“Could I possibly have it with a correctif?”
MacKenzie asked, “What’s that?”
“Fortification. If it’s brandy I call it a d’Artagnan, if it’s single malt, a Snape.”
“Think Aldeburgh. The Maltings at Snape.”
“You’re off you head.” But she found some Oban and added a measure. I took a sip.
“Perhaps a tad more.”
She frowned. “Are you getting fond of the glug-glug?”
“How many units are you taking?”
“Good heavens no, dear sister. A day.”
“It’s not as much as it sounds. Couple of G & Ts at the cocktail hour. Substantial gentleman’s measures. Say 3 units each. Wine with dinner. Not the whole bottle. Say two thirds. Call that another six. Then a large single malt for a nightcap. That’s another two. Yep, comes to fourteen.”
Her eyes opened in horror. ”But that’s appalling! That’s a hundred units a week!”
“If you add in a Snape and a d’Artagnan, just to round up, yes I suppose it is.”
She shook her head. “Slippery slope, Alastair.”
And she was right. I may have been exaggerating. But it was only too easy to deceive oneself into thinking one had it under control. The grog was like any other instrument of the devil. It would quietly insinuate its way into your life and then, without appearing to dominate, it would push every other aspect of life into subservience. Work, play, hobbies, interests, pursuits, people, Grand Passions, Great Causes, Faith, Hope, and ultimately Love, all would take a back seat to the deoch. The whole timetable of your life would be scheduled round the next drink. The cocktail hour would arrive earlier in the day. It’s always five o’clock in the evening somewhere in the world. The prospect of an evening of sobriety would fill one with gloom, anxiety, even foreboding.
Of course you wouldn’t be able to keep it secret. Twenty years down the track, while MacKenzie and spouse, Mr and Mrs Perfect, were being philanthropically profligate at Carnegie Hall, the final Mrs Cameron-Strange would come to realise I was a lost cause, and get out. The kids, who had spent two decades tortured by the dread and embarrassment at how they might find me in social situations, trying to cut me off at the pass on my way to the bar, trying to keep their friends out of my bleary-eyed way, would similarly desert me.
Then there would be the health issues. The stigmata of the drinker – liver palms, spider naevi, jaundice. The early morning awakening in low mood, the crushing sense of self-pity, the hangovers, the black outs, the memory impairment, the shakes. Maybe even the DTs. It could get a whole lot worse. Liver failure. Hepatic encephalopathy. A whole host of cancers. The screaming ab-dabs.
Well before then, my work would have begun to suffer. Maybe my colleagues, out of a misplaced sense of kindliness and loyalty, would have propped me up and protected me, as well as my patients, with an elaborate roster of checks and double-checks. Finally it would all become too much and they would have to let me go. There would be a blunder. A Bad Mistake. Then an unfortunate encounter with the constabulary one night in the car. The GMC would have to be informed. With due regard for my record of service they would do their damnedest not to strike me off. But I’d have the humiliation of attending a detoxification and education programme. I’d be earmarked as an addict. An impaired professional. My work would have to be supervised. I might be credentialed only to perform a certain number of tasks. Nurses would give me sidelong glances. There goes old ACS. They say he was quite a good doctor in his day. Not bad looking either, believe it or not. To the medical students I would be invisible. What a nightmare.
No. MacKenzie was right. Don’t go down that route.
How would you get yourself out of such a hole? How, in fact, do you cure yourself of an addiction? Not alone, that’s for sure. But with help. Probably best to join AA. No mawkish sentimentality there. They would tell it to you straight. You wouldn’t be able to pull the wool over their eyes. “I’m more habituated than addicted, not so much an alcoholic as a dipsomaniac.”
For God’s sake Alastair, get a grip.
But I can’t leave you, gentle reader, in this black mood. I went for a stroll that took me through the playing fields of Callander Primary School, in Perthshire, and came across the following notice:
GOLDEN PLAYGROUND RULES:
Be gentle, and play well with others.
Be kind and helpful.
Be honest, and do not cover up the truth.
Listen to people and do not interrupt them.
Care for your playground and environment.
Respect others’ feelings and do not hurt them.
Play nicely and do not spoil others’ games.
My companion remarked that it would be a good idea to take this notice and position it at the entrance to the chamber of the House of Commons. But it occurred to me that perhaps such a notice already exists. It might read thus:
Be strong, and don’t let anybody take advantage of you.
Be firm, and obdurate.
Be enigmatic, and obfuscate.
Talk over people as a means of smothering their point of view.
Merely pay lip service to conservation. It’s the economy, stupid.
Exploit the weakness of the opposition.
Play to win.
I’m getting sour again! The best thing to do when you are fretful is climb a hill. A friend of mine set out to climb his last Corbett (mountain between 2500 and 3000 feet), and invited family and friends to join him for the occasion. The summit was Leum Ulleim (906 metres), in Rannoch Moor. It is a remote region, inaccessible by road, but fortunately the train stops at nearby Corrour Station, itself at 400 metres elevation. The last time I climbed with my friend, we were in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, and the summit was over 12,000 feet, so this was a gentle afternoon stroll.
I picked up the Glasgow train at Crianlarich. Here, the rolling stock was split asunder, the front half going off to Oban, the rear to Mallaig. The one hour trip north to Corrour was a delight. Mostly the passengers were holiday makers, tourists, backpackers, climbers, and their dogs. The dogs were seasoned travellers and settled down quietly for the journey. A snack trolley came round and I had a coffee and admired the scenery, still lush green despite this long hot summer. Upper Tyndrum, Bridge of Orchy, Rannoch, and finally Corrour. Here we disembarked. The station has a fine restaurant, and the signal box has been converted into a B & B.
It was marvellous to be in a landscape entirely devoid of motor vehicles. The weather was kind. The morning cloud had lifted and all the surrounding tops, including Ben Nevis, were visible. The boggy ground had largely dried out, there was a gentle breeze and, blessedly, no midges. Leum Ulleim, only five kilometres to the south west, beckoned, and a couple of dozen of us, plus four dogs, set off. One of the dogs, a beautiful Golden Retriever, happened to be my namesake which caused some confusion as we would both respond when called. He worked it out quicker than I did.
I was struck by the enormous age range of the party – the youngest one year old, the oldest 86, with all decades in between represented. We ascended in gentle fashion, and there was much chat and ribaldry. The views were spectacular, the great Nevis range to the north west, Loch Ossian north east, and to the south, some of the great peaks of Perthshire including Schiehallion and Ben Lawers.
At the top, a photoshoot. A happy day. My friend has already climbed all the Munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet), and all the Donalds (hills below the Boundary Fault Line over 2,000 feet), and now all the Corbetts, and he is half-way through the Grahams (hills between 2000 and 2500 feet). If spared, we will reconvene for his last Graham. Some addictions are more wholesome than others.