I was born in the early part of the Second World War in southern England. As a small child I can still remember the barrage balloons that helped prevent the dive-bombers from accurately targeting the vital installations.
The cottage we lived in was an old farm cottage with 2 rooms up and 2 down. The toilet was at the bottom of the garden. The water tap serving 8 cottages was outside. In winter it would sometimes freeze up leaving us without water. To bathe we used a tin tub that we brought into the kitchen each night. The water was boiled in big kettles on the black stove. The lighting was gas mantles or oil lamps. When they failed it was candles. We had heavy blinds on the windows because of the mandatory blackout rule.
I remember the V1 rockets, (nicknamed "doodlebugs") that would fly overhead with a flame coming from the back of them. When the flame went out the rocket would fall to the ground and explode on impact. It was very scary. I remember once during the day time a “doodlebug” passing over our house and hitting a shop at the bottom of the hill.
Us kids used to cower beneath the heavy wooden kitchen table when these air raids were going on (during the night time mostly). I have a vivid memory of our mum standing at the kitchen door looking up into the night sky as the bombers were flying overhead on their way to bomb the London docks. The drone of those bomber engines seemed to go on and on. The searchlights would flash in the sky looking to pin point the bombers for the "ack-ack" guns to try to shoot them down.
The kitchen table would have been no use if one of the bombs had fallen on the house but there was nothing more our mum could do for us. Sometimes, if there was enough time when the sirens went off, we would scramble to the air raid shelter. The shelter we had was cut into the earth of the railway embankment at the end of our long garden. It had a corrugated sheet of steel at the entrance which was pulled close during the air raids to stop any light going out from the shelter. Otherwise, those bombers overhead would be able to target us.
The war ended for us in 1945 and as a young boy I was aware that things began to change. I was allowed to go out more often for one thing. We were always hungry as kids, but then, so were most families in our village.
Rationing of food and most other things didn't finish until about 1952. We used to go to the fields and steal what we could. There was no other way. The farmer would sometimes catch us but most of them were OK if we didn't damage the fences or trample on the plants. One farmer in particular was very kind and he sometimes would tell us which orchard or field to go to. Yet another would chase us with his dog. It was the way things were and we accepted it all.
I went to the village school and at 11 years old I was awarded a scholarship to the county grammar school. This was a privilege and a chance to obtain the best education available. Both my parents had great hopes for me, particularly my dad.
I mention this because my dad received hardly any formal education. He spent a total of just a few months at school during the entire period of his childhood due to a serious nervous disability. For one of his own to get such an opportunity his joy was understandable.
He was born in 1898 and in 1914 he enlisted in the British Army. In those days there was no conscription but rallies were held around the whole of the country to get young men to enlist and go off to fight in the First World War. In those days it was Kitchener s Army and they called it “taking the Kings shilling”. He was just 16 years old.
After a short period of “training” he was sent off to fight. He was wounded in the legs during the Dardanelles campaign and eventually sent back to England. His mum and dad did not even know where he was. He had enlisted under a false identity and given his age as 18 years old. I am still very proud of my dad. I wish he (and my mum) could have seen me get sober but it wasn't to be
Only years later could I understand why my dad was so keen on me taking the opportunity of a good education. He was hoping I would go on to either Oxford or Cambridge University and make something of myself.
But being the way I was, I had other ideas. I hated this new snobby school and everything about it. (In fact it was a really excellent school - reputedly the best in the county) but I felt very isolated. No-one else from my old village school attended this Grammar School. One of my pals had gone off to the Technical school and the remainder to Secondary schools.
I did my utmost to be expelled from the Grammar School but it didn't work out that way. I was always bunking off school and was kept in detention after school on most days. They even had me going in on a Saturday morning to help the grounds man with mowing the sports fields.
This was extra punishment on top of “6 of the best” from the Headmaster with the cane on my backside most mornings after assembly. No wonder I loved school. What fun I was having.
When I was 11 years old my elder sister got married. At the wedding reception, playing "jack the lad" I got so drunk I had to be taken home.
The next day I was in disgrace with the rest of the family and mum and dad were obviously upset with me. I swore I would never drink alcohol again as it also made me so dizzy and very sick in the stomach.
But as most of us will know, the seed had been sown in my brain.
That first real experience with Alcohol had opened up my personality to other dimensions never seen before. I was suddenly transformed into this bold, bright, witty, chatty, charming, handsome, clever, devil may care character.......... loved by all, etc.etc.
I thought I was the person I wanted to be. I know today that the first drink compelled me to want more of that personality change. It allowed me to fill in the holes. It made possible the metamorphosis from FROG to PRINCE. Yes of course, this was my REAL destiny.
To move on with my story, I did in fact leave school at 14 years of age because during the school holidays I had already started working in the machine shop of a light engineering company. I was a quick learner and the owner was delighted with my output. He promised my dad he would indenture me when I reached 16 years of age if my dad would arrange things with the school authorities for me to leave early.
To cut the long story short, after much argument and tantrums etc. my dad relented and did what I badgered him into doing.
I was free at last. I was a "man".
Of course, during this time I was earning about 60% of the full wage a grown man with a family would earn. I played the big shot, spending most of my money on clothes and booze after giving my mum just twenty five shillings - (£1.25 in today's money), for my keep. “Thanks son. You are a good boy” she would say. (God bless her).
Just a few months later, my dad made it possible for me to become a student apprentice at a large heavy engineering company.
This rare opportunity would have culminated to early managerial position if I shaped up to it and stayed with it. I reluctantly agreed but it meant a severe cut in wages. Now I really was earning boys money. It was pitiful..........one pound and sixteen shillings a week. (£ 1.80 today).
Looking back, I was probably capable of achieving some status, but I just could not imagine being tied to one place. and the money would not be fantastic either even when I qualified.
I was always restless, always searching for something. I didn't know what it was I was looking for but I knew it wasn't in a factory. There was a big wide world out there and I wanted to know about it all.
As a boy of 11/12/13 years I would frequently run off from home and end up in London. I would get to London by jumping on the back of a truck. The best place to do this was on a steep part of the Watling Street (not far from our village) where the heavily laden trucks heading to Covent Garden market would slowly crawl up that hill. It was so easy.
Alternatively, I would go to the village railway station. In those days of steam trains it was easy to get on-board a train without being noticed if you “knew the ropes”. And I did “know the ropes” when it came to getting to London and back without paying my fare.
I never gave a thought about how worried my parents would be. I just wanted to get away from the village. I wanted some kind of adventure. Of course, when I came back after a couple of days sleeping rough I did get punished - but it never deterred me.
One day when I was about 15½ my best pal told me he was going to enrol in a sea training school. In those days the British Merchant fleet was about the 3rd largest in the world in terms of numbers of vessels and tonnage. I was excited about the prospect and we agreed to follow up with the procedures.
After getting the paperwork together the next hurdle was to get the signature of my dad. I knew he would not even listen to me if I approached him on this subject. However, being a tactician, I knew the route would be through my dear old mum. After my mum had prepared the way my dad eventually relented and did what I needed him to do.
My best pal chickened out at the last minute but that didn't bother me. Nothing was going to stop me now.......
Just after my 16th birthday I was on a training ship learning how to become a seafarer. The sea school was tough but it straightened me out in lots of ways. Many of the boys pulled out of the course in the first couple of weeks. I learned to be a team player and gave in to discipline because I wanted to complete the training. Rebelliousness was always a part of my make up but I was prepared to "bite the bullet" in this case. (Looking back it was a hard but good experience).
4½ months later I was on-board my first ship to start a life that was to be second to none - (for me I mean). I truly loved it all even though I was seasick for about the first 7 or 8 months.
But this is where my drinking really took off.
Being away from parental constraints I was able to do more or less whatever suited me. During the course of my navy career I missed a ship here and there but still managed to survive. It was a lot of fun and those troubled situations were just a part of it.
Getting locked up, getting beaten up, losing my gear, missing a ship here and there, getting fired, being repatriated etc., was all par for the course as far as I was concerned. It came with the job. I just continued drinking never contemplating a life without my booze –come what may.
I was married in the early sixties and after the inevitable separation and divorce I went on to travel around Europe and elsewhere.
I was really at a loose end and often lived rough, just getting a job here and there to get enough to survive – never forgetting to put booze 1st on my list of priorities. I lived on the beach in Ostia just outside of Rome for a few months. I lived in a makeshift tent close to the gypsy encampment and got to know several of these people. They were ok and kind of adopted me in a way.
We used to buy coconuts form the local market and get ice from the ice-man stall close to the beach.
We would walk up and down the beach shouting "cocabella, cocabella", and selling slices of cold-sweet-fresh coconut. We made enough "pocket money" to live on. It was a lovely experience.
During this period, the Vietnam War was in full swing and there were a number of young Americans in Ostia who were obviously dodging the draft. I didn't blame them and I got to know some of them. We had a great time overall.
Any relationships I got into during this period were short lived. Most girls I (temporarily) bonded with could not compete with my love for the boozy lifestyle. It was a classic case of "NO CONTEST".
Fast forward now to the middle seventies. I was married (again) and was drinking a lot. Sure, I was always working even though I was losing jobs through my drinking habits but I could not really see the decline in my standards and the compromising of many of my basic principles. Somehow I always manged to pick myself up again after being knocked down for the umpteenth time.
I now obtained a well-paid job in Kuwait in the Arabian Gulf and bought a house in UK.
I would come home after each stint in the desert loaded with money and just spend, spend, spend, and party, party, party. Then, after a couple of weeks or so I'd go back to Kuwait to earn some more.
Life was good. I had a lovely wife and a beautiful son. I was on top of the world.
This went on until I was faced with a really serious dilemma. Now I really had to do something about my drinking.
When I woke up in police cells at Heathrow Airport one time on returning to UK, I knew my drinking was totally out of control – and even worse - so was I. They told me I had to be carried off the aeroplane as I was so drunk I was unable even to walk. And that was not the worst thing. There were other shameful incidents.
And so, I reached out for the help of AA and I went to a few meetings. For the first time since I was 15 years old I stayed away from one drink –just for one day at a time. I did this for several weeks in 1977 and attended some meetings.
I felt better physically and stopped relying on alcohol to get to sleep. For a few days I had difficulty sleeping but others told me it would pass. It did. I remember feeling much better in many ways but there was something not quite right. I just knew it would not last. It was OK for THEM (those nice people I met at the meetings) but I was different.
After just a few weeks I picked up that fatal first drink that they warned me about at meetings.
Then in no time at all I was back where I started –only it was worse than ever. I just carried on like this bouncing from one crisis to the next, year after year. All this time I was able to keep my home together –but only just.
Then in September 1987 I truly reached a point where I could continue this way no longer. My greatest friend Alcohol deserted me. It no longer did what it had done all these years. It stopped working for me.
I could neither function with it or without it. I discovered TERROR. Fear had always been a part of my life, but terror had been a stranger. Terror was now my constant companion. No matter what I drank, the fear, bewilderment, frustration, anxiety was always there during my conscious periods. I would drink for oblivion, often hoping I would not wake up ever again.
Again, in sheer desperation, I reached out for help. AA was still there. The same message was there.
Ø Stay away from the first drink and you won’t get drunk
Ø Join a group, get a sponsor, and get to meetings
Ø Stay away from just one drink for just one day at a time and things will get better
Ø You’re no longer alone -unless you want to be.
Ø Fly with the crows –get shot with the crows.
And guess what. They were right. For this person, AA has been a life saver, and a life giver. The old habits have faded into memory and newer and better habits are continually forming.
Through the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous and that Mysterious Power behind it all I have been able to live a useful and productive life. I believe too that I found what I was always looking for-even as a child. Inner peace and contentment.
I don’t do any analysis of why, when or how I became an alcoholic, but I’m convinced it has something to do with drinking too much for too long.
There’s too much of what I call psychobabble about alcoholism that I don’t really aspire to. Just my opinion. But I have come to learn since entering this wonderful programme for living that if I don’t pick up the first drink then I really will not get drunk.
Another thing I have learned is that if I follow a few simple directions my life keeps on getting better.
Thanks AA. Thanks HP. I am truly blessed to have been gifted with sobriety.
I was told early in my recovery that I don’t have to stop drinking for the rest of my life. JUST FOR TODAY is enough. If I don’t drink today then I won’t get drunk today. The days add up to weeks, the weeks to months, the months to years. KEEP IT SIMPLE they said.
The recovery programme can be complicated (if I choose to make it that way). Or it can be simple. It’s up to me how I deal with it.
I like what I was told early on in my sobriety and for me this programme can be summed up in 6 words or (perhaps eight).
Trust God; Clean House; Help Others
But, FIRST THING FIRST............... THE most important two words of all........................... DON'T DRINK
GRATEFUL ANONYMOUS……April 2020