One of the things I didn't know I'd hear about though was the quest for beauty, a struggle to achieve aesthetic perfection in an imperfect world. For me, every morning I woke up, the world was too ugly to face. There was dirt, horror and disfigurement everywhere I looked. But after one stiff drink I could leave the house; after two drinks the fear started lifting and then after the third drink I'd feel like an artist. Or to be more precise, I would see the world through the eyes of an artist. And after five drinks, well, take your pick. On a good day I felt like Picasso. But there were all kinds of days. Imagine being Gustav Klimt in Hull, the golden light of the low winter sun at 3pm in the afternoon radiating along the avenues. Imagine being Walter Sickert in Manchester, the violent brown and black smudges radiating from your feet and along canal tow paths. Imagine being Vincent Van Goch in St Helens. That is something close to victory, something close to beating death.
There was a fantastic advert in the 1980s that opened with a camera panning across a tropical lagoon while a narrator said: "Peckham, on a wet Saturday afternoon." Then the film cut to a brightly coloured parrot: "Next door's budgie." The next bit was pretty weird – pretty fucked up. It showed a sultry young woman looking sexually provocative on the beach as the voice over continued: "Auntie Beryl." The next shot was of sophisticated looking rich people in white linen clothes sipping cocktails before running down a jetty to get into a speedboat lit by an unnaturally swollen full moon: "The Dog & Duck, down the high street… Catching the last bus home…" All of which was the set up to the emphatically delivered punch line: "If you're drinking Bacardi." ... You'd never be able to screen an alcohol advert like this now… which is wrong because it's the only truthful drink commercial that's ever been made.
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