08 Deja Vu

My degree certificate is sent to me at my parent’s home and I open it without much fanfare. I already know the result. It’s a 2nd class honours degree (lower division) in Biological Sciences. A 2:2, a so-called gentleman’s degree, implying you were bright but couldn’t be bothered to work. I did work but patchily. I was excellent at some courses and bored by others. I was also drinking and partying far too much.

Mark and Paul have gone off on a tour of Africa. They both got 2:1’s. Marcus was considering the possibility of becoming a policeman. I lost touch with them all. I rang Paul’s home number once, much later, and his father told me he was doing biochemistry research at Oxford University and living on a canal boat. Sounds nice. I didn’t follow up on it.

After a spell temping in a solicitor’s office, I finally get a computer programming job working for Philips Business Systems in Colchester. I am working in the headquarter’s of Philips computer business in the UK. Elektra House, as it is called, is an impressive looking building outside Colchester’s mainline railway station. Just up the road is a small pub called the Bricklayer’s Arms where, on a Friday lunch time, all Philips’ computer programmers go to socialise. Computer programmers as a rule are not particularly sociable but the Philips’ lot are a small close-knit team and quite friendly.

At this time a very rudimentary DOS-based IBM PC has only just appeared on the scene and the dominance of Windows and Microsoft is still in the future. Unix is widespread but only in academia (universities get free Unix licences). Commercial computer users in the UK buy proprietary systems from IBM or the BUNCH (Burroughs, Unisys, NCR, CDC, Honeywell). Philips is a niche player and the team in Colchester supports a system called the P6000 which focuses on the financial market.

Working on computers suits me; so long as the computer programs work properly, everyone’s happy. There can, however, be a lot of stress. Deadlines are invariably tight and the technology is complex and ever-changing. I am seeing a lot of Glen again and we spend our evenings drinking hard and looking for women. After a hard night partying, I occasionally have a shot of vodka in the morning to steady my nerves before going to work. However, I am successful and in time I am promoted to P6000 Technical Specialist. Then my luck runs out.

One Tuesday evening, I decide to go to the Affair nightclub alone. I have abandoned my aging mini and now drive an old brown Ford Cortina. I arrive at the club at around 9pm and have several pints of lager. I chat to a few people I know and then look for girls. Towards the end of the evening I drink two pints of water to help clear my head. It’s a normal night out and I feel fine. Then I meet an old pal from school.

"Let me get you a beer," says Dave.

"No better not - I'm leaving soon."

"Oh come on. For old time’s sake. One beer won’t hurt."

"OK I'll have a lager." I don’t really want it but he’s an old friend. One beer won’t hurt.

I see the large white police van in my rear view mirror. I am heading home down East Hill and one glance at my speedometer tells me what I don’t want to know. I am speeding. It’s late, the streets are quiet and I am very, very sure that the policeman in the van has got nothing better to do than check me out.

The traffic lights at the bottom of East Hill turn from green to amber. If I hit the hammer down, I could just beat the red light and the police van might have to stop. Fortunately, I am not that drunk or that stupid. I stop at the red light. When the lights turn green again, I play ‘I am a very careful driver’ as I cautiously drive towards my parents house. The police van follows. On the outskirts of the town, the siren wails and the blue lights flash and I pull over. I get a sense of deja vu as I discuss speeding, drinking and breathalysers with the police officer. I fail the new electronic breath test. Next on the agenda is the blood test at the nick.

A doctor is summoned, probably from his bed, and a sample of my blood is taken. Then, after a few hours in an office and another breath test (negative this time), I am released into the cold morning air. I wasn’t even held in the cells.

Several weeks later I receive an official looking letter from the Magistrates court. It’s my court date. The blood test is over the limit but a quick check of the figures shows it was close. You are given a 10% margin for error but I am 13% over. I am unlucky. About time too.

In court I wear a shirt and tie and a smart v-necked pullover. I don’t want to wear a suit and give the impression I am an armed robber. The three magistrates seem friendly and one asks if I have a lawyer. I don’t.

"Do you want one?" he asks.

"No thank you, your honour." Just get it over with. They are not going to shoot me. Drink driving is serious but it is not the capital offense that it is today.

In my defense I state the bleeding obvious; I am sorry; I wasn’t that much over the limit; I have no previous driving convictions. (The last one is true so laugh all you want.) I am given a £130 fine and a year’s driving ban.

"How do you want to pay?" the court secretary asks.

I consider replying "American Express" to see if the secretary will respond "That’ll do nicely" but instead write a cheque and get the bus home.

Desperately Seeking Sex & Sobriety - Copyright Paul Pisces 2002-2004

(A Cautionary Tale of Sex Tourism, Drugs, Alcohol, Prostitution & Suicide)