Part 1: One In, One Out
Hello, my name is Chris, and I have a not drinking problem.
Go back and read it again.
I’ve recently moved to Manchester to start a new job, working as a designer at an advertising agency. I am undergoing a probation period and I need to impress. This is a problem because I am not a drinker.
If you are unfamiliar with this blog, you might not know that I am painfully skinny. My delicate frame just can’t withstand the liver-rotting quantities quaffed by my contemporaries. Alcohol hits me hard and fast, like an abusive husband, and I get drunk very quickly. This does mean my nights out are cheaper than most peoples, but it also means that if I ‘keep pace’, I’ll be floored in record time, a bit like Amir Khan.1
Alcohol also does horrible things to otherwise perfectly nice people, and it’s not my idea of a way to wind down. I own two pint mugs, but no pint glass – that alone should tell you all you need to know.
And then there’s hangovers. I’ve never been a fan of hangovers. In fact, I’d go as far to say I am anti-hangover. They are rubbish. I avoid them as often as possible. Unfortunately, being such a lightweight means I get them without fail, and avoiding them means not drinking. This is fine with me, but society expects me to salve my troubles with blackouts and liver damage.
Why is this a problem? My new colleagues are big drinkers. Employability in my field is 50% personality, 50% talent, allegedly, and apparently, ‘personality’ is a synonym for ‘getting pissed.’ I resent that whilst many people will work to live, slogging through the week to drink themselves unconscious at the weekend, I must drink in order to keep a job.
I had a whinge on the phone to my friend Doctor Harry, who is a professional psychologist, and he immediately tells me to go for it, and to drink and be merry to win friends. Statistically, those who drink and socialise with their workmates get employed – and stay employed. I worry for the good doctor’s patients, if his best advice for me is ‘solve your problems with alcohol.’
My colleagues themselves are a close group. They obviously know each well, and I am the outsider in their midst, but my nerves and misgivings about the company are not limited to it’s socialising culture.
Everyone is very good looking and fashionable – of course they are, they’re big city media players – and it’s very intimidating. One client liaison named Rory is even an international model. Not only does he have a jawline like hewn masonry and limpid blue eyes, he’s also quite the brain box, as he alone is responsible for about half our revenue. And he’s nice. This is even more intimidating.
I’ve noticed as well that there seem to be cliques within the company; with some very interesting work for an impressive client being done by a group of creatives under the direction of Jade, the senior account handler. Admittedly, this collective is based solely on aptitude rather than nepotism, but they seem to be a tight-knit group, often going out for a drink once a brief is completed. I have identified Jade as someone to get close to in order to be given interesting work, but she’s very business minded and all the cups of tea she can drink don’t seem to thaw her coldness. I will have to impress her with my work, and for that I need a stimulating brief. Dammit Jade!
There’s been a few occasions where I’ve been invited out for a drink (and it is always ‘a’ drink on my part), but I never stay long, partly because I live so far away, but mostly because I don’t feel I should have to drink in order to socialise, or to keep a job. I’ve been trying to fit in in other ways; letting my talent speak for itself, being convivial and warm to my colleagues and doing all the belittling jobs without complaining. Not in public, anyway. Save it for the blog.
But I am having the last laugh… (Not out loud, obviously. Nobody has the last ‘LOL.’ That would be ridiculous.) You see, whilst I have withered the storm of blank stares and cursory glances, I have been orchestrating an elaborate plot to exact my vengeance on those who have spurned my talents….
I have been deliberately making bad tea!2
GASP! As I don’t fill the mug up to capacity! SCREAM! As I don’t get the most flavour out of the bag! MAKE A SHOCKED INVOLUNTARY NOISE! As I put just a bit too much milk in! LOOK OFFENDED! As I ‘forget’ to offer you a biscuit.
Revenge is a dish (mug) best served hot. Or it would be, but unfortunately I am so good at making tea that even my worst brews are exceptional. Just my ruddy luck.
I also stole a pen.
Despite their chilly disposition and possible alcohol dependencies, I feel my colleagues are essentially good people, but my favourite member of the team is Jez, the copywriter. Jez is fiercely intelligent, and has the sharp wit to go with it, as well as a mischievous streak and a warm, inclusive laugh that add real life to the room. He’s hilarious, welcoming and leaving at the end of the month. What a let-down. Naturally there’ll be a big piss-up in his honour. What a bigger let-down.
Part 2: Lad Banter
It’s the evening of that leaving do I just mentioned in honour of Jez. I am sat with Paul, an account manager, and a new addition to the team, and Andy, a digital designer. Andy has many things is ample supply; bravado, fight stories, a baby and alcoholism to name but four, and Paul combines the physique of an alpha male with the good humour and intelligence of not-an-alpha male. I am intimidated. I stare nervously at the expensive beer in my hand. I resent the pressure to drink it, but equally I want to get my money’s worth. Look what depths the economic recession has brought me to…
The conversation has been centred around the fairer sex for quite a while, and I have been nodding and pretending to be bawdy. Currently, Andy is holding court on the subject of cheating. I hate cheating. It is rubbish. I liked it better at primary school when it was called two-timing, before it got rebranded, and even then it caused a frown upon my tiny face.3
I can’t put it any more succinctly than comedian Jon Richardson, who said on his BBC 6Music Show;
‘I hate cheating, I think it’s my least favourite thing in the world. I hate it even more than wet bread. And I hate wet bread. I could never be a duck.’
Anyway, after Andy starts listing the circumstances that would cause a lapse in his fidelity (he is drinking/a girl is near) Paul amiably concedes to our colleague’s opinions with this throwaway statement;
‘If a girl starts talking to you, you’re not going to turn her away, and if it leads somewhere, so be it. You’re only human.’
NO! This is not an excuse! As humans we have evolved to be BETTER than animals. With our consciousness we have created such notions as ‘chivalry’ and ‘shame’, and failing to utilise these concepts properly is like spitting in the eyes of your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and-so-on exponentially until you’re phlegming in the face of Neanderthal man.4
When humanity developed a conscience, it should have spelt an end for laddish behaviour. Animals copulate because nature says so, but we alone have the power of reasoned decision, and with that power comes great responsibility – so spake Spiderman. With human consideration comes such human traits as courtship, romance, fidelity and evenThe Joy of Sex, as well as, admittedly, marital aids, sexual deviance and photographs of naked ladies; phenomena that separate us from the beasts.5
If your excuse is ‘I am evolutionarily hardwired to stick my business in whatever hole is directed my way’, then at least have the decency to use correct terminology; you’re not ‘only human’, you’re ‘only an animal’. Get it right.
Once again, my needlessly overstimulated brain has neglected to allow my mouth to keep up with my colleagues’ conversation. My silence is noted and I am once again quizzed about my love life. A particularly insecure part of me asserts itself, eager to earn the respect of these real men, and I tell a horrible lie…
I describe a fictional recent girlfriend, a break-up with whom I am still getting over, and hence am not on the market. I name this girl ‘Danielle’, giving her the personality of my friend Daniel and the appearance of my friend Sophie. Inevitably, what with us being bloody blokes, the conversation tends towards the physical, and I have to describe a fictionalised sex life with the uncomfortable amalgamation of two close friends, neither of which would be up for it. Dan is obviously a male-bloke-man, and indeed, sometimes we have shared a proper hug (never in public) but nothing that would infuriate a right-wing fundamentalist Christian. Nothing romantic has ever happened with Sophie either, because she is a homosexual, something that very much would infuriate a right-wing fundamentalist Christian, if she knew any.
I wonder inwardly about the horrible thing I’ve just done. Who is the real immoral person here? Is it my lesbian friend, happy and successful and in love with another beautiful young lady? Or is it my colleague(s), lusting after the merest hint of woman, happy to sow their oats into any receptacle, regardless of commitments to other err… receptacles? Or is it me? The insecure deviant who creates a lie in which he sleeps with a girl with no interest in him in the real world, but who is foisted with the personality of his best mate in order to win the respect of two lads who aren’t his cup of tea anyway?6
My new friends’ curiosity is only sated once I show them a picture of this girl what I maded up. I have to surreptitiously google the word ‘girl’ without them noticing. To this day I have no idea whose picture I inadvertently showed them, but they seemed satisfied rather than appalled, so I presumably had Safe Search on.
As the beers continue to flow, the collective machismo becomes diluted, and the truth comes out. Andy is unhappy in his relationship; an affair of necessity than of affection to support their baby, and Paul secretly shares many of my sentiments on the subject. We discuss this further as I accompany Paul away from the party early to catch transport home. I’m starting to like Paul, and I feel like a fool for judging him too quickly.
As I leave, I say a final goodbye to Jez, thanking him for making me feel so welcome. He lauds my talents and wishes me the best for the future, promising to keep in touch. We shake hands vigorously, and I tell him the agency will be a colder place without him. He replies that it’ll do just fine with people like me there. This is a very nice thing to say, but then again, he hasn’t read this blog.
Monday morning heralds another roll call of drunken mishaps and mischief. I learn that Hayley broke a table by dancing on it, that Stan was arrested for lighting a cigarette indoors, and that there may have been some insensitive comments made about race. Jane, our new copywriter, has already put her phone in the fridge, so the week is already off to a good start.
I appear to have passed some sort of ritual, and the invite goes round for the studio Christmas Meal and Annual Piss-Up. I say yes, obviously, because a job hangs in the balance. Perfect: here I am, in October, dreading a hangover I am going to have in December.
On my lunch hour I accompany Andy & Paul to an award winning sandwich shop. As we walk past a XXX Pornography Shop, the owner protrudes, beer belly first, from a seedy-looking PVC strip curtain, leans forward into the street, uses one dirty finger to press his nostril together, and snorts a gobbet of phlegmy snot onto the pavement.
I learn an important lesson about who the worst people in the world are.
Part 3: Getting Merry
The day of the Christmas Party has arrived, just as I knew it would do. That’s calendars for you. Of course, I’m very worried, and have prepared several hangover remedies in advance:
2 x Two litre bottle of water – to dilute alcohol intake, and also to take painkillers with the next morning, should a glass of water not be available.
1 x 16 pack of Nurofen Plus Express – for fast acting pain relief.®7
1 x Two pint carton of milk to line stomach with.
2 x Bread rolls – to initially line my stomach and to give much needed carbohydrates in the morning.
1 x Massive bottle of Lucozade – to replace electrolytes lost in sleep whilst processing alcohol, as well as much needed glucose the next day.
1 x Bag of Ready Salted Crisps – to restore greatly diminished levels of salt.
1 x Teabag – for, when I’m ready, speeding up my metabolism with caffein to process the remaining alcohol faster.
Some might consider this level of preparation unnecessary, but such people were obviously never in the Boy Scouts. Being this paranoid got me fourteen badges, and you just can’t argue with those stats.8
It’s these pre-emptive strikes, as I like to call them, that lead me to being where I am now, doing what I’m doing.
Our office (or studio as we call it, ‘cause we is creatives) shares it’s foyer with another office, which is currently vacant. Either the recession has discouraged new tenants from taking residence in a steeply-rented office space, or people just can’t stand us arty-farty marketing tossers. I guess we’ll never know.
For the time being, however, our agency has appropriated the foyer and it’s enclosed lavatory as an area for visiting clients to call their own, and it is in this lavatory that I find myself during my lunch hour on Friday.
It has come to this; me, huddled in the square meter betwixt toilet and sink, necking a two-pint carton of milk to line my stomach for the night-long binge that’s coming my way. There is absolutely no need for me to be huddled, but initially it seemed appropriate, and then I got cramp and had to stay that way. I take great care to make myself presentable upon leaving the bathroom. It would not do to be seen by a client exiting their private toilet with a milky face… That isn’t how our business is done…
Come four o’clock, the team downs pencils for the week, piles into three taxis and rendezvous at a fancy hotel apartment that’s been booked for the specific purpose of having somewhere to trash in a drunken stupor. It sleeps eight, comes with a complimentary dressing gown and pillow mint, and has glorious panoramic views of a
bog-standard carpark. I’d like to be able to say it was a particularly picturesque or beguiling carpark, but that would be a lie, and I only lie for comic effect, to get myself out of trouble, or if the mood takes me.
The early birds have already started, and are downing whiskey on ice. They joke that they’re going to get me wasted. I devoutly hope its a joke. Rory says he’s going to make me do so much coke I’ll think my name is Henry.9
They all laugh, and so do I, but mainly because Henry is my middle name and Rory has been accidentally correct.
Everyone grabs a beer bottle and nips to the bathrooms to spruce up. I do the same, but pour my beer away and fill the bottle with water so that I can be seen chugging. I can almost hear readers screaming at me for wasting alcohol, especially when there’s starving people in the Third World, but you shouldn’t drink on an empty stomach and the Ethiopians have enough on their plate – figuratively speaking – without being peer pressured into boozing. It’s downright irresponsible.
After a short taxi ride, which I am allowed claim back on expenses, we arrive at a very fancy restaurant. I eat one of my top three meals of the year. This part of the evening is only marred by our Managing Director getting a bit frivolous and accidentally catapulting a whole desert onto his lap. This is probably a ‘you had to be there’ moment, but rest assured it was very, very funny. The desert was a sweet pear, and it sat there in his lap, juice seeing into his expensive trousers, looking like a fruity, gloopy, misshapen wang. And he’s the big boss man. Oh how we laughed.
There is a moment of camaraderie between us all, but before I have a chance to enjoy it properly I have to neck a glass of wine and follow the group to a cocktail bar…
Two hours drip by, and I’ve held steady with just the one mojito, but I keep scooping the ice out so it looks like I’ve drunk more of it than I have. There’s a much more relaxed air of conversation now; I’ve loosened up enough to come out of my shell a bit, and my workmates are tipsy enough to laugh at all my snarky jokes, which is nice of them.
My easy-on-the-alcohol ethos has not gone unnoticed, however. Rory, quite drunk, leans across to me and says how much he respect my ability to say ‘no’ to drinking too much.10 ‘If only people could say no,’ he slurs, ‘how much better life could be without our vices…’ I accept the compliment, and raise my glass to self-restraint, deciding not to point out that an absence of self-restraint has taken Rory to modelling parties all over the world and into the knickers of celebrities you’ve actually heard of.
I also get talking to Ed, another new account manager, as we try and ignore a scene going on to my left. It turns out that Jade and Stan, a designer, are midway through a turbulent love affair, and have decided to showcase a small part of it this evening, for our delectation. As they smooch so gracelessly, Ed confides in me that he is a comedy writer, and is writing a sitcom pilot with his flatmate about the life of a stand-up comedian. Keen to impress, I casually guess at the plot, and accidentally get it right first time. I think Ed hates me.
Off the back of this, Paul’s ears start to burn, (not literally) and before long we’re having an excellent male bonding session made up entirely of Alan Partridge quotes. An hour later and we’ve all gone away promising to check out each other’s favourite shows, and Ed has offered to look through my blog.11
With the rest of the team now too drunk to notice me necking a glass of water, we take two taxis into Manchester’s Chinatown to a karaoke bar. A joyless bouncer asks for ID, and is noticeably disappointed when he is unable to refuse me entry, as I always carry ID because I look about twelve. None of the rest of the group has ID because they haven’t needed it for years, and we have our first big drunk argument of the night, at 10:30 PM. The management have allowed us in simply to appease us, and when I say us, I mean Hayley, who had to be restrained. She really wants to do karaoke…
Hayley sings the beginning of Spandau Ballet’s ‘True’ eleven times because she wants silence for her performance and PEOPLE KEEP TALKING! I make a note of this in my phone because it is funny. A staff member comes to check if the karaoke system is OK and Hayley screams at them and slams the door in their face. Then security gives her a talking to. It isn’t funny any more.
Having previously been so worried about songs, I note with delight that every almost song on the playlist has featured on a ‘Punk Goes Pop’ compilation of my youth, and I know all the words! I patiently wait until I am expected to sing. Under much cajoling from the rest of the staff, Paul and I select ‘Say, Say, Say’ by Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson, myself taking on the part of the begloved moonwalker. I don’t want to seem arrogant, but we nailed it. The King of Pop is dead. Long live Me.
Now that we’re safely in the karaoke bar, and everyone else is too drunk to remember if I make a fool of myself now, I let my guard down and enjoy myself. After all, it’s my Christmas Do too. I drink several expensive beers that the company is paying for, largely because the company is paying for them, and they are expensive. I relax, and begin to see my colleagues as friends…
As the night draws to a close, I find myself sat at the back of the room with Jade. ‘This is my chance to get to know her,’ I think, ‘see if I can’t get me some cool work. I’m feeling particularly outgoing, and she’s well out of it.’ I initiate conversation, but before I’ve finished one sentence, Jade grabs my wrists earnestly;
‘Chris, I just want to apologise.’
‘I wish your first week had gone differently, because the little I’ve seen of your work has been amazing…’
‘Your work on that TV ad was great. I think it’s disgraceful how little good work you’ve been given.’
‘You know Jez said you’re a fucking genius. You’d do so well here, but you’d do even better in London…’
‘I wish we’d got to know each other sooner. Me, you, Paul and Ed, it would have been so good to have a new team. You’re all so talented! And cute!’
‘I do have one criticism, though…’
‘You need to make better tea.’
Twenty minutes later, against my will, Jade has kissed me in front of an audience of about thirty Chinese people, and dragged me and Paul into a taxi and passed out..
I wake up the next morning. My hangover is mild, and will be gone in an hour. I use all my remedies, and even have time for a shower, before heading back home. Once again, I had nothing to worry about.
At work on Monday, the atmosphere is relaxed and jovial. Ed, Paul and I greet each other with a unanimous ‘AHA!’ I make all the tea properly. Jade gives me a little wave. This is what you get for trying to have fun…
1 Can you smell that satire? Wouldn’t like to be him when he reads this! Also, wouldn’t like to be me when he reads this. Good God what have I done!?
2 If this was speech rather than a written piece, I would have arranged for a dramatic sting to be played at this point. Just so you know. Don’t say I don’t think of everything.
3 All of me was small. I do not have an abnormally small face, not now, not ever.
4 You never know, they might have enjoyed that sort of thing back then.
‘Have they invented the Xbox yet?’
‘Nope. Want to spit on my face?’
5 N.B. Not true of all said photographs.
6 ANSWERS: It’s C and/or B. If you said A you can fuck right off.
7 This blog is not endorsed, supported or even acknowledged by Nurofen. That said, they do a bloody good painkiller. Go on, go and buy some Nurofen!
8 Not the sewing badge though, that would be a step too far.
9 I’ve only just realised this might be a reference to Henry the Hoover. Poor Henry, ridiculed the world over for performing a function and having a silly face. I’ll be your friend, Henry…
10 He also said he’s intimidated by my vocabulary, in particular my use of the words ‘requisite’ in ‘zenith’, as well as my ability to use them in a better context than I’m doing now.
11 Hi Ed! BIG SHOUT OUT!