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Previously I was bookish, nervous, defensive, twitchy (I had a rapid repetitive blink and a horrible intermittent lip-stretch), infuriatingly talkative (to mask shyness and self-loathing), self-conscious, timid and mean. Smoking it made me miserable and nervous and twitchy again, but selling it – to the kids at school who were even squarer than I was – made me cool, sexy and popular, and funded my drinking.
Just thick, oily hashish ("red seal") of the kind that flooded the London market in the middle Eighties as the Mujahideen ramped up production to fund its defence against the Soviet occupiers.
We'd cane a couple of bottles a night over pasta and a video, but otherwise I expected to wind it down. Finding the job of writing, alone in an office all day, increasingly difficult with the mild brain damage and biliousness that came with my totally harmless and normal lifestyle. Tuesday and Friday afternoons are dead because I'm lunching. Forget about May to July – that's set aside for drinking ice-cold rosé. How long would it take them to realise I wasn't fun anymore? For me, a cold glass of premium lager is not a refreshing sharpener but a gateway drug. I was now ONLY 43, with most of my productive life ahead of me. At first, to a hardened beer drinker this shit tastes like a fat bird's first syrupy piss of the morning. Rule Twelve: Finally: if cornered, if everyone's looking, if you're in danger of being unmasked (like when an undercover agent embedded in the Mafia has to kill a cop to keep his cover), then just have a fucking drink. In fact, in the right hands, it can be rather nice.
We were out of Fleet Street physically, but not yet spiritually. The problem with being drunk all the time is that you end up feeling shit and sleepy at the most inconvenient moments, such as when the night is young and there is booze to be drunk. Still, I eventually calmed down a bit, got some therapy, got a wife, got a kid, got another one on the way, got pretty much off the charlie (when your baby daughter's favourite game is sucking your nose while you change her morning nappy, then the amount of crusted coke, speed, MDMA and strychnine you want still up it from the night before is severely reduced) and was hardly drinking at all. For 10 of those I'd be drunk, then hungover for 10 more. It did occur to me that I could give up drinking, but then what would I do at night? I'd been drinking quite hard, in a nice way, for the last five days and was feeling a bit ropey, so I opened up with a half of Moretti at 2pm to get me on the right track, and then had another every 20 minutes or so for the next five hours so that I was never actually drunk (that's unseemly in a host) but so that I fell asleep at the dinner table later, and in the morning couldn't remember anything about the party at all. The articles I have to write would be done in half of the time. And two months on, pretty much boozeless, I'm chuffed as fuck. I've had the first really good ideas I've had in 10 years. I haven't fucked anyone I shouldn't have, committed any crimes (literally none, including driving and drugs misdemeanours) or cried for the longest continuous period since I was 17. I've got so used to this stuff I literally look forward to opening one. Rule Five: Always have a "meeting" to go to or a "babysitter" to relieve, or a "Doris" to go and shag. You'll be having a drink again soon, like any normal person.
In my first week on a national paper, a senior executive randomly selected me to join him for lunch – a coveted honour. With the third bottle, he said, "I suppose we'd better have something to eat." So he ordered two cheese sandwiches. Seven or eight times the amount recommended by the government as acceptable. Sure, that "settled" relationship I mentioned had ended. My numbers are nothing special, a bit better than Nick Clegg, but not much – and I have only ever done it the first time drunk. So only 10 years left when I would definitely be happy and productive. Except one thing: the arrival at the party of my mate Ben. Always already drunk when he showed up for dinner, even lunch. Tall and good-looking, but had fattened over the years and grown-bloodshot and tired. The books would be fun to plan, more so to execute. One old soak told me, "I tried it once but I couldn't stand it – because when you wake up feeling shit and old and miserable you don't have the booze to blame anymore." So I decided to stop telling people. And if I think of drinking one any earlier than 7pm, I stop and give myself a good talking-to, on the grounds that I'd better wait till I've put my kid to bed. The problem with not drinking, and the glory of it, is that you realise how, as 9pm strikes, all your friends just start repeating themselves. And you'll be tucked up in bed by 9.30pm with a nice book while they get fat, sick and miserable. Geezer palms you a wrap in the pub: go "cheers", slip away to the bogs. Once the cunts have started on the shnozz, they won't even notice you've left. If you never have another drink that makes you a teetotaller. (Indeed, quite often, when I'm doing the ordering-wine-but-not-drinking-it thing in a restaurant, I drink the odd half glass because it's tasty, and to demonstrate to myself that I'm not some tragic AA wipeout.) Rule Ten: Put shit in for Sunday.
We went to a wine bar in Shadwell and he ordered a bottle of Chilean merlot for £14 (fuck all even then). I ate mine, he left his, we ordered one more bottle and were back in the office by 4pm. While my own generation of newcomers to journalism were serious, socially diverse, clean-living paragons of modern media earnestness who ate sandwiches at their desk, drank only water and so never made friends with the big boys and found their copy left to rot forever on the spike, I was comfortable with the lifestyle of the pissed old public-school farts at the top of the chain and rose smoothly. I didn't just drive and party pissed, I worked pissed. I pushed on into restaurant criticism, natural home of the middle-functioning dipso, where I drank freely and for free in a world where, even more than journalism generally, drinking is a badge of honour and non-drinking a mark of shame. But that was because I was a boring, possessive, bullying, fat twat with no self-respect who fell over a lot and snored. Besides there were plenty of PR girls to shag – wahay! In fact, I have never had sex with anyone for the first time sober. Argued with his wife all the time, but unquestionably the most popular guy I know. Always made me feel, even drunk me, a bit friendless and pathetic. The loom of a public-speaking engagement or live telly appearance wouldn't fill me with dread. I told a few people my plans and got a lot of "yeah, right, get back to me in three days". Rule Three: When you're out with your mates, be first to get the rounds in (as I hope you are anyway). Go into a cubicle alone (it doesn't work if everyone's piling in together, obviously), wait two minutes (for added credibility, poke a pencil quite hard up your nose so that five minutes later you get a little trickle of blood running onto your top lip), then come out again and ostentatiously palm the wrap back to him saying, "fucking front-row shit, that, man, nice one". Tell everyone something you've just realised about how society works which is really, really mental. Rule Seven: Eat whatever the fuck you like: cakes, KFC, burgers, pizza… You'll recover your teenage svelteness in three months, eating anything you want. On top of that, not being pissed, you actually don't binge on carbohydrates in the way you used to, so you lose weight that way, too. You only ever ran to clear your head, sweat out the impurities, repair some of the damage and beat yourself up. For all your life, Sunday was a dead day, a place for recovering from Thursday, Friday and Saturday. A whole year of life, free, added now not later, for every six years you live.
It would be going too far to say that I had an unhappy childhood. But off I'd speed, giggling and belching, as the cream of Oxford rolled off my front bumper. Now, with a job to worry about, I started to think it might be time to drop the bottle and get serious about life. The Rules Of The New Boozelessness: Rule One: Don't tell anyone. They'll only either make you vomit with sympathy or tell you you're a poofter.
I had parents who loved me, a comfortable home, good schooling, some aptitude for sport, which got me out in the fresh air, and I never had a major illness, never experienced poverty, tragedy or even real sadness. I was 23 or 24, settled with a girl, a flat, a new car. Except obviously – being in my early forties – waking up more than half of my mornings feeling sick and headachey and depressed. Can't do much on Thursday 'cos I'm out on Wednesday. (Wait, I'm married, I don't do that now.) What would happen to my friends? Not in a self-pitying, monster hangover, if-I-make-big-promises-this-terrible-feeling-might-go-away sort of way. In a moment, that Monday morning, my view of the future turned round. Rule Two: Get in a load of Bavaria zero per cent wheat beer. So expand your interests, push hard with your work, build new things, achieve, create, you're a fucking MACHINE, man, and you can do ANYTHING.
If a friend moved abroad (like Nicky Diamond or Jonathan Nicholas), or was bumped up into the "scholarship class" (like Eddie Keene), or even accelerated a whole year (like Charlie Fulford), then that was that. By the early Nineties, drink-driving was becoming unfashionable and as I staggered out of parties barely able to see, my mates (of whom I now had hundreds thanks to my permanent pissedness and general druggy benevolence) would spread themselves across the bonnet of my car to try and stop me driving away.
but it was only ever two of us, and it rarely lasted longer than a full school year. Each September (after a long and lonely summer), I started from scratch, suffered endless rejection by group after group, and finally mopped up whoever else was left at the end of the line with me, when the big friend-making sessions were over. I was never indispensable to any group's fun and games. I was usually allowed to tag along for a bit because I was intermittently amusing, but pretty soon I became irritating, and was given the cold shoulder – specifically a cold, dark grey, school-uniformed shoulder: literally, the group would close into a circle, and there I'd be, frozen out, wondering how to look like I didn't care, as I wandered off to pick up a stray fellow loser to make friends with. That was an attitude that stayed with me well into my thirties: I learned to drink and to drive at the same time, and the two activities were inextricably linked in my mind. I drank my way through university, like everyone else, the only difference being that I drove everywhere, too.
We would form a bond, huddle together at break time, pretend to be Wombles, Batman and Robin, "Pal" and "Chum" (after the dog foods), Willis and Botham, Starsky and Hutch… Literally, not met a member of the opposite sex apart from my mother and sister. Sunk into the yellow, furry seat-cover, I'd switch on the radio and the heating, light a fag, point her towards my parents' house and step gently on the gas, reckoning that, like a faithful horse, she could find her way home without me. But I smashed a few cars, one kebab shop in Shepherd's Bush and my nose on the steering wheel a couple of times.
Usually it was another undersized, twitching, antisocial loser like myself. But then, in the sixth form, girls arrived at our school. On the way there, requiring courage just to get through the door, I bought a quarter bottle of Smirnoff at the newsagent on the corner, necked it in three gulps and when I woke up on the floor behind a sofa the next morning, I learned that I had stripped to my Y-fronts (with no friends, I had nobody to tell me I should be wearing boxers) and danced in a sailor's hat, taken up smoking, had three fights, done a lot of snogging, now had a girlfriend of eight hours standing, and was the most popular guy in town. When I found it, barely able to walk another step, I'd fall into the front seat and consider myself to all intents and purposes "home".Tags: Adult Dating, affair dating, sex dating