Ninety-two readers (thank you!) sent accounts of their worst debacles on drink or drugs. I printed out each one and clipped it into a ring binder. Last Thursday afternoon I made a pot of tea, opened the file, and settled down for a good read. The first sentence of the first entry was: ‘Priggish as it sounds, I am ashamed of the lesbian orgy I initiated while off my nut on champagne.’ I read that — it was amazing — then I took a restoring sip of Rosie Lee and turned the page. The next one was from a soldier. His first sentence was: ‘Kabul was darker than a Pashtun’s fanny.’ It was a tale of hellish debauchery at a party of South African mercenaries, embassy staff, NGO nymphomaniacs and ‘bemused translators’.
After that came a civilian entry, headed by a postal address, the first line of which was: ‘The Rear Cottage’. The opening sentence of the occupant of Rear Cottage was: ‘I’m in my second day of an amphetamine binge and not yet ready to stop.’ A decomposing body found in the boot of a car with a crossbow bolt in its head wasn’t even the climax of this one.
More violence in the next. I am transported to Amsterdam’s red-light district. A punch-up has broken out between a posse of pimps and a party of British lads enjoying a stag night. Our lads are in no condition to sustain the fight and all flee except the narrator, who is too drunk to notice that he is battling the pimps on his own. Then the head pimp, in an unsporting but wholly conclusive manoeuvre, pulls out a small revolver and shoots our tenacious Spectator reader in the kneecap. He concludes unemotionally that it was a rotten shot as the pimp’s intention had been to shoot him in the groin.
There was a fight in the next one, too: in the toilets of Oil Can Sammy’s Bar and Lounge in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada. Oil Can Sammy’s clientele consists mainly of ‘drunken Indians, bikers, fugitives, drug pushers and women of the lowest repute’. A fight breaks out in the bar. A biker is using a metal ice bucket as an offensive weapon. The narrator escapes to the lavatory, only to find himself in the middle of another scrap between two other bikers. One is gripping the other’s head and smashing it against the automatic hand drier. It went like this, apparently: ‘Bang — Whirr — Bang — Whirr — Bang — Whirr — Slump.’
Next, another a fight in a toilet. We Spectator readers do enjoy a fight in a toilet, it seems. This one is between an academic and a janitor at the university’s staff Christmas party. The narrator is the academic. He and the janitor are fighting over a woman who teaches chemistry. The lavatory is small. The janitor jumps on the academic’s back. The academic sinks his teeth into the janitor’s ear. A peacemaker intervenes and the academic bites him also, on the finger. Emerging from the toilet to continue his wooing of the chemistry lecturer, he sees that he no longer has any shirt buttons. He fails to score with the chemistry lecturer, or with his first reserve the college secretary, and goes home to lick his wounds.
By now I’m reeling a little, mentally, from the craziness and the vomiting. Next up is one from a chap who ends his evening at a cocaine/whipping party. He’s passed out, woken up again, been sick, and now he’s been stripped bare, turned over and is being thrashed with riding crops by three naked women. ‘Gosh, you can take it hard,’ says one, admiringly. He can barely speak, but manages to stammer out apologetically, ‘I am afraid I am completely numb. I am really not all that brave.’
About three years ago, there was a launch party for another collection of Low life columns, with readers invited. At the end, this tallish bloke with a calm, experienced face came up to me and said, ‘I’ve gatecrashed your party, but I do read your column. Now, listen: I am a real low life, believe me, and I know that you are only pretending to be one. But good luck, anyway.’ And he solemnly offered his paw.
That guy’s kindly admonishment came to mind now. And the terrible possibility again struck me that to most people my ‘low’ life seems incredibly tame. Choosing 12 winners was a horrible, impossible task: about 80 out of the 92 deserved to win. I wish now that I had said ‘the first 12 to arrive will be invited’ or something similar. With a heavy heart I’ve chosen 12 winners. They have been invited to Friday’s launch party, sponsored by Hennessy. Old clothes, I think, for this one.