Knickers and how to wear them

I was attempting to pay for a light sabre at our local TK Maxx when I heard a voice exclaim ‘Mummy, are you wearing a mummy nappy?’

The voice came from nearby, and it was strikingly familiar. In fact it undeniably belonged to my son, wriggling around on his back by my feet.

‘Rufus, get up off the floor, now!’

‘Mummy, are you wearing a mummy nappy?’

‘Jeezus, just get up now, Rufus!’

‘But mummy, are you wearing a mummy nappy?’

‘For goodness sake, yes, Rufus, I am wearing a mummy nappy!’

Did I mention that I had been queuing up for 15 minutes, this being an indication of just how rammed said TK Maxx was at the time?

Did I also mention that it took me 72 precious hours to push this little truth teller through my lady bits?

And that during breast feeding training, the day after he finally decided to show up, a fellow mother blurted out in recognition of my voice ‘Oh, it was you who screamed like a woman possessed all that time!’

So it is with great humility that I declare that my dignity has long since left the building.

Which came in handy on a recent Wednesday afternoon when I was walking down the road and a van slowed down next to me.

‘Here we go,’ I thought, ’43 years old and she’s still got it! Look at these young lads lusting after the yummy mummy.’

Alas, their interest was purely in covering up my body parts rather than in uncovering them, for the words they uttered as they wound down the window were ‘Love, you’ve got your skirt tucked into your knickers.’

This made me wish that their 20-20 vision had been present the time I spent an hour on my pushbike at peak traffic riding through the leafy streets of West London into Marylebone, only to arrive at my destination realising that I had done so with my bum bared for all those frustrated drivers’ delectation (or otherwise), my skirt firmly tucked in to my underpants.

And the time I turned up for a viewing, fashionably late and struggling with the keys, when the lovely Indian gentleman quietly stated ‘Madame, your dress is tucked into your underwear.’ On further consideration I do hope that by calling me ‘Madame’ he was not insinuating that I had mistaken his request to check out the bedroom facilities one more time for something altogether different.

In fact knickers and I have a long and undignified past.

It all started at the age of seven with a pair of tights with a tendency to slide down my legs due to the elastic on them being so worn. As Simply Red famously sang, ‘Money’s too tight for tights’, which was why my mother cooked up another solution: a pair of her ‘granny pants’ (see Bridget Jones) for me to pull up on top of my straying pair of hosiery.

The system worked well giving young Monika the freedom to strut around without a permahold of the elastic around her waist. Until one day the PE the teacher walked into the classroom, twenty-four pairs of eyes on stalks intently focused on the pair of grey satin and lace granny pants balancing on the tip of her pencil, loudly stating: ‘We found these in the girls’ changing rooms. They look expensive. Who do they belong to?’

A lifetime’s supply of candy couldn’t have persuaded me to admit the proprietary status of this embarrassingly adult undergarment, and so it was with little pomp and fanfare that a pair of grey satin and lace ladies’ granny pants spent the best part of a year tacked on to the noticeboard of year 1, where they shone their satin glare next to the lunch menu and PE schedule.

It was September 1997 and I had just started in my new role as Communications Assistant at Xerox in Uxbridge, a one year placement during my Business Studies course at The University of Portsmouth. The Spice Girls were zig-a-zig-ahing all over the radio waves and their unique look had infiltrated the wardrobes of young ladies all over Britain, this including an unforgiving trend for super low waisted trousers and dresses with see through panels sewn in to the waist. As is the case with many fads, just because something is fashionable doesn’t make it altogether wearable. Which was how I found myself listening to my colleague Rachel shelling out the realities of being a fashion victim in the late 90s through the toilet wall that separated us: ‘Monika, I just don’t know how to get over the visible panty line situation when wearing low waisted trousers.’

‘Ah, Rachel. There is a solution for this: you simply do not wear panties!’

Triumphant at being able to give a friend this lifesaving advise I step out of my toilet cubicle to meet the stern gaze of my 40 something old boss, who, dissuaded by the Spice Girls’ brand of fashion sense looks me up and down and says: ‘I see you’re wearing a low waisted pair of trousers today, Monika.’

Like many phases in one’s youth my knickerless period thankfully lasted but for a breath, thus giving room for the following incident a mere year later:

It was a Tuesday afternoon at my friend Alex’s granddad’s flat. Alex lived there during university and I would regularly sleep over after a late night when granddad was away, which was often. Alex and I were getting our daily dose of Neighbours laced with cheese toasties and a cup of builders’, when in walks Alex’s granddad with the tiniest pair of lacy pink g-strings balancing on the tip of a pencil. ‘Monika, do these belong to you?’

My mind flashing back to that afternoon in first grade fourteen years prior I freeze, before realising that this moment right here is my opportunity for retribution. With the gravity of a soldier on trial I stand up and state: ‘Yes, granddad. The knickers belong to me.’

A face only a mother could love

‘Excuse me, is it compulsory to walk your dog every day?’

I give the enquirer a quick once over: Severe glasses and a strict haircut. A red patent leather coat and a pair of trousers in a shade of brown that I have not witnessed since the 70s. A little out there for a 10am walk in the park, but who am I to judge.

‘Errm, what do you mean?’ I say.

‘Is it compulsory to walk your dog every day?’

She says it more slowly this time, annunciating each word carefully,  possibly thinking I’m a foreigner (correct), or, perhaps, that I am a few spanners short of a toolkit (mainly incorrect).

I look around the park: fur balls small and large are darting around sniffing each other’s butts and decking any available patch of grass with their excretions, yet out of the tens of dog walkers in her line of vision she has picked me. Could it be that she’s referring specifically to MY dog? After all, being a Bulldog, he’s of a breed often considered to have a face that only a mother could love. Perhaps she’s not so much asking me a question, as giving me a direction, as in ‘Do you HAVE to walk YOUR dog every day?’ Perhaps she’s been monitoring my dog walking patters for months, waiting for the right time to approach me about this rather distressing situation, having finally picked up the courage to do so.

I say, ‘Yes, they kind of need to pee.’

‘Oh, I see.’ She says. Then continuing with ‘Because, you know, I’ve never had a dog.’

“No sh*t.” I think, immediately realising that “No sh*t” is exactly what would be required of a dog in her care.

I smile awkwardly, backing away slowly as I do so. I pull on Ramsay’s lead gently, having noticed just how keenly he’s inspecting her ‘to an acquired taste’ brown hued trouser legs, in all likelihood about to mistake them for a tree trunk.

Although a demonstration as to just why dogs need to be walked on a daily basis would be well placed, I am not sure the pants in question are in circulation anymore should a replacement be required, so I am glad when we leave the tête-à-tête without further incident.

On hindsight I can’t help but admire her ‘get up and go’ attitude. This question may have been weighing on her mind for decades, and there she was, on a bright May morning, pulling her finger out once and for all.

This got me thinking about some questions that have been bothering me for some time, namely:

  1. Is it compulsory to toot the horn at traffic lights if the car in front fails to move within 0.04 seconds of the lights turning green?
  2. Is it compulsory for a man to take (and pass) online courses in a) How to be a letch b) How to successfully lie about your height and/or age and/or marital status and c) How to take images from challenging angles prior to being able to enrol on a dating site?
  3. Is it compulsory to leave skid marks in public toilets out of consideration for the toilet user behind you just in case they happen to be a nutritionist concerned for the state of your ability to achieve satisfactory bowel movements?
  4. Is it compulsory for an owner of a convertible car to a) drive with the roof down as soon as the temperatures hit plus 12 degrees and b) blast out Craig David at a level that will cause tinnitus for anybody within a 100 yard radius?
  5. Is it compulsory to shake ones head and exclaim ‘you don’t know what you’re missing’ if a person tells you that they haven’t watched a single episode of Game of Thrones and have no intension or interest in doing so as it would rob them of three days and 34 minutes of their life?

Perhaps the lady in red (and brown) was right. We should not hold on to the questions that weigh down on us, but be forthright in our quest for answers.

I for one know that I will be sleeping better tonight safe in the knowledge that I have finally dared utter what has concerned me for some time.

Brenda likes biscuits

I

Last night we had some family visiting from overseas. On arrival they told my son that they had a gift for him, to which he replied: ‘Sometimes I like gifts, sometimes I don’t. But even if I don’t like them, I still like them.’

‘Ah, isn’t he adorable,’ I thought, ‘and so clever, almost philosophical in his approach to life. And he’s not yet five! I wonder if we will be able to afford to send him to Harvard?’

My head giddy with excitement at the thought of the valedictorian speech he is going to give, I soon crash-land when I realise that my little boy pretty much just described the basis of addiction.

As I resolve to make him go cold turkey on all things PJ Masks with immediate effect I think about the many guises that addiction takes. Take Brenda, for example:

Brenda stands by the cookie jar to uncover a sorry mix of fruit shortcakes and rich tea biscuits; no sight of the Choco Leibniz that she saw Mary from accounts walk away with, or even the Bourbons that the temp is busy dipping in her tea.

Brenda makes a huffing sound and resolves to leave empty handed. ‘Maybe it’s better this way.’ But as if in a trance her hand reaches inside the cookie jar. She grabs three of each biscuit, leaving only what looks like a half eaten waffle behind. She has some standards. She goes back to her desk to surreptitiously apply peanut butter to the rich tea biscuits, because she doesn’t even like rich tea biscuits. The fruit shortcakes she washes down with a tin of Fanta.

She’s tried to give up her 4pm biscuit habit for a while. Sometimes she makes it to 4.14pm. Once she even made it as far as 4.46pm because she had a birthday party coming up and wanted to fit in to the dress lent to her by her sister, the one who strikes that annoying teapot pose in all her Instagram posts. Sometimes she buys blueberries from the Tesco Metro at lunchtime in the hope that they will help satisfy that afternoon slump, but then she just ends up eating the blueberries AND whatever biscuits she ends up finding in the tin that day.

She wants to speak to somebody about it. To tell them how she hates herself for eating the biscuits but can’t stop eating the biscuits. To explain that the reason is that it’s the only thing that keeps her sane in that dead hour between 4.30pm and 5.30pm when everybody’s eyes are glazed over and they have mentally left the building. To explain that the biscuits are what keeps her going when she’s tired and stressed. That sometimes they feel like her only friend.

But she doesn’t want to tell anybody, because it’s kind of embarrassing and it seems so stupid that she can’t control her biscuit habit. Because surely she should just be able to stop eating biscuits whenever she felt like it? And, there was that time in January last year when she stopped for 30 days. She’d planned to make it the whole month, but then it was Margie’s birthday and in some sort of ironic move Margie was serving Wagon Wheels and she just didn’t want to look like she didn’t get the joke, so she had two. It made her feel awful as she’d been so close to completing the month’s challenge, but she knew she could do it again if she wanted to as she’d gotten to 30 days that one time.

Deep inside she hates it that she can’t walk past the biscuit tin without checking if it might contain Choco Leibnizes. And deep inside she knows this is a problem. Because even if she tells herself she doesn’t like them, she still likes them.

Brenda feels ashamed. What she doesn’t know is that after work tonight Brian from marketing is going to a place where he can talk about his biscuit addiction, and that Richard in IT often spends time in an online forum where he talks about his previous love of carrot cake.

Brenda doesn’t know that she is not alone.

In fact, none of us are ever alone.

On breaking things

I used to think I was clumsy. Mainly because I used to spend an inordinate amount of time locating the dustpan and brush from underneath the sink whilst trying to avoid getting lacerated by killer pieces of glass around the kitchen floor. Oddly, I’ve since noticed a clear correlation between the amount of alcohol imbibed and my rate of clumsiness.

It is therefore today, in celebration of eight months of sobriety, I present to you, in mostly chronological order, eight things I’ve broken whilst under the influence:

Two candleholders from Iittala:

My best friend buys me a pretty candleholder for my 17th birthday. In my eagerness to put it to immediate use I stumble on a rug sending the candleholder catapulting from my grip to collide unceremoniously with a wall. A few days later my best friend brings me a familiarly shaped package. There it is, the very same pretty candleholder from Iittala. I open it, determined to keep it in one piece, gently attempting to place it on top of the nearby bookshelf. In an epic fail I slip on a discarded nightgown and the candleholder crashes to an immediate death by my right foot. My friend does not buy me a third candleholder.

My front tooth:

It is a boiling hot summer’s day. I have bought a cobalt blue bottle of Babycham to enjoy on the common whilst my uni mates play football. I wave at the boys whilst seductively bringing the bottle to my lips: no need for a glass here! Except I misjudge the angle between my arm and my mouth, thus chipping off a piece of my left front tooth. I repair my left front tooth on four different occasions, at a cost of over £1000.

My ankle:

It is 11.55pm. Darude’s Sandstorm comes on the speakers. I am Finnish. It is a matter of national importance that I dance. Sensibly I decide to remove my shoes. They have been causing me to want to cut my feet off for the past four hours. Ah, the blissful relief! I bounce around with ecstatic glee. ‘Look at me move!’ I think proudly, ‘The Queen of the Dance floor!’. There is no doubt about it. But fate has other plans for me. My foot finds a puddle in which it lands just slightly on its side, leading me to take a spectacular tumble. With immediate effect my ankle turns the colour of a week-old banana whilst swelling to three times its normal size. It is 11.58pm. Two minutes later it is time for carriages.

I’m unable to run for seven months.

Approximately 9354 glasses:

Including at least one belonging to my dear friend Simon. Simon specifically advises me that I must, under no circumstances, break this particular glass as it is rare and difficult to replace. For a fleeting moment I consider requesting another less precious glass from his collection, but on the back of my excellent track record of keeping glasses in one piece, I decide to accept the challenge. Unfortunately it isn’t to be. I find the narrowest window ledge known to humankind to balance the glass on, and just like that the dream is over. Simon does not speak to me for a week.

On another occasion, at university, I stand with a newly acquired pint of cider in my right hand loudly holding court when my pint of cider simply falls out of my hand.

It just falls out of my hand.

The muscles in my hand forget that they are holding on to a glass and so the glass crashes on to the floor, sending the contents splashing across our denims. I am not sure if I pull that night.

A bike:

I am at the tail end of a catastrophic date. It is 2.09am and I have to make my way home. But wait! I came by bike! Brilliant. I will save myself a tenner on a taxi! I attempt to ride the bike. I fall off. I get on again, thanking the universe that nobody was there to witness this sorry display. I fall off once more. I don’t understand, I ride my bike all the time, but somehow it just seems really hard tonight. After falling off a third time, I realise that something isn’t quite right with the bike. After a few minutes of intense brain activity and equally intense gazing through my right eye only I locate the problem: the chain is mostly dragging on the ground with what is apparently called a derailer hanging on for dear life. I get a strong sense that I am able to fix this issue, and so I tinker around with a few hair clips and a hairband until a couple of friendly Polish guys gently usher me in to a cab with the bike.

To this date I am not sure if it was my falling off the bike that caused the damage or whether it was my date’s psychopathic housemate who sabotaged my bike in a jealous rage.

I am inclined to go with the latter.

My pharynx:

It’s Christmas. I have imbibed the contents of around 1.42 bottles of Chianti. I am ‘tired’ but still aware that my dental health comes first. I slowly make my way to the bathroom, where I reach for my electric toothbrush. I apply toothpaste, and start to brush my teeth like I have done so many times before. Then, nature calls. I establish my inability to hold on for the required two minute brushing period, and so decide to multitask, beginning my steady descend on to the toilet bowl. The bathroom can only be described as bijou, and thus it is that during my descent the base of my toothbrush hits the rim of the basin, shooting the brush in to my pharynx in a quick stab. Blood guzzles from my mouth by the gallon.

I can only eat and drink through a straw for the following eight days.

Hearts:

Both my own and others. When you drink there is only room for one Sheriff in town. Pistols at dawn.

Promises:

It’s 6.30am. A car alarm keeps on sounding. Nothing to do with me. ‘Why the f*** is nobody sorting this out, people are trying to sleep!’

6.35am. The car alarm is still sounding. It seems to be sounding from inside my bedroom. It dawns on me: it is not the car alarm, it is the alarm clock.

My mouth is so dry I could sell it as sandpaper. Everything hurts, even my eyeballs. Especially my eyeballs.

6.40am. I text my friend: ‘I’m never drinking again.’

8.25am. I arrive at office and loudly announce ‘I’m never drinking again.’

6.00pm. I leave the office.

6.03pm. ‘A bottle of Pinot Grigio, please.’

 

 

On Roxette and first loves

Do you ever think about what your specialist skill on Mastermind would be? Well, for me the choice is obvious: The release dates of Pop and Rock songs from 1988 to date.

As you can imagine this lifeskill has opened many a gilded door for me. Once, when visiting my friends Hanne and Roque in Dubai we even landed a second prize in a pub quiz on the back of my correctly having identified the release year of Alanis Morrissette’s Hand in My Pocket as 1995. There may have been only four teams, but we got the free chips, so.

I often struggle to remember what I did the night before (though somewhat less these days), so I feel immense admiration for my brain synapses that on this morning’s dog walk accurately placed Roxette’s Fading like a Flower (blasting out of what could only have been a Swede’s Volvo) in the year 1991.

So, just how did this incredible talent come about?

It was when my childhood friend Kristel decided to play Kylie Minogue’s I should be so Lucky to me on her red cassette player that music suddenly started to play a huge part in my life. I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that it was Kylie (and the whole Stock Aitken & Waterman posse) that got me tapping my fingers and attempting the sideways shuffle, but it was from that moment on that I through historical association curated this verging on a superpower like skill. It was 1988.

The historical association to Fading like a Flower was attending my very first concert with my then best friend Sofia at the most magical venue that I could imagine at the time: Helsinki Icehockey Stadium.

We got special permission to leave school an hour early in order to make it on time to the concert which was a two hour train ride away, but in fact that extra hour was spent French kissing my new boyfriend Tobias on the railings outside the stadium. Tobias lived in Helsinki which meant we only got to see each other on the weekends, so this extra kissy kissy time was quite the treat.  The concert itself was mind-blowing for that 15 year old girl, and it spawned a love for live music that has taken me to concerts with many of the greats all around the world.

Fast forward to 1992 and I was living in a student apartment in Helsinki and had made a whole new set of friends. Together we navigated our way through a demanding first year of high school, but also through our first bottle of Liefbraumilch (the cheapest wine in the National liquor store, ‘Alko’), then Blue Nun (at one Finnish Mark more), and, if we really wanted to be fancy, a flat shaped bottle of the sweetest rosé known to man, Matéus, at an additional three Finnish Marks.

At 16 we were all too young to buy booze; one had to be 18 to buy alcohol and then only 21% proof or below. Only at 21 could liquors over 21% proof be purchased, which meant that there were a number of 21% proof sweet concoctions made to appeal to the younger market on the shelves of these shrines to all things boozy.

I am not sure whether it was my loud mouth or the fact that I was the only individual who owned a suit, but I was quickly nominated to be the person to try their luck at our closest ALKO, conveniently located in the same block as our high school. In I went, wearing my shocking pink suit from Benetton (because surely only people over 18 would own a shocking pink suit), pretending to wave car keys in my hand, a black patent leather document bag nonchalantly hanging off my other arm, walking straight to the shelf with the Liefbraumilch. Which I could only imagine was the sophisticated choice of a young executive wearing pink lipstick and smudged eyeliner. But, low and behold: my first mission was a success.

Word soon spread that I had a high hit rate at ALKO, and so, more often than not I donned my shocking pink suit to high school to conduct my work as a booze mule for the underaged masses.

Being underage we couldn’t be seen swigging bottles of alcohol, which meant we had to disguise our drinks by pouring them in to large 1.5 litre containers that had previously held a Ribena type cordial called ‘Mehukatti’ (The Juice Cat). These cat adorning plastic bottles were carried with such pride by the teenagers at any and all high school parties that you would have thought they were Oscar statues. They were passed around with such fervour that if one person at the party had mono, then surely the rest of the attendees would leave with it.

I cannot remember what I thought of the taste of alcohol when I first started drinking it, but I can only imagine that it must have been an acquired taste.

We certainly drank to fit in with the pack. We taught each other to drink. We taught each other to be part of a drinking culture where we drank to get drunk as fast as possible. We held each other’s hair when we threw up because we’d wanted to get drunk as fast as possible. We filled in the gaps for each other when black-out occurred. Unless it occurred for all of us.

It is just what we all did.

And I guess we found it fun.

But I didn’t know of an alternative. Drinking was what adults did, and being 16 I felt like it was my turn to be an adult.

I look back fondly on those days. Those three years spent with my boyfriend and new gang in the capital played out to a soundtrack of Bon Jovi, Tom Petty, Guns n’ Roses, and, yes, Roxette. And they were some of the happiest of my life.

But, will I teach my son that drinking is just what adults do?

No. I will tell him my story, tell him about the fun times and the terrible times. Tell him about the damaging effects of alcohol to both physical and mental health. The stuff that I knew nothing about when I was waving my ‘Juice Cat’ canister in the air.

But, above all, I will show him just how fabulous alcohol-free life can be.

And whilst doing so I may just play a bit of Roxette.

 

On waking up in a Mexican jail

Almost daily I get asked what the breaking moment was, the moment that I decided to go sober. 

It seems that there is a morbid fascination with this. Maybe I should manufacture a sordid tale of waking up in jail after a seven night bender of rockstar style partying? Naked, in Mexico, with only a chicken for a cellmate? 

Or would a torrid and miserable tale of woe fall on better ears? One comfortably removed from the audience’s own existence? A tale that ends up on a street corner that doesn’t involve a hot dog stand? Or a story that concerns the loss of a lucrative job, a severe gambling addiction, or being shut in a mental institution for attacking a mannequin with a machete? 

For most people I have met the decision to free themselves from the shackles of alcohol has not been the result of living through a version of Hangovers part I, II and III on consecutive weekends, or a Winona Ryder style kleptomaniacal spree at Harrods, but in stead a simple ‘f*** me, I am drinking too much’ moment of clarity. For my part I can only say that a series of bad and even worse decisions, heartbreaks and heartaches got me to my ‘f*** me’ moment. And for that sequence of events I am forever grateful, despite it almost tearing me apart.  

The story of my friend’s brother, however, is worthy of a short film starring Tom Cruise. 

Full of drugs and alcohol he was full throttling a motorbike when a car crashed into him from behind a blind curve. He flew 20-30 yards before meeting with the ground, virtually pulverising his right arm on impact. At that very moment an ambulance drove by.  The remote location in South America that he was travelling through meant that any help would have been at least half an hour away, a time during which he would have choked on his own blood. 

No matter what ones worldview, it feels like fate was involved. Which is how, in that moment four years ago, my friend’s brother found electing sobriety after decades of drug and alcohol abuse an easy choice. 

How often do people drive a car after ‘just a couple of drinks’. How often do we hop in the driver’s seat after just a few hours of sleep thinking we are ok following a heavy night of boozing? 

How many people have the lucky strike of an ambulance passing by at the moment of impact? 

We do not need to wait to be in pieces by the roadside. Nor do we need to be sucking the last drops of the brandy that we’ve spilled on the psychedelic shag pile carpet (true story, though not mine) to come face to face (or face to shag pile carpet) with the fact that we may have a problem. 

And we certainly do not need to wait until we have an Oscar worthy story to tell. 

Though you could always make one up. 

‘Now let me tell you about my time in a Mexican jail with only a chicken for company…’

On being a published author

And in fabulous news: I’ve been published by a magazine!

It may not have been using my full name (perhaps, as a writer, I will go by just one name, like Madonna?), nor in the words I’d carefully curated (“the publication reserves the right to alter letters”), BUT I’ve been published and even ‘paid’ for the pleasure. In a spectacular array of Dead Sea Spa Magik products, no less. My skin will forever be silky smooth with a salty aftertaste.

All jokes aside, I am filled with joy that the magazine chose my letter to print and comment on, if only with a few words. The magazine in question was Healthy, which, according to its strap line, is the ‘UK’s No 1 wellbeing magazine’. With largely well researched, informative and interesting content gracing its pages.

And then, something not so helpful. A short snipped which read:

Constant Craving

New research shows binge drinking can trigger long-lasting genetic change, leaving you craving alcohol even more. Two genes are implicated in how we control our drinking: one influences our body clock, the other our stress-response system. Scientists compared moderate, binge and heavy drinkers, and the two genes changed only in binge and heavy drinkers. Another good reason to stick to only a couple of drinks a day.

‘Only’ a couple of drinks a day?!

In ‘Healthy’ magazine?

The first time I thought my drinking wheels may have come off was only a few weeks in to my time at university, at the tender age of 19. I’d woken up with a right cheek blossoming with an intricate web of broken veins.

I’d seen these veins on the fright-inducing street dwellers as a little child in my home town in Finland. The men and women of an indeterminate age that my grandparents would do their best to shield from my view as they’d walk me home from nursery via the park. Sometimes I hate to admit that Finland really does look like an Aki Kaurismäki depiction.

And there it was, the same spider’s web, burning, on my cheek.

The lure of reckless nights out, with boys to kiss, luminous drinks to down and underground clubs to frequent proved too much to resist for the girl that had just been released to the world from a cold town uncomfortably close to the Arctic. I willed the visit from the face-slapping-fairy to be an isolated case.

Over the ensuing 23 years I would consider my drinking on and off, always finding a comforting notion to wipe off any fears that I may be overindulging:

‘It’s just what we do when we are young and experimenting.’

‘It’s just what living in London is like.’

‘It’s just our work hard, play hard culture.’

‘It’s just how I relax at the end of a hard day.’

‘It’s my me-time now that I’m a mummy.’

Working meant that I naturally could not drink every day even if I had wanted to. (Sometimes I surprise myself with my sensibility. This cannot be said for the times that I heard bird song for the second time in a weekend without having slept. Those wretched birds.)

But, when I left the tough industry I had been in for 17 years just over a year ago, such restrictions were a thing of a dull and restrained past. I was now happy to spread my wine wings, one wobbly wing at a time. Wine o’clock kept creeping ever earlier egged on by notions of how in order to be a great writer surely I would need to imbibe like the best of them.

It was then that the cheek-slapping-fairy turned up again and this time it stopped me in my ‘sticky with spilled wine’ tracks. Drinking every day was what finally got me to see and accept that all was not well.

Still, it had gone on for months, and whilst I’d pretended to have a fabulous time as I drank my way through a corner shop’s worth of plonk, it was simply a vehicle to drown the frightened and lost young girl of 19 still within me. That girl that needed the booze to kiss the boys and to enter the labyrinths of clubs with the pounding music, to give her a shield of amber armour. Even if it might make her stumble just a little.

So, when I read about how mummies need their wine o’clock or how a glass of red wine a day helps keep you from keeling over from a heart attack I despair.

For, I cannot help to think where I might be today IF in stead of stories like these magazines were filled with articles about the true damage that alcohol causes to both physical and mental health; how alcohol breaks up families; the cost to society from lost working days and the huge financial costs of the alcohol related healthcare; and how, far from being the social lubricant that it is painted as it often provides one with false and empty friendships and romantic relationships that start their life in a haze where neither party inhabits their true selves.

I will never deny that I have had a lot of fun over the years, and books will be written about those booze-filled days. However, having discovered life A.B.C. (After Booze-Filled Carnage), in its full technical’s-colour beauty (insert acid joke here), I am reminded of why I write this blog: in the hope that it will touch somebody’s life somewhere at a crucial point. Somebody who’s perhaps at the tender of age 19 (the age I first questioned the amber nectar flowing through my life), or perhaps a more mature at 42 (the age when I finally turned off the tap). Somebody who, whilst surrounded by a society where daily drinking is normalised is thinking: ‘but is it really?’

Fourteen left feet

In 1990 I took part in the very first step class ever held in Finland. The Gulf War was underway, thus causing delays to deliveries, including our step boards. So there we were, stepping up and down beer crates in stead.

We learned the ‘basic step’, ‘the L-step’, the ‘New York’, and probably the ‘split step’ too. But not much else, in that first class. After all, we were all new to it, even the instructor.

Over the weeks we were taught more difficult steps like the ‘around the world’ and ‘mambo’, bit by bit combining these into initially shorter, then longer sets.

Soon, most of us were stepping up and down and around our steps (now made by Reebook rather than the ‘Sinebrychoff’ brewery) in tandem, as if we’d surfed out of our mothers’ wombs balancing on a step board.

For me, step was my new love, and the step board my anchor. If I happened to mis-step I could always find my way back in to the rhythm of things, because everything took place around this compact rectangle. Over time the terminology became second nature and my feet instinctively knew what to do, so much so that last year, after a 20 year break, I was able to resume step from where I left off.

Today I watched a complete newbie take part in her first ever step class. She must have been following a ghost instructor invisible to the rest of us, for not one step she took was correct. It looked as if she had not two but fourteen left feet. Yet, she kept going where I’ve seen others collect their garb and walk away.

At the end of the class she told the instructor how she was at the beginning of her fitness journey and just had to grind her teeth and get on with it, and I thought ‘Yes, girlfriend, you’re gonna make it!”.

The funny thing is: so often we think we need to be maestros from day one.  And we give up because we don’t paint like Michelangelo or write like Hemingway on our first try. We forget that even the greats were once novices, thus possibly never discovering our true capacity.

As I celebrate my 200 day soberversary I thank the Universe that I accepted those first fumbling steps as the moves of the beginner I was. That I didn’t run to the first pub after a tough class. That I sought help from other beginners and those who had more experience than me. That I learned an all new terminology, and that I used my research as my anchor.

Today I am proud to say that I find alcohol free life instinctive, second nature. “No thank you, I don’t drink.” rolls of the tongue as if I’d only ever uttered those words.

A lesson in tenacity that I will now utilise in my writing. So I welcome you to my new style blog of short and snappy musings. My training ground, where in good time I aim to find my groove, my rhythm, my anchor. For I now realise that it is only through practice that I can reach my true potential. Like the lady with the fourteen left feet, after all, I am only just at the beginning of my journey.

200 days on. I suspect that I don’t need to point out which image was taken today.

21 home runs

150 days today!

I told the father of my son that I was going to write a post that listed 150 ways that my life has improved in that time and his response was: “Don’t be crazy, nobody’s going to want to read that. Just make it one for each week.” 

I hate to say it, but he has a point. 

So here goes: 

21 ways my life has improved since beginning my alcohol free life: 

  1. My bank statements no longer read like the Yellow Pages of the West End. 
  2. I now no longer singlehandedly pay the salaries of 1.5 Über drivers (see number 1). 
  3. I make it to appointments on time. Well, perhaps not all the time, but let’s say 50% of the time. Or perhaps 33%. Anyway, I make it to appointments on time more than I did before. Which was never. 
  4. I rarely watch TV. This is both a positive and a negative as oftentimes I stand there looking like a Neanderthal who’s just appeared from under a rock when people speak about the latest breakthrough show. I fit in around two hours a week, and I make those count. And this does not include watching episode three of Friends series two for the sixteenth time. 
  5. I used to devour celebrity magazines. I haven’t opened one since my sobriety date. I didn’t think I could live without intimate knowledge of Jordan’s sixth boob job, or go to bed without knowing what the latest doomed for failure celebrity couple has named their child. Turns out I survive just fine. 
  6. I take my boy swimming as promised. This is a big one for obvious reasons. And there are huge bonuses to making it there. Afterwards he takes a nap for hours. Which, as any mother will know, is the Universe’s way of thanking us for a job well done. 
  7. I’ve lost a stone. A STONE! You hear that? Just from not drinking? A little bit from not eating sugar too, but I was never a huge sugar fiend. When it came to dessert time it was never about ‘which one of these lovely cakes shall I pick?’ In stead it was ‘Another bottle of the Pinot Grigio, please’. It’s a little known fact that AF life is possibly the best diet out there, but the question is how many books would ‘Drop as many dress sizes as you like by dropping the vino’ sell. Hmmm. Must put that in my back pocket. Need to work on the title. 
  8. I seldom come home to find more than one ‘We came to give you a package but you weren’t home’ card from The Post Office. Once I turned up at the post office with three of the cards wondering what three things I was picking up. I then stood there, glad that I’d had the foresight to bring a bag, whilst the attendant passed me no fewer than 23 packages. TWENTY-THREE PACKAGES. It had been a busy night watching The Good Place with the whole world’s shopping opportunities conveniently balanced on my lap in the form of my laptop. 
  9. On account of the above I have now banished internet shopping altogether. I even told the father of my son to block me from sharing his Amazon Prime account with mind blowing consequences. I must have saved hundreds in the past couple of months. Having to get off my (now tinier) butt to go buy stuff from the High Street means I think long and hard about whether I actually need it. And then there’s the added bonus of actually supporting our high streets. And we all know they need supporting, before each and every one becomes an oasis of betting shops and pound stores. Oh, and estate agents. 
  10. Today my ‘I am Sober’ app announces that I have saved £2,250 since going AF. For further savings see numbers 8 and 9 above. 
  11. The same app tells me I’ve saved 900 hours in this time. How has the time been calculated? It’s a tricky one to estimate, but say I spent six hours on drinking of a night several times a week, then at least six hours would be ruined the day after because of it. So on an average of six hours a day that’s 37 days that I’ve saved for ‘stuff’. You can cross a lot off your to do list in 37 days. 
  12. After these 150 days I can finally consider my house virtually clutter free (see number 11). In another 50 days I can ask Marie Kondo around for supper and invite her to root around my drawers (now now) with my head held high.
  13. As a consequence of number 12, my mind is slowly becoming a less cluttered place. I’m starting to think my boss had a point when he tried to get me to tidy the towers of paperwork off my desk. Darn.
  14. I no longer have to wish I’d downloaded an app that made me answer trivia/complete a puzzle/know my last name before being able to send a text. Read in to this what you will (and you will probably be right). 
  15. I now prefer leafing through a book to swiping left (and occasionally right) on my phone. Anybody for whom this reference is gobbledygook is likely to be cozily coupled up. 
  16. I now know that it is ok to be by myself. And in fact I revel in it (see number 15). This is quite the whopper after 26 years of back to back relationships (which weirdly coincides with the number of years I was drinking for). 
  17. My body seems to have regained a level of immunity unheard of in the past decade or two, as I have since my sobriety date managed to avoid the monthly cornflake lip I had become so accustomed and which thwarted many a date (which, in itself, was not necessarily a bad thing).
  18. I have discovered the meaning of self-care. For it used to mean ‘open bottle, drink bottle, repeat’. Now it means: gym, sauna, jacuzzi, read, bath, run, massage, eat well, sleep well, be well. 
  19. I used to wonder what kind of moron you had to be to run in pouring rain at 6am. Now I am one of those morons (see number 18). 
  20. I haven’t broken or lost a mobile phone/tooth/set of keys/my mind since going AF. 
  21. I remember every day as vividly as this moment, here, right now. And that counts for a lot when I have a four year old with whom every day is a precious gift.

And on that rather serious note, I thank you for popping in again. I know I owe you a post about the Random Acts of Kindness day. I have written most of it, but, as chance would have it, I have been busy performing my own random act of kindness through packing up my son’s and his father’s house ahead of their move to their new house this Friday,  a house which I found for them. There’s no denying it: I am not only feeling strangely warm inside for sharing the goodness, but also pleasantly smug. 

Big AF hugs.

Monika 

On fruit, men and abstinence

Feeling fruity

Stop the press! 

For it appears that FF (food free) is the new AF (alcohol free)! 

Well, not quite FF, but close enough. 

Let me explain:

I have a group of dear friends with whom we like to play what’s known as the ‘Did you Know’ game, the premise of which is pretty clear from its title. 

Possibly one of the most famous of those Did you Knows (DYKs) was “Did you know that the avocado is the only food that man can survive on solely for the rest of his life?” 

These DYKs are usually discussed at length as well as analysed for accuracy, and, as was in the case of the avocado DYK, often rebutted pretty speedily. 

Enter in to the picture an energy workshop that I attended over the weekend where I encounter an attendee whom I shall name ‘Fruitman’. 

Over a glass of sparking water (for him) and a chicken salad (for me) I learn that Fruitman has for the past three years lived on nothing but one or two pieces of fruit every day. Fine, it’s not quite the same as living on smashed avocado alone (without the requisite poached eggs and lightly toasted rye bread made famous by West London mummies), but in the interest of aforementioned DYK game, he’s come deliciously close to proving the validity of said statement. 

Had it been the first time I’d heard of somebody living off not much more than thin air, I would have responded with a stronger version of “naff off”, but, only a few months back I researched the phenomenon and came across examples of many men and women who seemed to have survived on nothing but water for decades. 

Before anybody sends the men in white coats to get me: do not worry. I am not about to give up my 1500 calories a day for the ‘dust’ offered on Little Britain quite yet. However, the encounter did strengthen in me the belief that almost anything can be achieved using the power of the mind. 

For many toying with the idea of a break from alcohol, for example, abstinence can seem a worse destiny than plying one’s nails off one by one whilst walking on a tightrope. “But I like the taste of it.” “But it helps me relax in social situations.” “But it really helps me sleep.” being some of the more popular things we tell ourselves in order not to attempt the challenge at all, or, in order to allow ourselves to break our resolve a third of the way through it. 

The truth is, our subconscious mind is happy to go with whatever stance we want to conjure up. It is up to us to tell our subconscious what to believe. 

Whilst I’m not seeking to go in to a debate as to the validity of Fruitman’s claims, my own experience shows that it is possible to change ones inner world and beliefs and to do so at a rapid pace. 

In fact possibly a less popular decision than going alcohol free was my decision to couple this with going sugar free. 

“You must be nuts!” “No, but I do eat a lot of them.”

For a very long time I had been feeling out of balance. Despite being a relatively sporty person with mostly healthy eating habits I was exhausted every single day of my life. And this was also paradoxically one of the things that drove me to drink more. Sobriety finally gave me the opportunity to really get my body in order. I, like many people who drink a lot, really struggled with candida, probably for decades. Candida affects the joints, sleep and digestion, and it gives you that fuzzy brain, amongst a long list of other less than desirable ailments. Candida loves sugar and yeast which is why it’s such a keen bedfellow to those who like to quench their thirst with heavier stuff than tap water. 

Let me tell you ladies and gents: in a battle between Alcohol in one corner and Sugar in the other, it was Sugar that knocked the most brutal of punches. In the past when taking a break from alcohol I have been downing copious shots of tequila in my dreams. This time I dreamt of swallowing a gerbil sized piece of cake in one, and I could actually taste the toffee sauce in my mouth, heavenly, still slightly warm in all its gooey sugary glory, only to wake up in a slight panic that I had broken my resolve. Unlike alcohol that I would typically have to actively seek out, sugar was right there, in pretty much every bit of food and drink I used to consume on a daily basis. 

There is no denying it. It was a headf***. 

Of course alcohol itself is laden with packs of sugar, which is why so many who attempt dry January and the like end up polishing off their entire Christmas candy collection in minutes desperately looking for that familiar sugar rush, and are then left wondering why they don’t feel any better even though they’ve quit the drink. Cue: getting back on the booze, “this ain’t working…”

My desire to rid my body of this unwanted intruder (Candida) was one of the bigger burning yeses that helped me walk past countless sweet counters and even to say no to the moistest chocolate cake to ever have graced this earth, as served at my son’s birthday party in December. 

Considering the steps it took for me to choose AF life when I did, it’s interesting to think whether an earlier meeting with Fruitman years or decades ago could have changed the direction of my life. Whether his dedication would have rubbed off on me, inspired me, sparked something in me. One thing is for sure, today it’s most certainly given me food for thought (if not for much else), and I hope it will do so for you too.

Friday’s post will be about the Random Acts of Kindness Day taking place on the coming Sunday (17th February 2019). Perhaps it’s the single gal in me but I feel this day needs far more promotion than its much more famous cousin, Valentine’s Day, and I look forward to penning a few lines about it. 

’til then, look after yourselves and your loved ones. 

Big AF love,

Monika x