Dorothy Parker, Mary Jane and Red Wine

She was in a restaurant, ordering another glass of wine and wondering how many she could drink before going out into the sub-zero temperatures and making her way up the hill to the hotel, or turning back down to the station and picking up a cab. She’d always had this idea about living like Dorothy Parker, drinking, smoking, laughing, surrounded by wit at the Algonquin. There was a price to pay, the multiple suicide attempts and later years in a hotel, soiled underwear stowed away along with the clean.

There was something attractive about it, all the same. Some freedom, liberation from the mores and conventions of normal life, making bunny rabbit ear apostrophes around normal in her head, as if she were some new man (more bunny rabbit ears) in the eighties, Miami Vice jacket rolled up at the sleeves and casually luxuriant hair.

Liberation or an escape from the demands, frustrations, of everyday life? Carefully calculated alcohol consumption, enough to dull the pain and stay on the right side of liver disease, stroke. Long days, up at four and still working at nine at night. Another day, home from seeing a friend, in bed by eight.

A bottle bought on the train in her bag. Was that enough to induce sleep, body and mind driven by distractions, trying to fit too much in too short a time, Ordinary Life as Van would sing … keep on pushing, make it useful, do what you’ve got to do. … Dorothy beckons, the lure of pub life, hale fellow well met bonhomie and camaraderie of the worst kind, of one drunk to another.

She’d tried marijuana once or twice, loved the smell and taste, inhaled deeply when she passed it on the street, smiled at the giant spliffs, cocked nonchalantly in thumb and forefingers, tipped behind the ear, or hanging from pursed lips, eyes squinting against the smoke, dreadlocked driver reversing the van, a massive turn, holding up the traffic on a busy London road, V signs, flat hand thank yous, indignant horns, choice Anglo-Saxon in equal measure. Laughing and drawing deep, shifting the spiff from mouth to two fingers held aloft a hand on the steering wheel, changing gear and picking up speed, the whole in a cloud of patchouli and the animal perfume of worn clothes.

There was the day she’d smoked, losing her drift on the drive home, or feeling ill after Mother’s Pride white sliced bread and marge dope sandwiches in the pub when the Rolling Stones concert was cancelled. Keith Richards had a sore finger. Or something. She came back again to the old Wembley stadium, down the front, with the lads, security spraying water on the crowd and passing out plastic cups, each person sipping and passing the cup on, like Mass, when the concert was re-scheduled. Families there with cool boxes, serene at the back of the arena. The worst time was drinking some in a mug of coffee: inexperienced, she’d said, that’s enough, but he (a steady smoker) had insisted, you’ll never get a hit. Had there been any moment it had been okay? She remembered only the paranoia and the certainty that he was an axe murderer. She’d got up and driven to work the next day, across the flatlands from Manchester to Liverpool.

Alcohol, perhaps through long acquaintance, was more predictable. Twelve and a half per cent was fine for a functioning evening, chatting with family on the phone, hanging up the laundry, sorting bills, writing. Sometimes she was caught out by the thirteen or fourteen per cent artisan wines from the New World, lush in their flavours, far away from the dry vinegars of Europe, slid silently, soullessly, into oblivion, waking at four in the morning and getting up to make tea.

Buying milk, sanitary towels, a razor, the cashier laughed and spoke to his neighbour in Gujarati. There was always that moment of trepidation, climbing to the second floor, down a passage to the room, breakfast between seven and eight. She opened the door: it was delightful.