Selfish to the bone

I’m standing in a bar and staring down into my drink, reflecting on my life and wondering what I can do to fix things that are wrong. My wife and I are constantly arguing. Sometimes the arguing gets out of hand. Things get thrown around. Plates have hit the wall. I got a fork embedded in my acoustic guitar once. It’s my fault. I’m selfish. I admit to being selfish. I have a selfish streak. I wasn’t ready for marriage but my wife fell pregnant and it seemed the right thing to do. Anyway her parents insisted. One morning her dad came to my door, a furious look on his face. “Are you fit?” he asked. I said I was. “You’d better be because I have just found out my daughter is pregnant,” he said angrily. I thought he was going to hit me. It wouldn’t have been the first time I’ve taken a couple of punches on the chin. It caused quite a stir at the time.

To my shame, alcohol comes before my family and that is bad. So here I am. In my local. It’s called the Swan and Mitre. The landlord’s name is Rubin. I feel comfortable in the public bar where I am drinking now. People are more sociable here. You can also play darts and I love a game of darts. I bought my darts from Rubin’s son, Michael. They cost just £2. Michael and I are around the same age. We always joke when we greet each other. I say hello Michael and he says hello Michael back. I say Michael is a great name isn’t it, Michael. He says yes Michael, Michael is a great name. We construct many sentences around the name. It’s amusing. We both end up laughing.

I like things to go my way, rather I like to do things my way. That’s difficult when you are in a relationship. It’s a matter of give-and-take but I seem to take more than I give. I know I’m selfish. I keep thinking I ought to do something about it and on occasion I vow to do better but that old selfish streak rears its ugly head and all my good intentions fall by the wayside. Selfish to the bone, that’s me.

Draining my glass, I peer at the rows of beer bottles on the shelves facing me, the upturned wine glasses and bottles of spirits. Through an archway behind the bar that leads through to the saloon, I can hear the voice of Tony the barman. Tony reckons he has an advantage over “straights”. By straights he means ordinary people who don’t take drugs and who live fairly unconventional lives. By selectively taking certain drugs, he can modify his behaviour to suit a given situation. This apparently gives him an advantage. “You can alter your mood any time you want,” he once told me. He was talking bollocks of course. It was drug talk, drugs fuelled by alcohol. Tony will take any drug that’s offered him — opiates, speed, sleeping tablets, diazepam and alcohol. He drinks Carlsberg lager first thing in the morning. He has to. It calms his drug ravaged brain and jangled nervous system. Tucked away in the corner behind the counter, he has a crash helmet and a baseball bat. “Just in case anybody causes trouble, Michael,” he told me, aggressively picking up the baseball bat and slowly swinging it as if he was going to crack somebody’s skull. For all his misgivings I like him. His wife Diane has amazing teeth. They are bright white and beautifully even. She is in her early 30s and hasn’t got one single filling. I have often wondered how teeth like that could be surrounded by a head that looks as if it’s been through a ringer. Diane is a druggie just like her husband.

So here I am. In a pub. Having a glass of beer and wondering what I could or should do to fix things — wondering if I have the will or the inclination to change. Drinking alcohol doesn’t help. It lulls you into a stupor of inaction. It’s another way of suspending time, prevaricating, sweeping things under the carpet and pretending they don’t matter. It selfish. I’m selfish. Drinking by myself is a selfish act. Why don’t I leave work, go straight home and enjoy the evening with my wife and kids? Why am I doing this? Why am I like this? What is wrong with me? Am I bad?

“Rubin, fill my glass up again please.”

The landlord pours another pint. Excess froth and beer spills down the side of the glass. He wipes it with a cloth. I like Rubin. He’s an ordinary kind of bloke. Working class London accent with no airs or graces. I guess he’s around forty-five, maybe fifty. Wears a cardigan and an open neck shirt. Looks like a character straight out of a Second World War film. I gaze down at myself. I’m wearing jeans and I have on a pair of blue trainers. I’m wearing my leather jacket. My crash helmet is on the barstool beside me. My motorbike is in the car park. I’ll drink this pint and then go home. That’ll make two pints of beer. Just enough to make me feel relaxed.

It’s around 6:30 PM. Should have driven straight home. Idiot! Selfish! Beer is not cheap, either. Two pints every night and the money mounts up, money that could spend on the home or my wife, buy her a bunch of flowers or a box of chocolate — anything to make her feel appreciated. But I am selfish. I down the last gulp from my glass and lower it to the counter. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Rubin,” I say and pick up my helmet. Rubin takes my glass and plunges it into the sink beneath the bar counter. He smiles and bids me goodbye.

I guess I have to go back to my childhood to explain why I am like I am. My father was a gambler. He worked in a foundry and spent most of his wages in the betting shop. My mother had multiple lovers. She was desperate to be loved. My father was incapable of showing affection. He was not a romantic man — far from it. Perhaps my mother gave herself to other men in the hope that she would find love? Maybe she just liked sex? None of her illicit relationships worked out. They were all disastrous. Only two of my six siblings are biological children of my father. Each of the others has different fathers.

My real father was reputed to have been Scottish. I don’t believe it. I think my real father was a man called Ted. He was constantly round my house when my father was at work. In fact, I knew him more than my so-called dad. A cocksure man with black, slicked back hair and smart clothes, he used to discipline me as if I was his own son. A good slap on the back of the legs. Maybe a clout round the head. My mother never interfered, let him get on with it. I didn’t like him. I don’t suppose he liked me. I believe he is the father of my sister Pamela. Pam and I are of similar appearance. Our faces have the same skeletal structure. Ted was averaged height and build. My dad was a tall, broad shouldered man. Not a day went past when I didn’t feel his heavy hand on the back of my head. What a miserable existence: beaten during the day by person who was probably my biological father and thrashed during the evening by the person who bought me up and whom I called dad.

No wonder I grew up with an instinctive distrust for everybody. I made sure I got the best deal I could for myself. I lacked any form of responsibility. You could say I had diminished responsibilities. Not because I was stupid or had learning difficulties but because my brain was hardwired to survive, which excluded everybody but me. It was wrong.

I lacked empathy. I didn’t see how my actions might damage or hurt other people. That caused a lot of trouble later in life, hence the problems with my marriage. That is why I am here staring down into my drink and wondering how to fix my life. It seems that it has been wrong since the day I was born.