I was a 25 year-old post-punk musician in Edinburgh when I suffered a severe mental breakdown. After being sectioned I spent time in the Royal Edinburgh Hospital. Several weeks of treatment later, I was been discharged, but remained on anti-psychotic medication. In this excerpt from my biography, BrainBomb, I'm nursing a hangover and making my way to my doctor's for a check-up.
Strolling by the Union Canal, I cross the aqueduct above the railway. To my right the line heads towards Gorgie. Following the direction of the tracks for a few hundred yards I make out the pipes traversing the steep embankment. The railway was our favourite playground as kids. We delighted in crossing those pipes like demented tight-rope walkers. Stabbing our middle fingers at health and safety. Not to mention the Grim Reaper himself. From this vantage point I appreciate the drop from rusting metal pipe to sleepers is more than 30 feet. The notion gives me a queasy feeling. My hangover exacerbates a sense of shock delayed by several decades.
To my left a moorhen cleaves the canal’s murky waters. Against the sunlight, the water fowl appears to be swimming into flames. I smile at further reckless indifference to danger. But the light also bores into my pounding head. Last night Drew and I ended up in L’Attache until 3 a.m.
My recollections are distilled into muddy snapshots. Chatting-up numerous women, each of whom eventually saw through my superficial charm and melted into the background. Roaring conversations with Drew about the music of our youth being more passionate than the crap spilling from jukeboxes, while knowing full-well this is an argument destined to be repeated by subsequent generations ad infinitum. Some annoyingly effusive folk band. A scuffle involving a guy wearing an Ireland rugby top and two pricks who kept calling him a ‘fenian’, a disturbance Drew and I got involved in. Me explaining the Irish rugby colours represent all of Ireland, Dublin to Belfast, Baile Áth Cliath to the Shankill Road. A point Drew underscored by chinning one of the Protestant supremacists. Myself on sky blue helmet mode again later, separating Drew from another drunken prick who elbowed his way in front of two shivering young lassies at the Rutland taxi rank. Losing him outside Dario’s. Finally seeing some nurse from Orkney to the Florence Nightingale Home by the Infirmary. The phone number scrawled in eyeliner on my Marlboro packet was indecipherable this morning.
I march up the path by the Meggetland bridge which served as a boundary during childhood forays into enemy territory. Not as in actual gangland but the fantasy world my mates and I created. We were soldiers pitted against everyone from the Nazis and Japanese we imagined from Commando comics to redcoats or Daleks. That we were allowed do embark on these missions at such a vast distance from home seems incredible now, although our parents had no reason to suspect we’d ventured any further than Harrison Park for a kickabout.
Further up Colinton Road I lurch into the surgery. The waiting room is unfeasibly noisy. Seizing a National Geographic, as I study magnificent photographs of the marine wildlife flourishing around World War Two wrecks around Midway, I notice how the images quiver. In my peripheral vision, toddlers seem to be vandalising the box of toys as opposed to playing with anything. My eyes focus on the goldfish floating hypnotically among the lemonade-like bubbles of their aquarium.
When Dr Pattison pokes his head round the door to call me I murmur ‘thank fuck’ rather more loudly than is appropriate.
‘So. Time for your Lithium check again, Neil?’
‘Good, good. So how is everything in general? Keeping well?’
‘I’m fine’, I say, taking my seat. Rolling my right sleeve up. The doctor jabs in the needle. Draws blood into the syringe.
‘My word’, he says, his voice blending shock with humour.
I watch the liquid filling the Perspex container. Dr Pattison initially seemed amused. Now he fixes me with a stare over the bows of his spectacle rims. ‘Neil. You shouldn’t be mixing excessive doses of alcohol with your Lithium. That’s asking for trouble. Again.’
My blood sample looks identical to the pernod and blackcurrants I was necking a few hours ago.