I was too young to sit in the pub so all I could do was watch through the window. I’d spy the men drinking and smoking. I desperately wanted to be in the pub. I wanted to sit and laugh and chat. I wanted to watch and listen to my dad while he made them laugh.
Everyone was a heavy drinker in sixties Glasgow. It was how they washed away the slog of the week – they drank to forget the cold poverty, the falling jobs, and the grey tenement buildings we all lived in. Except my dad always got into trouble when he drank; stealing cars and skipping work. When he tried to stop drinking it was just as bad – he would see snakes, spiders and dead grandma. He had the DTs, mum would say – I knew what that was before I kissed a girl. Mum said it was why dad was sicking and sweating and could see things that weren’t there. She said not to tell anybody. So I didn’t.
I hid from home by playing with friends. Most of the time I got myself into trouble without knowing how. I just got so angry and jealous. I wanted to fight people to make them like me or be my friend. I felt a rush when I had fights. The same rush I got from jumping between the bins, clearing four-foot drops, and the same rush from the first time I had sex with Theresa, when I was just ten. The rush didn’t last long – I had to fight more and more to get it.
Not long after my first sips of my dad’s Special Brew, at the age of thirteen, I had my first proper drink in the pub. I was selling the evening newspaper and ran into a gang of eighteen-year-olds who took me under their wing and showed me how to down half a pint of beer and a whiskey. The feeling was like nothing I had ever experienced before – I was full of confidence and bravado; I could talk to anybody about anything. I wanted to do this as much as possible. I saw how the gang acted like they didn’t care what anybody thought – they were cool and they drank alcohol.
After that it was a spiral; I didn’t do well at school because I was too busy with drinking, fighting, girls – then someone showed me how to smoke hash. I had learnt what I needed from my childhood. I learnt that I never needed to feel shit about anything if I was high. I didn’t realise I had crossed a line. I had crossed it with no warning, no worry, no prophecy of some future locked up in jail or needles sticking out of my arm, dying. But that’s where I was heading, and there was nothing I could do about it.
I was dead already; I just didn’t know it.
Mark Dempster is author of Nothing to Declare: Confessions of an Unsuccessful Drug Smuggler, Dealer and Addict, available now on Amazon.
Next issue: Mark sets off to London to become a big time drug dealer