Big Spiders and Birthdays

Autumn is here, trumpeting its arrival with the mass migration of huge sultana-bodied and hairy-legged spiders from places strictly external to our property, to within every nook and cranny of the house, and with the return of X Factor. Other traditional features of the third season of the year are the arrival of thousands of students to our fine Sheffield streets, the sudden imposition of severe limitations on daylight dog-walking hours (resulting in the necessity to cram daily tasks in to even less time), and ongoing battles between myself and my other half regarding the heating – ten degrees, and he’s still in shorts and a T-shirt whilst I’m cocooned in at least three jumpers, thermal tights and a vest, excogitating the pros and cons of wearing a woolly hat (pros = warm, cons = itchy, makes head look daft, flattens hair).

Autumn also means my birthday is approaching (in two weeks, October 14th, same as Winnie the Pooh’s). Since I was in my mid teens, I have mostly got plastered on my birthday. This means that I now struggle to remember pretty much any of them, and the memories that I can pull together from those drink-fuelled days just blur in to one, creating a hazy montage of shot glasses, rowdy pubs, throwing up and bad hangovers.

Now that I don’t drink, this whole ‘let’s get drunk, it’s my birthday’ idea strikes me as curious – get dressed up, meet some friends, and then get so smashed that you make yourself ill and proceed to forget everything that you did to celebrate your latest coming of age. For my thirtieth, I had a party; a fancy dress bash with the following theme – 1970’s yacht party off the coast of Biarritz. The whole purpose behind this night was to get shitfaced; decorating the house, getting dressed up in silly clothes and a pink wig, fairy lights, carefully chosen music – the entire evening was an excuse for me to get off my head. I succeeded, and was so drunk by 10.30 pm that I was carried upstairs, threw up in to a bucket next to my bed, and then drifted off in to an alcohol-induced coma. Meanwhile, my guests had a lovely time downstairs until the early hours of the following morning, when they let themselves out quietly, leaving their oh-so-attentive hostess passed out in her boudoir.

However, I am not bitter. I have plenty more birthdays to come and I intend to remember each and every one from now on. I also plan to do something cool to celebrate each year that I grow in age and (I hope) wisdom. Sitting in a pub is of no interest to me. Eating a meal in a restaurant is nice, but I do that on many other non-birthday days too. What I’m looking for is an experience – a daytime activity preferably (baby restrictions still in place), something that will really stick in my mind. And something different.

On that note, there are a few followers of this blog now, and so if any of you have a good idea for my fast-approaching 37th birthday, would you send it me on a comment? I promise to do my favourite of any suggestions, blog about it and include photos. Nothing rude, inappropriate, alcohol-related or boring please…thanks all. 🙂

Have you got a drinking problem?

I was talking to a journalist yesterday about the Soberistas project and she asked me the following question; “What is the difference between the way you used to drink, and the way I drink (i.e. having a gin and tonic in the evening to relax – just the one, drinking responsibly?).”

John Lewis, Sheffield – a truly wonderful place in which to purchase

I told her that when I used to drink I never opened a bottle of wine without knowing that I would finish it, I always did a recce upon arriving at an event in order to establish how much booze would be made available to me, and the phrase ‘drinking responsibly’ – well that was left wide open to my interpretation. I did a lot of denial back then; I had a few tricks up my addict’s sleeve which I called upon to cushion the knowledge that my alcohol intake had reached epic proportions.

Drinking responsibly was something that middle class people did. If I bought my wine from Waitrose and it was a ten quid bottle of Chablis or a twenty quid bottle of Barolo, that was drinking responsibly. Forget the fact that I drank two or three of them, amounting to roughly three times my weekly safe limit in one night. When I carefully placed my rinsed bottles in to my Heal’s recycling bin, that was drinking responsibly. Dropping those bottles off at the Waitrose recycling bin was drinking responsibly. Meeting friends for a glass of fizz in the nice Italian bar down the road, sitting outside in the sun all dressed up and feeling sophisticated, that was drinking responsibly. And drinking a juicy Rioja with a steaming bowl of pasta, candlelit table, romance all around – that was drinking responsibly.

Human powers of denial are tenacious, as was my inability to recognise that booze, dressed up however, is booze. With each tenner I spent in Waitrose’s wine section (can I just point out that I love Waitrose and John Lewis, really I do. Definitely my supermarket/department store of choice – this is purely to illustrate my point that I was truly gifted at kidding myself for a fifth of a century with regards to my alcohol addiction), I was slowly poisoning myself. Further to my point that I love the John Lewis partnership, I do still enjoy parting with my money in their stores, but now it goes on food, perfume, nice vases, cushions, lovely clothes and pleasing bath products.

Anyway – is your drinking problematic? Are you a responsible drinker or an irresponsible drinker? As an aside, when you type the word ‘responsibly‘ in to Google, the top suggestions that appear are ‘beer,’ ‘vodka’ and ‘brewery’….Interesting.

To help us at Soberistas in our quest to determine how many people are ‘irresponsible’ drinkers (I say this with tongue firmly in cheek) please would you be so kind as to fill in our little survey? And even better, if you could pass it on to anyone who you think might also fill it in for us, that would be wonderful. We are passionate about turning the logic around that tells us a small amount of this drug we call alcohol is good, but if you drink a little bit more than that, it’s bad, as is the person who drinks it. So please help. Thank you.

Central nervous system appears to be much improved!

This afternoon, Anita and I are off to appear on TV in order to talk about our upcoming website,, which we are launching in November 2012. I have never been on TV before (except for when I sat in the audience of Light Lunch with Mel and Sue somewhere in the 1990’s when I was a student, clearly armed with sufficient free time to allow me to while away my afternoons watching Anne Robinson, Mike Flowers and the Krankies in a studio near Waterloo) and so I would have expected the nerves to kick in a little by now. Not so, which is interesting, when you consider that back in my drinking days I was a bag of nerves.

Image –

I’m not simply talking about feeling anxious when an event was approaching which would cause most people to suffer an attack of the jitters to a degree (exams, driving test, etc) – I am talking about the necessity of talking to a bus driver in order to pay my fare, or sitting in the passenger seat of a car and clinging to the seat in terror despite travelling at approximately two miles an hour in heavy traffic, or walking in to a packed cinema and being convinced that all eyes were on me (and not for any positive reasons).

In my drinking days I was, quite simply, a bag of nerves. Alcohol depresses the central nervous system, increases heart rate, causes a drop in blood sugar levels, induces dehydration, as well as affecting mood due to a drop in serotonin. I had an inkling that alcohol might be behind those terrible ‘days after the night before’ when I suffered palpitations, paranoia, depression, anxiety, and heightened fear over what should be everyday situations, but I always put it down to my personality. As I was in a state of denial for many years regarding the seriousness of my binge drinking, I managed to convince myself that I was just a nervy person, and I needed cigarettes and booze just to get me through this tricky business we call life.

How nice it is then, to be preparing for our appearance on Calendar without feeling as though my heart were about to burst out of my chest, or that I’m going to throw my guts up, faint or die of fear. This is my personality, not that overwrought wreck who wanted to hide away from life’s challenges (and from anything that involved a little more human interaction than watching Ice Road Truckers/Come Dine With Me/Jeremy Kyle from my settee, whilst counting down the hours until it was acceptable to have another glass of wine). What a relief!

Plant, pet, then person

Years ago I had a friend who was in therapy. She told me that her therapist had given her the following advice; first, get a plant. When you can keep it alive and thriving for more than six months, get yourself a pet. If you can maintain its health and happiness and nobody reports you to the RSPCA for abandonment or worse, then think about having a relationship with a human being.

I wish I had taken notice of this when my marriage broke up. My husband and I had kept a few pot plants in the house, and one by one they withered and died as I nursed my shattered soul over too much wine, immersing myself in a pool of misery which was akin to swimming through mud for the first few months. There wasn’t much room for being green fingered. At the same time, I was attempting to look after our dog, Mowgli, and here is a story in itself.

Me, my eldest daughter, then aged three, and our beloved Mowgli

My ex husband walked out on me and my little girl when she was just four, on Valentine’s Day and the day after I had fallen down the stairs (not drunk for once in my life!) and broken my foot, causing an impressive metatarsal shatter that was similar to one David Beckham had around the time, or so I was excitedly told by the football fanatic doctor who x-rayed me.

We had acquired a puppy just six months previously, a wonderful ball of energy who was so extraordinarily full of love and joy, whilst simultaneously being utterly devoid of sense, the ability to be trained and even the merest hint of a brain. Given the timing of the marriage split (February), the roads were covered in sheet ice, snow lay around in piles of exhaust-fume blackened sludge, and temperatures were not particularly kind.

The dog had boundless energy and could have easily handled a couple of ten mile walks in the morning, followed by a quick swim across the English Channel and back again in time for his kibble. My daughter was small and had short four-year-old’s legs and not the slightest inclination to walk further than to the corner shop and back for sweets. I had a pot on my leg and was on crutches. You might say we were in something of a pickle.

We muddled by though, gratefully accepting the help of wonderful friends and family, taking the dog out wherever possible and throwing balls for him in the field at the bottom of the road in order to tire him out, trying to remain sanguine when he ate our coats and shoes, biting my lip and fighting back the tears when I would hobble home on my crutches to find yet another piece of expensive furniture that he had ripped apart in a fit of pique at being left on his own for longer than half an hour. One time, he managed to open the kitchen cupboard under the sink and pull out its entire contents; scores of plastic bags were shredded and strewn around the floor, intermingled with two supersize sack’s worth of dog kibble which he had opened with his teeth, bottles of detergents and washing up liquid had been chewed and spilt all over the wooden floor, mixing with the other debris to create a sloppy, slippy, horrendous mess that took me hours to clean up.

After six months, I gave the dog to a re-homing place nearby. He was only one year old, and I knew that if a dog lover with more time and energy on their hands than I had at the time, took him on, they would be able to build him up to become a fine adult dog. He just needed patience and time and lots of long walks – three things that I was not able to provide him with at the time. After parting with my beloved puppy, I should have taken the hint; relationships with humans were never going to work for me whilst I was in that place. I had such a longing, however, to rebuild my family, to find a replacement Dad for the one who had buggered off with somebody else that I wasn’t as discerning as I might have been in my choice of boyfriends.

I remember at the time simply craving a family unit, and it coloured my vision. With hindsight I should have just waited until Mr. Right (who is currently asleep upstairs) came along and swept me off in a cloud of happiness. Could have, would have, should have. And I hope, Mowgli, that wherever you found yourself, you had a happy life and understood that we loved you so much. I really, truly, wish that I had kept you and rebuffed humans (in the boyfriend sense) for a while. I wish I could have made you in to the dog that you should have been. I’m sorry.

The only thing to fear is fear itself

Now that I have been sober for over a year and a half and I love my life so much without the alcohol-related sluggishness, lack of productivity, grumpiness, mood swings, bad complexion and much reduced finances, I sometimes look back to the twenty years that I spent mostly getting drunk, and I wonder why the hell it took me so long to put a cork in it.

Ten years prior to me becoming teetotal, I had an inkling that I was drinking too much, that my relationship with alcohol was unhealthy. There were many occasions when I got utterly smashed, waking up with no memory of the previous night or (sometimes) worse, only bits and pieces of memory that linked together an evening littered with embarrassing actions and regretful words that I mostly wished I hadn’t remembered.

Five years prior to quitting, the fear set in. Often at night, when I hadn’t slipped in to an alcohol-induced coma, I would lie awake in the dark touching my chest, checking for lumps. I became paranoid that I had breast cancer as a result of my awful lifestyle – smoking and drinking to excess, eating rubbish, not eating enough. My consciousness was riddled with fear; night after night I tormented myself that my mortality would be realised sooner than it ought to be. I read voraciously articles about binge drinking, alcoholism, drug addiction, depression. I was acutely aware of the statistical evidence relating to women binge drinkers and the associated increase in liver disease and cancers, and yet I did not attempt to sober up.

The reason that I did not seek help is because I was frightened. I was frightened of walking in to a room full of strangers and saying that I was an alcoholic. I was frightened that I had inflicted irreversible liver damage on myself, or that upon seeking help a doctor might discover any one of a plethora of horrendous diseases, festering undeterred in my body. I was frightened that if I stopped drinking alcohol, I would be forced to endure the rest of my days gagging for wine, salivating each time I walked past a beer garden on a hot summer’s day, drooling whenever I ate a meal in a restaurant surrounded by bottles of wine being glugged appreciatively by other diners. And because I was so frightened, I continued to drink. And drink, and drink.

Finally I made the decision to quit drinking because of one night back in April 2011. The bottom dropped out of my world in the small hours of the morning after, and when I regained my senses I came to the conclusion at last, that I never wanted to touch alcohol again. Despite knowing in my heart that my rollercoaster ride with booze was over forever, I still held on to the fear that I had lost my best friend – my companion, shoulder to cry on, ego booster, courage giver, and the one who could always be relied upon to inject fun in to any situation. In the immediate aftermath, I often questioned my dependency, for, as anyone who makes the decision to leave alcohol behind will tell you, the issue of self-diagnosis is a thorny one. You wonder how you can be an alcohol addict when those around you are getting out of their heads every weekend; why nice people in films get wasted together, and the audience don’t find their characters repellent; why family celebrations are a hotbed of drunkenness and nobody seems to care. Why are you an alcoholic and they are just enjoying a drink? Where is the line? Who draws the line?

The answers to those questions are not easy, but the further removed I become from an existence sullied by alcohol abuse, the more I appreciate how much better life is since I gave myself a chance to be me, minus the mask.

Guest Blogger on Alastair Campbell’s Website Today!

After contacting Alastair Campbell, who describes himself as ‘Writer, communicator, strategist, used to be Tony Blair’s spokesman, now my own,’ in order to see if he might help us to raise awareness of our upcoming website, he kindly suggested that we write a guest post on his blog. Alastair uploaded our post this morning and you can read it by following the link below. Thank you for your support Alastair!


“Five years from now, you’re the same person except for the people you’ve met and the books you’ve read.” – John Wooden, born October 14th 1910

Aged 17 – October 14, 1992

Living in the moment, never looking further than the next weekend, drifting further in to the nightclub scene. You are a raver, dressed in your cat suit and trainers; hair sleek, in a bob, lips red, aware of your femininity. Music is everything, the underground scene is hypnotic; its naughtiness and illegality is like a drug, club fliers adorn your bedroom wall replacing your posters of The Smiths and Depeche Mode. First year of ‘A’ levels, but you’ve outgrown it now, it’s a burden on your time. Life flows eternally before you, there are no worries and no cares other than a strange persuasion you have developed to almost enjoy the dark side, to wallow in your suffering and to emulate your heroine, Laura Palmer – a strange one to pick given her untimely death, preceded by a life afflicted by drug addiction and abuse.

Aged 22 – October 14, 1997

Oh, you emulated Laura alright, other than her murder – and that isn’t such an unlikely possibility these days. A recreational enjoyment of clubs and their associated pleasures has strayed in to the murky waters of grim addiction; the only friends you have are in the same boat. Thrown out of a nightclub on this, your birthday, for being so out of it; you aren’t demonstrating an ounce of care for your safety, and you don’t eat much at all. Your hair is short, your body is thin; you virtually live in a pub exclusively frequented by abusers of alcohol and drugs. You’re going down, down, down…

Aged 27 – October 14, 2002

Dragged out of the sinking sand by the arrival of your gorgeous baby girl, she is now three years old and the apple of your eye. Her Dad, your husband, is busy working all the hours God sends – mostly you spend time with your friends. When your baby is in bed, you drink; it’s not so much, a few bottles of beer or a bottle of wine with a meal, and at the weekend it’s more. There are parties and nights out with girlfriends, where drinking is the thing to do, drinking enough to occasionally act in a way you regret. But the regrets are few and far between, life is for the living, mortality is a concept that, so far, you don’t acknowledge. One year left of your degree – studying is time well spent, an effort to establish a foundation on which to some day build a career. That day might come sooner than you think; your marriage is almost done.

Aged 32 – October 14, 2007

Ooh, happy birthday you! Four years since the breakdown of your marriage, things are no longer so pretty. Wine is a staple of your existence – it tends to your every emotion; happy, sad, bored, depressed, lonely…drinking in company is getting harder – the necessary control over the amount you consume is a struggle. Your self esteem has taken a battering, over and over again there’s an action that you regret or words you wished had been left unsaid. Your office job bores you to tears, there should be more to life than this – drinking is an aid to forgetting. Relationships are hard to sustain, difficult to work out. Being a mother keeps your head out of the water, but the current is strong and it’s dragging you down.

Aged 37 – October 14, 2012

Just under four weeks from now, I will turn 37. On numerous occasions during my life, I have wondered whether I would live as long as this. Many times my thoughts turned to suicide; I never fully grasped the notion as a plan of action, but the tendency to ponder whether life should ever be this arduous, this painful, was ever present for a long time. My little girl consistently provided the reason why life is always worth it, no matter how tough things become, and for that, as well as for a myriad of other reasons, I am eternally grateful that I have her in my world. She saved me.

As every five year interval in my life passed, things did not seem to change direction much. I was sitting in a boat, adrift in an ocean of depression and misunderstanding of what life is about, carried along on a current of self-destruction and pity, never looking far enough in to the distance to seek out another way. Until a couple of years ago.

This last five year interval represents a series of events that have gently prodded and pulled me, this way and that, tugging me in to a place that is warm and happy and safe. It’s a place  I never thought I would find myself in – where the walls of depression and self-hatred have crumbled away to leave an open space, full of endless possibilities. It’s the place where I have found my soul mate, had my second daughter, and truly arrived at the realisation of what my life should be. I never want to leave this place behind.

Things are on the up – my eldest daughter and me in Newquay last summer, showing off my recently bought engagement ring.

Jane Eyre aka Lucy @Soberistas – Part 2

So delighted was I to have received the distinction of being ‘Freshly Pressed,’ I felt impelled to memorialise the occasion in some simple fashion; it is an achievement which has stirred much joy in my heart, and I could not conceive of yet another weekend passing by in the usual fugacious manner with no celebration to be had by which to mark my accomplishment, no matter how trivial. Hence, I resolved to make a reservation at a restaurant – a simple and homely establishment not far from my lodging – wherefore I could dine with my dear sister, her husband, my nephew, my two delightful daughters and my fiancé, of which you are already familiar owing to my previous instalment of this electronic chronicle.

Hitherto on this grey inclement morning, I have tended to Lily who unfortunately remains unsettled during the night, despite her being in possession of such a convivial temperament during daylight hours, her cherubic face more inclined to smile than to shed tears, and yet who persists in waking and caterwauling in the diminutive hours, attended to the laundry – I am acquainted with ladies who are blessed with the good fortune of affording minions who tend to their domestic matters, but alas, this is a luxury of which we are ill disposed and therefore the responsibility falls largely to myself, and accompanying the dog in to the grounds in order that she may micturate and stretch her limbs.

Reader, I do not wish to bemoan these domestic chores, nor the sleepless nights during which I devotedly attempt to soothe the infant’s disgruntled demeanour, nor the small dog’s visitation requirements to the garden at first light. These daily duties form the very core of my existence, and it is a life for which I am truly grateful, in every waking moment of my continuation on this fair earth. For the subsistence of which I was acquainted previously, an over reliance on liquor and a narcissistic absorption of matters relevant only to myself, was a life of no value. Carrying out my daily chores is proof that I have others to bestow my attentions upon, who would suffer privation if I ceased to be a presence in their spheres, and without whom, my life would be forever interred in to oblivion.

However, I digress – the true purpose of this instalment was to profess my thanks, to the editors of WordPress for appointing my erstwhile post, Jane Eyre aka Lucy @Soberistas, worthy of appearing on the homepage of their meritorious blog site, and to you, dear Reader, for the abundance of heart warming sentiments that have been kindly deposited at the foot of the aforementioned post.

Thank you.

The Circle of Life

I don’t know whether the thoughts I have been having latterly about life are as a result of a) having a baby recently, b) giving up drinking recently or c) growing older recently (I understand that we are all growing older from the day we are born and therefore this can’t be a thing you do recently, or something that you used to do – it is something that you do, always. But I mean growing older in a different sense; I mean growing in wisdom).

I wrote in an earlier post (Robert the Geranium Plant) that in my view, you don’t grow as a person when you regularly get wasted, drinking to obliterate happiness and sadness and emptiness and joyfulness and loneliness. You only develop your character when you face everything that life hurls at you, head on. You can’t protect yourself by hiding behind the flimsy shield of booze; in doing so, you are essentially freezing your emotional maturity, and the day will come when life will demand a level of sensibility of you, and you just won’t be able to cut the mustard.

Anyway, today my thoughts turned to the circle of life. As I fed my baby, I realised that this precious life in my arms, the responsibility that I have for her life, isn’t simply for the living, breathing physical being that I was holding. It is for everything that should be hers during the next seventy or eighty years, or for however long she will live for on this earth. The life that sleeps in a cot as I write this, is an education, a graduation, a first kiss, friendships, nights out with friends, nights in alone, tears of happiness and of sadness, grieving, celebrations, a marriage, giving birth, wondering what to wear, being on a diet, feeling fantastic, having a bad hair day, walking a dog, flying a kite, achieving goals, fulfilling a dream, enjoying a good book, learning a language, passing a driving test, getting a parking ticket, grazing a knee, doing the shopping, falling in love, breaking up, getting a promotion, developing a crush. That is the weight of the responsibility of having a child – the life that you create is the decades on this earth, living in its entirety.

Later, as I pushed the pram through the park, Lily gazing upwards at the leaves wafting on the trees, I passed a trio of old ladies drinking tea outside the café. And when I looked at them, I saw their lives. I didn’t see old ladies, at a standstill in time; grey and wrinkled, forever stuck in a state of decrepitude as if they had been born that way and would always be that way. I saw a fluctuating motion of lives being lived, a recognition that we are all in infancy, and childhood, youth and middle-age, grey and dying. We cannot be characterised by age, when we are all moving through life in one perpetual process of growing older. Those ladies were not frozen in time, their proximity to the end static, with their deaths arriving like a sudden shock, a bolt out of the blue that nobody saw coming. Those ladies represented life.

At one time they were celebrating their weddings, holding their newborn babies, choosing a dress for a special occasion, getting frustrated in a traffic jam, soothing a poorly child, dropping the children off at school, passing exams, going for a job interview, losing a loved one, making a cake, going to work. The ladies drinking tea were once the baby in someone’s arms, the only difference between them and Lily being that they have had their time already.

So, there I was, pondering these thoughts and ambling along, and thinking that in all the time I drank alcohol, I never thought things like this. And I asked myself, am I experiencing this moment of clarity as a result of a) having a baby recently, b) giving up drinking recently or c) growing older recently?

Probably a combination of all three.

Nb. Monday 17th September 2012 is Respect for the Aged day in Japan.