The last cider

I have a can of Flat Tyre in the fridge for tonight.

This would be a normal aspect of a Saturday night for me, so normal that it’s the kind of thing I wouldn’t even bother mentioning on my blog, not usually.

But it’s not a normal can of Flat Tyre, not to me.  It’s the very last Flat Tyre, the very last cider, and the very last alcoholic drink that I will ever have.  I’m going to explain why.

As such, this is going to be a long one.  But then, it’s a long story.

It was late summer 2004 when someone first told me I had an alcohol problem.

A few weeks earlier, I had suffered a complicated nervous breakdown due to a year of undiagnosed mental health problems coming to a head.  The end result was that my parents sent me to the GP, and I walked out with a clinical depression diagnosis and a list of referrals to more specialised mental health services.

There were so many specialists I went to see that it’s difficult to remember them all now, but they were all adamant that I couldn’t be treated unless I also got help for this alcohol problem I apparently had.  As you might guess, I didn’t see myself as having a ‘problem’ at all.

I had been a messy teenage drunk for several years – I had discovered the buzz that drinking too much gives you when I was about thirteen, and as my friends and I started to look old enough to get served in pubs, it became routine to spend the weekends binge-drinking, often to the point we would vomit and black out.  But that was normal, right?  All teenagers did that, or so it seemed.  I’m sure this particular brand of teenage idiocy was ubiquitous at the time, but it was especially prevalent in Scotland, where the culture normalised it so much.  We were Scots, and Scots were notorious for being able to drink all those other nations under the table.  (We were no cop at team sports, so we had to take pride in something.)

When I started university at seventeen in 2002, the binge-drinking weekends became binge-drinking weeks.  University culture involves societies, and societies do all their business on weekday evenings, and all of that business is done in the pub.  Being a shy person, and finding myself in a position of having to make new friends by myself for the first time since I’d started primary school in 1989, I felt I needed the extra Dutch courage.  Furthermore, being wholly in charge of keeping myself fed and watered for the first time, I found I was running out of money earlier in the month than I would have liked, and so I got into the habit of eating less so I could drink more.  I had enough energy that I was just about making it to classes – most of the time – but it became normal to me to feel constantly ill due to the drunk/hungover cycle.

However, I was still immersed in a hybrid of cultures that normalised this kind of drinking, and so when my psychotherapist referred me to the Alcohol Problems Unit at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, neither I nor anyone I knew really took it seriously.  I’d fallen into a comfortable role as ‘the drunk one’ in every friend group, and so I was used to treating the whole thing as a joke.  I vaguely tried to follow the advice I was given – which was to alternate alcoholic drinks with soft drinks – but as soon as I had one alcoholic drink, I wanted another, and soft drinks just seemed like a waste of time.  I attended the APU (sporadically – I would often miss appointments due to being hungover) between late 2004 and early 2006, and yet my 2005 diary, where I recorded my daily intake (the Bridget Jones influence was strong with me at that point) is frightening.  Almost half of my entries are written in my drunk handwriting, and I was averaging about 100 units a week.

2005 diary
‘V+O’ = vodka and orange. I measured it in eggcups because the APU doctor had told me I needed to measure it out rather than just sloshing it into the glass, and eggcups were the only thing I could find in the house for measuring. I also smoked a lot of cigarettes and weed when I was out, which was almost every night. SO HEALTHY.

After I got together with Geth in late 2005, things didn’t improve.  He liked a drink as much as I did, and he was also fond of big weekends – Six Nations rugby weekends, weekends away in London, music festivals.  All of these basically constituted hardcore weekend benders – there are many festivals and rugby days that I don’t actually have any memory of, and my memory is really good – and that was our lifestyle for a good decade plus.

Post-festival Facebook post
31 Somersby ciders equals 80.6 units in a single weekend, and that’s not even counting all the spirits and mixers we would have as nightcaps. Music festivals were always like that.

Furthermore, when I graduated from university in 2008, I quit smoking (meaning alcohol became my only stress-relieving drug), stopped having a reason to walk anywhere, and so started piling on weight.  This just meant that I had a greater tolerance for alcohol, so I ended up drinking more, and putting on more weight, and the cycle continued.

Coupled with the weight gain, my becoming more of a hermit – I couldn’t find a traditional job after graduation and so I ended up gradually building my own business, meaning I’ve mostly worked from home since then – meant that I became even more shy, and so unfamiliar social situations felt impossible.  Whenever I had to face one of these – such as a job interview, or joining a new exercise class – I would down a few ciders before I left the house to get rid of the nerves.  This was probably the one aspect of my drinking that I knew wasn’t ‘normal’, and so I would hide the bottles in order that Geth wouldn’t realise what I was doing.  When he was away at work conferences, I would switch to vodka so that I could drink late into the early hours by myself without having to worry about running out of alcohol.  On these occasions, I would often get through two-thirds of a bottle per night.

I still didn’t see myself as having a problem.  In 2011, I gave up alcohol for Lent, and I thought that managing not to drink for six weeks proved that I had a healthy relationship with booze.  But every time I had to tell a counsellor or a doctor what my average weekly intake was (which I always deliberately underestimated), they would look at me with absolute horror.  I’m not sure why this never bothered me.  I suppose in your twenties, you’re still hanging onto a sliver of that youthful feeling of immortality that caused you to pick up bad habits in the first place.  Either way, I had no desire or plan to cut down on my drinking at that point.

But in 2015, the year I turned thirty, three things happened.

First of all, after I moved to Newcastle, I (obviously) had a new GP.  I don’t always like going to see my GP in Newcastle, as he doesn’t sugarcoat things.  He’s the first GP I’ve ever had who I think may actually be my age if not younger than me (one of those signs that you’re getting old), and he really makes me work hard to explain why I still need my antidepressants at my annual review, which can be distressing.  The first time I went for one of these reviews and had to estimate how many units I was getting through per week, rather than doing the usual doctorly ‘you know, you should really think about cutting down’, he flatly told me that I’d end up with liver disease within fifteen years if I kept drinking the way I was.  While I still believed that genetics were on my side with that one – my mum has a fairly frequent wine intake and a very healthy liver – it was the first doctor’s comment on the subject that ever stuck with me.

Secondly, I started running.  I run in the mornings, and you can’t run with a bad hangover (well, you can, but it’s not pleasant), so heavy drinking nights before run days were out.

Thirdly, the running – much to my surprise and disgruntlement – was not causing me to lose weight.  I ran (very slowly, due to my near-constant joint pain) all through the second half of 2015, then all through 2016, culminating in my first half marathon in September 2016.  Despite this, in the autumn of 2016 I was back up to my highest weight, and so I decided to join Slimming World in the new year.

Slimming World is the most manageable way of healthy eating I’ve ever tried, which is why I’m still doing it two years later, but it is fairly strict about the amount of syns you’re allowed to have, and alcohol contains a lot of syns.  It quickly became apparent that I couldn’t keep drinking the way I had been if I was going to follow the plan properly – my weekly alcohol intake pre-Slimming World probably amounted to about 400 syns by itself, and you’re only supposed to have 105 in a week.

As such, I immediately cut down a lot.  I saved up syns for special occasions like weddings and festivals where I would ‘need’ to drink a lot of alcohol, and if I planned a weekend evening where I was going to have a couple of ciders at home, I made sure to time the start of drinking so that I would only have time for two drinks before bed.  If I mistimed it, I would end up having more.  It simply didn’t occur to me to stop drinking after finishing the two ciders that I’d planned.  It’s kind of awkward to explain, sitting here typing this out while sober, but when I’m a couple of drinks down, it feels like the most imperative, important thing in the world that I have another one.

(This is another thing that I just never saw as a problem for many years, simply because it’s so normalised – Geth always refers to the state of having had a couple of drinks and wanting to continue drinking as being ‘warmed up’, and so that’s how I always thought of it.)

As I lost the weight, while I felt healthier than I had done in years, I also found that alcohol was starting to affect me more strongly as my body mass went down and my tolerance with it.  Since I’d started taking antidepressants in 2004, I’d been told by doctors that I shouldn’t drink with them because it would negate the effect of the pills, but again, this was just something that went straight over my head.  After I hit target in May 2018, I found that even one or two drinks would often lower my mood to near-suicidal levels.  It’s very hit and miss – sometimes I’m fine, sometimes I’m really not – and throughout the second half of the year, as my mental health declined for unrelated reasons and the bad experiences became more frequent than the times it was okay, I realised that I would have to stop.  Not ‘for now’, not for Dry January, not for a few months or even a year, but for good.

As such, I spent Christmas finishing all the cider that Mum and Dad had kept for me at their house, and observing the way it was affecting me in a safe environment with lots of people around.  I had a lot of unhappy, melancholy thoughts over the holidays, just like I always do, but for the first time, I was able to understand how alcohol was contributing to that.

I love cider.  But my health is more important, and I’ve finally realised that due to mental health issues I’m not capable of functional, healthy alcohol use.

I’m terrified of giving up in some ways.  I’m scared about how it will affect my relationships with people with whom I will no longer be ‘drinking buddies’.  I’m scared about how I will feel the first time I catch sight of a new cider that I never got to try.  I’m scared about all the things I want to do in my life that I’ve always believed I would never be able to attempt without a few drinks in me.

But, because I’ve made this decision, I’m also feeling more positive about things than I have in years.  I’m looking forward to disengaging with all the stress around timing my drinking and worrying about what I said and did when I was drunk.  I’m looking forward to being able to focus in the evenings.  I’m excited about being able to use my syns for other things.

Tomorrow is my first day as a sober person.  I am hopeful that it will be the start of a more peaceful existence.

31 Days Of Horror: Halloween

It’s October!  One of my favourite months of the year.

I’m a goth, a Celt, a lover of autumn, and a horror film fan, so it will probably come as no surprise that I absolutely adore Hallowe’en.  What I’ve found over the years, though, is that I never have time on the day/weekend itself to watch as many horror films as I’d like.  As such, this year I’m starting early, and watching a horror film every day of the month!

I’m starting with Halloween (1978), which may seem a bit backwards, but rest assured I’ll be watching it again on the day itself.  I must have seen this film over a hundred times – it’s my joint favourite film of all time (Velvet Goldmine is the other joint favourite, if you’re interested!).  There’s a new Halloween film coming out this month, so I’ll be watching all the others in the series before I go to see the new one at the cinema.

Halloween (1978)
Dr Loomis and Sheriff Brackett explore the Myers house.

I love the opening credits with the slow zoom on the lit pumpkin lantern.  It’s especially fun around Hallowe’en itself when I have my own lanterns on and can compare them with the one on the screen!  (I don’t have lanterns carved yet – I’m not quite that obsessed.)

The opening section, set fifteen years before the main story, I always found super scary as a young teenager and always fast forwarded through it.  These days, though, I just marvel at how poor the period feel is – I’m sure every attempt was made at the time to make it look like 1963, but the hair and clothes of the teenage characters just scream ‘1978’, like the rest of the film!  (This is a persistent problem with recent retro/vintage period costuming in film and TV and I’m going to do a whole post on it at some point.)  It’s shot in real-time from the POV of the killer (although there is a notorious continuity error with the clock in the hall) and so it’s also fairly hilarious when you notice that the teenage tryst only takes about ninety seconds between the couple going upstairs and the dude pulling his shirt on as he heads out the front door.  The reveal of the child killer is brilliant and still really creepy forty years after the film was made.

Fifteen years later, we’re introduced to Dr Loomis, who is an amazing character – his obsession with Michael Myers comes across right from the off during the drive to the sanatorium with the nurse.  Donald Pleasence’s accent is all over the place though!  He starts off attempting an American accent, but it rapidly disappears.  I like to assume the character is a Brit who has lived in the US for many decades, and is reverting to his native accent due to the stress.

Blue Öyster Cult’s Don’t Fear The Reaper is used beautifully when Annie and Laurie are driving to their babysitting jobs, and it’s been a favourite track of mine since my teens as a result.

Speaking of ways Halloween influenced teenage me, the fashions in this, with the costuming done by Nancy Loomis (who also played Annie), are awesome – as a result of this film I have been wearing colourful knee-high socks since age seventeen.  Usually under jeans nowadays, but they’re still there (and very cosy in the autumn!).

Unlike later slashers of the ’80s (which was when the slasher craze really took off), all the characters are well-rounded, rather than just being one-note carving knife fodder.  No matter how many times I’ve seen the film, I always find myself wishing they didn’t die and imagining an alternative universe where Michael Myers didn’t exist and they all got to live happily ever after.  I know that would kind of defeat the point of the film, but maybe I’ll write that AU fanfiction one day!

I generally find the kid character of Tommy a little annoying, but I do appreciate his comic book geekery!

The tension in the final sequence, where Laurie investigates the Wallace house only to find all her friends dead, and then has to escape Michael, is brilliantly done. Even knowing all the scenes and dialogue by heart, I still find it incredibly tense to watch.  Jamie Lee Curtis’ first film performance is fantastic, and you can see already why she went on to be such a big star.  I also like the fact that Pleasence and Curtis’ characters don’t actually meet until the last sequence.

Also, the very first shot and very last shot of the film are both of the Myers house, which is quite cool.

The ‘it’s not over’ ending is great too!  I’ll discuss how it was resolved in future films over the next couple of weeks – starting tomorrow, when I’ll be watching Halloween II.

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!