Dark Times – Still Here #3
“Still Here” is a reference to Steve McQueen’s portrayal of the titular character in the film “Papillon”, particularly the scenes where, despite all of the ordeals he faces throughout the film, he looks defiantly up at the heavens and says “I’m still here, you bastards!!”
I may not have been through as many horrifying ordeals as Steve, but I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs, and I’m still here. his could loosely be called a collection of my memoirs.
Quite frankly, to even compare my life to that of Henri Charriere (the real-life person whose memoirs the film Papillon was based on), is laughable. Even though I sometimes feel like I’ve spent most of my life in some kind of system designed to destroy all hope and whose only goal is to break me mentally until I am content with spending the rest of my days staring at a wall mumbling incoherently, I do sometimes forget that I’m just 27. Charriere had scarcely reached French Guiana when he was my age.
To be honest, there’s no comparison between our two lives. I chose “Still Here” as the title for this little series of articles as more of a tip-of-the-hat than anything else, what with Papillon being one of my favourite films of all time and Steve McQueen my favourite actor (after Jack Nicholson). The phrase “I’m Still Here, You Bastards” has been a comfort to me over the years, almost like a little mantra for whenever I’m in a dark place. Now I’ve been a borderline alcoholic for most of my adulthood, and have battled with depression in the past. But if Henri could read this now, he’d think “Big deal, Raven. You think you’ve been to a dark place? I spent six months in a small room in total darkness.”
So in short, I may not have had as rough a time as Charriere, but I’m still here you bastards.
This got me thinking: What’s the closest I’ve come to not being here?? I scratch my head and try to remember the number of times I’ve feared for my life – it’s not that many. Other than my run-in with Polish neo-nazis which I’ve already written about, or the incident in Vienna which I won’t write about just yet because my mum still reads this site occasionally, the only thing that comes to mind is when I first went on the Nemesis at Alton Towers. Which is kind of depressing. I suppose the fact that I’ve never really had any near-death experiences should be a good thing, but my paranoia won’t let me take any kind of comfort in that, instead resorting to a mocking chant resounding in my head as if to perpetually remind me how uncool I am.
Actually, come to think of it, there was the time I was mugged and left unconscious off of Oxford Street, which I suppose could have been a lot worse. But that wasn’t too scary, to be honest I just remember being jumped by a group of guys, being pushed over and then waking up in hospital with a sore head, minus my phone and wallet.
To make matters worse, Liverpool had won the Champions League the night before, so the first thing I saw when I woke up was Steven Gerrard’s smug grinning mug on the ward’s TV screen and all over the back page of the newspaper of the guy opposite me. It’s not a nice thing to wake up and see Steven Gerrard grinning back at you, particularly when you are already vulnerable and disorientated. And are heterosexual. And a Gooner.
If I’m honest, the times that I’ve been closest to kicking the bucket (or at the very least doing myself some serious damage) have been of my own doing. I’m once again referring to the evils of drinking. John Doran (whose column “MENK” inspired me to write these articles) wrote that there’s something “unappetising” about people who “churn out misery memoirs” about their experiences with drinking. John gave up the drink a good few years ago and hasn’t looked back, which is something I admire because deep down I know I just couldn’t do it. I’d just end up churning out “misery memoirs” about being sober.
But I can try and follow John’s example in terms of writing, at least. His MENK posts taught me that you can write about your drinking experiences without being miserable. A lot of his stuff is incredibly dark, but miserable is something it is not. Why should I be unhappy, anyway? After all, I fucking love drinking. But from my somewhat unimpressive list of near-misses, I began to think about the times when I’ve been so drunk I thought I was going to die.
The first time I got properly smashed I must have only been about 14. It was at a friend’s party – well, I say a friend, she was more of a friend of my mum’s, a sweet Irish lady. It was her husband’s birthday or something and in the back garden they had a huge barrel full of ice water and assorted cans of lager. So I spent most of that evening hanging around this contraption bobbing for beer cans, like some sort of alky tombola. That was, until I locked myself in the toilet upstairs. My mum’s boyfriend had to drag me out and into the car. I asked my mum about this evening recently, and she made it more embarrassing when she told me that we weren’t even at that party for longer than two hours.
I hardly touched alcohol again until I started my first job at 17. I met a guy there called James, maybe a year older than me. We became good mates and our whole team would go drinking on Fridays at the Old Explorer, where they would actually serve me. As the new guy, James and Fox (another good friend I’d met at London Air Travel) took it upon themselves to give me an “initiation”. All week I’d been worried about what this “initiation” would entail, but it turned out that they just planned to get me blind drunk. Which wasn’t hard.
Again I locked myself in the toilets. This time at the Phoenix. Eventually the manager came and opened the door and threw all of us out. James managed to get me onto the tube where I was sick again, in fact this time it was worse, as two other people sitting near us were sick as well. This was back in the days when the Central Line still had those wooden floors, you know, the ones with the grooves in, like in the photo above?? The image of the river of collective vomit running down the grooves in the floor, all down the carriage, will haunt me to this day.
But the worst time, the time when I actually scared myself, the time that actually made me think “fucking hell, I need to slow down a bit”, was about a year and a half ago. I had gone up to the Big Red for a friend’s birthday. I was early so I had a couple of pints while I was waiting for her and her mates to arrive. When she did we got on the Jagermeister, big time. Someone had bought her a bottle of it for her birthday and these novelty shot glasses. We each got given a shot glass for the evening, which magically kept getting refilled. I must have done at least 8 shots of the stuff. Eventually they headed off to a club which I didn’t fancy, yet it was only 10pm and the night was young, so I decided to go down the Mucky. I’m not going to say it was the smartest thing I’ve ever done.
At the Mucky, Angus gave me a shot of – guess what – Jagermeister. I used to be able to do Jagerbombs with the best of them (apart from Jude, anyone who has been a regular at the Mucky for a long time will tell you she was in a league of her own). But nowadays I struggle, because they still remind me of this night. I also remember drinking Bisongrass Vodka and a shot of something else, vaguely cinnamon-tasting. The upshot was that I ended up getting off of the bus at Graham Road to throw up, then walking the rest of the way home through a mist-covered London Fields. The odd thing is that the journey which should have taken me 45 minutes took me 3 hours. To this day I’ve no idea where those hours went.
By the time I got home I was throwing up blood. Lots of it. But rather than going to hospital, I stupidly decided to sleep it off. It was light when I’d finished spewing my guts up, and I crawled into bed fully aware of the fact that there was a strong chance I might not wake up. I can’t fucking stand hospitals anyway, so I figured at least I’d die in my own bed. The next day I had a pain in the left side of my stomach which lasted about a week, and felt as if I’d swallowed a switchblade which had sprung open inside of me, impaling me from within.
Now I could use all these excuses under the sun for my behaviour that night like I was depressed or I was still coming to grips with the death of my Nan, but I won’t. I was just fucking stupid, full-stop. And in the grand scheme of things, I was lucky as well, lucky to be ‘still here’. Needless to say I didn’t drink Jagermeister for a while after that.