “Rosso manager Sasha Svatek admits they are crazy prices, but says it’s all part of the venue’s desire to offer ‘affordable luxury’ to their customers.”

According to the MEN “The city centre is also seeing a surge in bottomless brunches, which are basically the all-you-can-eat-and-drink breakfast buffet of your dreams, offering unlimited food and drinks for a set price early doors.”

Another popular fad is beer pong. A drinking game where you force your opponents to drink beer by throwing a ping pong ball into a glass.

Does anyone else see a potential problem here?

What the law says…

All licensed venues have to comply with the Mandatory Licensing Conditions which were last updated in 2014. These are all designed to make sure everyone complies with the four licensing objectives which are:

• The prevention of crime and disorder
• Public safety
• The prevention of public nuisance
• The protection of children from harm

Scotland has a fifth objective “Protecting and improving public health” – those crazy Scots…

I learnt this when I obtained my personal alcohol licence. To do this you need to take a one day course and test. The test at the end is 40 multiple choice questions and you need to score 28 to get your licence.

Many of the questions are so basic if you can hold a pen you can correctly answer them. None of them is difficult.

Once you take out the very simple questions, you could probably reach 28 correct answers by randomly ticking boxes.

For the record, I scored 40 out of 40. And I’m not saying that to boast, but more to show how simple the test is. I read the guidance notes for about an hour the night before. It’s not rocket science.

The course and test is really designed to make sure people understand the basics of the four objectives.

What’s worrying is how many people seem to walk out of the course and quickly forget those basics.

And what actually happens…

There are two key sections I want to focus on.

The first is Section 1: Irresponsible Promotions

The guidance says

The 2014 Order states that the responsible person must ensure that staff on relevant premises do not carry out, arrange or participate in any irresponsible promotion, as listed below, where that promotion is carried on for the purpose of encouraging the sale of alcohol on the premises.

The first prohibition is “Drinking Games”.

This includes any game or activity that requires or encourages (or is designed to require or encourage) individuals to drink a quantity of alcohol within a time limit, or to drink as much as possible. This does not include “drinking up time”, shortly before the end of licensed hours.

The application of this prohibition is not subject to a judgment of risk, and so any game or activity that falls within it would be in breach of the condition.

Examples of this type of activity include drinking relay races and drinking challenges based on quantity.

So straight away that raises the question of how beer pong is allowed? It’s clearly designed to sell more drinks. In fact many bars who run the game set a minimum amount of alcohol you have to buy to play it.

The second prohibition is “Provision of alcohol free or for a fixed or discounted fee”.

This prohibits the provision of an unlimited or unspecified quantity of alcohol for free or for a fixed or discounted fee if there is a significant risk that such provision would undermine a licensing objective.

Clearly, when it comes to the all-you-can-drink promotions currently sweeping Manchester (and no doubt other cities), the question of legality has to lie with the clause “if there is a significant risk that such provision would undermine a licensing objective”.

Am I the only one who thinks that encouraging all-you-can-drink in a fixed two-hour time slot during the daytime poses that risk?

I’m sure many will enjoy a good time and go home safely but there will be those that spill out into the streets drunk while families, tourists and shoppers are enjoying an afternoon in the city.

These laws are there to protect the majority from the consequences of a drunken minority and to protect those who are a danger to themselves.

Sticking with the the Manchester Evening News, you don’t have to spend long browsing their stories to find the downside of over-indulgence. There’s normally one or more on the home page every day.

The Cenotaph was recently moved as part of the redevelopment of St Peter’s Square. This has made it more open to the public than it previously was, and nearer to a number of bars.

Since then there’s been a number of incidents where people have been caught damaging it and even urinating on it.

It’s time to act

This ‘all-you-can-drink’ trend needs to be nipped in the bud in Manchester, and other major cities in the UK.

The law is already there. It’s simply that no one is enforcing it.

I’m not blaming the individual bars mentioned here, or any particular bar. Once one bar does it and gets away with it, it starts a downward spiral that other bars feel forced to join.

The key immediate question – putting aside cheap supermarket alcohol which the government has repeatedly failed to tackle – is why no one is doing anything to enforce the laws and stop these irresponsible promotions?

Truth be told, most venues – at least the more reputable ones – would probably welcome this. They don’t want to be forced into this situation anymore than we want to be surrounded by the chaos it creates.

We have a choice to make. We can either sit back until market forces restore order to the situation or we can demand the law is enforced.

In the case of Manchester, I’ve written to the council leader Sir Richard Leese (r.leese@manchester.gov.uk) and Councillor Pat Karney (cllr.p.karney@manchester.gov.uk), the Lead Member for the City Centre, to ask why this situation is being allowed to develop.

If you live in Manchester and feel similarly, please consider doing the same. You may just want to point them to this article if you want.

If you live in another city with a similar problem, ask your local licensing authority what, if anything, is being done to tackle this problem.

Going out for the night and enjoying a drink with friends – whether alcoholic or alcohol-free – is normal. And done properly it should be safe and fun. That’s not the situation at the moment, and it needs to change – and quickly.

 

Photograph by Paul Joseph is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A blast from the past

I was searching my emails for something before when I found the start of something I wrote back in July 2010.

I wrote it just after I decided to move to Spain. It was going to be part of a wider piece, maybe a book, but – as is often the case – other events take over. If everyone has a book in them, most of us seem to suffer from constipation (thankfully, give the quality of a lot of books).

Anyway, despite the fact a lot has changed since I wrote this 6 years ago – not least the fact me and Chris are now divorced (although still business partners and, more importantly, friends) – I thought I’d post it. And let’s not even get into the idiotic decision to vote for Brexit…

But while we are still in the EU, I’m probably obliged under the Human Rights Act to warn you that this is long…

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I think we were watching Eastenders at the time. Or maybe it was the football. It certainly wasn’t anything too engrossing or the conversation may never have happened.

“Why don’t we move somewhere warm?”, Chris casually asked.

We were already sat by the radiator which, on this cold and wet Mancunian May afternoon, was pumping out heat as fast as it could. For a brief second I wondered if she meant we should put the fire on and sit in front of it, but I quickly realised what she meant.

“Are you serious?”, I asked.

“Yes”, she replied, seriously.

“Really serious?”, I demanded to know. It’s one thing being serious about moving somewhere warmer, it’s another thing altogether being really serious.

“Yes, really serious”, she replied, really seriously.

To put the conversation into context, Chris had just returned from the local park where she was involved in the ‘Friends of’ community group. They organised two annual events – a Christmas Grotto and a Summer Fair. Weather wise, there was little difference between the two. Except maybe it rained less at Christmas.

A lot of work had gone into preparing for the day, mainly by Chris and one other active member of the group. It was a total wash out. Months of preparation wasted because the English weather is – well – the English weather.

I don’t in all honesty remember the exact words I used next. I think I was already mentally picking a new country to live in, but for all intents and purposes I said “Ok, let’s go”. Probably as causally as you would if someone asked you if you wanted to go with them to the shops for a few groceries – and with as much consideration.

To say Chris was surprised by my reaction is probably an understatement. To say I was surprised by my reaction is definitely an understatement.

But sometimes I think the decisions that are made the quickest, with the least thought, are often the best decisions. Or the worst. It really depends on how they turn out, I guess.

Bring Me Sunshine

Choosing a country to move to based on climate is a bit like choosing a new coat.

You want one that will keep you warm when it’s cold, but lets you breathe when it’s hot. And even though you pretend fashion doesn’t come in to it you wouldn’t be seen dead in one of those coats that you can unzip the middle from when in gets warm. Even though you know they’re a really fantastic idea. Likewise, you wouldn’t be seen dead in, say, Belgium.

So yes, choosing a country is a bit like choosing a new coat only, maybe, a bit more serious.

All Around The World

I’d been to the Far East once on a three week holiday – Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand – and found it impossible to cope with. The heat and the humidity conspired to keep me locked in the safety of various air-conditioned hotel rooms with only expensive room service and cheap American movies for company. When I did venture out into the “fresh air” it was as if I was walking around in a Snorkel Parka, with the hood up. And a scarf over my face. Like an Arctic explorer who had accidentally fallen out of his aeroplane on the way to the North Pole and landed in, well, the Far East.

A few years later I visited Finland. Unfortunately, given the sub-zero temperatures we faced, I didn’t have a Snorkel Parka with me for that trip. I did have a borrowed Russian fur-hat which kept my head warm but at the cost of all remaining fashion credibility. I may as well have been hanged for a Parka than a fur-hat and Helsinki might have been slightly more bearable with another layer or thirty on. The air was certainly fresh. Which is more than could be said for my head.

It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere

There’s something about Finland that makes you want to drink. Just ask the Finns. Alcohol is the leading cause of death amongst working-age men – and amongst working-age women. Higher than heart disease, higher than breast cancer. Higher than accidents and higher, even, than suicides – which is perhaps the hardest to believe. Maybe genetics plays a part – research shows a link between alcohol abuse and genes – but the double-whammy of the short daylight hours and the bitter cold doesn’t help either (See Scotland).

As a very temporary visitor – I was there for a conference for just a few days – I had no real excuse apart from being in the middle-stages of what I would later discover to be a rather cheery condition known colloquially as “being a pisshead”. It would be another few years before I realised that, so on this trip I merrily carried on downing the vodka. At least the cold air and snow helped me clear my head a little in the morning.

Taxman

Over the years the Finnish government has tried various tactics to reduce consumption including tight state controls on alcohol sales and incredibly high taxes. In recent years they changed tact and tried to fool the Finns into drinking less by lowering the tax substantially.

But even in their inebriated state they didn’t fall for that one.

Consumption went up, along with hospital admissions and deaths.

Crazy experiment over, and the taxes have been raised again. It’s pretty much certain that consumption will fall but, even now as a committed tea-totaler, I have a lot of sympathy for the Finns desire to blot out the miserable weather and I don’t hold out a lot of hope of the situation improving dramatically. Maybe if the earth was hit by an asteroid just big enough to shift the tilt of the planet and put Finland into a warmer climate (but small enough not to kill everyone in the process) that may help. But very possibly they would just celebrate by getting the cocktails and sun loungers out.

It was with thoughts of parkas and (non-alcoholic) cocktails that we set about choosing a country to live in.

The Final Countdown

First things first. We knew we wanted to stay in Europe. America was too far away and Chris, unlike me, had never seen the appeal. Australia was even further away and really didn’t do anything for either of us. Let’s face it, given the number of Aussies in the UK the heat can’t count for much over there. We had previously discussed New Zealand some years ago but that was in a different existence. It wasn’t what we wanted now.

No, Europe it had to be. We had a UK business to continue to run and family we wanted to stay near.

And it specifically had to be an EU member state. We might have been born subjects of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II but, thanks to decades of legislation and rather a lot of unaudited and unaccounted for money, we were now also citizens of the European Union. In the words of the EU, we were going to “strengthen the feeling of Union citizenship and promote social cohesion” – by buggering off from England.

Anywhere northern Europe was quickly dismissed. Scandinavia was an obvious no-no. And although I adore Ireland, country of my forefathers, it would take a very persuasive faery to steal this child back. It was the waters and the wild we were escaping from, thank you very much.

Moving into western Europe, and skipping the sort of minor nations Nigel Farage is fond of not being fond of, we came to Germany. We’d both been to Germany before although, strangely, never together. I sometimes considered Germany a home-from-home and think the Germans and English share more in common than 20th century history books would suggest. I’ve always thought you fight more with those you care about. Although Royal assassinations and invading neighbouring countries don’t help either.

But, anyway, the similarity was the problem. We weren’t looking for a home-from-home. And Germany’s weather isn’t, by-and-large, much different from our own, so we continued our virtual tour of Europe.

If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next

We dismissed the “new” Eastern European countries as quickly as they had seemed to become EU member states, deciding they were either too under-developed, or developing in the wrong way for our liking. And, again, just not as warm as we wanted.

Moving southwards we arrived at France. Now, Paris I adore. Had we been a few years younger the thought of moving to Paris – the wine, the art, the literature, the romance – would have been immensely exciting. I could imagine we would quickly have become rather giddy with the prospect.

But this move wasn’t about wine, art, literature or romance. It was about warmth. And Paris is only marginally warmer than London. And London is only marginally warmer than Manchester. It’d be a big move, culturally, for a small move on the thermometer.

The “Year in Provence” concept had never grabbed us either, so Southern France held even less appeal. I was also increasingly concerned that the French were going through an odd period of trying to defend collective liberties with the surprising tactic of attacking individual liberties. Perhaps they had been speaking to the person responsible for the lowering of Finland’s alcohol taxation.

Either way, I didn’t really want to show my support for that sort of carry-on so it wasn’t going to be France.

And speaking of neo-fascism, we quickly dismissed Italy too. Berlusconi, with his hopefully ironically titled People of Freedom party, and the various Northern League mayors, would have to do without us. I suspect somehow they’ll cope. They’ll probably be too busy chasing gypsies or something to notice our absence, I would imagine.

No, having decided we wanted a country where fascism was in its past rather than its present, we were left looking squarely, and excitedly, at Spain.

Y Viva España

I was eight years old the first, and last, time I went been to Spain.

My Grandmother had just died – the sadly inevitable outcome of a mis-matched fight with a brain tumour. My mother was understandably devastated by it, but it was her brother, who had given up his Priesthood to move back in and look after his dying mother, who had perhaps suffered the most. It was decided everyone was in need of a holiday so my Mum and Dad took me, and my Uncle, for a fortnight in Benidorm. On reflection, I can’t help thinking it wasn’t the best idea ever.

As a socialist, my Dad would never have dreamt of visiting Franco’s Spain. The last time it was okay to be in Spain was as a member of the International Brigade some forty-odd years earlier. But this was the late seventies, Franco was dead and buried, and Spain had a new democratic constitution.

I think my Dad thought it was only right and proper to support them now. And anyway, he’d heard a lot about the sun, the sand and the sangria from less politically-minded work-colleagues and acquaintances who had been visiting for some years. Now it was our time to Viva Espana!

Big Yellow Taxi

Even as an 8-year-old I think I sussed the place out fairly quickly. The hotel was the usual concrete monstrosity that you would imagine they throw up overnight, until you spend all your holiday watching – and hearing – one being slowly built next door. They seemed to ignore any building regulations or accepted structural calculations, instead deciding to use the theory that if the new building survives the noise from the hotel disco, then it’s strong enough.

If you were in your late teens or twenties, the disco was probably the place to be. No doubt many a good night was had there by the hoards of sun-burnt, drunken Brits who filled the place. But if you were eight years old, or in your late forties and trying to relax after watching your mother succumb to cancer, it wasn’t ideal really. More of a nuisance, than an attraction. In fact, more of a nightmare.

Of course, we could shut the windows, but then we wouldn’t be able to breathe. Or we could open them, breathe, and never get to sleep with the noise. In the end it came down to a choice between slow suffocation or slow insanity. So we chose the suffocation and hoped we would die in our sleep.

All By Myself

As I was fond of telling my two brothers, it wasn’t easy being an only child.

A fifteen year gap between myself and my next brother had meant that whilst I was playing alone on the beaches of Spain, longing for a friend to build a sand-castle with, he was working in Ireland, drinking and shagging his way through the local population. The selfish bastard.

And my other brother, slightly older again, was doing the same. Only he hadn’t even bothered to move to Ireland and was working in Manchester, drinking and shagging his way through his own local population, instead of someone else’s. The selfish bastard.

The fact I remember so little about the holiday is probably my brains way of coping with it. I have snatches of memories, as if someone accidentally hit record on an old cine camera, realised their mistake a second or two later and quickly hit stop.

The wall of heat that hit us when we walked to the airplane door at Alicante – like nothing I’d ever felt before. The dreadful pool table covered with torn plastic green baize. The non-stop ‘D.I.S.C.O.’ coming from, not surprisingly, the disco. And the sudden, unexpected and rather unpleasant surprise of the reaction to drinking the local water.

It wasn’t all bad, the huge candy floss in the shape of a sombrero blew away the crappy fun-fair bags we were used to in England.

Waterfall

And then there was an amazing waterslide. It was steep. Really steep. And it ended with a small plunge pool at the bottom. A very small plunge pool.

I begged my Dad to let me go on it but he knew better. Dad’s tend to know better. A truth not normally accepted until either you become a father yourself or your Dad has died, and by then it’s too late to let him know you know what he had known all those years – that he was right.

My Dad knew that I couldn’t really swim and that, how can I put it, that I wasn’t quite as tough as my eldest brother. He would have loved it when he was a kid. Hell, he would have loved it then – if he could have dragged himself away from the booze and the women. The selfish bastard.

Incidentally, this is the same brother who, some years earlier, “taught me to swim” by throwing me in the deep end of the local swimming pool. A technique that would be worth trying in the event of a disaster, say, if a ship was sinking – but one that simply put chlorine in my eyes, water up my nose, made me to cry and set back my development as a swimmer by thirty years or so.

I begged and begged, and probably cried and pleaded with my Dad, to let me go on the slide. There was a big queue and I don’t think he really wanted to stand out in the blazing sun whilst I queued up for an experience he knew I was incapable of doing.

But even when Dads know they are right, they are still Dads and eventually – after a few days – he let me go on it. He paid the man his pesetas and I joined the queue.

If You Ever Change Your Mind

Funny enough, despite wanting to go on the slide for days in advance and having convinced myself I had to do it, it was only then when I was in the queue that I started to think about it properly. It really was a big slide. And it really was a very small pool.

If it were today I would probably have questioned the whole “health and safety” aspect of it, and asked to see their risk assessment and insurance documents. But we didn’t have those sort of things in the 70s. We were too busy back then dying to fill out forms.

I started to do some rough calculations. Nothing specific really, I was always okay at maths but I can’t pretend I did anything more than calculate the risk of me sliding right off the end and breaking my neck a few feet past the target zone. The result I came to probably wasn’t very accurate but it was a non-zero number, and that was enough for me.

True to my Dad’s prediction, when it came to my turn and I was stood at the top, holding up the rest of the queue, I froze.

I simply couldn’t do it. What on earth possessed me to get up the ladder? Why did I even think I wanted to go on this death trap. It was clear no child could survive the drop. The children who I had seen do it and survive were clearly the exception to prove my fatal rule.

I stood there. And I cried. And I climbed back down the stairs, past the other children, queuing up to die, who made way for me whilst laughing their final laughs. At the bottom of the stairs was a very embarrassed and very annoyed father. It wasn’t the best day of my life, or his.

Another Day in Paradise

The beggars in Benidorm were also a rather unexpected and unpleasant sight. My parents were working class and experienced poverty as children, but it’s fair to say I had a pretty easy childhood, at least economically. My Dad had a good job in the newspaper industry, back in the days when the unions were strong and wages were good, and my Mum worked too.

I’m not sure I’d ever seen real poverty, not like this anyway. We had what we used to refer to as a tramp where I grew up (ie, a homeless man), but truth be told he wasn’t actually that poor, he was just very mentally ill. And he was the only one in the area. How times change.

No, this looked like real poverty. And it was shocking. I wasn’t used to the sight of women begging in the streets at night with what looked like dying babies in their arms. Of course, the more experienced – or cynical – claimed the women were con-artists and they drugged their babies for sympathy. I remember thinking at the time that whichever story was true, it wasn’t very nice.

My Uncle didn’t really get much out of the trip either. In the first few days he slipped in the bath while taking a shower and cracked his head open. So much for a relaxing holiday.

And that, to date, was my first and only experience of Spain.

What on earth made me want to move there?

Another year gone but not a year wasted…

It’s twelve years to the day I last woke up hungover. Twelve years since I stopped drinking.

I was tempted to write this later when I have more time, but as things are I’m not sure when that will be. I’ve never been busier – and business has never been as good – and if I don’t write now the moment will pass and it’ll be – God willing – 13 years. So forgive me if this is a bit rushed, I’ve had to write it quickly before another busy day begins so its very much top of my head thoughts.

Stopping drinking was a re-birth for me in many ways. I often like to think I was a ‘high functioning alcoholic’ – and compared with some people I was I guess – but it’s a fine line and a bit of a moot point.

As I’ve said before, I only ‘almost’ lost everything. If it wasn’t for the generosity, kindness and patience of those closest to me, I would have lost everything.

Not everyone is lucky to have such good and kind people in their lives. And, as always, my eternal thanks to those people who helped me.

It’s easy – for anyone, and possibly in particular for alcoholics – to fool yourself into thinking you are somehow superior to others. And the phrase ‘high functioning alcoholic’ is a good example of that.

It’s easy to think that just because you still have some semblance of a ‘decent’ life (a job, a business, a marriage, a mortgage etc) that you are ‘ok’ and not comparable to those who have ‘really fucked up’…

It’s all bullshit. We may function – we may still have a business or job or marriage – but ‘high functioning’? Unlikely in most cases I would imagine. Certainly in mine. Barely functioning would have been more accurate.

But to be fair, we have an amazing ability to fool ourselves about a lot of things, including the ultimate truth.

We all know we’re going to die someday and if we didn’t have the ability to pretend we weren’t, life would be at best depressing, and at worst barbaric. If we can fool our brains enough to mask mortality salience we can fool ourselves about anything. It’s both a blessing and a curse.

The myth of the high-functioning alcoholic is the ‘real-world’ equivalent of the myth of the romantic poet or musician. Yes, he or she died at 27 and left some great work… but they’re still fucking dead.

Even Prince – who managed to live 30 years longer than the mythical age of ’27’ – and produced an incredible amount of superb music has died far too young. That’s not romantic, it’s tragic. I’m still equally upset and pissed off with him for doing that to us (and to himself).

Yes, some of us may have managed to do more – for a while at least – as functioning alcoholics than some others do sober, but so what? Are we supposed to be happy with that?

Can you imagine Usain Bolt being pleased coming 10th in the 100m because he’d broken his leg with an act of self-inflicted stupidity?

But that’s what high-functioning alcoholics do. We hobble ourselves and then congratulate ourselves for still being in the race. So what if we came 10th when we could have come 1st, 2nd, or 3rd. We’re still in the race when most people aren’t… we’re still ‘special’. We could have won but, hey, we’ll win next year…

For allegedly intelligent people, we’re really fucking stupid.

But alcohol is a powerful drug. And we’re pretty stupid creatures. Once we accept both those facts, it makes it easier to retake control and start rebuilding.

The two biggest things to happen to me in the last year are meeting my fiancée Bea – who has given me happiness, confidence and a renewed enthusiasm for life – and finding out why I’ve been so tired for the last few years.

I presumed it was just old age (I’m only 44…) but it turned out to be sleep apnea. I was stopping breathing during the night – for 10 seconds or more – 30 times an hour on average, which is classed as severe apnea. Apart from the obvious problem of lack of sleep that it causes, it also has huge consequences on overall health and leads to early heart disease, brain damage and a whole host of other health problems.

But I’ve now been sleeping with a CPAP machine and mask for around 6 months and I can’t remember the last time I had so much energy. I’ve done more this year than I have for many years.

I don’t know if there is a limit on being ‘reborn’ but if stopping drinking was a re-birth of sorts, then tackling my apnea has been another.

I suspect that’s probably about it now though. No more excuses. No more waiting for something else to change.

This is who I am. A sober, semi-intelligent, semi-successful person who now sleeps well. The rest is up to me. If I come 10th in the race, it’s because that’s where I deserve to be. If I come 3rd, 2nd, or – unlikely – 1st, it’s because I’ve worked well enough – and was lucky enough – to deserve it.

And if I’m not even on the race track, then that’s what I deserve too.

As always, no preaching. If you can drink moderately and lead a full and happy life, that’s fantastic. If I could drink one or two and stop, I’d possibly do it.

But if you are beginning to wonder if you have a problem – please, I’m begging you – please seek help. Life without alcohol is not boring. It is not dull. It’s just different.

And if you have a drinking problem – if you are entering the race with a broken leg – you’re doing yourself, your friends, your colleagues and most of all your loved ones a disservice. In those cases, life without alcohol is not just different, it’s immeasurably better.

As always I suggest AA in the first instance. I don’t use AA myself now but it saved my life in my first year of sobriety. Give it a fair go. But if it’s not for you – and I get that it’s not for everyone – there are lots of alternative ways to stop. If you have a problem, just do it please. As soon as possible. Today, if you can.

The hardest part is admitting it to yourself and seeking help. Once you do that, the rest will follow. And you know what, once you admit it, you’ll look back and wonder why you didn’t admit it to yourself sooner. You are not alone. There are millions of us.

I’m always happy to talk if you want to (DM me on twitter, email me, call me at work – whatever you are comfortable with) but I’m not a guru or an expert. I’m just someone who’s been there, done that, thrown up on the t-shirt, bought a new clean one and done my best to keep it as clean as possible. If I can help I’ll happily try, but no promises.

And if you don’t have a problem with alcohol that’s truly fantastic. Enjoy a drink tonight or this weekend, and if you want to raise a glass to another year of my sobriety, that’s fine with me!

Cheers!