Monday, 18 March 2013


Shoebox On Sea

I lived with my parents for a month or two, but the thought of staying there felt unnatural and I resented it.  I hadn’t lived there full-time since before going away to school.  I was fifteen then.  I was now twenty-eight, though lacking most of the attributes of adulthood I’d dreamed about when fifteen.  Having lived away from home for so long, the thought of bringing a friend back to the house, let alone a girlfriend, seemed far too 1970s-sitcom for me, but lacking in the necessary charm and naivety.  It seemed much more natural to get my own place, largely at my parents’ expense, and not bring any friends back their instead, which is pretty much what I did.


My parents, being devoted way beyond the call of duty, helped me look for a place in a little town a few miles along the coast.  It was a nice town but, needless to say, represented exile.  Even though I’d lost things I didn’t want in the first place, a dull deskbound job, a flat full of monks and minstrels, and a daily commute on the high-speed cattle-truck that was the Central Line, I hadn’t lost them on my own terms.  I was bitter at the loss, but how could I grieve with any authenticity when I’d resented it all so much in the first place?


I sat in the letting-agent’s office with my dad reading the tenancy-agreement to me, which was long, and in tiny print.  It was a quiet, stuffy little office, and the sound of him reading through all that legalese just wafted through me like a dream.  I think we were both half-asleep by the time he finished.  But the deal was done.  I signed it.  Then he signed it in his role as guarantor, i.e. the person who would pay the rent if I didn’t.  But there was no real risk of that.  I’d lied to the letting-agent by telling him I was self-employed.  Once settled in, I’d apply for housing-benefit and go from there.  Necessity is the mother of deception.


A week or two later, I was turning the key in the lock.  My dad was with me again, and rang my mum on his newly acquired mobile phone, giving her a commentary as I opened the door and entered.  There was a degree of pride in his voice, no doubt steeped in relief, and the consolation that his son was at least still alive.  Spirits were rising, at least my parents’ spirits, now I was safely ensconced a good hundred miles away from crack.  Even I reluctantly acknowledged it was right for me to be out of harm’s way.


I expect some rich people have wardrobes bigger than that flat.  When the pull-down bed was out, it took up half the floor-space.  I’m sure my choice of artwork said quite a lot about my state of mind – six Picasso pictures, and six by Hans Giger - one of these, a welcoming image to greet any of the handful of guests that ever visited, was a row of grimacing baby-heads in mud.  One of the Picassos, over the loo, was a jagged-looking cat with a mouse hanging from its jaws.  They pretty much summed up the vibe I was trying to capture.


Because I’d left my job under a cloud, I didn’t feel confident enough to start applying for work again, and who would I get a reference from if I did?  I couldn’t imagine Polly providing much of one.  ‘Ben was a personable and reasonably reliable worker during his time with us, that is until he started using crack, when he stopped turning up and ended up having to hand in his notice.’  So I began signing on.  Nor could I imagine how I’d account for my sudden expulsion from London to any new employer.  I was clinically pissed off.  So, after a few weeks of sitting around stoned, I asked my new GP to sign me off sick for a month, which he happily did.  I cited depression, and my eye-condition, as ways of justifying this.  A few weeks later I got a letter from Glasgow saying I was now on long-term Incapacity Benefit.  Suddenly, I was saved the rough-and-tumble of having to sign on.  Notification of my change in status confirmed my own suspicions that I was now, after years of trying, on the scrapheap.  What a relief to recline, staring at the clouds, my head resting in cradling hands, in a landfill of my own manufacture.  That’s an achievement by anyone’s standards.  I knew it had happened, but exactly when, and how, I couldn’t be sure.


So the weeks went by, and I spent a lot of my time drinking wine and getting stoned with hash I got mail-order from a bloke in Slough.  Many a midmorning, I'd trudge up to the pleasant, quite Trumpton-like high-street, maybe go into the library, get out some CDs, buy some food, then go and have a coffee somewhere, and sit there pretending to be one of those people who are perfectly confident about entering premises alone, as if completely unworried about people thinking they must be chronically friendless.  Yes, I was a one-man café-culture, sitting there with another pointless cappuccino before me, watching a blurred world go about its daily business, not knowing where I fitted into it all, or even if I did, because I couldn't tell whether those passing figures were smiling, scowling, or just going by in a state of understandable self-absorption, not really concerned with speculating about that slightly intransigent-looking bloke sitting alone with some form of coffee before him.  The vagaries of partial sight are many.  The primary emotion in that shuttered domain can easily be one of disconnection from the world.  Many's the time I've thrown a cordial smile at someone, not knowing if it was registered or responded to.  This kind of doubt-ridden interaction with people can lead to an endless tangle of speculation:


1.          Did they notice my smile?

2.        If so, did they smile back?

3.        If they did, are they now perplexed as to why my face is now a blank, not even looking their way anymore.

4.        Maybe they were just happy to exchange a friendly glance with a stranger and leave it there, and…

5.        Is there a way to silence this rampant speculation in my head, because all these known unknowns are grinding me into the ground, and…

6.        Why does the world that I could reach out and touch feel like it's a thousand miles away? 

7.        But it's nice to get out though, isn't it?

I’d been on antidepressants for about three years now, and was really beginning to wonder if they were doing any good.  So I stopped taking them.  Not for me was the recommended method of gradually coming off over a period of weeks.  I thought seeing I was in a reasonably safe place, and probably couldn’t get any lower anyway, that I may as well see what was left of me beneath this fragile, chemical numbness.  But after a few days without them, I’d turn my head and a wave of dizziness would get me to the point of needing to sit down, which made me feel like a pensioner having a turn in ASDA.  And nor could I sleep.  For several nights, I’d lie there in my box, wide awake, wondering how it was possible not to fall asleep after having been awake for nearly a hundred hours.  So I went to my GP, said I was coming off my antidepressants, and asked him for some sleeping-tablets, which he obligingly prescribed.  I was growing to like my GP more and more.  He was obviously one of those doctors who was fond of his own signature.  The sleepers did the trick, and I enjoyed my first night's slumber for nearly a week, and woke up feeling refreshed, in a downcast sort of way.  I felt a bit dizzy, on and off, for nearly a month, but don’t recall experiencing any slump in mood, and carried on pretty much as I had before, i.e. getting drunk and stoned a lot, and being unhappy, but no more than before.


Having very little to do with my time, I found myself fixating on whatever was around to fixate on.  Being of the viewpoint that love conquers all, I tried to maintain my relationship with Emma, albeit over a distance of a hundred miles, and under a very different set of circumstances from those we'd found ourselves in during those halcyon, pre-crack days.  She was still living and working in London.  Being agonisingly inexperienced regarding the practical side of the mating game, I just thought that she'd still be carrying a torch for me in the same way as I believed she had been a few months before.  After all, I was still carrying mine for her.  We did have a couple of conversations on the phone, now foggy in memory, but even I, in my ever-hopeful, reality-shunning state, sensed that things were tapering.  I'm sure I invited her down more than once, probably sounding more desperate and out-of-tune each time.  She was now living with her boyfriend, and her responses to my invitations were woolly and noncommittal.  The openness and friendliness hadn't gone, but I sensed an undercurrent of worry in her tone.  Then, shortly before Christmas, I sent out a batch of cards to what friends I could bear to contact, including one to Emma, with a picture of a dove on it.  As if by return of post, I got a card from her, another dove.  I tried reading something into this that might mark a resurgence, but my wilful well of delusion was dry.  Her message was brief, but I nevertheless looked for a latent come-on in her language, and then, having decrypted what I thought was an anagram of ‘come hither’, I sat on the edge of my bed, reality heaving like a tar foetus in my stomach.  The last words of her message were ‘take care’.  Even I knew that translated as goodbye.  I now inhabited a different world from Emma.  We’d been playing like children on a bombsite, not knowing that one of us was about to be blown to smithereens.


So Christmas came and went, and a new year loomed.  Stoned and incapacitated, I began to dabble on my four-track tape-deck again and write songs.  After a couple of months, I put an ad in the local free-ads paper to see if anyone else in Shoebox Land wanted to form a band.  A few days later, I got a call from a girl called Alison, from a nearby village called Tiptoe.  After doing the preliminaries, like saying ‘who our influences were’, we agreed to send each other samples of our work.  Needless to say, we both apologised in advance for the quality of what we’d done to date, and vowed to improve should something come of our coming together.  I was torn between thinking ‘Yes, this song will impress her’, and ‘What the hell an I doing?  She’ll probably actually be embarrassed for me.’  But into the pillar-box the cassette tumbled, already a shameful anachronism.  Then I went home, got stoned and drunk, and played Pac-Man, which I became rather proficient at during my wilderness year.


Happily, when we received each other’s tunes, we were both quite impressed.  I sat there in my room listening to her chord-progressions, shaping melodies and lyrics over the top.  And when she rang me, she asked me if I wanted to meet in a local church-hall and ‘do an Oasis song’.  So I said yes.  The song was 'Stand By Me', which is one of their less bad ones.  I played it to death, trying to pin down every syllable as I rasped along with Gallagher hour after hour.  I was due to sing it with Alison and a bloke called Matt, on guitars, along with a bassist-guy they’d only just met.  They hadn’t found a drummer yet.


Travelling about the countryside is not easy when you have to either walk or rely on public transport, which doesn’t exist, so I got a minicab to our first practice, at the church-hall in Tiptoe, arriving about half an hour early, and sat outside in the drizzly gloom until Alison, Matt, and then the bassist-guy arrived.  Naturally, I was terrified.  But we eventually got round to doing the song, and, even if I say so myself, I sang it well.  The bassist-guy said so, anyway, and I don’t think he was being charitable.  Then, in the weeks to come, we met up and continued practicing songs.  Alison had also written lyrics to go with certain sets of chords she’d put together, and wanted me to turn them into songs.  I have to confess, I found this pretty hard, mainly because I couldn’t really get into the lyrics she’d written, and I lacked the boldness, or perhaps rudeness, to suggest that I might put some of my own words to her chords, which I think I would have found a lot easier.  It seemed there was quite a chasm between the lyrics this twenty-two year-old female was writing and the lyrics this twenty-eight year-old male felt comfortable singing.


Then, after a few weeks, Matt found a band to join nearer to where he lived, which caused the bassist to lose interest, which left just me and Alison.  I think, by this point, she was politely unimpressed by my strangulated interpretations of the lyrics she’d given me, and one day said she was just going to record at home and give the band-thing a rest.  I carried on recording songs on my four-track, but then decided it was time to embark on another piece of art.


It was January 1999, and it seemed to me that now would be a good time to begin a long piece of writing.  I sat there at my computer, wine to the left, joint to the right, and gave it some thought.  After about ten minutes, and a few games of Pac-Man, I began to write.  It was a hotel at night.  Behind reception sat a hapless porter, called Mungo.  He seemed to be waiting for something to happen.


A thousand words a day for six months was the plan, and I pretty much stuck to it.  I thought that going through the motions like this would be enough to at least get me published.  But I failed to think about the kind of thing I wanted to write, failed to make any kind of plan, and the whole thing just drifted, day after day, week after week, and soon became a meandering mess.  When I hit an impasse, or just got bored, I’d branch off in a new direction.  So, when I’d been writing for the statutory six months, I wound it up, printed it off, and started sending chapters off to agents in a completely amateurish and unsolicited way.  Then, having received a few rejections, I gave up.


My parents, being devoted, had been taking me each week to Southampton, to see a drugs-counsellor called Nick.  He was a nice bloke, and a good counsellor.  But there’s only so much a counsellor can do.  The fact that I can remember so little about my conversations with him is perhaps a reflection of my inability, or unwillingness, to make any headway.  I think I equated having removed myself physically from the problem with having kicked the habit, and therefore wasn’t doing anything about it.  I can remember him asking me in one of our sessions, ‘What would you do if I had a rock here in my hand, and offered you a pipe?’  My innards started churning just hearing these words, and I knew that if the offer had been real I’d have been undone.  The only thing that was keeping me from using was my distance from the source.  And it’s easy saying no to something that’s not there.


I knew there was crack in Southampton, hence the presence of the drug-service.  I can remember climbing the stairs there once as a pretty bedraggled woman was coming down.  She looked like she’d seen it all, a few times over.  Even this fleeting encounter had me in a whirl.  She was clearly a user…the first I’d met in exile.  Yes, there was plenty of crack in Southampton, but I didn’t really rate my chances of finding it.  I didn’t really want to go wandering around the dodgy bit of Southampton in the hope of ending up on the end of a crackpipe.  For one, I didn’t know where the dodgy bit of Southampton was.  Then, even if I did find it, what would I do there, try to catch the eye of a local down-and-out as I sauntered gauchely along a litter-clad backstreet?  Unlikely.  My sight didn’t allow this kind of interaction, so they’d have to speak to me, kick things off verbally, and I’m not sure how that would have happened.  I was green in a grey world.  I wanted contact but felt severed from everything around me, in all its shades.  All these tawdry thoughts rattled about in my head, proving that I was at best treading water in my professed attempt to get away from crack, and other demons.  My desire was still to use.  It was just a question of how, and when.


Needless to say, having done so little headwork on the subject, changed only in location, all these unfulfilled aspirations to use built steadily as the weeks ground by, until I broke the dull tranquillity of my exile.  I was getting on the train to Waterloo, getting in a taxi to Westbourne Park, knocking on the ever-opening door of Debbie, and going through the same old rubbish as I had just a few months before, with the same trashcan consequences.  Then, threatening suicide from a Westbourne Park callbox, I rang my parents and confessed to yet another relapse (although I don’t think I knew that word by then).  A few hours later, I emerged, shamefaced from the train, two worried parents on the platform.


Having post-mortemed this grim incident, it was decided I should employ a bit of damage-limitation.  If the child couldn’t run around without causing itself harm, then it would simply have to be put back in the reins.  Having cajoled my bank into allowing me an overdraft of over a grand, it was now decided that I should tell them I didn’t want an overdraft anymore.  This turned out to be harder than getting it in the first place.  The person I spoke to in my local branch seemed keen for me to stay in debt.  ‘What we could do is reduce it from fifteen hundred pounds to five hundred.  That way you’ve still got a bit of leeway for those unexpected purchases.’  The last thing I wanted was leeway for unexpected purchases.  But then he was probably thinking of cookers and fridges.  I coaxed a little further.  Next it was two hundred and fifty pounds.  That would at least allow me scope for bills and so on.  It was the ‘so on’ that worried me.  The rascal seemed determined that we should continue flouting that ancient adage, ‘neither a borrower nor a lender be’.  I felt like Houdini trapped inside an underwater coffin.  But one more flail and a biting of a chain, and I went floating up to the waterline.  I eventually got him to accept that I just didn’t want an overdraft.  All he had to do was click on his mouse.


My inner-counsellor was well pleased at my responsible, circumspect act of harm-reduction.  My resident demon scowled and plotted in alcoves I knew were there, but didn’t dare look in.  But you can’t please all the person all the time.  Next, it was time to reduce the amount of money I could withdraw from a cash-machine.  My current limit was two hundred and fifty pounds a day.  This had proved pretty dangerous up to now.  So I wrote to the bank instructing them to reduce my daily limit to fifty quid.  A few days later, I got a letter back saying they’d done it.  It was a bit limiting in a way, but if it was going to stop me scoring (which it didn’t), then it was a good thing.  A few weeks later, though, I got a letter telling me my overdraft limit had been extended to five hundred pounds, and how wonderful my life would more than likely be now this had happened.  I couldn’t be bothered to keep battling, so I just left it.  I’d done my bit.


But these were at best stalling tactics.  All I had to do now, if I wanted to use, was make sure I got to the bank before it shut and take out a load of money at the counter.  In fact, these new restrictions just made me a better-organised addict, as verified by my next daytrip to London.  It seemed quite natural to bolt for the smoke a week or two later.  I’d reawoken the instinct to use, and my mind was still in that joyless, flat, chronically bored post-crack state, that takes at least a week to lift.  When you’re in that mental trench, the brain searches around for something to bring it joy, to lift the boredom, and the reason for your torpor starts parading as the remedy for it, whispering ‘hair of the dog’ whenever it thinks you’ll listen.  In the world of crack, hair of the dog leads to one thing – a bald dog.


Before my first post-exile trip to Debbie’s, I hadn’t used for about five months, so my mind had recovered a bit.  But using fuels using, and now I was like an ant, sniffing its way along a trail of formic acid laid down only a week or two before.  I knew exactly where to go, and what was expected of me.  Suddenly, a journey of a hundred miles to London barely seemed a chore at all.  In fact, door to door, it didn't take much longer than traipsing across London had a few months earlier.  Oh yes, I was one eager little ant.  I was adamant.  Although the bald dog in my wake seemed less keen.


So one morning I rang Debbie, implausibly making out that I was just calling to say hi.  Within seconds, we’d successfully colluded to throw caution to the wind.  The relationship was based on collusion.  Just the words ‘how are you’ at the beginning of the call would seem tortuous, a spinning out of time that could be valuably spent homing in on crack.  A few more token niceties, and it was shoes on.  Neither of us had actually said much, but it was established I was coming over, and that could only be for one overriding reason.  Collective irresponsibility is a beautiful thing, because you’re never more than half to blame.


Because of my new cashpoint restrictions, this time I actually had to go into the bank and queue to get money out, so I popped in on the way to the station, withdrew a few hundred quid from the unassuming lady behind the counter, caught the train to Waterloo, and then a cab to Debbie’s, crossing London in black, like a forlorn impresario in search of a production.  Late afternoon the next day, having spent the first few hundred, withdrawn the permitted fifty from a cashpoint near Debbie’s, and then gone into a local branch and cashed a cheque for another hundred, I trundled home, wrecked and remorseful, having emptied my account.  What a nice piece of harm-reduction that turned out to be.


At home in bed, I was at least relieved not to have alarmed my parents a second time, so soon after my first misadventure.  But I still felt dreadful for having used, and had still spent about five hundred quid for the pleasure.


A couple of mornings later, I decided to do a written exercise that Nick the counsellor had suggested might be helpful.  I’d probably thought to do it before without having got round to it.  Heading a page, ‘The Pros And Cons Of Using’, I drew a line down the centre, pros on the left, cons on the right.  It was nice to have something to do.  I missed learning stuff.  Boarding-school and two universities had proved perfect environments for burying my nascent dysfunction well into my twenties, but since then my brain had softened year by year.  The ‘pros’ column was looking pretty bare.  Well, crack represented a fleeting sensory holiday from the dull, background pain of everyday life.  But other holidays were available.  The ‘cons’ column went on and on, and overleaf.  But words are cheap, even on paper.  The longer it went on, the more I felt I was trying to appease Nick rather than help myself.  I felt as enthralled to crack as I ever had, and, having run to the coast, wondered where I’d next have to go, actually into the sea?  How far is it possible to run?


So, fearing there was nowhere on Earth I could live, I managed, just, to put the brakes on when I found myself flirting with the prospect of going up in smoke a third time.  I’d rung Debbie mid-afternoon, no doubt bored, lonely and stoned, and said I’d be with her in a few hours.  I marched to the high-street, in full campaign-mode, but when I got to the bank, I paused.  I was so ripped up inside.  My stomach was everywhere.  It was all I could do to prevent my guts from blurting out onto the pavement.  But if I could just hold back, maybe I could evade the awful fate of yet another relapse.  So I turned back on myself and started going home.  The bank was due to shut in about fifteen minutes, so I only had to hold out for so long.  Halfway home, I turned around and started making for the bank again.  But, like a plane about to collide with a tall building, I veered away at the very last moment.  I had ten minutes to kill.  All I could think of to do was walk up the high-street, away from the bank.  Its open door looked like a trapdoor to fall in.  I just had to plug my ears and sail on, like Odysseus and the lads when they heard the Siren song.  So off to the other end of the high-street I marched, or sailed, as you prefer.  One of the worst things about addiction (or whatever you wish to call it) is that it can feel so wrong doing the right thing.  It was the weakest of possible breezes that propelled me to the other end of the high-street.  I still felt like I should be in the bank, getting money out, getting on that train, and on my way.  I knew I wouldn’t care about the consequences once I had that first pipe swimming around in my lungs.  Giving in seemed the only cure for the fear of giving in.  Sails shredded, I found myself floundering around in extreme turbulence, and was all ready to founder on the shores of Siren Island when, much to the relief of that little voice inside, I arrived back at the bank to find it shut.


I was no less torn inside, but at least I was safe, for now.  My virtuous half thanked whatever gods were taking any notice that I’d managed to hold out for long enough.  The voracious addict cursed his luck, considered going up with what money he could muster, but it soon diffused, and I went and got some wine, wandered home, and probably got progressively drunk and stoned until passing out on my pull-down bed.


Being stoned just seemed like the default state to be in at this time, and if I was drunk as well, so be it.  The two states seemed to complement one another.  If I only had dope, I wanted drink.  If I only had drink, I wanted dope.  It was a bit of a double-helix, like crack and sex.  But crack had trained my brain to expect such instant and intense results from things that I had to literally pour alcohol into myself and smoke like a fiend to feel like I was getting anything tangible from either.  Obviously, the more I did of each, the more of a tolerance I developed, so the more I had to do.  And because I could function, in a vague, unemployed kind of way, I didn't really question this futon of a life upon which I found myself daily slumped.  Not much of a life, but nowhere near as deadly as the crack version.  Dope has a heritage and a culture all of its own, of festivals, fields, trippy, trancy, sixties pixies, a long way from the derelict tenements and echoing stairwells that crack evokes.  And buying wine, well, that was almost as cultured a pastime as going to the theatre.  The beautiful fonts and evocations on the labels gave the impression that your average bottle of red was the liquid equivalent of Shakespeare.  But it was a squiffy, will-sapping existence.  Plans, thoughts, creative projects, even the ones that were lucky enough to reach something resembling completion, had a cloudy quality.  But most didn't get finished at all.  Most of them just ended up like foetuses, conceived in a moment of passion, but forgotten in the womb, never to be born, but somehow still growing inside me.


A few weeks later, the phone rang early one morning.  It was Debbie.  She sounded in a pretty bad state, drunk mainly, but she could have been up all night smoking for all I knew.  She wanted me to go up.  I told her I couldn’t afford to.  ‘Get an overdraft,’ she urged.  No doubt I came back with something gauche and stilted like, ‘My account doesn’t have that facility.'  I never disclosed what was really going on in my life, and nor do I think she’d have cared much anyway.  I hadn't even told her why I'd moved out of London.  As far as she knew, I'd moved away because I'd changed jobs.  I had selfishness and self-pity running through me like place-names through rock.  Half of me wanted to use, half of me knew I shouldn’t.  Half of me was a manipulative user of others, half of me thought that I was the one being used.  It didn’t enter my mind that Debbie, being a living, feeling human-being, might also be in distress, struggling, just like I was, stuck on the cusp between resigned and wanting to rebel against it all.  Actually, she was probably in a worse state than I was.  I’d at least been able to move away from the problem, had people who cared about me, would do anything for me.  She was stuck in the middle of it, with other users turning up whenever they wanted to score, or just needed somewhere to smoke.  She could barely walk to the shops without meeting a smoking associate, or a dealer keen to palm off whatever he could to whoever he could.  She seemed quite distraught and upset that morning, and possibly angry that I wasn't playing ball.  I told her I didn't have the money, couldn't get the money, and left it at that.  She wasn't very pleased, and somehow the call ended.


So, come June, having been stuck in my tiny flat for a year, and having addressed virtually nothing, I decided it was time for me to move back to London.  I hadn’t seen Debbie for a couple of months, and this minimal window in my using was sufficient for me to act as if crack was history.


Playing the partially sighted card, I rang the RNIB, the big blind charity that rattle tins incessantly under the noses of the sighted, adorable guide-dog in tow.  They put me onto an organisation that had flats for the visually depleted, and it turned out I was eligible to live in one.  ‘Do you feel ready to move back to London?’ my parents no doubt asked.  ‘Yes, I think so,’ I no doubt replied, not wishing to sound overconfident.  After a phone-call with the house-manager of the block, I was invited to go up for an open-day, which I managed to do without shooting off to Westbourne Park.  If I’d done that, all bets of returning to London would have been off.  The house-manager seemed to take a liking to me, and I was put on the waiting-list for a flat.  I went back to the south coast and did what people on waiting-lists do.


It was now the summer of 1999, and quite a lot of people were suffering from pre-millennium tension.  What's more, at eleven minutes past eleven on the eleventh of August, astronomers, numerologists, and journalists with nothing better to do, danced around in glee unbound, because there was a solar eclipse.  Much hyped, this significant event in the cosmic calendar had the effect of making a dull morning slightly duller.  Chris, my roommate from school, was staying with me at the time.  So, while Chris watched the phenomenon on the telly, which showed it as seen from Cornwall, where it was a full eclipse, I went outside and stood in my little porch, and felt self-conscious.  The family across the way were outside their house.  For me, this was a classic midrange encounter.  Would they understand why I didn’t shoot eclipse-related glances across the driveway?  Would they throw their own, only to have them unacknowledged by me?  Of course, I could have gone over and made contact, or even called out a greeting, but this all seemed much too traumatic for a soul in torment.


Eclipse o'clock, and things got a bit overcast, the sky took on a greenish hue, and birds didn’t seem to know whether they should be chirping or not, a weak breeze picked up, optimal dullness was attained, and then the whole seismic event passed into history, a budget apocalypse.


In my vague, noncommittal way, I thought the day of the eclipse might mark a watershed in my drifting existence.  You hear about people who are changed by things, transfigured by some miraculous external force.  I hadn’t been changed, as far as I could tell, by the Christians outside Ladbroke Grove station, so maybe this slightly more pagan happening would suit my needs and make me new.  But as soon as I went back inside and said something I regretted, that was it, I knew I was the same as before.


But maybe my new life in London would mark a change.  I was full of dreams and vows that it should.  I’d pick up the pieces of my aborted comedy career.  I’d only done about half a dozen spots, but they’d all gone well, well enough to think there might be a future there.  I’d continue my music, write new songs, form a band.  I had faith in my music.  It was almost the only thing I did have faith in.  I wasn’t sure where I was going to find the confidence to do all these things, though.  I just thought the law of averages would dig me out of my current hole.  Bad years were gone, so good years must be coming.  My outlook was that life happened to me.  I never happened to life.  Surely it could be kind as well as cruel.


I hadn’t done much with my life down by the sea, but that was because I never really felt like I was meant to be there.  And getting stoned all the time hadn’t exactly helped my motivation.  For a year now, my average day had been get up, make a cup of tea, put the telly on, roll a joint, maybe do a bit of music, do some writing, play too much Pac-Man, and see no one.  I didn’t feel like the kind of person anyone would want to see.  I still felt like damaged goods because of my sight, and now that I’d damaged myself even further by messing up on drugs, losing my job, and generally becoming unmanageable, I thought the best thing I could do for the world was keep myself hidden from it.  It was a lonely and tedious existence, alleviated and perpetuated by my constant supply of cannabis from my friend in Slough.


So some day in mid-September, I peeled the bitter Picassos and disturbing Gigers from the walls, packed away my clothes and various bits of equipment, pushed the bed into the wall for the final time, and said goodbye to banishment.  A couple of days later, I was moving into a little studio-flat on Goldhawk Road, Shepherd’s Bush, a mere three stops from Debbie’s.  It wasn’t big, but it was slightly more spacious than my costal cell had been.




New Flat, Old Self

So there I sat, on the floor of my new flat, amid boxes, bags, speakers, and various bits of equipment, thinking how nice it would be to have a fresh start...

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