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 thick mat of stubble, and a look of having just got up, meant the shambling Dennis cut quite a caper around the Green. He was a friendly guy and, although he ripped me off once or twice, was never threatening or violent, and didn’t hold back the drugs, like Jacob.
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 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 just taking in the ambience. 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. 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, morning now underway in earnest, I realised I only had a tenner left, and 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 or 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 drags, then threw it on the carpet between us, half-smoked.
It felt like time to make tracks. 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.’ Either I was still hoping I’d stumble on some heroin, or I just didn’t want to reward his force with gain, so the tenner stayed 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 reached into my pocket and 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, 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 on the cusp of night and dawn.
I spent the next three days in bed, brain flatter than a leaking battery, torn red t-shirt on the floor, and one of the Discovery channels burbling away as I drifted in and out of sleep, occasionally raiding the cupboard for whatever was left to eat, which was never much at this time. When I rose, in a bout of desperation, I wrote a handwritten letter to my doctor, asking to be sent to rehab, or a psychiatric ward, or wherever there was a vacancy.
A few days later, I made an emergency appointment, and my doctor, almost impotent to help, referred me to my local drug service, and I went for an assessment. I was assigned a counsellor, who I saw for about six months. She was very good, knowledgeable, honest, and patient, but she couldn’t stop me using week after week, and coming in with tales of increasing degradation. By this point, the compulsion to use crack, with a heroin chaser, felt like something separate from what I considered to be myself. It was as if the decision was made in me, but not by me. ‘It’s happened again,’ I’d say, time after time, and she would say, ‘You mean you’ve used again.’ Seemingly, none of the complementary therapies had helped, and nor had any of our circular conversations. I just became a more literate addict, and could talk at severe length, sometimes quite engagingly, about the same thing – I’d used. Truth is, at this time, I wanted to use, but didn’t want the consequences, and heroin, sneaking up on the rails, had only made the whole cycle seem slightly less unmanageable, softening, as it did, the comedown from crack.
Ear acupuncture, very nice, shiatsu, interesting, reflexology, quite sensual, cupping, whatever that is, hypnotherapy, and various relaxation CDs, all made a minimal indentation on my pattern of use. I even wrote a few worthy articles for the drug service newsletter, all teacher’s pet stuff, saying how wonderful the therapies were, and how I found the service so very valuable as a community hub, but they were all just words, worthy, placatory, hollow words. The drug service subscribed to a magazine called Black Poppy, a health and lifestyle journal written by users and ex-users. Over the months, I wrote a few articles for it, even compiled a cryptic crossword, with mostly drug-related answers, but even this, coupled with volunteering at the magazine’s office, and the new friends it afforded me, made no difference to my using.
So far, the most successful path I’d found to getting a period free from crack was going to my parents’ by the sea, which I did many times at this point, in various states of disrepair. There, I’d be spoken to frankly, in a spirit of concern, and bewilderment, by both parents. Then, having had another good think about my predicament, I’d return to London and relapse. The hypnotherapy, dispensed by a chap in a shack in Ealing, and paid for by my parents, seemed to work for a few days. Hypnotised on a Monday, I managed to abstain from crack, with money in my pocket, ‘til Friday. But then, when I blew it, it was back to scoring at every opportunity, regardless of time of day, or danger.
By now, I was firm friends with Faith, especially when I arrived at hers fresh from the cashpoint. It was kind of unfortunate that she lived on the same street as the drug service. In fact, it was probably possible to see the place from her window. Often I’d have an appointment that I simply wouldn’t show for, because I’d stumble into Faith’s literally yards from safety, like a rugby-player with a knack for tackling himself.
One afternoon, I was marching to an appointment, knowing full well I wouldn’t get there, because I’d already decided to trip myself up at Faith’s. Torn at her door, half hoping she was out, half wishing she’d hurry up and answer, I was surprised when my old chum Dennis appeared before me. Butler-like, he ushered me into the living-room. He’d already scored, and furnished me with a pipe, which led to a flurry of notes being pulled from my pocket, accompanied by the request, ‘Can we get something?’ He was happy to oblige, and called down the hall to Faith, to let her know he was popping out. She came into the living-room, and was equally delighted to see me, and the notes I was scrunching into Dennis’s palm. She returned to whoever she was entertaining out the back. Dennis and I were negotiating what we wanted, and who we should get it from, when another figure appeared in the doorway. It was Jacob, and he didn’t seem very happy.
He said a cool hello, and reminded me of a previous warning, given some days before, not to hang out with Dennis. According to Jacob, Dennis would con me, keep drugs back, was a known criminal, in fact was everything Jacob was himself. Then he addressed Dennis directly. ‘Ben is my associate. I look after him.’ ‘He just wants to score,’ Dennis said lamely. ‘Ben, come with me,’ Jacob instructed, ‘I’m taking you home.’ I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to score. ‘I’m ok,’ I said, trying to appease the now approaching figure of Jacob, ‘I’m happy to share whatever we get.’ ‘You won’t be getting anything,’ he replied, ‘I’m taking you home.’ I didn’t believe this for a minute – he just wanted me away from Dennis, so he could take control. ‘I don’t want to have to slap you,’ he warned. His crazed yet cold eyes were up against me, and I thought I’d better go along with things. Then I was being escorted down the road, with Jacob saying, ‘Ben, I know if I let you go, you’ll find someone to score through, so if you want to get something, tell me now.’ So my protector and I set off on a journey to this couple’s place in White City, just off Wood Lane, near the BBC. In my comedy fumblings, I’d dreamed of walking in there, checking in for rehearsals, having established myself as a comedian of note. Now I couldn’t get past fast enough, desperate to reach our destination to top up the pipe I’d had some half an hour ago. Why doesn’t the good draw you in like the bad? Couldn’t they see who was going by?
We arrived in some dive, a flat that even the ‘How Clean Is Your House’ team would have had to touch up before filming. It was inhabited by a guy who looked like a cross between Wayne Slob and Mr Sneeze, haggard’n’gaunt, hair an explosion. His partner, who it turned out he beat (no doubt the bond that brought him and Jacob together), seemed quite friendly and normal, even made me a cup of tea, and took an interest in my various aborted dreams and aspirations. She’d had them too. Somewhere in the undergrowth of their living-room, there was a puppy skulking, apparently acquired from someone at the drug service we’d all been fruitlessly attending for months. Formalities over, Jacob popped out with my clutch of twenties, and I took tea with my hosts. Spike had been a postman, until he got sacked for intercepting chequebooks. Now he allegedly gardened for a well-known singer from the 80s. My hostess, Suzie, showed me pictures of her children of whom she was very proud – they were scattered about the globe, and seemingly quite happy.
I faked conversation until Jacob’s return with the crack. Unwrapping the bits, he went first, of course, then me, then our hosts, on a variety of hastily constructed pipes. Then Spike and Suzie began discussing something discreetly, and it soon became clear they were injectors, of which Jacob roundly disapproved. He would smoke crack, but not heroin, and he certain wouldn’t inject anything. I, however, hell bent on experiencing all I could experience, made a mental note of where I was, and to call back some time when Jacob wasn’t around. Spike and Suzie disappeared into the bedroom and bathroom, respectively, to inject in peace, leaving me and Jacob smoking just the crack in the living-room. When they returned, Spike moaning he couldn’t find a vein, and Suzie talking so fast it was hard to keep up, Jacob popped out to the cashpoint. I managed to cajole a heroin spliff in his absence, which helped with the crack cravings. Then, after an agonising wait, he returned, and we all four smoked away until the money went. The heroin hadn’t really been enough to calm me down, but, somehow, having said our goodbyes, we left, and Jacob and I parted on the street with a handshake, as if having just sealed a small business deal, and later, there I was in bed, sweating, and desperately trying to get to sleep, cursing every second, wracked with regret that one, I’d ever touched crack, and two, I couldn’t go on smoking forever, if necessary to death, cos it seemed there was no way out of this slow nosedive my life had become.
And, as ever, I offer up a song for your consideration: Run Out Of Drugs Again