Alcoholics Anonymous is 75 years old. The first meeting was advertised in The Financial Times (other newspapers wouldn’t allow such advertisements) and held in The Dorchester Hotel in 1947. Around 5000 meetings take place every day in the South East of England. Deepfake technology allows some of these alcoholics to tell their stories.
I’m already familiar with them. I’ve been to a meeting with my brother, Stephen (SEV) who was an alcoholic and read The Big Book. Last week somebody asked me when he’d died and I had to think about it. He was born in 1959 and was 35 when he died. So I guessed it was 1985.
When I did the eulogy at Bob’s funeral a few years ago, I told the tale of how he’d a fish supper in front of him and a bottle of Buckfast, when I found his body. The message was it wasn’t that bad. But it was for his mum.
AA makes demands on its members. Anyone that has read my longer story, Ugly Puggly, knows how badly written it is, but also how funny that cultish behaviour can be. But here it is literally a life saver. Admitting you are an alcoholic and you need the help of a higher power (whatever you want to call it), is the first step of 12. It takes a lifetime. It makes a lifetime. It is a lifeline, but not everybody can cling on. Amen.
So what, you might say. You probably know the trajectory that follows.
You’ve got Damian Barr, who grew up near Ravenscraig steelworks, a solid working-class town. Him being gay wasn’t his fault—or even a fault—but being a fucking Tory, Maggie & Me, was just a step too far.
Deborah Orr, Motherwell: A Girlhood, which just about sums it up.
You’ve got Kerry Hudson’s whimsical, Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma (fiction) and Lowborn (factual) that deals with what it means to be working-class poor.
Meg Henderson’s wonderful Finding Peggy, but a bit before Hudson’s time.
Darren McGarvey, with his Poverty Safari.
Janice Galloway’s autobiographies This is Not About Me and All Made Up are my clear favourites.
She mentored Graeme Armstrong and The Young Team, the story of Azzy and Airdrie, if you’re fucking asking, and it’s told in dialect.
Scottish actor and comedian, Jane Godley, described as Nicola Sturgeon’s alter-ego (before she fucked up and went a bit too far and behaved like a politician—grabbing the money). Handstands in the Dark: A True Story of Growing Up and Survival, which told a tale of incest and marrying into a gangster’s family in the East End of Glasgow was, to my thinking, underrated before clicking on to Amazon to find over 2000 five-star ratings, which shows I was deluding myself, but not as much as Sturgeon.
We can even fling in Alan Bisset, Boyracers, which tries to do the impossible and make Falkirk cool.
And if we’re stretching it, Maggie O’Farrell I Am I Am I Am, seven brushes with death. She’s from Northern Ireland, but kinda Scottish.
The real daddy of fictionalised memoir, Booker Prize winner Douglas Stuart and Shuggie Bain. A gay boy growing up in Glasgow’s housing estates and watching his mother slide under the couch with drink, while drowning, but claiming to be simply waving and doing her hair.
What does Aidan Martin add to this amorphous list, or, in other words, what kind of story can a guy in his late twenties tell us that we’ve not already heard? In terms of markets, what’s his Unique Selling Point?
Livingston isn’t very cool, which is a good starting point.
First chapter, ‘Groomed’. He’s standing outside McDonalds. ‘Heart racing.’ I don’t like heart racing, because it’s clichéd city. But we know what he’s talking about. He’s not there to have a Big Mac and chips. It’s in the chapter title. He’s fifteen and meeting an older man, with a North English accent, who calls himself Derek.
White-van man is a world of disappointment, but he’s organised. He’s got a room in a hotel booked and a cover story. He’s brought a bottle of Buckfast for Aidan, because that’s what you do. Fantasy is never reality.
‘Escapism,’ Sexual addiction, alcohol addiction, drug addiction.
‘You’re fuckin’ dead, after class…
‘Truth be told I wasn’t as violent as the lads I was always fighting. Some of them seemed at ease taking it to the next level. But the idea of jumping on someone’s head or stabbing them felt sickening to me. Survival was day to day.’
Plotting of beginning, middle and end is quite straight forward. Aidan is suicidal, but the reader knows that if he’s written a book he can’t be much good at killing himself. The writer’s job isn’t to make things simpler, but more complex.
Grandpa dead. Grandma deteriorating fast with depression and diagnosed as bipolar. His wee brother, ‘DJ was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma one of the rarest soft tissue cancers in the world’.
Bargaining with yourself. ‘Money was getting tight, so we started on the cheaper drugs too. Back on the eccies, speed and valies. We had a few attempts at crystal meth, and I found myself smoking an unknown stuff from foil.’
Aidan had yet to hit his rock bottom, in Alcohol and Drug Anon language. But he’d a Higher Power looking out for him. This is shown in graphic form.
‘I self-harmed with knives…some otherworldly force flung the knives out of my hand.
All I can say is I know it truly happened.’
The reader knows Aidan is going to make it. But he’s honest about it. His relapses were to do with a lack of humility. I’ve heard the same story in so many forms. My brother, for example, telling me he was just going to have a few pints. Aye, we knew, what that meant. Deep down, so did he.
We’re in the world of repetition. Even the language becomes boring and clichéd. Recovery is slow. Aidan at 25 is at West Lothian College. He will have relapses. He will find himself. The reader knows that. God help us, if I start quoting Rumi and Leonard Cohen, We’re all broken. There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.
I’m a reading addict. The pleasure of recognition lies not in revelation—although that has its place—but in resonance.
‘I am grateful to be clean.’
Hallelujah has nothing to do with religion, but everything to do with a clean heart that cries out. Read on.