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. 

 

 

 

 

 

Those Blue Eyes – Introduction

The same road you walk down every single day has been transformed. The lines of trees have been stripped bare of the deep green leaves that bring so much warmth in the summer. The houses are no longer houses but shells, doors missing, the insides burnt out, the jagged edges of the broken windows threatening. In the front gardens large gravestones. Standing in the middle of the road, your eyes transfixed on the looming stone crosses, wondering how the world has been destroyed without you noticing. Looking back towards home, the road is now endless, where it turned before there is nothing but darkness, the final resting places of the souls who have gone before you fade into the blackness. Now they wait for you to join them where you too will be greeting some new fool who has trodden the same path. The trees creak, a bell chimes loudly as a procession emerges from the darkness, figures holding a coffin on their shoulders, faceless, moving slowly towards you as your feet refuse to move. It’s over, and not how you wanted it to be.

And then you are back home, surrounded by friends who are laughing loudly, unaware of your drug induced absence. You reach for the bottle of vodka, no longer paralysed, a long gulp burns the mouth, a shiver from the scenes you’ve just witnessed. You’ve just foreseen your own death, lived it, so vivid it’ll forever stay etched on that marble slate that is the mind. The chisel slipped so deep it can never fully be repaired, emerging to torment and remind you when it sees fit. Another gulp of vodka, the real world becoming clearer, hallucinatory funerals drifting away with the burning liquid. A cigarette lit, a long stream of smoke exhaled, watching the cloud reach the ceiling and disperse. Even if it was prophetic, it won’t be that easy to tear you away from the bottle, the drugs, the life you’ve chosen, because you chose it. A smile, this was how it was supposed to be, wasn’t it?

Because the bright lights did shine, they outshone the darkness and they illuminated a path full of euphoric highs, chemically induced ecstasy and what you thought was your own unique path in a world you thoroughly rejected. We’re all unique when we’re searching for something. If it was all bad, who would do it? But that’s just a lie. A lie you know the truth to but will never admit as you stand tall among friends, laughing and joking, friends for life, you’ll never part ways and you’ll do this forever and if it isn’t forever you’ll go out in a blaze of glory. It won’t just be a blaze it’ll be fireworks, an arsenal of explosions that’ll leave your mark. And you’ll love too, the one thing you crave, you’ll do it before you go.  Those highs etch themselves in among the chisel slips, they are not slips but the sweet caresses of an expert sculptor. They are the times you’ll want to drift back to…

The world bouncing, the warm summer sun. Everything is colourful, everything is beautiful. Even your friend next to you who you think is an ugly fucker, but today he’s the most beautiful person in the world because, well this is life: pure wonder and beauty. What is there to be unhappy about? Every step is an adventure and a step closer to the nirvana you’re searching for. Nothing could ever go wrong on such a beautiful day in a beautiful world. Friends greet you with laughter, insults traded, pints sank, joints smoked, lines consumed. Everything is just pure love, the way the world was meant to be: you’re creating your own reality where the aesthetic is the purest form and you don’t need Van Gogh to show you it because it’s there, right in front of your eyes. All that matters is now. Now will never end because it’s never here. The sun sets over the bridge, laughter still fills the air, eyes locked with the one you love. It’ll never end. It’s all too good to end.

And all this world was created in those early years. When meaning had no meaning, the search for purpose and love and life was something not understood. Hot summers spent running around, kicking balls, hiding from friends, getting soaked in water as the relentless sun beat down. The smell of fudge and huge breakfasts bringing warmth on Saturday mornings as your grandmother stood at the stove. Her Dublin tones rising over the frying bacon, the smell of the Racing Post would linger forever, because back then you were in a safe place. Everything was good, and it was good because you knew nothing else, there was nothing else to know. That was how it should be. You didn’t want anything else, nor did you know that underneath it all it would be how the rest of your life would be shaped.

Shaped by the things you never wanted to confront: the loneliness, the emptiness, the fear. Fear that you’d always feel alone, that you’d never be able to love because everyone would run away. Fear of looking at yourself in the mirror because you hated what you saw. The biggest fear of all was that it wasn’t all normal, that it wasn’t how it should have been. Listening to footsteps fading away down the stairs, knowing they wouldn’t be coming back but lying to yourself that you didn’t know the truth. Staring at the ceiling at night unable to sleep because you didn’t know what you’d done and you didn’t know what to do. Wanting to run but there was no place to run too. The only place was the imagination and even that held parts of the world you were trying to flee. Imaginary friends, nothing more than loneliness. Trips far away, nothing more than a longing for escape. That was where the madness began, long before any bottle was picked up.

That madness wasn’t just hallucinations. Those dreams of escape as a kid turned into nightmares. Waking, gasping, sweating, vomiting, shaking, fear so intense that death was imminent and it appeared the better option than to face another hour, minute, second. Body awash with chemicals, mind broken. Sentences were nothing more than gibberish as you wonder how it had become this bad, how a stream of unrelated words can pour from your mouth when only ten years before those same words would have been pure and innocent. Speaking in tongues. And everybody hates you. Even if they don’t know you, they hate you, not just hate, they despise you. They don’t, but the twisted allure of blaming the world for your choices leads to the only option available: to be a victim of a world you can’t control’s cruelness. Life is pointless, and how it ends now is irrelevant, it just has to end. But you can’t do it. There is one tiny glimmer of hope.

When the bottle was put down, it was a new life. Fears and faults were to be confronted. Every inch of your being analysed. And analysed again. The person you thought you were disassembled, rebuilt brick by brick. The marble block stayed the same, but the ridges were slightly filled in. As each brick was laid you fought it, unsure if you wanted this to be the new you, or last gasp desperation, rejecting who you really were. But the bricks were laid, fourteen months in a house where many had been rebuilt. Away from society, away from the world. A place full of madness yet so comforting the thought of never leaving was enticing because it was safe. If you didn’t leave you wouldn’t have to see the outside world through the eyes of someone sober. It wouldn’t be as you thought, you know that, but it’s a curiosity which holds far more terror than any curiosity before it. But you left. You had to.

Now a child in an adult’s body, elated to be free from the grip of madness that had seemed as if it was locked tight. But an adult can’t be a child, the world is too unforgiving for that, society has expectations and beliefs. They say they understand but they don’t. So you have to grow up, quickly. And that’s how the new journey began, one which would take you to the top of mountains, to distant countries, to find love and heartbreak, thrills and lows, to learn and confront all those fears. Home was far, far away, highs were natural and longer lasting. Life was truly happy. The thing you’d been searching for your whole life was now in reach. Yet, still just out of reach as you chase and chase, getting that tiny bit closer but not quite there. But it was better than before, not just better, it was a new world, you’re a new person.

The places you’d always wanted to see the things you’d always wanted to do. When you’d pretend to be sick so you could play with a jigsaw of the world, now you were filling in that jigsaw for real. The sights, sounds and smells. You never thought you’d make it here, shivers run down your spine as you cross borders, speak to people in languages you never thought you’d be able to speak. Now it is all real, not just fucked up dreams and unachievable fantasies. You are really here. This is a new drug, one that beats any taken before. Looking out over the harbour in Hong Kong, the buildings lit up, wandering down the backstreets as though you are in a movie. Another perverse hallucination?  No, not now. That’s all behind you and this is the life you’ve now chosen. 

Yet, the mind still held its demons who would climb from the valleys of the marble tablet and attempt to drag you back down there. And then it was time to go home where they would truly raise their heads. The time had finally come. Overwhelming, ghosts at every corner. Memories long forgotten now sprang vividly into the mind as you sat on a train or turned a corner. Friends gone, places changed. Not the place you left and it’ll never be like that again. And the fear returns. The girl sitting next to you turns to look at you, “Those blue eyes, they’re tired but they tell a story.” They do, take my hand and I’ll take you on their journey. 

 

To Those Who’ve Gone: A Toast…

Wish you were here. Wish I was there? Nah, don’t wish I was there. I went down that path, nearly didn’t come back. Remember? Hand in hand we skipped, laughed and danced down the road as the sun shone upon our backs. The warmth of life, the feeling of invincibility. The sun would never set and tomorrow would never come. The longest day of our lives. Slowly the sun set, bright eyes dimmed and youthful naivety turned to weariness. No longer dancing but limping, falling, crawling to the eternal paradise the road promised. There was no paradise.

The sun set long ago, for some it rose again. For others it never will. I wish they were here. To laugh and smile. To live the longest day one more time. For that there’s nothing I wouldn’t give. But I can’t. I would give anything, yet there’s nothing I can give. All that’s left is memories. Some brief, some lingering. A song, a name, a face passing in the crowds. For a few seconds they’re back, and then it’s over again. Inhaling the opium pipe gifted by the mind as it takes you back and forth through dreams and reality. A fleeting high, dashed by a paralysing low, not of the body but of the soul.

For some it wasn’t a road trodden, mistakes made. It was time. Another invisible force which permeates all that we do. Can’t wait for tomorrow, but tomorrow is two days after yesterday. Tomorrow turns to months, years, I can’t wait. You can wait. Wishing away what we can enjoy in the moment. Seconds, minutes that’ll never come again. It’s now that makes the thoughts and memories.

For others there was no reason. Purpose questioned, evil exists and it was them who was chosen. But they weren’t them, they brought light. Darkness can’t penetrate that light. It’s what they were, not what they are. Gone. It’s just a word. They were here and for that you can smile. And still they’re here, just as they were. The river of bitterness and spite that flows like a river of sewage through the world is a small one. One step over and you’re beyond the darkness which consumes those who will never feel what you feel. Happiness. Happiness with friends and loved ones. That can never be taken away. And when they envy, turn to the comfort of your mind.

Smoke filled rooms and glasses clinking. Songs sung badly. No judgement, no care, free. Fools. Happy fools. Childhood memories: a ball kicked, a bedtime story told. A warm hand held, safety. The story you tell, this is where it was made. Where the pen started to move across the pages, tragedy, comedy, romance, horror. Not fiction. It was real, and when those memories come flooding back, when the audience asks ‘where are they now?’ You can smile, because they’re by your side. Laughing, crying, smiling, telling you not to stop because there are more pages to be written. Their pens fell, now they’re the ink in yours.

At night, looking up at the stars. Shining down, incomprehensible distances bringing a glimmer of hope that someone is looking down. It defies logic, it defies physics. But hope and comfort transcend the realms of logic and physics. Love too, another incomprehensible force. But it brings warmth, it’s what makes those memories meaningful. When tears are shed, it’s because you loved, it’s because you smiled, it’s because you laughed. And you’ll love again, smile again, laugh again. When the tears are wiped away, the sun will rise. When it does, raise a toast to those who’ve gone: at least we’ve loved.  

 

Rattling

You’ve only slept for 4 hours.  It’s not a deep sleep, you are not even sure when you fell asleep.  There’s no feeling of being refreshed, 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.

Time

An autumn evening, sky pale blue,

Rivers of gold and brown, priceless,

Red cheeks, icy whispers of winter,

The sun falling, long nights await.

 

A final leaf falls, blowing side to side,

Children watch, praying,

A warm gust, prayers answered,

A few more minutes before hibernation.

 

There’ll be goodbyes,no tears,

Knowing nods, until next year,

Friends forever, bound by the eternal sun,

Now it sets, soon it’ll rise again.

 

The cold bites, the road endless,

A puff of air, a million dreams,

Journeys fueled by teenage fantasies,

A naivety forever lamented, forever bringing a red face.

 

Trees bare, searching for the sun,

A fox shrieks, cursing the Gods,

White flakes fall, punishment,

Prisoners of time, the only judge.

 

A speck of green, a rebel,

Life, surviving where there’s no hope,

The snow stops, bound to the clock too,

Clouds parting, bring life anew.

 

A returning sun, still weak,

Blossom falls, a beautiful death,

Honourable, falling on a sword,

Bringing fresh dreams.

 

Baby steps, the young emerge,

Still frightened, lest the cold and dark return,

The rising star gives hope,

Warmth, the fox no longer cries.

 

The nights grow long, endless,

Live forever, the judge forgotten,

The falling leaf a distant memory,

Goodbyes will never need to be said.

Springtime Serendipity

Walking through the night. Aimless. Always aimless. Where’s it all going? That’s the eternal question. I say ‘it’ because I don’t mean where am I going now. I know where I’m going right at this moment: one step forward. That’s it, that’s all I need to know. When I say where am I going, what I really mean is ‘what is it all about?’ Existential crisis’ make you feel both stupid and clever at the same time. Stupid because the dark hole you’ve dug yourself into has made you question the very reality you think you exist in. And that’s just oh so first year philosophy student, the ones you laughed at when they said ‘your’s is the only mind that exists’. Sillylopsism. The product of too much weed, acid and cheap cider. Clever because well, they might have a point and there’s nothing better to boost the ego than the belief that you alone exist. Not you, but just your mind! Fuck. But then, if that’s the case, you created one fucked up world. Not so clever after all, hey?

The sun rises from the horizon and up over the bridge. One step. Two steps. Three steps. Head up. The orange ball shining, warming the face. A bird takes off from the bridge, diving towards the water and then soaring back up towards the sky. The silhouette of a figure walks along the bridge, off to work, to join the madness of the rat race, the walk in the early morning their few minutes of freedom. No one else about, just the chirping of the birds. Fuck that. I can’t do that. ‘Get a job’, ‘sort yourself out’, ‘what’s the matter with you? You can’t keep running away.’ I’m not running, I’m just doing it the way I want to do it. They’d give anything to be in my shoes. That’s why they keep on at me. It ain’t me, it’s them. If they even exist. Ha! They’re all children of my mind! Why do they keep moaning at me then?

A left turn. Into the park, this is where you used to walk when he was still here. Funny, the euphemisms we use, ain’t it? ‘Not here’, ‘gone’, ‘up there’. It’s the ‘up there’ that does my head in. Why can’t we just say the fucking word? What’s so difficult about it? That woman on Countdown, she gives us all these words, they’re all fucking useless. You know what she said yesterday? ‘Boondoggle’. I don’t even remember what it means. I think I’m a dickhead for questioning my own existence, I’m not going to go up to someone and start talking about ‘boondoggles’. See what I’ve done there? Avoided the word. Went off on one about Countdown because I can’t think about it, I can’t even say it. Yeah, this is where we used to walk. Them were the days, days just like this, sun rising, birds chirping, no worries, nothing, you didn’t care because you didn’t need to.

Talking shite. Meaningless rubbish. Well, not meaningless, it can’t have been meaningless because you smiled and you laughed. That’s how it was always going to be. Nothing would change. It’s that innocence you can’t ever recreate. It was the cusp, innocence and madness were becoming intertwined. You entered the madness in innocence but you can’t come out the other side with it still intact. It’s tiring. That cynicism. Even a smile. A smile that you so long for. When it comes you can’t accept it. There’s another meaning behind it. They didn’t really mean it. They pity you. And then they’re gone and all you want is another smile. Innocence killed itself and left you behind. To feel it once again, to be able to not care, to not worry.

Those were the days. The days of our lives. You always want to turn the clock back, do you know what I mean? You think back to certain times and you can picture it. It’s so vivid you drift away and you’re there, smells, sights, sounds. A shiver runs through your body, euphoric recall, another shiver when you’re back to where you are and you realise you can’t time travel. That’s all it is, a few pictures locked in your mind that’ll forever take you back to somewhere you want to go and somewhere you never want to see again because it’s over. And then you jump to somewhere else, the taste of fudge in your mouth, a child again. If you could do it all again, right now, you’re that child eating fudge, innocent, nothing has yet corrupted you, would you go back? Or stay corrupted. Corrupted or bitter? Bitter. Memories.

The sky is turning a deeper blue. The early morning, wishy-washy blue that looks like a watercolour painting. Even God plays the blues. Literally. The blues. I can imagine him up there with his saxophone, a Marlboro Red in hand, playing the soundtrack to our lives. Johnny Walker by his side. A sip from the Holy Grail. A toast, lips back to the sax as the music gets darker. We’re just victims to the tune he plays. A tear rolls slowly down my face. A release. It’s not everyone else, it’s you. Those that have gone? They’d say the same. They’d tell you. Let go. Keep the memories. They’ll play and play again until the day you go and join the big man on his sax. Then you can share a toast because those memories will become real again. Friends gone sat beside your side.

Turning again, the floor covered in pink. Spring. New beginnings and all that. You’d forgot it was spring. Bending down. Picking up the little petals and twirling it in your fingers. A smile. Appreciation. Something small, something beautiful. A long time since you’ve smiled. I could never have created something so beautiful. Or could I? Perhaps I should believe I could.

 

树上的蝉是我唯一的朋友

已经在这儿几个月了。我记得那天在飞机场很幸福!发挥想象力了:会有很多寺庙,武功盖世,重峦叠嶂!现在在坐河边,会功夫的人少,还没去看山,在寺庙里被骗子骗钱了。世界上的人真的都一样!哎!愤世嫉俗了。城市也和我家乡差不多,这儿有什么我那儿没有?对,吃的不一样。太辣了。在饭馆看不懂菜单随便点一个菜,来了一碗辣椒和骨头。怎么吃?我也不知道。我减肥了,飞了八千公里为了减肥。我应该写一本书叫 ‘新减肥办法:飞八千公里吃辣椒和骨头‘。

太热了今天!呼吸不了!我来河边是因为我以为会安静一些但是一点都不安静!好多阿姨在跳舞。为什么要来河边跳舞?有一个在看我。看我做什么?我很了不起吗?丑?帅?肯定不帅。那么,一定是因为我丑。现在笑着,我丑的话她还要笑么?那我很帅!哎,我已经变了疯子,和自己讨论我帅还是丑。昨天在想我很寂寞吗?可能这是我不想承认的问题。

那个男人在做什么自己坐在那儿?可能孤独吧!我记得我在英国学习的时候我也很孤独,没有朋友。文化不一样嘛!当时我们中国很穷,我能去英国就因为我得了奖学金。三十多年前!哎!他有点像我当时认识的一个英国男士。他叫什么来着?我忘了,应该是 J 开头的名字。不知道但是他真的很像。可能他的儿子吧!哈哈!不可能!可惜的人自己一个人坐那儿。我可以和他说话!不!好多年没有说英文。不去吧,在这儿跳舞。笑着就好!

“知了!知了! 知了!”

蝉同意了。那么小的一个东西怎么能给我小小的安慰?不是一个东西!是一个虫子,不能说它是一个东西。它活着!它?他?她?好吧!树上的蝉我给你取个名字那样我们可以决定你是她还是他。你是在中国出生的小虫子所以只能取一个中文名字可是这也是一个问题!我的中文不好。昨天去商店了想买烟不过我抽的烟不知道怎么说。

“你号,我上要一宝红大三”

老板很奇怪地看我,这个老外干嘛?我朝烟指了。老板笑了,知道我要烟!

“谁谁!”

“是谢谢!”

“谁谁!”

“不是!不是!’谢谢!’ 跟我说一下’谢谢’”

“谁谁!”

完了!这个老外可能脑子有问题或者很笨,因该是笨的吧。听说过外国朋友不太聪明。那是谁说的?是那个住在对面的那座楼,她儿子去了美国学习,学了哲学嘛!干嘛学哲学? 我问过她,工作他找得到吗?他说找得到但是眼神说了她怀疑。我在说什么呢?哦,对的!虽然他去了国外学习没有用的东西,但是呢,他还很了解老外。说他们不太从明。这个老外还在干嘛?已经买了烟还在那儿站着,可能是疯子吧!走了,往河边走。

还不错!说了几个单词,过一年我可以和他们交流没问题。那样生活会更容易,不用在商店表演或者点点头假装我知道他们在说什么。我猜有时候他们在逗我。在自己的家乡你什么都能读,什么都能说,什么都能懂。来新的地方你什么都不会。不能看报纸,在商店逛逛看到小孩的书还看不懂。在家乡你的朋友们都说你是那个看过很多书聪明的人。在这儿突然意识到你是一个普通的人。其实在家里你也是,人的聪明在不同的方面,虚心也是一种聪明吧。

“知了,知了,知了!”

哦!蝉,对不起,我知道你还在树上等我给你取一个名字。可以取一个英文名字吗?我教书的学校有很多奇怪的英文名字。有几个 Apple, 也有几个男孩子叫 Angel. 我有点不好意思说是一个女生的名字。其实我没见过一个 Angel。那,什么是一个普通的英文名字?我自己的名字不是英文的所以不行。蝉先生,你知道英国在哪里吗?应该不知道吧!我给你介绍一下我的家乡,如果有一天你有机会你可以自己去。你们蝉一般活多长时间?可能时间不够。在邀请一个虫子来我的家,我一定是疯子。

有两个小孩在玩,他们还没注意我或者他们不管。小孩子们怎么能把生活中所有的困难扔掉了?即使我的生活很愉快,也还要找个困难。是困难找我还是我找困难?好像是我找的。两个小孩大声笑,他们的球被风吹到河里。他们的玩具没有了还在笑。有一个转身朝着河指,要我帮忙。我能做什么?我一边笑一边耸动。他跟他朋友说话,他们两个又大声笑了然后跑走了,他们的求慢慢地漂走,往新的地方找一新的主人。蝉先生,我的内在小孩在哪里?

球吹走了!妈妈要生气吗?不告诉她!那我怎么解释我没有球的原因?给他说被一个老外抢了,很高很高的一个老外。嗯,也可以说老外很凶,没有办法。她要相信我吗?应该要。但是呢,要是我爸爸要去打他?怎么办?其实那个老外看起来有点难过。怎么办?怎么办?我知道了!我要说有几个男孩,他们欺负我了把球抢走了。她还会问很多问题。哪些男孩长得什么样子?你认识他们吗?糟糕了,只能告诉她实话。我以为老外都会游泳,讨厌!他骗我了,一定要告诉我妈妈球被老外抢了!

蝉先生,我不知道我应该做什么!离我家那么远,在这里一个朋友没有。每天是一样的,上班,吃辣椒和骨头,回家,睡觉。我以为我来这里的话我的生活会更好,会更有意义的但是还是一样的。我能怎么办?

“知了!知了!知了!”

对的蝉先生,我同意!我应该回家睡觉!明天是一个新的天。你的名字呢?我还不知道。明天你在吗?下班以后我来这里然后可以给你取一个名字。我应该说谢谢蝉先生,你陪了我一会儿。我们是朋友,不知道你懂不懂这个观念?应该不懂吧。你不懂也没有问题。那,明天见!

“知了!知了!。。。”

蝉从树上掉了,不动,不发出声音了。我站着,动不了。落了一个泪。谢谢你陪我一会儿蝉先生。
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Tick-Tock

Being clean and sober for 12 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. 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 and I knew that I had a problem. 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. You 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 12 years. In 10 years of addiction I almost lost my life on numerous occasions, a visible scar to show for it. 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.

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