Bit of back story here. Not all that funny either, but at least it demonstrates we can pull something out of the bag if pushed.
Of all the relationships I’ve ever had, perhaps the most difficult is the one I still hold with the booze. It’s pretty shit, to be frank, and I didn’t choose it either. My namesake grandfather died of it before I was born, as did my own father indirectly, and it will probably see me off prematurely if the snout doesn’t get me first. Its claws are pan-generational, way outside the boundaries of logic and reason, and conveniently, a quick re-read of the above somehow absolves me of any absolute guilt, thereby allowing me to persevere with more of the same in order to write dispassionately about it. As if that makes it okay. The obvious, entry-level question filed by those close enough to be concerned, is this:
‘Do you drink alone?’
And the most honest answer I can give is:
‘Yes, I do. I drink alone out of preference. Because then, finally, the ever-present critical voices (which extend into every cranny of my existence) shut up long enough for me to be able to do the things I actually care about. Until I go down the opposite slope and couldn’t give a toss any more. Can I get you a top up?’
It’s not what they want to hear. And those I’ve upset along the path (trust me, there have been a few) will see it as a romanticised excuse, along the lines of Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited, very much the architect of his own downfall despite every gift life bestowed upon him.
Someone kindly gave me a book last Christmas. Called ‘The Trip To Echo Spring’ by Olivia Laing, it discusses the troubled link so many writers have with the demon grog. Not that I have ever considered myself a bona fide writer, and thereby lies the problem. The very term has such powerful connotations that the unsure are crippled at the starting blocks, pitifully reliant on whatever it takes to be taken seriously. Until the crutch becomes counterproductive, by which time it’s usually too late. Between these, I walk a fine line: If that glorious moment ever comes about when something I have created becomes a thing, I’ll probably be too mullered to notice. But maybe you will, and I’d be grateful if you could let me know. We’ve been around the block together for nearly four years. You owe me.
I have a rule. When I spew this stuff out, usually late at night and alongside a bottle of Pinot, I resist the temptation to hit the publish button until the following morning. Because, no matter how cathartic it may seem at the time, the unforgiving light of a new day will invariably reveal my incisive efforts to be little more than a muddled, steaming pile of cack. But ask yourselves something: You’re reading this. Does that mean it’s through quality control, or am I slumped comatose over the return key?
I’ll leave that one with you.
Ever tried to sell yourself? Seriously, have you? You’d think it would be relatively straightforward, seeing as you’re pretty much up to speed with all things you, and it should be just a question of getting the good bits in line, right? Well, I beg to differ. This week I’ve been trying to put together a book proposal for literary publishers and agents, and it’s like pulling bloody teeth. Using a crib sheet downloaded from one of the Bloomsbury fat cats, I somehow managed to get through the early parts unscathed. But then they wheeled in the heavy artillery:
Q) Please outline the main pedagogical feature you plan to include.
A) Hmm…It’s a funny blog I want done as a book. That’s it. And the only pedagogical feature I can think of is that it serves as some kind of a caveat.
It gets worse:
Q) Where do you see the main markets for the book, e.g. UK/Canada/Europe/Australasia etc? Please provide any information that would help us promote it in specific markets, e.g. international case studies/contributors/author profile/possible endorsements.
A) Hold on, isn’t that what you do? It’s not like I go round to WC1 and say ‘I’m having issues with a recalcitrant paragraph, could you sort it for me’, is it? Or tap you for meals I had in the local café whilst attempting to sound coherent online. My remit is to write the stuff, yours is to put it out there. Surely?
But seeing as I’ve had diddly squit published in my life, maybe it’s time I learnt to play ball. The possible endorsements bit is simple, I’ll just make a call to New Zealand and be the acceptable face of the next thin-skinned grape juice they export. It’s just, well, how exactly are you supposed to know where your main markets are if it’s not out there yet? Perhaps I’ll develop the Downton Abbey effect in the Ukraine (by the way, hello Ukraine stats person. Could you let me know what my USP may or may not be in your country? I’m afraid I haven’t a clue. And good luck with Vladimir), or nag the two people I know in North Carolina indefinitely until they set up an injunction.
It’s not in the nature of creative types to do hard sell. That’s why we have agents and managers and accountants. The whole crux of this symbiosis hinges on the left brain/right brain theory, both parties doing what they do best in order to achieve a mutually beneficial end result. I could no more flog the fluff I put out than eat my own earwax, and that’s as it should be. But it works both ways. If they find me butt naked on a carpet somewhere, dribbling and babbling incoherent nonsense, I shall remind them it is my duty as an artist to push the envelope. So they don’t have to.
I have a distant memory of my mother’s bathroom in the 1970s. I’m pretty sure it had turquoise carpet throughout (right up to the unit borders), and around the bath itself was a set of those mirrors which disappeared into infinity. I mention these because I’ve never seen anything similar since, and it did strike me at the time that they were curious things to have at all: The very notion that anyone would willingly install a primitive version of CCTV, seeking out and exposing every unsightly crevice the human body can muster, brutally illuminated under the unforgiving scrutiny of a 150W bulb encased inside an upside-down jelly mould, did seem rather odd. But, to be fair, I was only about eight. At that age, you get things wrong.
I hadn’t, though. This last Bank Holiday weekend saw me ensconced with fine friends in an Edinburgh AirB&B. It had one bathroom and yes, in what probably was a nod to the retro accoutrements of yesteryear, it also had the very same fitted mirrors. Which meant I could see my own sorry bottom snaking into the distance more times than I would care to discuss. The horrors did not stop there. When was the last time you had a proper look at your own body in its entirety? Not recently, I’d wager. As I wrestled with the shower head, and made silent prayer that the glass would steam up smartly under the surge of its own revulsion, I noted that the ageing process had effectively morphed my once relatively well-proportioned frame into something out of Lord of the Rings.
The torso looked like an afterthought. Squat, pushing out in areas I previously didn’t know existed and, to these eyes, shamefully unaesthetic, it sat uncomfortably above two vulgar flesh potatoes, crushed mercilessly out of shape by the passage of time and the ongoing onslaught of Marlborough Pinot Noir. Not being load-bearing in their own right, the buttocks had clearly begged the legs below for reinforcement, but sadly to no avail. Consequently, some not inconsiderable subsidence was evident at the join, probably worthy of one of those Heritage grants if I’d got my act together. To say nothing of the hilarious thinning pin that balanced precariously on top of all the above. The whole bloody shooting match was a David Attenborough documentary on the decline of Western human anatomy, realised in Kinder Egg Surprises. And directed by ISIS.
Now, I know we’re all supposed to accept the inevitable deterioration of the body as standard. That the vanity of youth should disappear in a plume of dust if one has any dignity whatsoever. But if you could have seen what I saw in those ridiculous mirrors, I do honestly believe you might think again. When confronted with the genuinely shocking, we tend to be genuinely shocked. As I was. Which is why, from now on, I shall be taking my showers in the dark.
It’s harder than you think, being your own boss. Try it sometime and see for yourselves. Traditionally I have been pathetic at organising my day, which is why I usually get other people to do it for me and hopefully throw in a few quid at the same time. But right now, I’m out of the plane without a chute and unless I sort something out pretty quick, I’ll be land pizza before you know it. There are, however, little tricks you can employ to create the illusion of structure, some of which I shall outline below for anyone in the same predicament:
1) The old ‘leaving the flat’ ruse is a bit of fun – Get dressed in a hurry, swig down a mouthful of instant coffee (leaving the rest) and, if you’re feeling bold, give yourself a quick peck on the cheek. Then walk around the block a couple of times and come back in, panting and complaining bitterly about the inefficiency of whichever rail network you weren’t on.
2) Create a few formal breaks. These will prevent you from atrophying at the computer and provide the added bonus of allowing you to catch up with all the latest gossip. It’s important to stay in the loop.
3) The Reward System, albeit rather primitive, is a great incentiviser. That call you made to Virgin Media Customer Services took a while, right? Have a sweetie. Made it through thirty emails about erectile dysfunction and/or PPI? Have another sweetie. Anything whatsoever to do with the Inland Revenue or TfL? Crack open a bottle of single vineyard Central Otago Pinot Noir. Actually, make that two.
4) Stay focused. Tempting though it may be to stray with another episode of Inside Health and discover you’ve probably got shingles/leg ulcers/something irritable going on with your bowel, you’ll only spend the rest of the day on the med sites and give yourself PTSD to boot.
5) Draw the curtains. Because the people you can see outside are almost certainly having more fun than you, will be rich in Vitamin D and couldn’t give a monkey’s that your delete key has packed up again. For them, life is one big picnic. For you, it’s an eternal game of chess. Against Magnus Carlsen.
6) Nothing of interest will come through your letterbox and no-one of interest will ring the doorbell. Ever. Hold your nerve.
7) Facebook and Twitter are not your friends. They are the Trojan horses of the internet, willingly invited into the workplace where they bed in and beckon, stealing your time and reason. Like Mata Hari. With cats and babies.
After these, you’ll need an endpoint. Something to neurotransmit a strong signal to the brain, telling it to pack in the chores and loosen up a little. Sex, recreational drugs, alcohol and repetitive pop tunes have always been popular with the young, but if, like me, you find yourself in your twilight years, The Archers seems to work okay. In conjunction with the above.
Remember last year? Me neither, which is the predominant reason I churn out this self-indulgent effluent every week. So that, in a quiet moment of the day when the wine fog has lifted, I can claw back clues as to my activities over the last three and a half years, and make out I have near-perfect recall. Yes, like that bloke out of Neighbours (what was his name?) in Memento. So, imagine my surprise when I discovered I had attended the Glastonbury festival. Quite willingly, apparently. Can that be right? And why on earth would I have agreed to such a thing, being as I am rather ancient and unsuitably constructed for the al fresco activities of youth?
I dug a little deeper, only to find out that, to my horror, I am going again in June. And that I have already shelled out perfectly good moolah for the privilege. What fresh hell is this? If ever there was a deterrent to the perils of Pinot… Anyway, my fate being sealed thus, I thought it prudent to at least find out exactly who I shall be forced to watch, and in narratively convenient fashion, the organisers announced yesterday that someone called Kanye West will be headlining on the big stage. Kanye West? Who the shoo is she? I thought it was a holiday destination for wealthy folk, somewhere near the Keys in Florida. And whilst I realise I no longer fit the festival demographic, you’d think they could at least meet me half way: The Bay City Rollers still have a bit of spunk left, and young people can mock them on the Twitter if they get bored.
Seeing as I already had my detective hat on, I discreetly asked my niece to get me up to speed, ignorance being no excuse in these matters:
Poppy: Are you for real?
Me: Yes, I think so.
Poppy: No, I mean you’ve never heard of Kanye West???
Me: I haven’t. Does that make me a bad person?
Poppy: He’s only the biggest rapper in the world!
Me: Rapper, you say?
Poppy: Yes, rapper! And he’s married to Kim Kardashian. Keep up!
Me: Kim who?
Poppy: Oh for God’s sake! Kardashian! With the massive arse.
Poppy: You really don’t know, do you?
Me: I’m afraid not.
Poppy: Have you been living under a rock for the last ten years?
Me: Of course not. But wasn’t she at Glastonbury last year with her band?
Poppy: That was Kasabian!
Me: Is there a difference?
Poppy: I’ve got to go now…
So, none the wiser then. But at least I’ve gleaned that this Kanye chap has a wife with a big bottom, which will surely hold me in good stead when I’m standing in a Somerset field, knee-deep in mud and surrounded by children who know who he is. What was it again? Kim something? I wonder if she’s from North Korea.
In May 2013, I made an appointment with a certain Dr Nunn for a routine blood test. Apparently you’re meant to do this sort of thing when the ratio of your years left on the planet versus years already used up, tips unfavourably towards the latter. I made light of any reasoning behind it, of course, suggesting that my request was purely investigative and of no great consequence. However, Dr Nunn is no fool. Looking straight past the saffron-tinted jellies through which I decipher the world and deep into the very core of my being, he offered me a seat next to the computer. Then he made me wait. For eons.
Time slows down to a crawl when you know you’ve been rumbled. The skinny document containing my records was theatrically scrutinised, and accusatory glances from over the top of his half-moon glasses were staged for maximum gravitas. I knew what was coming next:
Dr Nunn: Smoker?
Me: Er…Not really. The occasional puff, perhaps.
Dr Nunn: How many?
Me: Hmm…Depends on my week, I suppose! (laughs nervously)
Dr Nunn: I’ll put you down for twenty. Sound about right?
Me: Absolutely. (rapid blinking)
Dr Nunn: What about alcohol? How many units per week?
Me: Units? I’m not really sure, to be honest. How do you…
Dr Nunn: Someone of your age should be looking at no more than one or two small glasses of wine a night. Preferably with breaks in between. The liver isn’t a miracle worker.
Me: I see. I think it would be fair to say I do drink a little more than that. Not always, and I do try to keep it to…
Dr Nunn: I need a straight answer. Or we’re both wasting each others time, aren’t we?
Me: Yes, I’m sorry. Well, on the odd occasion it has been known for me to get through half a bottle of red wine in the evening, and sometimes a beer or two.
Dr Nunn: How often?
Me: Every night.
Dr Nunn: No more than that?
Me: No. (swallows)
Dr Nunn: Right, I need you to come back next week. Give this in at reception, they’ll make another appointment for you.
Me: Thanks very much for…
Dr Nunn: Goodbye.
I looked down at the printout thrust into my hand. There, in a little box marked ‘Relevant Clinical Details’ was the evidence statisticians and the red tops pay top dollar for, no doubt to keep social pariahs such as myself out of the surgeries: ‘Screen: High Alcohol.’ And it works. Because I never went back. If half a bottle of pinot and a hop-based aperitif counts as alcohol abuse, my return visit would have seen Dr Nunn strapping me into some kind of detox seat, like Alex from A Clockwork Orange, forcing me to watch endless loops of waterfalls and Bavarian milkmaids until I recanted my feckless ways. Do me a favour…