You perhaps, like me, might drive a car of a certain vintage. The sort of car built in the late 1990s for executives that were not very good. The type of vehicle typically used to ferry desperate salesmen around in their pointless quest to sell advertising space in primary coloured telephone directories.
If you are, like me, unfortunate enough to drive a pile of hideous, embarrassing, ageing shit like this then you will be familiar with strange little warning lights coming on in the dashboard. You will know from habit that you can fix some of the problems associated with the lights by using your professional engineering skills (ie switching the vehicle off and on). When this does not work, you must then decide which lights need action and which need a piece of black insulation tape placed over them until they eventually go out of their own accord, presumably out of boredom. You will know that the one shaped like a quaint 1950’s Oil Can must not be ignored or taped over, whereas the one that is shaped like a giant balloon on a seat can be treated with the utter contempt it’s ridiculous image deserves.
A warning light went on in my head just after my fortieth birthday, a birthday that although technically was on the twelfth, saw me drinking almost nonstop from the eighth to the sixteenth. It included a mammoth lunchtime Saturday that continued through the night into a Sunday morning I wanted to last forever. The warning this metaphorical light was conveying was “stop drinking” It has been on for a while now and I think it is one of the ones that cannot be ignored.
In mitigation, I’m not making out I’m Oliver Reed - I’ve never had the money or the time to follow the Harris’s, Richards, Ryders and O’Tooles. I would say my behaviour over the last 25 years has been under control, albeit with missed days, missed opportunities. I am the owner of a small business and I am not what you might call a “day drinker”. However, I am (despite also being a runner and in 2011 a triathlete), a prolific and prodigious binge drinker of disturbing proportions.
I decided to canvas the opinion of a few friends, a sort of “friends focus group” as to what they thought of this idea. Opinion ranged from “possibly your shittest ever idea” to outright incredulity and disbelief.
Stephen Fry , talking about one of his evenings at The Groucho, remembered leaving one night:
“Someone was trying to persuade me to stay for one more. I knew I had filming the next day so I refused” he recalled. “Francis Bacon said to me: “you have a little man don’t you? You have a little man, who lives in your head and tells you when it’s time to stop. Be thankful for that little man. Greater men have fallen through lack of one”.
I have certainly not got a little man. We all know a “me”. People like me are not capable of going to the pub for a couple of pints then standing up and saying “that’s me gents” and walking home whistling, perhaps stopping off to buy some flowers for our loved ones. People like me go out for a couple of pints on a work night and end up lowering our confused bodies out of a parked up train in some moonlit rural siding at 4:30am. We find ourselves awoken by the morning sunlight, climbing out of a hedge behind a row of carpet shops on a retail park. We sometimes wake in cells, or worse, in hospitals, our forefingers decorated with little wires leading to machines that go “beep”. We piss our pants, beds, sofas, wardrobes, handbags and laundry baskets. We also piss the beds sofas, wardrobes, handbags and laundry baskets of others. We go for lunch that turns into dinner that turns into a nightclub that turns into not being able to face the next day so turns into lunch again. We keep going, sometimes ploughing on for days.
We love the big event, us bingers. Some events, like Christmas, mean we can be legitimately on it constantly, for days on end. The modern three day stag weekend has also legitimised our unbridled excesses. In the last fifteen years I have seen off more stags than a Scottish gamekeeper. This includes at least two stags where they didn’t really know me, but wanted me on board, such was my reputation for being a big drunken Silly Billy.
Sport, from both a spectator and participant perspective has long been a gigantic canvas for piss artists like me to paint masterpieces. From Wembley to Twickenham to Cheltenham to Ascot and The Oval, the season or the class of event is not important. What is important is getting on it.
Playing rugby meant four things for me – Annual Rugby Tour, Annual Rugby Dinner, drinking after the game and playing Rugby. Actually, scratch the last. Recently, sports hitherto untainted by the spectre of post match drinking have been corrupted by my presence. Last year I got a personal best of 1:48 half marathon time and promptly got so drunk with some of my fellow athletes that I couldn’t remember going home or how I got there, once again piecing it all together the next day with the help of others.
I wouldn’t want to paint a bleak picture, because it would be a misrepresentation of a life with booze. Booze can be amazing. Some of (probably all of) my favourite, funniest, sexiest and amazing moments have been under the influence and I would not swap the last twenty five years of boozing for twenty five years of sobriety. It would have been utterly shit. If you can control it, then carry on, it’s fucking great. I doubt I could have got over the death of my father and the collapse of my previous business without using it as a release. But for me it has to stop and as I am not capable of controlling it, this means it has, for now, to stop for good. At my age, with my responsibilities, something has to give.
There comes a time when I just don’t think it’s a dignified and edifying sight - a drunk forty year old businessman giggling on the train or dancing like Simon Callow’s four weddings character at any given disco. In addition, my hangovers have become very consistent for delivering canyons of depression. Now, after every binge, I stare intensely into the abyss and one day I think I know that I will stare too deeply. Heavy drinkers are apparently six times more likely to kill themselves.
Amazingly, the reaction of friends to my decision to fully give up booze has been really really positive. Not really. I decided to canvas the opinion of a few friends, a sort of “friends focus group” as to what they thought of this idea. Opinion ranged from “possibly your shittest ever idea” to outright incredulity and disbelief. Had I unzipped the front of my body to reveal a man sized lizard underneath I am sure they would have been less stunned. This is Britain in the 21st Century, where to not drink is unusual and frowned upon. I’m genuinely sad that few people have done what I would have liked them to do, which was to pat me on the back and say “fair enough mate, good luck”.
I don’t think I will have to be abstinent forever – I think I just need to rebuild my attitude, especially towards self control. I think this is going to take at least a year and it’s going to be one of the oddest years of my life. The party is over, or perhaps only just begun. Who knows?
Click here for more stories about Life
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Twitter
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Facebook