The cold winter rain is bucketing down. The gardens and fields shimmer and dissolve. I am beginning to wonder if I will have bronchitis for the rest of my natural life. Housebound with two badly behaved puppies. They have forgotten all their house manners and I am going to give them away to the first person who rings the doorbell.
Nevertheless, it is always good to be sober. Always.
One of my neighbours is going to see a Spiritualist because she thinks there is a ghost in her garage causing her car to stall each morning. A ghost messing with the starter mechanism. Some mechanical booby from the Other Side.
I didn’t tell her about my one and only Spiritualist meeting. A story revolving around demon drink, of course.
In the early 1990s I was doing legal editing in the city. My hours were reasonably flexible, which helped me cope with hangovers. One winter morning I was walking up through the beautiful city that overlooks the bay, when I saw a large glossy BMW collide with a Range Rover several blocks away from me. Nobody was hurt and the drivers got out and exchanged contact numbers.
But I felt shaken, and it came to me that a small drink would settle my nerves. I went into an almost deserted coffee bar, an old mirrored dining room in the Vienneses tradition. I explained to the head waiter that I had just witnessed a very frightening motor accident and needed a shot of brandy to settle my nerves.
I looked neat and demure in a pretty sweater and with my hair loose and shining on my shoulders. Not your Average Alcoholic with raincoat and bottle in brown paper bag, oh no. The head waiter nodded sympathetically and brought me an aged brandy and told me to ‘toss it back like a man’. Then he brought me another, together with an espresso. I felt calmer, lighter, more philosophical.
But as I stepped out of the charming Vienneses coffee bar, I realised I could not arrive at work smelling of neat brandy at 10 am. What made perfect sense to both the headwaiter and myself would sound fishy in an office crowded with diligent lawyers and editors. I needed an hour or so to sober up. I had a large box of double-strength mints in my bag, but that was not enough.
Right next to the coffee bar there was a door with a poster detailing the times of a Spiritualist meeting. What better place to kill time? In a burst of euphoria, I opened the door and climbed a flight of stairs and joined a large group of Wednesday morning spiritualists in a room lined with bookshelves and the odd pencil sketch of Red Indian spirit guides. How quaint! I apologised for interrupting and sat down a few rows back.
It was very mundane with prayers being offered and long thoughtful silences. I sucked on my mint.
Then a small woman in a green overcoat addressed me and said she had a message for me.
My ‘dear old grandfather’ wanted me to know I was ‘an old soul possessed of many gifts’.
‘My grandfather,’ I said, in a loud and brandy-enriched voice, ‘was a tyrannical racist and I doubt he had a soul to speak of.’
Everyone sat up straighter and peered at me with curiosity. The green coat subsided. A few more prayers for world peace were offered. Then a collection bowl was passed around. More prayers for those who had passed over and messages sent back to them.
Just as people were bundling up their knitting and yawning, rewrapping scarves, geting ready to go out into the street again, the green-coated woman looked across at me and said there was another message.
I cheered up and a glint may well have come into my eye. Nothing like a chance to be sarcastic and cut through all this hooey.
“Nobody was hurt in that accient,’ she said in her whispery old voice. ‘Both drivers had insurance. The only one harmed by it was you.’
Then she smiled at me, but coldly.
I felt more than a little shaken by that experience. From then on I took another route up through the city to reach my work place. I didn’t want to hear that kind of message ever again. And I did not want to meet that strange little woman in her green coat anywhere in the city, her way of seeing what nobody but myself could know. I wanted no more messages like that. sober or drunk.
When I finally admitted I was alcoholic and began to retrace my long tawdry love affair with drink, this little incident came to mind. Self-harm was very much on my mind. And only then did this strange message impinge on me as a gift, a warning I had not heeded. Somebody out there watching over me.