Now that the year has a different number on the end of it, the silent offices and university halls up and down the country are full of people making the same "big decisions" they do every January – the most common of which is the decision to give up booze. For some reason, humans only seem to consider themselves capable of pulling off this feat when there's been a major calendar change, and now that January's rolled into town, everyone's scrambling aboard the J20 bandwagon (or the Appletiser Airbus, if you're a bit more upmarket).
Despite my cynicism, I too am buying my ticket out of Hangover City. I'm not particularly optimistic about completing the journey, but when you find that looking at your SMS outbox hurts you as much as touching your kidneys does, it's probably time to lay off the sauce for a bit.
Obviously, this presents problems of its own. Namely: What the fuck do I do with my evenings now that I've exiled myself from the local and flushed all my origami lottery tickets down the toilet? While browsing the web for suggestions, I came across the Drinkaware website. For those of you not in the know, Drinkaware is an independent charity that aims to educate the British public on the dangers of excessive drinking. Which doesn't sound like anything other than a noble cause, and it isn't, but then you click around for a while and find their guide to "alcohol-free nights out on the town" and a big and important part of you starts to wither and die.
Alongside this harrowing account of an Estonian maritime disaster and Michael Madsen's IMDB page, it appears to be the most depressing page on the internet. So what better way could there be to enjoy your post-NYE heart-sob than to analyse it extensively?
THINGS TO DO INSTEAD OF DRINKING #1: ORGANISE AN "ALTERNATIVE PARTY"
OK, don't worry, Drinkaware aren't suggesting you all go and get frenulum piercings or lime green dreads when they talk about "alternative". It's not that kind of a site, but they do have their own idea of how you can host a party without the ubiquitous blue carrier bags of Stella. Let's hear them out:
"A no-alcohol party might just go down better than you think... Why not try a pudding party, where everyone brings a different dessert they've made or bought to share?"
Sure, a nice idea. Everyone likes cheesecake, right? But how many people with booze abuse issues are any good at making puddings? None, that's how many. The best you and your newly sober buds are going to come up with is perhaps a chocolate cornflake cake. Your cooking skills have most likely fallen into disrepair after too many dirty chicken combos, your palate decimated by the twin evils of Wray and Nephew and Benson & Hedges.
I'm not convinced, but wait; they have another suggestion for those of us strong enough to resist the allure of the dessert rave:
"Another idea is a swap shop, where all the guests bring clothes or other items they don't want any more to exchange – a possible goldmine of new stuff!"
For fuck's sake. All you're going to get here is half-drunk bottles of Bell's, unwanted Christmas presents and puke-stained jumpers. These people are heavy drinkers, not celebrity stylists. If anyone's giving something away, it's probably because it's shit, so the thought of a room full of recovering semi-alcoholics giving each other things they don't want any more fills me with unknowable dread. It actually makes me feel hungover just thinking about it. Maybe that's the point?
THINGS TO DO INSTEAD OF DRINKING #2: GHOST WALK
At this point, I began to wonder if the list had been compiled by a desperate local tourist board. I mean, of all the things you could suggest that don't involve drinking, why on Earth would dressing up like a character from a Sci-Fi Channel adaptation of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and walking around Holborn looking at dilapidated TB clinics be second on the list? Surely it should be "have more sex" or "go to the gym" or "join the library"? I'm fascinated by the logic that placed "ghost walk" so high on this list of things you can do sober.
Still, let's hear what they have to say:
"Once darkness falls you can find a tour of the haunted sites in most cities. Spooky, spooky."
If there's one thing that's going to get me quitting the booze, it's poetic repetition. "Double the spook". I don't know who compiled this list, but I'm so in love with their conviction that I want to have a soul-destroying one-night stand with it.
THINGS TO DO INSTEAD OF DRINKING #3: TREASURE HUNT
"There are lots of companies that will organise a treasure hunt for you and your friends."
It's a nice image, isn't it: Armies of pissheads sadly roaming Britain's beaches, metal detectors in hand. Oh wait, no it's not, it's like turning up at an NA meeting and saying, "Hey guys, why are you wasting your time with all that heroin nonsense when you could be out playing paintball?"
THINGS TO DO INSTEAD OF DRINKING #4: AFTERNOON TEA IN A POSH HOTEL
At this point, the Drinkaware guide has its own "let them eat cake moment"; the point when you realise that, despite its seemingly good intentions, it's actually a thinly veiled upper middle class assault on that good ol' working class tradition of hard drinking. This is the point where it begins to sound like a Tory councillor trying to justify closing down a council estate pub to make room for a Reiki centre.
"Think what you would spend on a night out in a pub and club. Now, take that money and use it to have a delicious traditional afternoon tea in a five-star hotel."
Yeah, come on guys, hotels aren't just about water slides and redcoats, you know.
THINGS TO DO INSTEAD OF DRINKING #5: DANCE
"Everyone's dancing these days!"
Yes, that is a genuine line from a government-approved charity campaign about abstinence. Everyone's. Dancing. These. Days.
Thanks guys, I had no idea! It sounds a bit "out there", but I'll try to investigate this strange new trend further. Evidently I'm just not as cool as I thought I was; I've seen people doing it from a distance or on TV, but I thought it was just a fad.
But what kind of dance should I go for? Thankfully, the guide has some helpful suggestions.
"There are unusual styles you can try too. Capoeira originated in Brazil..."
OK, probably not...
"Street dance, African dance, burlesque and improvisation are other options."
Burlesque. Always fucking burlesque.
THINGS TO DO INSTEAD OF DRINKING #6: URBAN SPORTS OR THE GREEN GYM
"There are so many sports you can do in the city these days. Parkour, which originated in France, is a way of getting around objects in the quickest way possible by climbing, jumping or vaulting, instead of just walking around them."
As if Capoeira wasn't bad enough, the list goes that one step further by naming the other great al fresco douchebag pursuit of parkour as a viable alternative to drinking. Time after time I've found myself on the South Bank, looking at the teenagers throwing themselves over modernist statues and thinking, 'Why aren't these kids out drinking?' Is jumping down staircases really going to combat the deeply-embedded issues we have with alcohol in this country?
"And then there are the green gyms. Run by the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV), there are 95 across the UK. Leaders guide you through a range of practical, outdoor projects that not only help you get fit, but also benefit local green spaces."
It strikes me that this list was compiled for people who are completely without common sense or initiative. Do you really need somebody to teach you how to do a squat thrust or run in a straight line in your local park? Come on, these people are drunk and depressed not developmentally challenged.
THINGS TO DO INSTEAD OF DRINKING #7: KARAOKE
Of all the stupid ideas on this list, this one surely ranks the highest. I mean, can you think of any other activity more closely associated with being shit-faced than karaoke? It's like saying you should go BASE jumping when you're pissed, or that you should go picking fights with strangers when sober.
So you might think. Apparently, karaoke isn't just for the makeshift duos of Jameson-faced big guys belting out the Blues Brothers version of "Everybody Loves Somebody":
"Long gone are the days where karaoke meant standing on a stage in front of a packed pub; following the Japanese example, there are an increasing amount of dedicated karaoke parlours with private booths that can be hired out by the hour for parties of different sizes."
Why fill yourself with Dutch courage and embarrass yourself in front of strangers when you can embarrass yourself in close proximity to people you know and love without even having the excuse of drunkenness to fall back on?
THINGS TO DO INSTEAD OF DRINKING #8: SPA NIGHT
Woah, woah, hold on mate, take your coat back off, they're not telling you to get down the local Spar. Drinkaware believe that preconceptions about masculinity shouldn't prevent guys from trading in their drunken fish and chip shop punch-up for one of those fish pedicures.
"Maybe not one for the boys, but many spas are open in the evening."
...oh wait, no they aren't. How expensive are spas, anyway? Are they really the sort of thing you can do every night? I think Drinkaware have either overestimated the size of my bank balance or underestimated the size of my problem.
THINGS TO DO INSTEAD OF DRINKING #9: ICE SKATING OR ROLLER DISCO
"Release your inner teenager and head down to the ice rink. A bit of exercise and a good chance of a laugh when your Bambi-like friends end up on the floor. But not a drink in sight. Result."
Ice skating sucks, it's like going to a refrigerated morgue, soundtracked by an endless loop of a 120kbps version of "We Found Love" blasted over a wartime tannoy system, populated by mouthy kids on group dates and people on second dates who you'd hate to know.
What about roller discos, you ask? Surely your face would be bluetacked on an Operation Yewtree whiteboard somewhere if you turned up at the local leisure centre with your Bauer Inlines in hand? Well no. Apparently they're back:
"Alternatively, take a trip to your nearest roller disco. There normally is a bar on site, but let's face it – booze + skates = broken bones."
Oh right, you mean those adult ones that are essentially Wetherspoons on wheels.
THINGS TO DO INSTEAD OF DRINKING #10: CINEMA OR BOWLING
"Obvious choices, but there are ways to spice them up. At the Cornerhouse in Manchester you can have a pizza."
Finally! I was doubting this list's helpfulness, but now they've gone and pulled something out of the bag. Who's up for a trip to Manchester to try out one of those "pizza" things?
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