Wednesday, 27 July 2016


Something strange is happening to my blog statistics.

I seem to have become 'a thing' in Russia. Not a 'big thing', but a 'thing' nonetheless.

Until recently I rarely picked up readers over there - a mere handful a week. But now I'm getting around 1,500 page views a day just from Russia, making it my third largest readership (after the USA and UK).

Now I've always had a bit of a girlie crush on Russia. Ever since I read Anna Karenina, and lusted after a fur-swathed Omar Sharif in Doctor Zhivago.

I also think Russian is the world's most romantic language.

Mr SM spent a year living in St Petersburg, so speaks passable Russian. When we started dating I would get him to talk to me in Russian during our romantic moments.

(I assumed he was reciting love poetry. Turns out he was saying "Waiter! A plate of your finest meatballs please!")

I studied Russian Economic History for a year of my degree course at Cambridge.

I was fascinated by a country of such beauty - Faberge, Chekov, the Hermitage, such extremes - the Tzars and the serfs, the palaces and the gulags, Nureyev and Rasputin, and the crazy boldness of communism, central planning and butch, female shot-putters.

In 1987, at the age of eighteen, I decided to travel round Russia and Soviet Central Asia (Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan).

In those days the only way to do this was on an official InTourist tour, staying in state sanctioned and controlled Tourist Hotels.

We were guided everywhere, and when we managed to steal some time on our own we were followed by the KGB (spotting, then losing, our assigned KGB agent became our favourite game).

My trip was fascinating, but it was blighted by one thing: lack of vodka.

I'd assumed that we'd spend our evenings swilling back vodka and Cossack dancing on the tables of quaint Russian bars. But no.

Gorbachev had introduced the 'dry laws' to try to address the huge problem of alcohol related illness and work absenteeism in Russia.

As the state controlled all supply and pricing of vodka, they were able to close the liquor shops and massively increase the prices. I was outraged. But not as much as the Russian people were.

It turns out that shortly after I returned home the dry laws were repealed. The state was suffering from lack of vodka revenue, and the people were getting sick from moonshine brewed in garden sheds.

I did a bit of research to see what's happened to Russia's vodka habit now.

According to WHO data analysed by the OECD, more than 30% of all deaths in Russia in 2012 were attributable to alcohol.

That's insane.

(The same calculation showed a 3.4% attribution in the UK and 3.2% in the USA).

As a result, life expectancy for a Russian man in 2012 was 65 years, compared to 76 in the US and 74 in China.

After heart disease and cancer, alcohol is the third biggest killer in Russia.

So what's being done about it?

Well, AA hardly has any presence in Russia, as it has never been approved or sanctioned by the state. Instead, the main treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction seems to be a method known as 'coding.'

There are various alternative therapeutic methods which come under the umbrella of 'coding', but they all attempt to scare patients into abstinence by convincing them that they will be harmed or killed if they use it again.

The therapist pretends to insert a 'code' into patients' brains, using a combination of theatrics - hypnosis, placebos and drugs - with temporary adverse effects, to make the patient believe that their drug of choice is now extremely dangerous.

How crazy is that?

For a start, it's all based on a big fat fib. And, secondly, we know that scaring people into quitting doesn't work.

(How many times did we read SMOKING KILLS on the cigarette packets as we merrily lit another?)

So, if you're reading this from Russia (big thanks to Google Translate), then WELCOME!

Just put down the vodka and start living....

Love SM x


  1. What a great post. How amazing your blog is reaching so far! Welcome from me too! And please believe sober mummy when she says put down the booze and start living!!! There's a whole world out there that we knew existed but we just weren't part of and it's great!!!

  2. What I absolutely love about your blog, is all the new, interesting things you share with us on this journey of getting off the booze. We human beings are similar in many ways, the good and the bad. What a gift you have!

  3. I love your blog, SM! Speaking of home-brewed drinks, are any of you folks familiar with kombucha? I make my own at home and it is a great fizzy substitute, a la Beck's Blue, for a special drink at the end of the day (or any time, really).

    1. And it's good for your liver and mood!

    2. I drink it too sometimes, only I am very lazy and buy it ready made. Is it easy to make yourself?

    3. I love kefir with berries too its sort of my version of a daiquiri

    4. And appreciated Kefir is very popular in Russia!

    5. Yes, kombucha is easy to make at home. So is kefir! Both are fantastic bubbly treats.

      Kombucha: all you need to do is brew a gallon of tea, add a cup of sugar, and then let it cool. Pour it all into a glass jar, add a SCOBY (a mushroom-like disc of cultures which ferments the tea), and wait one week. After a week or so, you can cool and drink the kombucha, or you can bottle it with fruit juice, ginger, etc., for a second fermentation period (4-7 days) in order to make it bubbly. My favorite ingredients to add are tart cherry juice and ginger. Be sure to use pressure-resistant bottles for the second fermentation, such as recycled kombucha bottles from the grocery store, or fizzy water bottles (plastic caps only, please).

      Please read expert advice online or in a book first--don't just follow my instructions :)

      SCOBYs may be found in health food stores, online (KBBK sells them) or from a friend. A new SCOBY "baby" is produced with each brew, so there are lots of SCOBYs out there that people are happy to give away.

      Full instructions here:

      Kefir is also very easy to make. Just buy some starter powder or live grains (preferred). Add to milk, wait a day or so, and voila! Again, do some reading online for detailed instructions.

      My kefir starter bills itself as creating "The champagne of milks!" hahaha

    6. Thank you. I'll give it a whirl. I also love kefir (which I also buy from my local supermarket) it is so good with some muesli.

  4. Dear SM, yes my husband would attest to how ingrained, no pun intended, the presence of alcohol is in the lives of the Russian people. And yes, specifically vodka. He worked in Germany for several years and would travel to Russia as a part of his job. He describes LUNCHTIMES where the numerous shots were actually required by all as to not seem rude. So a very cultural norm that was extended and expected of visitors. He said he became concerned what that type of regular consumption would have meant for his health had he been placed in that role repeatedly. So, it is a very good thing for you to see so many readers from Russia. We are all in this together when it comes to the beast of addiction and the need for a helping hand in slaying that beast.

    1. That is funny Tams. My other half sometimes has to go to Moscow for work and attests to the caviar and vodka being brought out first thing in the morning after an evening of indulgence. He has sometimes lied about being on medication and not being able to drink. I think people are becoming more aware of the dangers of drinking too much and want a fuller life. You're right it doesn't matter where we come from in a quest for a more fulfilling life without the shadow of alcohol.

  5. SM I didn't really think too much more about the Russian audience until I did my weekly check of my audience (teeny tiny compared to yours ha ha) but Russia is MY third biggest readership at about 166 views and it is only in the last week or so. Without sounding conspiratorial, should we be worried about about an attack on our blogs and we will be spammed by vodka ads? You as a wine drinker will be ok but me, well I did like the odd vodka tipple and might be reminded of how much I enjoyed it. Why the sudden trend? Anyone else checked their stats?