Graham or Graeme? Death of an Alcoholic

25 Jan

When we returned to live in Bearwood in 2007, we used to see a stocky, middle aged man sipping cans of lager and standing outside the local Londis convenience store.

When I’d wake up and look out the window at 7am in the morning, there he was walking up the road towards the corner shop. When I’d leave for work, he’d be standing outside the shop, pulling the tab off his can. When I’d returned home in the evenings, he’d still be standing there, with a number of empty cans or bottles on the side. I couldn’t bring myself to speak to him.

Then, after a period of time, he started to walk down the road and began to stand on the opposite side of the road facing my house. He would either stand there for ages or take the opportunity to sit on a wall and he appeared to be peering inside my front window. For a while, I felt uneasy and thought about reporting him to the police as “being a nuisance and invading my privacy”. I mentioned him in passing to my neighbour, and she said “Oh, him! He’s alright! That’s Graham/Graeme. He’s alright, just a little bit lonely – I think he just wants to talk to someone.”

This made me think about Graham or Graeme? in a different light. Who was I to turn my back on him? However, a number of women in the neighbourhood were beginning to feel vulnerable by his constant presence down our road, and several reported him to the police. The police, in turn, cautioned him about sitting on the garden walls and staring into peoples homes and suggested he use the bench on the main road for his “private thoughts” or else faced the possibility of arrest.

So, Graham/Graeme, found a spot outside the Londis store where he would stand practically all day, everyday, trying not to cause a nuisance of himself but still managed to raise a few eyebrows and remarks about his daily intake of alcohol.

A day or two after my neighbour mentioned his need to talk to someone, when Graham/Graeme greeted me, I returned his hello. He looked as if he was going to launch into a full conversation, but I made my excuses and left. It was several days later, when T and I were standing at the bus stop, that Grahama/Graeme spoke to us and introduced himself. We provided him with our names and he said it was nice to meet us. We couldn’ say more as our bus arrived and we boarded it as he saluted a goodbye.

Over time, he told us bits about his story:
He was orginally from Smethwick and had emigrated to USA when he was about 17. He lived in the USA for 35 years, had worked his way up a chosen career path. He had worked as an engineer and airline pilot, had a condo and wife in LA but his world changed after 9/11. He said he satrted to develop panic attacks and anxiety levels raised considerably and his business began to suffer with the recesion as well. He was very wealthy in America he said. He lost confidence, his wife left him and he started to drink. Then, he decided to return to the UK to care for his parents. He returned to live with his parents and was able to say his final farewell to his dad who passed away.

Slowly, we began to empathise with Graham/Graeme and his plight. We tried to offer him support, even suggested he look for work as a volunteer or do something to keep him occupied and off the streets but he said he was fed up with the bleak weather conditions here in the UK and couldn’t find his way out of living with his mum without any financial commitments. It was evident he was alcohol dependant and found solace and escape on the strong liquids.
We spoke to Graham/Graeme him about seeking advice but he appeared to be very intelligent, articulate and had insight as to his benefit entitlements. He knew that within the UK, a single man did not receive any extra financial support or be considered a priority for housing. His life, as he knew it, was as bleak as the weather. He stayed out in the sun as it reminded him of sunny california, he said. His only other form of escape from the confines of the four walls in which he “survived”. It was difficult to know what to say or do with Graham/Graeme as he appeared to be so negative about life and yet we knew he had potential. We couldn’t invite him in to our home as he was socialsing with others who were alcohol or drug users and we didn’t want to risk our own private world becoming an open door for chancers.

As a professional, I didn’t want to cross the boundaries with the one alcoholic that I spoke to on a daily basis in my own community and Graham/Graeme seemed to understand that. He never encroached upon or asked to come into the house either. My perceptions of him began to change. What remained constant was the thought that he would die early of either heart attack or alcohol related diseases.

Sadly, just as I was about to come to terms with his somewhat negative outlook on life – I had to learn to accept and respect that he didn’t want to change – I was informed on Sunday 13 January 2013 by a neighbour that he had passed away. A heart attack she said, although the details of his death were later clarified by my immediate neighbour. She said Graham/Graeme had gone into the bathroom at his mothers, and he did not come out. His mother went in and apparently, he had suffered a haemorrhage… It was either just before Christmas or on Christmas Day itself…

Although it came as a shock and it saddens me to think that it was a life wasted, taken by alcohol maybe? It didn’t come as a surprise… I just walk past the Londis store now and imagine him to be there but of course he isn’t. I have to tell myself that we are surrounded by death and dying on a more regular basis now and it is easily within reach.

I never knew how Graham/Graeme spelt his name. I never thought to ask him. It was just enough to know his name and speak to him on a daily basis, yet brief period of time. Some people just need someone to talk to.

I hope you are at peace now.

The Learned Kat


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