reLentless commuting: Day 9


dry january logoIn 2014, NHS staff took on the challenge of giving up alcohol in January as part of Alcohol Concern’s Dry January campaign.

Of those that took part:

  • 49% lost weight,
  • 62% slept better,
  • 79% saved money,
  • 62% had more energy, and
  • 58% reported a decrease in drinking days per week

The page that gives these stats doesn’t fully explain that final point, but I think it means that in the weeks after January, 58% of people were drinking fewer days than they had before doing Dry January.

Tonight I heard a talk by Emily from Alcohol Concern, talking about the history of the campaign and the impact of their social marketing. Unlike CRUK’s Dryathlon or Macmillan’s Sober October, which are first and foremost fundraising campaigns, Dry January is primarily about helping the British public to re-evaluate their relationship with alcohol. 

In 2012 there were 6,490 alcohol-related deaths here in England, a 19% increase compared to 2001 and more than 9 million people drink more than the recommended daily limits. I’m one of them.

Giving up alcohol for Lent is helping me re-evaluate my relationship with alcohol: from deciding to do it in the first place to taking each day one at a time.

This isn’t some dramatic confession of my being an alcoholic, thankfully I’m not, but I am a big drinker. I turn to alcohol when I’m celebrating and when I’m mourning, when I’ve had a bad day and when it’s Friday. I enjoy its taste, I enjoy how it makes me feel and knowing that I’ll feel like death warmed up the next morning is never a big enough incentive to stop.

But it’s not just me: as a society, we have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol in Britain. The seminar audience this evening made the comparison with our attitude to smoking: would campaigns like this eventually effect the equivalent of smoking bans and blank cigarette packets on how alcohol is sold and consumed? Or is it simply too socially acceptable to change?

It would save us money at both an individual level and across the whole NHS. However, like many of the messages surrounding climate change, it could be a long, slow road to reaping the benefits on a societal scale.

For me, I realise there could be benefits like losing some weight, saving some money, maybe even helping me wake up in the morning, although that would take a miracle. The biggest benefit will, I hope, be a reassessment of how I approach drinking. I intend to be one of the 58% above.

Maybe you would like to join me?


reLentless commuting: Day 6


Monday night drinks with my classmates. First draft is due next weekend so need to make sure I have something to submit.

It’s been so long since I wrote essays for people to mark and assess rather than simply sign off as part of my day job. Pages swim before my eyes.


reLentless commuting: Day 5


dark-portrait-of-a-female-jesus-iii-ramon-martinezI attended the service at St Luke’s Holloway this morning. It’s not the first time I’ve visited St Luke’s during Lent and it’s a very welcoming place.

The vicar, Dave Tomlinson, did a wonderful talk on the subject of inspiration. It was he who brought David Whyte’s beautiful poem to my attention.

The liturgy at St Luke’s is an interesting mix of traditional, even high church at points, and non-traditional.

In the service is the line:

“Let us seek forgiveness for all we have failed
to be and do as those who love God and her world”

It’s a lovely thing to say, to be able to say. God as a woman is a very different God to the one I grew up with.

There are many many discussions and blogs and biblical scholarship out there that has explored the gender of God in detail, so I won’t even try in a single blog post. I will however point you towards Rachel Held Evans’ post from 2014 where she defended an accusation of heresy for describing God as She. Less than a year ago this was; I thought heretics had been left behind in the twentieth century, along with typing pools and mini discs.

During communion they offered a non-alcoholic option, for which I was grateful. I had a few moments considering the churchy-ness of drinking wine rather than fruit juice but realised I was already having to argue too hard in favour. Better to enjoy communion than excuse it.

reLentless commuting: Day 4


“Art can never exist without naked beauty displayed.”
William Blake

We went out for dinner tonight in a lovely french restaurant with more bared breasts on show than an arthouse production of the Lysistrata. You know it’s good art when there’s a nipple showing.

I decided to Google “Christianity” and “breasts”. There were 484,000 results and my favourite from the first page was this one:

Google result Christian breastsThree exclamation marks of breast-appreciation there. The author goes on to suggest that if he got a girlfriend, his fascination might be “satiated and worn off”. I think perhaps not.

Breasts are wonderful things. Back in October 2006, the magazine Third Way printed my first ever article and it was all about breasts. In fact, I just found out you can still read it in the online archive! Commentary, p.20 if you want a peruse.

2006 was a difficult year. I realise now it wasn’t just a difficult year for me: my parents, my brother, my family and some of my friends – those who knew what was going on – were all affected as well. But as the months rolled on, I began to see light through the cracks in my darkness. That summer I met Simon Jones, editor of Third Way, in the beer tent at Greenbelt Festival where, tanked up on organic ale, I regaled him with God-knows-what in the way of anecdotes and attempted wit. He told me that if I wrote something about breasts, he would publish it. And publish he did!

Seeing my words in print was a turning point. That, and being part of the first Beer & Hymns at Greenbelt that year. I read and re-read the page, pausing each time to see that yes, that was my name at the end. Finally, after many hollow months, I had worth.

Sometimes, when I’m a bit pissed, I thank Simon. I must have done it quite a few times now. Same goes for Dave and Tim. That’s partly because my relationship with all 3 of them goes hand in hand with a pint or plenty of Winkles Old Peculiar; I may need to leave off a catch up until after Easter Sunday this year.

The first line of my article read:

“The Bible is largely reticent on the subject of breasts, which is a pity because in contemporary culture they seem to be everywhere.”

Not much has changed over the last 9 years, then.

Except that it has and thank God for that. I don’t think I will ever be able to completely shake the weight of 2006 from my shoulders, but perhaps I shouldn’t try to. Not to create my own Slough of Despond or equivalent wallowing hole, but because otherwise I might not be able to appreciate what, and who, it took to move on.

The poet David Whyte expresses some of what I mean most beautifully:

Above the mountains
the geese turn into
the light again

Painting their
black silhouettes
on an open sky.

Sometimes everything
has to be
inscribed across
the heavens

so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.

Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that

first, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.

Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes of your life.

You are not leaving.
Even as the light fades quickly now,
you are arriving.

‘The Journey’, from House of Belonging.

Anyway, that’s what the breasts reminded me of tonight.

reLentless commuting: Day 3


BitburgerFriday drinks with work colleagues and birthday drinks with a uni friend: all fuelled by non-alcoholic lager and occasional glasses of water.

I don’t have a sweet tooth, which makes it difficult finding something to drink that is neither alcoholic nor too sugary.

It seems there IS a point to non-alcoholic lager! Eureka.

reLentless commuting: Day 2

Poster for True Brits

Poster for True Brits

“I had seen the Olympics in London. In my city, in my country, in my lifetime.”
Rahul, True Brits

I went to the excellent play True Brits tonight, playing at Vaults festival until this Sunday. It’s a solo show about a young Asian man, Rahul growing up in London and his experiences during the summer of 2005. Sandwiched between slices of later life when the Olympics came to London in 2012.

From the bombings on 7/7 to England winning the Ashes, it was an iconic few months for everyone. I have particularly clear memories because it was straight after uni, when I started on the Teach First programme and had moved into my first shared flat in the city. It was also the summer I first met Dave and Tim of Beer & Hymns fame; that’s not something you easily forget.

At the end of the play Rahul said the line above, which set me off crying. It echoed so exactly the words my Mum had said when we went to the Olympics together. She, who has fostered my love of cricket and who is so very British, while proudly sharing her Polish husband’s name. Except for at work.

I cried because I felt touched to have re-experienced those few months through someone else’s eyes. Someone with a very different background to me, but for whom those months were also memorable, for very different reasons.

I was fortunate enough to get a chance to ask the writer, Vinay about what inspired him and it surprised me to learn how many of Rahul’s experiences in the wake of the bombings, fuelled by anti-Muslim – or really any kind of Asian – sentiment, had also been his. I didn’t get a chance to ask him who he is supporting in the Cricket World Cup though.

Incidentally, this conversation took place in the bar afterwards, where I nursed my diet coke with a wistful smile. Result.

It’s a tenuous link to Lent, so bear with me… It’s easiest to reflect on ourselves and our own lives, but far harder to reflect on the lives and experiences of others. I wonder if it is better to make that extra effort now, over a season that is all about reflection.