This a guest post by Grace Fletcher-Hackwood.
Today is Ash Wednesday, so a lot of people – perhaps waking up hungover after a heavy night of chasing pancakes with a suitable dessert wine – will be thinking about giving up alcohol for Lent. As a Dry January veteran I recently experienced the highs and lows of trying out a temporary alcohol-free social life, and it became clear that, unless your friends and family are all joining you, you need a strategy. Allow me to share some tips…
The Risotto Exception. Are you going completely alcohol-free or just giving up drinking? If it’s the former you’re going to need to warn anyone who might be planning on cooking for you, to prevent either a) causing offence by refusing their delicious penne vodka or b) eating boozy food to be polite, and then finding yourself thinking “well, there’s sherry in the mushroom paté, so I’ve already broken the rules for today…might as well have a glass of wine now and start afresh tomorrow.”
That brings us on to The Excuse Anticipation. When I started Dry January I wrote for this blog that I could already imagine which events in the month were going to be ‘triggers’, but actually you need to be more specific than that. Make a list of all the excuses you might find yourself – or anyone else – making, and make it very clear to yourself that none of them are good enough. “Yes, but I’ve had a hard day”, “Yes, but I’ve been ill”, “Yes, but it’s my birthday”, “Yes, but my sister is here unexpectedly and we want a proper night out” – anticipate them all, and then when they happen you can just put the kettle on.
The Party Proposition. Are you still planning to keep up your usual social life while staying alcohol-free, or are you prepared to turn down offers of the pub and spend more quality time with your pets, your to-do list, your great unwritten novel? I’d recommend the latter – it makes for a productive month, you’ll save money, and you’re less likely to find yourself staring resentfully at your friends over a pint of tap-water – but you might still get dragged out for a special occasion, in which case you’ll need to do…
Waking up knowing you’re not hungover is great, and having a clear head every night is strangely addictive in its own way
The Beverage Reconnoitre. Find out good alcohol-free venues near you – if you live somewhere with an excellent choice of watering holes, like my own Manchester, this will be easier. I tried to get into the habit of inviting people to meet me in my favourite frozen yoghurt shop, rather than a bar, but that’s not everyone’s cup of tea – or pint of lager – so I also became familiar with the soft drinks lists of Manchester’s drinkeries.
As I noted in a previous post, ginger beer was my salvation on many nights, and a lot of pubs and bars serve tea and coffee – but my favourite, crowd-pleasing hangout was Home Sweet Home in the Northern Quarter. It advertises itself as a ‘gourmet bakehouse and coffee bar’, so while it stays open late to provide wine and beer to those who drink it (including the hipster staple of Red Stripe), the most delicious thing on its drinks menu is the Ultimate Hot Chocolate, a veritable vat of creamy deliciousness that comes with cookie and brownie bits and takes both hands to lift. They’re not paying me to say this: it really makes wine drinkers feel like they’re missing out.
If you’re also from Manchester, you might have noticed V-Revolution, a new arrival on the Ancoats end of Oldham Street – if you’re not a vegan or a fan of vinyl you might understandably have walked straight past it, but it’s worth noting that they also sell bottles of non-alcoholic beer, which can help you stay dry without feeling unsociable (as I did when drinking tea while all about me were glugging Budweiser in my living-room).
Wherever and however you go alcohol-free, enjoy it: waking up knowing you’re not hungover is great, and having a clear head every night is strangely addictive in its own way. Your house will be tidier, your wallet will be heavier, your skin will be better (pints of tap-water and a month of early nights will do that).
I can’t pretend to have stuck at it into February – in fact, I can’t claim to have managed the whole month, I’m afraid. I made it as far as the 27th and then cheated, due to a combination of some of the excuses listed above: after a few miserable days of being ill, my sister paid an unexpected visit, we went to a bar, she asked if I wanted a beer, she was paying…I cracked and had one. And then another one. And then…that was it. Just two. The bottles (American lager) tasted OK, but not as delicious as I remembered.
“Want another?” asked my sister.
We went to Home Sweet Home and had a hot chocolate instead.
Grace is 26 and lives in Fallowfield, Manchester, with too many cats. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/msgracefh