Up close and personal

Up close and personal

When Michael Jackson left The Streets of Sinners, what happened to his drinking?
In much the way that some people wear a monogrammed handkerchief in their top pocket to remind themselves who they are, some magazines carry under their title a slogan that sounds like a job description.If this magazine had such a device, I dare say it would be: ‘For the civilised enjoyment of whiskies of all types’. Or something like that.We know that, however much we love whisky, alcohol also has the potential to be destructive. We encourage appreciation, not abuse. I hope that, in proselytizing, we are more than cheerleaders. I have never felt the desire to wear women’s clothes of a scanty cut, form a line with half a dozen similarly clad young women, and dance in formation while waving brightly coloured pompoms.Furthermore, I think such behaviour is as inappropriate to the sport of Rugby League as it is to the occupation of lumberjack. No, it is not all right.Had you there for a while, didn’t I? I have to have a little fun. Whisky is indeed enjoyable, and sometimes even fun, but the caprice of the cratur precedes it. Perhaps because it is capable of more robust and exciting flavours than any other drink, whisky seems often to be regarded as a sort of Bad Boy of Booze.As we drinkers are well aware, some people think all booze is bad. We know where we are with them. I am more troubled by the ambivalence of society at large.We find drunkenness amusing, but only up to a point.Perhaps that is changing. We Yorkshiremen are not generous laughers, nor do we readily appreciate people from Lancashire, but I remember in the early days of television being convulsed by a comedian called Jimmy James, whose schtick was to play a rubber-legged drunk; we might not find that funny today.Being drunk in public is not civilised behaviour.When I perform, digressions are my schtick. Life is for the journey, not the destination. Today, here, I am digressing for different reasons: to delay my arrival at a painful place, where I shall introduce you to my personal Demon, For many years, when people have learned what I do for a living, they have tended to ask: “Don’t you get drunk when you are judging whiskies?” I explain that it would be hard to take usable notes if I did. I do a lot of the work with my nose. I spit. And I drink lots of water.People who enjoy drink tend to tell tales of excess as though it were a matter of pride. I suppose we persist with this childish bravado to persuade ourselves that we are still young.On a national paper in Scotland, a colleague taught me to drink malts. When I left Fleet Street and began to write books, an editor grandly told me that I had “graduated at the university of life.” Well, we all drink a lot at uni, don’t we?I could have been an alcoholic but I turned out to be a workaholic. It is not the booze that has made me look ill at some recent events, but nor is it my masochistic schedule of researching, writing, publicising and travelling.Given that regime, my doctor could not believe her ears when I complained I was having troubles with mobility.I first noticed it nearly 20 years ago, my left arm seemed to go a bit dead when I was tired; that sort of thing. At first, I thought nothing of it. Eventually, one leg began to trouble me, and my doctor put it down to an old injury when I played Rugby League.The problems persisted and, after various tests, Parkinson’s Disease was diagnosed.Since then, I have worked even harder: a driven man. I have been more prolific than ever, praised by critics who knew nothing of my condition. Extremely effective drugs are available and, with a suitable cocktail, my symptoms were not very noticeable.After nine or 10 years, the medication diminishes in effectiveness. The specialist is phasing me on to some new drugs at the moment. It takes a while to calibrate the doses, and for me to become accustomed to them.When everything is in place, I can still chase and tackle a taxi. Sometimes, when I have been absorbed in writing, or perhaps a discussion, I forget to take one ingredient of the cocktail.In extreme instances, I look like a robot that has been unplugged from its power supply.More often, I am unsteady and slurred. Having been a beer and whisky professional for 30 years, and almost heretically modest in my alcoholic intake since I left The Street of Sinners, I now sometimes look as though I have a drink problem.Could God have such a sense of irony?I have no idea. I cannot relate to such ridiculous notions as the existence of God. I blame The Devil.
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