Cheers. But Don’t Mind If I Don’t.

Coffee CupI’ve been considering stopping drinking alcohol for months now. Not necessarily forever, but for at least a few weeks, and afterwards, probably never returning to my pre-abstinence levels. What has prompted these cataclysmic thoughts?  A number of things really – some age-related, some health-related, some experimental.

Let’s get age out of the way first. For years I’ve believed that as you slide over 40 you can either have a late night, or a heavy drinking session, but not both; and my experience has borne that out.  So, even though I still think I can hold my own drinking alongside others half my age, (don’t we all?) it undoubtedly takes me longer to recover. And to quote the American civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer: “I’m getting sick and tired of feeling sick and tired” after a heavy night. Instead of losing a couple of hours to a hangover, I can lose most of the next day to not feeling 100%.  Although there is an interesting aside to this effect, in that it does depend on what I drink. For some inexplicable reason, I have developed an intolerance (in quantity) to my favourite tipple – Aspalls cider. A couple of pints and I struggle the next day whereas 5 or 6 pints of a different, arguably inferior, brand and I’m fine. It’s not the strength of the brew and it’s not the quantity, but it’s definitely happened. I’ve even contacted Aspalls to see if their recipe or brewing methods have changed. But they were unable to explain the effect, or why it’s suddenly developed. If anyone can shed any light on this I’d be interested to hear it.

On to health. At the moment I have an injury which is preventing me from running so I’m starting to put on a little extra weight. I eat pretty healthily and so one of the most obvious sources of unwanted calories is the sugar in alcohol. According to various websites, there are about 275 calories (16 grams, or about 3 teaspoons of sugar) in a pint of draught Aspalls. This compares to about 190 calories (18 grams, or 3.5 teaspoons of sugar) in a pint of draught Strongbow;  or 110 calories (20-25 grams, or 4-5 teaspoons of sugar) in a single Gin and Tonic.  Clearly, this is mainly in the tonic water so a slimline tonic has less sugar but then you open the can of worms that is aspartame, and you really don’t want to go there. I have quoted the statistics for cider because I can’t eat wheat, so that rules out most beers, but for the record, some real ales can contain as much as 9 teaspoons of sugar, and a bottle of white wine contains about 700 calories, so there are no real good guys in the alcohol world as far as controlling calories go.

The third ‘reason’ is my compulsion to try things to see what will happen, even if that means using my body as a lab rat. I suppose it’s the same faulty gene which has made me run four more marathons after I swore I’d never do another. (See my earlier post about testing a weekly diet which resulted in a significant weight loss – although the results of this experiment do raise the question of how much dropping alcohol was responsible for that weight loss).

So why do I drink, anyway? Convention, social pressure, habit, ease of ordering and I like that slightly spaced out feeling you can get as the alcohol gets into your bloodstream.

  • Convention – we live in a society which to an extent revolves around pubs and drinking.
  • Social pressure – this can very strong particularly among men, and as for men who don’t finish their pint, don’t get me started.
  • Habit – drinking alcohol in pubs, usually in moderation it has to be said, has been part of my life for 40 years, even since pubs were merely annexes to newspaper offices.
  • Ease of ordering – buying a pint of whatever cider is on draught is much simpler and quicker than having to decide what you’d like to drink every time you go into a pub. Yes, men are incredibly lazy.

So 5 weeks ago I stopped drinking alcohol. I didn’t cut down.  I didn’t stop during the week and then drink Waitrose dry at the weekend.  I genuinely stopped.  This included the week I was at Glastonbury, which anyone who’s been will know is no mean feat as drinking is part and parcel of the festival experience.

The first thing I noticed was that I thought about drink far more than when I am drinking. I didn’t crave it but I thought about it. I thought about not drinking which inevitably made me think about drinking.  At the risk of getting all Zen – you can’t think about a negative – try it.

By far the biggest ‘problem’ was social pressure, having to constantly justify why I wasn’t drinking, putting up with the jibes and comments about not being able to run with the big dogs anymore etc. etc.  Predictable, I suppose, and I dish out enough I have to suck up my share when the tables turn, but that might be a little surprising to women, who, by and large, take a much more sensible approach to most things.  Still, after a couple of weeks, the humour wore off but so did the effect it had on me and it just served to make me more determined to continue.  I did wonder if I was still the same sparkling company sober as I am when I’m drinking but I’ll leave others to be the judge of that – and to be honest, I don’t really want to know.

I drank a little more coffee than usual, perhaps subconsciously in search of some form of buzz, but I suspect more because I don’t really like most soft drinks so I ordered coffee when faced with choosing a drink.

The main health benefits were that I obviously didn’t have any symptoms of a hangover and I have lost some weight.

When I started, I weighed 12st 6lbs  (79kgs), a week later that had fallen to 11st 11lbs (75kgs). The following week, there was no change (this week included a three-day birthday trip to Valencia so you can imagine healthy eating was not a top priority). At the end of four weeks, my weight was still at 11st 11lbs (75kgs) so no further losses but I’d maintained the lower weight. This is interesting and suggests that dropping alcohol can shed a few pounds but it’s not a weight-loss programme in itself.  I should make clear that during this period I did not change my diet, eat less, or do any exercise other than my usual daily hour-long dog.  I simply stopped drinking alcohol.

All in all, I’m happy I tried it, pleased I managed it, relieved I know I am in control of my drinking and glad I’ve lost a few pounds. I found it much easier to go without than I thought it would be, so I guess I’ve proved I wasn’t on my way to becoming an alcoholic. In fact, it’s become so easy and routine to order a soft drink that I’m aware I might be creating a habit I feel obliged to continue – that’s the obsessive-compulsive, stubborn gene again!  How long could I keep it going?

So, enough is enough. I’m going to start drinking again.  I don’t feel the health advantages are significant enough, the weight loss consistent, or the hassle of not drinking worth continuing. And when all is said and done, I do enjoy the odd pint.

So cheers, I don’t mind if I do …… again!

Good Luck
The Barefoot Bohemian.

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Open System To See More Golf

St Andrews 2015

18th Hole at St Andrews

Tomorrow (Thursday, July 14) sees the start of The Open (note there is no need for the word British to be inserted before Open). It’s one of the four most prestigious golf tournaments in the world and this will be the 145th competition.

This year’s four-day event is being held at Royal Troon in Ayrshire, Scotland. After the first two days, the field is cut with only the top half ‘making the cut’ and playing over the weekend.

We have made the trip to whichever links course is hosting the event most years over the past decade and have developed a system which works on every course, and ensures you not only see all the holes, but also most of the players while ending up in the best seats to watch the presentation of the Claret Jug to the winner.  So, if you fancy attending The Open, either this year or in future years, I will share our system with you.

Unless you have plenty of time I’m assuming you only want to attend the two main days, so this is based on maximising your golf viewing on Saturday and Sunday.

There is no need to buy tickets in advance as they are always available on the day, although there is a discount if bought in advance via the R&A website. This year’s tickets cost £80 per day for both Saturdays and Sundays (£60 if bought before May 31).  This might sound a lot but you can see about 10-12 hours of golf per day, so it amounts to between £5 to £8 per hour, which I think is reasonable value, and comparable to most major sporting events or concerts.

There are numerous park and ride schemes available which can slow your entrance and exit but means you can carry extra wet weather gear and decide what you need at the venue. Make sure you pack binoculars and a small radio so you can listen to the action around the course regardless of which hole you happen to be watching.

Once you are on the course, I suggest you spend the Saturday walking to every hole, watching whoever you happen to come across on your journey.  While you are walking around look for the best vantage points – possibly somewhere you can see two greens, or a green and a tee or a tricky part of the course which might produce some drama.  You should also take a look at the grandstands surrounding the 18th green.  Take note which ones are reserved for corporate or members, which ones are in the sun, which ones give the best views, if any also provide a view of the first tee, or using binoculars enable you to see a couple of other holes or tees, as these might be the holes used in the event of a play-off etc.

Phil Mickelson 2013

Phil Mickelson with the Claret Jug after winning at Muirfield, Scotland, in 2013

On Sunday I suggest you spend the morning at your chosen vantage point or points.  Then get something to eat and at around noon or 1pm get a seat in the area of your chosen grandstand.  The timing of this depends on how big the stands are and how quickly they start to fill up.  Once you are in situ, you will be able to watch most, if not all, of the players, play the 18th.  This lets you compare their different styles and appreciate the really great shots.  You will also see the eventual winner make that emotional walk onto the green, or see the winning putt, and you will be ideally placed to watch the presentation and listen to the winner’s acceptance speech.

Clearly, this is just our system, but I believe it enables you to maximise your experience at the event, regardless of the course.

If it’s too late for you to make the journey to Troon this year,     then the venues until 2020 have already been decided.  (Every fifth year is at St Andrews, Scotland).  The venues are:

2017 Royal Birkdale, Southport, England
2018 Carnoustie, Scotland
2019 Royal Portrush, Ireland
2020 St Andrews, Scotland

Good Luck
The Barefoot Bohemian.

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Flaming June at St Albion’s School

This the first of a monthly newsletter from St Albion’s School.  It’s intended to be an amusing aside to the main blog posts.  Hope you enjoy it.  

Union Flag

Well, what a month it’s been at St Albion’s School.  We started the month with our over-hyped football team heading off to play in the Inter-Schools Tournament in France and, as usual, we had over-inflated hopes of their chances.  We also started the month as a member of the Confederation of Schools, of which we are a pretty big cheese despite our size and school numbers.

We ended the month no longer in the tournament, or the Confederation, with much blame and recrimination swirling around the school corridors, some of it turning quite nasty, and involving some out-of-school protests.  The Head Boy has resigned and is going to spend more time on his farm; the school bully has gone home in tears after being snitched on by the mother of his weaselly sidekick;  the school council is falling apart and the teacher who ran the football team has skulked away, taking a load of school cash with him.  For a while, there was so much back-stabbing going on that we needed a knife amnesty to get all the cutlery back in the dining hall. Meanwhile, the school sneak is telling anyone who will listen to calm down, after spending the last couple of years trying to get us all to panic.

The footy was embarrassing as we scraped through one of the easiest groups in second place and then lost to a tiny Icelandic school which has a population smaller than our sixth form.  The teacher in charge, Wonky Woy, immediately resigned with a pre-prepared speech saying; “These things happen”.  Only to us, apparently.  An apology for his woeful decisions would have been nice.  Decisions like having our top goal scorer and one of the tallest lads in the year, Bendy Kane, taking the free kicks so Sobber Sterling, one of the shortest kids in the school who is currently having a crisis of confidence due to a bout of cyber-bullying, could try to get on the end of it.  Madness!  So now the talk is of who will succeed Wonky.  There is a strong rumour we could go for the Iceland manager, but with most of the games on a Saturday, he’s concerned he wouldn’t be able to leave the store long enough on what is his busiest day of the week.  More next month.

That debacle would have been bad enough, but there was more turmoil.  In fact, the football team are thanking their lucky stars that the school newspaper, The Mouldy Murdoch, has been full of the month’s other news, or they would have taken a much bigger battering given the amount of school cash that has gone into facilities for them.

The other embarrassment for the school surrounds the school vote on whether we should stay part of the Confederation of Schools.  Always dodgy to ask school kids for their opinions and expect them to be sensible.  I remember when we asked them to name our new science lab and we got The Boom Bar, Frankenstein’s Lab and the Kim Jong Un Centre for Nuclear Research as the top choices. But if you can’t be immature at school, where can you be immature?

Anyway, we have had years of everyone criticising the Confederation of Schools, some of it justified, most of it lies and distortions concocted by the Mouldy Murdoch like we can’t sell straight bananas in our tuck shop anymore.  The trouble is none of us defended the good things about the Confederation and so when we came to test school opinion, we shouldn’t really have been surprised when a majority of the school apparently believed the lies.  Add to that, the school bully, Barmy Boris and his weaselly sidekick Gormless Gove, who spent the whole month making up stuff and accusing anyone who disagreed with them of being a scaredy cat.  Nobody should have been surprised that Barmy Boris would lie, given that he has twice been expelled for lying – once for making up quotes in the Mouldy Murdoch, and the second time when he denied shagging Petroleum Watts behind the bike sheds.  His biggest whopper was that he doubled the amount of money we give to the Confederation of Schools, then said we would continue to support all the school activities that are currently being funded by the Confederation, while at the same time spending the entire imaginary sum on bringing our medical centre up to scratch.  Why the majority of the school swallowed that flawed calculation, is one for the head of maths to explain.

Anyway, we ended up voting 52-48 to leave (if you are into Jane Austen, you could say that’s 48% Sense and Sensibility and 52% Prime and Prejudice) But interestingly, those are exactly the same statistics the school sneak Nasty Nigel had claimed would merit a second vote as it would be too close to act upon.  Of course, he was talking about it being 52-48 in favour of staying.  He hasn’t mentioned that since and has now gone home early demanding we leave the Confederation immediately.

Unfortunately the Head Boy, Piggy Cameron, has also walked away with his mum Ham Cam, who is still reeling from the realisation that her mother’s advice of ‘never putting anything in your mouth if you don’t know where it’s been’, does not come close to covering the horror of how much worse it is when you do know where it’s been.  Gormless Gove’s mother, Lady MacGove, has ‘leaked’ a letter to the head saying Barmy Boris is a liar and can’t be trusted as Head Boy, so having caused chaos, he’s run home crying and is currently looking for another jolly jape to keep himself occupied and in the limelight. That leaves a load of candidates – including the weasel-in-chief – who most people in the school have never heard of, now asking to be Head Boy or Head Girl. The only one most of us have heard of is Mumsy May, an uptight prefect who is respected, if not particularly well liked.  Well, I say most of the school know her but my survey to check that is a little inconclusive.  When I asked: “Do you know Mumsy May?”  Most people replied with words to the effect: “Great, thanks for the tip”, which again highlights my point about immaturity.  Still, it looks like it’s her’s for the taking – but then with a school council who eat their young without a second thought, who knows?

Meanwhile, as something of a sideshow, the Alternative School Council is in chaos too.  Commie Corbie is clinging on to what passes for power when he should really be kicking seven shades of shit out of the ruling group who are in marginally less disarray than his mob.  And Kranky Kipper is running around trying to find a way for her, and her friends, to stay part of the Confederation, even though she’s clearly not a school.  Having said that, if her section of the School Council votes to reject the school vote, we wouldn’t be able to say our entire school constitution supported it, and that’s what the Confederation of Schools requires for us to give notice we’re leaving.  So don’t discount Kipper, she’s a slippery fish.

Anyway, it all adds up to nobody really wanting to pull the trigger and officially tell the Confederation of Schools that we’re leaving.  If we’re looking for someone to get us out quickly I can’t think of anybody better that Wonky Woy.  He had us out in 90 minutes – no messing – and he didn’t have a plan either, so it can be done.

As term draws to a close, the chaos looks set to continue through the summer holidays and into next term.  How do I see it playing out?  ‘No idea’ is probably the most honest answer.  But if I have to speculate I would say that IF Mumsy May becomes Head Girl, she will slow everything down to a crawl.  She will go for a woman-to-woman chat with Matron Merkel and together they will carve out a deal which might just about be acceptable enough for the school to swallow – apart from Nasty Nigel who will be back to terrorising the foreign kids, calling them all sex pests and trying to build a wall around the sixth form block.  Mumsy will then put the ‘new deal’ to the school council who might then find it acceptable enough to ignore ‘the will of the school’ while keeping faith with ‘their obligation to govern’, and accept it. They might have the bottle to just vote to stay on the new terms, or they might call for a new vote sometime next summer term.  By then, those who confused ‘in’ with ‘out’ will have sorted out which direction is which; those who did it to piss off the teachers will realise that shooting yourself in the foot actually hurts, and those who thought it would mean all the Black and Asian kids would be expelled will realise they are not here because of the Confederation of Schools.  Or it will be clear that a significant majority of the school now think leaving is the right way to go and that we can run our own school, with or without an admissions policy like the Australians, which involves shipping off anyone they don’t like to Nauru and leaving them there until they decide they should go to another school.  Wonder where they got that idea?

On a brighter note, our rugger buggers have been kicking ass, as our American cousins would say, but that’s been pretty much passed over because we don’t really do success at St Albion’s.

Hope July is a little quieter – but I doubt it.

The Common Room Commentator.

If you enjoyed this first newsletter from St Albion’s, please sign up on the right-hand side of this page to be notified about new posts.  Your email will not be passed on or used for anything else and you can unsubscribe at any time. 


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Mud, Mud, Glorious Glastonbury Mud


Glastonbury 2016 has been described as the muddiest yet.  It was certainly the muddiest I’ve seen.  It’s also the longest I’ve spent in the stickiest mud I’ve ever encountered.  But with a bit of planning and care, it doesn’t mean you have to abandon a ruined tent and immediately bin all your clothes afterwards.  I simply hosed off my wellies and it was as if there had been no mud.  But that much mud over the whole five days does change the Glastonbury experience, in ways I hadn’t appreciated.

Firstly, once it’s muddy there are not enough places to sit down.  The grass is no more and unless you have your own chair, you’re standing all day.

Secondly, it’s slow, hard work trudging through heavy mud and it takes much longer to get anywhere. Glastonbury is old on a 900 acre site with an 8.5 perimeter fence, which can take 30-40 minutes to walk from one side to the other in good conditions.  In the mud that we experienced this year it took 30 minutes to get between the two main stages – The Pyramid and Other stages. This means nipping to another stage to catch part of a performance becomes impossible and so you see fewer artists and hear less music – particularly from lesser known artists.

Thirdly, getting away from the site afterwards becomes a much slower process. Many vehicles needed a push and some required towing to get them out of the mud and onto the temporary metal roadways across the fields.  I spent 2.5 hours sitting in the car park without anyone moving.  Then it was plain sailing all the way out of the site.

Glastonbury Mud 1

Choice of headliners and featured bands is a very personal issue with everyone having a different opinion.  Personally, I didn’t think this year’s selection matched previous years, and given the restrictions on quickly moving around the site, it was difficult to watch two artists on different stages at similar times.  But to question the event’s pre-eminence in the world of music festivals is ridiculous.  Glastonbury is no longer simply a music festival.  It’s a gathering of music lovers, a community, a unique gathering that no other British festival has ever managed to create despite the Isle of Wight festival starting to attract some big bands (2016 Headliners: Friday – Stereophonics and Faithless; Saturday – Richard Ashcroft and The Who; Sunday – Ocean Colour Scene and Queen).  I also felt that this year artists plugged their new albums rather than played their hits more than in previous years.

As I mentioned in my first post about Glastonbury (Click Here to read) the age range is much greater than at festivals like Reading, and overall the average age is much older – my impression is that it would be 30+. Glastonbury organisers do not collect information on demographics of their attendees, but in 2011 it was estimated that 15,000 of the 170,000 people attending the festival, were aged over 50. This could be due to a number of things – loyalty to the community, the price of tickets making it unaffordable to teenagers, or the choice of artists.  Perhaps as a result of this average age, the level of behaviour is also much better with far less obvious drunkeness than at other festivals.  However, what struck me this year was that of those who were staggeringly drunk, it seemed to me the majority of them were in the older age groups – 45+. Sad to see, particularly as I had my first alcohol-free Glastonbury (of which more in a later post).

So Glastonbury is still the Festival of Festivals in my opinion, and if you love music I thoroughly recommend it, despite the risk of mud.  It really is not as unpleasant as you’d think, and it is great fun nevertheless.  If you are thinking of going, then bear in mind the festival misses every fifth year to let the land recover, although this has been moved to 2018, so the 2017 festival will go ahead as normal.  And there is talk of moving the festival in 2018 to a different site so effectively there will be no break.  But you need to make up your mind well before June 2017.  Tickets for 2017 will go on sale in October 2016 and can sell out within 30 minutes, and more importantly, before that you need to register with a photo, or you will not be able to buy tickets anyway.  On ticket release day, it’s all tablets, laptops, phones and computers on the go at once to try to get through and order tickets.

Go on, you know you want to give it a go rather than sitting in your armchair watching TV highlights, and pretending to be there.

There are now videos of the mud at Glastonbury, England fans in Marseilles for Euro 2016 and a French day of protest at the Barefoot Bohemian YouTube channel –

Good Luck
The Barefoot Bohemian

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Tickets & Trouble at Euro 2016

England fans in Marseilles

So we’ve managed to leave Europe twice in four days – both in humiliating circumstances – but I’m not going to comment on either embarrassment in this post.  I would like to expand and correct a couple of things from the last article Plan To Succeed, based on my experience in Marseilles for Euro 2016.

Firstly, I was right and also very very wrong in my assumptions about tickets.  I was right in that it was remarkably easy to buy tickets, for any game you wanted.  But I was wrong about how easy it would be to sell our surplus England tickets.  We had four spare tickets for England’s opening game against Russia in Marseilles.  The face value ranged from 100E to 140E each.  On the evening before the game, we idly chatted about how we should look for three or four times face value – and we hadn’t been drinking at that point.  We were extremely lucky to sell one for 150E but the others went to waste.  When we got to the ground tickets were being sold for half face value, and there were dozens of touts with handfuls of tickets to sell.  Doubtless many of those would remain unsold.

Not only did I want to set the record straight on that but that point also raises an interesting perspective on the activities surrounding the games – particularly the behaviour of England fans.  There is clearly an issue with ticketing and the allocation of tickets.  With so many tickets available to buy it makes a nonsense of any attempt to segregate fans according to nationality.  It would appear Russia did not take its full allocation of tickets and so a quarter of one end of the ground was given to England fans, with only a line of stewards in hi-vis jackets to separate what transpired to be warring factions. Clearly that proved woeful insufficient when Russian Ultras decided to breach the line to attack the England fans after the game.

So what of the violent disturbances and who was to blame?  Well, I can only speak from what I saw and from what I was told by those who were at the trouble spots at times when I was elsewhere, but we did spend many hours at the ‘flashpoint’ location of the old port and got a good feel for the mood of the fans.

Firstly, there was blame placed on the pubs.  I think this is totally unfair.  They all had security on the door, were asking people to leave if they felt they had drunk too much or were being unruly and served everything, inside and out, in plastic ‘glasses’.  The problem was beer sold in supermarkets which conveniently comes in bottles and because so much was being drunk there were bottles everywhere, providing ready ammunition.

Secondly, there were suggestions that the England fans were looking for trouble.  Again I think this is unfair.  I’m not whitewashing their behaviour, nor am I pretending there weren’t some idiots who were very quick to respond to aggression. Yes, they were drinking too much; yes, many of their songs were not politically correct; and yes, there were hundreds of them making a lot of noise which can feel intimidating.  But I never saw any aggression from any England fans – admittedly I was heading towards the ground when things erupted in the old port on match day having left there about 10 minutes earlier.

To give an example, at one point in the afternoon a man arrived with lots of cans.  He began shaking them, opening them and throwing them over the cars driving down the road at England fans gathered outside the pub.  He threw about ten and was gesturing towards the fans.  At no point did anyone approach him or retaliate despite cans falling down on us.  Instead, when the police finally made it the ten yards from where they were parked and removed him, there were cheers. Admittedly very different from the stories of Russian Ultras with gum shields, balaclavas, and martial arts gloves.  When they arrived some of the England did respond.  But from what we saw I genuinely don’t think there would have been any fan trouble in the port without provocation – either from the Russians or to my next point, the riot squads.

Every location was full of police, mainly smoking, eating takeaways in their vans and chatting to each other while trying to look menacingly cool in sunglasses. There were hundreds of them with riots shields, helmets, body armour and water cannons parked down the street.  The problem seems to be they only have an on-off switch.  They either did nothing or charged as if the world was ending.  There was no middle ground.  We saw many incidents – like fans up trees and bending them until they nearly broke – which could have easily been dealt with by a firm warning.  Instead, the police did nothing.  Alternatively they charged down a street of drinking fans where nothing was happening, hitting out at people who got in the way.  In Germany during the World Cup, we saw British police walking side by side with their German colleagues, talking to the fans and it worked perfectly.  In France, we saw no British police presence, although they were there, presumably in plain clothes and acting as spotters rather than calming down situations that need never have got out of hand.

But having said all that I stand by my earlier post recommending a trip and if you’re thinking of going to a similar event I believe our system is worth applying.  Unfortunately, Russia’s involvement in the violence at Euro 2016 makes the next World Cup less attractive and as for Qatar, well perhaps a different sport?

Good Luck
The Barefoot Bohemian

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