I had no idea that I was into S&M until last weekend.
The revelation came to me on Friday night as I sat at the bar in my favourite pub, watching pint after pint of Cardiff’s finest craft beers being pulled just inches away from me while dutifully sipping my way to the bottom of a glass of pop.
Worst of all, I was doing it willingly. It’s the kind of depraved activity a Tory politician from the 90s would have gotten up to in between all the spankings, toe sucking and pig-worrying.
I’d like to say this twisted episode of masochism was on doctor’s orders, or for a good cause, but no – as I write this I’m on the final day of a perfectly voluntary 28 day abstinence from the demon drink – a demon which, at this point, is starting to resemble Liz Hurley in Bedazzled.
After a heavy few months including a particularly beery holiday and far too many weddings, @scruffyduke and I were forced to concede that enough was enough.
There are only so many mornings you can wake up feeling like there’s a wasps nest in your kidneys before you have to take a break, so this month we decided to give ourselves some time to regenerate.
“I have a cunning plan…”
The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted a vaguely egg-shaped flaw in this plan – i.e. picking the one month where the entire population of Cardiff has been inebriated for at least half the time due to the Rugby World Cup.
I’d go so far as to say this was a nigh-on Baldrick level planning failure.
See, ordinarily, avoiding booze is pretty straightforward. You just stock up on box sets and junk food and weather the storm at home at the weekend, alcohol safely out of sight and out of mind.
Essentially you become the British version of those survivalist preppers in the States – only instead of tooling up with M-16s, sniper scopes and anti-personnel mines you just make sure you’ve got plenty of Monster Munch and an extra pint of milk in.
But when are we going to get a World Cup in Cardiff again? No, the only thing for it was to go out regardless and just y’know, not drink.
And for a patently awful idea, it actually worked out ok. My number one fear on a tee-total night out has always been that I’ll end up wanting to brutally murder every single one of my friends when they’re drunk and I’m sober. In fact, it turns out my friends are all actually perfectly lovely when pissed.
The real problem turned out to be finding something to drink.
I’ve learned two things in my sojourn to the world of sobriety. First of all, it’s not so much the big boozy nights out that you miss as the soothing weeknight sofa beers and the post-work Friday night wind-down pints.
Secondly, I discovered that soft drinks are irredeemably, painfully shit.
Most of them taste foul, some are nearly as expensive as booze, and all of them make me sad in a vague existential way that I can’t quite put my finger on – a bit like seeing a sad clown or a child’s balloon floating away.
Water is fine in a need-it-to-live, oxygen-y sort of way, but if you’re in the market for a more interesting non-alcoholic alternative you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
Take J2O – distilled from pure, caustic hatred and fathomless despair, there is literally nothing positive to say about it, other than that it comes in 330ml bottles rather than say, 331ml bottles.
The horribly acidic orange and passionfruit variety in particular tastes like Domestos spiked with xenomorph blood.
In all fairness, I did find one soft drink this month that didn’t make me want to sew my mouth up in protest. Fentiman’s Ginger Beer, which I uncharitably referred to as ‘pop’ in the intro, is a lot nicer than most.
A little 275ml bottle costs more than some pints, but it’s really good – unlike the tongue-curlingly artificial chemical tang of most ginger beers, Fentiman’s actually tastes like it’s at least had a bit of real root ginger waved over it at some point.
The other option of course, is non-alcoholic beer. But that’s a whole other problem…
The great pretender
Pretending to be someone or something else can be fun. It’s why people love amateur dramatics, cosplay and instagram. But pretending to drink is a uniquely depressing experience, and make no mistake – if you order a Becks Blue, that is what you’re doing.
Ordering one is an exercise in humiliation. “I’ll have a bottle of Becks” you begin confidently, the “blue” trailing off almost inaudibly. The barman cocks his head and holds your gaze for a fraction of a second longer than usual, eyes cutting through your pretense like industrial lasers. He knows what you’re trying to do – not only are you not drinking a proper drink in his establishment, you’re trying to con people into believing that you are.
You scurry away to your table and spend the rest of the evening nursing it so you don’t need to order another one, all while clutching the bottle tightly and hoping no-one will spot the incriminating label peeking between your fingers.
Worse still, it tastes like… well.. nothing really. Even shandy tastes like something. Becks Blue is an absence of flavour. The beer version of Dark Matter.
Fitter, happier, more productive
We’ve established that drinking soft drinks down the pub is a bit of a non-starter, but what about the benefits of a month on the wagon? Am I physically and financially better off, with a refreshing new outlook on life?
Not exactly. I haven’t lost an ounce of weight and I’ve only saved a tiny bit of money because we’ve been eating out constantly to make up for going to the pub less.
On the other hand, I’ve slept better, and Sundays are a bit nicer now I don’t have to spend half the day hungover and whimpering under a blanket on the sofa like a puppy on bonfire night.
Was it all worth it? Eh, maybe. But I won’t be doing it again in a hurry. See you at the pub.
Share your sobriety survival stories in the comments below or at @fuudblog on Twitter…
Movember Launch Party @ DEPOT – Friday 30 October
While you’re here, have a look at this awesome event at DEPOT that I’m organising with the National Centre for Mental Health and The Movember Foundation – it’s totally free and there’ll be fantastic streetfood from The Original Goodfillas, Gwynne’s Ice Cream, A Lot of Waffle and Drunken Sailor.