Life without alcohol: ten months sober

I’m more than 300 days sober now (304 to be precise), which is very nearly the bulk of a year. So far it’s been one of the strangest years of my life, but I won’t go into that until the year is properly over.

Hallowe'en lantern

Ten months in, I’m sort of newly realising that I’m still actually fairly early on in my journey, and there are still things that are tripping me up, and things that I’m encountering sober for the first time. I haven’t done a music festival this year, and I don’t think I’ll be ready to do one next year either. I still don’t feel fully comfortable in pubs and clubs, and in fact I’m going to them less and less frequently.

I won’t be playing the ‘election drinking game’ this December. This was something that I did for every general election for years and years – I made huge jugs of cocktail with crappy old alcohol from the back of the cupboard to ‘use it up’, and then put food colouring in the jugs to match the political party colours. The game was very simple – ‘sip for a hold, glug for a gain’ – so when Labour held a seat in Newcastle, you’d take a sip of the red cocktail, and when the SNP gained a seat in Scotland, you’d take a big glug of the yellow cocktail (2015 required a LOT of yellow cocktail). Geth and I would be sick for days afterwards, but it was a tradition. I didn’t do it in 2017 because it was too soon after the 2015 election, but this is the first general election for which it’s no longer an option, and strangely, I feel a bit bereft as a result.

(I’ve also realised, in my wiser sober state, that following politics is not actually good for my mental health at the moment, and while I’ll obviously be voting, I will be getting an early night on election day instead of watching the results.)

I’ve also not navigated the Christmas period sober yet. While I will have had nearly a year to prepare for it, I’m still feeling quite a bit of trepidation about the whole thing. I’m already a bit sad that I won’t ever again have mulled wine, or Christmas cake made with whisky, or Christmas pudding with brandy poured over it for the flambé effect. I am, however, excited about doing the extra parkruns over the Christmas period, and Geth has promised to have a quiet Hogmanay with me so that we can do the New Year’s Day double parkrun.

I had a fairly ridiculous moment at the A-ha gig in Leeds on Saturday night when I went to the bar to get drinks for myself and Geth. Because of avoiding bars for the most part over the last few months, as well as the fact that it’s usually Geth who buys the drinks, I hadn’t actually been in a situation since I got sober where I was carrying a pint of beer for someone else. When I was still drinking, if I was collecting a pint for Geth, I would always take a big sip of it before carrying it back to the table so that I wouldn’t spill it while carrying it (the extra beer would be lost either way, so it wasn’t like I was stealing his beer – just preventing the excess from dripping all over my hand and the floor!). It wasn’t until I had the beer in my hand on Saturday night that I realised that was no longer an option.

Cue an extremely slow walk back into the main arena in an attempt not to spill the beer (which was ultimately unsuccessful as there was a door in my way), and then a further realisation that I couldn’t even lick my own hand clean, and…it just all felt a bit ludicrous, really. Maybe I should start carrying protective plastic gloves.

I’ve not reviewed any booze alternatives this month as I’ve been a bit too busy for non-diary blogging most days. I will try and do some over this next month, though, as I’ve got a bit of a backlog.

Mental health improvement plans are still quietly trucking along in the background. Hopefully next month I’ll have a bit more of an update on that.

Music Review: Now! That’s What I Call Music #1

You might be aware that the Now! That’s What I Call Music compilation album series will be releasing its 100th edition on 20th July this year.  I’ve got a huge soft spot for the series, largely because my parents bought the vinyl release of Now! That’s What I Call Music #10 in 1987 and it basically shaped my music taste, but also because it was such a big thing when I was growing up in the ’90s – at school and at parties, someone always had a Now! album kicking about.  I’m surprised in some ways that the series is still going strong in the age of streaming, but it is, which is nice and nostalgic for me.

To celebrate the upcoming 100th edition, I’m going to review every single Now! compilation – one per day between today and 20th July – starting, obviously, with #1, which came out on 28th November 1983.

(When I say ‘review’, I of course mean ‘burble about anything that comes to mind about these particular tracks’.  Just clarifying that in case you thought this was going to be in any way musically technical!)

Let’s get started, shall we?

Now That's What I Call Music #1

Track 1: Phil Collins – You Can’t Hurry Love

’80s-era solo Phil Collins, especially poppy, bouncy nonsense like this, is very much what I consider a ‘guilty pleasure’.  A few ciders and I will always be up dancing to this one at weddings.

Track 2: Duran Duran – Is There Something I Should Know?

I love Duran Duran, and this one’s a cracker, especially the constant backing vocals.  The lyrics are great too:

And fiery demons all dance when you walk through that door
Don’t say you’re easy on me, you’re about as easy as a nuclear war

People just don’t write songs like this nowadays (waves stick in air).

Track 3: UB40 – Red Red Wine

Another ‘I’d dance to this one at a wedding’ track.  There may be a theme emerging.  Cheesy, but in a pleasant, head-nodding way.

Track 4: Limahl – Only For Love

I wasn’t familiar with this one, which is unusual for me with ’80s pop songs.  I do like the epic nature of the bridge, and the song gets better as it goes on, but I probably wouldn’t add it to my Spotify playlist.

Track 5: Heaven 17 – Temptation

A favourite!  I defy anyone not to chant along with the ‘temp-tation‘ bits.  Incidentally, if you ask Geth to DJ your wedding, you’ll inevitably hear this one.

Track 6: KC & The Sunshine Band – Give It Up

Bit cheesy even for me, this one, but I do like the instrumental bits.

Track 7: Malcolm McLaren – Double Dutch

Another one I didn’t know.  I’m not keen on the sampling mishmash at the start, but I quite like the idea of an ode to skipping ropes.  It’s the kind of whimsy that’s mostly missing from music today.

Track 8: Bonnie Tyler – Total Eclipse Of The Heart

One for singing along to at the top of your voice when you’re absolutely certain nobody else can hear you (this is a pleasure that was denied to me for quite a few years until I moved into a detached house last month).

Track 9: Culture Club – Karma Chameleon

Not my favourite Culture Club song, but I have fond memories of my friend Laura and I writing notes to each other in our homework diaries in high school, arguing about the correct lyrics to this song (she thought it was ‘if you were the colour of my dreams‘, rather than ‘if your colours were like my dreams‘).  These things were extremely important.

Track 10: Men Without Hats – The Safety Dance

I make no apologies for adoring this one.  I also point you to this wonderful meme, which Geth likes to use for complaining purposes whenever we hear it in a goth club.

Track 11: Kajagoogoo – Too Shy

Daft song, but it’s still better than all of Limahl’s solo stuff except for Neverending Story.

Track 12: Mike Oldfield – Moonlight Shadow

I love this one – it’s epic and beautiful.  It was also used to really good effect in the ’80s edition of The Doctor Who Years, which is sadly no longer available to watch.

Track 13: Men At Work – Down Under

Wonderfully silly party song that always reminds me of an Australian guy called Ben that I used to work with circa 2002.  In the pub post-shift, this was his song.

Track 14: Rock Steady Crew – (Hey You) The Rock Steady Crew

I can’t listen to this one without being reminded of its use in Peter Kay’s brilliant Britain’s Got The Pop Factor parody in 2008 (and I can’t believe that show is nearly a decade old already).  The song itself is pretty nonsensical, but I quite like the synth line.

Track 15: Rod Stewart – Baby Jane

Actually my favourite Rod Stewart song, just edging out Maggie May.  I love the instrumentals (especially that sax solo!), the lyrics, the epic nature, everything.

Track 16: Paul Young – Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)

To be honest, though I usually like Paul Young, I find this one a bit dull, so I think it was a poor choice for ending disc one of the album.

Track 17: New Edition – Candy Girl

Never been a fan of New Edition or this song, largely because I have an aversion to squeaky kid voices, especially squeaky kid voices singing love songs.  Let’s move on.

Track 18: Kajagoogoo – Big Apple

Please take a moment to envisage my raised eyebrow here, as I was always taught when learning to DJ that repeating an artist in a setlist (or compilation album, in this case) is lazy, unimaginative and generally Not Done.  Give another artist a chance to be heard!

As for the song itself…it’s nice bouncy ’80s pop with cute little bursts of saxophone, but nothing hugely special.

Track 19: Tina Turner – Let’s Stay Together

Boring slow intro and verses, but good ‘chair-dancer’ once the chorus gets going.

Track 20: The Human League – (Keep Feeling) Fascination

Typical upbeat Human League stuff for this era.  Not my all-time favourite of theirs, but perfectly catchy and pleasant.

Track 21: Howard Jones –  New Song

I didn’t really get into Howard Jones until about a year ago, when Vintage TV started playing his stuff a lot.  This one’s a nice bouncy, catchy number with a great synth instrumental bit.  Big fan of this.

Track 22: UB40 – Please Don’t Make Me Cry

More repetition of artists (sigh).  If they were determined to do that, they should have saved Red Red Wine for side two, as it’s a much better song than this one.  Slow, downbeat, nice sax solo but generally a bit dull.

Track 23: Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack – Tonight, I Celebrate My Love

The kind of appallingly saccharine ballad that I would have hated if I’d been an adult listening to it in 1983, but from my lofty perch of hindsight in 2018 I can just put it into a box marked ‘charmingly of its time’.

Track 24: Tracey Ullman – They Don’t Know

I do like ’80s-era Tracey Ullman and her comedy-tinged music videos.  There’s something a bit mid-century retro about this one, which I quite like.  It was originally a Kirsty MacColl track, which explains the quality.

Track 25: Will Powers – Kissing With Confidence

Is that his real name?  Apparently not (and apparently it’s not actually a he).  The song is expectedly daft and not much to write home about musically.

Track 26: Genesis – That’s All

For some reason I always think of Genesis as more musically respectable than solo Phil Collins.  I’m not sure why.  This one’s another head-nodder, but not playlist-worthy for me.

Track 27: The Cure – The Love Cats

Being a shameless goth, the Cure are my favourite band.  This is a great upbeat party song, but if you want something more epic, beautiful and melancholy, I thoroughly recommend all the other tracks on the Japanese Whispers EP.  I remember spending all of 2004, which was a tough year for me, just listening to it over and over.  Gorgeous stuff.

Track 28: Simple Minds – Waterfront

Lovely guitar intro on this one.  Fairly paint-by-numbers Simple Minds, without much in the way of hooks.

Track 29: Madness – The Sun And The Rain

Madness can’t do much wrong as far as I’m concerned.  Great bouncy track.

Track 30: Culture Club – Victims

Eyebrow goes up again at another repeated artist!  I’ll forgive the Now! compilers this time, though, because I do love this one and its epic and sweeping chorus.

My history of excursions into ’80s fashion

There have been a few periods in my life where I’ve tried to fit in with the prevailing fashions of the day, but in all honesty, I’ve never really succeeded, and when I look at photos of myself during those periods, I always think I look uncomfortable and not quite right.  The style of the ’80s has always felt ‘correct’ to me; it gives me a strong sense of ‘these are what clothes SHOULD look like’, and later fashions just look dowdy and unstylish to my eye.  I’m not sure whether I just internalised it really strongly when I first came into the world, or whether I’ve just come to love that aesthetic by chance, but thirty years later it’s still what I’m drawn to, and I think I always will be.

So, my history of being an ’80s fashion throwback, then.  I don’t think it counts as being a ‘throwback’ when you’re still in the actual ’80s, but that’s where it began, and clearly my toddlerhood was the best dressed era of my life:

Clothes I wore in the '80s
Check out that lookbook! I will never come close to being this stylish ever again.

I wore so many different (and AWESOME) outfits during this era.  I guess most toddlers go through lots of different clothes, due to the whole rapid body growth thing, but looking at pictures it really seems like in my five short years spent in the ’80s I wore more clothes than in the rest of my life put together.

Shame they couldn’t all have grown with me.  Especially the moon ‘n’ stars nightdress in the bottom right corner, my favourite nightdress of all time.

The ’90s, meanwhile, were probably my most difficult decade fashion-wise.  Due to a combination of hand-me-downs from family friends, thick curly hair that utterly refused to be browbeaten into the poker-straight trend it was supposed to be following, and a stubborn fully-developed taste that meant I was already gravitating towards the styles of the ’80s, I spent the whole decade doing the awkward ‘dated by quite a few years, but not enough to be retro or vintage yet’ look:

Clothes I wore in the '90s
Looking a bit ’80s in the ’90s.

Jeans, especially, I found so awkward – I was drawn to high-rise straight-leg styles, but as the decade went on, they became more low-rise and bootcut – that it put me off them for a long time, and nowadays I don’t own any blue jeans at all.  When I reach my target weight, I’ll maybe give them another go.

The ’00s were better (not in general fashion terms – I think the trends of the ’00s were the absolute nadir of fashion in my lifetime so far – but for me personally in terms of style).  My teen years, 1998-2004, coincided with the first big wave of ’80s nostalgia in pop culture (The Wedding Singer!  The BBC’s I Love The ’80s series!  The accompanying CD that I got for Christmas in 2001!  Bergerac repeats on BBC2 every day while I was on school exam leave!  Websites such as Like Totally ’80s starting up!  ’00s indie bands aping ’80s indie bands…now I’m nostalgic for a period of nostalgia.  I’ll stop there), and so it was then that I first became conscious that I loved the ’80s so much – that the music was better, the films and TV shows were better, the fashion was better.  (I also had a brief flirtation with the early ’70s due to my love of glam rock.  You can’t beat a pair of silver glitter platform boots.)

2003 was also the year I became goth.  Goth is a wonderful subculture for ’80s throwbacks of a certain style, because the look has basically stayed the same since 1978, and all the clubs play lots of post-punk and synthpop.  Utter bliss.

As such, my ’00s look can basically be divided into pre-2004 (Madonna-style fishnet gloves, jelly bracelets and plastic beads from Claire’s Accessories in every shade of primary and neon) and post-2004 (mainly goth, with occasional disastrous forays into mainstream contemporary fashion):

Clothes I wore in the '00s
These two pictures illustrate my point; both were taken in 2004.

Which brings us to the ’10s.  The less said about the first half of the decade, the better – I was uncomfortably overweight and spent most of it hiding away in leggings, baggy t-shirts and hoodies – but now that I’ve lost most of the weight, I’m starting to remember how to have fun with fashion again, hence my recent interest in cultivating a vintage ’80s wardrobe.

Clothes I wore in the '10s
’80s-inspired looks that I’ve worn out to goth clubs recently. Those old Claire’s Accessories beads are still going strong!

I know – from reading stuff by people who are into mid-century vintage – that as time goes on, ’80s vintage stuff won’t always be as readily available and affordable as it is at the moment.  As such, I’m making the most of it, with the aim of being able to dress in clothes from my favourite decade for the rest of my life.  I hope I’ll be lucky and long-lived enough to be eighty or ninety years out of date one day!