Bullshitters, liars, crooks and conmen…

I had an interesting experience recently.

Interesting in the ‘Chinese’ sense, at least.

Trust. It’s such a basic part of a decent society.

Where would we be without it? Imagine if you could never trust anyone at all. Not even those closest to you.

Imagine if life was dog-eat-dog all day, every day. If you couldn’t trust anything that was said to you, by anyone.

Life would be unbearable.

That’s why we surround ourselves with – in my case at least – a very small number of people we know and trust. Finding people you can trust like this is one of the most important – and most rare – parts of life.

Most of us have our ‘inner circle’ we trust. Anyone outside of that is treated with varying degrees of caution.

I can’t go into details here for obvious reasons but you’ll get the point. A woman I know vaguely once lived with a man who turned out to be a fraudster.

Everything she thought she knew about him was false. He stole a lot from her.

But money and possessions can be replaced. I imagine what he stole the most was her ability to trust. I don’t know how you get over that sort of situation.

Another incident that will always stick in my mind was something I saw on Irish TV once. A member of the audience, probably in his 60s or so, talked about being abused as a child by a priest.

He was crying and explaining that not only had the priest stole his childhood, but he’d stolen his ability to believe in God and taken away any chance of ‘redemption’.

How could he believe in God when a priest – who, according to the man’s (ex-)faith, is In persona Christi – could rape him?

It’s unimaginable how that must affect you.

It’s hard to follow that story with anything without feeling crass and insensitive, but I’ve had my share of – very much minor – incidents in life that have damaged my trust in people.

Some years ago me and my ex-wife were conned out of several thousand pounds by a builder called David Flaherty. It was our fault as much as his. We were stupid. He was technically more stupid, but he was clever enough to pocket about seven grand of our money.

Of course, he ended up in jail (although he was never charged or convicted for the theft of our money – the police literally didn’t care).

He had 56 previous convictions and frankly he’s had a shit life so I felt some sympathy for him. It turned out he was on bail for a much larger theft when he robbed us. We met several other people he robbed at the same time as us. He was jailed again in 2014 for stealing £36,000 from a 98-year-old. He’ll be out any month probably and no doubt off to rob someone else.

Recently I’ve had business dealings with someone who I thought was genuinely nice. Most people you meet in business are dodgy, or stupid, or arrogant, or money-grabbing, or … well, you get the idea.

But now and again you come across someone who feels like a kindred-spirit and it’s a great feeling. Similar to finding another chimp amongst the hordes of gorillas on the Planet of the Apes. At last – a decent conversation with no bullshit…

Business shouldn’t be about increasing your wealth by conning other people out of theirs.

Of course, if someone is competing in your market for the same customers, that’s different, compete – fairly and legally – but apart from that any negotiations or deals should benefit all parties involved.

Some will make more than others, but that should be down to what value they add to the deal (speaking very roughly – I’m not writing a business book here…)

Sometimes you do a deal and you know the other person thinks they’re going to screw you, but you want to do it – maybe for reasons they don’t understand – so you let them be happy with what they’ve got. As long as you are happy too, it doesn’t matter – to me at least – if they think they’ve ‘won’.

What’s annoying though is when someone tries to do a deal and you firmly believe you both understand the position and the benefits to each other. And then you find out the other party has been… well… perhaps ‘economical with the truth’ is the best phrase to use here.

There are some people you’d expect to do this.

Naming no names, but – for example – if I was doing a deal with a certain octogenarian global media mogul, I’d go in with my eyes open and expect he was planning to shaft me. It’s still wrong, but you know what those sort of people are like. You’re unlikely to become a billionaire by being a nice guy.

Again, I don’t want to diminish the true horror of the examples I gave earlier – they are clearly in a very different league – but the ultimate effect is the same. The destruction of trust in others.

I like to see the best in people. I also like to think I’m a fairly good judge of character.

But each time you deal with someone who turns out to be less than what they made you believe, it damages that trust again and makes it harder to trust people in the future.

With the billionaire you expect it. But if you’re ‘just’ a low multi-millionaire or below, and you act like this, then you’re no better than a scrote robbing people as poor as you (something many ‘decent’ burglars didn’t do in the past).

I’d love to be able to believe in Karma. I do to a small extent – not in a spiritual sense, but in a ‘what goes around…’ sense – but you only have to look at the world to know it’s really just wishful thinking.

I talk a lot about honesty. For me it’s up there with the ‘Golden Rule’. And actually it’s a fundamental part of it.

I try my best to be an honest person both in my personal and business dealings.

And every time I meet someone like this, it makes that a little bit harder.

But I’d rather be honest and sleep at night, than act like these people do.

You can’t take anything with you when you go, but you can decide what you leave behind.

Fun with editing – John Mayer’s Gravity – my ideal version…

Tissues at the ready… I’ve been working too hard this year and haven’t had much ‘me’ time. Sucks, eh?

It’s been a great year work wise – business is booming, and we won the Alcohol Concern Zero Alcohol Awards People’s Choice Award for The Alcohol-Free Shop.

But, all that work, combined with Bea being off work with a hernia and slipped discs, means the year has flown past without taking time to do much personally.

So this weekend I’ve been having fun with Adobe Audition and Premiere Pro. I’ve never used either before properly, so it was a good learning experience.

Sometimes you hear a song and instantly fall in love. I love it when that happens.

That happened to me with John Mayer’s Gravity.

I heard it for the first time about five years ago and it was love at first hearing.

I’ve no idea how many times I played it that first week, but it was a lot.

The whole song is wonderful, but the guitar solo in particular is beautiful. Understated, elegant, almost simple – although try playing it like he does. The tone of the guitar is perfect.

And then there’s the live versions. My favourite is the one from the Nokia Theatre in LA which he released as a video and album.

It starts with the subtlety of the album version but builds into a guitar solo that would put any player to shame. It reminds me of Prince’s guitar on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

The only problem with the live version – and it’s a big problem for me, is a dreadful bum note at the end. It’s painful. Really painful. And it’s not even a necessary part of the song – it ruins the pace of the performance.

Credit to John Mayer for the lack of ego in not fixing it in post-production as most would do… but I wish he had.

It also has a pretty tedious beginning (Sorry John!)

So I decided to make my own edit.

I cut the beginning off, added in the guitar solo from the album version into the live version (complete with some background crowd noise), and cut the guitar out at the end that contained the bum note.

After I did the audio, I decided to try to sync it back up to the video.

Obviously, with a new guitar solo, there’s some duplication of video but I’ve tried to mix it around a bit.

It’s my first real project with Adobe Audition and Premiere Pro so I’m pretty happy with the results.

It’s been a fun project over the weekend. It’s given me a break from work, allowed me to test myself, and to learn something new.

And – best of all – I now have a version of Gravity that I really love 😉 and I hope you enjoy it too!

ps. Hopefully the video won’t be removed but I guess it’s possible. There’s plenty of other John Mayer videos (including the original versions of this track) uploaded by other people so fingers crossed…

The original album version is on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VBex8zbDRs

The original video is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBFW8OvciIU

My video is at https://youtu.be/Pd3FCynuMKA

We’re old enough to drink – why can’t we be grown up enough to accept health advice?

Look, I get it. I really do. Lots of people find alcohol-free beer and wine laughable, some find the very concept offensive.

What I don’t get is why. And, as importantly, why they feel the need to be so vocal about it.

In the 10 years I’ve been running The Alcohol-Free Shop I’ve heard and read it all.

‘What’s the point? Just drink water!’

‘Alcohol-free? I’d rather have free alcohol!’

‘It’s like kissing your sister, it tastes the same but it’s wrong’ (and that’s the polite version of that particular one).

Every time an article is published about alcohol-free drinks, as one was last week in a major UK newspaper, the comments section is filled with similar nonsense.

And Dry January is like the proverbial red rag to a bull. A worrying number of people seem threatened by other people making a choice to take a break from alcohol.

The comments that annoy me the most are along the lines of this one I saw the other day – “waste of time. Just drink the proper thing ffs. The good times down the pub will far outweigh the bad ones on your death bed” – which was probably written by someone who has never seen how slow, painful and distressing such a death can be.

Every time I see comments like these I despair. Not just at the fact these people think they’re being original and funny (trust me, you’re not), but because their comments are often based on ignorance.

Established facts such as the link between alcohol and cancer, or a refusal to accept not everyone wants to drink water or orange juice all the time, are ignored.

I’m not saying this attitude is unique to the UK but I spend a lot of time in Spain and there the attitude is incredibly different. Nearly every bar sells alcohol-free beer and it’s just seen as a good-tasting alternative. Germany, home to probably the best beers in the world, has an amazing range of alcohol-free beers and they’re accepted as a viable and tasty option.

For some reason the UK is trailing far behind.

People often accuse us, and others who work in the alcohol-free industry, of being judgemental. Ironically the people who claim this are often the ones passing their ill-informed judgement on those who drink alcohol-free drinks.

I’m not judgemental towards people who drink alcohol. Most of my friends and family – and even co-workers at The Alcohol-Free Shop – enjoy a drink. I will, and do, happily sit in a bar with friends who are drinking alcohol. Why wouldn’t I?

I used to drink. I enjoyed it for many years. But I came to the realisation I could no longer do it. It was affecting my life negatively and I had to stop. I’ll have been sober for 12 years in June and stopping drinking was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made – for me.

But I don’t try to force that on anyone else and if people want to drink, that’s absolutely their choice and I’ve never told anyone not to drink.

So why do drinkers feel the need, or think they have the right, to tell those who enjoy alcohol-free they are wrong?

Our customers drink alcohol-free for many reasons. Some – although the minority – because they’re recovering alcoholics. Some because they have other non-alcohol related health issues and have to avoid alcohol. Others because they are pregnant, want to lose weight, need to drive, or just want to cut back on the amount of alcohol they drink and dont want to be limited to fizzy pop and sugary fruit juice.

But it’s right to say they enjoy drinking alcohol-free, otherwise why would then continue to order? We started in 2006 and have grown every year – maintaining and growing a loyal customer base.

The recent guidelines published by the UK’s Chief Medical Officer confirm that there is no safe-level of alcohol consumption.

Some people – including intelligent commentators – have tried to portray these guidelines as ‘limits’ and accused the government of ‘nannying’.

But isn’t it right that people have the knowledge of the damage alcohol can do so they can make an informed decision?

We now know that processed meat carries an increased risk of cancer but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it now and again. I’ve probably cut back a bit since the discovery of the link – and according to reports so have many others, with sales of sausages and bacon falling – but I’m not going to totally stop. I know the risk and choose to manage it. That’s all the alcohol guidelines are for.

Alcohol Concern, the charity behind the successful Dry January campaign, have launched the inaugural Zero Alcohol Awards. We’ve been nominated for some of the categories and customers have been great in supporting us by sharing some amazing stories.

One email in particular stood out. A woman, with two small children, wrote to thank us for the service we provide. Her husband, aged just 39, suffers from hemiplegic migraines – a rare and serious form of migraines.

She told me how ‘utterly terrifying’ his attacks were, and how he had been hospitalised. It took five months of tests to rule out strokes, diabetes and a brain tumour. His condition is severe and he’s been told he should avoid alcohol for the rest of his life because it’s a trigger and he could end up hospitalised again if he has further attacks.

She understands that some people might think not being able to drink isn’t such a big issue, but she explained how her husband has an active social life and enjoys a drink at home. He felt bleak about his future when he was told he should avoid alcohol.

When they discovered there were great adult alternatives available they became regular customers of ours. She wrote to say our shop had ‘dramatically changed my family’s life’ and her ‘husband has not had to sacrifice any aspect of his life but as a family I can rest assured that he is not going to collapse again through even a small amount of alcohol’.

She ended her email saying ‘I am close to tears as I write this as, if you could see the difference that this has made to our family, you would be too.’

These sort of comments are not rare. We receive them often, and each one is touching and re-affirms why we do what we do.

We can’t eradicate stupidity, so I know I’ll always be reading the sort of comments I started the article with but, hopefully, with enough education – and a collective social maturity – we’ll see fewer of them, and fewer people suffering long-term problems caused by alcohol.

First published on The Alcohol-Free Shop blog