This is him and me in 1997, the morning after his birthday barbecue; I've been thinking about him a bit this week, because he would have been fifty-eight last Wednesday, May 29th.....
..... which has led me to thinking about the whole alcohol thing, too.
I've been someone who likes a glass of wine or five since I was sixteen. Drinking has made me do and say things I've regretted, spend whole days lying in bed going urrgh, but has also added to the fun of hundreds and hundreds of extremely jolly times with friends and loved ones. I have 33 photograph albums dating from 1977 to 2007 - within these albums there are many, many pictures like this one, taken in 2000, I think (I'm the one in the red...!).
Evenings like these were always so much a part of my life, and they wouldn't happen without drink being involved, would they? Somehow, you just don't dance until 3 am on diet coke and peppermint tea.
It's not just the partying, though, is it? It's the long, hilarious chats with friends. The in-depth natters over far too much wine. A good film or two with a bottle or three shared between you. Jolly dinner parties lasting into the early hours. The after work cameraderie in the pub. When I lived in a small town in Norfolk, life centred very much around the few pubs, which were all in a moment's walking distance from each other. So often I'd nip out to Budgen for a pint of milk, bump into my friend Kathryn, say, hmm, fancy a quick one? - and there we'd sit in The Kings Head, for the next couple of hours, texts sent to husbands to say we'd be home soon (though indeed 'soon' was but a relative term), more drinks bought by other friends who arrived. Kat and I used to say, shall we go for a quick 'catch up?' - which became our mutually agreed euphemism for 'a bit of a sesh'....
Then there are the bad things about it. Looking in your purse the next morning and realising you've spent thirty quid you can ill afford. The puffy face. The wasted day because you feel too rough to do much. The conversation you can't quite remember. Struggling through a day at work. Worrying, sometimes, that you may have a bit of a problem....
About eighteen months ago I went off drinking. I don't know why, it just happened, gradually, over a period of a few months. Maybe my body just said, okay, enough. I have become something I never thought possible: someone who hardly drinks. Used to be that if I had two days running without a drink I felt pretty good; three days running and I was polishing my halo, considering myself well 'in credit' for the weekend.... now, I can go weeks (and even months) without a drink and don't even notice it. Occasionally I do still have a few, if I'm with old friends, and in the morning I see on my face what I used to see - the greyish hue, the blotchiness, the baggy eyes. I feel tired and a bit depressed. I remember how lovely it is not to feel like that anymore, and it stops me doing it again, for quite some time. I can't write if I'm struggling with a hangover. I just got sick and tired of being sick and tired.
I have not become sanctimonious or disapproving of those who do still go on the piss, I hasten to add. Sometimes I wish I still wanted to get through three quarters of a bottle of Hardy's whilst watching The Apprentice. It was fun. Sometimes, I still get a bit drunk. Those times have become rarities, though.
In the dentist's waiting room the other day, I read an article about women who drink, in a socially acceptable but excessive way, pretty much how I used to. The author said that she and her friends were original 'ladettes' who had moved on to drinking wine at home now that they had children. Although I am far too old to have been a 'ladette' (thank goodness), reading the article reminded me of myself, back then (apart from the kids bit) - an evening without wine was a bit boring and flat. When I hear about people like my friend John, though, I am glad my body gave up on it.
Life without drink is better, and I never, ever thought I'd hear myself say that. It makes you feel better, look better, sleep better, be happier, do more - and it's a hell of a lot cheaper, too. In that article in the dentist's waiting room I learned about a website called Soberistas, for people who don't want to go into a room full of people and say "Hi, I'm Lavinia and I'm an alcoholic" but are concerned about their drinking and want to cut down. Here's the link, if anyone wants to know about it: http://soberistas.com/ They're also on Twitter - @Soberistas
When drinking escalates, there comes a point when it stops being just fun and funny and starts being detrimental to every aspect of your life. It creeps up, slowly, often without you realising it, affecting your health, your friendships, your finances, moods, love relationships, job. Now I am Mrs Sparkling Water it's hard to remember why drink was ever so important to me, but I suppose I am one of the lucky ones ~ it gave me up before it ruined my life.
And finally... here's another picture of John, taken in 1999.
The woman he's with was a very good friend of both of ours, Yvonne, or Yuvvy, as everyone called her. She was bright, attractive, kind, funny, wore great clothes, had a gorgeous flat, a very good job, a teenage son - and a terrible drink problem. Shortly before this photograph was taken (it was at my wedding reception) she'd sold her flat, given up her job and gone to live on a houseboat in Dublin with the love of her life, a hard drinking musician of the Irish kind. On November 22nd 2000 she left the pub, completely slaughtered, and, on negotiating the space between land and boat, fell over. Her body was found floating in the canal the next morning.
RIP, John and Yuvvy
(and Pete, Bruno, Billy and Kate)