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Monday, March 26, 2012

Bmag March 6th 2012 - Not-drinking is cool

I recently invited a bunch of ABC radio listeners and regular contributors to the pub for lunch and a few drinks. It was a simple thank you for their ongoing support. I have never bought so many glasses of colas, orange juice and lemon, lime and bitters in my life! At least a third of the 60-odd people there were not drinking alcohol.

I became genuinely interested in why so many people are choosing to stay away from booze. Asking on the day seemed somewhat accusatory so I took the question to Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus. The responses have had me thinking about every glass of wine I’ve poured since.

First, there’s the taste. “Trimega”says he didn’t have his first drink until he was 20 “and then found I didn’t really like it”. Scott McGill “never liked the taste and never saw the point of investing the time acquiring a taste simply to fit in with society. So I never did”. Bruce Rawson says he drinks “very little and only very occasionally” because “I just don’t enjoy the taste”.

Then, there are those who don’t like the effect. Fiona Davy describes alcohol as “an expensive waste of money that just makes me queasy”; Catherine Yarham says “my brain prefers a sugar high to drunk high”; Brett Carey “got sick of feeling crook the next day!” and Iain Fogerty sums it up in one word: “Hangovers”.

As you would expect, some have a far more serious reason, usually based on experience, for saying no. James Simms worked as a Queensland Rail Transit Officer. “One memory that will always stay with me is having to help a young girl of around 15 out of a garden bed at a train station. My partner and I were there to get her cleaned up and slightly conscious and we arranged an ambulance. I couldn’t bring myself to ever get that out of control so I quit alcohol completely.”

Sally Piracha spent several years working for an alcohol distributor. “There were lots of team dinners and conferences and the company always paid for the alcohol. One of my colleagues ended up in a wheelchair after wrapping his car around a tree after a night out with the work social club.” Sally says she and her husband Rob are now very occasional drinkers. “Our unwritten rules are that we don’t drink alone and we don’t drink at home. And we’re both okay with that.”

So, how do non-drinkers feel about being invited to a social event at a pub? Paramedic Bob Hartley, who doesn’t drink because “my job is largely about treating drunk people and I don’t want to be one of them”, says he doesn’t mind going to pubs “provided they aren’t full of very drunk people. I do object to the extortionate cost of soft drinks there but I accept it”.

Sally Piracha says she avoids pubs. “Wellmeaning friends will try to encourage you to have ‘just one’ and the diet colas you’ve been enjoying all night will suddenly pack a punch – and you weren’t even consulted.” Rachel C doesn’t think much of the “drinking culture” there and prefers “alcoholfree good times”. She describes pubs as “interesting…but ‘bad’ interesting”.

All things considered, I still think the pub was the best place to get 60 people together and I would do it again. Vegetarians don’t stay away from restaurants that serve meat. Non-coffee-drinkers don’t boycott caf├ęs. (That said, those places are safe and respect difference. No one gets abusive after eating one too many hamburgers and no one sneaks a shot of espresso into your hot chocolate when you’re not looking).

The key thing here – and this can be broadened to life in general – is to respect everyone’s individual choices and not impose yours on anyone else. And if you don’t want to drink alcohol, you should feel comfortable not drinking alcohol. The more relaxed we all become about some people choosing not to drink, the less alcohol-reliant we all will be as a society. And that has to be a good thing.

Finally, in response to my last column, Fran Wiltshire emails: “Spencer, I really enjoyed your article about numbers but don’t you think you need to go out and get a life?!” Thankfully, she adds: “Don’t stop though because I enjoy reading your articles!” Thanks for that Fran.

Bmag March 20th - Election night

Finally, election day has arrived. Will selfproclaimed underdog Anna Bligh defy the polls and lead Labor to a sixth consecutive victory? Will the LNP’s Campbell Newman make history by winning the premiership from outside parliament? Or will Queensland elect an LNP government without Campbell Newman?

If nothing else excites you about election night, that question of whether or not Campbell Newman wins Ashgrove should give you something to cheer for, whichever side of politics you support. A ReachTEL phone poll conducted on 5 March gave the key seat to the ALP’s Kate Jones, 50.7 per cent to 49.3 per cent, two-party-preferred. It doesn’t get much closer than that.

For me, election night is a psephological football final. My wife Nikki is working on Channel Nine’s coverage, so she won’t be home until late. Our 11-year-old son Jack will happily spend the night reading or playing computer games, perhaps sticking his head in for the concession and victory speeches. That leaves me to set up my very own tally room! I’ll have a couple of TVs on the go, one with a split-screen showing two channels at once. Hats off to 31 Digital, which is mounting election night coverage for the first time. Next to me on the couch will be a radio with pre-set station buttons for easy flicking between ABC, 4BC and Switch 1197 (the youth community station is broadcasting live from the tally room for a fourth consecutive election).

Then there’s Twitter on my lap and a bottle of wine on the floor to my right! I know I’m not alone with my election night obsession.

Librarian Fiona Winston- Brown also sets herself up for the night: “I swoon over the ABC’s election analyst Antony Green whilst hurling abuse at the TV if the wrong mob gets in! Hubby floats around in the background and joins me for the call of our electorate but otherwise it’s a solo event accompanied by cheese and biscuits washed down with a bottle from my collection.”

High school drama teacher Matthew Kopelke says “I always try to mix social media with ABC coverage. Nothing but Kerry O’Brien and Antony Green for me!” Director of the Anywhere Theatre Festival, Paul Osuch, says “we always do a reading of ‘Don’s Party’. How far we get depends on many factors…”

Human Resources manager Simon Francis says he’s starting a tradition “inviting over like-minded political nerds and having drinks and nibbles while yelling at the TV”. I suspect “like-minded” is the key to a successful election night party!

Nicholas and Natalie Perkins spent the last state election night watching events unfold in the tally room at the Convention Centre. Nicholas says it was “great to watch as the pollies come in and get interviewed and so forth”. Theatre reviewer Doug Kennedy says the tally room experience is over-rated: “Went once. Theatre of the absurd. All I saw were journos. It’s better on TV!” Amanda Dell is one of those journalists. For Amanda, the tally room is the only place to be on election night, for “the whiff of victory and the stink of defeat”.

Of course, not everyone will be glued to the minute-by-minute results. Content to find out later is film critic Matthew Toomey who says “it’s my tradition to see a movie on election night.” Then he adds “that’s my tradition every night actually!”

QPAC has no fewer than four options for you on election night – The Australian Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet, British comedian Ross Noble, Christen O’Leary in Bombshells and Harry Potter star Miriam Margoyles in Dickens’ Women! And US husband-and-wife country music stars Tim McGraw and Faith Hill are playing at the Entertainment Centre.

Margaret Bell will be in charge of Front of House at Centenary Theatre Company’s closing night performance of Wrong Turn at Lungfish (by Laverne & Shirley writers Garry Marshall and Lowell Ganz). Margaret concedes: “I may check results on social media between sips of champagne!”

For Aussie Rules fans like Paul Smeaton, Saturday 24 March means the opening match of the AFL season between the Sydney Swans and debutantes Greater Western Sydney. That said, Paul still plans to flick between the footy and ABC TV. He says “the question is – will the GWS rookies out-perform the CanDo rookie?!” All I can say is this – may your team win!