Drink! The curse of the working classes, and I should know as I’ve mixed the two. Frequently. Back in the days between leaving colleage and finding a real job, my friends and I drunk like the proverbial fishes. Unfortunately, our local also did a rather fine range of chocolate-flavoured desserts, all served from a refrigerated cabinet mere feet away from our favourite table. It was a recipe for disaster. A good session would involve between six and eight pints of the late-lamented Eldridge Pope Royal Oak ale, a crate of dry-roasted peanuts and at least two of those gateaux that come in boxes saying “Serves Twelve”. There were six of us. In two years I put on three stone, and if I got absolutely wallopped, you could have rolled me home.
It didn’t take me long to realise that another few years of this would leave me looking like a professional darts player, shopping for clothes in places like “High and Mighty” and “Vince’s Lard Boy Emporium”, so I bravely knocked the juice and cake on the head for a bit, took up cycling and eventually restored myself to the picture of slightly chubby health that I am today.
Oh, but there were blips. Big blips. Like my last day at my first temporary job. I’d tell you about it, if I could remember what happened, but I’m pretty certain that vomit was involved. But the Big One was the Christmas party for my first real job outside the fluffy world of Her Majesty’s Civil Service. A night I would live to regret. Oh dear.
In all the time I’ve been in this job - some fourteen years at the time of writing - our department has been an all-male affair. We’ve had a whole two-and-a-half women - two genuine and rather dedicated ladies and a pre-op transexual - and the rest has been Bloke City. At one stage there were over sixty of us, a great festering pool of testosterone, locked in a compound somewhere in the South Oxfordshire countryside. And to quote Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, “Drink will find a way.” Christmas came, and Bob organised a party. In a pub.
You could tell in advance what kind of evening it was going to be. Someone had hired a minibus to get us all home. Naive young chap that I was, I thought that this was because the pub was in the middle of nowhere. All well and good - it was, but I hadn’t realised that half of my twenty quid for the sitdown meal was actually going into the world’s biggest bar tab, which we all put another tenner into on arrival.
We ate. We drunk. We arranged a good old-fashioned lock-in with the landlord. We drunk some more. Just befre midnight, a taxi came to take some of the lads for their nightshift. We drunk to their good health. And drunk some more. I think you’re getting the picture now. Drink was involved. Lots of it, and the greatest sin of them all - we mixed ale with spirits with wine with something green and even more beer. At some point (and this is always the telltale sign that you’ve gone too far), we started singing. Songs about an Eskimo called Nell and "stupid dicky-di-dildos".
It was around this point that things became blurred. I remember stumbling out into the cold night air, finding a seat on the bus, and then the torturous route home with frequent stops to let people off, either for a much needed piss, or simply because we had accidentally ended up at someone’s house. With more than a little luck, I was eventually turfed out at the end of my road, and I staggered up the two flights of stairs to my flat.
Mrs Scary hadn’t bothered to wait up. I shut the front door as quietly as I could, managing to disturb everybody in a two hundred yard radius. I fell over in the dark. I said “fuck”, realised I had said “fuck”, giggled, and realising I was giggling said “fuck” again. I went into the bedroom, where Mrs Scary was now awake and asking me if I knew what the time was. I told her I did, it was nearly one o’clock and that I “really, really, really loved her.” She was unimpressed. Some people just have no sense of humour. I fell into bed, and sickly, spinning darkness took me. For a bit.
I woke. The room was still spinning - violently so, in fact - but there were more pressing matters to attend to. Eight pints of heavy, half a bottle of wine and lord alone knows what else had gone in at one end, and now they wanted out. Quite urgently. I staggered out of bed, and eventually made it to the bathroom. Whipping out The Mighty Mallet, I let go with what was surely going to be the greatest piss of my lifetime.
My fuzzy ball of contentment lasted all of three seconds. A light came on. There was a shriek of surprise and alarm. I was not in the bathroom. Oh no. I had taken a wrong turning and I was still in the bedroom. What I had taken for the cold porcelain of the toilet was, in fact, Mrs Scary’s dressing table, now a streaming river of piss and resembling the back step of a pub at closing time.
Fair play to her, she didn’t beat me up or anything, for she knew one thing I didn’t. My Christmas presents were hidden underneath. Oh yes. So, on Christmas Day that year, I received my most prized possession ever - a signed photo of the entire 1989 title-winning Arsenal FC squad, with little yellow wrinkles round the edge. Damn you beer, why do you treat your old friend like this?
The next day, I had to go to work. They were feeling particularly generous that day, and I didn’t have to start until lunchtime, but I still sat at a workstation in the corner and did the absolute minimum that my presence required. On the way home I bought myself a catering pack of Resolve and Mrs Scary a fluffy duck called Wello. It was the least I could do.
Just before Christmas, I ran into my drinking buddies Pat and John, sipping orange juice and lemanades down the Old Devil, eyeing up the contents of the refrigerated cabinet longingly. Like me, they had sworn off drink for the week after their office Christmas parties. On the same night I had rendered Mrs Scary’s hairdryer inoperable (simultaneously solving the problem of what present to buy her) John had staggered home drunk from his party, taken a wrong turning, and pissed out of the bedroom window into the street below. Pat, on the other hand, had taken a wrong turning, gone downstairs, got hoplessly lost and was discovered by Mrs Pat relieving himself in the corner of the kitchen. Heroes to a man.
As one, we took the drinkers’ vow: “Never, ever again.” Not until the next time, anyway. Gateau was served.