HOMELESS CHARITIES AND MOTHERS CRITICISE GOVERNMENT FOR NOT RAISING DUTY ON SUPER STRENGTH CIDER IN THE BUDGET

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The CEOs of homelessness charities Shekinah and Thames Reach have strongly criticized the government for not raising duty on super strength white cider which they said is killing more homeless people than heroin and crack.

The CEO of Thames Reach Jeremy Swain said “the evidence showing that the drinks are killing people is beyond dispute and each month that goes past leads to further deaths.” John Hamblin CEO of Shekinah Charity said “we see daily examples of people just killing themselves from consuming very large quantities of ridiculously cheap super strength cider”. Both said they were “very disappointed” by the decision.

The decision has also been condemned by Joanne Good, the mother of 16 year old  Megan Craig Wilkinson who died after drinking 1.5 litres of super strength cider Frosty Jack. Joanne Good has lobbied MPs to ban or raise duty on what she called “pocket money” cider.  Professor Sir Ian Gilmore Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance said super strength white cider is almost exclusively drunk by children, street drinkers and the homeless because of its sweet taste and low price.

It is possible to buy a 3 litre bottle of super strength cider which contains as much alcohol as 22 shots of vodka for less than £3.50 or $4. Cider which can be up to 9% alcohol has the lowest duty of any alcohol product in the UK at only 5p per unit less than a third of the rate for beers at the same strength. Conservative MP Fiona Bruce wrote in the Huffington Post that the Chancellor needed “to call time on the ability to buy a can of cider for cheaper than a bottle of water.”

Joanne Good told The Mirror: “I felt disappointed that there’s no immediate rise on the cheap cider that is causing so many problems in society. Hopefully this would put children off from drinking it and maybe a life could be saved. If it was up to me, I would like to see ciders like these removed from sale.”

Both Joanne Good, Thames Reach and the Alcohol Health Alliance welcomed the fact that the government would be consulting on introducing a higher rate of duty on cider of 5.5 to 7.5% volume. But John Hamblin CEO of Shekinah Charity said “they have been consulting for years there’s been lots of evidence presented to government about the harms of super strength cider but there just seems to be a reluctance in government to tax people’s leisure. But you and I don’t go round to meals at friend’s houses on Saturday night when someone brings out a bottle of White lightening. But there’s somehow a perception that higher taxes on super strength cider and lager will impact on Joe Public that’s not the case.” Conservative MP Fiona Bruce agreed saying “80% of cider sales would be completely unaffected by such a move.”

Cider has had an artificially low rate of duty since the Second World War to encourage people to plant apple trees. But John Hamblin said “We are not targeting people drinking craft ciders which are made from apples this super strength cider should not even be called cider. It’s an insult to call it cider as its never seen an apple in its life it’s just a concoction of chemicals.”

When Joanne Good’s MP Labour’s Mary Glindon brought up the issue of super strength cider at Prime Minister’s question time Theresa May said the government had already dealt with it. “We have taken action through the duty system so these high-strength ciders and beers are taxed more than equivalent lower strength products.We have also, of course, taken action on the very cheap alcohol by banning sales below duty plus VAT.”

But Alcohol Research UK director of research Dr James Nicholls said “The price per unit for strong ciders is considerably lower than beer at the same strength. There is a lot of evidence it is drink by people with serious alcohol problems.”

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: the government needed to “move the tax system towards a more sensible scheme where the stronger alcohol is, the more highly it is taxed. By taxing these drinks more strongly, the government will also encourage producers to lower the alcohol content in the drinks.”

 John Hamblin of Shekinah said “people won’t stop drinking because you put the price up we are working with very vulnerable complex people when you increase the price they come off the super strength lager and cider and switch to lower strength say 4%. We not only see a rapid increase in their health but it makes it far easier for us to engage with people.”

The managing director of Aston Manor, the firm that makes Frosty Jack’s, was, perhaps unsurprisingly, very unhappy with the government’s consultation on the issue.

“We are very surprised that in the detail of the Budget Statement there is mention of a plan to consult on a new duty rate ‘to target white cider’,” Gordon Johncox told the Mirror.

“We often point to the inaccurate mythology that exists around white cider and we are disappointed that without evidence this announcement has been made. We will participate fully in the consultation process and provide evidence that dispels the myths that exist”

But MP Fiona Bruce said “opinion polling for the Alcohol Health Alliance indicates 66% of the public support higher taxes on white cider. Perhaps most importantly, Public Health England’s recent report clearly states that tackling affordability would be the best way to reduce alcohol harm. Market leader Frosty Jack’s is consistently ranked among the top brands consumed by underage dependent drinkers. .A quarter of patients in alcohol treatment services drink white ciders, and of these nearly half drink them exclusively.”

She added “such measures have worked in the past: consumption of super-strength beer fell by a quarter in response to the creation of a higher rate duty band in 2011.”

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Where is the £10 billion extra going that the UK government says it’s spending on mental health?

The Prime Minister's Theresa May's speech earlier this week promised a raft of initiatives to help children and adults with mental health problems. It said that teachers in schools would receive mental health

Not on mental health according to leading charities SANE and ADDACTION. They say this money is partly being spent by NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups to plug gaps in their funding for  physical health problems. They say less money is actually feeding through to front line mental health services, dealing with people in crisis and suicidal than before. The Chief Executive of SANE Majorie Wallace says the number of people calling their helplines is higher than at any point during the helplines 20 year history as people cannot access crisis care

The government is keen to stress it’s spending more on mental health. The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt says its spending £10 billion more and 1 billion more than 2 years ago. The £11.7 billion budget for mental health in 2016/17 is double what it was 5 years ago.  But the government has refused to ring fence the money it allocates to mental health which means charities say the money is being diverted.  Two thirds of mental health trusts said recently that their budgets have been cut and 57% of Clinical Commissioning Groups who responded to an Freedom of Information request in 2016 said they planned to reduce the proportion they spent on mental health.

Extra investment has been promised.  “The NHS has committed to investing an additional £1bn in mental health services by the end of 2020-21.” said the Chief Executive of Mind, Paul Farmer. “This is welcome but we need to make sure that it materialises and reaches the front line. The same goes for all the other pots of money announced over the last couple of years,” he said.

Although the government has put money into  non urgent services such as the talking therapy provider IAPT, SANE says that crisis care had been cut. Its Chief Executive Marjorie Wallace SANE said that 4000 adult psychiatric beds and 1500 Child and Adolescent psychiatric beds had closed in the past few years. The Chief Executive of Mind agreed that crisis care had been cut saying  “NHS mental health services have been subjected to significant cuts over recent years, more so than the acute sector, at a time of rising demand. This has left some parts of the system struggling to cope, which of course has a huge impact on patient care.”

Suicide rates of people being treated by Community mental health teams have doubled in recent years which SANE say is a sign that community care is massively overstretched and not working.

Labour say spending on mental health fell by 8% in real terms during the coalition government and a report in January 2015 said spending on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services had decreased by 6%. The government says this has now been corrected and that has invested £7 million more in CAMHS psychiatric beds in 2015/2016.

Due to the shortage of inpatient CAMHS beds 47% of CAMHS patients are now treated in private hospitals often many miles from their home.  The average cost of a child staying in a private psychiatric hospital is 800 a night. Theresa May has pledged to end out of area placement for CAMHS patients by 2021. But SANE Chief Executive Marjorie Wallace cast doubt on whether this would happen as no significant new funding had been announced.

The Prime Minister’s speech earlier this week promised a raft of initiatives to help children and adults with mental health problems. It said that teachers in schools would receive mental health “first aid training” to spot signs of mental illness and that links between schools and local NHS mental health services would be strengthened. It also promised extra support for people with mental health problems in the workplace and £15 million extra for “crisis cafes” and clinics.  All this was welcomed by SANE and MIND but MIND said “our job is to ensure that the commitment is met. We need to see sustained leadership to make sure services and support improve for all of us with mental health problems. Having been neglected for decades, we need to see it made a priority for decades to come”

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My birthday – will the Corbynistas kill the Conservatives?

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How do you organise a birthday party when your friends are at opposite ends of the political spectrum and want to kill each other? I have joined the Conservative Party, largely to find a husband but failing that a career. I have just become involved in politics this year and want to become the government’s Minister for Addiction and Mental Health. This comes after crashing out of my career as a BBC reporter because of my cocaine addiction and mental health problems. I have sent my CV to the health ministry with entries such as “Lost in Rehab 2005-2008” and “Only sane inmate at the Prison View Psychiatric Unit 2008-2009.” Strangely they haven’t called me back…

To kick start my apparently moribund political career I therefore want to invite some of my new Conservative friends to my birthday party. Unfortunately one of my best friends, who saved my sanity when I had a nervous breakdown, says that all Conservatives are members of a “toxic neo-fascist political party.”  Obviously he’s a supporter of the hard-left Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who evokes adulation among his acolytes and despair from his detractors. A Corbynista comedian my friend’s routine includes an explanation as to why God has always voted Labour. He’s so left wing he called his only child Fidel. And she’s a girl. I feel a diatribe from him may hinder my political prospects. And he is not the only Corbynista friend I have in fact all my friends are solid Labour supporters.   I too was a socialist until the stratospheric leap in value of my house in Notting Hill, which I bought for £400,000 in 1999, convinced me I was a Tory.

I have now gone from Conservative to Confused as the new UKIP lite incarnation of the Tory Party has made me and many other pro-European Tories seriously consider defecting to the Liberal Democrats. Indeed I was campaigning for the Liberal Democrats (and looking for a boyfriend) in the Richmond Park by election and was ecstatic when they won.

I have thought of a potential solution of seating the Corbynistas at one end of the table and the Conservatives at the other with large signs at either end. I will sit in the middle physically preventing any contact between the two warring sides. Milling around is dangerous so there will be no chatting after the meal or offers of people to come back to my house. As soon as someone gets up to leave I will escort them swiftly out of the restaurant pausing solely to check they have paid. I am still extremely nervous and have put the Samaritans on speed dial (who were very sympathetic when I phoned them saying I was heartbroken as I’d failed to win a handbag on eBay) for the birthday. Will this be the Last Supper of my Sanity?

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1st Christmas with my family for 12 years!

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Today for the first time in 12 years and for the first time in my entire recovery I spent Christmas with my family. In December 2004 just before I got into recovery I spent Christmas Day alone with a bag of cocaine and litre of vodka. That rock bottom was the start of my recovery journey. Every Christmas since then I have spent away from my family. Before I went into family therapy with my father the relationship was too strained for me to contemplate spending Christmas with him. But I hope there will be other Christmases in future. It was the first time I had been to my father’s house since he bought it almost 10 years ago. After practically bursting into tears 5 minutes after I arrived as I was so upset it turned into a fabulous day.  Unfortunately there will be no Christmases with my mother who died 10 years ago this year. But despite my issues with her she has given me the freedom to write which is amazing. I dream about her all the time. RIP

I’m a professional writer again!

I get a commission to do a story for the Sunday Times my first paid journalism work for my entire 12 year recovery

At last I have made some money from writing! This is the first time I have been paid to write for my entire twelve year recovery. It is true that I have only recently started trying to resurrect my freelance journalism career, buoyed by the success of the blog. In the first year of the blog I had more than 30,000 hits. The piece, for the Sunday Times News Review, was about my quest for a husband at the Tory Party Conference. Alas I did not find one but I did find a career. I now want to become an MP so I can get my dream job of being the Minister of Addiction and Mental Health.  Of course I crashed out of my journalism career at the beginning of 2005 because of my rampant cocaine addiction, bulimia and general loopiness and ended up in rehab for 5 years. My C.V. simply refers to this period as “lost in rehab” which is better than “Only sane patient at the Prison View psychiatric unit (in my own head at least)”  All this will now be chalked down to “research” for my future job.

I have created a “news agency” of mental health and addiction news so I can select stories to pitch to the newspapers. I am also very much getting up to speed on all aspects of mental health. And I plan to apply for funding for my idea to help everyone who goes into a doctor’s surgery with a mental health or addiction problem in the New Year. I am also preparing my application to stand as a councillor for the Conservative Party. There is a section on the form where they say “Is there anything about you that could be an embarrassment to the Party?”  Let’s hope they don’t read about my previous 22 hour a day cocaine addiction or experiences such as “Being seduced by a (female) teenage stripper who’d killed someone the week before (and then stole my car).”  I will simply say on the application form “I am open about the fact that I am in (long term) recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.”

Anyway I am taking a bit of a break from the blog and have resolved to only write something when I have something interesting to say. Now the Referendum is over, as is my hobnobbing with the Prime Minister and Mayor of London, that is less often than before. Mr Right has tragically gone from my life making him just another Mr Unavailable.  But this first paycheck for my writing in twelve years could not be missed out. I will keep you posted on what happens in my writing career and non-existent love life in the next few weeks. Actually I have a man staying in my house for the weekend, unfortunately in my lodger’s room not mine. But after no man overnight in my house for many years I am hoping the unaccustomed male energy will shift my luck with men.

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What I found at the Conservative Party Conference. Husbands: none Career: 1?

I attend the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham where the Prime Minister Teresa May the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond were all speaking

If politics is Rock for ugly people then the party conferences are like going on tour. Rumours of sleeping around and extra marital affairs are rife. But in this febrile sexual and political atmosphere is it possible to find love?

I was extremely excited about attending my first ever Tory Party Conference where I was  trying to advance my political career – I am applying to stand as a local Councillor and want to become an MP. But there was another reason for my enthusiasm.  My efforts to find Mr Right through online dating have been as successful as a polar bear trying to find an ice floe in the Sahara.  And when I announced on a recent date with a promising man on lefty website Guardian Soulmates that I was a Tory he immediately ordered the bill.  I need someone intelligent and interested in politics – as since I became one of the London Team leaders for Britain Stronger in Europe during the Referendum campaign I have been mildly obsessed. Before the campaign I had never been involved in politics as no issue had moved me enough.

I had worked out long in advance my agenda (and outfits) for the Conference to fulfil my dual purpose of communicating that I am a serious politician in waiting but also, of course, look hot. I was obviously, going to attend all the main speeches by the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer. But I’d also selected a host of fringe events where I was likely to meet Mr Right. My Conservatives friends say it has long been received wisdom in the party that joining the Young Conservatives is a way of finding a partner and were optimistic at my chances.

The first event I attended was the Prime Minister’s and Foreign Secretary’s speech on Brexit.  This required a demure outfit and rapt attention to the speakers with no obvious ogling of men. I have to say I was slightly disturbed by the emphasis on controlling immigration. I do not want my cleaner or builder to go home. I then went to the Conservative Group for Europe reception as I am positively allergic to boyfriends who voted for Brexit. In fact my primary chat up line at the Conference was “which side were you on Leave or Remain?” Unfortunately there was no one I fancied at the reception. Next on my tour was the Conservative Friends of Cyprus reception – I have limited interest in Cyprus but a great deal of interest in Greek men. This required a slight change of outfit to show a hint of cleavage. As the Tories are now more egalitarian since the demise of David Cameron I had left all my designer bags at home.  The Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was there prompting frenzied adulation and shouts of “Boris Boris Boris” from the audience a sort of Tory version of One Direction. Apart from obviously me who blames Boris for Brexit.

On the Monday I was going to attend the speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.  But at the last minute I decided this was a waste of time as the Chancellor is married and not really my type so I went to a meeting of pro-European Tories instead.

Then came the absolute crack pipe of my political and dating plans “How can Conservatives win the Black and Minority Ethnic votes they need to win in 2020.” The constituency I am interested in standing in as an MP has a high number of ethnic voters but also, as I am half Jamaican, I think my political soulmate would be another ethnic Tory. The Conservatives secured over a million black, Asian and Minority Ethnic votes in the 2015 elections and are closing the gap on Labour.  Alas there was no one I fancied at the meeting but I did get a picture with a black female Conservative MP who said she would help me get elected.

Me and Conservative MP for Maidstone and the Weald Helen Grant
Me with Helen Grant MP

My primary interest in politics is to work with the government in addiction and mental health so I went to an event about supporting families with these problems. I pitched my idea to help everyone who goes into a doctors surgery with an addiction or mental health problem to the chief executives of two of the largest charities in Britain and they were very interested.

On Tuesday I got up at the crack of dawn to attend a Conservative Group for Europe breakfast meeting. I hate getting up early but as openly pro-European Tories have been thin on ground since the Brexit vote I had to set my alarm. Alas most of the men there were not my type so I sat playing with my phone. I was then cheering various  Celebrating the Union speeches in the main hall (ie England Scotland Northern Ireland and Wales) – a union which seems to be remaining intact, despite the Brexit vote, as the Scottish cannot afford to leave.

There was then the photo with my local Conservative Association where there were some rather attractive men. Obviously I gave them my business card saying “we must campaign together.”

My final event of the night was a Conservative Friends of Bangladesh reception which required a slightly sexier outfit.  I have never been to Bangladesh and my knowledge of the country is purely based on what I have seen on the BBC news but I am very interested in getting to know some more Bangladeshi Tories. My local Conservative Association has strong links to the Bangladeshi community so I made sure I appeared in all the photos.  There was a rather attractive mixed race man at the Bangladeshi event who despite the fact that he was 20 years younger than me I managed to engage in conversation. I am sure I am not the only cougar at the Conference.

The final day was the troop rousing speech by the Prime Minister and the leader of the Scottish Conservatives “A Country that works for everyone.”  This was the busiest day of the Conference as many members come on a one day pass and I had therefore held back my most flattering outfit. The Prime Minister was wearing a rather sexy crimson dress and said the biggest challenge of the conference was whether the colourful Boris Johnson would “stay on message for four days.” The conference ended at one o clock but I had not booked my train until early evening in case I bumped into a likely husband and wanted to meet him for lunch. Alas I didn’t find a husband, but after four days of high octane excitement, decided I want to stand as an MP. If I became an MP my past is so colourful that Boris would look bland.

Top publisher says my blog is “funny” has “an engaging voice” and “lots of great material”

Sarah Savitt deputy publisher at Virago and former publishing director at Headline and Headline Review says I

Sarah Savitt, deputy head of feminist publisher Virago and former publishing director at Headline, one of the most successful commercial imprints in the UK,  said my blog was “definitely enjoyable to read” as it was “funny, fast paced and interesting.” She recommended making changes to the blog, which I’ve now turned into a memoir, so that is has greater “focus” and “structure.” She gave me three pages of feedback on the memoir and recommended I read nine successful recent memoirs and analyse them technically to see how they tell their story.

I am now doing this starting with best sellers “Mad Girl”by Bryony Gordon which also talks about OCD, bulimia, cocaine addiction and journalism and “Reasons to Stay Alive” by Matt Haig which deals with depression and anxiety. She said there were “many themes” in my memoir “from class and privilege and race (people constantly asking where you’re from) to mental health to your mother’s abuse to drugs and sex.” She said I need to “choose one or two things to focus on and weight the book towards those themes.” She said that it is difficult for people who are not famous to get memoirs published but that those that are published and “break out” and become successful have this particular focus.  After I’ve read the 9 memoirs I am going to start a re-write of mine.

I’m also starting a freelance journalism course in October to try to resurrect my freelance journalism career and raise the profile of my writing. I may do a course on memoir as well. The agent didn’t work out but given that the publisher said the blog needed a major rewrite to make it commercially viable this may be why.

The search for Mr Right continues of course unsuccessfully. I’ve been on a few dates but haven’t fancied them. I’ve signed up to various Conservative party events (I grew scales and a tail before the last General Election and was, alarmingly, diagnosed as a Tory) to try to network and meet an ethnic Tory Mr Right. I did go to an event on Wednesday and met an attractive ethnic Tory but he was only 21.

The big change on the home front is that as I am now almost completely recovered from the OCD and broken my ban on having anyone to stay in my house over the summer I am going to get a lodger. This will bring in useful extra income as well as give me someone to discuss world current affairs with. Of course due to my bisexual tendencies the search for a lodger has been fraught with problems. I was worried about fancying the prospective male lodgers who came along but it was actually a gorgeous Iranian woman with arresting green eyes who made me swoon. Obviously I couldn’t say “you’re too sexy to move in” so I just told her an elephant was moving in instead.

I now have the assistant to a Member of Parliament moving in who is very bright and interested in politics and crucially, given my previous campaigning for Britain Stronger in Europe, pro-European. All the lodgers were quizzed on their Brexit views and any prospective pro-Brexit people were executed.

In preparation for the lodger I am de-cluttering my house going through every cupboard and throwing out junk and the fifty tonnes of paperwork I’ve accumulated since I started writing my first novel in 2009. Before the viewings by the lodgers every inch of floor space was covered in reams of paper from various re-writes of the novel and the blog and a rhino that I’d brought back from Sudan was watching my telly. I’ve now thrown out a hundred bags of rubbish which are sitting in my front garden rather optimistically waiting for the bin men to take them away. I’ve got so much excess paper I could actually start a re-cycling plant in my home.  The rhino is claiming asylum due to the civil war in Sudan so is now living on my roof terrace.

As part of my new political activities I went to the Conservative Women’s Organisation summer party on Thursday. I was worried that everyone might be white but in fact half of them were ethnic minorities showing that I am not the only ethnic minority in London who votes Conservative. Though curiously when I see black supporters of Donald Trump paraded in front of the cameras at his speeches I think “you are a traitor to your race.”  I can see that some black people in dying former industrial towns in the United States may warm to the Trump message. But in the UK it is aspirational ethnic minorities who vote Conservative. Now I look Jamaican with my natural hair obviously everyone thinks I’m a Labour party supporter.

After coming out on Facebook as a Tory earlier this year I will be revealing myself on the national media by attending the Conservative Party Conference in October. This is not just an attempt to network and further my political career but also crucially to find a husband. But my chat up lines will not be the bog standard “do you come here often” but the rather more focused “what do you think about Brexit?”

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Next blog post – Finding a husband at the Conservative Party Conference (or should I be looking for a career?)

 

 

More than 30,000 hits on my blog and Literary agent very interested but Mr Right has got lost in Antarctica.

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Day 1. Disastrous date as having spent an hour getting ready and hours getting there when I saw him I realised he’d put up an old photo and was now, unfortunately, bald. As I love thick dark hair on men this meant that the date was a waste of time. He also didn’t have the scintillating intellect I was looking for. He obviously liked me and tried to kiss me as we said goodbye but I evaded his advances. Having only fancied one man I’ve met online this date was a turning point. Never again, I resolved, would I go on a date with someone before I was sure what they looked like now. I would insist on Skyping them first. This would not only weed out those who’d put up a super flattering photograph but also stop me getting so wildly excited by the photographs that I’d married them, had their children and planned the entire education of the child before we’d even met.

Day 2. I put this plan into action. A man I was due to meet the following day had only put up one photograph on the dating website. I texted him to say I was reluctant to meet based on one photograph and wanted to Skype instead. He said he didn’t like Skype but would send me some extra photographs. A flurry of photographs followed but when I looked at them I wasn’t sure I fancied him at all. Mr Dangerous and Unavailable (former drug dealer) was at my Shagger and Lurve Addicts Anonymous meeting that night looking suitably dark and hot. I told him he couldn’t move in with me as a lodger as I fancied him too much. His response was “I’m unavailable.”

Day 3. I didn’t get back to the non-Skype online man till the following morning saying I wanted to meet by which time he’d changed his mind and pulled out of the date because he said I was giving “mixed messages.” I had been slightly put off by the fact that he had been texting me every day as I thought this was too keen. Also he didn’t sound as intelligent on the phone as Mr Right (now after he’s dumped me Mr Unavailable) from Britain Stronger in Europe. But as this new guy was now unavailable and had rejected me I was therefore desperate to meet him. It is clear that I am threatened by the prospect of a relationship with a man who is actually available. Having had over 30,000 hits on the blog, which I’ve now turned into a memoir, on WordPress and a US addiction website,  I had received an exciting full manuscript request from an agent. So instead of going on the date sat at home finishing the memoir instead. The first half of the memoir is already with a top publisher so I should know within the next two weeks whether it has commercial potential.

Day 4. More work on the memoir as I ruminated over my never ending attraction to men who are dangerous or unavailable. As I have recovered from OCD, bulimia, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, clinical depression and drug and alcohol addiction this is my only remaining mental health problem. I resolved I would throw my weight towards breaking this barrier which was keeping me alone and would hurl my entire recovery tool box at it.

Day 5. I went to an all day “dating workshop” organised by dating website Guardian Soulmates. Of course I hoped that this would give me an opportunity for face to face contact with hot men on their website. Maybe I would meet an available Mr Right who I was actually interested in. When I got there there were 500 women and 3 men.  But the men were very attractive, tall and dark and I wondered if I would be able to fight through the throngs of women to speak to them. The dating guru who took the workshop said it was vital to “create opportunities” by going up to people you fancied in public places and trying to get their phone number. Of course I’d been able to do this very successfully when I was working for Britain Stronger in Europe as I had the excuse of asking them to “help with my campaign.” I resolved I would put this advice into action and approached two men I fancied in the interval. One gave me his phone number but spent the entire conversation eyeing up a busty blonde and the other said “I’m not looking at the moment.”  Clearly my unavailable men antennae were fully functioning. I learned a lot from the workshop in particular the earth shattering news that it was necessary to “give” to a man. My primary interest in men before had been what they can do for me. I left the workshop resolved to put this new giving into action.

Day 6. I decided that every day I would do at least one nice thing for someone else. As I was already looking after my friend Susanna’s hamster for the summer (which was easy as it had become confused in my house and gone into hibernation) this meant at least one other thing per day. I posted this on Facebook specifying that it did not mean sleeping with various random men who hassle me on Facebook. Since the referendum when I felt I was positively influencing the future of the country, albeit unsuccessfully, I have decided I want to “make a difference” in the area of mental health.  I have come up with an idea for a “mental health survival kit” which could help everyone who goes into a doctor’s surgery with a mental health or addiction problem get extra support and strengthen their recovery.  My local NHS trust and my doctor think it is a very good idea. And I recently had my first job interview for my entire 11 year recovery, to discuss the project.  Unlike my job interviews at the BBC I was on time and didn’t have to invent any imaginary bombs on the tube to explain my delayed arrival.

Day 7. I went to a pro-European meeting trying to unite all the various groups that had split off from Britain Stronger in Europe since the Referendum campaign. I was of course interested in what these groups had to say but also thought it would be an ideal opportunity to meet a politically compatible Mr Right. There were two men I fancied there who I did speak to despite or perhaps because of their youth. But one of them I had met previously and not fancied as he was too white. As he didn’t look like the type who would be keen on winter sunbeds I thought I would give it a miss. The White Man Apocalypse seems to be on me in full force and I only find dark men attractive.

Day 7. Things were hotting up on Elite Singles and I was getting multiple messages every day. This accelerated sharply after I actually started logging on after ignoring the website for 3 months. I resolved to put my new plan in action and insist on Skyping first. The reaction to this from many of the men was extremely hostile telling me to fuck off. But after a while I realised there was a particular way to phrase it that would make them more keen on Skype. I also decided I would wear my bikini for the conversations.

Day 8. I tested this out with my first online Skype interview. Although the picture was fuzzy I could immediately see that he had put up an incredibly flattering photo on the website that didn’t really look like him. I also recoiled at his anti-European Union views. I have pretty much decided I cannot date someone who is pro-Brexit.

Day 9. I went to Shagger and Lurve Addicts Anonymous where I revealed my intensive plan to combat my attraction to men who are dangerous and unavailable. I would, as recommended by the dating guru at the workshop, do breathing exercises with positive affirmations around dating and relationships as well as self-esteem. Although I might not believe them at first if I repeat  “I will not turn into a clingy two year old who calls my boyfriend mummy” often enough it might actually sink in.  I would also pray, I’m not sure to what as I don’t know whether I believe in God, that my attraction to unavailable men be lifted and that my inner child’s desire to heal the relationship with my father who abandoned me be removed. It is this that is behind my incessant attraction to unavailable men. I would also go on a health blitz, cutting down on caffeine and trying to do yoga to help me sleep in an effort to cut down on my psychiatric medication.

Day 10. At a meeting with my new co-sponsor in Shagger and Lurve Addicts Anonymous I set out a series of positive actions I would try to do every day to get me out of the dating quagmire. One of these, which I’m totally unable to do due to Catholic indoctrination from my mother, is regular masturbation. She showed me a website which had a series of rather utilitarian looking vibrators which she promised would “wake me up.”  My sex drive is even more dormant than the hibernating hamster as its been bludgeoned on the head by all my psychiatric medication. I explained that I was terrified of waking my sex drive up, without a partner, as what would happen if I suddenly got out of control and had to shag someone? The reality is that not having a partner and being, as I now realise, chronically avoidant and sexually anorexic I love not having a sex drive.  She said I’d better try to find one pretty damn quickly if I wanted to have a relationship and should perhaps look into cutting down on my psychiatric medication.

Day 11. I tried to put my new yoga plan into action but alas after an hour and a half of yoga was bored shitless and practically fell asleep. This did give me the idea that I could do the yoga at night instead of a sleeping pill.   Disastrous date with the once evil now reformed Vicomte de Valmont, who I was previously obsessed with and have been avoiding for 5 years. I became very upset after he referred to a (white) friend of his as “wog” a derogatory term for black people. He then said “everyone is racist.”  I realised I was so upset as anyone posh and racist reminds me of my father who after he left my Jamaican mother would take the piss out of Jamaicans and say black people were “different” as they “had a different pelvis shape.”  I practically burst into tears and resolved I could not date him. This meant that every opportunity to date a man I actually know in real life was closed to me and only online was available.

Day 12. Wild excitement as I get an email from an agent (one hour after phone prayer session with hot Priest I wanted to marry) saying that he likes the memoir, which I’d sent him only three days before and that he wanted to see the novel. He sounded interested in taking me on and this is the closest I’ve got to an agent yet. Started reading the novel, whose two central characters are based on my ex-armed robber boyfriend and me,  which I hadn’t looked at for a year. Decided that the novel needed quite a bit more work and that I would edit it and send it in 10 days. Texted and emailed the Vicomte de Valmont, whose mother is a literary agent, and my therapist with the email I proposed to send to the agent. Was touched that Valmont took time out of his busy work schedule to read my email and text me his thoughts.

Day 13. As the Vicompte has looked after me have wild fantasies at the gym that he is my new “mummy.”  Quite how this squares with him freely admitting he is racist I don’t know. I really thought I had got over the desire to find a replacement mummy and confess this relapse to my therapist. Although he helps me again that afternoon with my email the wild fantasies about him being mummy seem to subside. I immerse myself in the novel, which needs a lot of work, hoping that the agent will think it has potential and take me on. The next time I write this blog I may be a professional writer!

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10 Tips to avoid relapse when you encounter alcohol or drugs in work or social settings

I celebrated 11 years of recovery from alcohol and drugs at the beginning of 2016 and have never relapsed since I came into recovery at the beginning of 2005 by following these tips Following these suggestions I have been in countless situations involving alcohol and drugs and have never relapsed in my eleven and a half year recovery.

  1. Always have a couple of people’s phone numbers in recovery you can call if you feel triggered.
  2. In a social situation, if you think you are going to pick up, leave.
  3. In a work situation, if you feel you are going to pick up and cannot go home, leave the room for 5 minutes, make a phone call, pray, meditate or do some deep breathing exercises.
  4. Carry a list with you of the worst things you did when you were drinking and using so you remind yourself how bad it could get if you relapsed.
  5. If your job involves constant client entertainment, where you are under pressure to drink alcohol, switch to another role in the company where you don’t have to do this or find another job.
  6. If your job involves regular contact with your drug of choice, consider changing your job.
  7. Avoid social situations where you know you will see drugs, particularly your drug of choice. If someone brings out your drug of choice in a social situation, leave.
  8. Explain to your partner/close friends/family members how bad your drinking/using was and how terrible it would be for everyone if you relapsed. Encourage one person not to drink at social events with you or if they accompany you to work events. Then you have a non-drinking buddy to hang out with.
  9. If your partner/family members/friends are not there, there is often one other person who is not drinking because they are driving or on medication. Sit near them or hang out with them if it’s a social setting so you feel less isolated.
  10. I was advised in rehab not to drink non-alcoholic beer or wine or soft drinks out of wine glasses. Both can trigger a craving and you can end up picking up the wrong bottle or glass that actually has alcohol in it.Sign up for updates on this blog

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My search for the perfect sperm donor

After spending most of the year in a fruitless quest for Mr Right on Guardian Soulmates, Elite Singles and the Inner Circle I give up on the quest for Mr Right and look to find a sperm donor instead. I go to Create Fertility in London headed by Professor Geeta Nargund and look at website SurrogateFinder.com

My six month long search for Mr Right has been a disaster. I found Mr Right, another volunteer on the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign, but as soon as he showed he was interested in me I went off him. Now of course as he is cold and distant from me I am crazy about him. The fact that he is twenty years younger than me and penniless has not dented my enthusiasm.

I decided earlier this year that, having recovered from all my longstanding mental health and addiction problems, I could now, for the first time in my life, contemplate having a baby. The search for Mr Right has run in parallel with the less ambitious aim of finding a sperm donor. Not that I am any less picky about finding a sperm donor than a boyfriend but at least the sperm donor does not need to understand my mental health problems. I was going to ask Mr Right but now uninterested to be my sperm donor as he is tall very good looking and highly intelligent. But as he is now ignoring my texts and phone calls that avenue is closed.

I have always viewed it as the great tragedy of my life that the men I was most interested in were not interested in me. I have now realised that this is because of me as I am only attracted to men who are dangerous or unavailable. The reason I pined after men like my friend Alex at Oxford who I was “in love with” for 15 years was because they didn’t like me. I know the reason for this – I am trying to “heal the wound” with my father who was dangerous and unavailable and rejected me as ugly as a child. But that doesn’t stop me repeating the pattern.

Similarly there was a man I know who was previously very promiscuous – a gambling addict who would steal his girlfriends’ cars and credit cards. When I thought I would relapse and it would ruin my life if I got involved with him I was completely obsessed with him. This was purely because of his danger factor as he is very odd looking like a scarecrow with an eating disorder and when I met him I didn’t fancy him at all. After years of avoiding him I needed some help with the idea I have had to help everyone who comes to a doctor in the UK with a mental health problem or addiction. I met him with trepidation thinking I might end up in bed with him but at least thinking he could be my sperm donor. However now he has reformed is monogamous and no longer dangerous I don’t fancy him at all. My therapist said I have to look at my own unavailability and unwillingness to get into a relationship.

Since I decided I wanted to keep my options open in terms of having a child I have viewed every man I vaguely fancy as a potential sperm donor. My therapist says this makes me a sperm burglar. I actually interviewed a potential sperm donor earlier this year (unbenknownst to him) but rejected him as he had a receding chin. Then when another unavailable and dangerous man (avoidant ex-drug dealer) wanted to move into my house I thought he could be my sperm donor. However I realised that coming up to someone at the end of a Shagger and Lurve Addicts Anonymous meeting and saying “will you be my sperm donor?” might not be viewed very well in the fellowship. I have now asked every man I actually know to be my sperm donor but they have said that any child of mine will end up in an asylum. I have asked my therapist if she has a discount rate for babies.

I have investigated all the options for getting a sperm donor from a UK sperm bank but all are completely unsuitable. Although you can get the educational background of the donor you cannot get a photograph. What happens if Quasimodo has slipped through the sperm bank’s net and the child comes out with a face that leads to a lifelong phobia of mirrors? After all I believed I was so ugly that I couldn’t go out in daylight as the sun would show everyone how ugly I was. I thought the Elephant man was Helen of Troy compared to me. No ships would be setting sail because of my face, they’d stay in port until they rusted away and got scrapped. I was informed by a fertility clinic that there is a sperm bank in California where they have film star lookalikes and you can simply go online and select your film star. Ben Affleck is the most popular. But I want a Hispanic looking donor and couldn’t think of a Hispanic film star I wanted to mate with. Anyway with the prevalence of plastic surgery in California god knows what they originally looked like. In any event you cannot get a photograph.

I interviewed an older mother who’d used a sperm donor for a feature I was doing on the record number of over 40 mothers in the UK. Although she was useless for the feature (as it turned out she’d had the child when she was 39) she did tell me that in Norway they had sperm banks where you could not only get a photo of the donor but an entire dating video. This is exactly like my scenario in my screen play the Fishtank Babies where the career woman goes to a sperm bank and surfs through all the videos.

I googled “Sperm bank Norway” but the only things that came up were sperm banks in Denmark that do not provide a photograph. I texted the lady who’d put me onto the Norweigan sperm banks but didn’t hear from her. I phoned the Norwegian Embassy in London with a desperate plea “I need to find out everything you know about Norwegian sperm banks.”  I could almost hear the giggles coming down the phone. “Erm I’m not able to help you with that,” an information lady said. “But if you send an email our sperm specialist will get back to you.” I sent them an email titled “NORWEGIAN SPERM NOW.”  I am still waiting to hear from them. In fact there has been a massive boom in the use of Scandinavian sperm in the UK which commentators have called “a second Viking invasion.”

I found a website SurrogateFinder.com where they did have a lot of pictures of the sperm donors.

website SurrogateFinder.com  has sperm donors from all over the world and does provide a photograph but I need to find out if they screen the sperm

A few were in the UK, most of them were in India. But when I was actually surfing the list of sperm donors, I realised I couldn’t do it. For a start I want a sperm donor who is highly intelligent which you cannot tell from a photograph. It is extremely expensive to contact the donors. The idea of having a child with a donor who I can’t even speak to is not possible. I may have to pay the hefty fee for contacting the donors.

But the advantage of proper sperm banks is that they vet the quality of the sperm so that only the healthiest, fittest and fastest get through. The Norwegian sperm banks guarantee that the sperm can swim at at least 50 miles per hour. If I just get the donor from what looks like an unregulated website the sperm may be slower than a donkey with arthritis. Or it may have a genetic disease. I have contacted surrogacy.Finder.com to find out if their screening procedures are more rigorous than simply asking “do you have a dick?”

Shopping for a man online hasn’t worked for me with the internet dating. I joined Elite Singles four months ago full of hope that I would meet Tarzan with a PhD and a penthouse in Mayfair. I got one message from a dwarf in a bedsit in arse end of the universe Slough. And despite receiving hundreds of messages I have yet to meet a man online who I actually fancy. This may simply be because they are actually available.

I have a final consultation with a fertility clinic next week to say whether it is too late for egg freezing. I’m hoping I can do that instead as my efforts to find a sperm donor in real life have been as unsuccessful as a polar bear trying to find an ice floe in the Sahara. However once the Norwegian embassy stops laughing at my request I am hoping to be put in touch with the nirvana of Norwegian sperm banks with their dating videos. I will introduce you to all my sperm suitors once I’ve whittled them down to 5.

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