By Rob Allanson

Embracing Good Changes

The New Year offers a chance to shine a spotlight on things
There were a couple of items in the news and on the interweb that caught my eye post-Christmas that got me thinking about the year that was.

The first was the new marketing campaign for the British Army. Gone is the tag line “Be the best”, in its place is a series of ads addressing people’s worries about whether it is ok to cry, be gay or practice a faith if you join the Army.

Commentators jumped in saying that the Army had gone soft and become politically correct, but rather, I think, that it is symptomatic of a wider movement in society at the moment.

Let’s move to the other bits that caught my eye. A series of discussions on social media between writers, brand ambassadors and whisky lovers talking about drinking less but better this year. Add to this some stark and frankly brave admissions of mental health issues and other problems in the wide whisky sphere.

We work and live in a very privileged sphere, we whisky lovers. Never has the choice of offerings and availability been so wide and varied, and in many cases, affordable. But with this comes responsibility and of course the risk of over-indulgence and temptation. Simultaneously, our tendency to suffer these in silence, hiding rather than admitting something might have got under our skin.

Neither am I immune to these issues. Whisky may be the water of life, and a crutch used sometimes by most of us to relax, to ameliorate our over-stressed minds and heighten our joy in times of celebration, but it is also a highly addictive drug. When one works closely with alcohol, one is playing with fire – perhaps this is part of the allure, but it is a risk one must remain mindful of if we hope for a long career in the drinks industry. While we seek a community of like-minded whisky lovers to sing together the praises of our favourite drams, perhaps we must also find our tribe to shield ourselves from the flip side of the shiny coin. Communication and understanding is key – admit it and talk about it, if not shout about it, you soon find out who your friends are when you raise the spectre of drink and mental health issues; and those friends are the best help you can have.

I have always joked that if God wanted me to run, God would have kept dinosaurs alive

I have discovered that once you dig up the problems and shine a light on them, they are not so divisive, and with a little help they can be solved. Well I say solved, it’s really a journey, a path to walk and try not to stray from; and learning not to beat yourself up if you do. Chatting with my partner about it, she suggested replacing one thing with another, replacing watching TV and drinking, with something healthy and productive; running perhaps?

I absolutely hate running. I have always joked that if God wanted me to run, God would have kept dinosaurs alive. Turns out the monsters are real.

So with the encouragement of my closest friend, I dusted off some running shoes, tied them to my feet, waited for darkness to fall (no one wants to see a sweaty, out of breath, middle-aged man bundling towards them) and headed out in to the village and fields. Two weeks in and I still hate it, but I am beginning to see some changes. Sleep is coming easier and becoming more restive. The decompression time after work, rolling problems round has been invaluable.

After months of talking to a very good listener, having support from close friends, minding myself, and filling the void that we so often plug with alcohol with other things, resisting those demons has become so much easier.

To go back to the Army’s new campaign, for me the answer is yes absolutely. Be any or all those things and be proud.

So, as we embark upon 2018 may we enter it to a resounding ‘Drink less, drink better’. I can’t forget the first dram I had on this current journey. I had not drank for a while and sat with a measure of Lavagulin 16. It was a complete revelation.

As we hurtle into this New Year, and I know for some of you by the time you read this the year will be already in full swing, let’s embrace better drinking. May the year be full of extraordinary and thrilling drams, drank with curious minds, clear eyes and a knowingness of our place in a wider community of fire-walkers.