The Dry January Experience.

One of the many alcohol-themed pictures decorating my kitchen. This one was given to me by a girlfriend who knows me all too well.

One of the many alcohol-themed pictures decorating my kitchen. This one was given to me by a girlfriend who knows me all too well.

Just over a month ago, I opened the fridge, and the bottle of chilled rosé winked provocatively at me from beside the orange juice carton. My hand wavered on its way to the juice, and all willpower promptly dissolved. Once poured into a delicate stemmed glass, the rosé provided the illusion of a luxurious reward for the end of my day.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not exactly the female answer to Gérard Depardieu. Lindsay Lohan could drink me under the table within minutes. I’m a typical example of the mother who reaches for her first glass of rosé whilst simultaneously burning dinner, tripping over the dog, emptying the washing machine and resolving conflicts between her offspring.

That evening, I was irritated to see that “wine o’clock” had become an automatic reflex that wasn’t so much a pleasure as a habit. Many people have told me that if you can’t do without something on a daily basis, it is an addiction. I have often wondered if that means I need therapy because I cannot go to bed without having cleaned my ears with cotton buds. Or if I should consult a counsellor from “Peanut Addicts Anonymous” for my daily fix of Arachis hypogaea. When exactly does a daily habit become an addiction?

I didn’t find an answer to my question on internet, but I did find Alcohol Concern’s website, and a challenge called “Dry January”: no alcohol for one month. I liked the idea – an opportunity to prove to myself that I really did have more self-control than a golden retriever discovering a tennis ball machine in the back garden. If I was addicted, I’d be clawing my way up the curtains in despair within days.

So I signed up. I apologise to Dry January, because I cheated and used my parents’ UK postcode. Please forgive me, DJ, and consider letting non-UK residents take part without having to lie through their teeth next year. We expats in wine-growing countries could add a whole new slant to your statistics: here in France, a litre of droolingly drinkable plonk costs less than petrol in the UK, giving us a temptation rating equal to that of a four-year-old left to his own devices in a Cadbury’s warehouse.

Gladys showed the collateral damage caused to her provençale villa after inviting her English pals to try a selection of best wines in the village.

Gladys showed the collateral damage caused to her Provençal villa after inviting her English pals to try a selection of the best wines in the village. Image credit: Wikipedia Creative Commons.

Over the month, I regularly read Dry January’s Facebook page, a real source of inspiration. My resolve was considerably strengthened by the determination and solidarity of those taking part – the challenge worked a charm because people can encourage each other and be accountable to each other. Being accompanied is clearly a key factor to successfully achieve any major life change.

To multiply the accountability factor, I made the promise to you lot, my super blogger pals, who checked out my daily exploits and kept me on track… because I promised, and I hate looking like a loser. And finally, I swore an oath of abstinence to P.F. and my three bemused offspring who (for once) were stumped for words before falling off their chairs and rolling on the floor laughing.

The aim

The aim was simple on paper: give up alcohol for one month. As I’m an eternal optimist, I added an hour of exercise every day for good measure. I have been terminally allergic to sport for all my adult life, and it was as good a time as any to gently get back on track. Having never worked out the interest of paying for the privilege of running on a treadmill in a giant cage full of lycra-clad, poney-tail swishing hamsters with gadgets strapped to their arms and leads sticking out of their ears, I decided to get outside with Smelly Dog and explore. It doesn’t cost a penny, and you don’t have to inhale the smell of other people’s armpits or suffer the humiliation of being thrown off the running machine.

We quickly worked out a circuit through the local vineyards (that’s what you could term Dry January karma). Once we had established that we weren’t going to give up, we invested in a pedometer. We shunned the über-sexy “name and shame” gadgets that shamelessly broadcast everything bar your knicker size and the number of times you fart as you wheeze your way around the local park, and went for a cheap and monastic version that keeps our modest accomplishments (distance, number of steps and walking time) to itself.

Result? We have walked over 203,000 steps, or 145km (90 miles) over the month. Walking is amazingly good for the soul, particularly when attempting abstinence for the first time in 12 years. Excuse the pun, but motivating music, sunshine and great countryside are ideal to lift a trainee teetotaler’s spirits.

So, how did the abstinence go?

The first week, I surfed the virtuosity wave. I was a disdainful diva when faced with a glass of wine, even declining champagne on the beach to toast in the new year. By the middle of the second week, however, the saintly queen of self-control and restraint was glowering, Gollum-like, over her glass of Perrier and lime, as she observed a grinning PF savouring his evening beer.

Ch-ch-ch-ch- changes….

Once I had got through the first two weeks, I started to notice the first benefits of the experience. The first, blatantly obvious change was in weight and volume. I’m not talking about myself here, but the recycling bag. I never thought I could feel virtuous at the local dump, and it had bugger all to do with the environment.

The recycling run, before Dry January. Photo credit: Annabel Symington.

The recycling run, before Dry January.
Photo credit: Annabel Symington.

I was in bed snoring shamelessly before ten and was awake before the alarm at 6.15. My skin was looking better. I had more energy, and was smug to see that I could still exercise a little discipline over myself. I was half–way there – so it would be silly to crack now. I had a spring in my step I hadn’t felt for a very long time.

I was fitter, too. Although weight loss wasn’t a decisive factor for me, I have lost 5 lb and banished two inches of muffin top from my waistline, which is definitely better than a slap in the face with a wet kipper. Like many other people on Dry January’s page, my problem was the inexplicable need to substitute one treat for another – let’s face it, if you replace half bottle of wine by a bucket of cocoa and a family-sized bar of Dairy Milk every evening, you’re not likely to see your waistline shrink much.

A mystery is solved…

However, the most unexpected effect of stopping alcohol was a surprise: my multiple dashes to the loo mysteriously ceased. I used to blame it on the coffee, but discovered mid-January that I had been barking up the wrong tree. Alcohol is a diuretic. It sends a message to your kidneys telling them to empty your body of any water it comes across,  gagging and holding hostage a hormone called vasopressin who would otherwise be telling your kidneys to absorb water on arrival. Without this message, your bladder does a Hoover Dam impression every ten minutes. So the next time you’re at the pub and you see people dashing for the loo every ten minutes, you now know why: when Herr Hormone’s away, the bladder plays.

I was eating less rubbish. Here again, alcohol was the culprit: it opens up your appetite and makes you reach for those salty nibbles. The salt makes you thirsty, so you head for the fridge and fill up your glass, then the alcohol presses the « hungry button »…. bis repetita, ad nauseam. Less alcohol = less nibbles. Less nibbles = less fat + less cholesterol + less weight. Not exactly rocket science, but a winning equation nevertheless.

So what’s next, you ask ?

I’ve got used to this new routine. I am now capable of looking at the bottle of wine that has been in the fridge since December… and leaving it there. And there it will stay. I’ll be sticking to my lime & Perrier… for the moment.

I can’t see myself stopping the outdoor activity, simply because it makes me feel good. So here’s the deal… C25K. Couch to 5K. I have had the podcasts on my computer for light years, and now that I’ve got my body used to regular activity, I want to give it a go. So lift your glass of whatever to me as I try to move from my two factory setting speeds, stop and start, to three: stop, start, and run. One day at a time.

Mrs Playmo sobering up in the stream after drinking an entire bottle of champagne to celebrate my completion of Dry January.

Mrs Playmo sobering up in the stream after drinking an entire bottle of champagne to celebrate my completion of Dry January.

Grateful thanks to all who followed Mrs Playmo’s adventures this month. The conclusion is coming up soon… we are currently trying to track down Mr Playmo, who has disappeared without a trace….

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M.M’s Guide to the Lesser Spotted Serial Shopper.

If you are a longterm follower of this blog, you will know that MM is as enthusiastic about shopping as Lindsay Lohan would be about running a tea shop. In order of preference, I would rather rip my toe nails out with a pair of pliers, spend an evening babysitting for Godzilla’s offspring or clean the family car with my tooth brush than set foot in a shopping centre at the height of the summer sales. Why? Because I’m allergic to the LSSS: the Lesser Spotted Serial Shopper. She brings me out in spots.

wow-thing

MM emerging from the underground car park and seeing the sales crowd. Note full head and eye protection for a day at the sales (Photo credit: x-ray delta one).

But last weekend, Little My had other plans. She was adamant about her perfect birthday agenda: a day spending her birthday money at the summer sales. With Mummy. So there I was, standing on an escalator that smoothly and irreverently spat me into the throbbing, frantic world of shopaholics. A beaming and febrile twelve year old clutched at me with one hand whilst the other quivered with anticipation over her pocket, ready to unsheathe her wallet and shoot ready cash at the first sight of a bargain.

Her chosen hunting ground was the place I call “the empty parrot cage” – a shopping centre called the “Polygone”. It was the third day of the summer sales, though, and the parrot cage was anything but empty. The air was rife with raw instinct – I swore I could smell it. The serial shopper season was in full swing, and they were hunting in packs, cackling loudly. They swooped past us, multicolored plastic bags dangling from the grasps of their French-manicured claws. Some were perched in lines on benches, pecking at bags of crisps and sipping Diet Coke as they gloated over their pickings (imagine the vultures in the Jungle Book, but more sinister).

Vulture / Buitre

An ageing Solitary Serial Shopper, all made up and ready to nab that size ten from her unsuspecting victim. (Photo credit: . SantiMB .)

How to recognize the LSSS.

The lesser spotted serial shopper looks fragile and dainty, but believe me, kiddo: those dainty little summer dresses hide ruthless machines that have trained to perfection for the Great Battle of the Credit Card. Move over, Lara Croft: these commercial commandos have prepared their offensive with military precision, and taken photos of their goals during strategically planned early morning reconnaissance flights. In the same way that the US Army polish up their weapons, the Lesser Spotted Serial Shopper has sharpened her nails with her titanium emery board in preparation for the big day. I suspect that they go to special commercial commando camps, where they hang bat-like from the rafters dressed in pink lycra and do sit-ups in time to “the Eye of the Tiger“, sweat dripping off their elbows as a hairy-chested hybrid of Mr T and Madonna barks instructions at them and points at the photos of dresses blu-tacked to the ceiling.

Modus operandi.

You don’t hear her sneaking up from behind the lingerie display until it’s too late. Her strategy is simple: as your fingers lovingly caress the article you are planning on buying, she will slide between you and it, staring at you with wide, mascara-ed eyes as she breathes “excusez-moi…” in your face. You step backwards, realizing that you have the choice between that or getting a stiletto heel-shaped hole in your big toe. She disappears in a puff of Dior, your vestimentary dream jammed firmly under her armpit. You live and learn. Another well-known strategy to is save valuable time by trying on clothing in the queue for the till and leaving a trail of unwanted items along the way, à la Hansel and Gretel. Any neighbouring woman who blinks in surprise at getting a face full of Serial Shopper’s g-string as she tries on a pair of mini-shorts is rebuked with a hostile glare that could reduce the average human being to a pile of poop, whilst a shy but sexy smirk is reserved for male onlookers.

English: Boxes of Nooma puddings being unloaded.

A Happily Married Serial Shopper supervising her cargo of sales bargains. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Subspecies.

Solitary predators hunt alone – these are the most dangerous variety. The misleadingly feminine and delicately perfumed exterior of the Solitary Lesser Spotted Serial Shopper hides the terrifying predator that lies within. These experienced birds have an eagle eye for a bargain, and will not hesitate to elbow less streetwise shoppers in the ribs, stick the corners of their handbags in children’s faces and reduce any inappropriately sandal-clad toes to smithereens in their quest to make it to the last size ten dress before anyone else.

Happily Married comes with her personal bodyguard/bag carrier/fund provider – a commercially depressed, metrosexual other half whose haggard expression induces pity in the most hard-hearted of people. She parks him on a chair outside the cubicle, where he avoids eye contact with the other women. When the LSSS finally extracts herself from the pile of clothing she has shoe-horned into the cubicle with her and twirls in front of the mirror, he fields the question “What do you think?” with caution: he knows that his opinion does not actually have any weight in her decision making, and any suggestion that the shirt is too short or the cleavage too deep will be greeted with flared nostrils and a glare. He is there simply to guard her trophies and go to find a different size or colour if needed.

The queue for the changing rooms is generally three miles long, and usually includes gaggles of Trainee Serial Shoppers. These are the young beginners who no doubt still use their Dolce & Gabbana belt buckles to differentiate between their “droite” and their “gauche”. They remain in a gaggle around the curtain, chewing gum and typing messages to each other on their phones (it’s not cool to talk to each other directly at that age) as they await the appearance of The Friend wearing the bargain of the century. According to the latter’s status in the group, comments will then vary from “Waaaah, so sexxxxxxy!” to “Uh. Yeah. I think it makes your bum look big. Nah, I mean, bigger.

DolceAndGabbana belt fake

Wear a Dolce and Gabbana belt, and instantly have the means to tell your left hand from your right (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“And what about the shopper with a girlfriend?” you ask. Well, I’m going to make myself unpopular here, but if she absolutely has to break the solitary rule of serial shopping, the LSSS never goes to the sales with a friend who wears the same size as her. She firmly believes that if she is the Queen Mary, her long-suffering pal is her tug. Only a friend who wears at least two sizes bigger are accepted to carry her bags and approve of her choices. However, said friend should have skin as thick as whale blubber and not expect the same favours in return.

I’ll leave you with this advert from the German internet clothing company Jungstil. It sums up my fears about the Lesser Spotted Sales Shopper perfectly. Be good at the sales. And if you can’t be good, be careful. Very careful. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to hang off the rafters.

PS. My apologies for the resounding silence since my last post. Life has been throwing all kinds of challenges MM’s way of late, meaning that she lost much of her blogging muchness. My mum always told me that if you have nothing nice to say, it’s best to keep your trap shut – hence the period of silence on this blog.