Pain isn’t something I am skilled at dealing with. Escaping pain, however, I am as good at as an Irish traveller is at fighting. Shrooms being my route of choice these days. It’s where the love lives. When life gets too ugly for me to be able to look at it, I discreetly slip away from the world and pay a visit to the realm of contentedness. These past few weeks I’ve been going there more regularly than I would usually need to. I am feeling emptier than I have in years. My spirit has been extinguished. An ache that won’t shift. A constant nausea. Too many shit things all taking place at the same time. A friend, one of life’s good humans, is lying in a hospital bed while her young kids and husband can only sit and put their faith in doctors and medical technology. Christmas. New Year. And not to mention the rejection dealt to me by a woman, – well, two rejections. Just one woman. But I was fool enough to climb back into her bed the moment she let me and then in the morning deja vu – who has, although not intentionally, absolutely crushed any confidence or feeling of self-worth that I had in myself before I met her. Destroyed. Man, I was in such a good place before that girl came into my life and turned it upside down. These things combined have knocked me on my arse. Not that anyone will know it. I am not a talker. Friends trying to engage me in conversation about what’s going on in my life just make me recoil. They meet a brick wall. It is not my way. Nor am I a social user of anything. I don’t like to have company when I’m feeling the benefits of whatever it is that my body has ingested. I fly solo. A bit of Me Time. I wait until I know I have the flat to myself for a night, and if that situation doesn’t arrive I take a bus out to my mum’s house in the sticks. No city, no cars, no street lights, no noise, and most importantly no people. A retreat. A place where I can get under the covers, drink tea, get as stoned as I want without being disturbed, and float away with the aid of some shrooms and some psytrance. It gives me perspective. Helps me to remember, even if only for a short while, that I have been prescribed an extreme dose of good fortune and managed to escape the poverty by being given the opportunity to work again, after a few years of sitting in a damp corner, occasionally having food gifted me by charities, shoplifting at times, and at other times just going without nutrition. Makes me realise that surely that was a far less desirable situation to be in than the current one of emotional trauma over a woman. Emotion is forgotten when you’re starving. These days I can eat when I’m hungry. I can drink when I’m thirsty. And I can smoke weed when I’m…….. awake. Basically. This time last year I couldn’t do any of those things. Well, as my dad used to say to me as a kid, “There’s plenty of water in the tap.” So I could drink. But you get the point. Things have been worse. Even if it doesn’t feel like it at the moment.
A week or so ago when I didn’t have any work the next day, I travelled out to my mum’s with everything I needed to be able to chill out. In the evening I laid down on the settee in the living room, ate some shrooms, wrapped myself in a blanket, got comfortable, pulled my hood up over my head, put my music in my ears and closed my eyes to block out the telly in the corner of the room that my mum was sat on the other settee watching. She knew to leave me in peace to enjoy my trip. And then the usual vivid memories started to come over me. The ones where I am actually back there, experiencing it again but at the same time detached, like Scrooge stood next to the ghost of Christmas past. If that makes sense. I went back to a night almost 20 years ago.
In that happy place
From the age that I first started walking and talking, I always knew my dad as a poet, painter and writer. And an alcoholic. Well, they do tend to go hand in hand, don’t they?
In 2009 my dad decided he’d had enough of this life and so took himself off to the local train station, waited for the fast one to come flying along the tracks, and let it take him into whatever comes after we leave this existence.
*By the way, it’s taken me a long time to feel even moderately comfortable talking (or writing) about that particular period in mine and my sisters’ lives. Which is why I won’t have written about it before, and almost certainly never will again.
Will wasn’t suicidal, he just wished he was. He obsessed over the idea of being in control of his own destiny. Over the idea of the peace of mind that he imagined would accompany that final sleep, that final meal, that final walk, that final kiss, that final word. Climbing into bed in the evening, knowing that the following morning he would wake up, wash, get dressed, walk out the front door, and never return. He would leave no note. And there would absolutely be no warning. No one would have the slightest inkling of what was to come. Will wouldn’t kill himself whilst in a cloud of depression. He would do it at a time of contentment. He had heard too many times the commonly accepted argument that the decision to commit suicide could never be made by a rational mind, and he disagreed with this profusely. ‘The only certainty in life is death,’ he argued, ‘It will get me at some point. It will get every one of us. So why should I wait for it to come and inconvenience me at a moment not suitable to my situation? It should come knocking only when I invite it.’
What was that if not totally rational?
Will was never going to actually do it. He knew this. He was just comforted by the thought that it was possible. That just as you could get up off the settee and switch off the light, you could get up and switch off your life. The reality, though, was that Will was far too curious a man. Life was too interesting to quit just yet. What engaging character would stroll into his life tomorrow and inspire him? Which strange town or city would he wake up in next week? What new high would he experience next month? What new low? Would he be a grandad one day? Would he finish up a drunken recluse, buried under crushed aluminium cans and empty pizza boxes? Would one of his neighbours report a pungent stench coming from his flat? And would the same neighbour say that no one had seen him coming or going from his home for about a week? Would anyone be surprised by this? Would he get diagnosed with a disease? Surely cancer was on the cards. He wanted to see it all. His only brother had decided enough was enough and one morning nine months earlier had taken himself out the front door for that final walk. Down the hill, past the shops, past the library, through the square, under the bridge, to the train station, up the slope, to the edge of the platform, on to the track, down on to his knees, and bang! Gone from this world. The London Express taking him out. Will wondered how many people, all strangers to him, would remember that morning for the rest of their lives. How many of them would never again be able to take a train. Or even set foot on a station’s platform. All because of his brother. It wasn’t an easy thought to deal with. Will definitely wasn’t ready to follow suit. He was just fascinated by the whole concept.
The all-night caff isn’t on any maps handed out in Tourist Information. In fact, it isn’t even known by most of the representatives of decent society living in the city. But to Brighton’s nocturnals and wrong’uns – the junkies, the prostitutes, the pimps, the ravers, the insomniac psychos – Market Diner, hidden away on a backstreet of lock-ups and garages, is a regular fixture between the hours of 5 and 8am; the place to be as eyes adjust back to daylight.
It is a place where everyone tolerates everyone. No grief is to be had at the all-night caff.
A place where the staff aren’t going to ask you to leave for racking up a cheeky line on the table, next to your cup of tea, and then asking behind the counter for a straw to snort it with.
It was a Spring morning. We were a group of eight happy and completely twisted young people; four boys, four girls. An hour earlier we had all been strangers to one another. But the sharing of what chemicals each of us had left hidden in the baggies tucked inside our socks, combined with our all-round positive nature, had quickly rectified this situation. The club we had spent the night sweating inside had turfed us all out at 6am, and so everyone gathered on The Steps.
The Steps – taking the regular punter from the promenade to the street above – is the place where ideas are formed. And where balloons are sold by entrepreneurial types for £1 a hit. It is the place where happy people meet other happy people and talk deeply and profoundly to one another. It is the place where people speak absolute bollocks to one another. It is the place where dilated pupils gaze into dilated pupils. And it is the place where friendships are made.
I reached over to the bedside table, turned off the alarm and rolled onto my back to stare up through the skylight.
I studied in detail the bottom of the seagull’s feet.
The seagull glanced at me, nonchalantly, nodded me a greeting, like he did every morning, and then went back to playing with his pebble.
I gave a thought to Paul Gascoigne.
“Do you ever wake up and feel like crying because you’ve woken up?” she asked, as she rolled onto her back to lie next to me.
I said, “No.”
And then I wondered what the most complex thought ever to cross a seagull’s mind might be.
“Do you?” I asked.
Of course I knew she was lying, just like she knew I was.
Only someone who had had that thought would ask that question.
“Stay here,” I said, and I walked out of the room and down the stairs.
I liked the feeling of being completely naked in my kitchen on a sunny morning.
Even the postman laughed with me as he came down the path, whistling to himself.
I returned to the bedroom with a plate of crumpets, topped with Marmite and melted cheese, and two cups of tea.
I was in a good mood,
So I put on her playlist instead of mine.
I shaved, shitted and showered,
And went to work.
At lunch time she phoned me.
“Have you been dipping into our bowl of Valiums?” she asked.
I said, “No.”
Then I watched Jason drink some of his tea, and I wondered how he could enjoy it without sugar.
“Have you?” I asked.
Of course I knew she was lying, just like she knew I was.
“Okay. I love you,” she said.
“Good. I love you.”
And then I wished that there had been a flavour other than ready salted left in the multi-pack when I’d packed my lunch that morning.
And I despised Sharon for having a poster on the wall above her desk that read, ‘You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps.’