The pathetic George Best is near death. Poetic that he, complete with retrofitted liver, should die on the same day Britain allows its pubs to open 24 hours a day.
Humbled. I’m an okay swimmer for a hobbyist triathlete, which means at almost any health club I’m the fastest guy in the pool. Not last night.
My pool’s divided into three sections – fast, faster, and insane – and the ‘insane’ lane is where I’ve made my home. 25m is just about big enough for a good workout, and I was hoving up and down quite happily until this guy – let’s call him ‘the Dolphin’ – arrives.
He dives into the pool. My pool. And it’s immediately obvious he’s faster than me – not just the odd minute per km, but MUCH FASTER. 20-30% at least; in three lengths he’s overtaken me and I wait for his tumbleturn before I continue in his scornful wake. Like all great swimmers, he hardly seems to be exerting any effort. But despite my waterlogged humiliation, I thank him, for he’s spurred me to train harder for next year.
I’m thinking of giving up alcohol.
Wine has always been my drug of choice. The history-soaked terroir of France, celebrated in labels tapestried with breathless tales of five hundred castles; the velvety chocolate mudslides of Italy and Spain; the fat burgerlike reds of Australia and California, packaged and consumer-friendly as a Ready Meal. I even drink the bad ones. I especially drink the bad ones. From dust-bedecked single-Euro-specials sold in litrepacks of cracked plastic on Iberian roadsides, to the scratchiest nails-down-a-blackboard Bulgarian capable of killing cows at twenty paces, I’ve drunk them all. In a drinking career spanning at least a thousand bottles, I can remember only three I found undrinkable.
But while there’s no addictive trait in my behaviour patterns – I could no more become an alcoholic than someone scared of needles could become a heroin addict – I’m a ‘finisher’. Once that 750ml of joy is uncorked, it gets emptied whether I’m alone or not. I never (well, rarely) feel the need to open another, but it’s equally hard to leave half an opened bottle in the fridge. So in other words, given 21st century alcohol levels and those glasses that hold nearly half a litre, my standard hit is approximately half a week’s Recommended Maximum Dose.
And if I’m still a finisher when I hit my forties (OK, it’s some years away) it’s likely to be affecting my life in other ways. Pouring a hundred millilitres of solvents down my throat every 48 hours or so has biological implications way beyond a headache the next morning. 75 trillion cells in the human body and every one of them can be melted, mutated, ripped in two, or straight killed off by alcohol. I think the only way out for me is to give up. Totally and forever. On the wagon like some first-time AA member. Hello everybody. My name’s Chris, and…
My 1500m pool time sinks by over four minutes if I down a bottle the previous evening. My face goes puce (whether spelt with a ‘c’ or ‘k’) with the juice of those sinful vines if I do it more than two days in succession, skin drying to a husk like fallen fruit on a Saharan morning. The working day starts later and finishes earlier when my blood’s been seasoned with booze and left overnight. And as I start down that long slope towards 40, it can only get worse, even if it might feel better.
So perhaps it’s time to set a calendar. Slow down, slow down, stop? Or maybe just stop straightaway? Like the way I didn’t have Y200 once in a Tokyo supermarket, and the pack of sugar I didn’t buy led to unsweetened tea from that day forward? Whatever. I’ve got to rid myself of this British disease. I wouldn’t go swimming in a poolful of pus; why am I sluicing it into my veins three times a week?
I dunno, it’s enough to drive anyone to drink.
A fast-moving day in my rootin’ tootin’, project-managin’, conference-callin’ life. Into town. Outatown. All around the town, in fact. And when the town is London it all just seems to happen on a bigger scale.
I don’t hit the office until 5pm and I’m fizzing after a new business win. Two hours later I head out with the boss – ostensibly to introduce a great friend, but it quickly turns into a celebration of the day. A local tapas bar. The first bottle disappears in minutes.
The friend arrives. He and the boss hit it off quickly. More wine. We’re building links, networking, adding to the sum total of this crossconnected sponge of neurality that is London business. Calamari, garlic chicken, sardines, the stuff of what’s becoming one of the world’s great cuisines. We munch tapas and talk turkey.
And then the horror sinks in. Through the fog of Rioja I recall the skipped breakfast, the skipped lunch. There are 24 hours of emptiness in my stomach, and I already know what effect the red’s going to fill them with.
It happens quickly. The room starts to tumble and twirl. One of those moments when you’d give almost anything, anything to rewind your life about twenty minutes. I make my excuses and leave the table.
And soon I’m exploring inner China. Offering a sacrifice to the porcelain god. Yawning in glorious technicolour. Callin’ up Ralph on the big white telephone. I haven’t been this sick for at least a year, and the arrow of time points towards it getting worse. My body’s about to suffer increased entropy and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.
The restaurant continues going all Blue Iguana on me. And my altered state is obvious to my dining companions, who find it funny. As we rise, I give the waiter a tip. “Watch where you step in the toilets!”
I realise I’m going to have real problems getting home without contributing to a Job Creation Scheme for Tube car cleaners. The friend offers his sofa, and I accept.
Less than an hour later, I’m having weird dreams about showers and glue. (I’m going to have to think about getting heating installed in my house; the pervasive warmth of this apartment is sooo comfortable.) I wake often, but it’s so relaxing it feels as refreshing as sleep. This sofa is comforting, womblike even. Even in a post-projectile vomiting, drained, quivering physical state, I have the faculties to wonder if my clinical decorative tastes are a bit austere.
And the friend’s reward for offering his sofa for the night? A blocked sink in the morning, for which amazingly he isn’t annoyed – and actually sounds amused. Thanks, RS, for being a great human being.
Walk into the amazing new Apple Store in London and wander around nonchalantly bringing up your home page on all the Macs. (Then walk around more furtively checking who’s reading your blog.)
With a shock yesterday, I realised I’m no longer part of the advertising industry. With a final invoice paid last week, there’s no part of my income I now get from dreaming up campaigns. I’m strangely happy.
That loosely-defined mob of multinationals, agency brands, creative boutiques and marketing services companies I’ve worked with for a decade no longer forms any part of the ‘pump‘s fees. Two years ago, it was 50%. These days, my time goes on web application design, project management, and helping run a small consultancy group with big prospects. That group is fun to work with – and because it’s essentially a startup, there’s plenty to be done: expanding it to a 100-man+ European operation in five years isn’t going to be easy.
That’s my new life, and I hardly even noticed it arriving. Already, my sisters are joking I’ve got a ‘proper job’. Well, I’m not drawing a payslip yet…
Blair suffers his first Commons defeat. Oh happy day. This massive extension of police powers, letting them hold terror suspects without charge for an incredible quarter of a year, has been struck down to 28 days max. So Police State Britain – and its Supreme Commander Blair – has suffered a setback, if not a huge one.