by Neil Chapman
So, imagine this. A few years ago, there was I, a young (!!), ambitious, would be writer looking for any kind of opportunity but not really knowing where to start, when out the blue, a brand new national men’s magazine decided to headquarter itself in offices no more than a mile from where I lived.
They had a great concept. It was a lads magazine for ‘lads’ over 35…cool and sophisticated, a bit like myself really ,with no naked women or souped up, weird looking motor cars. Just good articles on a range of subjects, blah blah blah. They already had guaranteed distribution in all the major outlets, W.H.Smiths, Menzies etc. So I rang them, we chatted, they commissioned me to write a piece, so I wrote it, they ‘loved’ it, and they told me they would be publishing it in issue six. I’m on my way I thought!
The magazine folded after issue five.
So that’s the background… and finally, here’s the article.
THREE PINTS AND A SLICE OF HUMBLE PIE PLEASE”
Being banned from driving doesn’t just mean losing your licence………you can lose friends, self esteem and your credibility.
It’s been a good session. The atmosphere has been good, the conversation great; you’ve even heard a couple of new jokes. You’re one of the lads. And now you should go. But first you have to summon up that little bit of courage and say it.
Sorry guys, but I’ve got to go.
You’ll be the first to go. You know what their response is going to be.
Don’t go yet, have another one. It’s my shout.
They are as one. But, you are strong. You are ready for them
No, honestly I’ve got to go. I really have.
That should be enough, and usually is. Until tonight.
No come on. Just the one. We’ve gotta go as well……c’mon. Just five minutes.
You pause. Big mistake.
We’ve got time for one more. Tell you what……have a half.
Oh shit, do I really have to say it twice?
There is a machismo card in play somewhere and you really want to get away before it gets played. So you start to rationalise.
How many have I had? I should be OK. I might be still be ok if I have another one. I haven’t got far to go. The law will be parked up some lane waiting for the real drink drivers. The silly buggers you see on the telly. In the ads. The Christmas crackdown. Not me.
You think you’re thinking straight, but you’re not. And the thinking becomes hesitation, becomes a lack of conviction, becomes another round of drinks, and the moment you could have walked away, has passed. The moment your lack of conviction led to your conviction.
Trust me. Just for the next few minutes or so.
I don’t know you. We’ve never met but I’m gonna bet that you think you know all about the penalties and the consequences of a drink-driving ban. Well at the risk of offending you, you don’t. Unless of course, you’ve been through it. And then it’s something we don’t often talk about isn’t it? Especially to people we don’t know. We don’t even talk about it to people we do know. Why? Because the process of being caught and convicted is bad enough. But what happens afterwards is worse. Much worse.
I have just been caught. Convicted. Banned from driving. I’ve lost my licence. They’ve told me exactly when I’ll get it back. They’ve told me exactly how much the fine would be and when it had to paid. But what they didn’t tell me was how people would react towards me; that I’d lose my self esteem. And they haven’t told me when I’ll get that back.
It all happened so quickly. A blur really. Blue flashing lights, standing at the roadside, the embarrassment, hoping no-one passing recognised me. Being arrested. Arrested for Christ’s sake. Then being escorted away and squashed into the back of a police car. Just think about that for a moment. Humiliation. The feeling stays with you for a long time. I had become a part of the detritus that the police had rounded up that night. The drunks. The hags. The fighters. Those that chose to run rather than pay for their curry. The other side of life. I’m not really a part of this, I thought. But I was. No different. No better. I was one of them. Perhaps worse. One of them. That thought would come back to haunt me.
The effects of my new persona were immediate. People began to treat me differently. It wasn’t obvious at first. The police were friendly. Very friendly. I thought it was because they knew they were dealing with someone a little bit different to their normal clientele. But there was something, well just a little too polite. I recognise it now. Professional disdain.They had seen a million just like me and I guess we all look the same. Then the doctor arrived to take my blood. A professional man who would surely recognise another? Usually these guys are friendly? Trained to be reassuring? So why wasn’t this one? I smiled, I tried to bond, tried to find his ‘there but for the grace of God’ spot, but nothing. Was he like this with everyone? Or was it just me? Then I realised. He was one of the ‘they should all be locked up’ brigade.
The penny finally began to drop. I am one of them. Within a matter of days I was in court. Easy to say, but not so easy at the time, and face to face with three friends of the good doctor. Three of his more hard-nosed friends who made no concession to politeness. They didn’t have to. They had hard evidence and a guilty plea. So they could deal with me as brusquely as they liked. Because that’s the way the system is. The way it has to treat you. Just like the case before yours and the case afterwards. No discrimination. You are no different to the car thief, the joy rider, the seventeen year old yobbo who mugs old ladies. Not when you are standing there you’re not. So I walked from the court, and for the first time since this business began, I was beginning to see what it really meant. It only took me five minutes on the back of a beer mat to work out the financial costs of it all. Job, car, salary, paying the mortgage, etc. etc. That was the easy bit.
The difficult bit is telling people. Telling people I knew. People that mattered. My mates, colleagues at work, people with whom I shared mutual respect. What would I tell them? Tell them I’ve been a fool? A perfect idiot? How would I explain that I knew the rules but still went ahead and broke them? I knew the penalties but that still didn’t stop me. How can I explain those things and expect to retain my credibility? I’ve learnt it’s no good saying “Look, I only had an extra half pint’’ … I wasn’t drunk when I left the pub… I was only just over…a tad too much to drink perhaps, but not drunk”. No. I found it was pointless trying to explain. The looks say “yeah yeah, I bet you did. That’s what they all say mate”
And if they aren’t thinking that, I think they are.
And that’s worse.
Whatever I like to think, I’m up there with the best of ‘em now. The shit faced, the rat-arsed, the three times over the limit boys. The attitude of the police, the doctor and the boys on the bench was only the beginning. In the eyes of quite a few of my ‘friends’, there is no difference at all between us. And when I try to explain that I am different, that I’m not one of them, it feels like I’m groveling, ingratiating myself. So I stay schtum. I explain nothing. And I leave myself open to how they want to interpret it. I lay myself bare to the ‘holier than thou’s’. But this time they are right. I can’t argue with them.
And that’s worse than any fine or ban.
As is the knowledge that I’m going to have to admit to myself pretty soon that I ain’t any different, that I am like all the rest of the drink-drivers that have gone before me, and just count myself lucky. Lucky that there was no-one else involved.
Look I’m not going to preach to you. You’ve heard it all before. I’m not even going to ask you to reflect on my experiences. What I will say, is that someone once told me that when everything is stripped away, all that a man has left is his dignity. Well for the next few months I don’t think I’ll even have that.