Unlike most people I know, I have never had a major illness. Not a physical one, anyway. The only time I have ever been under anaesthetic (general or local) was for a belated circumcision in my early twenties. But that’s another story…
However, most of my loved ones and a fair few of my friends have suffered terribly with their health. I reckon I’ve been to more funerals than I have weddings (although you don’t need an invite for a funeral and you do for a wedding, so perhaps that’s more of an indication of my popularity than anything else).
The irony is that out of all those people, I am perhaps the one who had it coming the most. When I was at university, I would regularly notch up 60 Mayfair Lights in a day (classy). And when my course mates got out of their last exam, they all pulled bottles of Champagne out of their bags and drank them on the grass outside the student union in the hot June sun. I pulled out a bottle of Jack Daniels. My justification for this was that over the two hours we were in the examination hall, the Champagne would get warm. And nobody likes warm Champagne.
I drank that entire bottle of Jack Daniels, neat. I staggered to my halls of residence where I gathered my three, very sweet, very nerdy friends and we returned to the student union for a Danny Rampling DJ set. Later that evening I kissed a psychiatric nurse called Linda while ‘Love Shack’ played and then I stole a traffic cone* on the way home. It was a fittingly forgettable conclusion to my stint in higher education.
I cut down smoking and finally quit. No patches, no gum. Occasionally I stalk a walking smoker as they wind through the high street and I breathe in all that carcinogenic goodness. I get particularly frustrated with people who vape (vapers?) – despite the passive nicotine hit being the thing science pins the addiction on, it’s really the tar that I miss. C’est la vie.
When I would wake up with a sandpaper tongue and B&H-scented hair, it was standard practice to order a Dominos (Disclaimer: there are other artery-hardening pizza chains available). Large American Hot (extra cheese), two sides. Perhaps a bottle of coke. Although what’s the point of fizzy drinks unless they’re mixed with booze?
For some reason, I stayed a 30 inch waist and my skin was always pretty good. I had no idea why.
Most people would call these things “binges”, but I just referred to them as “weekends”. I justified this lifestyle with the romantic notion that all good artists are huge wasters. I get wasted ‘cos I’m passionate, yeah?
Burroughs, Hamilton, Hendrix, Nicholson…er…Sheen…
If Hunter S. Thompson started each day off with a banana and almond milk smoothie and a 5k jog, he a) wouldn’t have quite the mystique he does and b) would’ve had nothing to write about.
Perhaps this works for some people, but it doesn’t work for me. Writing needs my full attention. I can’t be fighting through a hangover to focus on the screen; I can’t be sweating out last night’s booze while I’m trying to write a killer scene.
So a few years ago, I turned it all around. The smoking was dwindling anyway. There was not much glamour to be had in cowering from the elements underneath faded awnings as the steady Hackney traffic lumbered by. And a decent hangover now took two days to recover from.
I bought a blender and joined a posh gym that had Molton Brown in the showers and communal hair straighteners in the male changing rooms.
These days, I bound out of bed at 6.30am and drink some sort of blended superfood monstrosity. I’ve always been a pretty competent cook, but now I take an active interest in it all – reading fat and sugar contents, keeping the KFC Bargain Buckets to a minimum. In fact I considered becoming a Celebrity Chef. I’ve always fancied my own TV show. But apparently you have to be an actual chef first. So fuck that.
Earlier this year, I took it one step further and hired a personal trainer. He was a lovely, big, monosyllabic chap called Winston. Once a week, he’d torture me with weights and lunges and sit-ups. You know those montages in films where the skinny hero works out and in the next scene they’ve morphed into this dangerous, gorgeous, muscly bastard? It wasn’t like that at all. But it did start to make me feel pretty good.
I think it’s no coincidence that I started to take this writing bullshit a little more seriously around that time. If you cut the hangovers out, you are rewarded with a dozen or so free hours you didn’t know existed. For me, it was like creating two days extra days in every week. And guess what? My art didn’t suffer. If anything, it improved; I was more focused.
If you’ve been through some bad times (and I’m guessing all of you have, otherwise you wouldn’t be modern day human beings), you can tap back into it whenever you wish. You don’t need to create misery or to get wasted to prove you’re some sort of an artist.
On the flipside, I used to know this dickhead called Bobby. He was obsessed with Pete Doherty and, belying his rich Bournemouth (Sandbanks) heritage, developed a faux cockney drawl and started squatting. ‘It’s ‘cos I’m an artist, innit,’ he’d say, with a rehearsed, vacant crackhead glaze across his sweaty face. I was never sure if he was actually high or simply pretending. Whatever, he had this notion that art, drugs and slumming it were intrinsically linked. If you ever get the chance to read some of his poetry, you’ll realise that isn’t the case.
A good friend of mine recently said that when I wasn’t drinking excessively my eyes were clearer. What better reason to cut down on the grog? Wonderful!
And it’s not like I’ve stopped drinking, it’s just that I don’t get cunted every weekend anymore. Moderation.
I wish I knew this stuff earlier. Still, I guess some people never realise…
Last I heard of Bobby, he was playing bass in a Paul Weller cover band.
*Turns out the cone was infested with tiny red mites, which infested the kitchen. But it was my last day and I haven’t been back to [PLACE NAME REMOVED] ever since. Fuck it.