I drink too much. I don’t drink as much as I used to drink, which was quite a lot; but I still drink too much. There’s no joke here by the way. There’s no pull back and reveal: look! It was too much camomile tea or chicken soup! No, its booze; delicious, tasty booze: wine, beer, gin, brandy, whiskey. Those guys, my old gang!
And what times we’ve had together! Remember that time I missed the last bus, walked home and got mugged inside my own hall-way? Classic! Remember when I fell into a bin and it became wedged on my arse at a house party, humiliating my then-girlfriend? I am legend! And then there was that time I decided to stick to red wine because beer was making me fat but then drank so much of it on an empty stomach that at some point on the journey home I managed to break a finger so badly that it took a year and a half to heal and yet neither I nor my two drinking companions had any idea how it happened! Truly I am a prince among men!
Of course it’s not all top laughs, there are some down sides to drinking too. I’ve been leafing through these back-issues of the Lancet and I’ve got a couple of bones to pick with those drinks manufacturers! Looks like I’ve finally found the reason for my muffin-tops having muffin-bottoms and why my tongue has 5 O’ clock shadow. And there seems to be some sort of causal link between my lower back-pain, bulbous red nose and bibulous eyes. It turns out that my shaking hands and string-vest memory can be traced back to a cheeky little glass of red! It all seems so woefully out of proportion.
And that’s only the obvious signs: there’s brain damage, hypertension, lung infections, cirrhosis, internal bleeding, chronic kidney disease and impotence, all either all ready going on or just about to kick off. I’m a ticking time-bomb of auto-destructive self-annihilation, a Chinese New-Year of shit-brown and cancer-black fire-works, just waiting for the touch paper to be lighted. There is no option to retire.
I gave up smoking with comparative ease because I never really liked smoking and held a cigarette like a fey Gestapo officer. I was never any good at it. So while in terms of sheer tonnage I was a heavy smoker, two packs a day at the height of my death-wish and more on a Friday, it was simple to give up because it was so unpleasant. I timed it right too – I gave up the January before they brought the smoking ban in, so I’d be comfortably established as non-smoker by the time of prohibition. Wise, or so I thought – in fact it meant that when my smoking friends, and that’s all of them, needed to go outside the pub for a crafty lungful, Muggins here was left behind as table monitor, fending off all-comers while my friends laughed, chatted and socialised.
Booze is different, though. Booze I love. I like looking at it in a glass, in the light; dark as a Homeric ocean. I like running a little of it over my tongue and the pretentious faff of trying to extricate a tang of chocolate, grapefruit or pencil shavings from a glass of fermented grape juice. (Never say it tastes “a bit grapey”. For one thing it can be easily misheard.) I like the bubbling bonhomie of a relaxing evening with friends and the way it takes the edge of anxious social gatherings amongst enemies. It is social lubrication, a badge of honour, a measure of worldliness and panache. If you look at drinking through the bottom of a glass it seems to be a tremendous cultural boon. Booze manufacturers now ask you drink their products “responsibly”. Aye, and there’s the rubbing alcohol. I don’t much care to stop.
Something magical happens at around the third glass: Dion Nice-Arse arrives to get the party started, regardless of occasion. Planning a children’s tea-party and need someone to vomit on the bouncy castle? You’ve got my mobile. Tea dance at the vicarage and you need someone to crack open the communion wine? My card. Art aficionados, perhaps you’d like someone to fall over a table of drinks at your private view? I have a taxi on speed-dial. You can throw my trousers in the cab after me. Yes, once that third glass has been poured I am in the grip of a panic that somehow the drink will run out and I’ll be left alone with my thoughts or what passes for them. It’s no way to live and something must be done. Quite apart from the physical damage I’m doing to myself and the psychological damage I’m sustaining from regurgitated self-disgust, I can’t afford it. I’ve been cursed with expensive tastes. In a way it’s lucky I’m poor. If I were rich I’d be a smiling, purple corpse by now. Barney in a coffin.
I’m currently in self-imposed exile from the Land of Cockayne. I’ve rationalised that you need a glass in your hand in order to network effectively, people run scared from mineral water guy, but I’ve rationed the amount of glasses in my hand. It is baby steps as it ever was: clumsy, staggering and holding onto the walls.