Monday, 7 September 2009

Spilling The Beans by Clarissa Dickson Wright

I first came across Clarissa Dickson Wright as one half of the cookery show Two Fat Ladies, but she has led a far more diverse life than that. She was the youngest woman ever to be called the bar and she is now a campaigner for the British countryside. Her appearance here, however, is because a long period of her life was lost to alcohol; an entry to be filed under ‘the perils’.

Until she finally sought help and found sobriety through the AA, Clarissa Dickson Wright put away a formidable amount of drink and managed to squander a generous inheritance along with a highly promising career in law. Her first encounter with strong drink, as a child in Singapore, is described with poignancy:

On the dining room sideboard stood a decanter of bright green liquid which when I tried it had a delicious peppermint taste; it was of course crème de menthe and my first taste of alcohol. Every day I took just a little which made me feel happy and dreamy...

However, it was the deaths of her mother and her beloved Clive that sent her over the edge into a decade of oblivion, which left her homeless, broke and missing several years of her life to a black void.

I asked for a large whiskey, poured myself four fingers and as I gulped it down the white light faded. Here, I suddenly realised, was the answer to everything, the key to the universe, the abatement of pain.

The writing in Spilling the Beans is tremendous, as well as painfully honest. It’s a great read that finishes on a happy note: Clarissa Dickson Wright is today happy, sober and something of a British institution. It also contains a note of caution, which I feel I must end with:

All great fun but let me give you an indication of what drink does in excess. For the start of the eighties we had a party, to which thirty people came: of those thirty ten are dead, ten are in recovery and where the others are I do not know.

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