Before I begin, I must confess I am still struggling to figure out if my middle brother is my brother, or was my brother. When people ask me about my family, my siblings, I hesitate still. If it isn’t appropriate to go into details, I usually avoid the subject.
I have… an older brother.
If I feel the situation is more casual and I’m willing to be more open, I tend to choose my language more carefully.
I am the youngest of two, but I now only have one brother.
So please forgive me if my language fluctuates during this overdue insight into whisky and what happened in January 2016.
I must have been a young teenager at the time, probably at secondary school, probably around thirteen if I’m being honest. I had shared a bedroom with Ben since my transition from cot to bed. I have memories of being on the bottom bunk, poking the mattress above me or pulling the dangling duvet down. Cries and screams to Mum, fights and arguments. How my parents coped with us I will never understand – I know I do not have their patience. Nick was lucky, being the eldest and getting his own room, his own space.
But of course, sharing a bedroom not only means sharing sleeping quarters, it also means sharing storage space. I had the bottom shelves in the toy cupboard, Ben the top. I had the bottom drawers in the chest and again, Ben the top. We stole from each other, we nosed around each others belongings. Basically, we wound each other up no-end. Again, my parents were heroic in their patience with us.
So yes, I was in my early teens, mooching around my brother’s stuff, seeing what I could find. Ben would have been around eighteen, being five years older than me. At the time, I didn’t know what being a young adult was like, what they did and did not do. Finding a pack of condoms was titillating enough, let alone anything else I won’t dare embarrass him with.
But there was one item that did catch my eye, quite out of the blue, one afternoon during the school holidays. Opening one of his drawers I found a green bottle – labelled Glenfiddich – I knew it was alcohol. Temptation didn’t even come in to it. It had already been opened and part-drank, so of course I didn’t hesitate to open and put it to my nose to take a whiff.
I remember pulling away quickly, the scent of scotch filling my nose and making my eyes dance around their sockets. But I’m the kind of person who is usually in for the penny, in for the pound. I filled the cap and necked the small shot.
After a few moments, I put the cap back on, put the whisky back where I found it and had a little lie down. Needless to say, it wasn’t to my taste, being a young, albeit curious, boy.
About a year or two later, I was with my parents at the campsite my father helped to manage. A group of other volunteers were relaxing in one of the huts after a long day of working, sitting around a heater, enjoying conversation and enjoying a few drinks. One of the adults, a jolly chap who I am ashamed to say I forget the name of, had the ability to speak to me like I was an adult myself. To me, this was strange as the most interactions with people of this age were my parents or teachers, both of which spoke to me like a child – and a child I was – but in a manner that was either borne from protection, or arrogance in the case of teachers. So to have a conversation with a person of similar age to my father, but to actually converse – to be listened to – was… liberating, I guess.
Anyway, my parents – although protective – allowed the occasional can of lager to fall my way. But when this gentlemen produced a bottle of (what looked like) expensive apple juice on the table, I again became intrigued. After a short while it was probably obvious my gaze had focussed on said bottle and the chap said something along the lines of, “It is like whisky, it’ll put hairs on your chest.”
The bottle was actually Southern Comfort, a very sweet whisky-like liquer, which was handed to me topped-up with Coke. But it was a taste I liked. Maybe it was the sweetness with a slightly sour kick, maybe it was because I thought I was drinking that stuff my brother had, a sense of emulation? To be honest, I don’t know, but I remember liking it.
And so it wasn’t until I was eighteen, at university and away from family, that Jack and Coke were spilling from my lips in bars and clubs, being consumed in unhealthy quantities as I discovered who I was and what I was here for. Overpriced American liquer that rots the liver being washed down with an overpriced American drink that rots the teeth. But hey, you’re only young once.
Alas, my taste for whisky was born. And once over the Jack Daniels thing, I realised I should probably try that green bottle that started all of this. And that I did…
After a few moments, I put the cap back on, put the whisky back where I found it and had a little lie down. Needless to say, it was to my taste, being a young, albeit curious, adult.
Seventeen years later…
I was at work when my mobile phone rang. It was Mum. It was not Wednesday. It was not 8pm. I answered.