There are only two entries in my journal from the last four months of 1996. One was written in September, and the other I wrote while sitting on a train 3 months later. The reason for the gap is partly explained by a sober decision I made in September to not be sober for a while.
In September 1996, I had just returned from a year in Austin. It had been a year of incredible highs, and the lowest of the lows. In the previous 12 months I had chanced upon an amazing new city called Austin, with sunshine, margaritas, and beautiful girls that were attracted to me. I’d made a lot of new friends, I had more confidence in myself, and I’d just spent the summer traveling around America with my best mate Nelly. But at the same time, my wee brother Andy had died.
I came back home a very different person. But home had changed too. My family had changed. Whereas before we had always been four, now we were three. I wasn’t ready for it.
We had a small party at our house for my 21st birthday a couple of days after I flew home to Glasgow. It was the first time I’d seen many of my friends and family since the funeral. There was so much I wanted to tell them about Austin and everything else, but I couldn’t find the words. I must have been asked the same question a dozen times: “How does it feel to be back?” and I didn’t know what to say.
It’s hard to describe how disoriented I felt. It was dreamlike to be back in Scotland, almost like an out of body experience. My head was spinning, and it felt like everything else was spinning too, but at different speeds.
My fourth and final year at Edinburgh University was due to start in October 1996. I had thought that I would be sharing a flat with the same three guys from 2nd year, but they told me that they didn’t want that arrangement to continue. I don’t remember when or how they told me, and it was never an issue. Fortunately for me, a room opened up in Nelly’s flat with our school friend Craigy, and I moved in with them.
It was a great flat, on the top floor of an old building in Edinburgh’s Old Town, next to the Queens Hall, with a view of Salisbury Crags. The flat in Shallow Grave always reminds me of it. Nelly was also in his final year at the Law School, and Craigy was managing a bar in the New Town called The Watershed.
I don’t really have a lot of specific memories from those last few months of 1996. But I do have these two journal entries. When I first had the idea to write UnReidable, I thought that I would just be typing up a lot of my old journals and putting them online with a little introduction. Pretty easy I thought. But for several reasons it hasn’t turned out that way, and so the writing has been more reflective as a result. But for this chapter, I’m just going to open up the journal and let you see where my unfiltered mind was at the time.
So in this first entry, I’m writing about the month of September 1996, and pondering the imminent start of University. I do find it quite hard to read this, because although I don’t remember the details, I do remember my state of mind. And I remember making the decision to drink.
It wasn’t because I didn’t want to feel anything. It was because I didn’t want to feel sad. Most of the time, I think I was a happy drunk. I was never angry or aggressive. I was a clown. And a lot of the time it was fun. I think what I’m trying to say is that yes this was a dark period, but it wasn’t without its moments of joy and laughter. Anyway, this is what I wrote in September 1996:
September 24, 1996
We’re well into September now as I write this. Tuesday 24th September, 10.25pm to be exact. Unfortunately I have been lacking such specificity during the last few weeks as I have been becoming perilously close to being an alcoholic. To be honest, I’m still hanging on by my fingertips, and with Fresher’s Week next Monday, it’s going to be hard to pull myself up for a while.
I don’t know if I can be specific at all about the last month. Many days were spent at home, sleeping till 1, watching music videos and going to bed at 3am. There were a few big nights in Glasgow: my 21st when I met Kathleen and Shifty in Reds, the Cricket Dinner where we ended up in The Arches, a night out with Gail, and a couple of games of footy with Dougie and Scott.
I managed to get my job back at Finnegans in Edinburgh, though I did my best to fuck things up and have had a few tickings off from Dave, not unfairly. Last Friday and Saturday I worked but Thursday before that was a good night out with Jigsy, Claudia, Nelly, Craigy, Jonny, Leo, and Hammy. This time Nelly gave me a ticking off for getting too drunk. Not good.
Musically, Shed 7 have been on the turntable regularly, as have Kula Shaker and Oasis of course. I also have a Gene concert to look forward to next month.
I’m in the process of moving all my stuff through to Edinburgh now, I’ve just had my courses picked, and I’ve lost about a stone in weight, (see alcohol).
Yesterday I found the drawer full of cards and newspaper articles that I had never seen about Andy, and I started to wonder whether I was totally sane right now. My first thought of course was that I needed a drink.
Last November was a nightmare, but I dealt with it the same way and getting out of Scotland was a tonic in many ways. At Xmas I was fucked for the whole three weeks and didn’t really address any of my emotions then either. As for the last 4 weeks, drinking all the time has made thinking unnecessary – that’s probably the attraction.
So where am I now? I think I’m ok, but being in Glasgow brings out a lot of ghosts. Not bad ghosts, but Mum and Dad spend so much time with their eyes glassed over, and their wine glasses full. They still refer to his room as “Andy’s room” but I think that’s normal. You can’t forget. You can never forget.
Right now, I can see absolutely nothing wrong with me drinking a lot. Apart from not eating and the health implications. As long as I’m a happy drinker and I don’t affect anyone else I should be ok. If I can keep going to classes and maintain attendance then I’ll be fine. Being a student is a very good occupation for an alcoholic.
I don’t like that term though. I can’t see why everyone would be so worried about my drinking and not say Jonny’s smoking. If anything, that is more socially unacceptable. I like the fact that I am losing weight and if I keep doing some exercise I’ll be ok.
So here I am making a totally sober decision not to be sober for the next few months at least.
I can see this year ahead quite clearly. Drinking most nights, working hard at first, letting it slip November – January, running out of cash, (including probably the money from my 21st), and then concentrating on work around March and scraping a 2:1. A successful 9 months in my opinion.
Reading that again, I do remember the pain, but at the same time I was ok. I seem quite rational. I might even have been optimistic.
It would be more than two months until I took the time to write for myself again. Two months of pretty consistent boozing too. I was on a train to Nottingham to go and visit Stu, my Scouse mate from Austin when I wrote the next entry.
The journal entry describes one day in particular detail – the anniversary of Andy’s death. A day of highly-motivated drinking. It was also the day we went to see the band Gene at the Queens Hall, who had written wrote a song that I listened to a lot the previous year, (see Chapter 22). Anyway, here is what I wrote at the time:
Friday 6th December
We’re traveling again. When I say ‘we’ I mean me and myself of course. This time it’s the train from Edinburgh to Nottingham.
It’s Week 9 now and I have not made any notes since the weekend before Fresher’s Week, which is a long time. Unfortunately, Nelly threw out all the newspapers I’ve been keeping so this will be very unspecific date wise.
The last 9 weeks. It has been fun. I did successfully become an alcoholic and that is probably not something to be proud of. I remember in Fresher’s Week I was drinking Millers and double whiskys every round. We went to the Woolpack quite a lot and that was where I met a lot of people I hadn’t seen. Also Iguana was very popular initially.
There wasn’t one night in October and November when I didn’t have quite a few drinks. Me and Nelly would take it in turns to buy a crate of beer, and I had quite a good supply of whisky and gin building up too. I know why I was drinking; I knew it then too. Everything was just too much. I didn’t want to face all the questions about ‘what’s it like to be back?’ all the fucking time.
Nobody told me that it would be difficult to get back into things at home. It took me about 2 months to get used to life in the US, and the booze was essential for the equivalent Edinburgh adjustment.
But the drinking peaked and then it subsided at a significant point which I do remember. It was Gillian’s 21st birthday bash on Wednesday 23rd October. We went for some drinks at a hotel on Princes St, and I was already on the triple gins.
We went to the Mercado Club. Actually I’ve just remembered that Beth and Nat from Boston were staying with us at the time, and the night before I took them out to a Finnegans night out (Golf Tavern, Biddys, Subway) with Craig, where apparently all I said was ‘Hello’ all night. And I also spilled my heart out to Jean-Anne and Suzanne.
But anyway, Gillian’s party was good. I remember Cammie being there, and I think he must have had about 20 After Shocks. Jayne had 4 in a row too. That was also the night I met Mandy who I had heard fancied me from a party a few weeks previously.
So I wake up the next day and I knew that it was exactly a year since Andy died.
In the morning I went to an Evidence lecture and then the Labour Law seminar still drunk. I remember laughing when Prof. Brodie asked ‘What was the fun bit in that case?’ He turned to me and asked ‘Do you not find law fun Peter?’ I responded ‘No. I detest it with a vengeance’. Brodie was quite happy and remarked that it was good to see that not everyone had lost their souls to law. Excellent.
I just wanted to stay drunk all day so I went to Negociants by myself for lunch although I didn’t eat anything. I had 2 Millers and 2 margaritas after being treated like shit at the Bank for not having my card and telling a stupid lie. The Punishment and Society seminar was shit, I was glad to get out. Then I went and bought a bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin.
I walked past the flat door to see if Gene had arrived at the Queens Hall. They had and were blasting a sound check, so I had the idea to write them a letter about the song ‘London, Can You Wait’ and what it meant to me.
I went upstairs to the flat and wrote a small letter while supping a large G&T and blasting Gene from Nelly’s stereo. Then I went down and handed the letter to their guitarist who seemed really flattered.
Nelly, Craig, Nat and Beth came in about 7 while I was watching a video of Drugstore at Glastonbury. I was fucked by now but we went out to Mothers Restaurant and I had some soup. It was absolutely pissing down outside and we arrived at Gene just as they started the 2nd song. It was quite busy and rather overwhelming already for me but there was more.
After about 10 minutes, Martin Rossiter, the lead singer, said ‘We received a letter this afternoon from someone, and it touched the whole band very deeply, so this song is for Peter’. Then they played it, and I lost it at last. Nelly gave me a hug and the music was just amazing.
We stayed till the end, and it really was a good show. The highlight being ‘Sleep Well Tonight’ when Martin jumped onto the barrier at the front.
After the show, I went back and talked to the band, but I was totally gone by now and didn’t make much sense. I went to the Maltings with Craig for a few and he told me something he had never told anyone. That sort of trust from someone is the strongest shoulder that anyone can give. It can also be fragile, but I consider myself absolutely trustworthy, so it meant a lot at that time.
I went home that weekend and sobered up but I remember thinking that I wouldn’t have much chance to stay that way because of all the future sessions. But speaking now, I’m totally fine. I don’t feel like I need a drink very much, whereas then I always had that feeling. But I had to do it and I survived. I have no regrets and right now I’m having a brilliant time.
I’m not sure if I was actually having a brilliant time or if I was just trying to convince myself. I didn’t write about my weekend in Nottingham with Stu but I do remember being very happy to see him. He and his mate Miles came up to Edinburgh that New Year too, and my friend Lisa from Austin came too. We had an all night party in our flat, and I did feel a lot more optimistic about the future.
I think that things did get a bit better after that, but I still remember some horrible low moments throughout 1997. My September prediction of how the year would turn out was very accurate. Sometime around March or April I put aside the booze and swapped it for the drug of studying law. Not quite as much fun, but it did keep my mind distracted. I got the honours law degreee I needed, and more importantly, I made it through in one piece.
As I near the end of this writing project, I need to say something about Stu and Lisa. I’ve said before that I don’t know how I would have made it through that last year of University without Nelly and Craig, but I also don’t know how I would have survived that year Austin without Stu, Lisa and Marc.
I got homesick for Scotland a lot and Lisa was often the cure for that. She is from Inverurie I think, near Aberdeen, and she was also studying abroad at UT. She was, and is, an incredibly talented percussionist, but shamefully I never got to see her perform. I just loved hanging out with her in the bars and at gigs. She loaned me her Trainspotting novel and I think we were the only two people in Austin who could understand it. She was a great listener and a true friend.
I’ve written about Marc earlier, and if Marc was the wild voice on my shoulder in Austin, then Stu was the sensible voice on the other side. So many times he was there for me when I was down and out. He was on the same law study abroad program as me, and was visiting from Nottingham Uni. He’s a massive Everton fan, and he never tired of calling me by both my names ‘Peter Reid’, after the other Peter Reid that played for Everton in the 80s. He’s one of the most solid, trustworthy people I’ve ever met. Stu was my lighthouse that year. He kept me afloat.
Those couple of years were rough at times but I got through it mostly because of those close friends. Nelly, Craig, Stu, Lisa, and Marc. I’ll never forget how thankful I am to have met each of them.