Sunday, 17 January 2016

Put on your Red Shoes and Let’s Dance the blues away in 2016

We woke up last week to the news that David Bowie had died, aged 69 years. He had been living with liver cancer for over 18 months, and had kept the news secret, when a year ago he found out the condition was terminal. His contribution to music, art and culture more widely was enormous and far reaching. He will be missed. I did contemplate writing this blog using Bowie's ‘cut-up technique’ or decoupe in French, but my Father would probably complain that the blog was even more incomprehensible and impenetrable than usual.

He could be right. The cut-up technique is an interesting aleatory literary approach in which a text is cut up and then re-arranged to create a new text. The technique was said to be first used in the 1920s. Bowie used the technique to create some of his lyrics from the early 1970s onward's. You can see him describing how he used it here. Commentators have suggested that Bowie used this approach with his last album (‘Blackstar’) to obfuscate and create time to hide the truth about his health until his death, when his words coalesced into perfect sense.

Bowie had the same birthday as Elvis Presley, who also recorded a song called ‘Black Star’. It would be good to think that Bowie knew the words of the Elvis song:

Every man has a black star
A black star over his shoulder
And when he sees his black star
He knows his time, his time has come

We don’t know what caused Bowie's cancer, but liver cancer is one of the 7 cancers that can be caused by drinking too much alcohol. Others include bowel, breast and mouth and/or throat cancers. The UK government have just recently released a revised safe alcohol consumption guidelines. The biggest change on previous guidelines is that the recommended levels of safe weekly consumption are the same for men and women, 14 units per week. Rather challengingly, it’s been estimated that 30% of male drinkers regularly drink more than this new safe limit.

However, many people appear to have thought about the amount of alcohol they consume. Dry January, a month without drinking any alcohol appears to have become a great success. So much so that supermarkets are reporting an alcohol sales slump of nearly 50% over the month. Likewise, soft drinks and sparkling water have seen sales rise by nearly 40%! W decided to take part, I chose to abstain (from Dry January that is). Dry January requires participants to stop drinking on the first day of January and abstain for the entire month. Ian Hamilton (York University) cautioned that abrupt abstention from alcohol could result in serious health problems such as seizures.

My January is already proving to be very busy and it’s not over yet. So I decided I wouldn't risk being off sick and so whilst not participating fully in Dry January, I did choose to become a more responsible drinker. And I think I'm going to need my wits about me as 2016 is turning out to be full of interesting possible changes and challenges. My colleagues and I have been working hard at identifying these and developing our responses. For all those blog readers working in the School, you can come along to our congress next Wednesday afternoon when I will be presenting the outcomes of this work. For other readers, just watch this space!

Until then, as Bowie said, ‘put on your red shoes and dance the blues, lets dance…

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