BY JAMES BEMBRIDGE
Boredom. That’s the albatross around my neck. Whatever plans I had of sipping Chablis in the sunshine along with good company and stimulating conversation – lockdown measures permitting – my wretched liver had other ideas and protested with violent pangs. A nagging woman is one thing, but to have your own body disapprove of your lifestyle is quite another.
How different life looks through the sombre lens of sobriety: birds don’t sing, the bastards squawk; people you thought of as ‘quirky’ prove to be intolerable irritants; that plump, goofily cheery chap you would speak to at the petrol station, who had what looked to be the first whiskers of puberty about him, turns out to be a grizzled lesbian in need of a good waxing.
I haven’t been keeping a prison tally, but I believe it was the third day of this drought when I resorted to trudging through text messages before remembering why it was I drank in the first place: my friends are astonishingly boring people, almost oppressively so.
There is Tom, for whom asking whether I have seen something called ‘Avengers Endgame’ has become a constant refrain. By telephone or voicemail, his nasal warnings menace me daily: ‘You will never be able to appreciate the Marvel Cinematic Universe without watching the Avenger films! You must have seen it by now?’ To which I say no. ‘Oh I won’t tell you about it then’. He then proceeds to tell me about it.
Mark is better company, though not by much. He has a habit of artfully manoeuvring the conversation towards football, in which I take very little interest. If you were built like an athlete, then sure, I would see the appeal of demonstrating your worth against others. But what I can’t understand – no, what I can’t abide – is the sight of horribly fat specimens, stationed in their sofas and always festooned with cans of larger, who spend their days watching higher forms of men perform on the television. Then again, I suppose the same could be said of pornography, and I couldn’t deny Mark that.
My hopes of Chablis in the sun with stimulating conversation had now failed on both counts.
To escape the tedium of their text messages, my eyes began to wander the short, miserable span of my roof apartment before settling on that illicit bottle of Chablis. Two decorative motifs on the front label almost gave it the look of eyes. It wasn’t a fine – nor even a good – bottle. Much like every other aspect of my life it was resolute in its mediocrity. I imagined it mocking me for choosing such a mediocre bottle: ‘You don’t even care how I taste, that’s the hold I have over you.’ Staring down the Chablis would have to wait; the phone was ringing.
‘Hi matey have you seen Avengers Endgame yet?’ I searched for something that I could clench to release the resentment now brewing inside me. No, I haven’t seen it you miserable maggot and don’t call me matey. ‘Hi, Tom. Yes, actually I saw it two days ago’. I thought if I now pretended to have seen that damned film then he could be guided onto more interesting topics, football even. But it was no use, the idea of me being a fellow Avengers enthusiast aroused his geekery even further and his voice took on new twangs of nasality. Before I knew it we were speaking of the film not as if it were the trite popcorn flick that it was but as if it were some arthouse affair whose every minutia was worthy of analysis. My hand had now found a pencil and was grasping it fervently. Finally, he changed subject to tell me he was calling from a pool. ‘Oh, I didn’t know any had opened’. ‘No, I mean in my garden.’ I grasped that pencil ever tighter. What business did Tom have, whom I’d always seen as my lesser, being in a garden pool whilst I was stuck in a roof apartment and without a damned drop to drink! No longer able to restrain my scorn, the wood and lead shattered between my fingers. What a pitiful sight I must have looked, lucky no one was there to see it, no one but the Chablis. Was it my imagination or were those eyes, I mean motifs, narrower than before? They looked positively taunting.
It was with self-righteous glee that I brewed a pot of nettle tea. ‘Detoxifying’ I thought. The Chablis was now turned to face the wall with a paper bag over it for good measure. The trouble with my friends, I mused, is that none of them take an interest in politics, ‘the big ideas’. That’s what Twitter is for, is it not?
Wandering onto the plains of Twitter disarmed of Glenfiddich, I felt as helpless as those British soldiers of WWI who charged into battle on horseback only to find that machine guns were the new game in town. Streams and streams of impotent rage and ineffectual fury. This was a Valhalla for the bullied and those who weren’t bullied nearly enough. In a place where outrage is the only custom, I found myself a pauper. Much as I tried, I just couldn’t quite get worked up about pronoun use or ’microaggressions’. Still, even for Twitter paupers, amusement can be found in the misery of others, namely the last remnants of the remainers, still soiling themselves over a vote now four years lost. I spent half an hour studying one of these cretins, the privileged sort of woman with an innate disgust for her country. She had found a leave-voting builder to harangue, pulling every tired argument we have heard out of her sleeve until eventually her laments bubbled away leaving only short puffs of profanity behind. She had come to accept the futility of her position. Such hopelessness… delicious. But then less savoury images began to flood my feed and try as I might to mute the people sharing it, the ghastly visage stalked me constantly. A photo of Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis in a, shall we say, unflattering light. The vision of her sallow and somewhat pendulous breasts was enough to make my hand reach for the glass of whisky that wasn’t there.
With the Twitter App deleted and my phone now on silent, I sat there a man defeated. I was expected to write something but as my latest document was filled with five variations of the same sodding sentence, the words weren’t exactly forthcoming. I had come to regard the MacBook with the same bitter contempt reserved for the drawing pad, the violin and those bastard dumbbells, all relegated to the corner of the room that housed the rest of my life’s failings. What I could be relied to excel in were the two customs of selfishness and self-loathing, but not without a drink. That illicit nectar, that succulent succubus… Before I knew it the paper bag had been ravished from its shapely body like the mad love that follows a couple’s quarrel, but its phallic neck had scarcely touched my lips before a moment of clarity washed over me. If remainers are this tortured now, then imagine their misery when Brexit is finally over and there are no more formalities with which to delay it. I shouldn’t want to snuff it without seeing that.
With this newfound resolve, I bled the bottle out into the kitchen sink. Turned upside down, those eyes now looked decidedly timid. Soon all that was left was a hollow vessel, puddles in the sink and the drops that I no longer cared to drink.
My name is James. I am an alcoholic.