Hang around Alcoholics Anonymous for long enough and you start to hear some pretty funny stories.
Like the man who woke one morning to find a camel in his front garden. Clueless, he asked his wife if she had any idea how it had got there. “You fetched it home last night” came the weary reply. Turned out he’d stolen it from a travelling circus and walked it three miles home. True story.
When I was young and travelling around the country with Mr D, a marked lack of any regular source of income led to the honing of some questionable creativity. Namely busking with a tin whistle. I was the musician of the piece, knowing as I did precisely three tunes which were, respectively, Oh Danny Boy, Raggle Taggle Gypsies Oh, and some random wild card I now forget – The National Anthem perhaps, or possibly Good King Wenceslas. Anyway, so wherever we went I would drive myself (and everyone else no doubt) half demented playing the same three songs over in a loop, while Mr D skipped about like a ninny with an upturned flat cap in his outstretched hand shouting, “Spare some change for the busker”!
After which we’d trudge happily along to the nearest off licence with pockets full of coppers and silvers to buy some beloved Special Brew. Sometimes, if we’d done particularly well, we’d even sit in a warm pub for a few pints first, content as cats after our long days toil.
My 22nd birthday we were somewhere in South Scotland. Drinking most of the afternoon and all of the evening (happy birthday to me!) we found ourselves hours later, staggering the wet, shiny, black streets of Glasgow in the early hours of the morning, all spent out. We swayed reluctantly in the direction of home, the party seemingly over. What to do?
When Mr D suddenly stopped. There was an off licence on the corner, closed up and dark, the white paint extolling slashed prices eerie on the glass. I was unimpressed. It was the middle of the night. The damn thing was shut for gods sake and we were all out of money anyway. I then felt him looking over my shoulder and turned to see a low brick wall surrounding a nearby property. Part of the wall had clearly crumbled at some point and loose bricks lay around like kicked in teeth.
We made a cunning plan.
We would go to where we were staying, get our hooded tops, zip them up to the chin pulling the hoods tight around our heads, return, put one of the loose bricks through the off licence window, grab a couple of the bottles of whisky we could see displayed in the front, and then… run away.
“Hmm. The alarm will probably go off straight away” I mused.
“Yes” said Mr D. “We will have to leg it fast”.
Aha, of course! Leg it fast. Genius.
The plan was actually going rather swimmingly right up until the crucial moment when we stood, poised with brick, ready to crash dramatically through the glass… only just then in the distance we became suddenly aware of a piercing and rapidly gaining whine. NEE NAW NEE NAW NEE NAW…
Hardened criminals that we were, our eyes met in horror before dropping the brick like a… um… hot brick, and legging it as best we could up a side street. We ran until we heard the siren sound peak… and then begin to taper off again, at which point we stopped, momentarily confused. Breathless and coughing, we turned to eachother. A still second passed before we exploded, laughing drunken howls of hysterical relief into the wet night.
And so we began the journey home proper, arm in arm, giggling and zig-zagging across the road. Until we came upon a Glaswegian car thief. Mr D seemed keen to avoid eye contact but I rather felt I might strike up a conversation. I had some wisdom to impart. He wasn’t wearing gloves for a start. I wrested myself away from Mr D’s grasp and approached said car thief in a friendly, if slightly unsteady manner. There were police about, I thought he should know, and also didn’t he think gloves might be a good idea?
In a move away from the psychotically violent response poor Mr D had envisaged, the Glaswegian car thief simply looked a little nonplussed. It was alright, he said, with a face that suggested this was the weirdest night ever. He knew what he was doing. Thanks though.
Mr D eventually succeeded in dragging me away, mumbling something about me being a total fucking liability. And no doubt the next morning, like so many others, saw us groggily wandering out again, into the daylight, armed only with tin whistle and flat cap.
The thing is, for years the memory of that night made me laugh. It was a story of high jinx, or so I thought. A story of a time when Mr D and I were trusty sidekicks, still young, in love, and forever getting eachother into mischief. I had no idea at that time, or for many years after, that I was suffering from a fatal and progressive illness. But in light of what I now know I look back at my 22 year old self with fear and dread. For I can see that my alcoholism had already moved into the crucial stage, where the alcoholic simply can not stop drinking once they have started and are prepared to do almost anything to procure more alcohol. It was certainly not the first, or the last time I was to put myself at risk.
These days there is a poignancy to every funny tale I hear told in Alcoholics Anonymous. We laugh more together than you might think. We laugh with mirth and we laugh with relief. Because every single one of us knows that we are lucky to still be here to tell the story.