It may not seem like it, but tonight's blog actually has quite a serious point to it, and may come across as slightly depressing in places. If it does depress you, I can only apologise and hope that you can forgive me. I need to say what I need to say though.
I can honestly say that as a teenager, I never experimented with alcohol. When we were kids, mum and dad would encourage us to try whatever alcohol they were drinking, although it was generally red wine and I still don't like it. I never saw any point in drinking something I didn't like, so I didn't get into it at all. That is, until I accidentally got drunk on 4th July 1992, the year I was 19. Actually, I think I got drunk the night before, but I do know that I attended a barbeque for some visitors from the US with a God-awful hangover.
Ok, time for a quick diversion: I sat my driving test when I was 1 month past my 18th birthday and (for the record) passed first time, although I succeeded in stalling the car now fewer than 3 times and mounted the kerb whilst reversing round a corner. Anyway, I digress - you'll find I do that a lot, especially when I'm tired (as now) or distracted.
When I passed my test, I was suddenly introduced to a wonderful world of relative freedom. The year I passed my test, I started dating a girl I'd shared an entire secondary school career with but with whom I didn't hook up until after we'd left school. We drove to places like Edinburgh, Aberfoyle and Aberdeen within the first 18 months of me having my licence (and being able to persuade my mother to let me use the car). Anyway, the day after my first dalliance with the "demon drink", it dawned on me that I would have to be extremely careful if I was going to experiment with alcohol now that I had a driving licence, which posed no problem whatsoever.
A few months later I was given tablets for some medical condition or other, although I don't remember what that was. When the doctor gave me the prescription, I asked him what I was allowed to consume in the way of alcohol since I'd got into the habit of going out for a few drinks on a Friday night. The doctor's response was to limit me to a single pint of cider per day. With this in mind, my next visit was to the police to find out what the legal limit was for alcohol and driving. The police gave me a few generalities about quantities and strengths and so forth, but the message that I left with was that I shouldn't consume any more than a pint and a half of lager before getting behind the wheel. So far, so good.
I've now had my licence for 19 years, during which time I've had 1 speeding ticket. I've been stopped a few times, and I've had the odd accident here and there but that's about it. One thing I can definitely say is that I've always managed to be extremely careful not to exceed the legal alcohol limit. I frequently go out "for a pint" and take the car with me. Mostly that's because I'm on-call for work, but very often it'll be because I've got stuff to do the following day, or because I just don't want to need to rely on public transport. Either way, I don't mix drink and cars.
Now, I'm going to go completely off-piste here folks but please stick with me - it'll make sense when you get to the end of it.
On 27th of June 2003, I was going out for the evening with a girl I worked with. You could call it a date if you wanted but you'd be wrong - it was just two mates having a night out at a gig. The gig in question was a former colleague of mine who has formed a number of bands in his time and who was playing in Glasgow. I'd been talking about the gig for a while and had managed to persuade this girl to come with me. Because I was living in Helensburgh at the time, I'd opted to drive which meant I couldn't drink but that was fine with me.
When we left work that evening, we went into a pub just round the corner from work and had a single drink with another colleague who was waiting for his girlfriend to pick him up. We shared a drink, and then Suzanne and I went our way, and Stuart went his. We saw Mark's band playing that night and I then ran Suzanne home to the house she was sharing with her sister. We watched some of the coverage of that year's Glastonbury festival and then I drove home to Helensburgh.
To cut a long story short, after the weekend I walked into work on the Monday morning. After depositing my jacket at my desk, I walked into the canteen where one of my colleagues turned round and uttered words that I'll never forget - "Hi Ian, how's things? Bad news about Stuart eh?". As he turned around to walk out of the canteen I grabbed him and demanded to know what had happened. As Ross was about to explain, the Operations Manager walked in and asked me to accompany her to her office. When we got there, Mary closed the door and told me that she'd been trying to reach me all weekend but didn't have my mobile number. Now, the reason for this is because I was fed up of getting calls when I was off sick or on holiday, so I had my number removed from my record but that's by the way. Anyway, it turned out that on the Saturday morning, Mary had been in the office preparing to attend the funeral of one of our call-centre workers who had been killed in a house-fire. Just as she and the rest of the staff had been preparing to leave for the funeral, the police had arrived and asked if Mary could help them with their enquiries. They had presented her with an employee badge that had been recovered from the scene of an accident, and asked her to confirm that the owner of the badge was one of our employees. It transpired that the badge had belonged to Stuart whom Suzanne and I had shared that drink with the previous night. Mary had been trying to reach me to let me know what had happened.
What I later found out has made my blood boil ever since, because in my opinion this represents one of the major failings of the Scottish and indeed British criminal justice system. Stuart had indeed been meeting his girlfriend, but it was much later so he was fairly well oiled when he was picked up. However, on the journey home they were involved in a collision with another driver who was under the influence of alcohol, to the extent that when the police attended the scene and pulled the other driver from his car, he was so drunk he was unable to stand unaided. To make matters worse, it later transpired that he had already had his licence revoked for driving whilst drunk, and yet this particular night he had had about a dozen cans of Stella Artois (familiarly known in this part of the world as wife-beater) and had also had spirits, to the extent that by the time he left his boss's house he was heavily over the limit.
Stuart Campbell was one of the funniest and cheeriest men I knew. He had nothing bad to say about anyone, and could lift anyone's spirits with his cheeky grin and vibrating banter. He was also the same age as I was (30) when he was killed. To my mind, he didn't die that night but was killed. Perhaps worse was the fact that his girlfriend had two children who were robbed of their mother.
Now, you could argue that because he was so inebriated, the police had no problem pressing charges and the man in question did indeed receive a custodial sentence. And here comes the injustice of it all: for the manslaughter of two people, and the driving of a motor vehicle whilst over the legal alcohol limit, this man got four years in prison. Unfortunately, he also got time off for good behaviour which means that for taking 2 lives, he served less than 3 years in jail.
I don't want to get too much onto my soapbox right now, but I honestly believe that the criminal justice system needs to be seriously overhauled, so that people who go to prison for a set period actually spend that time in jail, with extra time being added on for any bad behaviour that merits it. Perhaps if that did happen, my friend would still be here today and those two children would still have a mother.
As a small aside, Stuart's funeral took place on Friday 4th July, a tremendously warm day across most of Scotland. Afterwards we all returned to work but after we'd finished we moved across the road to the bar in which Stuart and I had had that drink just 7 days before. The manageress of the bar had heard what happened to Stuart and had provided a full buffet for those that wanted it. I will never forget that night, of looking up at a bar full of my friends and colleagues, all of us united in our grief over the loss of Stuart, all of us telling funny stories about him and remembering all of the good times. It was karaoke night that night, and I almost broke down in tears as I sang "Wish You Were Here" and "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" by Pink Floyd. I count myself lucky to have known Stuart, and still mark the 28th of June privately.
To Stuart: you were and always will be one in a million and you'll never be forgotten. Sleep well my friend.