Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Thursday, 26 November 2015


Silent Witness

She did not offer me any
nor did I expect her to
knowing it was her last.

Quickly I became aware
of my mouth filling with
clichés and platitudes
till I felt sick.

But I forced myself to swallow
and the truth nearly choked me.

28 September 1986

nielsen - martini rossi bottleI don’t drink. It’s an odd expression that. Of course I drink. I’d die if I didn’t take in fluids on a regular basis. But when someone says, “I don’t drink,” we know what they mean. Scotland drinks. I can’t think of another nation where alcohol is such a part of the national character apart from Australia and since about two million of them claim Scottish ancestry I rest my case.

When I say I don’t drink I’m not saying I’ll never take a drink—I’m not a sober alcoholic or anything—and whenever my wife (who does drink) has some new concoction I’m happy enough to take a sip and tell her how horrible I think it is especially if it’s wine because all wines pretty much taste the same to me and I really don’t understand all the fuss. Carrie prefers red wine to white. I’ve had some white wines which were tolerable but I’ve never tasted a red wine that wasn’t warm, sour and flat. As I just said, I don’t understand all the fuss.

My parents didn’t drink much when we were growing up. Occasionally a bottle of Martini would appear on the Cornish—their word for mantelpiece—and that’s the first alcoholic beverage I ever tasted. Why would my parents want to drink such a thing? It was vile. I never liked it when the drink appeared. I have no bad memories associated with it but it wasn’t them. My parents didn’t drink. Not drinking was the norm. But that did not continue.

By 1986 my father had developed quite the drink problem and the worst thing about it was he didn’t see it. He’d been working constant nights for about fifteen years by then and at the start he’d found sleeping during the day difficult so he’d taken to having a wee whisky before bed. Eventually he couldn’t sleep without it and it was no longer a wee whisky. My brother and sister too—they’d be 24 and 21 respectively at this time (I was 27)—both drank to excess and it’s my sister who’s the “she” in the above poem but it really could be anyone.

The dipsomaniacal writer is popular cliché. I’ve never got it. Alcohol has never helped me write although I do have a few poems which arose because of the drink and maybe I’ll post an old one next if I can find one that’s not too embarrassing.


Kass said...

...especially like the 2nd stanza. I have felt the same kind of sickness.

Jim Murdoch said...

I only have a vague memory about the details behind this poem, Kass. I know the image I have is of my sister in her bedroom in Mum and Dad’s house but I don’t remember much else. The thing that struck me was the not offering me any. I would’ve refused—I’ve never had much interest in drink—but the polite thing to do would’ve been to offer. It struck me as a measure of the thing’s importance that she didn’t: more for her. I’ve seen it myself too, a reluctance to share. I can think of a few explanations. I knew a guy once who was like that with knowledge. He was an assessor in a training company I was with and whereas most people when you asked them for a bit of help of advice would do what they could this fellow would often refuse and when pressed he’d say that he put in the work to get where he was and expected others to do the same. I never got that. I’m a firm believer in what goes around comes around. There’s a scripture in the Bible which goes, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.” (Eccl. 11:1). Never got that one. What use is several day old soggy bread?

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