John Healy (2012 [1988]) The Grass Arena.

I thought I’d read this before, my memories pickled. Maybe I just lived it. My brother was an alcoholic. Dead. His pal’s Jas, Tommy, Billy. Dead. Dead. Dead. There’s more casualties. Drinks a funny thing. It builds you up and knocks you down. Healy knows that better than anyone. Violence is always a background hum. His Da tried to beat him into submission. The army tried to beat him into submission. The police lifted him and a regular beating was the equivalent of fingerprinting. Nobody likes a Jake, an Alky (or a Junkie), least of all themselves. There’s so much here to admire. Sketches of pickpockets that know  psychology.  If, for example, you touch a young woman’s bum on a crowded tube, she’ll block with her bag. Easy money. The most shocking violence is not the razor, knife, broken brick or bottle. Nor is it the institutionalised beatings of the prison system. All those poor buggers that died falling down an institution’s stairs.  For me the biggest con comes from the medical profession –no surprise there.

‘We all know Smithy died from a heart attack,’ I said. He shook his head, “That fucking quack always puts “Heart Attack” on an alky’s death certificate when he’s pumped full of Antabuse before being force-fed a bottle of Scotch. And it’s all legal, ‘cause I bet you’ve already signed a form on admission agreeing to take part in his little aversion treatment “experiment”.’

There are different forms of abuse. The Antabuse scam takes some beating. He’s the type of doctor that probably went on to greater things and work for Atos Healthcare.


I'm sorry to hear about your brother dying early from alcoholism. Not my own struggle but I had a good friend back in Embro, Pam Rennie. Booze and fags did for her and being on anti-psychotic meds (a depot injection of Depixol) may have made the problem worse. I heard from a friend that she had emphysema for a few months before she died. Horrible. She died last year when 58. Pam was friendly and intelligent and sweet natured and always made me feel welcome when I dropped by to her tiny flat in Morningside. She fried her brains with half a dozen tabs of acid when she was 21 and a student at Stirling Uni. Her father had recently died, so with hindsight, the timing was wrong and she became a 'diagnosed schizophrenic'. It's not fair, it never is        Elsie

ha elsie I once had an on/off fling with a girl from Morningside. seems so long ago.


I know the struggle all too well, C. In fact, this very book sits on the arm of my sofa gaining dust, waiting to be read (I'm reading 'Hope; a Tragedy at the mo- a must read). It was a swap with a fellow alcy and I forget what I gave to her but, regards alcohol and its hold on the system, check out the figures the authorities put on death caused by alcohol. It's astounding compared to the actual number, perhaps a hundredth, and I should know; it's usually around this time that numbers well (if it's not alcohol, it's life in the real world without an effing drink, ie. suicide in abstinence). Alcohol is a remarkably good tool for snuffing vulnerable sods like moi and your brother, and they've branched out nicely with other drugs now, just to make it an even balance in the grand scheme. I bet your brother was a beautiful character.

Christians and other fairweather well-wishers are very good at pleading ignorance to their ignorance, but they don't fool anyone but themselves (and we know that's not true; they hate themselves). Shame there's not a spirtual leader prepared to put his words into action. Shame still that these insignificant fraudsters, of which there are a great many and whose pathetic lives depend on plying their blunt, vicious wares in circles they wish to make their own playground, know that God hasn't the power to do so (He gave us free will, and what He gave He cannot take back because He, unlike us, is a Man of His word, again unlike the doctors, legals and social/care workers, who never seem to be able to put their thoughts down on paper, however much they say to you that they 'believe' you).

Finally, someone in charge actually says that the system stinks (see news tonight, if they allow it). Change is happening, and not a moment too soon.

Here's to your bro, Celticman.


cheers blighters. as you know Healy's book is also a redemption story. If you're pissed every day you don't get much time for writing. Despite all the graphic details this was the bit that stuck with me. Healy becoming addicted to chess and becoming a pro. The obvious addiction that has so many permutations as to be frightening is writing as Healy and we have found out.


Reading it now, C. He's back in London and still fighting. Fab read. Shows the power of the human spirit. Some weren't meant to be knocked down.No matter how much Healy sought oblivion, he was always meant to write this book, much like Kevin Lewis and 'The Kid', another must read.


thanks blighter. I'll have a look at The Kid and The Kid Moves On.


Lewis is now a bestselling horror writer. The kid lacks Healy's skilful way with storyteling bur that doesnt matter to me. The story carries it.


Although it contains no boxing, if you have not read it, I highly recommend Emile Zola's L'assommoir. The title in French means the Pub (literally the knock-out shop) and I read the English translation. Sharp, well observed, sometimes damn funny and in the end very sad, the book set in 19th century Paris charts the fortunes of Gervaise and her second husband, the first one was a waster and the second one starts off Ok. The couple both come from families broken by alcohol, Gervaise's mother is a chronic alcoholic who will sleep with anyone who picks her up in a cafe and supplies her addiction. The man's father was a roofer who started drinking on the job. At the start of the book the couple are young, strong, and hardworking in skilled trades; she a laundress he a roofer like his old man. They have high hopes and do not wish to fall into the pit like their forebears. What could possibly go wrong?          Elsie

You've just reminded me that I must read some books by Zola. 'A Hoxton Childhood' by A S Jasper, the book I recently republished with the author's son, was reviewed by Chaim Bermant of the Observer as 'Zola without the trimmings, and if anyone should feel this is an extravagant claim, let them read this book'.  


Zola's Germinal is brilliant. La Terre is magnificient (apart from the rape scene). I'll have a look Elsie. And thanks Blighter, still not read that yet!