Friday, 27 February 2009

Masterchef Final

Last night, during Masterchef, I slid gently off the wagon. My dear friend was cooking dinner to a menu carefully planned for my enjoyment by her ten-year-old son. We began with nibbles which I'd taken over - savoury twists and breadsticks with guacamole ('I love nibbles,' said the ten-year-old happily) and some gorgeous sauvignon blanc, while we watched her cook. By the time she was ready to serve the food, or 'plate up' as we Masterchef viewers say, the ten-year-old and I were helpfully yelling 'PUSH! PUSH!', although I'm not sure Dear Friend was enjoying this quite as much as we were; I think she muttered something about not being in labour thankyouverymuch, although it was difficult to hear her over our guffaws. She produced a fabulous meal of egg noodles and stir-fried veg in a savoury broth topped with poached organic salmon fillets, followed by lime and ginger cheesecake. Fortunately, this enabled us to watch the Masterchef final without drooling. Just.

The three of us snuggled down under a huge fake fur throw on Dear Friend's comfy leather sofa. I'd gone into the final as an Andy supporter, while Dear Friend was in the Mat camp, and the 10-year-old was swinging between the two. By halfway through we were all rooting for Mat who seemed to have the edge when it came to originality and flair. Chris's food was terrific, but he made a couple of minor errors that put him out of the running. Andy was a definite contender. All three cooked the food they love, and cooked it to an incredibly high standard, but Mat had the most clearly definable personal style. I think this, combined with his evident skill, was what swung the result.

The programme, as with all reality TV, was carefully edited to ratchet up tension for the viewer. Background music was ominous, pauses were long, voice-overs from Wallace and Torode posed questions carefully designed to maximise viewer worry. 'Will Chris overcome his inexperience?' 'Can Andy maintain the necessary attention to detail?' 'Will Mat be able to manage his presentation?' Dear Friend and I took all this in our stride, but the ten-year-old cracked under the strain in the last five minutes, diving beneath the furry throw and re-emerging every minute or so to peek and wail 'I can't stand it!'. He blew huge whoofs of relief when the result was finally announced.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Humour Is A Funny Old Thing

Sometimes jokes aren't funny. It depends on the context, doesn't it? I have a fairly black sense of humour, and rarely pass up the opportunity for a one-liner. But I do try to retain some sensitivity to the people around me. So, for example, if I saw a terrific opening for a death joke, but I was with someone who was recently bereaved, I'd hold back.

That doesn't mean I always get it right. One of the key features of humour is that it's risky. Even professional comedians cause offence without meaning to at times. For example, some of you may remember that Jo Brand upset the BNP, back when their membership list was published, by quipping 'now we know where to send the poo'. I'm sure lots of us anti-racist lefties laughed at the time; I know I did. But if I was a BNP member, I can see that I could have been upset by Brand's joke.

A friend of mine recently texted me three jokes in quick succession which I found offensive. The first poked fun at a "Paki", the second was about an Irishman and a "nigger", and the third was based on the premise that a man could have sex with a disabled woman if he was desperate, as long as nobody was looking.

I know my friend to be kind-hearted, an active carer for her family, friends and colleagues, and not remotely politically correct (although interestingly she's very anti-ageism, and will leap to the defence of older people). She knows I've been having a difficult time and I figured she was trying to cheer me up. Nevertheless, I was upset, particularly as the Paramour and I have both talked to her about her use of the word "Paki" in conversation, and asked her not to use it in our house. So I sent her a text back, saying "Racist 'jokes',+ones at the expense of disabled people, dont make me laugh. They make me feel sad+a bit sick. Thanks4the thought but pls dont send me any more." She replied saying "Oops sorry sorry sorry many times sorry slapped wrist wont do again didnt mean 2 offend it was only meant 2 b a bit of fun sorry again xx".

She is one of only two in my friendship group who I know to use that kind of language and appreciate that kind of joke. I could say 'it's not funny', but being judgemental is too easy; it is funny for her. Maybe I should be all self-righteous and end our friendship, and part of me is tempted to do so. But if I chose only to be friends with people who think exactly like me, wouldn't I be compounding the problem rather than helping to solve it?

I think racism, disabilityism, and all their prejudicial cousins are wrong and odious. I also think that dismissing someone as a racist full stop, without looking at the whole of their personality, is over-simplistic and so runs the risk of being another form of prejudice. People are complicated and people change. I doubt very much that I'll be able to change my friend's views single-handed, but I think I'm more likely to have an influence by staying friends with her and challenging her views when they affect me than by dropping her like a hot brick. And then she can't write me off as a humourless git either, because when we meet, we always find mutually acceptable ways to make each other laugh.

I still feel uneasy, though, so I'm not sure I'm right about any of this. What do you think?

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Cheering Things

1. It's now two months since the winter solstice, so the darkest four months of the year are behind us. Hurrah!

2. I have a date, on Thursday, to watch the Masterchef final with a friend and her ten-year-old son, both excellent company. (Although the original plan was for lots of eating and, in the case of the adults, boozing, to go with it. My resolve may waver...)

3. I have now been booze-free for three whole weeks. I've only really missed it on a couple of days. Last night the Paramour and I ate take-away curry with a good friend. I drank an alcohol-free lager while the other two swigged the alcoholic kind, and I didn't feel at all deprived, left-out or otherwise bothered. So perhaps that's the solution for the Masterchef night, too.

4. My first ever book review has been published!!! The first since school, anyway. I once had to write a book review for English, and didn't get round to reading anything in time - most unlike me, it must have been the week I discovered snogging - so I wrote a review for an imaginary book. Sadly, my teacher must have spotted it, because he said it was such a well-written review that it made him want to read the book, and please could I lend it to him. Cue goldfish expression on the teenage Queenie face. Teachers, eh? Think they're clever. Oh, wait...

Friday, 20 February 2009

Sad All Over

I'm not very good at feeling sad.

I'm very good at not feeling sad.

Either way, it's not helpful right now.

My parents, bless them, have always tried to distract me from sadness. They would offer hugs, snacks, drinks, games, trips out. They would exhort me to count my blessings and look on the bright side. All was, and is, done with the best intentions. They are both incurable optimists, and have done their best to pass that on to me, with a great deal of success. I'm happy about that; I like being a positive, cheerful person.

Sometimes, though, I think I need to be sad. I wish I didn't. Victor Hugo wrote of 'the pleasure of being sad' but it doesn't feel like a pleasure to me. Maybe it's my conditioning. I can see the point: access to full range of human emotions = good thing; can't fully experience happiness/joy without experience of sadness/grief - fine. I'll take my sadness medicine, but don't expect me to like the taste.

Some people love it, don't they? A weepy film, a tragic book, a box of tissues and they're happy. Or, rather, sad. But happy to be sad. That doesn't work for me. I don't mind sad bits in books or films, as long as the end is happy, or at least not entirely sad - but I really resent being left with a big wallop of sadness inside me.

Regular readers of this blog will be unsurprised to hear that I use alcohol to distract myself from sadness. Not at the moment, though. So I'm feeling all my sadness very thoroughly. Maybe this is one of the Horrible Truths that Jumbly Girl warned me I'd probably have to face. I'm facing it good and proper, so can I have a glass of wine now please?

No? Oh.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Not Sure I'm Friends With 2009

People keep dying, for a start. An old friend in early January - 'old' in both senses of the word, and not a close friend these days, but I was sad for a little while. Then a a slightly famous person who was a friend of my former husband's family, I never met her (she lived in America) but she was a big feature in their lives, and I heard on the radio that she had died, which felt oddly like another connection broken. Then a friend, younger than me, who died of cancer, that was proper sad. And now my elderly uncle is in hospital, very ill indeed, and unlikely to come home.

Then there are the two friends being investigated for suspected cancer; the young friend whose boyfriend dumped her a few days after she'd been on the phone to me exulting about how happy she was with him and how she really thought she'd got it right this time; the old friend who announced that she wanted out of her marriage after almost 30 years because of her husband's alcohol abuse (I had no idea); the other friend whose ten-year-old daughter got run over, leg badly broken, needed an operation and a week in hospital...

I'm pretty much okay, although I feel rather as if I'm on a hilltop with flood waters lapping all around. The deaths are sad, and weird, but I wasn't hugely close to any of the people who died; also, all the deaths were expected; and none of them change the daily pattern of my life. The deaths of immediate family members, partners/spouses, close friends; they're the really hard ones to cope with. But it is a bit unsettling when a few come along at once. Also, the stressed-out living are needing a lot of support. I'm beginning to feel anxious when the phone rings, which is not a good sign.

So last night I had six sips of lovely red wine, and one sip of gorgeous single malt whisky. The Paramour had made me one of my favourite meals: gnocchi with dolcelatte, and steamed buttered spinach on the side. Red wine is almost mandatory with that. I don't feel as if I've fallen off the wagon, I feel as if I've stuck an arm out to test the temperature. I found that I wanted the taste, not the alcoholic effect. That feels like real progress!

Monday, 16 February 2009

Over Halfway

So not a drop of alcohol or a mouthful of sweetness has passed my lips for over a fortnight. Actually, that's a lie. The Paramour is, among his many other talents, an excellent brewer (that's proper brewing from scratch, not the kit variety). He had a new batch ready last week and really, really wanted me to try it. 'A little sip won't have much alcohol in,' he said. So I had a tiny taste, and it was very good indeed, and then I wanted a whole pint quite badly for a while.

There have only been two days, so far, when I've really fancied a drink - both difficult, tedious work days. Saturday was one, and following someone's suggestion that alcohol-free lager might help, I did some Internet searching and found the Alcohol Free Shop - I think I might visit the store next time I'm in Manchester. However, for the time being the local supermarket is doing the job. I bought some nearly alcohol-free lager at 0.5% ABV, hoping I might feel the effect, but it wasn't discernible. It did make a pleasant change, though. I had a sniff of the Paramour's wine at dinner that night, and it didn't smell appealing, which was surprising but helpful. I've hardly missed cakes, puddings, chocolate etc at all.

So what has changed since two weeks ago? For a start, I have a flatter tum. I don't need to lose weight (sorry) but I do have a slight pot-belly, despite a regular gym habit, so I'm quite pleased about this. My senses of taste and smell are more acute. I can really taste the sweetness in foods like nuts, milk and carrots. The enhanced sense of smell is more of a mixed blessing - when the Paramour put some vinegar in boiling water ready to poach an egg the other day, I ran away fast. Another difference I notice is that I need less sleep: 6 hours is plenty most nights, whereas when I'm drinking regularly, it's more like 7.5. Also, I'm most definitely getting more done with less effort. I've very nearly finished my writing tasks for the month, and I seem to be staying on top of my ridiculous workload. The snow has helped with both of those, of course, but I think the clear-headedness and higher energy levels have helped too.

I'm going out for lunch with a dear friend on Friday, and another friend on Tuesday, and both times I'm going to a cafe which does sumptuous cakes and puddings. So I may decide to hop briefly off the sugar wagon for one or both of those. Or not. I'll see how I feel at the time. And in theory I get to have an alcoholic drink on 1st March, but that's a Sunday, so I might choose to do that on Friday 27th or Saturday 28th instead (or I could wait till the following weekend... yeah, right!). I think I should pick something special for my first drink. Last time I did this I broke my fast with half a glass of really good red wine, which tasted great and made me very giggly. I remember being a cheap date for quite a while. The Paramour's beer is another option. Or a tequila slammer!! Any other ideas?

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Romance-Free Zone

We don't do Valentine's Day in our house. In fact we don't do romance much at all. The Paramour set out his stall, on approximately day three of our relationship, thus: 'I don't do flowers, I don't do chocolates, and I'll make a fuss of you on your birthday if you like but you'll have to remind me because I'll never remember otherwise.' I thought the potential long-termism of this was romantic in itself at the time, although during the intervening thirteen-plus years, there have been times when I've felt under-romanced.

One of those was today. I'm working a lot at the moment, and the Paramour is working a normal amount. So he was away last night, gigging with friends and having a high old time, while I was here, soberly getting on with tedious tasks. He arrived home at lunchtime today, and announced that he thought he might go to London for the day tomorrow, to see some friends of ours. Then he trotted off to lie on the sofa and watch TV. I ground my teeth at the unfairness of it all. It didn't take me long, though, to realise that if our positions were reversed, he would be happy in the knowledge that I was having fun while he was so busy. But then he's quite often more grown-up about such things than I am.

When I'm feeling under-romanced, I remind myself of how incredibly loving and supportive the Paramour is. He cooks me delicious meals, fixes my computer when it goes wrong, reads my stories and gives me feedback. He listens to me whingeing about work (or anything else, come to that) and offers helpful suggestions, and he cared for me tenderly when I had to have major surgery a while ago.

He surprises me, too, from time to time. A few years ago we were staying with friends near Cambridge, and he decided to go into the city and do some shopping. 'Bring me back a present,' I suggested, thinking maybe a bar of Green & Black's. He came back with the most beautiful top in my favourite colours. I was gobsmacked.

Although he doesn't do chocolates, apart from the odd bar as above, he bought me a bag of Thorntons Viennese Truffles once, out of the blue, because I'd moaned about the unfairness of the Continental Collection only containing two when they're my favourites. Last Christmas Day he promised me a rose garden, and within weeks he delivered - we now have a border full of the most beautiful scented roses (well at the moment it's full of ugly scent-free twigs, but you know how it is in February).

The Paramour isn't verbally demonstrative. Compliments are few and far between. He does tell me he loves me from time to time, but he's much more inclined to show than tell. He doesn't go in for the creation of domestic rituals, and any cause for celebration generally involves a pub. We have developed one pub-based ritual that is almost sacred. It's the pub-and-pizza trip on a Friday night - or, if one of us is otherwise engaged on a Friday, the next available night. This involves ordering a pizza from our rather good local take-away, then going for a drink while it cooks. Not exotic; not really all that special; but it's special to us - so much so that we've even been known to keep the faith when abroad on holiday.

So as the Paramour was out gigging last night, tonight is the night for pub-and-pizza. A text from a friend reminded me that it's Valentine's Day. I suggested, gloomily, that maybe we should scrap the idea, as the pubs will probably be rammed. The Paramour gave me a clear look and said 'I'm not letting a little thing like Valentine's Day get between me and the chance to do pub-and-pizza with YOU.'

I was married, once, to a bloke who did romance. He took me out for dinner one Valentine's Day - I am not making this up - and in the middle of the meal he announced that he'd been using my credit card and had run up a few thousand pounds' worth of debt. I think I'm better off with the current model.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

I Want A Treat

Yesterday was day 10 of the no booze, no sugary food month, and I started really wanting a drink or a pudding. I was having a frustrating day - nothing much out of the ordinary, just run-of-the-mill work hiccups: unexpected problems arising which needed quick solutions, difficulty getting hold of people, that kind of thing. And I realised that I have a slightly repulsive inner dialogue going on much of the time, as if between a child and a mother: 'I'm fed uuuuuup, it's not faaaiiiiiir.' 'You're doing really well, you deserve a treat, if you're still being good at teatime you can have a nice cakie.' Bleurrghh.

I use wine and chocolate to reward myself. That's not exactly a revelation. I'm sure it's not unusual. I'm also sure I learned it from my mother, and that it's her voice in my head. I don't think it's a bad strategy, in moderation. But I do think it's got out of proportion in my life. Yes, I work hard, but do I really need a reward for good behaviour every single day? I have a life many people would kill for: a wonderful partner, a big loving family, a nice house to live in, a job I enjoy, no debts apart from the mortgage, and plenty of me-time. Isn't that enough? Why do I need to feed myself booze and sweeties, too?

We want a lot, don't we, in our overstuffed culture. PI said don't give up too much at once, and I agree, although I haven't mentioned that I'm also having a year off clothes/shoe shopping. What I really want, paradoxically, is to want less. I'd like to use up less energy on wanting, or perhaps to use it differently, to want different things. The daily desires can easily be satisfied - a glass of wine, a triple chocolate muffin - but the satisfaction is temporary, they're soon back nagging at me to think about them some more, to satisfy or deny them again. My big desire is to make my living as a writer. Maybe a month off alcohol and sugar will help me to divert some of the energy I spend on daily wanting into the big desire, the one that takes more energy to realise. Or maybe that's a fantasy, and all it will do is give me a bit of a detox, and I'll settle gradually back into my old lifestyle.

In the meantime, being a researcher, I think it's time to collect more data. So please tell: do you feel the need to give yourself treats? Why? What constitutes a treat for you?

Monday, 9 February 2009

People and Writing

The best thing in my life is the people. Including you. I love people, I'm fascinated by people. I studied social psychology for my first degree because I find people so interesting. I adore my job as a researcher because I speak to all sorts of people I'd never otherwise meet, and ask them all sorts of questions that I wouldn't be able to ask in everyday life.

Of course I don't love every individual person. I'm generally well disposed towards my fellow human, but I'm also perfectly capable of anger, resentment, hatred etc etc. Some people I dislike; others I distrust. But of all the people I've ever met, I've liked the vast majority - at least in some respects - and many of them I've loved.

This is also the best thing about writing. When I write a story it usually starts with an idea or a prompt. That generates a chain of 'what ifs'. For example, I was recently playing with ideas for a story on the theme of 'conflict', set for a writing competition. My first association with conflict was war zones, but I decided I couldn't write a story set in one because I don't have enough experience and the research would take too long. Then I thought of a married couple arguing, but that seemed too boring. My next thought was of the conflict between teenagers and parents. That started to spark ideas. I remembered stories from friends with teenage children, thought of my own teenage experiences, remembered how it felt when I worked with teenagers.

These ideas were interesting and useful but still quite abstract. They needed populating. So I began to build some characters in my head. The thought process went something like this: a mum, a single mum, yes, that would make her life more difficult. Not a bad mum, but not brilliant; loving, insecure, hard-working, a bit inconsistent. Two children, a girl of 16 and a boy of 14. Both kicking against the restrictions she tries to impose. Bullying her. Yes, that would work. They could tell her she's a crap parent. Maybe one of them bunks off school, she says they're grounded, the youngster goes out anyway. The girl, probably. Pushes past her to get to the door, bruises her in the process. The boy, he tells lies, is careless, has a skanky bedroom. Perhaps the girl could have a horrible boyfriend, charming in person but he's done something criminal, mugging maybe, he's due in court, will probably get a custodial sentence. Ooh, perhaps the dad could be in prison too, for something really vile, I know, he killed their younger sibling when it was a baby because it wouldn't stop crying. Mum has been trying to cope with her grief and make it up to the other two ever since.

I love this bit, because it's about the people. The hours I spend playing with imaginary people in my head are so enjoyable. It's hard to convey the pleasure it gives, although I think other fiction writers may understand. A non-writer friend recently asked me to explain it, and I did my best to demonstrate how much fun it is to invent people and then make them have a really bad time, torture them, ensure they really suffer. I was in full flow when I caught sight of her face, open-mouthed in shock. She has always known me as a reasonably kind-hearted person and I think it was a bit of a revelation. Plus she's a trained counsellor, so she has her own ways of making stories about people.

In real life I don't want anyone to suffer. One of the colossal flaws in my early writing was that everyone always got on well and had a lovely time, and as a result, although well written, my stories were very boring to read. With a little help from a good friend, I've been able to get over that, at least to some extent. But how far can I go? I don't think I'll ever want to write like, say, Stephen King, who is a master of the bad time/torture/suffering aspect of writing. I don't enjoy reading suspense/horror so it seems unlikely that I'd enjoy writing it. I do, though, think I could take this aspect of my writing further. And writing stories on the theme of 'conflict' seems like a good way to explore.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Feeling Smug, Smug, Smug

Well that snow freed up some time, what with cancelled meetings and lots of people not being in work. As a result, I got several stories edited and sent off to mags, and have started work on two new ones. So I'm well ahead with my targets for the month. And it's only the 6th!

The no-booze plan is going well, too. It's getting easier, and the weekend ahead holds no terrors, not even the usual Friday night trip to the pub with the Paramour. I had a headache for a few days, which I think was because I've also cut right back on sugar. Like many of us, I guess, I got stuck in to the sweet treats over Xmas/New Year, and I didn't quite seem to get out of the habit again in January. I'm thinking about staying off the cakes/biscuits/chocolate etc completely for Feb. I'm not being completely rigid about it, I'm still putting sugar in the bread I make, and I had a blob of ketchup with my dinner last night, but I think if I keep off all the major sugar hits, that will be a good thing. Like alcohol, cakes and puddings are lovely to consume, and make me feel good for a short while, but then leave me feeling worse as my blood sugar plummets like a stricken aeroplane.

So I'm feeling thoroughly smug, even though I am going to have to work for most of the weekend. The sun is shining, too. All is well.

Saturday update: AND I've had a story shortlisted by That's Life Fast Fiction in Australia! It's the one I sold last year. I'm not holding my breath, though, as I understand from other womag writers that it may be months before I hear anything further. But still, being shortlisted is way better than being turned down.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

This Not Drinking Thing

Two days, no alcohol, no problem. I haven't felt like drinking, partly because I had a fairly boozy Fri/Sat with an old friend and a couple of days off after a weekend like that is normal for me, and partly because I've had a slight head cold, nothing requiring commiserations, but enough to leave me not wanting the dehydrating effect of alcohol in my sinuses. But today, a busy busy work day, I've found myself, a couple of times, thinking 'hmmm, glass of wine tonight?' and having to remind myself that it's not going to happen.

Despite my days off, the evening glass of wine has become habitual, and that's what I want to change. It is something I really enjoy, a treat to look forward to at the end of a hectic day, a punctuation marker between work and relaxation. But it's also not good for me. And I'm not comfortable with habits unless they're beneficial. I gave up smoking; I stopped biting my nails. I like habits that make me feel better - not that I'm some kind of Puritan, I'm anyone's for a luscious piece of cake or a chunk of good-quality chocolate, but most of my diet is healthy, and I also have an exercise habit, and I feel better as a result.

The trouble with alcohol is, it is enjoyable and makes me feel better in the (very) short-term, but it makes me feel worse in the (slightly) longer-term. As in, a glass or two of wine with my dinner tonight would be lovely, but the quality of my life for the next 24 hours would be worse if I indulged than if I didn't. I would sleep more lightly, quite possibly lying awake for two or three hours during the night; feel more tired and hungry in the morning; and the sluggishness would, to a greater or smaller extent, stay with me through the day. I could banish it by drinking the next evening's glass of wine, but only temporarily.

The trouble with not drinking alcohol is, I sometimes suffer from insomnia on non-drinking nights, and sometimes feel dozy and hungover on completely sober days. Which I have to say I think is horribly unfair.

I'm hoping that taking this month off will help me to change my relationship with alcohol. I'm not sure what I want to change it to, so I hope I can find that out as well.

I've booked an acupuncture appointment for tomorrow afternoon. I love acupuncture. I don't think it works for everything, and I don't think it's right for everyone all the time, but for some things, for some people, at some times, it's tremendous. I sometimes go for quite long periods between treatments - I think it's about a year since I last had one - but it feels like the right time to start again. One thing I know it's good for is supporting the kind of change I'm trying to make, and I expect it'll see this wee cold off too. Don't ask me how it works, I haven't a clue. But those ancient Chinese people definitely knew some stuff we don't know.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Plans for February

February is going to be so busy, workwise, that I doubt I'll have a single day off (and, yes, that does include weekends). So I'm not going to have much time for writing. However, I do plan to find time to:
  1. Write two new short stories
  2. Edit and submit three short stories that I've already written
  3. Edit and re-submit three short stories that have come back from womags
  4. Submit the story I sold last October, in the UK, to That's Life Australia
  5. Make progress with the background reading and note-taking for my travel book (aiming to finish this by the end of March)
I think that's realistic. I can do an hour or two, most evenings. And I've got a train trip coming up when I can do some work on my trusty laptop.

So no work on the novel; no actual writing on the travel book; and no competition entries. I suspect March will be the same, but I hope to see a change in April.

Another thing I intend to do in February is stay off the booze. I'm so busy that I can't afford to have alcohol-related insomnia or dozy morning head. As I get older, my tolerance for alcohol gets lower. In my early 20s I used to go out and get hammered on Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday night, and I would still be up bright and early for work on Monday morning. Now, if I went out and got hammered on Friday night, I'd spend the rest of the weekend in bed recovering. I don't drink huge amounts these days, and I try to have at least two days off each week, but it's not unusual for the Paramour and I to share a bottle of wine some nights. I think I need to find a way to get the same amount of enjoyment from a single glass of wine that I used to get from half a bottle. Trouble is, that seems like a great plan before the single glass, but after it all my resolve seems to disappear! So I hope a complete break will help me rethink all this, as well as making it easier to get all my work done.

I last had a month off about five years ago. Then I was going to do it again three years ago, but on day 12 my cat died and I reached for the hooch. Which is drinking as stress management, and not good - one of the things I've been trying to change. The other is drinking as essential to social occasions. But I don't want to give up the booze altogether, because I love wine, enjoy real ale, like brandy, Calvados, Armagnac and single malt whisky, and generally find alcohol life-enhancing. I'd like to reach a point where I only drink what I want, when I want, and I don't turn to alcohol as a matter of routine, either when I've had a bad day or when I'm socialising.

Having said all that, I had a lovely boozy night last night, with the Paramour and an old friend. This morning, while I'm not hungover, the idea of a complete break from the booze feels like a relief. I am also aware that this feeling may not last for the whole of the next 28 days (February is a good month to choose for this!!). I'll let you know how it goes.