The Story of Booze and Depression

IMG_2279So 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.


The Day I Met Jeff Stelling


I love my Saturdays, especially in football season.  I buy the Guardian, I get me some nibbles and settle to watch Gillette Soccer Saturday and get drunk.  Once I got so drunk I fell asleep and nearly burnt down an entire apartment block in Salford Quays.  But that’s a diary entry for another once upon a time.

Jeff Stelling is my hero.  Part of me was uncomfortable with buying into Murdoch’s empire but the other part was addicted to Sky Sports’ hyperbole and garish colour.  The addiction to the show, and to the booze for that matter, wasn’t always conducive to relationships but selfishly I indulged knowing that with Jeff the black dog was locked in its kennel at least for the day.  But what will I do now I’m off-grid with no Sky dish or often no TV signal at all?  Nothing for it but to find a pub that’ll show it.

Gillette Soccer Saturday isn’t everyone’s bag (neither is football itself of course) but I can find myself transfixed.  Stelling is a brilliant wit, an intelligent brain and flawless anchorman.  Merse is hilariously malapropistic, Tommo is unfortunately Scouse, Champagne Charlie is cool as fuck and Tiss thinks he’s a saint, but all four are kept in line by the consummate Jeff.

About five years ago I was lucky enough to meet him.  I was working on Coronation Street at Granada (I miss that Quay Street oasis in the heart of Manchester – I had many happy days there) and the bosses offered staff a chance to cross-fertilise ie see what other TV practitioners got up to day-to-day.  I chose to spend a day on Countdown, shadowing a runner.  It was great fun; I got to sit in a contestant’s seat for a rehearsal, I got to play a game (but could only manage a five-letter word, much to my embarrassment and dismay).  And I finally got to meet my hero.  Jeff’s immediately likeable, affable, smart and handsome – he could play Bond… if he were a little taller maybe.  I told him I’d always been a fan and had written requesting a shout on Gillette Soccer Saturday for a throng of avid Stoke City fans – myself, Dom, Charlie and my muckers.  Apologetic, Jeff confessed he can’t always find time to give shouts but promised he’d try that coming weekend.

To my dying day I’ll regret that for some reason (must’ve been something dull and unavoidable like a wedding) I missed the show, so will never know if Jeff was true to his word.  I of course like to think he was.  But in some ways it doesn’t matter – I’d got to press the flesh of a “football legend”.

Talking of making good on promises, my welder showed up!


The best result this Saturday!  Thank God for Steven and Yorkshire Mobile Welding Services!  Here’s a welder I must respect and here’s to getting back on the road to Scotland.  The Otter will soon be mobile again so lock up your rich Scottish widows!

Baby Wipes

I did buy deodorant.  It’s called Sure but I’m not sure it’s going to be enough.  Thank God for Baby Wipes!  This reminds me of living in Rwanda and the African Great Lakes during the Genocide of the 90s.  I’ll blog more in future on that wonderful if frightening experience, but for now I want to talk about my quest to stay clean while living off-grid.  Given my leaky water pipe I’m relying on baby wipes and it reminds me of my life in the African fields because I feel I’m giving off the sweet and sour perfume of baby wipes and shit.

Maybe it’s paranoia, or my mind and nostrils playing tricks.  But anyway I was glad of a bit of sun this morning after a wet weekend, as I filled a bucket with spring water and washed my hair, allowing the sun to dry it and the gentle breeze to style it.  I say style it, I’m actually growing it, and it’s at that stage when it looks crap.  A real friend called Kelly, a hair-stylist by trade, advises me to keep trimming it round the ears.  I will take her advice but am afraid of the Ottermobile suddenly rocking and I finish up doing a Van Gogh and chopping off an ear.  How would I wear my sunglasses?  Or live life listening to music in mono?

Like my late father I used to be dapper.  But now it doesn’t work that way, I’m spending every day trying to keep clean and dress somewhere between practical and respectable.  Sunshine is a Godsend for the off-gridder because shorts and T-shirt are easy, everyone is wearing them, so they’re a sartorial leveller offering no distinction between the rat-racers and the unwashed.

This interests me.  It’s a desirable lifestyle I’ve chosen but it makes me feel less than desirable.  I mention my hair that won’t behave itself, and staying with the follicle theme I managed to shave yesterday owing to my ITV commitments, where I needed to look respectable (not that people in TV are generally that bothered about such things).  In a tight space like the Ottermobile it’s not so easy with a wet shave, becoming a chore rather than a pleasure.  I don’t enjoy it and once again I fear for my ear.  I already have a Goatee but I think I’ll go the whole hog.  Better to have a beard and two ears than be clean-shaven and unable to hear someone say I look good.

But how will I look?  Unwashed?  Like a tramp, a tatterdemalion, a hobo?  And will I care?  I used to care, but do I any more?  Will I lose my self-respect because I’ve chosen to opt out?  Does opting out of society mean opting out of washing?  Of course not, not for me, it’s not in my nature.  So until I get the water pipe fixed the baby wipes will do.  Vanity might’ve vanished, Narcissus may have been left in the mirror of my swanky apartment in Salford Quays, but I have to take some self-respect on the road with me.

In Media City I’ve had my share of company.  My real friend Kim is giving me a lift to Home Bargains later for a fresh supply of spring water.  We’ll no doubt have a glass of wine afterwards, hopefully in the sun outside the Dockyard.  Talking of which, I’ve just been listening to some BBC lanyards talking shop.  One of them said something was “hash-tag-tastic”.  I called him a hash-tag-tosser.  Now work is done I realise I soon need to leave all this behind.  Partly because people are beautiful and smart here and I smell of baby wipes and shit.  Partly because I’ve had it with the Media tossers and I need to hit the road.

Nobody with me, nobody getting on my tits, no contortionists (see previous blog “The Erection Campaign”).  Nobody telling me what to do, nobody telling me I need to be in a certain place at a certain time, nobody telling me I stink of baby wipes and shit.  Suits me.  I want to be alone.  So who wants me?