23 August 2018

Demon Drink or Old Friend?

When I was growing up in the 1950s, alcohol was rare in our house. It was reserved for Christmas time only. It was a big thing as just before the festivities,  we bought in a bottle of sherry, a bottle of port, a few bottles of Babycham and a bottle of Advocat (or some might know it more as eggnog). It was eked out over Christmas and New Year and shared with visiting grandparents or friends. When it was gone in early January, that was it until the next Christmas. I used to get excited if, as a teenager, my parents offered me a Babycham (so elegant) or a Snowball (a mix of Advocat with Lemonade and, if reckless, a dash of lime). My parents were not exactly well-off post-war and money was hard-earned, so they were not going to squander it on non-essentials. Most families I knew were the same. Drunks on the street were rare and I personally had never known an alcoholic

At university, I occasionally used to go to the pub or university union bar, but it was a rare treat. Some (the rugby players, I recall) used to get legless in the bar, but they were a rare breed. It was expected of rugby players. Most of my circle of friends could not afford it.  Our money went on books and food with little left for anything else. With our meager maintenance grants we could afford food or alcohol but not both.

When in the Seventies I lived in Germany as a young twenty-something, the German attitude to alcohol was different. For a start they were a major wine-growing country and produced excellent beer too. Most people had a crate of beer or plentiful bottles of wine in their cellar and would readily offer it to guests, something we Brits took a while to get used to.

Fast forward to today and our culture has changed. The first major difference is that alcohol is more readily available. Before it could only be bought from pubs or off-licences (special shops that only sold alcohol).  Both were only allowed to be open at set times. Pub closing time was 11pm and, unless I am wrong, off-licences were only open in the evening between about 6pm and 11pm. Today of course alcohol is available 24 hours round the clock from supermarkets, petrol stations or corner shops, as well as specialist alcohol shops and online delivery services. Pubs and clubs stay open to the wee small hours or even longer.

Another change is the mindset that you cannot enjoy yourself unless alcohol is involved. The binge-drinking teenagers or city workers who think being unconscious is a great way to enjoy the weekend spring to mind. Young people now (both of school age and at university) obviously cannot afford to pay a lot, so buy cheaply from a supermarket to have "pre-drinks" at home with their friends before then going out completely inebriated to pay expensively for a few in a club or bar setting. Legless individuals are a common sight.

Then there is a group of people who don't think they are alcoholic. The recent article about Linda Robson bears this out.  They think one glass of wine every day won't hurt. They might have two - one while they are cooking and one with the meal. But this can escalate until it is the norm. A single mother I knew at my daughter's school once told me she could not wait for 6pm to come round because it meant she could open a bottle of wine without feeling bad. Sometimes she found it really hard to wait till 6pm and would always drink the whole bottle that evening as she found it distasteful to leave any left over in the bottle to the next day. I know quite a few people who think nothing of consuming a whole bottle of wine on their own a day. Yet they don't think they have a problem. What is more surprising is that that mum struggled to make ends meet, yet could find the money to spend on wine.  If alcohol is the answer, then, believe me, you have a problem.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a killjoy and I enjoy a  glass of alcohol like the next person, but I know my limits. I know the safe amount to drink to preserve my dignity and keep my wits about me, whilst allowing me to relax in convivial company. I don't get the need to drink myself senseless or forget my problems. Those problems are going to be there the next morning and probably with a hangover to add to the list. Also I don't feel compelled to have a drink every day or even every week. I can get through several months without a single drop and then maybe have several glasses in a week, but by and large I can take it or leave it and mostly leave it. I reserve it as something really special to do as a treat -for drinking within limits with friends in a cosy convivial atmosphere.  Anyway, living on my own for most of the time, as I have been since Greg died, I consider drinking on my own would definitely be a slippery slope to avoid.  I suppose too, having seen the devastating affects of alcohol first hand and what it does to you with Greg's alcoholism and death, I am not keen to go down that route myself. Everything in moderation - not to excess and not to exclusion. 

What do you think?

14 August 2018

Awash with complications

I'm not stupid. Well, at least I hope I'm not. I had a university education (circa 1972 - so a serious education and unlike the Mickey Mouse subjects that are available nowadays). I am bilingual in German. I speak a fair bit of French and I studied Latin up to the age of twenty. I adored biology at school and now soak up any TV programme on medicine available.  I watch history and politics on TV too. I had a serious job in the Civil Service before becoming a mother. I can do house painting, a bit of carpentry, gardening, dress-making, build flat-packs, fix electric plugs or fuses and turn my hand to a range of other things. But one thing has completely floored me. Updating my bathroom.

Greg and I moved into this house in 1988.... thirty years ago. The house was not that old - built around 1970 - but it needed a fair lot doing to it. The previous occupant was an old lady with dementia who had a penchant for throwing coffee at the walls or urinating on her carpets. Our plan was to buy it cheap and do it up quickly before moving on. Ah yes, THAT was the plan. In reality, life got in the way. We did a quick fix as soon as we moved in, sloshing paint over anything that didn't move, completely renewing every carpet throughout and gutting the kitchen and building a new one ourselves. After that our jobs were so demanding that we tailed off a bit in impetus and then Kay came along and the house took a back seat. Then Greg retired and his alcoholism set in, sapping his energy and money, so the house waited patiently for us to resume its transformation. When Greg died in 2010, I set about trying to continue the work myself, slowly painting and decorating where I could. However, then my elderly mother was next in line to claim my undivided attention and the house got put on hold again. It's only recently that I have been able to take up the challenge again. 

What is desperately needed is modernisation of the two bathrooms. They are stuck in a 1960s time warp. Kay's bathroom has a yellow bath and originally had grey tiles which Greg and I managed to cover within weeks of moving in with washable wallpaper. My suite is peach with white walls. With polystyrene tiles on the ceiling and carpeted floor, they definitely look ghastly. I have been promising Kay an update for years but now have finally got round to doing it. I've hired a plumber to do the job but then set about ordering the "furniture". What's so hard about that? Or so I thought. Maybe it's me, but there's a confusion of bathroom suppliers out there and each has a language of its own. Prices vary for what looks like the same thing. There's toilet projections,  sprange sockets and autovents. Toilets are wall-hung or close-coupled. Baths with or without tap holes. Who knew bath wastes could be pop-up or click-clack. As for bottle traps - who'd want to trap a bottle down a basin? Square taps or round taps? Mono taps or duo taps? It's taken me four weeks to digest what is available and I've dragged the poor plumber over three times to discuss my confusion before I make a confident order with the supplier. Fortunately the plumber appears slightly confused too as my water pressure is low (something to do with the bar, but I don't think he's talking about the local pub), so he needs to consider which shower is suitable for the pressure and I've been let off the job of ordering the shower, as even HE is not sure whether power shower, electric shower, mixer shower or eco shower is the most suitable until he starts the job.

Before and after pictures will be forthcoming when the job is done. Meanwhile I'm feeling very much the dumb blonde with all my stupid questions.