Magazine article The Spectator

In at the Deep End

Magazine article The Spectator

In at the Deep End

Article excerpt

On Saturday morning I woke early. I was in a strange bed, in an unfamiliar bedroom, fully clothed, with my shoes on.

Curled up beside me was a woman I didn't recognise. I lifted the covers and peeked underneath to see if she had anything on.

She was wearing a blue dress. Tilting my head gave me an excruciating pain just behind my eyeballs.

I'd fallen off the wagon again. Why am I so powerless against alcohol? I'd left the house the night before brimming with health and optimism. Now I felt as if I was actually dying. What had caused the capitulation? I tried to piece things together.

Party. One drink had led to another and I'd been to a party. Had I danced? I'd danced. I'd tripped the light fantastic. And had there been any drugs? There had.

Snowdrifts of the stuff. It had been like a winter Olympics in the Rif Mountains.

The woman beside me stirred then sat up. 'Hallo!' she said. I was grateful for that. I thought a single glance at me and she'd become the actress in the silent movie who first claps eyes on the creature from the black lagoon. A stranger in the bed, however, seemed not to surprise her.

Far from recoiling, she was glad to see someone.

But there was no time to deepen our acquaintance. 'Is that the time?' she said, springing out of bed. 'I'd better get a wiggle on, ' she said, pulling open drawers.

'I'm goin' 'untin'.' From my vantage point just inside death's door, I could only marvel at this broad-minded, self-parodying woman -- whoever she was. There was I, lying there like a dying duck; and there was she, fresh as a daisy, off hunting!

Then I remembered that I, too, had an unmissable appointment. As part of my effort to get out of the pub, I'd paid up front to join the local canoe club. The club meets as a convivial shoal three evenings a week to paddle up and down on the local waterways. How much better is gliding downstream of a golden summer's evening, and seeing fish jumping or gnats, than listening to the same old gargoyles down the pub all the time? With three quarters of these heroes of the bottle you know exactly what they are going to say before they open their mouths. If the remainders' conversation is less predictable, it's only because their mental illness is of a more serious nature. …

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