CHEERS TO CHANGE!

Two weeks ago, Scotland became the first country in the world to announce that it would introduce minimum pricing on alcohol & subsequently told us that as of May 2018 this legislation will actually kick in.

While it’s aimed at targeting the cheaper end of the booze market such as your Frosty Jacks and White Lightning ciders – it will have minimal impact on wines and spirits. There have been accusations of an attack on the poor as these cheaper tipples jump up massively in price where as the ‘classier’ beverages are less affected. There have been many links made with alcohol abuse and more deprived areas but the long standing toxic relationship this country has with alcohol doesn’t just touch those who have fallen on hard times or were perhaps born in to difficult circumstances. You see, working in a supermarket part time means that I actually get to see the wide range of people who buy booze. This goes from the homeless woman dragging in her sleeping bag having collected exactly the right amount of money from strangers to buy a mini bottle of red wine to steady her shaking hands – to the woman not much older than myself, in the 9-5 job who buys a full sized bottle of white wine every day and for whom the tremors are just beginning. Neither will be significantly affected by the new legislation unless their drink of choice happens to change to strong and (for the time being) cheap ciders or some own brand spirits. I’m struggling to foresee that a price increase will matter all that much in either case. If someone wants a drink – they’ll pay what they need to.

However, teetotalism among young  people (16-24) in particular is on the rise – that’s according to figures released in May this year with over one quarter claiming that they don’t drink. While I do think this is a positive statistic and I applaud the fact that young people have the audacity not to bow to peer pressure and get ‘mortal’ on every night out as some obnoxious reality stars might seem to enjoy doing. It does seem to me that the Brit’s issue with booze is that it can often be an All or Nothing approach.

Can we all just agree that when each of us drank alcohol for the first time- it tasted like shit? We weren’t drinking it to achieve the perfect pairing with a delicate fish dish. Quite simply, we wanted to get a bit pissed and have a laugh with our friends. I’ve had some amazing nights out and in which were accompanied with alcohol, perhaps too much from time to time but I’m not trying to preach to anyone and say I’ve never spilled almost an entire jaeger bomb down my chin and cleavage.  The difference between my late teens/early twenties and now – half way in to my 27th year-  is that I feel my relationship with alcohol has changed massively. When I’m choosing wine, I don’t necessarily go for anything that’s on the bargain shelf – I like to take time to think about what will taste nice. In reference to my quip about wine pairing- I do that now! I made dinner for some friends a few weeks ago and I spent several minutes in the booze aisle selecting the perfect wine for the salmon I was preparing (how bloody grown up am I right?).

Another significant way my relationship with alcohol has changed is the feelings I have afterwards. I’m not just talking about the throbbing head, high vomit potential followed by the insatiable need for complete stodge (my go to is almost always a Chinese takeaway btw). I mean the regular occurrence of the SAD-OVER. I’ve used this phrase around a few people who look at me in complete bewilderment and with others it’s met with empathy because they’ve experienced the same thing. You don’t need me to tell you that alcohol is a depressant but over the past year or so that particular side effect has made more of an impact than before. After a big night out, the next day I often feel an overwhelming sense of sadness. I start to question every aspect of my life & myself and I tend not to want to speak to anyone. Some people might refer to this as THE FEAR but I feel like it’s time to treat those feelings a bit more seriously as opposed to part of the boozy banter chat. This complete imbalance in my mood can sometimes take 2 or 3 days to right itself and I try to do that by being as productive as possible as soon as the immediate physical effects of the hangover have lifted. ( I should point out that this doesn’t happen following a few glasses of wine but more so after big celebrations where my alcohol in-take may be significantly higher).

So now, I try to think more carefully about how much I drink on the ‘bigger’ occasions because I have a better understanding of how alcohol affects me. That’s just it really, drink affects everyone in different ways and it so dependent on a variety of factors. For example, sometimes my sensible plans are thwarted because I haven’t had time to grab a proper dinner before going out, I’m tired, I’ve not drunk enough water that day etc. It is about knowing your body and being able to understand what it’s limitations are. I’m 5″2 so mine aren’t all that extensive.

I suppose I just wanted to write this post because this is something I have thought about sharing for a while and I think the Scottish Government’s decision to pass legislation  attempting to combat our country’s troubled relationship with alcohol, can be viewed as a positive thing. However, it’s only one measure and the general drinking culture requires more of an overhaul. I also wanted to share my thoughts in the hope that if anyone else has had similar feelings, just know that it’s ok. I don’t think I’ve ever understood my own mind better than I do right now – learning to recognise ‘down days’ and what you might need to overcome them, even something as simple as writing in a diary (or a blog) is a healthy sign that you are in tune with your own mental health. Understanding that large amounts of alcohol can sometimes trigger a negative effect on that, is just part of being a responsible drinker which people often are.

So, with just a little more thought for our own wee selves we can go forth and be merry!

 

 

 

 

Toilets, Tears and Triumphs

In keeping with the approach of my first post, I want to speak honestly about my experiences so far in China. Some of my anecdotes may not be suitable for sharing around the dinner table but I think if you are planning a trip to Asia and in particular, China, then you need to know what I am about to share.

So lets start with something that I have completely taken for granted for 25 years – the humble toilet. You feel nature calling: you go to the restroom, you plonk your bum down on the seat, you do what needs to be done. This can be done with relative ease, some people even enjoy some light reading, some even dare to make phone calls during this process. Well let me tell you my friends, and I am mostly aiming this at the females, there is nowhere for your weary bottom to rest when you visit a public toilet in China. The toilets are porcelain holes in the ground over which you need to squat (as if we aren’t told enough that we need to do that!) keep your balance and try to get everything on target. Many do not succeed in the latter so be prepared to step in a lot of puddles; most of the time they are unavoidable. It’s not so bad in winter but can you imagine when sandal season hits? When you enter these lovely establishments, there are not just puddles you must avoid. That’s right people, I have seen some things, some horrible horrible things…

Another crucial part of this experience that you need to be prepared for is that the plumbing in China is not quite up to dealing with tissue paper so you will find a small, usually open receptacle beside the toilet which you can dispose of your number 1 & number 2 tissues. This one little bin may be full to the brim or you might be one of the lucky ones. There is also usually a lack of toilet paper so keep a pack of Kleenex (other brands are available) in your bag at all times. I have painted quite the beautiful picture so far and I think it is important that I explain why the Chinese choose squatting over sitting. They simply believe that it is more hygienic, no transferring of bacteria from countless people sharing toilet seats. I get it, my shoes don’t but I do. So I will end this delightful topic with your first lesson: BRING TISSUES WITH YOU EVERYWHERE.

Now during my time in China there have been many, many tears and that’s toilets aside. I have never been one to experience homesickness but here, with the vastly different culture and my family and friends being farther from me than they have ever been before, I have had some dark days. I completely underestimated how the language barrier would affect my everyday life. Ordering food was a mammoth game of charades (and darn it I’m a pro at that game!), making friends that I could really connect with seemed almost impossible. My sleep patterns weren’t great and I felt anxious and tense at the beginning of each day. After a lot of hating and blaming the country, I decided that my attitude needed to change. The only person that was stopping me from progressing and benefiting from this experience was me. I’ll admit that my boyfriend Ali had a lot to do with my change in mood, he is the kind of person who doesn’t just see the glass as half full, he sees it overflowing with possibilities. Thankfully, I’m now at a point where this city feels comfortable, I have made a lot of friends and I can speak some Chinese. I’ll admit I am not exactly a conversational wizard but I will sure as hell tell you my name, that I’m British and that I want Kung Pao chicken that’s just a little spicy!

The problem with travelling or rather looking at other people who travel is that you never get to see those difficult times. There are no snapshots of the terrifying and daunting first trip to a foreign hospital where no one speaks English, when you feel like utter crap and you just want to be in a comfortable and familiar place. You only see what people want you to see, the sun tans, the nights out, the ‘Look at me I’m wild and fabulous’ shots. I wouldn’t take back my adventures but they certainly have not always been easy and that’s an important thing people must remember and consider before they decide to embark on any kind of extended travel especially to a developing country.

So lets move on to my Triumphs of which there have been many. I am proud to say that I am now a confident E-bike rider. An E-bike is an electric scooter and the people here in Nantong, along with many other cities in China love ’em! I scoot around like a boss and toot my little horn at the people who consistently walk in the road. I have to admit that I have not always possessed such E-bike swag… In the beginning I was more than a little anxious about driving one of these things. I tried it out in the shop and almost crashed into two display models, I cried, shockingly. It wasn’t just about the fact I have never ridden any kind of moped or scooter before; It was more to do with me not being the greatest of drivers. One time I reversed into a guy’s garage after he broke up with me, this was of course completely unintentional, mortifying yes, intentional no. However after careful practice and a lot of night riding to avoid the more hectic traffic, I can ride with confidence to the ends of the earth (or for 3 hours because that’s how long the battery lasts for.)

Another accomplishment that I feel extremely proud of is that I have made a small breakthrough into voice acting. During my time in China I have been part of two projects – one for a company’s online advertisement and the other for a short animated film. I am doing what I can to build on these experiences and pursuing this passion of mine fills me with excitement for the future. There are times when I have my doubts, the negativity starts to seep in and I hear a voice say ‘What’s the point? It’s never going to amount to anything.’ but the force that pushes me to seek adventure in foreign lands, urges me to keep trying.

As human beings we are so reluctant to accept the good things people have to say about us and yet we hold on to the bad things as if they were gospel. Each day we wake up we have a choice, is this going to be a good day or a bad day? Am I going to let the puddles of piss get me down or will I ’embrace the chaos’ as one of my best friends likes to say.

We have one life, so choose wisely and whatever you do, don’t let me drive.

Photo credit: Duncan Errington