I got home yesterday after ten days away, first up north at my mother’s, then in Suffolk at my sister’s. I am hoping for a huge fall of snow tonight, one big enough to paralyse all rail services between here and the city where I work, just because I am sick to death of trains and glacial station platforms.
I drank a lot this Christmas, even by my standards, and as always in January, I am thinking about cutting down. Ah, fuck it, who am I kidding? Really, with booze, it’s all or nothing for me. I’m pondering this move over a large glass of chilled Manzanilla right this minute. It has a sea-salt tang and a hint of new bread and toasted almonds, it adores the cheese I’m nibbling with it, and its utter purple-prosy, pre-prandial rightness on this icy night makes me wonder how one could ever forgo it. This is the thing about booze for me and a million other soaks: never drinking again is a gloomy prospect indeed. Someone (sorry, Mr Someone, I can’t remember who you were) said that when he finally understood that he faced the choice of abjuring the booze or present death, it was like sitting in an art gallery watching workmen carry away the paintings, leaving him nothing to look at but bare, white walls. Absolutely. Wouldn’t it be like confinement to every dull, dreary, soulless thing? Boiled turnip. Military brass bands. Carry On films. The Cambridge Evening News. Golf. God's cock, get me another sherry.
Ex-boozers, however, are often very successful people. I have a friend whose mum was a dedicated piss-head. As little kids, this friend and her brother were used to getting themselves ready for school because their mother, legless on matutinal sherry, could be of no assistance. Her mum did eventually knock the booze on the head and she is now a star turn as a globe-trotting speaker for Alcoholics Anonymous. Another friend, Madeleine, spent a year or two lying on her living room floor arseholed on scotch, whilst her teenage daughter went wild all over London. Maddy is now dry and successful, as were the two people I met at the only A.A. meeting I have ever attended, convened by Maddy when she was in Greece. I did not do the ‘hi, I’m Steve and I’m an alcoholic’ bit. (‘Hi, Steve!’) The others' confessions of their actions when pissed made me realise I was not in their league. They had slept in the gutter, lost their friends, their wives, their kids and their homes, started over from nothing in their forties, and prospered. What could I have said? ‘Well, y'know, I have a few drinks, go to bed, get up for work the next morning...’ No. If someone tells you they escaped from the Twin Towers and rebuilt their lives after breaking umpteen bones, you hardly feel like telling them you once had to climb in through the pantry window because you mislaid your keys.
It was the friend with the piss-headed mother who first pointed out to me how obsessive addicts can be; the single-mindedness of their focus is remarkable. It tends to be on whatever experience triggers their need to anaesthetise themselves with booze. Turn that focus away from booze or drugs onto something external and you have the makings of an artist, counsellor, entrepreneur or utter pain in the arse. It was not me she had in mind when she said this, but a mutual acquaintance whose dedication both to his job and to Johnny Walker was passionate, but the one got entirely in the way of the other.
I saw myself there, though, up to a point. Booze is a reward for a bad day, or a celebration of a good one. I want it, indeed expect it, in either case. It matters to me more than I want it to matter. There you go, a confession. First I have made.