I guess it's a little surprising to regular readers of this blog that I'm in Sri Lanka and making no comment about the political situation here. There are a number of reasons for that but the most important one is because right now I think my job is to listen to people. And that's what I've been doing. In Glasgow I have a number of Sinhalese constituents and a number of Tamil Sri Lankans. They all have different views on the situation out here and the same is true in the country itself. I've been speaking to local people from a variety of different backgrounds and I'm going to be meeting with politicians and a number of other people to find out how they feel about things and what they would like from us in terms of support to regenerate the economy and rebuild the north. I will also be asking a number of questions. However I've been surprised by some of the answers I've been getting and it's forced me to look at things a little differently and to do some thinking. So ONE of the main reasons is that I want to dispense with thinking I know what's best and actually listen before coming to any conclusions. The other reason? Here's a clue: George Bowie Radio Clyde Daily Donkey; Real Radio Fugitive; both of them have something in common with this explanation which I will give on my return. It will make sense, I promise!
On the flight over to Sri Lanka, I was reading the Herald and came across a feature on the 80s comedy Tutti Frutti. Apparently it's being released on DVD. As one of the stars of the series, I am happy to sign autographs on my return :-) Oh okay, I was only an extra but there is a bit (as I remember) where they do a "flashback" to the 60s in black and white and they zoom in on my face as I'm screaming for my musical heroes! A very nice friend of mine actually copied it from her 80s video recordings and gave me it on DVD but for some reason my laptop refused to play it so maybe I'll go legit and buy a copy - and maybe I'll even get some royalties from that!
Anyone who reads this blog will know that I was trying to stop drinking alcohol altogether in the 3 weeks leading up to my holiday. I thought summer recess when I had a bit more time to meet up with friends would be my tricky time and there would be lots of pressure from friends to "just have one". I was wrong. I had very little time to socialise because on top of work, there's a by election in my constituency. But to be fair to my friends, whenever I was out with them, nobody cared if I drank or not. I'm going to try again in September when parliament is in full swing. That's when there are many many receptions, lots of free alcohol around and lots of cajoling to "just have one". What I did discover in my 3 weeks was that if anyone was whispering those 3 little words to me, it was me. I'm glad I didn't find it hard to resist but we'll see how we get on in September. I also said I would be posting about my cousin, who constantly inspires me in the alcohol story. I didn't do it before I left and I'm not doing it from an internet cafe in Sri Lanka because it deserves more attention than that. Her story is a very interesting one and worth devoting some time to. She has agreed that she will then post from her point of view and I know when she stopped drinking, she faced a lot of peer pressure to "have one". Having come on holiday I've done as I said I would and started drinking again. I had a gin and tonic on the flight over and I have to say I remembered the attraction as soon as I took a sip - the warmth that spreads over your body, the total relaxation and that feeling of putting all your troubles behind you. The latter was probably more to do with actually getting on the flight but the psychological pulling power of alcohol is so strong that when you are drinking you associate all good feelings with the actual alcohol. Anyway since then, I've had a few beers and I was dying to get an arak and ginger beer - but again, like the egg roti, like the Sri Lankan curry, it was more to do with the association in my mind. Arak and ginger beer was drunk at a time when I was having a fantastic time in Sri Lanka and all the memories come back. But to be completely honest, it is all losing its alure for me. The alcohol that is. I'm thinking now that it just "ain't all that" and I'm wondering if I COULD happily do without it ever again. Perhaps the real test (apart from being back in parliament) would be to not drink on holiday or not drink at my friend's wedding in August. That last one could be a real test. A big group of my mates will be there. A friend from Ireland is coming over. We're all staying the night. How would my enjoyment of the night be any different if I drank orange juice all night? I went to my friend Sid's wedding last week at the Central Mosque in Glasgow and that was obviously alcohol free. It was great and a relief not to be "Drunk". Last thought - as I'm writing this I'm realising how lucky I am to be able to navel gaze about all of this. Not everyone can. The cousin I am going to write about is a teetotal alcoholic. She can't pick and choose which events to be teetotal at and which to drink at. I'm aware of that and my intention with all of this has never been to suggest thatI face anything like the same pressures. I know I don't. But I do believe none of us are immune to addiction and so the higher our self awareness the better. I wonder if she finds it frustrating reading me prattling on about "I'll just have one at this event but none at that one". I hope not. We'll find out soon enough when she writes for this blog.
I used to love crows because I thought they were very entertaining birds and because they always remind me of Keith Richards. I've gone off them now after being stalked by one. I say "stalked" only because my friend Anne reckons to say I was "attacked" would be a bit of an exaggeration. I disagree but you know me, anything to keep the peace :-)
So, we have waited 15 months to taste an egg roti - the most delicious snack thing I have ever tasted. And yesterday we got our chance. We were in Main Street in Galle and popped into a shop to buy a takeaway egg roti to share. With each other. Not with the local bloody crows. Anne managed to eat hers fine but I got one bite and this thing starts pecking at my skirt. Then when I shoo it away it jumps up on a stationary truck and swoops at me.
"Beat it" I'm shouting as I flap my arms at it much to the amusement of a street full of Sri Lankans who stop but don't help. It becomes clear that it's my egg roti it's after. I try reasoning with the Rolling Stone lookalike but either it doesn't speak English or it's just plain rude and it's still coming at me. So I do what any normal person who a) wants to eat HER egg roti and b) wants to teach the crow a lesson - I stuff the whole lot in my mouth! For some reason Anne finds this most amusing and starts talking about chipmunks but you know, it was that or give into threats of violence - and how's the crow ever going to learn right from wrong if you do that? Hmmmm.
Arrived in Sri Lanka yesterday and got a lift down South from Cath and her son Sam - one of the cutest children you can ever hope to meet. We stopped for lunch on the way and there was muchos excitement from Cath and all the locals when cricketer Sanath Jayasuriya stopped by. I asked Cath to take my photo with him but she preferred to take Sam's - charming! However when I was washing my hands to leave he came over to chat and asked me where I was from, etc etc. For the first time ever in Sri Lanka, I found myself actually waiting for (rather than avoiding) the usual question "and are you married?". Sadly it never came! He did however wait outside to wave goodbye. He was very nice I have to say and I'm definitely supporting the Sri Lankan cricket team in future. It just wouldn't be cricket not to!
This image always makes me think of the Carpenters' Song "Top of the World". It was taken somewhere in the Hill Country in Sri Lanka - where I'm headed today!
I am going for a 2 week holiday to visit people I've not seen since I worked there over a year ago (have I mentioned Sri Lanka once or twice or thrice?).
However I've now added in a number of non holiday things to the itinery and I'm wondering how I'm going to fit it all in.
Will try and update the blog but may not get time. However before I go I'll just share one of my "events" with you. I'm speaking at a ceremony in Colombo for the Maryhill Monk! Banthe aka the Venerable Rewatha, is being confirmed as Chief Sangha Nayake (head monk) for GB. How random is that? Anyway I should make sure I have my passport and THEN blog! Ciao for now.
I'm aware that my last teetotal / alcohol update said I was going to talk about the person who'd inspired me to do this - and I've not done it yet! I will do it but it's not something I can just write without thinking about it and 'thinking time' has been at a premium this week. Meantime I've still not had a drink - not a drop has passed my lips - and it's got a little bit harder. I've realised that the time I most want to drink is when I'm very stressed. I would never have thought I used alcohol to relieve stress. To be honest I'd have said I didn't use it for any purpose - I just liked the taste, or drank it because it was there. So I feel that's a bit of a weakness in me to be reaching for a glass of wine if I'm uptight. How do I know I do this? Oh well if I was to tell you that I'd get started on a rant about my bleep bleep bleep of a week and we'd be here all night. Oh go on then ... it's not been too bad but my fun moments do not include: * the one where my shopping fell out of my bag all over the middle of the road (goodbye eggs, farewell weightwatchers garlic dough balls, see ye around apples): * or the one (which I thought might be my last) when I banged my head on a door frame and nearly knocked myself out; * and definitely not tonight's fiasco when I raced to get to a flat viewing before the estate agent had to rush off only to find a woman at the house who knew nothing about it. She looked at me suspiciously and said she had viewings TOMORROW night but no estate agents coming round. At this point I realised I was at the wrong one, yelled to my niece who was with me to "RUN! FAST" and sprinted round to the next street wishing I could see the funny side but failing! Anyway there have been moments this week when I've been like a tightly coiled spring, silently screaming with frustration (you know how it is) and each time my mind has pictured a nice cool glass of wine or a lovely green bottle with Peroni inside. I have reminded myself each time that I'm not drinking. And I've reminded myself that this is a self imposed rule which I'm at liberty to break. In much weaker moments I've reminded myself that nobody will know if I don't tell them. That's always been followed by a pious little voice in my head going "yes but you'll know Anne"! Shut up! I have forced myself in these moments to think about why I actually want a drink and it's simple - alcohol is a relaxant and I want to relax. Having a drink would instantly relax me, I think but then again, whatever it is that's bugging me, I get over it eventually, distract myself with something else and forget about it. So I might miss out on that moment of calm as the alcohol courses through my body but that's about all. And given the other side effects I think I'm winning with this one! It's not been a major test for me. I've had no pressure from anyone to drink - that's mainly because I've had no time to be socialising mind you, work to do, by election to fight, no rest for the pure among us as they say! I doubt I'll be drinking much for the rest of the summer but I'll try the whole abstinence thing again when we go back to parliament. There will be lots of receptions with free wine flowing and I suspect a lot more pressure to drink. Then we'll see how I get on. Meantime, I'm away on holiday on Saturday but before I go I WILL tell you all about my cousin and why she inspires me and makes me think so much about alcohol and the role it plays in all of our lives. *Just as a footnote, I read over this again and it occurred to me that I could be teetotal on holiday. Surprisingly I discounted this immediately on the grounds that 'I want to enjoy my holiday' and 'I don't want to spoil it for my friend'! Food (or should that be drink) for thought!
It's official, we have our candidate for the Glasgow North East by election. Last night local party members were delighted to have David Kerr as our candidate. I have to laugh when I read the absolute nonsense some of the press have been writing about this. I won't repeat any of it. All I will say, with absolute conviction, is that we, as a local party, would have been very happy if Grant had been selected but he didn't go for it. We were delighted when James was selected and deeply upset for him when he had to stand down.
And we are extremely happy to have David as our candidate now. That's the fortunate thing for us in the SNP, no matter what order we would have put the aforementioned in, we knew we had a wealth of talent to choose from.
It's funny when you read an account of something you've been at the heart of and you know it to be completely untrue. Just look at the faces of the members as they congratulated David last night - we're happy, he's happy and hopefully soon, the people of Glasgow North East will be happy when they switch from Labour for the first time in 74 years!
I know technology has moved on but how's this for progress? I am doing this teetotal experiment and writing about it a fair bit on the blog. So now, every time I log on to write a new update for the blog, an ad starts flashing at me - for a home detox kit to come off alcohol!! Goodness, how does that work? (The targetted advertising I mean, not the detox!) It's not that good mind you because if it read it properly it would know that I have not had any alcohol for 11 days and I hardly think I needed to actually detox in the first place. Still impressive but please, all you IT geeks out there, don't explain it to me, I'm happy not to know. Anyone else ever noticed that IT folks always feel the need to explain things rather than just fix them?
I will blog at length later on about the Bruce Springsteen gig last night - he was incredible. However I thought I'd do a quick update on the alcohol situation. If you've been reading the blog you'll know I've given up alcohol for July to see if I found it difficult / came under pressure to drink. I said on Monday that the only thing I was worrying about was the Springsteen gig - I thought I'd "need" alcohol for that. But I was wrong.
I ended up swapping my standing ticket so I could sit with James Dornan (pictured with me) seeing as his mate couldn't go. I think you feel less like drinking when you're sitting anyway but we were surrounded by folk drinking and it made no difference. You can see from the photo that we had a great time - James is no fan of alcohol either so neither of us had a drink.
What I did observe however was the number of folk after the gig who were in a right state because of the amount of alcohol they'd consumed. It was not a pretty sight - some of them couldn't stand up. And, as I walked to the car half a mile away, because I was dead sober, I became more aware of the sh**e people talk when they've been drinking. I found myself wondering how they could possibly have enjoyed the gig when they've dulled their senses so much. Help!!! What's happening to me? I am actually starting to enjoy being sober (and in control) all the time!
Tomorrow I'm going to tell you what or rather WHO inspired me to to do this and that is my lovely cousin who has asked me to call her Penelope. OK she hasn't really asked me to call her Penelope but seeing as we've agreed not to name her properly, I am giving her the least cool name I can think of - purely for my own amusement. Penelope's story is far from amusing but it IS an incredible one and an inspirational one and she's someone I am really really proud of. Tomorrow you'll find out why.
I keep hearing that I am going to be the by-election candidate for Glasgow North-East. There's been a bit of speculation in blogs and a few phone calls and emails but I can say categorically that I am definitely not standing. I have not asked for a nomination and nominations are now closed so it's not even possible for me to stand. There you go - that's definite enough isn't it? I am very flattered to be speculated about and I absolutely loved being the candidate here for the Scottish Parliament and for Westminster (I stood down earlier this year). However I feel like I've been on a rollercoaster since February when I suddenly found myself not only losing a lovely and dear colleague (in Bashir Ahmad) but also having to step up to the mark and represent the people of Glasgow and the SNP with only a few days' warning. Now that I'm here, I am happy to report that I LOVE it. It's like most rollercoasters - unpredictable at times, a little scary, but very very exciting. I also have some quite complex constituency cases going on and there's no way in the world that I will abandon them to try for Westminster. No, I'll be focussing on doing the best job I can do in the Scottish Parliament. Besides, we've plenty of people in the SNP who are more than capable of doing a fantastic job as by-election candidate ... as you will discover at the weekend. I will be throwing myself into supporting our candidate and I am confident that whoever it is, they will represent the people of Glasgow North-East (including myself!) far better than anyone from a party that tells them they CAN't do, rather than they CAN do. The SNP will not keep you waiting for long - a few days and all will be revealed. Contrast this with the Labour Party who might make folk here wait another 4 months before they get an MP.
I've not updated on the alcohol situation for a while but that's because I'm so fit and healthy now I'm always out jogging round the park or climbing mountains. OK maybe not that much of a difference. To be honest I'm beginning to wonder why I started this. It's been ten days and it's not been hard at all. There have been very few challenging moments. I had a Chinese takeaway one night and I wanted a glass of wine then but that's just the association one has with the other for me. That's easy enough to overcome. I had a bit of a long and tiring weekend and I thought it might be nice to have a glass of wine but again, as I've said before, that was only about the association of alcohol with relaxation. I resisted (there's wine in the house) and I was perfectly relaxed. I think the biggest challenge will be when I'm back at parliament so I'll definitely do it then. Now, if I'm honest, the only negative in not drinking is that I sometimes feel a bit "bored". But then, when I analyse that and try to work out how alcohol would relieve the boredom, I just don't have an answer. I was beginning to think this was all a bit of a pointless exercise (the blogging about it rather than the giving up of alcohol) when I remembered something that I'm pretty sure will be a challenge for me. Tomorrow I am going to see Springsteen at Hampden Park. I love him (understatement) and I am so looking forward to it but the thought of having no alcohol is spoiling it a bit for me. It's not that I want to get drunk. I guess it's just that we've all got our inhibitions and at a gig like that you just want to let yourself go. Alcohol will help me do that. Hmmm, I'm not confident that I'll stay teetotal tomorrow. I know I could if I had to but I don't really. However, seeing as it's not really been much of a challenge so far, I will go with the intention of not drinking and I'll do my best not to. Still, ten days, not bad eh?
I was gutted to read the news that former Celtic striker John Hartson has been diagnosed with cancer. I was even more upset when I read that he has brain cancer which has spread from testicular cancer because the latter is one of the most easily treatable cancers - if it's caught on time. If it is, there is a 90% chance it will be cured. That's an astonishingly high cure rate and all the more reason to check yourself thoroughly. Here's how to do it so no giggling, no thinking it won't happen to you, no thinking that you touch yourself up enough to know if there's anything wrong - this link here will tell you EXACTLY how to do it and what, exactly, you are looking for! I don't know what John Hartson's chances are but I do know everyone's chances are reduced if the cancer has time to spread from one organ to the other. Let's all hope they catch it on time and he makes a full recovery.
As most people will, by now, know, James Dornan has stepped aside as the SNP candidate in the Glasgow North East by-election. He did so after a Sunday newspaper reported that he'd allegedly broken charity law by being an UNPAID director of Culture & Sport, the charity siphoned off from Glasgow City Council. (At the time he was subject to a Protected Trust Deed - explanation at the *bottom of this post.) I highlight the word "unpaid" because even if it turns out to be the case, I think it's important to remember that there was no financial gain for him.
James (pictured with some of the campaigners on Saturday) is one of my closest friends and I know him well but even I was surprised and impressed at the alacrity with which he dealt with this. He did so because he is, like most of us, 100% committed to the cause of Independence. That cause will only be served by the SNP and he is, therefore, 100% committed to the SNP. Had he not stood down this would have dominated the campaign. A Labour blogger was sceptical of this and reckons that it's hardly a story. Sadly, I think he will have to get used to the fact that his party hierarchy feel differently.
Had James carried on, we would not be talking in this by-election about how to bring jobs to Glasgow North East, we would not be talking about how to improve health in the area (the health stats here are shocking) and we certainly wouldn't be talking about the way in which Glasgow City Council are savagely cutting education for our children. No, we'd be talking about whether or not James had technically broken the law. We'd be talking about it despite the fact that he had nothing to gain from this and despite the fact that he checked it out before agreeing to join the board. And maybe that would have suited Labour but how would it have changed anything for the people of Glasgow North-East?
The situation is deeply unfair but it's just one of those realities that failing political parties (the Labour Party to be more specific) don't want to address problems and come up with solutions, they just want to smear their opponents.
James has behaved in a truly honourable manner over this. Everyone in the SNP will be grateful that we will not be distracted by personal digs at the candidate. And I would hope the voters (of which I am one) will be glad to be able to debate what actually matters to them.
Given that this all arose because James had some problems with personal debt a few years back, wouldn't it have been great to have someone elected to Westminster who truly understands what it's like to have worked in low paid employment? Someone who really does know what it's like to struggle to juggle their finances rather than someone whose biggest headache is getting the moat cleaned or avoiding paying capital gains tax - (so-called because it's a tax on a FINANCIAL GAIN)?
The other side of this is that someone like James who went into politics for altruistic reasons, because he cares what happens to his community and his country, does not deserve to have his personal business splashed across the papers. The argument that you put yourself in the public eye so you should accept the world knowing your business is one that's never washed with me. And whilst getting into financial difficulty is not something to be ashamed of, it IS something that most people would wish to keep private. Right now, imagine how he's feeling that half of Scotland knows about this.
Despite all that, if you want to know something about the mettle of the man, have a look at the posting on the by-election blog - it's true what they say, you can never keep a committed nat down! And James is nothing if not a committed nationalist.
So, he's done what he had to do to keep the campaign focussed on the issues that really matter to people here. The least we can all do is get out there and work alongside James and whoever the candidate might be, so that families in the North East of Glasgow get the chance to find out how much of a difference it can make having an SNP MP.
I know the SNP through and through and I am happy to assure you that this will only make us redouble our efforts. Onwards and upwards!
* As I understand it, a protected trust deed is a way of managing repayment of debt. It's something that 6000 folk in Scotland apply for each year and it stops someone having to go bankrupt. Someone in this position can be a member of a board of a private company but not a charity. Very few people know this which is probably why James was given the wrong advice. Culture & Sport used to be part of Glasgow City Council but was taken out of the council and made into a charity. James was appointed to the board as a councillor and it was an unpaid post.
Christie, my 17 year old niece is a very smart young woman but she is not quite up on the lives of politicians. She stayed over last night and on the way home we drove past Nicola Sturgeon's constituency office on Paisley Road West. "Oh my God" exclaims Christie "Nicola's got a shop AS WELL?!". As we drove past, she craned her neck to keep looking at it and asked (incredulous) "When does she get time? And what on earth does she sell?".
I've had quite a few responses to this, some in emails and some in comments. I've asked some of the emailers if they can write something for the blog and hopefully they'll do that and bring a different perspective. I've not published ALL the comments yet but that's simply because they raise some important points and I want to highlight them by posting on the blog (not everyone reads the comments). I can't do that until I've time to respond to it so just to let you know keep sending the comments, they will be published and they're very much welcomed.
I was very glad to hear that two men have been arrested in connection with this suspected arson attack. If it was racially motivated as is suspected, it is all the more despicable and it'll be interesting to see the outcome of it just as it will be interesting to, at some point this decade, hopefully get a resolution to this.
Geordie Accent: "Day 5 in the Teetotal House" and nothing much to report. I'm going to carry on with it (mainly because I'm quite obstinate) but I think maybe a better time to do it (more challenging) will be when parliament is back in session and I can't leave the parliament building without running into a reception with waiters running round with trays of wine.
It will also be more challenging when I stop telling folk what I'm doing and just start being teetotal. However here's the update so far. Sunday night's challenge was no bother - I went into the office and ended up caught up in work till 10pm so had to cancel my plans with my friend. Monday night I was with a teetotal friend doing some work so that was easy. I did notice however how much money you save not drinking. We went out for dinner and the bill came to £15! Result. Last night was probably the first time I've particularly wanted to drink alcohol. It had been a particularly long day rushing from meeting to meeting in Edinburgh and Glasgow with people not turning up for meetings and various other catastrophes (eg spilling coffee all down my front just as I'm about to speak to 40 students from the UAE). Went along to vote in the selection meeting for the Glasgow North East by-election and went for a celebratory drink with the winning candidate James Dornan and a few others afterwards. Whilst others drank beer and wine, I had a pot of tea. I did get one or two comments about how I couldn't possibly celebrate with tea but it didn't bother me one bit - I think I ENJOY doing the opposite to everyone else. However when I got home, I was exhausted. I made my dinner (salad, being very good these days) and I really wanted a glass of wine. I was trying to figure out why and I realised that I definitely associate a glass of wine with relaxation. Sitting down on the sofa with a big wine glass in my hand is my way of saying thank goodness that day's over. It's the shutting of the door, the shutting out of the stresses of the world, the thing that signals that it's "me time" and I can now relax. Interesting. More interesting though was that it was something that passed very quickly. Obviously that's the difference between being a habitual drinker and an addicted one. But seeing as addictions often come as a result of habit, it's best to be aware of it. I had bought some Schloer which is slightly fizzy grape juice in a glass wine-like bottle and I poured a glass of that into a wine glass and drank that instead. It more or less substituted. However I did notice what I was missing and realise that I actually quite like the effect that first sip of a glass of wine has on me. Having a wine like drink in a wine glass was, in itself a good substitute but it wasn't the same as the heady feeling you get when you have your first sip of a glass of wine. I'm surprised at that. I would have said it was the taste that I liked but I said I'd be honest in this blog and the truth is that last night I'd have liked to have had that feeling. OK enough navel gazing. Physical stuff - I'm not sleeping any better (I'm a wake up a dozen times a night kind of a sleeper) but I am waking up better and despite being a hay fever sufferer, have had no fuzzy heads since signing the pledge! It's only been 5 days mind you and I never really drank a great deal, just did it too often. So we'll see ...
Tonight I went along to vote in the selection meeting for the candidate for the by election in Glasgow North East - my constituency. I am delighted to say that James Dornan was selected. James is Leader of the SNP council group in Glasgow. He's also a very good friend of mine and has been since he was my campaign manager in Rutherglen in 2000! He's aged dramatically since then but I don't think I have :-) (Just kidding James.) I will have much more to say on the matter in the coming weeks and months but tonight I am simply happy that he won. He was up against stiff competition in the form of TV journalist David Kerr. I seem to be saying this a lot these days but I was very proud to be a member of the SNP tonight when I listened to both candidates. David was our by election candidate in Falkirk, some years back but either I wasn't listening properly or he's been practising because although he was undoubtedly good then, tonight he gave a fantastic speech. He is a natural public speaker and he spoke with passion about what Labour has done to Scotland and how the SNP is putting it right. I'd keep an eye out for him if I were you because he was extremely good and now that he's not restricted by his job, I hope he does return to politics. And I think I can safely say without fear or favour that if David was that good and James beat him, we have ourselves a fantastic candidate. More on this later, it's been a long day and a good one and I really must write my teetotal update before retiring to Bedfordshire! The photo shows James and myself with Nicola Sturgeon. It was taken during the Glasgow East by-election this time last year!
Quick update further to my attempt to give up alcohol for 3 weeks and test the responses of everyone around me. I went to a house party last night to celebrate my friend Gail's 21st birthday. It was easy to stay off the drink because I had the car and because Gail's mum Joyce had made the most amazing alcohol free punch. I had a chat with some folk about what I was doing and someone pointed out to me that the biggest social change he has noticed is that no-one questions you drinking soft drinks if you say you have the car with you. Only 15 years ago it was often seen as socially acceptable to drink and drive. So we CAN change our attitudes if we try hard enough. It made me realise though that I need to not use the car as an excuse seeing as nobody would dream of persuading someone to drink and drive these days. I also need to stop telling people I'm testing their responses - as soon as I said that last night we had a long talk about alcohol but of course, given the warning, nobody is going to then try to get me to drink. So what I need to do is turn up and say I don't actually want to drink. One last thing. I rarely get drunk but I frequently drink SOME alcohol - even if it's just a glass of wine with my dinner. Now I thought it was getting drunk that lead to hangovers but I'm beginning to think it doesn't take much at all to affect your health and wellbeing. I realise it's far too soon to judge but I often wake up feeling tired, fuzzy and like I need far more sleep than I've had. This morning however, I woke up full of beans with a clear head and loads of energy. If all I have to do to get this is NOT drink alcohol, I may last a whole lot longer than the 3 weeks. I've also had some interesting emails from people after my posting yesterday and with their permission I'll share some of those with you over the next few weeks.
Recently I've become a bit sickened by alcohol. That's partly because of reports that I'm reading, partly because of the alcoholics (recovering and otherwise) I'm coming in contact with but mainly because of the many events I've been attending where the alcohol is flowing freely. I've been thinking a lot about our attitude to alcohol and the attachment we seem to have to it in Scotland. A friend was visiting from Berlin recently and she felt that the social pressure to drink was very strong in both Scotland and England. I've also been thinking of late of the people I've loved and lost who I've no doubt would still be here had they not drank so heavily. Some of them didn't even make it to 50. Sadly, I can do nothing to change that but I can do something for myself and, as an MSP now, I am in a position to do something about this country's relationship with alcohol. When I mention doing "something for myself" interestingly I feel the need to quickly point out that I don't have a drink problem and I never will have. But think about it. If I asked you to drink no alcohol for a month, how would you react? I asked some friends yesterday and they looked like they might cry. None of them have obvious drink problems but they all admitted they would find it extremely hard. The line between social drinking and alcoholism is indeed a thin one. And if these social drinkers were so dismayed at the thought of only a month without alcohol, how much harder must it be then for the alcoholic who is physically and psychologically addicted? Thinking about that now I have nothing but admiration for those alcoholics who do manage to stay sober. Anyway, when I asked MYSELF the question, could I stop drinking for a month, the answer was that yes I think I could but I really don't want to. Why? Well mainly because I don't think my friends will like it. And that, I think, is the crux of the problem for many people - it's the social pressure to drink that stops us stopping. So, I'm going to try. As of today I'm going to attempt not to drink alcohol until I go on holiday on 25th July. I am not planning to suddenly get plastered on 25th btw - I may not drink at all on holiday but the important test for me is how I get on with my day to day life without alcohol. On that I will blog as often as the question of alcohol arises. I don't mean this to be a gimmick and I hope nobody takes it like that. I genuinely want to examine what kind of pressures (internal and external) are put upon people who don't want to drink alcohol. I have a lot of friends and family. They're all intelligent, articulate, sensible people who are, no doubt, also concerned about the alcohol problem in Scotland. But I imagine some of them will try to cajole me into drinking alcohol. And I have to be honest and say if the tables were turned, I can't guarantee I wouldn't do the same to them because that's what we do in this part of the world. BTW in case any friends are worried, I won't name and shame you :-) So, we'll see how it goes. I will try to drink no alcohol between now and 25 July. Only 3 weeks I realise but it's the summer, recess doesn't mean not working but it does mean I'm in Glasgow most of the time and so I'll be catching up with friends over lunch and dinner. It will be interesting to see if my friend from Berlin is correct about the pressure to drink in Scotland. Another friend in Glasgow is teetotal and tells me when he tells people that they invariably respond by telling him "that's okay". There's something not quite right about people feeling they have to "reassure" someone who's just "confessed" to not drinking alcohol. I wonder what response I'll get. First challenge ~ I'm worrying about Sunday night when I am going out with a friend who I expect will not be happy to hear about my new teetotal status. He's expecting a fun night out and I'll just have to show him (and myself) that it can be done sober! Wish me luck!
There has been a ridiculous fuss over the tenth anniversary celebrations of the Scottish Parliament and which MSPs turned up, which didn't, who was making excuses and who was telling the truth. Who cares? It didn't even occur to me to not go to the big day last Wednesday. It had nothing to do with the fact that the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh were there. It had very little to do with celebrating ten years of the parliament - yes devolution is better than what we had but I'll do the real celebrating when we're free. It had everything to do with the fact that there were over 100 kids (many from my constituency) who were there to celebrate the 10th birthday they share with the parliament. It was great fun (I'll post the pics shortly) and the kids had a ball. Can you imagine how exciting it must have been to have the Queen at your 10th birthday party REGARDLESS of anyone's political views? I LOVE kids (until they grow up to be cynical adults) and I had a brilliant time going round them all, teasing and asking "how old are you today?". They got their faces painted, they had drama, science, art and music. There were cartoonists, clowns, birds of prey, monarchs, politicians and they got to meet over a hundred other kids who came into the world on the same day. There was a giant birthday cake and the icing was made of the photos of each and every one of them. It was probably the most exciting day of their lives and what is better in life than to watch innocent children simply having *fun? So I was there for the kids but I went in to listen to the Queen and the other speakers. I did that because I'm a polite person and I've been brought up to be courteous to visitors. I think I can do that and keep my republican credentials intact. It's not as if we were taking a vote and I voted to retain the monarchy. If any other head of any other state (elected or otherwise - so long as they were not some mad despot) was visiting the parliament of which I am a member, I'd go along and listen to them too, if I happened to be in parliament that day. But it is entirely up to the individual to choose and I don't think anyone can be criticised for making the decisions they made on this one. However, sadly, stoked up by the media, that's exactly what's happening. Those who went are "kow-towing to the monarchy". Those republicans who went are "hypocrites". Those who stayed away but gave the reason as something other than "admitting" to being republicans were accused of being "fearties". For example, my Glasgow colleagues Bob Doris and Sandra White were not there. Bob was meeting asylum seekers that day. Bob is a republican, he doesn't hide it but he has no personal issue with the Queen and had he been in parliament he probably would have popped in. As it happens he knows that meeting him was more important for the asylum seekers than it was for the Queen. Sandra was on her holidays. She too is a republican and she makes no secret of the fact but by saying she was away on holiday (as she's perfectly entitled to do and as we'll all be doing over the summer), she was not being "feart" she was simply being honest. Christine Grahame, another SNP MSP, didn't go because she is a republican and she would have felt she was being hypocritical to attend. If I felt I was being in any way hypocritical I would have stayed away too. The point is it's a personal decision to make. I have no problem with monarchists who went - I fundamentally disagree with them but they're entitled to be wrong :-) I have no problem with those who stayed away and I don't give a damn what reason they offered. And I have absolutely no problem with the fact that I, as a republican, went and said happy birthday to so many lovely kids who will probably remember that day for the rest of their lives. The whole argument's got really boring now and I really do wish folk would stop going on about it. Talk about causing ructions in an empty hoose!
What was it Iain Gray, Labour Leader taught before becoming an MSP? "Maths" I hear you say. Really? Well if he was your teacher I'd go back and do a refresher course if I were you after listening to him last night on the "Devolution Big Debate". What was it he said? "Has it (devolution) made a difference? Yes it has. When the Parliament started one in five children in this country lived in poverty. That's now one in three. That's significant progress." Oh yes, we'll definitely trust him to run the country one day! Run it into the ground perhaps! Honestly!
I had the strangest experience last night. A colleague was waiting for her teenage daughter to arrive and when she did, we were introduced. The girl suddenly said "yes it's okay I recognise you". "Do you?" I asked. "Yes, we studied you in modern studies" she replied and then proceeded to tell me all about how I came to be the newest Member of the Parliament. It was the strangest feeling but a reminder that I really do have to behave myself these days - as I've always done of course, as I've always done :-)