Pool Fulla Liquor Pt 3



It's Wednesday today. 



I'm hungover. 



Not a completely incapacitated hungover. I'm the level of hangover where i can take thoughts by the hand and toddle them to a conclusion, but my sight. If i don't make a choice on what to focus on my vision doesn't hang attentively in the middle-distance, it blurs into a soup of light and shadow. I've drunk so much water to flush out the alcohol that i need to relieve myself every twenty minutes, which is a drag. And still my mouth is dry like a desert at three in the afternoon. This has become an ordeal.






A pretty good state in which to finally conclude my trilogy on alcohol. I wrote the first part fifteen months ago, in the grips of sobriety. The second part this time last year, having jumped off the wagon at high speed, and now the denouement, one year on, sitting here staring out of the window at summer unrobing herself, sozzled, fed up, and in fervent need of unsozzling.


I don't have a problem with alcohol. 



Honestly.



*


In the first two parts, which you can read here and here, i detailed the stages i passed through in the aftermath of giving up drinking. First came the unbearable smugness of waking up on the right side of the bed, not just on the odd morning, but permanently, without a trace of hangover. Of seeing people in supermarket aisles with shopping baskets laden with tinnies, and shaking my head disdainfully as i watched them throwing their lives away. Of turning into a sanctimonious dick. Of increased productivity levels, increased self confidence, of glass half-fullness. I was the me i wanted to be.







But the thing is, it didn't continue. After four weeks the novelty wore off. The mist cleared, and the abyss that had been there in front of me all along revealed itself. And i realised why we drink. I think we drink to not feel alone. Over night, my self-satisfaction had morphed into something very sinister. As if loneliness had crept up behind solitude and tapped him in the shoulder discreetly. My turn. And they had switched places. It still felt like me against the world, but my outlook was no longer one of defiance, as it had been when i was basking in the glow of my own righteousness sipping San Pellegrino. It was one of fear.



I was alone.



It wasn't that i needed to be with people, it was more in the sense of an awareness of the crushingness of how totally alone i was. Every single thought process which led to another thought process which led to another, was mine alone. If i had employed someone to a permanent position of listening to me speak my mind for twenty-four hours a day, an ocean would still have remained present between us. Which led me to feel an ocean away from everyone.







The wool had been pulled back from my eyes, and i saw what was actually going on. Without the drink, the distraction, the mood-altering elixir, i was forced to sit there with my demons. Instead of reaching for a pint whenever things got heavy, i had to welcome in my darkest thoughts and sit in them. I had to meet and greet the worst parts of myself and befriend them. Just a little something to take the edge off please. But i didn't have access to that. And i learnt that a lime cordial doesn't take the edge off. At all.



That first plunge into a cold, crisp, obscure craft beer, medium-hopped, easy-drinking, the one with that cool lick of condensation running down the outside of the glass, invaded my dreams. 







I read somewhere that we ask ourselves the wrong questions. The question is not why do we drink. The question is why aren't we all lying on street corners drowning ourselves in booze around the fucking clock. The question is not why do we get anxious. The question is why aren't people terrified out of their skulls every second of every day to the point where they can't even move. Anxiety isn't a mystery. The mystery is how we ever achieve brief spells of calm. The point of drinking is to relieve us momentarily from the unbearable suffering of being alive.


And so the second month of my sobriety was characterised by a month-long depression. I had broken the shell, and i stared out across the cinders of the world with naked eyes. I got up to 8 espressos a day, my San Pellegrino intake quadrupled, and i went into isolation. I no longer looked down on drunks, i envied them. They had taken what i so coveted, and i was jealous. Swilling their cheap malbec and baring their sediment-stained teeth, they laughed at me.



*



My mate Tom said that when he stopped boozing, he didn't miss the drinking so much. What he missed was the binge-drinking. He missed the oblivion. Some people need an escape from their brain much more than others. In his brilliant autobiography The Story Of The Streets, Mike Skinner, no stranger to self-destruction, said the following:




That’s why i insist that my psychic deterioration was down to a lack of drink and drugs, rather than anything else. As bad as those things might be for your longterm health, they’re still down-time. Which someone who gets as caught up in his own head as i do, desperately needs.


I had drawn back the curtain, and i was encountering exactly what it was to be caught up in my own head, all the time. I had eliminated the most obvious, in your face, socially acceptable, by far and away most entertaining way of achieving down-time, and in its absence i was left pacing the floor of a room without an exit, and the inescapable, slowly creeping feeling that...



This is all there is.



Once i'd processed this, i came out of my depression. And my hangover from it, was this fundamental understanding of how alone we all are. Totally and completely alone inside the prison of our own minds, going over and over and over the same thought processes, the same ways of seeing the world, the same anxiety and paranoia and the same fear of never being enough. Small wonder we need a fucking drink now and again. These are mood-altering substances for a species in desperate need of having their moods altered.







I lasted another couple of months, with less and less enthusiasm, and one Friday i went for dinner with a friend in Soho, sat through a litre of Highland Spring, something in me broke, i screamed E N O U G H  O F  T H I S  M I S E R Y and went and got annihilated. I've never looked back.



*


I said before that the whole experience of giving up drinking was one of the most confusing things i've ever done. The reason it left me so confused was because i didn't learn anything from it. Well i kind of did and i kind of didn't. But strangely the lessons i did learn seemed to vanish into the ether pretty quickly. The whole exercise had some point to it, whilst simultaneously proving in the end somehow pointless. Like a joke that you get, but just don't find funny.







I have a feeling it belongs in the company of those lessons we have to learn over and over again a number of times in our lives, because we'll keep forgetting them. The clarity that sobriety brought was terrifying, i preferred the murky lie. I still do. The truly insidious thing about alcohol is that it is blinding. It blinds us to the truths waiting there for us to stare them square in the face, but don't have the courage to. Mental discomfort is an alarm bell signalling we're getting closer to the stuff that truly needs our attention. But who the hell wants to go there when you can shuffle down to your local instead. As Giles Coren said...


Alcohol is addling the brain and persuading people in awful jobs with dreary lives that everything is okay and there is no need to get up and challenge their status quo.



*



I never thought sobriety would be so difficult. I never thought i'd have to get so lost to find myself. And then realise i preferred being lost. I never thought i'd have to start drinking again to save myself from being sober. And more than anything, that alcohol has very little to do with any of it in the first place. 


The tough thing about booze is that it's the angel and the devil. The beautiful and the lethal in equal measure. And life without it is a bore. Of course, there is such a thing as drinking for pleasure. There is such a thing as moderation. But those who don't admit that line is a blurry one are probably the ones who need the most help. Or just another drink.



In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway wrote:






When i stopped working on the races i was glad, but it left an emptiness. By then i knew that everything good and bad left an emptiness when it stopped. But if it was bad the emptiness filled up by itself. If it was good, you could only fill it by finding something better.



You could only fill it by finding something better.



*



That's about it really.



Am I a Clown Pt 1





In one of the great scenes in GoodFellas Henry Hill, Tommy DeVito, Tony Stacks, Frankie Carbone and a few others are sat round the table in The Bamboo Lounge, drinking. Tommy is recounting getting a beat down administered to him by the feds and has the rest of the table in stitches. He finishes his story and Henry, in between hysterics, tells him what a funny guy he is.



What you mean i'm funny?



In the blinking of an eye the mood switches.






Funny how? What's funny about it? Am I a clown? I make you laugh? Am I hear to fucken amuse you?



It's just the way you tell the story, Henry protests. It's.... funny.



*



It's just the way you tell the story.



Some time back in the noughties my brother and i found ourselves on Shaftesbury Avenue a little bit past midnight, having just been to a gig in the West End, waiting for the night bus to take us home from Piccadilly. Just by the bus stop, opposite the old Trocadero which is now a fancy cinema, stands one of those late night pizza takeaway outlets. With no bus in sight and both peckish my brother thought it'd be a touch to get a pizza for the ride home. By the time we'd paid the number 19 was upon us, and pizza box in hand, we headed up to the top deck to soak in the panoramic backdrop of a twinkling London night as we gorged.






We made quick work of the first two slices as the Routemaster trundled along Piccadilly and down the hill towards Hyde Park Corner. It was a hot summer night and i opened one of the small windows to let some air in, weary of stinking out the top deck with the smell of pepperoni. After the third slice our greed showed signs of waning, and by the time we reached the Kings Road our stomachs were signalling that all down there was tip-top, and maybe even in danger of tipping over.


Chelsea's main artery lay empty. As the night bus rattled down it ramping up to speeds it could only have dreamt of whilst paralysed in daytime traffic, a last lonely slice of tepid double pepperoni lay languishing in the corner of the box, and my brother offered it to me. I'm done, i said. What happened next follows such a strange turn of events that it needs to be broken down into stages and relayed in the present tense.






T U R N  o f  E V E N T S


1. Displaying a logic that to this day i struggle to comprehend, my brother gathers up the slice of pizza, and showing a snap of the wrist familiar only to ardent frisbee enthusiasts, launches it out of the window of the moving bus.


2. I follow the trajectory of the pizza backwards as it flies through the night sky away from us, pulled downwards all the while by its gravity.


3. A man is standing by a lamp post just outside the big Marks & Spencer.


4. The pizza's odyssey through the night sky comes to an end and finds a resting place, slapping hard against it, sticking to it.


5. That resting place is the man's face.


6. Signals begin to forge a path from my retina along my optic nerve in the direction of my visual cortex, and the realisation of what exactly has just happened begins to dawn on me.


*


You know those high-speed trains that scare the life out of you as they careen through train stations with no intention of stopping, breaking the sound barrier as they go. Imagine if laughter was said-station. And if laughter was such a station, then watching a man getting slapped in the face by a slice of pizza thrown from the window of a moving bus was that high-speed train. This juggernaut wasn't stopping at laughter. It was never going to stop there. Whatever was going on in my brain, laughter was an insufficient way of processing what had just taken place. 



*



7. In a split second i went from perception to computation, leapfrogging laughter like evolution had never cared to dream it up, and something else happened, something deeper and more meaningful.


8. I shat myself.






9. Aggressively.


10. Then and there, sitting on top of that night bus on that balmy evening of late summer, as a tide of heat began to move across the seat under me, my life took a strange turn.


My brother, who had been oblivious to the world since launching the pizza out of the window only seconds before, looked at the expression on my face and asked me what the hell was up. I don't remember what i replied. I remember the feeling that washed over me as the smell of pepperoni on the top-deck was usurped by a different one. I remember the last four stops on the route 19 taking ten lifetimes. I remember the five minute walk back from the bus-stop that became a fifteen minute improvised shuffle. I remember tears in the shower, binning my favourite Y-fronts, i remember going to bed with the light on. I left a part of me behind on that bus.





I want to be very clear. There's the expression i pissed myself laughing or at a stretch that was so funny i shat myself. But what happened didn't happen because i laughed so hard. There was no laughter. The pizza hit the guy in the face, my eyes opened very wide for a split-second as i harnessed all the visual information i could, and i straight-up soiled myself. No sound came out of my mouth.


I want to speak to a doctor about this. Can things be so funny that your central nervous system encounters system overload, and you lose control of your insides so totally that your only recourse is to shit yourself. Evolution has a reason for everything. 


*


That's my best story. 



I have another one about cycling into the Regent's canal without meaning to, but i think the night bus pizza story tops canal-gate. The reason i told it at such length is because it's a case-study. A precursor to some things i want to say about the distinction between content and delivery. Because the thing is, i can't tell that story half as well as i can write it. Content vs delivery. Sometimes content is so good that delivery is secondary. But rarely i think. This is the first part of an investigation into story-telling, the power of oratory, how maybe what we say doesn't matter as much as how we say it.



Nabokov, the guy who wrote Lolita, once said...






I think like a genius, i write like a distinguished author, and i speak like a child.



*



Hot on the heels of this will be part 2, where i talk about story-telling traditions, stand-up comedy, history's greatest orators, and i wonder if you can actually tell anybody anything if you only say it in the right way. In the words of Henry Hill sitting there in The Bamboo Lounge, cold-sweating, protesting his innocence and the best of his intentions to Tommy DeVito...





It's just the way you tell the story.





Blind Faith



A lot of my homeys are having babies. 



When i say homeys, i mean fellow men. I suppose they're not having babies exactly, women have babies, men become fathers. At around one in the afternoon on the first Wednesday of December, my brother became a father for the first time. Seeing someone so close to me go through something so heavy is very hard to describe, harder still to understand. To say it was amazing is a waste of a word, i haven't really digested it yet. For him it was so heavy it was overwhelming, for my folks and me it was overwhelmingly joyous, but it was also a reminder about how little any human being really knows about anything.



Especially the serious stuff.






My contemporaries going through the process of having kids is for me the most clear-cut sign of how everyone is styling every single thing out to the absolute Nth degree. No-one knows what they're doing. They just pretend they do. I wrote here about how my parents didn't have a clue what they were doing when they got married. And yet somehow they're still together. Seeing the expression on my brother's face in the hospital room hours after he became a father was a reminder that most of the time in life, you have to make a decision and then adapt to the results. That's the reality. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and step out into the abyss with nothing but blind faith to hold your hand.







Which is scary as hell, but not nearly as scary as doing the opposite. Making no decision at all. 



The sinister place Dr Seuss called The Waiting Place.






So plunge into the decision we do. 



Does it get any easier. Two award-winning docs following my man Guy through the process of becoming a pop paint the same bleak picture, and would suggest that no, no it doesn't get any easier whatsoever.







But obviously having a child is far from bleak, that wasn't my point. The reason i started this post talking about homeys is because it concerns the male response to parenthood. Like much of life, females have a head start on us brothers, being that they are more involved in the natural side of the world. Pregnancy for men is pretty abstract, i mean they go through none of the hormonal fireworks associated with the mother, they hear about cravings and feign a raised eyebrow and mumble something like... vanilla ice cream again, how interesting.


Post-birth they also find themselves at the shallow end of the utility-pool, because they don't have breasts. Turns out breast-feeding is about more than just nutrition. It's skin to skin contact, eye to eye gaze, the rocking is an embodiment of rhythm, it forms the beginning of the establishment of the relationship. And breast-feeding even produces children with higher IQs. But pops miss out on all of this. Instead they look on quizzically, pretend to be taking it in, and then balls up the first 53 nappy changes.






A new father would be much better placed to tell you this stuff. But in his defence, while some women don't feel maternal at all, the maternal instincts of some men are off the charts. Shortly after Mary was born, my father described how he saw my brother connecting to her with a type of totally animal intuition, emanating from both his heart and his body. Maybe men with more evolved emotional centres find a way of connecting with their newborns in a way other men find harder, i don't know.



My brother said he always wanted to have a girl. 



He says right at the beginning the idea freaked him out. But when they found out pretty early on in the pregnancy that she was going to be a she, he said he much preferred the idea. He'd heard about how men have more issues with boys, how a daughter is the apple of her father's eye. I also have a sneaking suspicion that, more so than a boy, he felt like a daughter would be more of a protector, and my brother quite likes company.







I don't have a girlfriend and with one sorry exception i can't remember the last time i went on a date, so i'm pretty far from the following predicament. But personally, the idea of being a father to a daughter makes me really quite scared, like almost queasy. And try as i might i can't get to the bottom of it. I have a feeling the reason is a bit more complex than sports, something a little deeper than Peter Griffin's moment of dawning realisation in the maternity ward.







I think it's to do with how little i understand women. 



Add in some Freudian stuff, sprinkled with my belief in the matriarchal setup of the world, that how contrary to our delusions women run shit, they control everything, but at a much deeper level than equal pay etc. Nature is female, women carry life inside them, men are tools, that kind of thing. And the weird idea that this figure of dominance, this embodiment of feminine power, would be so tiny and helpless but i think just pretending to be, doesn't convince me at all. Perhaps it's something to do with that thing that we never really escape the womb. Despite what we might think, we're all kinda still in there.



Like Hesse's quote about trees rustling.







A longing to wander tears my heart when i hear the trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, the longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one's suffering, though it may seem so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home.



*


There's a French-Canadian film called The Barbarian Invasions. About a man diagnosed with a terminal illness, and it follows the last few months of his life surrounded by his family and his mistresses. It's a pretty serious film, heart-breaking but also hilarious. There's a scene right at the end, where our man is almost on his deathbed, when he receives a satellite video message from Sylvaine his daughter, who is on a boat stranded out in the Southern ocean, unable to get back to see her pop, knowing she will never get the chance to see him again. It's a goodbye. 






When casting the role of the daughter, who appears just once in the whole film in this scene, the actress Isabelle Blais recorded herself doing a read-through and sent it by email to the director Denys Arcand. He recounts that when he saw it for the first time, he broke down in tears, sobbing uncontrollably. And once he'd recovered, he called her to say the part was hers.



This is part of her monologue.



It's been too long since i last saw you. My daddy. My papuschka. I'll have missed you my whole life. Tell yourself that i'm a happy woman. That i've found my place. I don't know how you did it, but you managed to pass on your lust for life, you and Mum raised incredibly strong children. It's a miracle really. 



And then she goes straight for the jugular.



I don't want to ruin it, just watch it.







I had to put the clip on youtube cos it didn't exist, and just editing it reduced me to a blubbering wreck.



It's basically the opposite of Peter Griffin in the maternity ward. It made me think the real reason why i'm so freaked out about maybe having a baby girl one day, that perhaps i wouldn't think twice about were it not a girl, is that the stakes are too high. There's something about the bond between a father and a daughter that sits right at the top of the cake. You don't mess with it. Like, what is stronger in human nature than that. Her looking up at him, him looking back down at her. It's totally different to father-son, it's more hardcore it seems to me, it might be the single most precious dynamic that exists. And so perhaps rightly so, it scares the shit out of me. 



I think i'm afraid my hypothetical daughter will see right through me. She'll realise what a deficient human being i am, erring and bumbling and fucking things up. And what's more she'd be female. Those strange beings i uphold as radically dominant to men in almost every way. I couldn't hide from her. 



*



My mate Alfie has a five year old daughter called Iris. He told me the other day that although he didn't think he would be the type of person to admit this, Iris is his best mate in the whole world. He says he tells her all the time. And he said if it came down to it, he'd hang out with her above anyone else.



He also said this. 







Whatever veiled moments of glory life might throw our way from time to time, they sure as hell won't come about as a result of inaction. Life demands that we live it forward. This whole thing about my friends becoming parents being an act of blind faith, seeing my brother with Mary and the emotions she's brought him even just over the course of the five short weeks of her life so far, me freaking out about the idea of being a dad to a little girl one day, they're all examples of the same thing.


We have this idea that we need to believe something strongly before we decide to do it. But actually much of the time, what we need to do is act. And then figure out what the hell is going on, while we go. Like Douglas Adams' character Dirk Gently says in The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul...



I may not have gone where i intended to go...


*


 but i think i have ended up where i needed to be.



Between Two Lungs




What the hell is this guy up to.








Looks pretty suspect. 



At first glance it looks like our man is mid-anecdote, re-enacting the details of some sordid night straight out of the Weinstein back catalogue to his mates. But probing deeper into Google's stock photography sheds some light on the matter. Turns out Cardigan Jim's impression is nothing more than a bit of coughing and wheezing on account of an unexpected bout of asthma, which is being soothed below by a hit from his inhaler.






Asthma affects 350 million people worldwide, and five million in this country. Three people die every day from it in the UK, it messed with people as far back as Ancient Egypt, and quacks still haven't found a cure for it, apart from preventative medicines called corticosteroids aka asthma pumps. With all this in mind, it's something to be taken pretty seriously. 



Only, i can't take it seriously. 




Because asthma is the lamest shit on the planet.



*



I've had asthma as far back as i can remember. I think i might even have been born with it. As much as one eventually gets used to ones disabilities, i think it has always been a lingering source of embarrassment. Not because it's something to be ashamed of, but because it's just so fucking lame. Asthma is the quiet guy in the room with no opinions, wearing the world's most annoying T-shirt. If i had more grounds to hate him i'd probably like him more. I could react to him. But this guy is harmless, and yet his T-shirt makes me want to drive my forehead aggressively into his nose.






This is basically my relationship with asthma. Because i can't take it seriously, i find it intensely annoying. Some people have such debilitating asthma that it governs their every day. The thing about mine is that i can very nearly almost forget about it, but can't. If my asthma was serious, if it was legit, i could respect it. But my asthma is so Sunday League. Not bad enough for me to live in constant fear of an attack at any moment, but bad enough that if i find something a little bit too funny that could bring on a wheezing fit and getting an inhaler out is going to kill the vibe. Bad enough that if forget my ventolin on a night out, i'm going home to get it. 



There are only THREE cool things about asthma:



1. Google's stock photography.










2. The urban myth that hitting your ventolin like 8 times in a row can get you a little bit high.







3. Vlad The Inhaler.






Other than that, there is no saving grace to having asthma. It makes you friends in the same way that not getting picked for football makes you friends. Ventolin chat is boring chat. Imagine a survival of the fittest situation, how long would a group of asthmatics rolling around together last in an apocalypse. Who are you guys. We're the asthma crew. What does that mean. We all have asthma. Every one of you? Yeah. Okay, stay here. We'll come back for you.


Having asthma over the years has meant i always had to stay on the boat when people went scuba-diving, i always had to sleep in the bed on sleepovers when everyone else was on the floor, because of dust mites in the carpet, thus rendering sleepovers a bit shit, and when i was young i had it so badly that my parents had to carry around one of those syringes encased in its own special box like the one out of The Rock, so when i had an attack they'd pin me to the floor face-down, pull down my trousers, and inject hardcore steroids into my arse.






But above all, i think my beef with asthma stems from the fact i am a man


And as far as i can tell, asthma is the antithesis of manliness. It is an evolutionary sign of weakness. I read somewhere that women are attracted to symmetry of features, to smell, to genes they know instinctively will continue a strong healthy bloodline. Basically not asthma. My experience is that pulling out an asthma inhaler on a first date doesn't usually get you a second. Imagine a situation when you're with a girl you've always longterm fancied, and shit starts kicking off around you. How much are you really going to assuage her fears by gripping her shoulder and being like hold my ventolin, i'll handle this.


I'd go into how having an asthma attack in the bedchamber is the least slick thing in the entire world, but apparently The Daily Express have written an entire article about it.







When you have an asthma attack during sex and you don't get rushed to hospital, there's something about that moment when you're sitting at the edge of the bed, wheezing heavily between hits on your inhaler, while a female crouches next to you and pats you on the back and pretends to be concerned, as she tries to process how abruptly both physically and mentally unturned on she has become, that stays in your mind for a long time.


People say our vulnerabilities are what make us cool. I recently wrote something about depression and the response i got from it was amazing. People said it was brave, that it was vital, some actually told me stories of their own experiences. I have a feeling this admission of my own asthma won't kickstart the same kind of dialogue. Being depressed is kind of cerebral, mysterious, or at least pity-inducing. Being asthmatic is none of these things. All it is, is Darwinism in its most brutal form. It's literally being lame, in the original sense of the word. Someone to be weeded out, genes to be extirpated en route to the übermensch.






The worst thing about asthma is that it's so psychological, it's actually psychosomatic. So writing a whole long post about asthma, obliging myself to think about it for a long period of time, has actually given me asthma. Right now i'm actually pretty wheezy. Nothing in the world is less cool than that.



So... what you get up to this afternoon?


I had a self-induced asthma attack.


Jesus, what were you doing?


Literally just sitting at my computer for a couple of hours, writing.


Fucking hell, what were you writing about?


Base-jumping.






*


ADDENDUM



My mother just fired me some very confusing feedback, an opinion founded on the one hand upon seven decades of life-experience from the point of view of being a woman, and on the other i feel blinkered somewhat by a mother's love.







There's also a romantic vulnerable side to it which turns some women on.



*



Why does this make me feel even worse.