In Praise Of A Clear Head

I have been monitoring the number of my alcohol-free days since 2005.  Over a decade ago I was drinking alcohol almost every day, and often drinking a beer alone in my flat after work in London.  Now I have a target of 50% drink-free days each month and I have achieved that for the last three years.

When I retired 5 years ago, I realised that although I was starting to achieve the target number of drink-free days, I was way off the target for units of alcohol recommended by doctors.  To galvanise myself for change, I set a monthly target for alcohol units consumed too.  That target is 100 units of alcohol per month.  That is still almost twice the recommended level but 50% less than where I was in my first two years of retirement. 

I have achieved this personal target for the last two years but it’s been a struggle, especially this year (for reasons I’m yet to quite fathom).  On days when I drink, I find that I average 6-7 units; that’s two thirds of a bottle of wine or three pints of beer (not, I think, an unreasonable amount of pleasure to have on a sunny evening in the garden, at a celebration, or in the pub garden on a lazy Sunday).  But multiply that by 14-15 days and I’m closer to the 100 unit target than I would like. 

Alcohol Units/Month Consumption Since 2019 (I’m More Consistent Now But Consistently Only Just Below Target (100 Units)!

I have been helped in recent years by the advent of decent no, or low, alcohol beer; I like those from BrewDog especially.  But now I have a new helper: ‘Clear Head’, a low alcohol beer served on tap at our village pub.   It’s quite a refreshing, hoppy and nice tasting pint.  Its recent availability on draft means that I can visit the pub more often and feel as though I’m having a proper pub drink (not the soft sugary stuff that I generally avoid, or mineral water that I can get out of the tap at home), while keeping my alcohol unit consumption down. 

One of the Best Low-Alcohol Beers I’ve Had

The net effect has been that Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have visited the local pub more often during this summer, especially during the recent heat waves, but I have still stayed within my alcohol unit target.  That’s good because the pub is so central to the community and our visits create opportunities for us to have impromptu meetings with other villagers and we just enjoy hanging out in the relaxed atmosphere there.  The only downside is that LSW is probably drinking a bit more alcohol because she usually goes for a can of the relatively strong craft beer rather than the low alcohol variety, but then she drinks slowly and so is well below the recommended unit levels.

Another bonus is that 5% of Bristol Beer Factory’s revenue on sales of Clear Head go to Talk Club which is the valuable charity organisation that helps establish and organise Men’s Mental Fitness chat groups such as that I have been attending in recent weeks in our village.  The sessions that I mentioned in my last post have continued to be fulfilling and have had the side effect of making me feel even more a part of the community.  The pub landlord, who helps run the sessions, even gives participants a pint of ‘Clear Head’ to accompany us through the meetings; really nice!

On Draft At Our Local Pub But It Comes In Cans Too

So, the heat waves are over for another year it seems.  The cost of living crisis seems to be drowning out concerns about the climate and related biodiversity crises.  However, the recent weeks of intense heat have underlined the need for us all to think about reducing our carbon footprint and adapting to the new climate that is inevitably going to envelop us. 

Local Lake Dried Up In The Recent Heat And The Same Lake Two Years Ago (With Cow)

LSW has planted most of our flower beds and terraces with relatively drought resistant plants so the garden has looked great throughout the summer with just minimal watering.  However, during the greatest heat, we had to have the blinds down all day in our kitchen/diner extension with all its glass.  Rather than be able to look out over the garden from the extension, we spent much of the heat wave sheltered in the cool of the old part of the house. 

Dry Garden And Sun Through Meadow Grass

We are thinking about ways to further adapt to persistent high temperatures in the future at the same time as trying to work out how we can isolate rooms we want to heat in winter so that we reduce overall energy demand and so save money in the face of escalating electricity and gas bills.  We won’t be alone in that.

Later this week we are off north to Edinburgh to see First Grandchild and his parents again.  The relative cool of Edinburgh may look an increasingly attractive medium/long term location as the south of the UK feels the impact of our changing summers.  Short term, though, I’m sticking to home in our village and an occasional pint or two of ‘Clear Head’ on draft.

Hope and Resolve in 2021

Yesterday, Storm Christoph, which has been battering and flooding many parts of the UK, brought us a dramatic combination of rain, wind, thunder, lightning, snow, bright sunshine and then a great sunset.  I suspect that we might see a similar drama in events and a variety of ups and downs in 2021 as we wrestle with the coronavirus pandemic, the impact of Brexit and the normal hurly-burly of life.

Sunset Over The Garden After The Storm

Currently, the rather boring but necessary lockdown continues and Winter life revolves around meals at home, shopping for them, walking the local lanes and fields, reading books, listening to the (voluminous and ever changing) news, watching TV dramas in front of the woodburner, and sleep.  But the delivery of vaccines is providing some hope that, in a few months, we will be able to resume adventures around the UK and meet people normally again. 

Morning Mist On The Cotswold Tops

Yes, there are new variants of the virus and, yes, the death rate will rise yet further before it subsides, but there is expectation now that the current pandemic will pass (or, at least, become a lot less disruptive) during 2021.  Of course, I am dearly hoping that is the case.  However, I also hope that the Government does not hide behind an effective roll-out of the vaccines (assuming they manage that).  We must learn, and make transparent, the lessons learnt from doing almost everything too little and too late to combat the virus.  After all, this is hardly likely to be the last pandemic we need to deal with and we need to do far better next time.

Against the uncertain backdrop of pandemic and Brexit, it is hard to set concrete personal resolutions for the New Year.  The lockdown has induced a gentle lethargy in me (I’m one of the lucky ones).  I think it is going to take the fine Spring weather and an end of the lockdown to generate some proper enthusiasm to break that ennui.  So my resolution process this year is really to just continue on the path set over the last couple of years. 

For example, I will maintain my target of walking an average of over 15,000 steps a day.  Apart from a bit of garden pottering, that is really my only substantive exercise these days.  So, it’s good that I exceeded that target again in 2020 and I plan to do so once more in 2021.  That should be achievable, and be thoroughly enjoyable to achieve in our lovely countryside, provided I stay healthy.  Hopefully, many of those steps will be taken a little further afield than was possible in 2020.

Evening Mist In Our Valley

The 2020 resolution achievements I proudest of in 2020 were those relating to increasing alcohol-free days and reducing average alcohol units per day.  I beat my target of 40% alcohol free days by more than 10% – well over half or 2020 was alcohol free!  I also thrashed my 10% reduction target of decreasing my alcohol unit intake.  My tracking on the Drinkaware app has shown that I managed a 35% reduction in alcohol compared to 2019 and I now average 22 units/week.

That still leaves me well above the recommended limit of alcohol intake (14 units a week); so there is more to do.  However, there is a balance to be struck here.  Until I really can’t drink whiskey, wine or beer for precipitate health reasons, I need to weigh the benefit to my feelings and mental health with the physical risks of exceeding the rigour of what is recommended.  So many pleasures have been curtailed during this pandemic, reducing further the pleasure I get from what is now a relatively occasional drink is not in my set of 2021 targets.  I will just aim to at least repeat what I achieved in 2020 – that will involve will power sufficient to be challenging enough.

That, plus the continuation of walking, should help with my perennial objective of getting my weight below 11 stone.  By the week before Christmas, I had managed that.  However, for the second year in a row, the combination of mince pies, Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, brandy butter and a major Christmas dinner – lovely as that all was – tipped me over the edge of the 11 stone marker just before year end and just as it did in 2019.  My resolution this year is to reduce my weight to such a degree by mid-December that I can enjoy those Christmas excesses without jeopardising target achievement.

Other resolutions from last year have been a bit of a washout.  I failed to listen to the news on the radio less and listen to music more.  There was just so much news from the pandemic, to Trump, to Brexit, that I just couldn’t stop taking it in.  Plus I failed to reach my target of reading 20 books (I managed only 13, a poor show given how much discretionary time I now have and how much I enjoy good fiction).  I resolve to do better in 2021.

Long-Suffering Wife and I failed, for obvious reasons, to achieve our resolution to get out together around the UK more.  We made it to Belfast for the first time but other holidays to Cornwall and Wales were planned then cancelled.  This year, when the virus allows, we will revisit Belfast where Youngest Son is establishing himself, and visit Eldest Son in his new home in Edinburgh.  We also have booked, rather ambitiously, a family Christmas on the west coast of Skye; if that comes off, the world really will have returned to something like normality.

Memories Of Exploring The UK In 2020; Belfast Lough

This time last year I said in these blogs: “I think that 2020 is going to be a far better year than 2019”.  In some ways it was in that we had no sons in near fatal accidents.  Now, I really do think 2021 will be far better than last year but who knows what it will throw at us.  Good job my resolutions are not critical work targets that must be met; I can relax, be flexible, go with the flow and just be content with pushing myself just a tiny bit.

Early Snowdrops – A Sign Of A Brighter Future?

TV Mini-Series And Music In The Rain

View From The Garden - Sun And Impending Hailstorm

View From The Garden – Sun And Impending Hailstorm

June has been a very wet month so far but I suppose the garden and allotment needed the rain after such a dry Spring.  Few vegetables are growing quickly yet but the garden flowers are thriving.  Encouragingly, the bees flitting among them, between the bouts of rain, seem more numerous than last year.

Partly due to the weather, Long-Suffering Wife and I have been watching more box-set TV recently.  Much of what we have watched has been excellent and I’m pleased ‘Killing Eve’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ have started up again.  Of recent TV treats, I particularly recommend:

  • The Virtues’ (Channel 4) which has an astonishing performance by Steven Graham and a climax that had me holding my breath tensely for ages and mentally urging his character to do the right thing
  • The Looming Tower’ (BBC) starring the brilliant Jeff Daniels, which is showing how infighting between the FBI and the CIA contributed to the terrorist success of 9/11
  • Chernobyl’ (Sky Atlantic) which reproduced compellingly and with amazing special effects and crowd scenes, the (western understanding of the) nuclear disaster there.

We were able to see the last of these thanks to Youngest Son (YS) having access, in ways I’m not sure I want to know about, to channels and films that are not available to us through our normal facilities.  This has been just one of the upsides of having him around for a few weeks since he returned from Australia.  YS’s cheery demeanour has certainly brightened our days recently as the rain has set in.  However, he has now disappeared to undertake a video project in the US and left us with the rain continuing to pour down.

The Garden In A Hailstorm

The Garden In A Hailstorm

Another very good mini-series, still currently ongoing, is Years and Years.  This follows a fictitious family through a vision of the next 15 years of global and UK politics and social development.  It is not a cheery watch since it picks up some of the most modern-day contentious issues and shows how they may unfold in the near future with pretty depressing effects.  One of the issues, of course, is the climate emergency and the story postulates a future where 80 days of heavy rain with flooding is a norm.  I’m fed up with the rain after a week; I can barely imagine a future where it rains for months!

I hope that the future is brighter – and not just weather wise – than Years and Years predicts.  However, I confess that the management of immigration, the climate emergency, the future of democracy on both sides of the Atlantic and the apparent rise of shallow populism are growing concerns for me.  It is fortunate, then, that YS keeps LSW’s and my rants at the radio news over breakfast and lunch in check (to a degree).  They may get ridiculous while he is away.

To help distract ourselves from precipitation and political current affairs, LSW and I have been to a couple of very good gigs over the last few days.  The first was very local at the refurbished Tetbury Goods Shed and featured a local band called Faeland who I didn’t know until a week ago but who are lovely.  They follow the folk music idiom but with bright, modern songs and an engaging presence. LSW loved them too – and very much enjoyed the provision of comfortable seating and a perfect view at the venue.

Faeland At The Tetbury Goods Shed

Faeland At The Tetbury Goods Shed

She was less enamoured by the shoulder to shoulder standing room only at The Exchange in Bristol.  Here we saw a singer-songwriter I have been following and enjoying hugely on Spotify and CD for a couple of years – Billie Marten.  I love her songs and, although she could have engaged a tight packed, eager and intimate audience a little more, I enjoyed the gig very much. LSW enjoyed it too but I was nervous about her comfort and we left just before the end.  That was fine since Billie Marten had already played for an hour and I may anyway get the chance to see her again in London.

Billie Marten At The Exchange, Bristol

Billie Marten At The Exchange, Bristol

As I complete this post, I see that the sun has come out.  I shall go out for a walk humming tunes from Faeland and Billie Marten and think cheery thoughts……