So this is Salford Quays, Media City UK, where some time ago I was drunk and nearly burned down an apartment block.
I make it clear that I’m not proud. I’ve told some people the story and laughed and made them laugh, but it’s time to face the shameful truth. My eldest brother Podge was a firefighter, proudly decorated and making the papers for heroically saving a little boy’s life… What have I achieved? What kind of hero am I? I’ve never been an aggressive drunk, on the contrary I’ve always been a merry one, but certainly idiotic and irresponsible, decorated in this instance by only shame. But it’s part of my story and if you’ll bear with me you’ll see the reason for my recounting it.
Not for the first time in my life I was in a bad place, not financially or romantically or geographically – I had work in TV, I had a lovely girlfriend and I lived in a beautiful location – but mentally the location wasn’t so lovely or beautiful. I loved my apartment and all the chattels I’d built around me. It was my Sabbath and I set ready for Gillette Soccer Saturday, bent on blowing my mind on a cocktail of football and booze. Come half-time I was tanked-up. I’d prepped a curry the night before and all I needed was to heat it up and boil some rice…
Just to put this in some more topical context, Grenfell Tower had cladding which was seemingly the main cause of its devastatingly tragic loss of life (apologies incidentally for jumping the gun in an earlier post and presuming it was terrorism). The place I lived in on the Quays had no such cladding, but the windows didn’t open. I don’t mean they were stuck, I mean they were designed that way, I believe because of the dust from the timber yard nextdoor. In fairness, the lettings agent made me aware of this before I signed, but I was desperate to get a roof over my head and be close to work. I built my nest and the windows weren’t an issue until my first summer, when I realised just how hot it was, and how even as much as breaking wind brought me out in a sweat. Some dear people I know still live there and I wonder what they feel about all this post-Grenfell.
… So the curry’s in the oven, the rice is on the boil, and I am on the piss. Some time later, well past full-time, I was woken by the piercing scream of fire alarms and opened my eyes to see nothing but dense fog. Still under the influence, it took a few second to realise a) where I was, b) what the din was, and c) that the pan on the hob had burst into flames. Knowing I had to stay low, I crawled to the sink, reached for the tea-towel, drenched it and threw it over the pan. Now the flames were doused I became aware of the frantic hammering on my door, the corridor alarms also screaming and voices shouting “what the fuck’s he doing in there!”
Unable to breathe properly, I was forced to evacuate along with all the others, and though there was no fire, the fear among my neighbours was palpable, as was the annoyance of the fire officers who were quick to tell me how much my carelessness and stupidity had cost – in pound sterling if not in loss of lives.
I repeat I don’t record this with any attempt to sensationalise or even entertain, I do so to illustrate what depression and alcohol can do to me if given half the chance. I diced with death, it could’ve been full-time for me. I was ashamed. I am ashamed. It’s not a good idea to go cold turkey, I have that on good authority, but I can’t use that as an excuse to keep drinking to excess. It’s a constant battle to be moderate , and that’s another reason why this adventure has helped – getting legless in the privacy of my own home is one thing but when I’m on the road it’s absolutely taboo. That day taught me a vital lesson and just as when I was at school, I was slow to learn it… However, yesterday I said I’d find a pub to watch Gillette Soccer Saturday. I didn’t in the end, and that’s a start.
Of course with no paid work coming in I don’t have the money to indulge so that helps too. But the most important epiphany for me is that there’s no fun on a vicious circle, no pride on the alcoholic’s ring-road, no use in getting up to get down again.
Coping with mental illness can be achieved in other ways too of course… last night I was lucky enough to get a signal on the Ottermobile and watch Billy Connolly: Portrait of a Lifetime. Billy Connolly has always been a hero to me – my friend Ash and I once saw him at the Hammersmith Odeon and we laughed until we cried. The portraits in last night’s show were amazing, but not more so than Connolly’s indomitable stance against his Parkinson’s Disease. I admire him as ever and can look to him for inspiration. I can also make it my mission to trek around Scotland and finish up in his home town of Glasgow and see the portraits in the flesh.
The programme had a profound effect on me, not least because it sparked a conversation with my daughter Gabby, finishing with exchanges of “I love you.” It’s things like this that can make you drunk with happiness, lasting happiness which can’t be found in bottles of quick-fix plonk. Gabby said it was sad to see Billy so frail and this also impacted on me; I thought I’m a relatively young man, I should be fit and healthy. I’m still able to walk for miles and miles and not run out of puff, but I must keep it that way. I must make the fullest use possible of the number of breaths and heartbeats I have left.