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.

The Madness of Anxiety

There’s a voice telling you that it isn’t worth it. You might as well just stop, pack your bags go home. Why do you want to do it anyway? If you don’t go through with it, it doesn’t matter. You put weeks, months, years of effort into something but this little voice is far more persuasive. It’s convinced you that you’re going to make a mess of it all and you were foolish to even think about it in the first place. You don’t belong here, why are you even trying? If you do go through with it, the voice is still telling you that it’ll end in failure anyway. Failure. That dreaded word that makes most people close their eyes briefly, their body slumping, a shiver as your dreams fall through your body and down into the floor, forever hidden away. But it’s completely irrational.

A few days ago, just before sitting an oral examination, I wanted to run. It was as though something was pulling me towards the door. Open the door, walk away and everything will be okay. That line of thinking would be insane at any other time. You walk away and then that’s years of hard work gone. And that would continue to haunt you for the rest of your life and that feeling would be a million times worse than the fear you’re feeling for a few moments. The irrational part was the exam was in a language which I speak pretty fluently, I’d spent almost two years speaking the language exclusively, rarely speaking my mother tongue. And now I’m telling myself that I’m going to make a complete fool of myself and that I can’t actually speak that language very well. That’s the madness of anxiety.

It doesn’t always just apply to the situations which we perceive as the most important ones either. Sometimes it can be just the simple things: going to the shop and having to buy something but you need to enquire about it and you don’t know anything about what you’re buying so the person you talk to is going to think you’re an idiot. You can tie yourself up in knots wondering if you’re going to make a fool of yourself over the most mundane things. Something you’ll forget about a few minutes after you’ve done it. Then you’ll start beating yourself up for worrying about something there was no need to worry about in the first place and you end up in a circle of self abuse and a feeling of never quite being good enough or never quite doing something right.

Sometimes you’ll look at others and wonder ‘how do they do that with such confidence? Why is it so easy for them?’. Yet there’s a good chance that they’re going through the exact same feelings as you are. Self-doubt is a natural feeling. We exist in a world where people do things, and by nature of them doing things they achieve things, and this in turn leads to a person feeling inadequate because it is impossible to ignore what others have achieved relative to us. Social media doesn’t help with this. But this is just another part of the irrational thinking we go through, social media doesn’t portray an accurate picture of a person’s life. You hear the good things, you hear the outcomes, you don’t see what happened before, during and after. There’s a very good chance they go through the exact same feelings as you do, it’s just social media doesn’t reward what are the less comfortable aspects of life. It relies on the aesthetics and the good feelings and the good news.

As people we also have a duty to treat people with respect, no matter who they are. If you can think of a time when someone has said ‘good morning’ or smiled at you. That simple act can put a person at ease for the rest of the day. It’s the most simple of acts, yet it can give a person confidence to go on and interact with others because a smile tells them that not everyone is bad. It allays any fears they have. They way in which society treats us forms the way in which we view it and how we are expected to be treated by it. All these experiences come together to create anxiety because we fear not fitting in, fear not being good enough and fear not confiding to the strict norms and traditions that even a modern society has. Even if you don’t like someone, it doesn’t mean you can’t treat them with respect. Your personal dislike shouldn’t have a bearing on another person’s life when personality, likes, dislikes clash because on the whole it is totally irrelevant and both parties just want to live their lives as happily as they can.

We also put heavy demands upon ourselves. Striving for perfection is an unattainable goal. No matter how well you do, there will always be a mistake somewhere. But there’s nothing wrong with striving for perfection, trying to get as close to it as you can, but by doing that you also have to realise that you’re not going to achieve absolute perfection. When recognising that you relieve a burden from your shoulders because mistakes become normalised and there’s nothing wrong with mistakes. They are what we learn from in life. You make a big one, you take it, learn from it and improve on it. You make a small one, no one cares or notices but yourself. And there’s no point putting yourself through stress for something which is completely insignificant.

I walked into that exam and I think I did well. I fought the urge to walk away, and most importantly I fought the irrational side of my brain telling me I wasn’t good enough. Before the exam I also reached out to friends, and that is of massive importance. By simply vocalising your fears you take the power out of them. As friends and family we have a duty to not dismiss the fears and anxieties others face. What might seem trivial to us is of great importance to another person and by dismissing it you only confirm their fear and belief that perhaps no one really understands. If you’re faced with anxiety, the best thing you can do is reach out, but also know that your fears are not unfounded and no matter how silly they seem, you won’t be the only person going through it.

 

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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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.

 

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