Setting Sun

Smiles, laughter and joy,
Red sun rising high,
Tomorrow is yesterday, yesterday is today,

Take my hand in the pursuit of pleasure.

Friends, fairies and love,
Will never fade away,
Infinite wishes and unending ecstacy,
Angels whose wings will never be clipped.

Lovers, fools and innocence,
The clock has stopped,
Existence a blur danced to a euphoric melody,
Heaven a place on earth.

Whispers, rumours and fear,
Tick-tock, tick-tock,
The music has stopped,
Another gram, another pill, another bottle.

Pills, powder and booze,
Flames within sculpting effigies,
Rising slowly, slowly, slowly,
Toying, waiting for the banshee’s wail.

Terror, shakes and blood,
Her grip pierces the soul,
Wings clipped, mind warped, eyes dead,
The mirror cracks, a million broken pieces.

Death, dishonour and resignation,
Broken fragments turn to black,
Fate has dealt her cards,
Let go of my hand for she has come.

Hope, tears and light,
Weeping waters the rose hidden deep,
Red petals caress and soothe,
Born again to a world unknown.

Radiance, courage and the new,
Drifting as the clouds,
Far, far from home she smiles,
Love found and lost.

Borders, warmth and elephants,
Reality now but a dream,
Still to be lived and loved,
Take my hand again, time to go home.

And here I sit beneath the setting sun,
Fallen bodies lay, scars yet to be healed,
A final toast before I go,
Still I cry, still I smile, still I’m alive.

It began with love…

You are born with a blank slate, you have no prior experience of the world which you are brought into. Then there is an immediate onslaught to the senses: people, noises, objects. The things we all take for granted are nothing but blurs and screeches, they make no sense and it is from there we begin our journey of understanding. First, we are showered with love, hugs and kisses from those who brought us into this world. Love. The word, the concept, the idea that will forever follow us, something we forever crave. There will be times of ecstasy and feelings so overwhelming you cannot articulate them, hearts will be broken, too. It’s the first thing we experience, yet none of us truly know what it is, no one person will give you the same words to describe the feeling that we define our lives by.

Slowly the slate that is the mind is sculpted by the senses, events that carefully chip away with the chisel of life. Some caress and leave smooth edges, memories of happy times, people loved and places filled with joy. Sometimes that chisel slips, leaving deep ravines where pain, anger and hurt dwells. Over time those crevices can be filled, but they are scars which never truly heal. A mind shaped by the hands of Van Gogh and a two-year-old child set loose with a set of crayons. We crave to understand, want for meaning and purpose, love and happiness on a journey which twists and turns to the point we become perpetually dizzy. Moments of calm as we sit by the roadside and appreciate the life we have been given but still wondering ‘why?’. And it all began with that first hug and kiss in a hospital room, it began with love.

My own journey started in a hospital room at St Mary’s Hospital, West London on 9th December 1982. My father had been at the pub all night, toasts being made all over Edgware Road, my mother left to take herself to the hospital. Then it was back home to Kilburn, North West London. The place which shaped me. A place that wherever in the world I may be will always be home. A place which is now being gradually changed, the slow creep of gentrification destroying the soul of London has finally began to infect County Kilburn. Where traditional Irish pubs stood now stand generic, lifeless bars filled with the haves who have sucked the souls of the have nots so that they can proclaim their cultural worth through their own conceit and condescension. But that is now. Back then it was a different world.

The 1980s were a time when materialism and selfishness flourished. No such thing as society. Riots broke out across the country as those who struggled to survive struggled harder to make their voices heard. The housing estates which had been a utopian vision of community and prosperity were left to rot. Brutalist structures towering over every corner of the city, draining away the colour of a town in an identity crisis. The tears of the buildings were those who lived among them, dripping out to find ways to survive, returning home to the uninspiring and unimaginative darkness of concrete. It was now everyone for themselves. You could make it if you really wanted to. That’s what they said, and the barrow boys turned bankers who racked lines of cocaine in the city and washed it down with expensive champagne were the poster boys of success. But as with all poster boys, they were few and far between.

In the darkness there were rays of light. Communities did come together, people looked out for each other and the adversity from the contempt shown to the working classes from the state gave purpose. London was a mish mash of different ethnicities who congregated in the same areas. Safety in numbers. It was Kilburn where the Irish went. A long high street lined with shops, pubs and butchers. An Irish accent was more common than an English one. Everyone’s surname was Irish, on St Patrick’s Day the whole high street was awash with green, white and gold. To us kids there was no doubt as to where our loyalties lay. We were never English or British. To be so was to betray one’s roots and the underlying sense of nationalism was ever present. You would never align yourself with a country who didn’t let your grandfather into pubs. Lower than dogs: No blacks, no dogs, no Irish.

It was a far way from the green fields of home, and Ireland always was home, London was just a stop on the round trip. That trip might never end and the lament that it was better to die ‘neath an Irish sky was realised by few. Some made their fortune and became too comfortable, others failed in their quest to find the roads paved with gold and fell never to fully pick themselves back up again. Others just lived. But home was always there in the background. Songs sang in the pubs pined for lost loves of their youth, stories told of days long gone and the people left behind. Life was a paradox in which the yearning for home and the sadness also brought joy and happiness from nights out, friends made and a community which stood together in the face of discrimination and association with the IRA bombs which frequently went off in London.

There were those who had come over on a boat, young, full of life, the eternal optimism that new environments and opportunities bring giving them a confidence and spring in their step. Life was there to be taken by the balls, nights out at Galtymore and the National. Work was there and money flowed. Then, for whatever reason, maybe it was the drink, maybe it was a broken heart, life unravelled. And pride took over. Came to make a fortune and now nothing was left. Going home would be to admit failure, left a young lad bright eyed and bushy tailed, go back haggard and broken. Better to stay and let those at home hope that you weren’t broken and that you had made it. They never emerged from the foggy dew.

Sitting on a bench outside of the church, three men. Each clutching a can of drink, staring into the distance, not a word spoken. One stands up, his old, black dog slowly gets to his feet, looking up at his master. Both walk away towards the high street, looking for a place to sit, somewhere someone might take pity and give a few pence to feed the dog and buy another can of drink. None knew his story, perhaps the dog did, but the dog can keep secrets. For the kids, he was what happened when the drink took hold. You ended up on the street. They would give you a few pence to make themselves feel better, so they could go and sit in the church and sit straight and tall. That was their bit done. God would reward them for that. It didn’t make him any more human, it didn’t tell his tale and it didn’t free him of the burdens that left him sitting down in an alleyway, head bowed, nameless, nothing left in the world but his dog.

Those were the kind of images which followed me for most of my life. Most of the stories of destitution centred around alcohol, it was ever present and the problems which it created were normalised. There’s a picture of me with a brandy glass in my hand while my father holds me laughing. I think I would have been about 18 months old. I hold no blame towards my parents for that. Alcohol and excess were not something which they could have shielded me from. The madness which it produced was clearly visible to me and those who grew up in the same environment. Your environment clearly affects you, however there is still some responsibility in yourself being able to distinguish whether something has a good outcome. To say it was lack of understanding would pass away that responsibility. Of course, as a child, it is harder to understand, however it does form the beginning of the ideas that it is an escape. Romanticising it, the debauched lifestyle it entails and the stories of excess always told in jest created a form of aspiration.

Popular culture was awash with such stories, it wasn’t just at home that it became normalised. Singers such as Shane McGowan of The Pogues drank themselves into stupors while they were doing what they loved to do. George Best was ever present on television, a genius footballer who still drank and slept with half of the world’s women. Their stories were laughed at by audiences, they still performed and to a child they were doing what they loved while still being able to get as fucked up as they possibly could. While I had no concept of what getting that fucked up felt like, it certainly sewed the seeds of wanting to know.

My mother was born in London but was sent to Ireland with her brother when her mother tragically committed suicide. A girl from London sent to the Irish countryside. Despite all that surrounds you, the culture and the customs, it never truly prepares you for the change. The 50s and 60s in Ireland were difficult times. Poverty was ever present, a donkey and cart were needed to go to town and animals were slaughtered for dinner. Coming from London, a city pulling itself from the ruins of the war, it was a completely different world. Even more so when you are sent to a convent school, ran by the self-righteous nuns, the manifestations of all that is heavenly on earth. And that which was heavenly involved frequent beatings, cruelty and everything which went against what they preached. Or perhaps they never believed what they preached, it was just a position of power in which they could take out their anger and frustration on innocent children.

Her upbringing is something which I could never truly understand. To have your mother taken away at such a young age, moved to another country where it was all so different. To be forced to try and fit into a family you did not really know. The pain and anguish. To have to try and understand something you will never truly understand in dealing with the death of your mother. The questions you would ask yourself and the pain it would cause. Then to be subjected to abuse from the very people who were held up as all that were good, all that were holy. Those who were supposed to protect and guide you through difficult times. I often wonder why my mother is not as cynical as I am. Perhaps in the pain and anguish she found strength to carry on and the need to see good in people is a finger up at those who could not when she really needed them to. That I truly admire.

At the age of 16 she returned to London. Thrown into the swinging ‘60s. Although that image of London was not the life of everyone, and as is always the case with history we only see snapshots, mostly of what was good, and that which was bad is romanticised. Behind The Beatles, Carnaby Street and mini-skirts the Cold War was raging, a world on the brink after the Cuban missile crisis. Discrimination still rampant. When applying for jobs my mother was told she had to lose the Irish accent or she wouldn’t find anything. In the modern world, especially in London, different accents are so prevalent, yet then it was a means to differentiate and to discriminate. Despite this she found work in a city which was changing beyond all recognition. The road she had been brought up on in Kilburn had been knocked down, replaced with high rise buildings.

From this point I know little until my own birth. I know she married and divorced, and I know she started working at the College of Law as a receptionist at some point in the ‘70s. The rest I do not know and have never asked. I have accepted she has her reasons, much like I have my reasons for divulging very little about my own private life to her. We can become resentful towards people who do not let you in, and at times in the past I have, but I have come to accept that I may never know and that is her choice. I do however respect immensely the drive and determination my mother had in making a good life for herself after the traumatic experiences of her own upbringing. Arriving on a boat to England, a place which had changed so much since she was last there and managing to survive in a world in which the odds were stacked against her.

My father grew up in Kilburn too, the eldest of four brothers. My father’s life before my birth I know very little of. I know there is some pain there that haunts him and being the person he is I have never asked. We’ve never had the relationship where I could ask. I know that at some point he spent time in a children’s home. I know this because when he used to take me to the park on Saturday mornings he would tell me stories about football and how he watched the 1968 European Cup Final at the home. At some point he ended up in Edgware Road with his mother and father. His mother, my grandmother, was as Dublin as could be, his father from Tipperary. Dad left school at 16 and found a job at the Post Office where he worked for most of his life. Most images I have in my mind of my father are of him in his blue shirt and navy trousers.

My parents met at the King’s Arms pub on Edgware Road. Mum was working there as a barmaid and for dad it was one of his many locals. My father was a good-looking man in his youth, tall with dark hair, only 23 when he met my mother who was 31. I can imagine him now playing to his audience in the pub in an attempt to impress my mother. He loved and still does love an audience. He would have been there with his best friend Dave, an inseparable pair who would later be arrested for running along the tops of cars in a drunken stupor, a story my mother often recalls. At one point, my mother and Dave wrote a letter pretending to be from the Ministry of Defence telling my father he had been called up to the Falklands war. He fell for it. My mother said he was all prepared to run away to Ireland until they finally told him it was a joke.

Dad was and still is a nervous man. Running his hands through his hair as he ponders some worry that he has created. I can only imagine what kind of state he was in when he thought he was going to have to go off to fight a war. Most of his worries were of money. Constantly counting the money in his pocket and knowing to the penny how much he should have. Sometimes I would put my hand under the sofa and pull out a wad of notes, he’d be asleep but wake up immediately. Mum would find money hidden in the bookshelf. Perhaps it was a product of growing up with very little. I find it hard to describe him outside of the nerves and obsession with money and that’s because of one of the most significant moments of my own life and the impact it had on my relationship with him.

We lived in a flat opposite Kilburn Park Station. It was an old, Victorian terraced house which had been converted into flats. The flat which we lived in was small, only one bedroom. As a child it seemed enormous. There was a flight of stairs up to the door and then another steep flight up to the landing of the flat where there were doors to the living room, the bedroom, small kitchen and bathroom. In the bottom flat was an old Scottish man called Bill. In the flat below were various different people who would come and go. The basement flat was empty and was often broken into by squatters and drug addicts. A heroin epidemic raged through the U.K in the 80s and outside the doctor’s surgery on the corner of our road there would be used needles lying on the floor. It was home and I didn’t know any different, the world outside of Kilburn and Edgware Road were exotic mysteries to me.

In the flat next door to ours there would be tapping sounds at night. My childish imagination brought me to the conclusion that some ghost lived in the attic. My mother told me it was the woman who lived next door skipping. I wondered why she would be skipping at 2 am in the morning. There were times when I would be woken up by mum banging on the wall in tears because she couldn’t sleep because of the noise. It wasn’t until I was older I realised that the woman was a prostitute with a crack habit and the tapping was her bed hitting the wall. I’d often see her outside on the street screaming at someone in her thick Irish accent. That was my first exposure to someone in active addiction, but I had no understanding and as far as I was concerned, she was just a bad woman because she kept mum awake at night.

I have few very early memories; I don’t know if I’ve erased them or if it is common to not remember your younger years. I can vaguely remember one Christmas when my father was there, I don’t know how old I was and I can’t even remember which presents I received, I only remember that he was there and mum was shouting at him for making me over excited. I also remember walking to the video shop with him and mum and them renting Superman for me and then buying sausage and chips from the chip shop. The picture in my mind sitting there watching Superman and eating sausage and chips is incredibly vivid and even to this day that smell takes me back there. It was a time when we were together and happy as a family. You don’t ever think that’s going to be broken.

Then the most vivid image of my childhood occurred. I have never been able to get rid of it and it has haunted me for the rest of my life. I was stood at the top of the stairs, my father was standing next to my mother. He had a bag in his hand, mum was crying. I can’t remember what they were saying to each other. Dad turned towards me and knelt down and said “I will be back soon. I’m going to stay with nanny for a few days.” I watched as he turned away from me and walked down the stairs his bag in hand. Even as a child I knew he wasn’t coming back. That was it, what I thought was a  happy family had been broken and now it was just me and mum. There was nothing I could do to help her as she stood there crying. I was helpless and I didn’t understand. Young, vulnerable and frightened, you only blame yourself.

Back to London Town

 

Bottle of vodka tucked under my jacket, sweat pouring, shaking but no tears. The tears didn’t come until later. A broken man whose only comfort came in cheap spirits, white cider, various powders, pills and the oblivion they took me too. Reality no longer had meaning, I wasn’t sure what was real or what was alcohol or drug induced as I watched as the tower blocks and the city disappeared. You’d like to think it was moviesque, all in black and white as I watched mournfully out the window. But it was all in colour and there were no background tracks. Just a pale, skinny twenty-one-year-old filled with pain, constantly cut by the shards of broken childhood dreams staring out the window, the nagging that the bottle of vodka would soon be empty. The roads were now flanked by green fields and I’d left the only place I’d ever lived. Defeated, I was never going home, that was it done. I’d not make it long enough to ever live there again. That was how I left London in April 2004.

The city had shaped those dreams and it was in the same place they were shattered. Walks to school up Kilburn High Road spent dreaming, evenings kicking a ball around a concrete pitch. Sunday morning strolls to mass, the shops closed, the only people about with a newspaper under their arm on their way home or to the pub. The old homeless fellas sat together on a bench, barely a word said between them. They’d come to County Kilburn in search of riches, failed and now too proud to go back home. Those old buses that went to far off exotic places like Bow. Christmas bus rides down to Oxford Street, staring wide eyed out of the window as the bus passed the window displays at Selfridges and Hamleys. An adventure almost as exciting as Christmas morning itself. Summer walks to St John’s Wood, evening spent in the pub with a Coke and a packet of crisps listening to my parents talking about people I don’t know, mind wandering to Italy as the World Cup final plays out on the television.

Saturday morning trips to Edgware Road and Church Street, the smell of fry ups and fudge in the air as my grandmother cooked breakfast. Her Dublin accent, her laugh. All brought warmth when it was often cold. The market would be bustling as we walked, ‘how ya!’s to everyone passing. Maybe a stop in the pub for a quick half pint and I’d get Twiglets. Listening to them talk about how things have changed, it isn’t the same anymore. You don’t see that, you’re too young, this is the only world you know. The people, the places, the shops, the streets, they’ll always be like that. She’ll always be sat there in the corner of the pub smoking a Silk Cut, sipping a half pint. 

Then came the madness. Drunken nights in Hammersmith, long walks up Ladbroke Grove glugging from a bottle, feeling invincible. The belief it’d never change, it’d always be like that, a long euphoric ride where you pity those that haven’t gotten on board. Two best friends who’d never leave you, they’d always be there. Slowly, slowly the world became warped and twisted, the bottle consuming you, the ride not so euphoric, that high would never be reached again. The walks down Kilburn High Road were no longer a time for reflection and fantasy. Now it was filled with bitterness and fear, head down, no eye contact. Only the geezer in the off license would be granted the ill fortune of looking into those dark eyes. Elixir of life bought, there was more of a spring to the walk home, just the feintest of traces of vitality, soon to be extinguished by the liquid my body now depended on. Everything around you is moving forward, but you’re standing still.

My world is now defined by a bottle, each shop, each street, each person. Sitting on the Tube watching as a man opposite sips from Strongbow Extra and you’re back five years before. I’d have pitied him, now I was him, a mirror image opposite. People didn’t sit next to me, they looked at me with both pity and sorrow. Looking along the stations on the map, trying to focus, trying to find some place where there were happier times, when I still had a soul. Even that is futile, each stop is just a memory of what got me here. Another sip from the can. The train pulls into Brixton, into the shop to buy more booze, security guard following close behind. And then another night of drug and drink fuelled madness, God only knows where you will end up. Cheap vodka, ketamine and ecstasy in an attic. A taxi ride is just a blur of lights, places have merged into one. I don’t know where I am and I don’t who I am. That quiet boy sitting in corner eating crisps and sipping Coke was ten years before. The colour of the streets, the people I knew, the place I grew up in were now all grey blurs. Myself? I had been shattered.

Fifteen years passed and I was home again, sipping a latte. No vodka bottles now. Standing by the river looking out an unrecognisable skyline, the Tate behind me. A place I’d never have gone in even if it’d had existed at the time, yet I’d just spent hours wandering around it. A wry smile to myself as someone asks me to take a picture of them. They’d never have done that before. Strolling by the river, thinking over the years since I’d left. I’d almost died, wouldn’t have made it through 2007 if I’d not gone to rehab. Then I came out in 2008 and had to grow up. 2009 to India, 2010 to China where I stayed for six years. Another three in Ireland spent writing books. It was a long road back home. I never thought I’d come back. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to come back. Visit? Yeah. To live? That’s a different story. I feared the city I grew up in. The memories, the changes, above all, that inner child of mine that’d come leaping out.

Memories, they come at you in the most unexpected of places. Tastes, smells, sounds all triggers. Standing on the Tube and suddenly I’m back twenty years ago, friends standing next to me. For a brief moment I’m on my way to the Old City Arms on a Friday night, laughing and joking. Shivers run through my spine as it fades just as quick and I’m back on a Circle Line train in 2019. Sitting in a pub eating salt and vinegar crisps and I’m on Church Street, the old man filling in his betting slip, my grandmother walking in the door with her shopping from the market. There’s the bad ones too. A glimpse of a bottle of cider in a corner shop and suddenly I’m picking it up and running. Someone sat in a heap outside King’s Cross, a can in their hand and I have to look away. That was me. Never had these feelings been so intense, never so vivid. I didn’t expect it. Perhaps naivety, perhaps the ease with which I’d handled the previous thirteen years. Now I was home, it all came flooding back. Ghosts everywhere.

Change is good. That’s what they say. And it is good. Some of it, anyway. I mean I’m alive. But when you go home, and it’s changed, it’s hard. It all looks the same, even some of the people are the same but there’s a disconnect. Maybe it’s expectation. You want to have some kind of high, after all these years you’ve finally gone home to Kilburn High Road. You want to say “Look at me! Bit better than the last time you saw me!”, but it’s seen people worse and now you’re just another face passing through. It isn’t home anymore. It’s not how you pictured it in your mind. And it’s all changed. The whole city. Where you wouldn’t walk are expensive flats. Where you wouldn’t drink are trendy pubs. And where you would have drank or where you would have walked, they’ve gone. Each area, all with their own identities and souls, now being sucked into one mass, character lost. The shiny new buildings barely covering the frowns of those displaced. But, it’s for the good, and fuck your memories, the people you knew and the places that shaped you. Fuck you too. 

That’s that inner child. The one who never thought anything would change. Who thought friends would be there forever, that my grandmother would be sitting sipping a half pint as I walked into a pub. But she’s gone. Who thought his best friend would always be there. But he’s gone too. As I approach his grave, sitting down on the bench, I shed a tear. This would always be the hardest thing to do. Can’t even have a drink for you now mate. That’s probably for the best though. I never thought it would be this hard. But it’s just part of the process. That’s what they used to say in rehab, trust the process. I know it’ll pass, yet there’s part of me that doesn’t want to let it go. I wish we could have sipped lattes together, mate. I wish we could have done all that shit we said we’d do together. I guess it’s time to make new memories, but I’ll still keep some of the past, the good and the bad. Take care, brother. I’ll be back soon, I’m home now. 

 

 

 

 

 

Rattling

You’ve only slept for 4 hours. It’s not a deep sleep. There’s no feeling of being refreshed and the tiredness having been taken away. It is a necessity, sometimes your body just gives up. If you could stay awake forever you would do it. Sleep means you’re not drinking. You have no idea what time it is,it is dark outside but it could be early evening or early morning, you don’t really care but if it is the middle of the night the shop won’t be open,you know you won’t sleep again so a long night could be in store.

You grasp for the empty bottle next to the sofa to see if there’s anything left, nothing. You look at the clock, it says 2am. Five hours until you can go to the shop, why the fuck did you move out to this village. If you were still in London it wouldn’t be a problem. How are you going to pass these five hours? You don’t feel too bad yet, but you know within in the next hour you will be ill, by seven will you be able to even make it to the shop? You will, you always do.

There’s a feint feeling of hunger, perhaps you should eat now before you’re too ill to even think about food. You might even be able to keep it down. If you eat though you have to cook and the dizziness and sense of dread is slowly starting to descend on you. Can you even make something? If you stand up for too long you might collapse. You look back at the clock and realise that only 5 minutes have passed. 5 minutes and you’re already feeling this sick.

You pickup the empty bottle of cheap vodka and try and drink the last drop. Not the drop that most people think about, they mean a drink, you want the literal last drop, it won’t do anything but there’s a comfort in having the taste in your mouth.

Turning the TV on to see if there’s anything that can keep your mind occupied for five hours. There won’t be, there never is but you have to try. Every sound from the TV is amplified, it goes right through your skull, making you flinch. The colours are distorted, anyone moving too quickly makes you dizzy and nauseous, if you keep it on this channel it’s going to kill you. In your mind it will kill you, you are about to die because you can’t get what you need and these people on the TV are trying to kill you too.

You are starting to feel the coldness on your back, small shivers down your spine. Taking the blanket to get warm. After two minutes with the blanket you’re too hot. It needs to go. Something moves behind you. You turn quickly too the remains of a shadow move across the wall. Panic descends, is there someone else here? A car starts up outside and panic turns into dread. The noise of the car piercing your soul. How can you possibly survive another four and a half hours of this?

A sudden thirst makes you want to get up to get some water, but you consider that dangerous, there’s no way you have the energy to do that. You haven’t drank water for days, you’re skin looks tanned. Yesterday you were admiring it, now it dawns on you that it’s because you’re blood pressure is sky high. You have to drink something, more than anything though you need sugar. In your intermittent sleeps you dream about being in a sweet shop and eating hundreds and hundreds of cola bottles.

A glass of sugary water, it is all you can come up with. It is becoming difficult to pick up the glass, your hands won’t stop shaking and you’re coordination is gone. Try the television again, maybe there is something on this time. You flick through the channels. Nothing holds your attention, you can’t concentrate, it is too difficult. There’s movement again behind you. You jump, shivers going through your whole body, your scalp feeling as though there is electricity going through it.

Now the sickness begins to take hold. You can feel the pain in your stomach becoming worse, you know you will vomit but want to hold it off as long as possible. Once it starts you won’t be able to stop it. The thing that is making you sick is what will stop you getting sick. Only another few hours. The birds are starting to sing.

Why have you done this to yourself? Perhaps this time you won’t go to the shop,you’ll ride it out, it only takes 5 days and the worst will be over in 2. Then you can get help, sort yourself out, start living like a normal person does. It isn’t that bad this time either, you’re sick but not that sick.

Then it hits you full force, dread, fear, you’re terrified, if you don’t go to the shop you’ll die. Your body won’t make it. The sickness has started. Retching even though there is nothing to throw up. There’s someone or something watching you. You feel light touches on your skin but can’t see anything or anybody. You move away from the bowl you used for your sick and crawl into a corner. Curled up, you just want them to leave you alone. You stay there scared, you don’t want to move. It slowly gets bright and you dare to get back up and stagger over to the sofa.

If you leave at 6.40 you’ll get there for 7. Will you be able to make it you ask yourself again? What other choice do you have but to try. It’s a cold morning as you step outside but you are starting to burn up. The jacket you have on is too warm. You take it off, people looking at you,wearing a t-shirt in the middle of winter. Walking is difficult, your motor skills are shot to pieces, it feels as though you’re body is being pulled in all different directions.

The shop is open, you head straight for the cheap stuff, it’ll sort you out quickly. The lady at the counter looks at you with pity as you count out the small change you have. She wonders how does anyone get to that stage? You don’t care, the sickness will soon be gone. She will be irrelevant until tomorrow. There is more of a spring in your step as you head back. You have what you need, you’re not going to die. This bottle will save your life.

Placing the bottle on the small coffee table you sit back. Leave it for another half an hour, I can take the sickness for another little while. It just makes the first one so much better.

Tick-Tock

Being clean and sober for almost 14 years you would think you would be able to talk about addiction with some authority, but it’s something I struggle with. I don’t see myself as having answers, nor do I particularly view myself as being an inspiration for those stuck in the grasp of addiction. I recognise what I have achieved, success rates aren’t high, but it’s something I rarely talk about. Of course I recognise it, and I’m not in the least ashamed, but I don’t live it every day. When I got clean I never wanted addiction to define me, there’s far more to any one person than a singular label and feeling as though you can’t discard that label is not conducive to living a life free from the burdens that such labels bring.
There is one occasion which will always stay with me. I was walking down the road at eighteen years old, shaking, sweating, knowing that if I had a drink, I’d feel fine again. That was a pivotal moment in my life, not only because it foretold another six years of misery, but because I knew what I had got myself into. I knew I was physically addicted to alcohol. Through my fourteen months in residential rehab and people I have come across in other walks of life, the single greatest barrier to being free from addiction is admitting that there is a problem.
Admitting there is a problem isn’t easy. Alcohol is a big factor in the social lives of most young people in the western world. The fear that a social life will be taken away from you is terrifying. What do you do? Images of you living a puritanical life, denouncing the hedonistic lifestyles of those around you crop up. That isn’t you. You could never lead a life like that. Again it comes back to identity, and what you see yourself as. The delusion of seeing yourself as hardcore, not giving any fucks and living your life to the full is seen by others as a waste of life in which you are attempting to blot out the monotony and fear which is the reality of a life of addiction and excess.
Wake up. You haven’t slept, you’ve just been unconscious for four hours. Shaking, sweating vomiting. Fear. Death is imminent if you can’t find something to drink. Tick-tock, tick-tock. That clock is ever present. Like the doomsday clock, closer and closer to midnight when it’ll be all over. No money. Hand down the back of the sofa, nothing. Look in the fridge there must be something. Nothing. Tick-tock. Now you’re really ill, barely able to walk. A bottle of aftershave on the table. That has alcohol in it. You shiver, you can’t do that. Tick-tock. Pour it into a glass, mix it with Coke. Drink. The clock resets, but not as far as last time; each time it resets just that little closer to midnight and eventually you won’t be able to stop it striking twelve.
I would never get that bad! That’s always the reply. No one ever thinks it’ll get that bad, but that’s because we always tell ourselves that there’s someone worse. As you sit there nursing a whiskey, you’ll think you’re not as bad as the man on the street sipping his cheap bottle of white cider, and he’ll be sipping his white cider thinking he’s not as bad as the man who’s drinking meths. And he’ll be thinking he’s not as bad as his mate who’s dead. They’ll all move one rung down the ladder, changing places still thinking their not as bad as the next person down. Unless you’re the dead one. Then you won’t be thinking at all.
Death is the one inevitable outcome of addiction. It will catch up with you and living your life in a state of such numbness you won’t even notice until it’s something awful. If you survive that, it might not even be enough, addiction is rooted in emotional problems rather than physical ones. Physical harm is often just seen as a battle scar, one which you wear with pride, reaffirming to yourself how mad your life is, how much you’re deceiving yourself that you’re in fact enjoying it. Until you sit at home, alone at night, tired and drained, wondering how you’re going to get through the next day. Where’s the drink going to come from? What if it isn’t enough? The clock is already ticking and death doesn’t look such a bad outcome.
Reaching out for help is equivalent in difficulty to admitting you have a problem. You convince yourself it shows you’re weak. It’s an admittance that the facade of hedonism has been just that, a facade. You’re the only one who thinks that. They know it’s a facade, there are few more transparent than an addict living active addiction. Asking for help isn’t weak either. It’s the strongest thing you can do. We go through our lives trying to avoid our imperfections, trying to believe that it is everyone else and not us. To reach out and ask someone to lay that all bare to you, to tell you where it is all going wrong is an act of bravery few are prepared to risk.
You don’t have to live your life telling people you’re an addict, nor is it an endless struggle. It can be an endless struggle if you let it be, but if you face up to your problems and deal with them, you’ll live your life as any other person does. Is it boring? That question should be turned around: is spending your every waking moment worrying about where your next drink or hit is coming from boring? I’ve travelled the world, written books, learned languages and made lifelong friends in the last 14 years. In 10 years of addiction I almost lost my life on numerous occasions, not an exaggeration: I’ve fallen into the middle of one of the busiest roads in London and it was miraculously free from cars, I spent 10 days in intensive care at 22 years old, my body so wrecked it gave up. I’ve drank aftershave, mouthwash and taken cocktails of drink and drugs that should have killed me. I was told I only had a year to live at 23. I couldn’t even speak in coherent sentences because I would forget half way through how I’d started a sentence. I achieved nothing other than to wallow in my own self pity, resenting myself and anyone I came in contact with.
Recovery isn’t a smooth ride. That doesn’t just lie in the nature of addiction, but also in the reality of life. No one person in the world has an easy life free from worry. Under the cloak of numbness which alcohol and drug addiction gives you, it’s easy to hide from those problems, thinking it makes them go away, but in reality it only exacerbates them. Through admitting a problem and reaching out, you can live a free and happy life. It might seem far away at present, especially if you are still actively in addiction but it’s achievable. Those dreams you have when you’re sitting there at night lonely, only a bottle as a company? By throwing away that bottle you can go out and achieve them and be who you want to be.

An Autumn Tear Shed

An Autumn Tear Shed

 

Pink watercolour sky, dusk falling,

A breeze brushes the cheek,

Fleeting shiver, mist begins to fall,

The sky shedding tears for the summer gone.

 

One foot after the other,

Crunching underneath, the final gasps of life,

A life brief, fulfilled or not?

Luscious green to falling slowly, sadly.

 

A shriek! Awoken from self pity.

Children splashing and laughing,

Through rivers of gold and brown,

Never has death looked so beautiful.

 

Their time of innocence,

Tomorrow is longed for; not feared,

Their warm beds await,

Dreams of fancy and fantasy still to be fulfilled.

 

Horse chestnuts glistening, awaiting their fate,

Fallen fruit today, prized trophies the next,

An act of defiance, the tree still worthy,

Gifts to give when all around it is wilting.

 

A figure passes,

Eyes meet, depart,

Connection made and lost,

A smile? Perhaps, but you’ll never know.

 

An invisible hand, warming your own,

Like a child, imagination accompanying you,

The pink sky fades to black,

The warmth disappears, coldness returning.

 

Silence, the children gone,

All alone, memories swirling with the falling leaves,

A tear forms, falling to the ground,

Washed away by the weeping from above.

It’s a Sin

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Preacher was animated, man. Like some shit had taken over his body, you could see it in his eyes, there weren’t no good in there and he wanted me to believe. My body rigid, fucking scared. Ain’t no one scarier than a preacher telling you you’re going to hell because you ain’t living your life right. He had the devil in him, and that shit watched over me as I lay in bed that night. I was going to hell, ain’t nothing going to save me, ain’t no Jesus coming to wipe away my tears. They was taking me, son. That shit scarred me, stayed with me, everywhere I went that motherfucker was on my shoulder. Some people have angels, I had Jeremiah Glib.  Ever been to war, son? I fucking have, that’s where I lost him, that’s where I buried the preacher.

I did it for the flag and all that shit, God and the path of the righteous man. Those Stars and Stripes have a lot to answer for, promise so much and then dump you in the shit and still tell you that you’re doing it for freedom. Freedom? I don’t give a fuck about freedom in some fucking jungle shithole. I did. I gave a fuck when I was sitting at home and I was watching them hippies on television smoking weed and talking about how much the country is fucking them over with their shitty little guitars and flowers. Man I got angry and I put my fist through the television and walked my ass straight to the recruitment office. Fucking hippies were right.

Every corner, like slow motion, waiting to see a flash or hear a bang, those little bastards pouring from every crevice, screaming, chaos, slipping back into the night. Death, everywhere, death, more screams, moans, picking up the little pirouettes filled with morphine, that sweet, sweet release from the madness. That bastard won’t need it anymore, his painkiller is the ultimate one, the one we all secretly pray for. Revelations don’t have shit on seeing your best friend have his throat slit in the middle of some fucking country you’d never heard of until a year ago. Bring the horsemen of the apocalypse, ‘cause I’ll cut them bastards down and make Charlie eat them.

It takes your fucking soul, man. It rips it out of you, dangles it in front of you, asking you where the fuck your morals went when the kids came running out of that village screaming and you walked passed them like they weren’t there, an inconvenience. You know what evil is, son? I don’t, word don’t have no meaning anymore. Wrong, sick, twisted, evil. These bastards will use a hundred words to tell you you’re fucked up. Ain’t nobody there to put their arms around you though. Ain’t nobody who’ll say ‘it’ll be okay, son.’ Then you do the same shit again the next day.

Lying down, silence, waiting for the night sky to light up, waiting for a bullet to end it. Each night thinking you want that bullet to hit, you don’t want to see no more of this shit. Ain’t no one care about you here, everyone fighting against wanting to die and wanting to survive. Tears? Ain’t no tears either, that shit was washed away with the blood of the old woman who was planting rice, ain’t no tears left to cry. Ever seen a man fall to his knees and scream because he can’t cry? Seen a man scream at the God he was told was gonna save him? When he ain’t come there ain’t nothing left to do but give up.

The air was so thick you could chew it, sweat everywhere. You’re watching: a voyeur. That’s where I learned that word. Some kid from some college up north. Watching, watching, watching. These people doing the shit they do everyday.

‘We’re voyeurs.’

‘Fuck’s a voyeur?’

‘When you watch people and they don’t know you’re there.’

‘I like that word, kid. What’s she doing?’

‘Planting rice.’

‘Fuck do you know that?’

‘I asked one of them.’

‘You talk to these motherfuckers? Ain’t none of them speak English.’

‘There was one kid who could, showed me.’

Planting rice. Ain’t done shit to no one in her life, feet under water, bending down, smile on her face. That’s what fucking stays with me, man. She was smiling, some shit had just come into her head that made her smile, in the middle of a war, she’s there, planting rice. She don’t know we’re there watching her. A scream, some big dude running towards her, gone mad, can’t take it no more, lost his mind. Same cat who was on his knees last night screaming. Rifle starting to rise. She looked up, I could see her eyes, I could see the fear, the rice shoots in her hand dropped to the floor.

And then she was on the floor. When I was sat on my chair watching the hippies, I was fucking angry, I thought these people deserved it, goddam commies! Ain’t no different to you and me, boy. Someone trying to survive, they ain’t got no say. Some kid who can’t take watching his friends get killed, who doesn’t want to be here goes mad and ends her life. For what? That ain’t no judgement. That’s where I buried that preacher. The wrath of God and Jesus the saviour weren’t in them rice paddies because if he was he would have struck down every single one of those bastards who sent us here. If he lets that shit happen, then I don’t want his fucking judgement.

That song on the radio, reminding you of home, driving along the coast, sun on your face, back where some motherfucker cares about you. Sugar, Sugar. I can’t turn my head to look, ‘cause I know she ain’t there, but I can see her, I can feel her.  My candy girl. You know how crazy that is? You just seen someone killed for nothing, you’ll see it again tomorrow and you’re lying looking up at the trees listening to some kid sing about his ‘Sugar, Sugar’ and he’s taking me home, I can feel her hand on mine, it’s all fading away. Then the radio stops and its silence again and I hate that motherfucker for giving me two minutes of hope.

Then we’d go away to Thailand. You know what it’s like there, boy? Man, golden beaches, all the weed you can smoke and goddam the women. Not like those girls in Saigon who would take your shit before you’d even taken your pants down. I knew a guy, some kid from fucking Iowa or some shit, small town kid, never even touched a woman, probably never even looked at a woman without going to church the next day to pray away them evil thoughts. Kid was in heaven, ain’t no God in Saigon and sure as hell ain’t no preacher taking his money. Do you know what this stupid motherfucker did? Married some woman from a village. Bitch had a sick buffalo, now he ain’t got no preacher but a fucking sick buffalo and some chick who don’t never see taking all his money.

I had me a girl. Most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen or will ever see. Her smile, shit her smile. Each night I go to bed, I see that smile one more time. Didn’t ask me for shit, we used to walk, miles and miles. I couldn’t speak her language, she couldn’t speak my language but we just held hands and walked, looked at each other and smiled. You know how much that means? Just a fucking smile man, you see it all the time but man, that smile was more than any words she could have said to me. Night before we flew back to Saigon she didn’t turn up for our walk. Never saw her again, don’t know what her name was, but she gave me some warmth, made me feel like a person. Ain’t never loved another person, but that was the closest I ever came.

Then it’s all gone. I’m not in the jungles of Vietnam or the streets of Bangkok there’s no dead bodies next to me, just an old lady, avoiding eye contact with the giant man stood still, twitching. This is why I never ride the goddam Tube, every fucking time it brings me back to ‘Nam and these Brits think I’m some crazy motherfucker who’s going to kill them. I have these conversations with myself, and shit, I don’t know if I’m talking out loud or if it’s in my head.

Went to the doc, he said I’ve got some kind of post traumatic shit but I don’t really know what that is. I mean, shit, I seen a lot of stuff and it don’t do your mind no good but I’m cool, it’s just these flashbacks. One minute I’m drinking that milky shit they call tea and the next I’m in the fucking jungle again and there’s dead bodies everywhere.

The doors open and I step out. Brixton. How the fuck did I end up in this place? That’s another story. Some kid took my money, a cat who calls himself Roscoe Ocean, and I’m going to kill that motherfucker when I find him.

This is the introduction to ‘It’s a Sin’, which will be available later this year, the prequel to the novel Falling Angels which you can buy here.

Main image copyright: https://www.123rf.com/profile_bumbledee

Sweet Home Kilburn High Road

The madness. It’s how your life becomes defined. In the madness, before the madness and after the madness. Just after the madness, it’s nothing more than hopes and dreams, all in your hands but still far off glimpses of light as you start to exit the tunnel of the period of life which has engulfed all before it. Each and every day you’d wake up and think ‘I’m an addict’, that’s me, that’s who I am, I’m different. You’d be hoping when you had reached the end of the tunnel there’ll be parades and flags and parties celebrating your new found freedom. There are none. Why should there be? You ain’t that different.

People, places and things. People, they’re there one day gone the next. It’s harsh, but that’s just how it is, if you want to exit the tunnel and keep going you’re not going to be able to let those people back on the train. They’ll just take it hurtling in the wrong direction and it won’t just be a derailment this time, it’ll be a crash in the middle of nowhere without an ambulance in sight. There are the ones who aren’t there anymore, you never thought you could become immune to death. Death, so absolute. It could have been you, it should have been you, how the fuck are you still here anyway?

Things? Fuck knows what things are, how do you define a word which encompasses everything, everything can trigger you, everything can bring you back to the feelings you don’t want to feel. Looking at a picture of you stood outside your home, 1985, the tower blocks in the background, they’re things. Things that are now gone, once people’s homes, much maligned yet even those things which others see as bad were just part of the landscape you grew up in, memories flooding back. South Kilburn to the Kilburn Quarter, how very posh.

Places. That’s the hard part. Places hold things, people, memories, good, bad, happy, sad. Happy can morph quickly into sad and then back to happy. Home is where the heart is and all that bollocks, but it isn’t just the heart, it’s everything. It’s the place which shaped you, made you who you are today, the reason you speak the way you do, think the way you do. The heart is too simple. Twenty odd years of your life revolved around that high street, the parks, the shops, school. Heart, mind, body and soul.

You’ve wanted to go home for a long time. But you’d vowed never to go back, you were frightened. Some questioned it, ‘how can you never go back again?’ There’s too many memories, too much hurt. You forget the good because the bad was so bad it painted the flat you grew up in a shade of grey in which no colour can escape. The high street which you walked up every morning to school, early because you wanted to play football with your mates, it wasn’t that high street, it had become the high street you walked down sweating, shaking, staggering, gasping, needing to taste that sweet, sweet taste of horrible, chemical laced shit that took all the pain away.

The man in the shop and his pitiful look. Watching as you count the change you found down the back of the sofa. He looks like he wants to say something to you, tell you you’re wasting your life. But you know that. You don’t need the geezer in the corner shop questioning your life decisions and your inability to accept responsibility for the position you’ve put yourself in. Right now, you hate him because your own paranoia is telling you he’s judging you. Later on this evening you’ll love him, because he’s someone to talk to, a brief escape from the loneliness.

You should be remembering the man whose sweet shop you went into every day after school with your mate to fill up your sticker album and nick penny sweets while he wasn’t looking. The shelves and shelves of junk which you looked at in fascination, the typewriter which you so desired even though you had no use for it. Always wanted a typewriter, a model airplane too, maybe even a…fuck knows what that is but you want it anyway. Happy memories, so quick to wipe away the sad ones.

Ten years it took before you’d go home, ten years before you were ready to face all those memories. What had passed in those ten years? Seven years in Chengdu, six months in India, backpacking around Asia, all your inhibitions gone. You can even speak a new language, them squiggly lines on that pretty little calendar in the local Chinese you used to stare at as a kid, they’re not squiggly lines anymore, words, beautiful words, not that the fella who’s taking your order of sweet and sour chicken gives a fuck because he speaks Cantonese and you can’t speak a word of that.

Sitting on the tube as it pulls into the station, those big letters ‘Kilburn Park’, still shabby, the same smell it’s had since 1984. You’re there again, you’re a kid, your old man next to you holding your hand as you let train after train go by because you want to get on one of the red ones. The red one never comes, so you get on one of the old grey ones, off to see your nan, the smell of fry ups and fudge. Why fudge? Your nan isn’t around anymore, you’d give anything to go back, walk through the busy market on a Saturday morning, sitting down and having breakfast, bacon, sausage, black pudding, fried potatoes, the smell of the Racing Post, the little betting shop pens on the table. Her laugh as the old man says something terrible about the old girl who lives next door. ‘Jesus! Will ya stop!’

We’ll walk home he says, stop in the Rec and play a bit of football. You want to be a goalkeeper when you grow up, spending hours jumping around your mother’s beds pretending you’re in the world cup final and Maradona is through one on one, he feints one way goes the other but you’re too clever for that, snatching the ball from his feet as the final whistle goes. You’ve done it, you’ve won the world cup! All because of those years you spent diving around the bed and your old man hitting stinging volleys at you as you palm them away. Diving around on the shabby concrete in the makeshift football pitch at the back of the estate your childminder lived on.

Tired you walk back home, the old man telling stories of going to football matches, you gazing into the distance at the two empty tower blocks, square windows, something out of some dystopian world in which the masses are thrown into blocks of flats which are characterless blots on the skyline. They aren’t dystopian fiction though, they’re real. No one lives there, they had to move out, asbestos. Imagine what it would be like to be let loose in there? Imagine, a kid with a whole empty tower block to themselves. The king of Westbourne Grove, holding court over your non-existent subjects.

All these memories because you’ve stepped off a train, seen a round sign and smelled the damp, warm air of Kilburn Park station. Maybe it won’t be as bad as you thought it was, why didn’t you come sooner? Bouncing up the escalators, out the door, lamenting the absence of the old girl who used to have a little stand where you’d buy Roy of the Rovers each week. Poor Roy, lost his leg in the end.

There it is, straight in front of you, the home you grew up in. The little flat at the top of a Victorian house, once the home of the rich, gradually chopped up through the years, the tone lowered, chopped up into the chaotic flats of the prostitute who lived next door and the mad woman who talked to herself. Your mother used to tell you the woman next door was skipping when there was a tapping all night on the wall. Funny time to be skipping at two in the morning.

Looking up at the windows, you can see yourself looking down. That little kid who used to look out at the buses parked across the street and wonder where those places they were going to actually were. Mill Hill, Edgware, Cricklewood. Exotic. Well Cricklewood isn’t so exotic, you had to go up to the DHSS and wait for four hours once with your mother and that was shite. Brent Cross, too, that’s a big expedition, rumour is there is a Toys R Us up there but you’ve never seen it. Toys R Us, that mystical, fabled place which only sells toys. Jealous because your mate at school’s mum took him there at the weekend.

You’ve done all right for yourself, you’ve seen the world, you’re on the right path but there’s this little nagging voice which asks you, where did that quiet, innocent kid who looked out the window at buses and was obsessed with red tube trains go to? How did he end up nearly dead less than twenty years later? Always the quiet ones ain’t it? Cambridge Gardens, where the dreams faded and the madness began.

Turn around and up to the High Road, back to 8th July 1990. The old man has just bought you a Coca Cola ball, you’d wanted one for weeks and weeks, your mates all had one and you wanted to be like the kid on the television doing all them tricks. It’s the World Cup final too. Maradona, Matthaus, Voeller. Excitement building as you get nearer and nearer the pub, the estates of Kilburn seamlessly turning into the leafy streets of St John’s Wood. It was here you’d play runouts with your mates on summer evenings. Abbey estate with the strange orange glow shining off the red bricks, almost haunting.

The old boy with his dog is sat at the bar, drinking his pint, staring at the wall. His perch, his home, why was he always here? You’d find that out later on in life. Them pubs. You don’t get them anymore. Big high ceilings, red carpets, wooden stools, the fruit machine, the fag machine and the geezer behind the bar was everyone’s mate until closing time. Packets of cheese and onion crisps, peanuts and a couple of cokes. Listening to your mum and dad talk about things which sounded so important, people you’d never heard of but made you conjure up images of them, most of them were wankers according to the old man. Everyone is a wanker. Remember when the key worker asked you why you were so cynical? There it is, son. It all started in the Drum and Monkey in St John’s Wood.

Reaching the high road, the Old Bell in front of you. The den of iniquity which you were told never to go into. It was a place of myth and legend, it was were the drunks disappeared and never came back out of. They even let the two old boys who lived in the street into that place. The old boy with the black dog, your mum give him a quid once and a tin of dog food. One of his mates was cold one night and lit up a load of newspapers in a squat and the whole place went up. Poor geezer. At least the fella with the dog made it, dogs always make people a little bit nicer.

The high road, where it all happened, where every Friday night was a trip up to Sainsbury’s to do the shopping, the same Sainsbury’s you would stand outside with your mate a few hours earlier. The plastic pound coins nicked from school, put in the trolley, waiting for someone to come along and ask ‘you finished with that mate?’ The security guard watching suspiciously. He’s got your number. The pound coin handed over and straight to the shop to buy penny sweets. No thought to the poor fucker who’ll be rewarded with a plastic pound coin when they take their trolley back.

Sundays were when it was quiet, shops closed, up to church, where you’d spend the whole half an hour, an hour or even an hour and a half, depending which priest, praying it’ll end quickly. If it’s that wanker with the guitar then you’re in trouble, if it’s the fella who you see coming out of the bookies then you’re in luck. Ran off with the girl from Boots in the end. Should never have been a priest that geezer. Mass finished it was the never ending walk back home, hoping the tape you’d put in your Amstrad hadn’t crashed and you could spend all afternoon playing games.

They were all out on a Sunday, pouring from the church, in their best suits, the old boys who’d come over on that boat so many years back. Come to find their riches, streets paved with gold. Now propping up bars, dreaming and singing of a home so different to the one they’d left. A quick prayer for the forgiveness of their sins and a pint of Guinness or ten to wash it all down.  A little enclave of Ireland in the middle of north west London. The old boys have gone now. They either made their fortunes or made their miseries. Home in the The Fields of Athenry or lamenting the Rare ‘Auld Times in Dublin city.

People would ask where you’re from and you say ‘London’ and they say ‘Oh! You’re English!’ and you’d say ‘I’m not sure what I am.’ They look at you funny, as if you’re mental. You don’t know though. You were brought up in London but it wasn’t really London because everyone you knew was Irish and when Ireland were playing the teacher would get the television out and you’d all watch the football. The green on Paddy’s day, everywhere. Then you’d go on holiday for the summer to Ireland and they’d tell you you’re English. Confusing, ain’t it?

The old clock above the bakers has gone. You’d keep an eye on it all the way up the road as it gets closer and closer to eight fifty five, the start of the school day. Hoping you’d have five or ten minutes to play football. Weren’t like other schools though. They could play with balls. You and your mates had to beg the geezers who were moving the beer barrels into the social club to give you the tops off the. Little round discs you’d play with until the sides had worn down and couldn’t be kicked anymore. Then it was back to the railings and waiting for a beer delivery.

Back on the high street and the 98 passes by. The world’s shittest bus. Wait twenty minutes and three come along together? Nah, wait an hour and five of them would come along. You could sit upstairs though, the conductor never came upstairs, couldn’t be bothered. You had to wait for it when you went to work, down in the market, carrying bags of spuds and boxes of watermelons. Times had changed, you weren’t that shy kid who daydreamt his way home from school, dreams of becoming a footballer. Life was now for going out and getting fucked up. Five years. Such a short space of time, such a massive change.

The spuds and watermelons put away and it was into the pub and pints of lager at twelve in Church Street. Your nan would catch you coming out of the pub and then have a go at your guvnor. Like that Friday you were pissed out of your mind and went and got a haircut and she was coming back from Tesco’s and nearly had a heart attack. There was many a ‘Jesus!’ said that afternoon, a good few prayers, maybe a candle at six o’clock mass. He can’t have been listening because it all went downhill after that.

Passing Brondesbury station, the smell of the trains hits your nose. When going to Richmond and Kew was an adventure, they seemed so far away. Sitting on the train, looking out the window to catch a glimpse of the parts of west London you’d never seen before.  See if it was the same as home or if it was different. Spending hours looking at deer and flowers. Richmond and Kew. Exotic. A million miles from home.

At the top of Kilburn, down Christchurch Avenue. This road holds so many memories. Some brighter than the ones at the bottom of the high road, some much darker. It’s the darker ones which hit you first. Remembering the day you knew. You knew why you were shivering and shaking and had been getting sick. You knew the only way to stop it was to go to the shop and get another one. There was no denial. Eighteen years old. All that rock star bollocks, glamourising addiction? It ain’t like that. It ain’t like that at all. It’s shit.

The few years before, they were good. You had a good time. Sitting outside the little park at the end of the road with your mates after playing football until the sun went down. Laughing and joking well into the night. Talking about the times when you were both living down in South Kilburn, wondering what had become of people you hadn’t seen in years. The future? You didn’t give a fuck about the future, it would be what it would be.

The nights when you’d trek down to Hammersmith, dodgy ID in hand. Drinking the nights away next to the river. Your mates couldn’t handle their drink, pissed as you staggered up Ladbroke Grove to home. Staying up all night with cheap vodka, smoking draw, watching shit on television. Your mate coming up with his next business venture, your other mate making plans to go and travel the world. You’d take out the atlas, you were going to do it. A couple of more years and you’d be off together to have the times of your life.

One of your closest friends, both took different paths, he stayed on the train while you got off. You came out the other side but he didn’t. Looking up at the roof of the flat where you both sat watching the sun come up, you wonder what you could have done differently. Probably nothing. Everyone says that. Still doesn’t stop you wondering. You’d got clean and were backpacking around Cambodia. He was in Thailand when he died. Two figures, sitting on the roof, plans to go far away. You both went far away but only one of you came back.

They were the happiest years. It was really just a limbo between innocence and debauchery. You were having a taster but you weren’t quite there yet. The line was visible, you knew if you crossed it there wouldn’t be any coming back across it. It seemed so far away though, as though it was just a warning, like one of them coppers who used to come into school and tell you it you smoked a spliff you’d be selling your arse down King’s Cross for a couple rocks the next day. You’d think, that’s a load of bollocks but at the back of your mind it was there. The line, cross the line and you’ll be fucked.

How can a leafy road in north west London bring back so many memories, so much feeling? You shiver, you can almost see yourself walking down the road with a blue bag in your hand, inside a bottle of cheap shitty cider. You’d have been going home to sit on the sofa all day, dreaming of all the things you wanted to do but couldn’t because you were just going to do the same thing you did yesterday. Get pissed and dream. You’re not dreaming now though, you’re living it.

Fuck this, it’s too much. Turn around, go back to the High Road, that’s where the good memories are. You’ve faced the bad ones before, you can’t keep going over the bad ones. Back to the Coca Cola balls and run outs and playing football with beer tops, two white abandoned towers and sweet shops. Pubs where you’d spend the evenings with your mum and dad and nan. That’s the place you want to remember. Sweet home Kilburn High Road.

 

My Books

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Falling Angels – Chapter 1

The television is on but the sound has been muted, Dale Winton is prancing about with a shopping trolley while a middle-aged woman waves an inflatable hamburger above her head. The air is thick with cigarette smoke, an ashtray on the coffee table is overflowing with fag ends. There’s a bottle of vodka which has been half drunk, next to it a bottle full of blue pills. John sits down next to his friend who still hasn’t acknowledged his presence. He picks up one of the pills with two fingers and holds it in the air, examining it as if he’s never seen one before. He knows what it is: Valium, the elixir of life for the depressed, the doctor’s saviour.

‘This is stupid, Rob.’

Rob turns his head, his eyes are black, thick black hair sticking up on one side where he’s had his head rested against a cushion. He shakes his head but says nothing.

‘She was fucked mate. There’s nothing you could have done about it.’ John stands up and walks to the curtains, he opens them slightly allowing a few rays of light to penetrate the room. Rob squints but doesn’t object.

‘When did you last go out?’

‘Last night, to get that.’ He nods towards the bottle of vodka. It’s cheap, the kind of shit you bought when you were fourteen and wanted to get pissed with your mates in the park, get off with that girl you fancied in your year but instead you ended up being carried home covered in sick. There’s a big eagle and a sword on the label, a marketing gimmick: It can’t be that bad if it’s got a big fuck off eagle on it. John shivers, just the sight of the vodka bringing the nail varnish like taste to his mouth.

‘What’s the score then Rob? Were you still shagging her or something because I don’t get why you’re so cut up about this. She was a crackhead, she sucked off half the geezers on this estate so she could buy some rocks.’ Rob’s look is one of self-pity and anger rolled in to one which gives John his answer.

‘Well that was fucking stupid then wasn’t it?’

‘I wasn’t shagging her, I was just helping her out.

‘That’s a more eloquent way of putting it, what’s the matter with you?’

‘I swear on my mother’s life, I haven’t slept with her since we were going out with each other.’

‘Enlighten me then? Why are you taking this so fucking hard?’

‘Maybe cause I’m not a heartless fucker like you. You know what it’s like to go and see someone every day only to find them lying on a mattress out of their head while fucking cockroaches walk about the floor?’

‘What did you do to help her, Rob? Nothing, mate. You might have thought you was helping her by giving her money but it don’t work like that. She didn’t give a fuck about you, she lived for one thing and it was those little white rocks which, funnily enough, the geezer you work for sold her.’

‘Fuck off! I still loved her!.’

‘Oh, Jesus Christ. You didn’t love her, Rob. Felt sorry for her I agree but there weren’t any love there. She wasn’t even the same person.’

‘She was the same person! I could see it.’

‘I’m off, you need to sort your nut out. I get that it ain’t easy, I understand you had some sort of feelings for her but sitting around feeling sorry for yourself isn’t going to help you.’

‘She jumped off a fucking building, John! It keeps playing over and over in my head. What sort of friend are you?’

Rob pours some of the vodka into a glass and takes a sip of it neat, coughing and spluttering as he swallows. He picks up one of the pills and throws it into his mouth. John shakes his head, leaving his friend to wallow in his own self-pity. Hearing the door slam, Rob puts his head in his hands and begins to cry. No one understood, they just saw her as the local slapper crackhead. She was more than that to him, he could see through the skinny legs and the skeletal face, the packets of bacon she’d be trying to sell off to anyone passing by. He saw the girl he’d hold hands with when going to school six years ago, his first and only love.

 

It’s one of those shitty days where the sky is grey, the clouds heavy and dirty looking, making everything else look dirty, old and worn.  John lights a cigarette, looks up at the sky wondering what to do with himself. There’d be no point going home because his mother is in one of them moods where she feels the need to lecture. Twenty-two years old and he’s still scared of his mum, he shakes his head blowing smoke up into the air. Going for a pint would be a good choice.

The estate they had both lived on since children wasn’t the most desirable of places, in fact it was somewhere those who lived in the leafy streets a few hundred metres away would tell their children they’d send them if they were naughty. Grey rectangular tower blocks, each adorned with rectangular windows and rectangular balconies. Sitting between the three tower blocks was a small park, covered in shattered glass, a solitary swing remaining, blowing in the wind as if it were part of the introduction to some documentary on deprivation.

The social experiments of the 60s and 70s were long forgotten, it had become a place to put society’s less fortunate, whether they liked rectangles or not. The pub is rectangular too, a flat roof, the windows blacked out. The Orange Tree, a place of myth and legend to those who passed it, but to those on the estate it was just the local. A man with a rolled up copy of The Sun in his back pocket and a betting slip in his hand nods his head at John and holds the door open for him before jogging off to catch the early race at Kempton.

The pub is empty apart from the barman. John sits down at the bar and orders a pint of Stella, the barman pours it and puts it down in front of him, grunting as John hands over his money. He sits there sipping his pint, trying to think of something to say to the barman, the barman doesn’t look interested in conversation though and John’s presence is an obvious annoyance.

‘Weather’s a bit shit ain’t it?’

‘Yep.’

‘Not many people in here today.’

‘Nah.’

He gives up, the barman is more interested in reading a newspaper, letting out occasional gasps of exasperation as he reads about the latest plot by foreigners to turn England into a rabies infested, T.B ridden hell hole in which those proud Englishmen, such as the one behind the bar with his tattoo of a St George’s cross and a bulldog will become second class citizens, not welcome on this fair island they call home.

‘Put them all on a boat and send them back to where they come from.’ John looks up from gazing at his pint.

‘What was that mate?’

‘Put them all on a boat and send them home.’

‘Who?’

‘These foreigners, I’ve had enough of them.’

John picks up his pint and moves to a corner away from the gaze of the budding national front member. A man walks in the door, John recognises him, he lives a few doors down from his mum, the man gives him a nod of the head and then in his thick Jamaican accent orders himself a rum. The barman looks delighted to see him, shaking his hand, asking where he’s been because he’s not been in for a long time. Obviously just a part time racist.

His mind wanders back to his friend and how he’s going to help him out of his self-imposed misery. She was a nice girl. If someone who he was close to died he wouldn’t know how he would take it either, probably not very well. She was a fucking mess though, she was only using him. Everyone could see that; must be why they say love is blind. Rob was his best mate. There’s a period of time in your life where the friends you make are always going to be there, they’ll always have a profound influence on your life; Rob was one of them.

The girl who’d killed herself, Claire, had been Rob’s girlfriend when they were both still in school. John resented her, not because she wasn’t a nice person, she had been, but because his mate was always with her. She was clever too, she didn’t work hard but still managed to pass all her exams, one of them annoying people that breeze through life with little effort. It all changed a few years back, they’d been split up for a year when John started seeing her hanging around places you only hang around for one reason and that was to score drugs.

He runs his hands through his hair and blows out a big puff of air. He should have been more understanding with his friend. Whatever Claire had been to him in the last couple of years, they still had memories together. His pride will stop him from going back there though, not today. Poor girl, things must have been bad for her to end it like that.

Ten years ago they were fucking around in the little park at the bottom of the block they both lived in. Kicking around a deflated football, knocking on people’s doors and running away, asking their mums for 10p so they could go to the shop, rob it blind and keep the 10p for school the next day. Ten years later and their paths have taken different directions. John has decided to become a policeman while his best friend is running around collecting loan debts and drug money for some small time drug dealer.

The door opens again and a man and woman walk in. The barman looks at them with disdain. They both have Down syndrome, there’s a place they live in just next door and they come in for a drink now and again. The barman doesn’t like them because they get pissed and become a bit rowdy and he doesn’t know how to handle them. If he threw them out people would say he was picking on disabled people and they were generally harmless although one of them kicked him in the bollocks one night because he’d wanted to throw him out after they had set the toilets on fire.

John looks down at his pint, there are only a few mouthfuls left. He doesn’t want them to come over and talk to him. Not because he’s got anything against them or like the barman believes in the survival of the fittest but because he doesn’t know what to say. They could ask him the most normal of questions and he would sit there like an idiot and reply as if they’re a couple of children. He notices they are both holding hands and he feels like even more of a cunt for thinking the way he does. A simple act of normality from a group of people viewed differently by society makes you question your own views and beliefs. What the fuck is normal anyway?

There was a kid they went to school with who had something wrong with his legs, when he walked he looked like he was a puppet in Thunderbirds. John felt sorry for him, would even talk to him sometimes at lunch. One day a load of kids picked him up and wrapped him in insulating tape and then dumped him behind a wall, leaving him to be found later that evening by the caretaker. He’s held on to that, every time he sees someone with a disability he sees that kid, wrapped in black tape, and he tortures himself for not helping him. It was a choice though, ostracised by your mates or hanging around with that kid for the rest of his school days. Being perceived as cool always wins.

They sit down on the table next to him. All the empty tables in the pub and they had to choose the one next to him to sit at. He takes a mouthful of his pint, swirls the rest of it around and finishes it off, stretching his arms, making a big show of having to go, like there’s somewhere his presence is required. The man and woman look at him and then giggle to each other. Leaving the bar he puts his loose change in the charity box because there’s nothing better to placate your conscience than throwing a few pennies in a box with a teddy bear stuck on the front of it.

The man turns to the woman, ‘He should have just given it to me, I could have got another pint.’

 

Rob sits in his flat alone, his tears have dried but his face is still red from rubbing it. He’s in a new phase of loss now, the denial is gone, he wants revenge. The world and all who exist in it have created this mess, it was their fault she was so fucked up, none of them did anything to try and help her. All the police did was nick her and then let her go again. No one gave a shit, why should he give a shit? Fuck the lot of them, there will be a way to get back at them. He picks up the bottle of vodka and swigs from it. His head is spinning from the combination of alcohol and Valium.

John as well, he can’t get away without any blame. The way he talked about her even though he knew how much she meant to him. Not much of a mate really is he? He’ll just drop him out, never speak to him again. John’s going to join the police force anyway, that’s good enough reason  to have nothing to do with him. He swanned off to university thinking he was better than everyone else, talking about philosophers and writers he’d never heard of. Fuck him! The stuck-up prick! Next time he sees him he’ll be lucky he doesn’t knock him out.

Outside the front door he can hear people laughing and shouting. He looks through the spyhole, a bunch of kids messing around, nowhere better to go than outside his door. He feels his anger boiling up, who do they think they are? Having a good time especially at a time like this, they’re taking the piss out of him, they know. He opens the door and stands there, his big frame taking up the whole doorway, they all turn to look at him and then burst out laughing before running away down the stairs.

Kids don’t care, your reputation is nothing to them. He stands at the doorway feeling stupid for trying to frighten them. They’d know who he is, he’d probably been to at least one of their houses before to get money from their parents. The man who comes to get the money, the man who means they can’t eat something that night or won’t have enough money to get lunch at school. They blame him, they never blame their own parents who are idle and lazy and prefer to spend their time and money smoking drugs.

He turns on the light in the living room, squinting as he sits down on the sofa, picking up the blue pills and squeezing them tightly. There are enough there, if he wanted to go the same way she has, all he has to do is put them in his mouth, take the last gulp of vodka and then sit and wait. It’s a risk though, what if he doesn’t die? Or what if he does die and there’s nothing? An endless blackness, those guilty and sporadic trips to confession a waste of time.

All she had to do was take a step out into the open air, all he has to do is put the pills in his mouth and swallow. It’s different though, he could phone an ambulance or call his mate to come and help him. When you step off the top of a tower block that’s it, all you have is the few seconds it takes to hit the ground. What went through her mind? Did she regret it? Is there enough time to regret it?

He opens his hand and looks at the pills, he stands up and opens the door to his balcony, holds the pills out over the edge and lets them go. You can’t be tempted by something you haven’t got. He looks out at the night sky, the lights illuminating the city in front of him. In the block opposite he sees a woman cooking her dinner. He’s sure he’s been in that flat before. How many people who live around here has he made unhappy? A crisis of conscience.

The morning she killed herself he’d been to her flat. As usual she was lying on the dirty mattress, pipe by the side of the bed. Her eyes were dead, she had no money and he thought he’d done her a favour by leaving her twenty pounds. If he hadn’t have left that money, would she have gone out? Of course she would have. He did give her drugs though, thinking he was helping her, the reality was he was just enabling her. Maybe she was just using him, but he doesn’t want to think about that.

Back in the living room he turns the volume up on the television. Cilla Black is talking in that grating accent of hers as some geezer who looks like a cross between a catalogue model and a banker is trying to choose between three girls he can’t see. Cilla oooos and aaaahhhs as he smarmily asks them questions. Rob turns the television off, the geezer will be taking which ever one he chooses away on a holiday somewhere and he doesn’t want to watch their happy smiles. He throws on his jacket and takes off to find more vodka and more reasons to hate the world.

 

John’s mother is sitting on her armchair, fag in her hand, blowing smoke into the air defiantly, a book resting on her lap. Since he’s come home she’s said nothing. She’s in of them moods where he knows something’s up but he doesn’t want to ask because he knows it’s him who’s done something wrong. It’ll be a small slight, maybe you didn’t wash a plate up after you finished your breakfast or she asked you to bring home a pint of milk but you’ve completely forgotten about it, what with your best mate looking suicidal having lost his crackhead girlfriend, milk isn’t really your priority but it is hers. Her day will be ruined by a lack of milk.

She’s reading a book about feng shui.

‘You going to move the furniture about then mum?’ She looks at him, she doesn’t want to speak to him but someone finally wants to listen to the merits of strategically arranging your furniture so as to bring positive energy. She tried to explain it to her friend while they were having coffee earlier but she didn’t understand. Some people are like that, they just don’t get it, they’d rather bury their heads in Hello magazine and come up with another conspiracy theory as to how Diana died. Sandra isn’t like that, she’s got brains and she never liked Diana anyway, too much of a do-gooder, so even if they did kill her they were doing her a favour not having to watch her fanny around pretending to pick up landmines.

‘I’m thinking of getting a fountain.’

‘A what?’

‘A fountain.’

‘We live on the eighteenth floor of a council block mum, how you going to put a fountain in here?’

‘Just a small one, it’ll bring us money.’ John nods his head, knowing full well there won’t be a fountain appearing in their flat and by next week she’ll have found something new to obsess over.

‘I’m going to make all the furniture point east. Put the tele against that wall and turn the sofa around, it’ll look nice.’

‘Yeah, I’m sure.’

‘It’ll bring me luck. My son might remember it’s my birthday today as well.’

She lights another cigarette, blowing the smoke in John’s direction. Her lips are pursed as she lowers her fag, her eyes asking ‘where’s my card and present?’. John has two choices, he can put his hands up and hope she forgives him, or he can lie and pretend he knew all along and he’d stashed a present somewhere. The shake of her head and look of disgust tells him she won’t take pity on him. Did the old man remember? He wonders.

‘Your father bought me a lovely cake and a bunch of flowers.’

Why didn’t the silly bastard remind him? It’s not just John who will have to deal with the fallout from this massive error, Ted Flynn will have to too. She’ll bend his ear all week about not being a good role model to their son and how if they’d brought him up right John would already be a millionaire and would have celebrated her birthday in a villa in some Caribbean hideaway.

‘I knew it was your birthday! I was just waiting to surprise you! I know you like surprises!’ She’s suspicious now but her eyes have softened slightly, the thought of a surprise has got her attention but she’s not yet convinced there is one. She looks up at the clock and then back at John.

‘Just wait another hour, at eight o’clock you’ll get it. I bet you don’t know why I waited until eight do you?’

‘Why?’

‘I’ve noticed you’ve been into your feng shui and all that, so I did a bit of research and eight is a lucky number for Chinese people.’ The geezer who owns the Chinese restaurant downstairs had lectured him on the superiority of Asian races when he was pissed one night and somehow eight being a lucky number had slipped into the conversation. His pleasure at his own genius is quickly replaced by fear at having to come up with a plan to surprise her within an hour.

‘That was very thoughtful of you darling!’ She looks at the clock again. ‘Only fifty five minutes to wait! I’m so lucky to have such a clever son!’ She’s excited now and that’s made it even worse.

‘I’m just going to pop out and get it. I didn’t want to bring it home with me because you’d see it then.’

‘What is it? Where did you leave it?’

‘Wouldn’t be a surprise then, I’ll be back at eight.’

Instead of taking the lift he walks down the stairs from the eighteenth floor, needing time to think and come up with a masterplan. He feels like a naughty child who has lied to his mother, he is a naughty child who has lied to their mother. Where the fuck is he going to get anything to do with ancient eastern mysticism at seven on a Saturday night? Mr Lee might know, if Mr Lee doesn’t know then he’s fucked and there’ll be no point going home, he might as well join Rob in drinking himself into oblivion.

‘Hello Mr Lee!’

‘Alright John, what’s the matter? You want a takeaway? My fryer is fucked, think I’m going to have to close. Why do you still call me Mr Lee? My name’s Dave for fuck’s sake.’ Mr Lee has a cockney accent, he is in fact a cockney having been born within the sound of Bow bells. His Chinese food is the best around but he has a tendency to get aggressive with his customers if they don’t show him respect and appreciation, which is why John calls him Mr Lee, had he called him Dave he’d have got the hump.

‘Listen, Dave, I’ve got a problem. My mother, she’s into feng shui and it’s her birthday, I need to get her a present.’

‘What makes you think I know anything about feng shui?’ Dave is defensive which means he’s going to be awkward.

‘Look, Dave, I just told her I have a surprise which she’s getting at eight because you told me it was a lucky number. Help me out here mate because if you don’t she’ll cut my bollocks off.’

‘Not my problem, John. If you don’t treat your mother properly then you deserved to be punished. I agree with your mother, maybe I’ll come and help her.’

‘Fuck you, Dave! I thought you’d help me out!’

‘Fuck me? I’ll cut your bollocks off before your mum does and I’ll even put it on my menu. Deep fried spicy bollocks. You wanna watch your mouth son.’

John raises his middle finger to the angry Dave but leaves hastily, there’s a counter separating them at the moment, if he gets to the other side then he’ll have a problem.

He spots Rob sitting on a wall outside the off license, still feeling sorry for himself, even with his hood up there’s no doubting who the figure staring down at the stones he’s throwing on the floor is. His choice is to spend the night with a miserable bastard or go home and spend it with his mother who is expecting great things which are nothing more than a hastily spun story. The miserable bastard seems a better choice.

Rob had already seen him coming out of the Chinese. Half an hour ago he wanted to kick the shit out of him, now he’s hoping he’ll approach him, he’s not going to show he wants him to approach, he’ll pretend he doesn’t even know he’s there. If he doesn’t come over it’ll just give him another excuse to hate him, abandoned by his mate at the time he needed him most.

‘Still feeling sorry for yourself?’ Rob looks up at his friend, he wants to take offence to the insinuation he’s ‘feeling sorry for himself’ but that would leave him lonely, he doesn’t want to be lonely.

‘Yeah.’

‘I can’t go home because my lunatic of a mother is expecting big things in about half an hours’ time. There’s a party on over in Brixton, one of the geezers I went uni with, his house. You want to come?’

‘I don’t know mate, they won’t be my sort of people will they?’

‘Just come, you might broaden your horizons a little bit.’

‘Fuck it, let’s go, I want to get away from this shithole anyway.’

 

Paperback version here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1986975509

 

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Falling Angels

Picture the 80s, what comes into your mind? Riots, coalminers striking, Thatcher standing up in parliament looking like the heartless bitch she was? Or maybe it was barrow boys from Essex who’d suddenly turned into millionaires snorting cocaine off the arse cheeks of some high class escort. Might even be Live Aid, the rich and famous finding a conscience, or trying to sell records, depends if you’re a cynic or not. A decade which had a cloud of grey hanging over it, playing out to a background of synthesisers and the shouts of an unemployed, disaffected youth.

The 90s began with that cloud still hanging over it. Thatcher went and people cheered, jobs began to turn up. The sun was beginning to shine through those clouds, ecstasy was all the rage, kids dancing the nights away in the fields of the home counties while the Old Bill were led on a merry dance. We’d forgotten about Africa as well, that charity thing was all a bit too 80s. Perms were no more, shoulder pads dispensed with. By the middle of the decade the sky was blue, Britain was cool again, Oasis, Blur, even the prime minister was cool, he hadn’t bombed another country yet. It’s amazing how a person can go from a saviour to a lying cunt in the space of a few years.

When you’re a kid a lot passes you by, growing up in the 80s you didn’t give a shit that the Russians might be coming. They were far away behind that imaginary curtain the teacher was telling you about in history. The miners were too far away, you didn’t really give a shit what they thought about. Some would say that about sums up Londoners, lost in their own world, all outside it irrelevant because the closest you’ve been to coal mines and green fields is the time your old man tried to take you away on holiday but the car broke down somewhere just past Watford so you spent the summer kicking a ball about in the concrete jungle you called home.

You tell people where you live and they’ll go ‘ooohhh, bit dodgy around there, ain’t it?’. You don’t really know what they mean. I mean your next door neighbour always seems to be bringing a new television home each night, and the woman who lives above you does seem to have a lot of boyfriends, what’s dodgy about that? There’s that geezer who lives on the bottom floor, apparently he likes to flash people, that’s a bit dodgy but he got nicked the other week so it don’t matter. The large grey blocks are good places to play run outs too, you wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Fuck the holidays.

Then you become a teenager and you fucking hate everything. You know the woman upstairs is a crack whore and the geezer that has a new television every night is nicking them out of people’s houses. Your mate at school, the one who lives in a nice house a couple of miles away, he has a garden and his mum takes him out each weekend somewhere nice. Took him to Kew Gardens one weekend to look at the flowers, you ask your mum why she doesn’t take you to Kew and she looks at you funny. You hate flowers and why the fuck would you want to be wandering around a botanical gardens with your mother. You’ve got to find some way to wind her up though.

It’s around this time that the mates you make are the ones who stay with you for the rest of your life. Not always physically, they might move away, in some cases they might do something stupid and get locked away or they might be one of them bods who gets married, moves out to Middlesex and has ten kids while he drives a van around putting up satellite dishes. You’ll always remember them though, the stupid things you did as teenagers, flashbacks as you walk down the street thinking about the time you nearly got nicked for running on top of cars.

If you’re like me, you’ll have the piss taken out of you for having a bit about you, wanting to go to university. Not that you know why you’re going to university because you’ll be fucked if you have any idea what you’ll do after, but it sounds like fun. Getting stoned while discussing Sartre in some flat in Brixton, thinking you’re cool with your Che Guevara t-shirt and Bob Marely flag draped across the wall. None of you are any more revolutionaries or capable of finding hidden meanings in music than the average person but you like to think you can change the world. It’s the drugs ain’t it?

People are transient, they drift in and out of your life, forgotten until some event, a piece of music or a glimpse of a stranger triggers your memory. You look back with happiness, anger, longing, sadness, nostalgia. And then some other thing in a world over saturated with stimulation diverts your attention. An advert with a load of ‘lads’ in a pub putting a bet on, a fat geezer shouting at the screen telling you to be responsible while you contemplate putting your weeks wages on United to win at home because they would never lose. See, that memory has gone.

Falling Angels, available tomorrow 28th March on Amazon. Like my Facebook Page for more info