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
I 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.