When I’m wandering through the Lakes, as oft I’m wont to do, I find that I’m drawn to cliffs. I cannot stop myself standing on the precipice and looking down.
I’ll admit that it’s not very wise. I’m all too aware of the resolute desire to fling myself over it. It’s the same on bridges, in railway stations, and at the side of busy roads too.
I stand there on the edge of some fell, looking out, and considering flying into non-existence. But I don’t. And that’s the thing.
I know that all it would take one small movement, one spasm of the muscle, one trigger of willpower, and I’d be gone.
I’m inexorably drawn to the edge, because it represents the border between life and death for me. I know that standing there I really am on the threshold, and all I need to do is take one step, and the black dog howling behind me will be silenced forever.
But I don’t take that step.
And that’s the thing that makes it worth the danger.
In that fleeting, infinitesimal moment, I am in control. I make the conscious decision not to take that step, and at that moment I am in full control of myself, and my future. I’m not doing anything at the bite of some shuck or bodach, I’m taking charge.
I’m drawn to the edge, and I step away from the edge.
It’s nothing, it’s trivial, anyone can do that, but to me, in that moment, it represents something huge. And it matters.
It makes me feel so much better, knowing that I have that power.
I might struggle to control other elements of my life, I might be subject to waxing and waning storms of the mind that tend to dictate how I live, but at that moment, the universe comprises solely of the edge, my body, and my decision to step away.
In that moment, I feel infinite.
It fades, of course. But I can remember it, and I know that at least for that nanosecond I was in control.
And gods be good, it helps.
There are two kinds of drinkers. The first are the steady-eyed and rational. They drink a couple of pints while sitting down, and have a reasonable conversation around reasonable topics, before they return, reasonably, to their houses, with the same face they had on when they left – perhaps a little softer around the eyes when they see a child, or I Want To Know What Love Is by Foreigner comes on.
When these people say, “I’m going down the pub to have a couple of drinks with my mates,” that is exactly what they are going to do. To the letter. It is a contract. It is a measured, pleasant task. My husband is a drinker like this. He has a nice time for three hours, and then he cleans his teeth and goes to bed. “That was lovely,” he will say, cheerfully. “Night night.” And that is the drinking all done.
Then there is the second kind of drinker – usually, I have noticed, with some kind of Celtic DNA somewhere: in the telling, slaloming rapidity in their speech. When they say, “I’m going down the pub to have a couple of drinks with my mates,” what they mean is, “I AM BOARDING THE SKY-SAILING PIRATE SHIP TO WHISKY VALHALLA! I HAVE ON MY MAGICAL DRINKING SHOES AND GLINDA’S KISS UPON MY FOREHEAD, AND I INTEND TO DRINK AND TALK SO MUCH THAT A HURRICANE WILL DESCEND, AND DROP ME FIVE MILES AWAY, AT 4AM, IN A FIELD FULL OF COWS, WITH A MINER’S LAMP IN MY HANDBAG.”
I am this kind of drinker.”