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This article was written on 15 Sep 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

The Lager Years

I’ve just made joking reference in conversation to a period of my life I call ‘The Lager Years.’ This period of ten plus years, during which I left school, went to university, got a job, got married and developed the habits which blew that world apart, was when most people grow up. For me, as for other men I know, it was when I reverted to a kind of deranged childhood powered largely by Kronenbourg 1664 and became everyone’s favourite idiot, a reliable party guest to invite if you wanted someone to do something stupid.

The Lager Years came on me because I thought I wasn’t enough in myself. Had I been strapped to a chair and plied with sodium pentathol, I’d eventually have told you that I thought I wasn’t enough in myself, that I didn’t really have a personality and that the bits I was aware of were far too dull and boring ever to see the light of day. With four pints of lager inside me, however, I was much more fun and entertaining, with a knack for doing outrageous things and generally outraging public decency in any way that appealed to my sweaty little teenage brain.

It probably started at university, where I realised that, by getting drunk and being a bit mad, you could win lots of new friends. When I joined the drama society, this stepped up a gear, because student drama and alcohol go together like cider and lager and leave you with a similar headache. With singular dedication and the availability of cheap booze, I snogged multiple members of the cast of a play that I was working on. At the cast party, one of them was overcome by lust and dragged me into the bathroom and proceeded to go down on me. Someone tried to get into the bathroom, the door came off and there are pictures, somewhere, of me grinning like an idiot while I’m being fellated by someone who probably still winces at the memory.

My reputation was fixed, as I saw it, in all the right ways. With hindsight, I was a reprehensible idiot with all the sterling human qualities of Reinhard Heydrich, but the reward for being an idiot at university is lots of friends. I carried on being an idiot, in my own idiotic way, going to parties and leaping in rose bushes while playing drinking games, turning up in drag and generally being sick or urinating up anything that wasn’t moving fast enough. I clattered out of university, pinballed around for a bit in search of the audience that had always been on hand and then, for the first time, the wheels showed signs of coming off.

My grandma, my beloved Nana, died. It was at the start of my postgrad in journalism and the whole academic year was spent floating in a giant, black pool of grief that only got bigger. The Lager Years were a route out and, with friends moving to London, I plunged on through relationships, one night stands, oceans of lager and remarkably stupid behaviour until I met the person who became my wife. We married quickly, because any kind of thought or introspection scared me half to death and then, around a week after the wedding, while we were on honeymoon, she had a breakdown. In time, she was diagnosed with bipolar. But if you take a serious life event like this, make it happen to a grieving idiot with all the emotional sophistication of a wet fart, there will be a disaster. And lo, there was a disaster.

I plunged back into The Lager Years with a kind of insane dedication to my task, freelancing as a writer by day and drinking myself to near-oblivion at night. There were women who weren’t my wife, a fact which mortally shames me, and every single one of them was pissed about, made false promises and entertained with a kind of deranged zeal and dedication. I’m amazed that none of them hates me, because I do, with every fibre of my being. No part of my behaviour gives me any pride, even if it’s shorn of its sharp edges and made into an anecdote, and I’m shamed by the lack of respect I showed my wife at the time. Were I able to go back and do things differently or, ideally, put a bullet between my stupid, bleary eyes, I would do.

The marriage ended up collapsing not because of my stupidity, amazingly, but because my wife was too bipolar for me to live with. In the end, The Lager Years just… well, fizzled out because they became unsustainable. I got savage hangovers and, on my way back one night from wherever I’d been, I changed trains at Clapham Junction, where I saw a man in a giant foam hat – I think it looked like a pint of Guinness and I think it must have been St Patrick’s Day – who was hammered out of his mind weaved down the platform and, for a brief moment, looked like he was going to fall under the wheels of a train. He looked a lot like me, a voice in my head said, a mid-thirties old sot who really ought to know better and who looked pathetic. I stopped.

With the benefit of hindsight, I wish someone I respected would have come alongside me years before and told me to stop, just as I wish that someone had told me about grief counsellors after my Nana died. But this is a very male trait, to take all your emotions, all the feelings of inadequacy, doubt and fear and try and drown or drug them until they don’t get up. And of course they do get up, generally the next day, albeit with the help of a hangover, and then go at you again. All you have is an inarticulate anger, a sense that there are things you can’t even admit to and so you plunge on to the next round of drinks, start up the stupid, beery camaraderie and see the process start again.

I ended up facing my demons and am still facing them, such is the lesson of depression that strips you of any pretence. Some people go on for years and they have my sympathy. Carrying pain and hurt around and then, seeing it as if for the first time at three in the morning, when the house is asleep and you seem to be the only one alive is a kind of living hell. Anyone deserves respite from that and, if it’s you, then you need to find it before your coping mechanisms end up killing you. Had I but the wit to realise it at the time, The Lager Years were a kind of living hell when I was in flight from the things I feared. Take of your running shoes or, at the very least, put the lager down, because life starts from that point on.

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