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January - "To Dry or To Try"

Too many believe that the beginning of the year is the start of something beautiful, rather than just a way of recording time. We are all supposed to wake-up on the first day of January, hangover free, with our running shoes placed on our feet by gym-elves in the night, ready to stick the proverbial to the rubber ring that has formed between our rib cage and hip bones whilst pouring any remaining alcohol into the local drink landfill.

I, for one, began the New Year by skipping down my street wearing nothing but an apron, shouting the words to Auld Lang Syne, pouring champagne over my head and hugging/kissing many people that I love. I went to bed some hours later, only to awake at 2.30pm, with no intention of doing anything more but finding a way to avoid all New Year’s Day engagements. This was probably the one and only point in January I considered going “Dry,” only in the hope that it would make the temporary pain subside.

Thinking about Drinking

There are several aspects of January 2015 that really sliced open my nervous system. The idea of a drink-free January isn’t new, it has been a fundraising event for a number of years, but 2015 seemed to be the year where we turned that concept into a sob-story filled reality show of fuckwittery that I hadn’t come across in previous years. I’d even defended shows of alcohol abstinence in a new year post in 2014. This year, however, was a social media skull-fuck of head-banded individuals adorned with the word DRYathlete, as if resisting a few pints is now an Olympic Event. All the pages, words and promotions from the likes of Cancer Research and Alcohol Concern evoked such a vomit-inducing level of distress within me that I could understand a backlash.

That backlash came in ideas that seemed positive, but happened to have the same mission statement. Drink-uary. Try-January. Tryanuary. All deceptive forms of the same goal – get the bottle out in January or you’re a prudish prig. Cries claiming that a Dry January will effect pubs, bars and shops are a regular feature of their manifestos. I was drinking as normal so all these campaigns became seemed unnecessary to me.

In general health and social benefits, there have already been numerous studies and articles focusing on the positives and the negatives of a potential Dryathlon. These often involve scientists and specialists but rarely involve those directly affected or partaking. I tried to get the views from organisers from both the Dry and Try camps of the month - but both sides are apparently as ignorant as each other, so I tried a different approach. 

Throughout the month I decided to ask those with a direct interest in this “To Dry or To Try” month and the effects it was having on them. Not all of them specifically knew I would be using what they divulged for a post, so I will list who I spoke to but not necessarily credit them with specific quotes. I spoke to the managers and some of the bar staff of two local pubs - Stalybridge Buffet Bar and the Rising Sun, I e-mailed three different bottle shops - eventually speaking to one in person - for their perspective; Saddleworth Real Ale Shop, Browton's and Bier Huis, I questioned two peers who I knew were “going dry” for the month (who wish to be known as Anthony and Nina.) And, because sadly I bump into this person regularly due to circumstance, I spoke with a member of local alcohol support and treatment provider – Acorn Treatment and Housing (formally Alcohol and Drug Abstinence Service.) Communicating with these people allowed me to gain perspective on the January effect from a range of people.

If you don’t drink in January, every public house and independent shop will close.

Tryanuary and its associates seem to have been birthed by the fear that businesses will really suffer from those that are undertaking a self imposed alcohol ban. Taglines such as “Beer is for life, not just for Christmas,” were the theme of much of my Twitter at the turn of the year. The theory does seem sound, so I asked the business owners what their own thoughts were on the topic.

“January is our quietest time,” said one pub manager, “but the extra we make over the Christmas period covers any January loss easily.” Later in the month, I saw this landlord at the Manchester Beer & Cider Festival. “If we weren’t quiet in the pub, I wouldn’t be able to make it here,” he slurred at me. The other pub manager I spoke with disagreed though, with regular after work visits throughout the month including the welcome, "It's been manic today," that hardly suggests they were suffering.

For the independent bottle shops, there is a mixed view on January. Two of the shops actually said there hadn’t been a noticeable downturn in trade through January when compared with other pre-December months, though one did state that trade was “About £400 - £500 pound down a week during January.” This sounds quite a big loss, as this could cover a full time member of staff's salary but he told me he'd have to "wait until he's done the books" to find out if it has hurt them overall.

Two of the bottle shop owners went on holiday in January and the two pubs both had their staff work’s night out in the first few weeks of the year. This led me to wonder if the business is actually grateful for the quieter period after having to work so hard during the period when many of us were resting up. The bar staff in one of the pubs certainly thought so. “Every shift was so hectic in December that, whilst these shifts have been boring, they’ve also been refreshing." This was, understandably so, not the case to those balancing the books, as one of the shop owner’s remarked, I certainly don’t want a breather, being self employed without the security of a salary & having a family to take care of then the busier the better please.”

What do the Dryathletes themselves make of the possibility their actions are damaging local businesses? Nina said, “I’ve still been to my pub as regularly as normal. Sure, I’m not putting as much behind the bar, but I’m bringing people with me who are.” Anthony had a different but equally as defiant view: "I put enough behind the bar the other 11 months of the year." 

If the 40,000 people who signed up for the Cancer Research fundraising Dryathlon, plus the many others who did it for personal achievement, were to hold Anthony's view, surely businesses are long prepared for a possible quiet period. "We did put steps in place should we have seen a poor January," said one of the shop owner's, "Although so far January is holding it's own." 

The business opinion of the two separate views is predicatable. Nobody wants to directly crticise the charity based Dryathlon - with nobody giving more than a shrug to the idea that suggests rather them than me. The opposite Try-Drink-Try view though, isn't met with the enthusiasm I expected.  A couple of It's a good idea comments are countered with more Every month is about trying new beers around here. So far I’d not found anybody who seemed overly perturbed by the downturn in January sales, yet I thought I'd seen the bottle shops pushing the #Tryanuary hashtag on their Twitter feeds. “We’re still a business. We’ll still push to make more money when we can.” So that’s how you see Tryanuary? Advertisement? “If it helps sell beer.”

If you drink in January you will die

It isn't just about business though, it's about health. January has become a Fear-mongering campaign of death premonitions and wishes. The focus is on the incredible health benefits we will feel should we have a period away from alcohol. The cancer research page for Dryathlon itself has some tumultuous and cringe-inducing phrases. 

"Ask them to sponsor you for your brave and valiant pledge to go dry this January,"

Brave and Valiant? For me, this is Cancer Research UK spectacularly undermining the severity of alcoholism, something they should know much more about than others. There is nothing brave or valiant about people who probably have no more than a cocktail after work on a Friday avoiding alcohol for a month, especially when so many have unfortunate addictions to the substance. 

This gave me chance to speak to the Acorn representative about the Dryathlon. I asked him if he backed the campaign. "Yes," he replied, rather restrained and I knew there was more. "Actively discouraging the drinking of alcohol is always a plus. But such stuff won't make my job any easier or the workload any less." 

Of course, the website itself admits that a dry January isn't going to do you much good, something I suspected all along. 

I asked the Acorn advisor for his views on it. "It's just a New Year's Resolution. It's like those that sign up for the gym in January only to be back on Domino's by February 1st. In the long term, you've achieved nothing. If anything, those people are going to do more damage by potentially 'making up for lost time' come February" 

How do the Dryathletes feel about this view? Anthony responded, "It's about detoxing. Over Christmas you wake up feeling like crap every day. It's about getting rid of that." But did Anthony plan to start drinking again ASAP? "January ends on a Saturday. Midnight, I'll be in the pub. At five to 12 they can start lining them up. As soon as that calendar turns, I'm getting shitfaced." And how about Nina? "I'm going out on the Saturday. Not even waiting 'til the 1st. Only one day too soon though. Can't wait." It would seem a month off only leads to heavier binging, rather than the "rethink" the Cancer Research website hopes it will encourage. 

I can't ask the Acorn rep to divulge information about his job, but I prompt him by talking about the mutual alcoholic we know. "What would happen if we asked him to have a month off?" he asks me. He'd fail after an hour, I reply. "But if he managed it, what would happen February 1st?" I think, before saying that he'd probably fall off worse than ever before, feeling he should be rewarded in some way. The Acorn rep makes a there-you-go-then gesture.  

Personally, I think a dry January is about the psychological benefits. It's about feeling healthier, rather than being so. It is about the sense of achievement, even though you've haven't changed for the better. It isn't for alcoholics and, whilst myself and the Acorn advisor know this, it doesn't change that we both feel it promotes an ideal that you are safe from the effects for 11 months if you spare one. 

Real Ale is ACTUALLY good for you

I don't like the articles that look into the health benefits of alcohol. Indeed, I’ve often lamented talk of “a glass of red a day” or “real ale in moderation is actually beneficial.” That’s people looking for justification. On the counter, I do not need a new study or research from doctors and experts every day telling me that alcohol isn't good for me. I view alcohol as I view McDonald’s – I know it’s not healthy therefore I don’t have it for every meal. I don’t need to constantly be told that it’s no good for me or have sanctions put on it. I’m not an idiot.   

I just wish we could perform our own actions without the guidance of others. The risk you run is presenting this like Springfield’s first Annual “Do-What-You-Feel Festival” but I am imploring everybody to just DO WHAT THE .... THEY WANT in January. If you feel you need some time off for a month, then I can understand that. If you can find some January-rich friends who’ll give you money for doing so, that you can then pass onto charity, then alright. Good for you. You’ve not bettered the rest of humanity. You’ve barely bettered yourself. We've also discovered that Beer businesses do not fear closure because a few people stop drinking for a few weeks. They are under no more threat than they are the rest of the year. Judging by the beer festivals, meet the brewers and beer launches that occurred in January, there's still plenty of us drinking as normal. Let's not make specific months the focus on it. It's just a calendar. I am dreading Febrewuary, Stoptober and Septic-emeber even more now.


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