It was around this time that the beauty of a chap called Dennis was unveiled to me. I can’t actually remember where I met him. I just recall our paths crossing frequently around this time. Although I couldn’t decipher his strong Grenadian accent too well at first, we soon found that we were speaking the same language when phrases like ‘do you want to get something’ or ‘where’s the nearest cashpoint’ were being employed. He was quite a spectacle, in his loafing, lugubrious way. It didn’t take me long to notice that his teeth were smashed to shards, as if some kind of dental iconoclast had wreaked havoc in his mouth. They were nice and white, but that only helped to highlight their plight. The front two had clearly been knocked for six, but there were jagged bits of white poking from the gum. It looked like someone had taken a set of pliers to the bottom row. This, coupled with a couple of weeks of stubble, and a look of having just got up, meant that the shambling Dennis cut quite a caper around the Green. He was a friendly guy though, and, although he ripped me off once or twice, was never threatening or violent, and didn’t hold back on the drugs like my new owner, Jacob, was making a habit of doing.
Dennis’s usual bolthole, having scored, was a house not far from Faith’s. For some weeks, it was my regular haunt, and most of my using would occur or at least pass through there. It belonged to a guy called David, who had mental health issues. Apparently he was schizophrenic, but there seemed to be more to it than that. Whatever the time of day or night, there would always be some scallywag on that bed, in that chair, asleep on that patch of floor. In addition, there’d nearly always be another band of bit players, just to add fluidity to proceedings, sleeping, sitting around, going from room to room, looking for a smoke. Stepping through the net-curtained door into David’s, uninitiated, it was hard to know whose place it actually was.
David himself seemed to spend much of his time lounging, or languishing, on his bed, encircled by a coterie of spongers, all waiting, like so many sea-urchins, to see what bits of plankton were going to drop their way today. I was an urchin, yet less well-rooted. There’d be a knock at the door, a general tramping into the hall would ensue, to see who it was, what they had, if a pipe could be charmed out of them. Maybe even David would emerge, to claim what was rightfully his, a pipe for ‘the house’. Normally, if you visit someone, you might take a bottle of wine, a bunch of flowers, box of chocolates. Abnormally, crack-etiquette dictates that you’re obliged to cough up a smoke for the homeowner, if you can tell who it is.
The bathroom in a crackhouse is perhaps the most sought-after room. Certainly this was the case at David’s. Usually there were two or more people crammed in there, smoking, or receiving or giving a blowjob. If you were one of them, you wouldn’t remain undisturbed for long. There would always be someone wanting to have a sneaky pipe in there, away from all the prying, greedy eyes elsewhere in the house. If you wanted to get in there, though, your chances were slim. Either it would be locked, or, if the lock was broken, the door would get shoved backatcha with the urgency of a guy with a pipe in one hand and his cock in the other. But if you were one of those odd people who actually wanted to use the loo, there might be a local paper on the cistern, if you were lucky, an absence of loo-roll being a key feature of any crackhouse worth the name.
The kitchen, you’ll be unsurprised to hear, was pretty light on food, and mostly used by people who couldn’t get into the bathroom. Even though it was overlooked from outside, there would often be half a dozen people clustering in there, some smoking, some blagging, some begging for a smoke. Standing in there one morning, around five I think, I found myself in the privileged position of buying the stuff direct from the dealer, and having it placed into my closing hand, rather than Jacob’s or Dennis’s. As with any product, the more middlemen, the more you get ripped off. One or two girls who were hanging around were swift to offer to ‘help me unwrap it’, because ‘that cling-film can be fiddly, can’t it hun?’
News of my elevated status spread, and moments later some guy with ill-fitting dentures was standing by me, telling me it was his birthday, presumably to coax a gift of crack from me. He failed, but I wished him many happy returns. A net-curtain hung vaguely in the window, which was one way of telling roughly what time of day it was, and through it the next wave of visitors could be inspected. Many came and went, until, about dawn, when I realised I only had a tenner left. I was determined this should go on some heroin, to soften party’s end.
There were about five of us left in the flat, including David on his bed. I went into the bedroom, putting feelers out regarding the purchase of some heroin. No one had, or knew anyone who had. The woman sat on the bed said, ‘Oh look, Prince Charles wants to get something.’ Gauche in adversity, I’d obviously used a turn of phrase that set me apart from my peers. A fairly calm guy by the wardrobe offered me a cigarette, as if consoling a child who’d lost his parents. I asked David if he knew someone I could ring. He was too drunk, or drugged, to answer. Then a fidgety guy, on his haunches on the carpet, said, ‘Oy, blind man, gimme that fag.’ I fended him off with a word of two, but my approach was too soft. ‘Come on, blind man, gissa lug.’ I tried again to placate, but in the end he got so animated I thought I’d better give it him. He took a few lugs, then threw it on the carpet between us, half-smoked.
I thought I should make my way. But this was easier said than done, as the tenner in my pocket, which I’d declared in my attempt to barter for heroin, was a magnet for badness. I slipped out into the hall and into the bathroom, surprisingly unhindered. From there, I would slip out into the darkness, and away. However, as I pulled shut the front-door, it swung open with a violent tug. Fag-thrower didn’t want me to go. Sight, plus the darkness, didn’t allow me to run, and I didn’t especially want to argue or fight, so out came my elementary diplomatic talents. ‘Now, look here,’ I began, ‘I’m not looking for any trouble, I just want to make my way, I’ve no axe to grind.’ He did, however, and pushed me against the wall and held what looked like two old knives to my face. Diplomacy had failed. I tried to gently ease his hands away, like some amateurish dog-whisperer trying to get the creature to respond in a new way to old dilemmas. This too failed. ‘Get off me, blind man,’ he explained. I tried to assure him I meant him no harm, perhaps as Jean Luc Picard might when presented with a volatile, but essentially frightened alien. But even the values of Next Generation Star Trek fell short of resolving things. ‘Don’t touch me,’ he warned again, and I could feel old metal on my face. ‘Gimme that tenner, blind man,’ he said. Either I was still hoping I’d stumble on someone with heroin, or I just didn’t think I should reward his force with financial gain, so the tenner remained in my pocket. I called help into the still flapping front-door, but no one came. Meanwhile, my attacker was mauling me like a lion, with knives, and each time I tried to fend him off he warned me not to touch him, and reacquainted my face with his blades. I wanted to run, but couldn’t see to. I didn’t want to fight, cos violence breeds violence, innit? I was determined to diffuse the situation with decency, reason, and fair play. However, having exhausted all diplomatic channels, and concerned I might come away with my cheek slashed or throat cut, I yielded up the tenner. He took it like a pushy child might a present, snatching it from my clutches almost before I’d extended my hand. Then, as if off to the sweetshop, he scampered into the night, pocketing his blades, and bounding up the stone steps into the backwaters of Shepherd’s Bush.
I gave it a few minutes, made a mental note of the dangerous people I was now meeting daily, brushed myself down, and made my way home in squally rain. Red t-shirt ripped, and hanging from my shoulder, I trudged down Goldhawk Road, increasingly revealed by the light of a new day dawning, and very wet.
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