Metro 30

By Richard Herring - 4th September, 2012

Richard Herring: I'm Haley Joel Osment and drunk people are ghosts
Metro's resident comedian Richard Herring ponders a life without alcohol and looks back on the somewhat inauspicious start to his drinking career.

Every September, after the excesses of the Edinburgh Fringe, I vow to stop drinking. Alcohol has always been such a social linchpin for me that I find this difficult but I figure if I can lay off the sauce for a month, it proves I'm not an alcoholic. Though a doctor friend tells me that is exactly the kind of thing an alcoholic would do.

When you're sober you certainly become aware of the drunks. You don't notice them when you're one of them but when you're not they're everywhere, with their purple noses and suspicious damp patches on their sweat pants. I've turned myself into Haley Joel Osment in a dipsomaniac version of The Sixth Sense: 'I see drunk people… walking around like regular people, only slightly less steadily. They don't see each other. They only see what they want to see… they don't know they're drunk.'

I realise that I've been drunk pretty consistently for more than 30 years. Would my life be better if I'd never started boozing? How much would I have achieved? Without booze I'd have wasted no time with hangovers or illness or having fun with friends. I'm pretty sure I'd also be a virgin. If I'd never had sex, think of all I could have done with those extra 37 minutes.

It all started when I was 14 and at the George disco in Wedmore. I thought that if I bought a pint it would impress Maria Barnes. It didn't and nor did anything else I was ever to do.

I asked the barman: 'Do you have any beer?'

He looked me up and down. 'Er… yes, sir, we do have some beer in today.'

'Oh good,' I said, delighted this was all going so smoothly. 'One cup of beer, then, please.'

'Would that be lager or bitter that sir would be wanting?'

I turned to Maria and shook my head at his idiocy. 'I asked for beer!'

'Lager beer or bitter beer?'

'Oh, er… of course.' I pretended to weigh up the options. 'Um… the cheapest, I think.'

'Right…' He reached for the pump but then stopped. 'You are 18, aren't you, sir?'

'Yes,' I said in my high, unbroken voice that only a bat could have heard, before lowering the register. 'Yes. I am 18. I was born in… that year that was 18 years before this one.'

This was a fork in the road of my life. This barman held my destiny in his sweaty Somerset hand.

He could have said: 'Look, Rich, you know you're only 14, I know you're only 14 – do yourself a favour, mate, have an orange juice. The moment a drop of beer passes your lips, it'll be too late. You won't like the taste and won't be unable to understand what all the fuss is about. But you will force it down. Within two hours and two more pints you'll be vomiting all over the toilet floor. In years to come you'll get in fights, make girls cry, vandalise property, offend and upset with the foul thoughts it will dredge up from your subconscious.

'In December 1991 you will wake up in your own bed next to a naked old woman you do not recall meeting. And when you're old, fat and lonely, you'll sit in bars complaining about how life has treated you so badly and how your only real friend comes in a bottle. Eventually it will kill you.'

But as it happened, he said: 'One cup of lager beer coming right up, grandad.' And my fate was sealed.

See Richard Herring's reworking of his smash-hit 2002 show Talking Cock: The Second Coming on his nationwide tour. Visit for tickets.

Follow Richard on Twitter @Herring1967

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