Anyone who thought this book would be an account of petty self-justification and excuses should be re-assured by what they're about to read.
It's 2004 and I've got the mother of all battles on my hands here. I've got to keep myself alive but can't possibly give those bastards what they want. Imagine a sanitised, corporatised, bastardised version of Dazza, stripped of his personality and anything that might vaguely resemble an original thought or idea. To paraphrase Archer in the film, Scum, “they're not having me”. I could so easily give myself an easy life, at least ostensibly, and play their game. But I have to be able to sleep at night, look people whose opinions I respect in the eye and tell them that whatever flaws I might have (and there are many), sycophancy and brown-nosing are not amongst them.
When I look back I probably dwelt too much at the time on the viciousness of the people I was dealing with – hey, the upper echelons of any large organisation is full of people like that, so quit complaining and lie in the bed you've made for yourself. How do you think they got where they did – on merit? By doing something useful? Get a fucking grip, Dazza. They knew when to play the game, who to kiss up to and when to twist the knife. They're completely aware of how useful you could be to them, which is why they've merely made your life a fucking misery as opposed to actually getting rid, and you've made a conscious choice to resist. The right choice for a multitude of reasons, no argument there, but a free and conscious choice nonetheless.
I wish that's where I'd been ten years ago, but I wasn't. Instead an idealistic sense of injustice and having been robbed was eating away at my very being and driving me, amongst other things, to drinking like there was no tomorrow. It's a Friday night and the guys I was with earlier have (quite sensibly) gone home. Not me though – I'm flying solo now, having a few to forget the pain and then a few more to remember what it is I was supposed to be forgetting. I'm absolutely poleaxed, out in the middle of nowhere and the buses back to somewhere near where I live have stopped running. Bollocks to it, let's travel in the opposite direction, have a little adventure. I get on and then off again, with precious little idea of where I am. None whatsoever.
Before I know it and without doing too much, I'm walking on the M6 – well, I was always gonna find my way home one way or the other, right? The legality or otherwise of what I'm doing does not strike me as a relevant point, nor does the very realistic prospect of getting killed. Death, even a slow and painful one, is eminently preferable to surrender to the evil bastards hell-bent on snatching my spirit and soul for as little as they can. They're not having me, THEY'RE NOT FUCKING HAVING ME!!. Life has brought me face-to-face with a fate worse than death and you know what? Being six feet under has its appeal right now. I remember calling in sick one morning because I couldn't take anymore, looking up at the light fittings and imagining how I'd look, dangling from them. Better than being an empty and vacuous Patrick Bateman clone, surely?
I'm walking up the hard shoulder on the right hand side, so cars and lorries are heading towards me. A few drivers pip their horns as if to ask “what the fuck are you doing?” and then I see one on a mobile phone as he passes and flashes his lights in my direction. I immediately reach the conclusion that he must, must be onto the filth about the knobhead walking along the hard shoulder. So I do probably the single most stupid thing I have ever done in my life – I cross the motorway. Yeah, I run across the M6 in the darkness of the early hours – whether or not I fully observed the Green Cross code is of little significance in that context, right? But, just in case you're curious, I did wait until I had a decent shot of getting over there without being splattered.
It was stupid, selfish and dangerous on a level that never occurred to me at the time. Imagine the poor fucker who's driving home from the late shift or whatever and has this wrecking ball run out in front of him. He or she would have been haunted by that mental image for the rest of their life, seen my face in his or her nightmares, eyes like saucers, looking distinctly 1980s with his Lotus Eaters haircut and denim jacket. While my misery would be over, someone else would be serving a life sentence. I often wonder how I'm not either dead or in jail and still have the occasional moment even now where the thought of ending it all appeals in one way or another. I think that's a personal choice, but it's also fair comment to say you shouldn't get unwilling participants involved.
Anyway, here come the pigs. I'm stopped and breathalysed (off the chart, apparently) and bundled into the back of the van before I get myself or somebody else killed. There's a fine and it's only a civil and not a criminal offence, so I take the kick in the nuts and the free ride home, realising that resistance of any kind or attempting to be some sort of smartarse could land me in a whole heap of shit. They drop me off and I make the rest of the way home and tell my kid brother what's just happened. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this story is how unfazed he was by the whole thing. That's how used he was to my self-destructive behaviour. Sorry kid.
Still, lost the battle, won the war eh Dazza? They never had you...
As I was once told, we're all good at something. It can only be a god-given thing as application and concentration were never strongsuits of mine, but I've always had an a penchant for numbers, to the extent that I was once asked if I'd ever appeared in a film starring Dustin Hoffman. Give me two numbers and what you'd like me to do with them and I'll come back to you pretty quickly, with an answer straight from the head. Somehow, this was enough to bag a top grade at GCSE Maths, which surely says more about the failings of our education system than it does about me. There was some very, very muted acknowledgement of this and other achievements the day I got my results and then, well, nothing until we got a letter through the post a few months later.
The school were having an awards night and would be awarding prizes to those who were deemed to be the best achievers at various things. Knowing that I hadn't won anything and having substantial emotional baggage relating to the place, I was quick to state that the whole thing was a waste of fucking time and that I wouldn't be bothering. Fine. No problem. Then, a few weeks later we get another letter through the post. I say 'we' because it's addressed to me but Irene opens it anyway, as she was prone to do. Apparently I've won the super-duper mathematical fucking genius award, or something like that. What the fuck? I can think of half a dozen people off the top of my head who deserved that more than I did. I appreciated the money though, bought the cheapest book I could find and spent the rest on a New Order album.
Given the opportunity to bask in some reflected glory and claim credit for something they had fuck all to do with, Bob and Irene's collective mood suddenly changes. We're going, irrespective of my feelings on the subject – and I'm gonna dress up like a complete twat in a suit and a tie, and smile at all the appropriate points, and laugh at people's shit jokes, just so they can look like half-decent parents and say “that's my son”. Where were they when I needed them? Neither of them would so much as crossed the road for anything to do with me and yet here they were, insisting I go back into a pit of vipers I'd been so glad to get away from just so they could project an (utterly false) image of normality and respectability to the world.
Anyway, two things happen. Firstly, after Irene's constant banging on about this for weeks (felt like years but c'est la vie) I snap and tell her I can't face it, that I was desperately unhappy and unwell while I was there, that I felt like an outsider and had no positive memories of the place whatsoever, that sufficient time has not passed for me to face something like this. Her response? She tells me that this is news to her (which I knew even at the time to be untrue) and to “shut the fuck up and stop feeling sorry for yourself”. As the day comes closer and she realises I really can't face it, she starts tugging at the heartstrings, tells me how much it would mean to be there. Er, where were you when my world was falling apart around me? AWOL, that's where. Indulging that spoilt little bitch and putting Bob before your other kids, like you always did.
On a more cheerful note, I also arranged an interview with Michael Stark (of Brookside fame) on the same night, so was able to wriggle out of it in the end. Not that even that could go ahead without them gatecrashing and trying to turn it into some sort of 'family event'. I was there to ask him some serious(ish) questions about social reaslism in soap operas, their relevance in contemporary society and all that jazz. Thanks very much for 1) turning that into a fucking circus – was that your childlike way of punishing me? And 2) ringing in to the school with a nonsense excuse about being unable to do the awards because of a family illness. Someone was ill, but that wasn't why I couldn't make it. “You should have rung them yourself - I brought you up better than that” she said.
Irene, whichever way you 'brought' me, I can assure you it was certainly not up.
It's August 1999, it's a Saturday night and the sun is out. I'm killing time to a large extent, but hey at least I'm out of the house. I get to the top end of the park where it joins town and am probably just gonna wander for a while and clear my head. At least that's the plan until I run into a few friends of mine. Fortunately, I was never a White Lightning man, and have the only mouthful of the stuff I have ever tasted in my life. People who know me well will understand the gravity of this statement, but I think I'd rather be sober. I've never got why anyone, anywhere would actively choose to drink what tastes like the content of a car battery when there are perfectly reasonable and affordable alternatives out there such as Windolene, Pine Cleaner and Surgical Spirit.
“Come into town for a couple of pints, Daz” - well, on reflection it's quite amusing that they made that sort of effort to persuade me, or that I should have needed persuading. I was seventeen and a half at the time, and so the idea of having the odd cheeky and slightly illegal beer in a pub should have been (to quote Brian Harvey) as normal as having a cup of tea. How repressed was I that this still struck me as some sort of big deal? How suffocated had I been by years of nagging and wholly fallacious scare stories about how I'd end up sleeping in a shop doorway giving sexual favours for loose change? Eventually, I go into town for a couple of beers. Or, at least that's what I thought was happening.
I'm suddenly being plied with drink – and seeing as it's free I'm going for it. I bang three pints down my neck in about twenty minutes and then the boys bring over the Goldschlager. This would have been about 53% at the time and I rapidly dispose of four of them. Then another couple of pints, and 'the mystery pint' which consists of anything and everything that one of them couldn't be arsed finishing. I've nailed all of this inside an hour and I say my goodbyes, thank them for their time and generosity. I set off home and then...the lights go out. The next thing I remember is waking up in a hospital bed and violently yanking a drip out of my arm. It would be the first of many, many hours that have disappeared from view as the camera switched itself off.
Just to clarify, rumours that I sang 'the King of the Swingers' from the Jungle Book for loose change have since been proven to be untrue – I don't even know the words.
On the grounds of safety I sleep in the bottom bunk that night (young adults sleeping in bunk beds designed for kids – only at our house, or in prison) and I promptly piss myself (sorry kid). Anyway, the following morning Irene's response amazes me. She bangs on about how wretched these friends of mine are, 'getting me drunk' like that and not calling their night off to join me in the hospital. Hang on a minute, shithead. They'd bought me drinks and stuck them in front of me, that much is true. But then nobody had put a gun to my head and forced me to set off like there was no tomorrow, banging the stuff down my throat like it was lemonade. I was immensely grateful that Bob was out of the country at the time as he would have seen this as an opportunity to throw his weight around.
In reality, this was nobody's fault but mine – thanks for reading and I'll catch you soon.