An Adventure in Abstinence

Day One – Saturday 15th Aug 2020

I woke up this morning feeling like I’d actually slept last night. This was weird, I normally wake up feeling like I haven’t. I only had three glasses of red wine last night, which is far less than I’d usually drink. It was the remaining half a bottle of Aldi’s Vignobles Roussellet Pinot Noir. It is a very nice wine and I’d highly recommend it. I’ve just dug the empty bottle out of the recycling bin to remind me what it was. The label on the back describes it as ‘Soft, smooth and fruity. This French Pinot Noir has rich red fruit aromas and lush berry flavours. Great with lamb.’ I didn’t have it with lamb, I had it with another two glasses. That was great too.

The label on the back also says ‘KNOW YOUR LIMITS’ and ‘DRINK RESPONSIBLY’, in big letters. If they had been on the front of the bottle I might have seen them before I bought it. Not that it would have made any difference, as I hastily stuffed the bottle and a couple of its mates into my shopping basket. The label on the front of the bottle has the briefer headline of ‘Bright red-fruits and layers of spice’. You’ll note that the ‘red fruits’ that were described on the back, as differentiated from berries, have now become ‘bright’. The only bright red fruit I can immediately think of, that isn’t a berry, is a tomato. It is technically a fruit, so they say. The wine didn’t taste of tomatoes, so don’t let that put you off. I suppose cherries are fruits too and they are red, if you are going to be pedantic. By the way if you are pedantic then you won’t enjoy this journal. And yes, I know pomegranates are also red.

The Aldi Pinot Noir is a wine I’d buy again, except I’m not going to. Not for a while anyway, I’m going to stop drinking. Although this wine is so good I suppose I could go buy a case and store it in the garage. It would be a nice wine to come back to, and it would be a shame if it disappears from Aldi’s shelves in the meantime. But that’s enough of those thoughts, I’m going to put the empty bottle back in the recycling bin before it completes its evil enchantment. Its ‘rich red fruit aromas’ and ‘layers of spice’ are already calling to me from the dregs. I might even give up alcohol for good, I’m 58 and my liver is probably going to retire sooner than me.

I’m back to the keyboard now and I have just re-consigned that empty bottle to history. There was a slug-trail on the kitchen mat next to the recycling bin. I could just see it beyond the extent of my belly, although I’m sad to say that my penis has now completely disappeared from view. Incidentally, I wasn’t wandering around the kitchen naked. Those halcyon days are over since my neighbour recently had a tree cut down. He can now see right into my kitchen. On the plus side I can now see into his bathroom window as he hasn’t yet thought to readjust the angle of the blinds. This window into their world might be an interesting prospect if he and his wife weren’t in their eighties. Still, it’s been a good summer and that is usually followed by a harsh winter, so we may have somebody younger moving in by the spring.

My penis disappeared below the horizon a good few weeks ago. It hasn’t actually shrunk as far as I’m aware. Like most men I spend a lot of time checking it is still there and I would have noticed if it had started to recede. Unfortunately, or fortunately, it is my belly that has got bigger so that it now obscures the cheeky little chap. I blame lockdown for this. I guess I don’t need to explain what that word means, but a year ago you would have been shrugging your shoulders. No one would have believed what was going to happen back in the middle of August 2019. That previous sentence sounds like the opening line to HG Wells’ ‘The War of The Worlds’, although if tensions between the USA and China continue to escalate then it still might come to that. Back in August 19, it was going to be a few months before there was talk of yet another weird disease stirring in China’s meat markets. Nothing to worry about there at all.

If HG Wells was right, and there is intelligent life on Mars, then now would be a good time to invade. We’ve been rather preoccupied with that weird disease. As I’m writing this I’m listening to the BBC News and they have all the latest on Covid-19. Bowling alleys are allowed to reopen today, but there has been a rush to get back from France as they are imposing a fourteen-day quarantine on returning travellers. The deadline to get back was today, otherwise you suffer the inconvenience of being locked in the house whilst the rest of us are out bowling. I wonder if those rushing back will have time to stock up on wine at Calais? If not, then I can highly recommend a perky little Pinot Noir from Aldi. A bargain at only £4.99.

I’m back to work on Monday after five months of working from home, which has been an interesting experience. I work in digital marketing so, as the name suggests, it is all digital. I could work from anywhere, even Mars, if it had wi-fi. As plenty of employers have discovered, there are a lot of modern office jobs that can be done from home. I’ve actually been more productive than I would have been in an office. There has been no commuting and no interruptions to break up the work. I’ve also put in longer hours, should any of my bosses be reading this. Admittedly most of the work has been done in my pyjamas, something they wouldn’t have known as I cunningly threw on a shirt for Zoom meetings. Although I nearly gave the game away when one of the cats brought in a live mouse and I had to run to the settee.

The realisation has been that a lot of us don’t need offices, commuting or constant interruptions , especially from Jill in Accounts with invoice queries. This remote experience might well change the world of work. It would be nice to think it would, the roads would be quieter and there would be less pollution. It won’t though. A lot of jobs could indeed be done remotely, mine included. However, big chunks of our economy are built around supporting office work, including its associated commuting, hospitality and consumption. Although these are also the main reasons we are mucking up the planet. Despite my own remote working capability, I am going back to work. I work in a college and we’re reopening on Monday. It’s difficult to train to be a motor mechanic or a chef if you can’t practice doing it, even if there may be no jobs to go to at the end of all this.

I’ve enjoyed working from home. The work-life balance has been great, I don’t get tired in the afternoon because I had to get up at an ungodly hour and I’ve saved a small fortune by not spending on commuting. As a result, I’ve been more efficient and happier. I could make a good case to my employers for me permanently working at home. However, I really do want to go back to work because if I carry on working at home it is going to kill me, and I’m not joking about that.

I lost a lot of weight ten years ago, which I’d managed to keep off. I had to lose it as I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I discovered healthy eating and exercise and I put the disease into remission by losing weight quickly. I still have a six-monthly check-up and I am the golden boy of the local surgery in my achievements. I even wrote a book about how to beat type 2 diabetes. My next appointment would have been in five days, fortunately it has been cancelled due to lockdown measures. It is fortunate because if I had been turning up at the surgery I would be hanging my head in shame and they would be taking my poster down. My weight has blossomed during lockdown and I know why.

For one thing the temptation of the fridge and the breadbin are not in the office. There is also a degree of walking involved in being at work, even if it is just visiting Jill in Accounts to countersign her stupid invoices. However, the main culprit in my weight gain has been booze.

The weather has been very clement during lockdown. This has been beneficial in keeping the suicide and divorce rates lower than they would have been. If it had been pissing it down, with no escape at all, then the murder rate would have gone up too. The weather has also meant that sitting in the garden with a few beers has been my reward after a hard day’s tapping on the laptop. That wouldn’t have been so bad if the after-work home drinking was an occasional treat. It hasn’t, it has been every day.

I love to travel, and that prospect has also been scuppered by Covid. Instead I’ve been subconsciously going around the world in beers. I started out in Stella’s Belgium, then progressed to Heineken’s Holland and I’ve recently been making an extended stay in Tyskie’s Poland. Its been a pleasant trip and on the same evenings I’ve also been able to hop over to Pinotage’s South Africa and Rioja’s Spain. Last night I was in Pinot Noir’s France, without having to hastily pack my bags and get the next flight home by 4 a.m.

I’ve probably gone to bed slightly drunk every night of lockdown. This probably explains why I’ve been waking up feeling like I’ve never really slept and my belly has now eclipsed my penis. I’m also assuming they won’t want me back at work in my pyjamas, so last week I thought I’d better check my wardrobe. I’ve now had to buy new trousers, the ones from five months ago don’t fit any more. I also think I might need a bra. Therefore, it is time to stop taking my evening stroll around the globe and to give up alcohol.

It would appear I’m not the only one who has upped their drinking during lockdown. It has just been on the news that an alcohol awareness charity says that 22% of the UK population are now drinking more than they did before lockdown. I am not alone.

Incidentally, my six-monthly check-up next week is now going to be by phone. I’m sure I will be asked what my weight is, and I shall lie. I’ve just checked, it is 104kg. I’m 6ft 3ins tall, so that might put my weight into context. If I was only five foot I would probably be spherical at that weight. When I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes ten years ago I was lugging around a massive 120kg. After losing weight, the lowest I got to was 90kg. This was enough to put the diabetes into remission. I’ve then levelled out at around 95kg for most of the last ten years, which was enough to keep it at bay. Therefore, at my current 104kg, I am nearly half-way back to XXXL status from my lowest weight.

If I don’t lose weight soon then there is always the threat of type 2 diabetes returning. It may well be knocking on my door already. As part of my check-up I also have to get a blood test two weeks before my appointment. As the hospitals don’t want people turning up for routine blood tests there will be no evidence to confirm the return of diabetes, yet.

My objective will be to get back down to 95kg, thereby both reclaiming my old trousers and avoiding type 2 diabetes coming back. By then I should also be able to say hello to my penis without breathing in.

Day Two – Sunday 16th Aug 2020

Once more I woke up feeling surprisingly refreshed. This is a better feeling than usual, which is more like I’ve been battered around the head with a large salami all night.

I had a dream, although I can’t remember exactly what it was all about. It was obviously vivid enough for my wife to give me a kick to shut me up. I was whimpering apparently. The only thing I do recall was sitting in a car with Batman, maybe the whimpering was because I was trying to hum the theme tune. I did forewarn her that I would dream, I’ve done this before on the very brief occasions I’ve given up drinking. It happens because you are more likely to enter deep, or REM, sleep when you don’t drink. That’s when you are more likely to dream. I was actually quite looking forward to it, I rather enjoy dreams.

Once out of bed I headed straight for the scales. From yesterday’s 104kg I am now 103.5kg. A miracle. At this rate it will take only another 17 days to reach my target of 95kg. Although that is over two weeks away, perhaps I should quit now whilst I’m ahead.

Yesterday evening wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I did get an itch for a drink around 5.30pm, which is normally beer o’clock. This is a time that has been getting earlier over the last five months. Maybe it is something to do with the position of the earth, like time-zones. I may well be on Bombay Beer Time by now.

I also developed a headache around 10pm last night. Apparently, this is one of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. There are other symptoms that sound more serious. I’ll let you know if I experience any, but they do include anxiety and delusions. I’ll have to go now as the doorbell has just rung. I’m a bit worried it might be Batman wanting his car back.

Phew, it was only Robin with an Amazon package. Did I mention that you can get hallucinations too?

On the subject of hallucinations, I’ve just been shopping and I thought I was hallucinating when I saw what Sainsburys wanted to charge for a box of cat food. My stupid cats refuse to eat Aldi’s own brand and, despite my best efforts to trick them, I still end up shelling out for costly cat scoff. It’s me that’s paying for all their expensive TV advertising campaigns. I’ll have to stop the cats watching the telly, they are easily influenced.

In the news today was the shenanigans in Belarus, it sounds like the president has conspired to re-elect himself once again and the population aren’t happy about it. This is the same president, Lukashenko, that stated that Coronavirus could be avoided by driving tractors, drinking vodka and going to saunas. On the plus side he did ensure that the Belarus Premier League carried on playing throughout the pandemic, pretty much the only football league to do so. This meant that those of us addicted to televised sports betting became avid fans of the likes of Dinamo Minsk and Slutsk, the latter being very hard to chant. As the season wore on the crowds became very sparse at the games, presumably because an increasing number of the fans were on ventilators. Instead of going to footy games they should have followed their president’s advice by getting pissed and then driving their tractor into the local sauna. Unsurprisingly, Belarus had one of the highest infection rates in Europe.

As I’m back at work tomorrow, and likely to be too knackered for exercise by the end of the day, I went for a run this afternoon. I know running sounds unlikely given my alcohol addiction and expanding waistline, but I have been running for around ten years. It’s about time I stopped, to quote an old panto joke. This afternoon was not only the usual test of my endurance but also a test of my new resolution. There’s nothing finer than a nice cold beer after physical exertion, and there’s a couple of nice cold beers sitting at the back of the fridge.

As I’m still writing this, you can deduce that I’ve resisted the temptation. So I’m sat here sweating, with a nice cold fruit juice instead. It seems to have taken the edge off, although it is probably just as fattening. By the way, I’m assuming the cold beers are still sitting in the fridge. My eldest son came round last night to raid our food stocks so they may have been a casualty. It’s probably best I don’t go check.

I did go check, and they are still there. Does licking the condensation off a can of cold beer count as a drink?

Day Three – Monday 17th Aug 2020

First day back at work after five months of homeworking, and no beer to greet me on my return home. This was after having to wear proper clothes and shoes all day, as opposed to shorts and flip-flops. Having already put weight on during lockdown, this additional clothing baggage didn’t help my mood. I also think one of the other alcohol withdrawal symptoms kicked in at work, which is irritability. I’ve got used to undisturbed working and other human beings annoy me at the best of times. I thought it would be a good idea to take a brisk walk to Sainsburys at lunchtime, before I physically assaulted someone. It didn’t help.

There’s a rule in place that says you have to wear a face covering in shops. Fair enough I suppose, there has been a nasty little virus doing the rounds that has killed nearly a million people worldwide. So, wearing a face mask whilst you peruse the sugar-free soft drinks is not too much to ask, is it? I realise there are some people that are exempt, for instance those with chronic lung conditions. I also accept that such conditions are not always visible. According to the British Lung Foundation 20% of the UK population has developed some type of respiratory disease, like asthma or COPD. That’s one in five.

That was nowhere near as many people that weren’t wearing masks in the supermarket today. So, well done to all of you with a troublesome breathing disease. You are playing your part and still wearing a mask despite the inconvenience it causes you. Those individuals that weren’t wearing a face covering I have to trust that you were genuine in your exemption due to ill health.

However, my heart goes out to the family of five that were obviously all stricken by a respiratory disease of some sort. The cruel odds on that are well over 3,000 to 1. Likewise, I feel sorry for the two young mums out shopping together. They would have had lesser, but still significant odds of 16 to 1 of them both being afflicted with a breathing problem. Fortunately, they still had the breath in them to chatter loudly about the merits of Gordon’s Gin versus Bombay Sapphire.

One of the problems with wearing a face mask is you can’t express your contempt effectively. Your chosen unmasked target can’t see the sneer on your mouth, and if you ‘tut’ they don’t know where it came from. All you can do is scrunch up your eyes and glare at them. Although, without the rest of your face to reinforce your venom, it looks like you are a surgeon trying to force a fart out.

As I say, going to Sainsburys really didn’t help.

Day Four – Tuesday 18th Aug 2020

After the shock of returning to work yesterday, today I felt like I’ve never been away. So, it looks like I’m back to some element of normality in these strange times. This would appear to be the case with the wider world too, as the BBC had little in the way of news to report. They even gave space to the story of a boy in New Zealand who had a piece of Lego stuck up his nose for two years. Apparently he put it up there and then told his parents it was stuck. They couldn’t fish it out, and neither could the doctor they took him to. Unlike them, I decided to dig a little deeper. Although the BBC only gave it a few lines, the New Zealand Herald gave it extensive coverage. I presume not a lot happens over there.

He was five when he put it up there and it only came out when he sneezed after sniffing a cake. Apparently it was covered with fungus. The Lego, not the cake. The reason I travelled to the other side of the world, via the internet, to get more details was that I was keen to know why he stuck it up there in the first place. Unfortunately, even the New Zealand Herald couldn’t illuminate my darkness on this. Why on earth would you put something in your body that you know has the potential to harm you? Can you see where I’m heading with this? Especially as I’m now getting quite sanctimonious after four days without drinking. That’s right, I’m talking about getting blind drunk and ramming an object up your anus.

Which I never did by the way, except the once. I think it came out, whatever it was. I can’t imagine it was Lego, it’s painful enough when you tread on it in bare feet.

Day Five – Wednesday 19th Aug 2020

Day five, the day when those abstaining usually crack. Just one little drink won’t hurt, will it? The symptoms of withdrawal usually start to subside by now and a reward is felt justified for putting up with them so far. There are three hours of the day left, so it might still happen. However, my wife assures me that my symptoms haven’t gone away yet. Especially the one regarding confusion.

I’ve just been to the bathroom as the lack of alcohol seems to have affected the timing of my bowel movements. In the morning I’m usually able to drop, run and be out of the door for work before she wakes. Today it was an evening splash. This created a sour and malodorous miasma that would have brought tears to her eyes. I also didn’t have my usual opportunity to quickly exit the house and leave her to wake up to it, like a nasal alarm clock. Therefore, I thought I’d better spray some anti-perspirant around. Unfortunately, it was a can of bright blue shaving foam. Maybe my reward can wait a while.

I also had my six-monthly type 2 diabetes check-up today. It was by phone, given that they don’t want the likes of me putting the NHS at risk any more than I have already by getting type 2 diabetes. I was planning to take advantage of this remote appointment by fibbing about my weight, but I ended up telling the truth. After five days of alcohol deprivation I’ve now got down to 102.5kg from my starting weight of 104kg. I was actually quite chuffed about this achievement, so I blurted it out without thinking. Unfortunately, my doctor has a record of my weight six months ago readily to hand. I could hear the sharp intake of breath.

So, I’m not cracking after five days. The mission continues, although my wife thinks I’m going nuts and my doctor wants to see me with blood test results in November. All in all, I’ve had better days.

Day Six – Thursday 20th Aug 2020

I had a work meeting today, in a meeting room with other people. That’s the first in five months. Participants from another organisation joined us on the room’s big screen via Zoom. They were surprised to see us sitting together, it’s been an unusual sight in recent times. Looking at them trapped in their little oblong cells on the screen I think this was the first time I saw a real value in returning to work. I momentarily felt a brief tingle of freedom. The illusion was quickly shattered when I realised I was actually still sitting in a cell, albeit a bigger one that I’d had to get up early and drive to, but at least I was now out of solitary confinement. The room’s screen was a smartboard, so whilst one of the Zoom participants was chuntering away I took a marker and drew bars on his oblong. It caused some hilarity amongst my workmates, especially when I expanded the gag with a Hitler moustache. Although the office manager wasn’t too chuffed when it turned out to be a permanent marker.

I felt very tired today, returning to work has taken it out of me. Scrubbing away at a whiteboard with turps didn’t help. According to my smartphone I’ve been doing around 5000 steps a day at work, which was probably my weekly average when working from home. Although when I was at home my phone sat on my desk and didn’t travel with me as I mooched around the garden or popped down to the local shop for a booze top-up. The smartphone wasn’t quite smart enough to count those steps.

I haven’t thought much about alcohol over the last couple of days, it has become slightly more normal not to drink in the evenings. Although I did have a small blip as I got in the car to drive home today. It had been a warm afternoon and as I started the engine I had a glimpse of a cold beer waiting for me at home. When I realised it was just a stored memory from my past it was like waking from my favourite dream. This is one which involves a well-known and well-endowed weather girl. I say ‘girl’ but she’s really a lady, although she doesn’t behave like one in my dreams.

Day Seven – Friday 20th Aug 2020

It has been one week since my last drink, those three glasses of Aldi’s toothsome Pinot Noir. Gone but not forgotten. So, has giving up drinking had any benefits? I’ve lost weight, I’m now at 101.5kg, which means a loss of 2.5kg. That’s five and a half pounds. This may not have been all down to the booze, I’ve been back at work all week and I’ve also cut down on bread too.

The main benefit seems to have been sleep quality. I feel more human when I wake up, this is probably not surprising as I was going to bed half-pissed every night. The vivid dreams lasted for a few nights, but they seem to have worn off now. Which is a shame, I’m missing the romps with the weather girl. However, I’ve googled where she lives.

There has been a downside to giving up drink, which has been an exponential growth in flatulence. I’ve googled that too, but it doesn’t seem to be a recognised symptom of alcohol withdrawal. I even changed the google search to ‘gas’, which is what the Americans call both nether-wind and petrol. Which must make for a lethal combination when attempting to light your own farts.

It appears that abstainers in the USA aren’t suffering like I am either. My first thought was that alcohol was previously aiding my digestion in breaking down food. Although it probably has more to do with the gallons of sugar-free fizzy pop that I’m drinking instead of wine and beer. I’ve always been very good at flatulence, however I timed one at nine seconds last night. I haven’t been keeping any documentation on my farting career, but I think that could be a new record.

The goal for next week is to get back to regular exercise. I’ve given it a miss whilst returning to work as that has been tiring enough in itself. Interestingly it has been really stimulating to be working with real people once again. I was quite happy working from home, I consider myself naturally anti-social so I thought that working in isolation suited me. There was also the obvious benefit of not having to rise early and commute. However, I’ve changed my mind now. Ideas seem to flow and develop better with real humans around to discuss them. There’s also a lot to be said for spontaneous office bitching that has no chance of being recorded on Zoom. As a result, I’ve developed a new strand of humanist philosophy. One of the things that seems to pull us humans together, and makes us really happy and fulfilled, is our common dislike of other people.