On 26 June there is a party at the Spectator office at 22 Old Queen Street to launch a paperback collection of Low life columns. If you would like to come, please send an account, in about 800 words, to firstname.lastname@example.org by 15 June of your worst or funniest debacle when intoxicated. If more than 12 readers send a story, then the senders of the 12 best stories will be invited. The following, for example, is an account of what happened to me only last week.
At the literary festival bar I ran into a writer I’d met a couple of times at parties. He was perched at the bar and waved me over, asked me what was I having, and appeared so pleased to see me that I felt sorry for him. I asked him whether he was speaking. He was, he said, and signified his despair with a gesture of prayerful Christian penitence. Then a crowd of his friends all turned up at once to pay court and laugh at his misery. When the bell clanged for ‘time, gentlemen, please’, I went over to bid him goodnight. He said, ‘Come and have a nightcap back at the hotel, why don’t you?’
The tiny bar at his hotel was closed. ‘Never mind,’ he said. ‘Come up to the room.’ So we went up to his bower of chintz with a balcony. ‘I’ve got some weed,’ he said, handing me a clear, resealable plastic bag with what looked like a prodigiously large and evil-looking grown-under-lights yellowy-green cannabis bud inside. ‘Skin one up, Low life, and I’ll get us a drink.’ He poured two monster brandies, put King Curtis on his crappy little portable CD player, and when I’d made the joint, we carried it and our drinks out on the balcony and I set fire to the end.
I don’t smoke weed because it makes me paranoid and unhappy. But I try it very occasionally to see if anything has changed. I took a couple of puffs and handed it over. My writer friend sucked in a great lungful, held it in, and said in a falsetto voice, ‘The chap who sold me this said to be careful with it.’ Then he exhaled great billows of smoke into the night air and returned the joint with an old-fashioned touch of ceremony. I had a couple more puffs, then he had a couple more of his amateurish, getting-his-money’s-worth maximum inhalations and long retentions. Then he said, ‘Crikey, I think I’ve got to sit down for a bit,’ and he went inside.
You lightweight, I thought. Waste not want not, I took two or three more drags, and then suddenly I too was overcome by the need to sit down; a need which, no sooner had I articulated it in my mind, changed to an absolute imperative to lie down, which I did, with my arms pushed out in front of me, like a swimmer, and my right cheek resting on the cold floor. I was paralysed after that. I couldn’t lift my head or move my limbs or even my fingers. I couldn’t open my eyes. I couldn’t speak. From inside the room there came an ominous silence save King Curtis’s virtuoso saxophone playing through the tinny little speakers. My mind was relatively clear and calm, however. My main thought was that I was going to die, and what a relief that would be. After what seemed hours, I heard my writer friend say, from inside the room, ‘Jeremy, could you possibly get me a bowl, please?’ His voice sounded perfectly normal. A heroic effort on my part was required to open my mouth and say, ‘I’m sorry. I can’t move.’
Then I was freezing cold and felt the ominous stirrings of a double incontinency. If only I could crawl over the threshold into the room where there was a carpet instead of this hard floor, I thought, and where it might be a bit warmer. I could lift my head enough to turn the other cheek to the floor, but that was all. Now from inside the room came pathetic retching noises. And then I, too, had to lift my head an inch or two off the floor to be sick on my arm.
It wasn’t until the first light of dawn that I found that I could lift my head and look around. A wobbly attempt to kneel then stand was surprisingly successful. I went inside and found that my writer friend had managed to crawl on to the bed and wrap himself in the duvet. I climbed in beside him and desperate for warmth cuddled into him and fell asleep. When I next awoke, mid-morning light was streaming in through the left-open balcony doors. My writer friend’s eyes were open and regarding me across the pillow. ‘Holy shit,’ he said. ‘What a relief we’re both still alive! What time is it?’ I fished my phone out of my pocket and told him. ‘I’m speaking to an audience of 200 in half an hour,’ he said. ‘You should preach a sermon on the perils of smoking super-skunk,’ I said. ‘I will,’ he said. ‘I will preach to them as a dying man to dying men.’
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