I try to stay off the subject of my cancer, but it keeps appearing when I don’t expect it to.
For example: I went for some drinks with a friend last night, and found myself having to explain why I can no longer get so pissed that I have to cry off and skulk away to my bed (which is what they did).
I’m not complaining! I had a lovely night, regardless of it ending earlier than I think anybody really expected. And I’ve spent many evenings skulking off to bed, so I’m not being moralising about it. I’m an inveterate skulker, something of an expert.
I remember being in a bar when I was around 17 or 18, and getting into a long conversation with a girl from my college who was way out of my league. We were chatting, I was on fine form, everything was going swimmingly. And then I decided to have just one more vodka and coke, and the whole thing fell apart – 15 minutes later I staggered out to vomit into a bin at the bus stop and get tutted at by a pensioner. At one point I’d been absolutely guaranteed at least a snog and a bit of a grope with one of the hottest girls in the college. But alcohol did me in.
Those days are over. My remaining kidney works fine, and for most purposes it can do the work of two. But it can’t really cope with getting hammered, so my upper limit is about 3 pints of proper beer, and no lager at all.
I have to say, this isn’t a major lifestyle change for me. I was always crap at drinking, right from the beginning.
The first time I got drunk I was 16, and my older brother and his mates had persuaded my gullible parents to let me go with them to The Cavern on Christmas Eve. I’d be fine. They’d look after me. They certainly did!
The Cavern was the local student bar, a sweaty dive that used to be the cellar of a pub that had been bombed in WW2. It had the kind of carpet that was so sticky it took your shoes off as you walked into the place, and the walls weren’t painted, they were just allowed to turn naturally yellow with the smoke of a million student roll-ups.
I remember very little of that night. I know I had 3 pints of lager, but I don’t know for sure how many shots of vodka they secretly poured into them. At one point I remember thinking everything would be fine if I just slumped on the floor in this corner at the end of the bar, so I did. Then a bouncer assisted me off the floor, up the stairs so fast my feet didn’t touch, and into an elegant dive onto the pavement outside.
Then some bastard was vomiting all over my hand and arm, and when I looked around I realised it was me. Today I think that’s funny, but at the time only my brother and his mates did, and they stood in a circle laughing at me.
It didn’t stop me from doing almost exactly the same thing a week later on New Year’s Eve, an evening which also ended in a technicolor yawn down the great white telephone. I was clearly in need of practice, so my friend Dave and I decided we were going to become better at drinking.
We’d heard of a pub called The Chapel, which had such a lax attitude to underage drinking that they’d serve you even if you arrived in a pram. Our plan was to double the amount we drank each time. We started with two beers, and felt OK about that. The next time, we got to four. I don’t think we ever made it to eight, because we both felt we’d be happier if we had some fresh air, so we walked down the canal towards our home.
As we meandered home we found a horse in a paddock by the canal footpath. We were both city boys, and unfamiliar with livestock. I’d never seen a horse close-up before. When I was sober I knew they slept standing up, but I was hammered, and when Dave decided to feed it I thought it sounded like a grand plan.
He grabbed a handful of grass, and thrust it at the horse’s face. The horse, being a horse, woke up startled and grabbed his hand in its teeth – not hard, but it wouldn’t let go. It had hold of him between his second and third knuckle, and he couldn’t get his hand free. It just stood there, sucking on his hand and being a horse.
After I’d fallen over laughing a few times, it started to get a bit scary. We seemed to have been there for about 15 minutes. Was it ever going to let go? I tried saying “nice horsey”, but perhaps it was a foreign horse because it didn’t seem to understand a word of English, and just mumbled harder on Dave’s hand.
Years before I’d seen a documentary in which it was explained that if you’re ever attacked by an alligator you should try to cover its eyes up. Instinctively, if an alligator can’t see, it opens its mouth to threaten any potential attackers. I’m half way to being a smart person, which is a dangerous place to be. I’m stupid, but credible, and when I decide to speak with authority many people just assume I’ve got a fucking clue. Which I haven’t. So when I explained about alligators to Dave, he said we should give it a go.
Even if I was right about alligators, which is doubtful, the same theory definitely doesn’t apply to our equine friends. I climbed onto the fence, leaned over, and placed my hands over the horse’s eyes.
Chomp. Scream. Blood. Hospital.
Dave forgave me eventually, and his hand worked fine after the stitches came out, but it’s just about the last time I’ve been near a horse. I learned never to cover a horse’s eyes while you have your hand in its mouth, but it took me another 10 or 15 years to learn never to fuck about with alcohol if you want to get laid or make it to morning without injury.