For the last two years I’ve joined in the #atozchallenge, namely to post every weekday in April using each letter of the alphabet in turn. In 2015 it was places I’d been to, in 2016 it was London themed. This year it is a dictionary of my family, recounting incidents small and large that have taught me lessons down the years, caused me consternation or generally seared themselves into my memory. I hope you enjoy them. To find other bloggers doing the challenge and maybe be inspired yourself, check out the A to Z Blogging Challenge Blog, here.
I’ve never been thought of as a quiet person. Not loud, per se, just a bit wordy, a bit verbose, happy with the sound of my own voice.
But there are times when quiet, silence even is welcomed and that is the morning after.
These days I don’t do mornings after. I don’t drink alcohol and haven’t for some 28 years. I can’t give you the exact date I gave up but it was about 1 year before the Lawyer was born, making it winter 88 to spring 89. Alcohol has slipped past my guard since then but only maybe 4 or 5 times and all but one was accidental. These days, if I get the hint of alcohol I do recoil; I’m no longer prepared for it.
…back in the 1970s, drinking alcohol was a rite of passage, more so than drugs or sex, if I’m honest. Given there was little to bugger all to do in the New Forest in the first half of the 1970s, finding a way to persuade a pub landlord to serve you a pint was one of the great challenges.
Well, so it seemed. Though, in practice, they’d pretty much serve anyone to get the business, the motto being ‘If you can pay, you’re old enough’.
Locally we youngsters (17ish and access to one car) had the Wheel at Hordle while Dad had the Hare and Hounds or the Wheel at Pennington, so never the twain should meet.
Once or twice I cycled until the occasion I tried to cycle home when the world was turning somersaults inside my vision. I do recall thinking it might help if I closed my eyes and shook my head. All that did was send me into the ditch – which just happened to be full of run off from the goose farm. Mum wouldn’t let me in the house until she had hosed me down. That worked as an optical corrector as I recall.
My 18th birthday, therefore, had to involve booze. I had 4 close friends back then who joined me in the Lymington challenge – a pub crawl up Lymington High Street as far as you could go before the lack of sobriety and the pavement collided to end the evening.
Lymington for those who don’t know it has changed little so far as street scene and topography are concerned. It starts at Captain’s Quay by the expensive boats and climbs steeply for about 250 yards (four pubs, one wine bar back then). It then bends slightly towards the right, opposite the hotel before flattening completely by the small department store and solicitors, Moore and Blatch after which it gently slopes down to the one way system.
The hotel – The Angel – was deemed out of bounds as being too posh and pricey. On the stretch to the bend there were from memory three more pubs and two wine bars. After the solicitors there was a gap before a group of about four more boozers from when you reached the Church up to one way system and the job centre. All told Lymington had 18 places that served mainly alcohol back then. Make it to the solicitors (8) and you achieved a pass , reach the church (10) and you’d done well, liable to get a star. All the way to the one way system (14) and you approached mythical kidney status.
I recall reaching the wine bar next to the Angel – it was the only place that served Wadsworths 6X which was the God of Bitters in my town back then – but after that I can only visualise some shameful regurgitation next to St Thomas and All Saints. How I got home is also a mystery but here we come to one of the most complicated logistical nightmare to confront me, the trainee drunk.
When my family home was built in the early years of the 20th century the builder decided on the access to the upper floor to be via a narrow and steep staircase that was marginally offset from the front door and which started no more than a yard inside.
To add to the potential from pratfalls the treads seemed to slope down making ascending in anything other than tiptop mental and physical condition something of a nightmare.
So far so bad for the young man intent on making it to his bed in a smooth and sophisticated way. There were two other issues to surmount.
One, there was a porch and said porch had a door that needed to be opened and closed (and locked) before the front door could be similarly opened and closed.
Two, dad’s last words rang in my ears: ‘Don’t wake us up when you crawl in’.
Looking back, a night in the shed or under the hedge might have been both sensible and beneficial but the mind doesn’t always come to crisp and well considered conclusions when its owner is bladdered.
I reckoned I had a foolproof method of attack to overcome these obstacles and end up at the top of the stairs upon which I would enter the bathroom without even a modicum of risk of either noise or falling or both.
To do this I needed to access the porch slowly and carefully and make sure the door was locked. I would then open the front door. Taking a firm hold on the edge of the open door I would push off with one foot pressed against the closed porch door. As I passed the front door I would pull it after me, letting it close (note, I didn’t consider the slamming front door to comprise ‘noise’ for these purposes) behind me. My momentum would take me sailing up the stairs until the second half where I could use the banisters to give me a final bit of assistance to make it to the top.
What I didn’t do was factor in the displacement between the front door and the stairs. And so it was that, with all the force a drunk can muster I ran straight into the newel post at the bottom of the stairs, rebounded off the screaming and creaking wood and was only stopped from crossing the Lymington road backwards and at high speed by the already carefully shut and locked porch door.
Drunks are notorious for falling well. I was no exception. I was still triageing myself and taking the register on my limbs (‘Elbow Left?’ ‘Present’ ‘Thigh Left?’ ‘Present’) when my parents’ bedroom door opened and a heavy male footfall told me of the approaching supplier of my X chromosome.
Outside a street light did its best to illuminate the scene but all I saw was a silhouette of simmering anger. However, having shaken the newel post and satisfied himself it was still intact, my father helped me to my feet. ‘You’re home then.’ A hand touched my cheek followed by a ‘hmm’ and what might have been a sigh but could have been a laugh.
He helped me upstairs and pushed me into the bathroom. ‘Drink water. Lots.’
And that was it.
What a decent bloke. Momentarily my faith in his humanity was restored.
Anyone who has allowed themselves to become completely rat-arsed will know that one of the challenges no one explains to you is how to stop your legs floating up to the ceiling as soon as you lie down in bed and close your eyes. It was gone 2 by the time I stopped looking at the bedside clock and I lapsed into some sort of coma-cum-sleep.
‘Morning! Good night?’
The ‘decent bloke’ had gone, replaced by a total arsehole who saw fit to bring me a cup of tea and pull back the curtains on a sharp sun-filled window.
‘Just thought I’d pop in to see you before I left.’
Left? (I didn’t actually speak – all this was done by thought transference.)
‘I told you. I have to leave early to drive to Luton this morning.’
‘Work. Important meeting. But,’ a face appeared close to mine, blocking out the unforgiving sun and allowing me to slit-open my eyes, ‘I couldn’t go without letting you know. I knew you’d want to say goodbye.’
I thought he had gone but no.
‘Oh and mum’s cooking you a nice greasy bacon sarnie. She’ll be up with it shortly.’
What time is it?
‘Just after 6. It’s a lovely day too. See you tonight. Maybe we can have a pint now it’s legal?’
Sometimes you just have to take your punishment like a man…
For those of you interested I wrote a short story based in part on these and other of my experiences as an 18 year old in Hampshire. It was for a course I did some years back.