Book Excerpt 2

Everything is so fucked up at the moment I am not sure what reality is.  I’m wrapped in cotton wool.  The only thing in my life that matters is getting drink and going to the chemist.  I’ve been to every chemist in the town and they seem to be getting a bit suspicious.  I can’t do without the codeine at the moment though.  I think I’ve hurt my leg.  The pain in the morning is unbearable.  The only way to get rid of it is to drink.  Not that it is the only reason I drink, I drink because I need it.

My body feels ruined.  I know I am unhealthy, there’s something not right but I am not sure what it is.  I can barely piss, my skin looks tanned and I keep getting pains in my chest, sometimes down my arms.  For some sick reason though I enjoy it, it’s symbolic of how fucked up I’ve become.  I don’t really care anymore.  I don’t see anything to live for.  Honestly, what’s the point?  The only thing I want to do now is to get as fucked as possible and last as long as I possibly can.  I doubt I’ll see 30 but I’m good with that.  I’ve enjoyed life haven’t I?

Sitting on the sofa I’m watching the clock.  I always seem to be watching the fucking clock.  Unless I am fucked, but the clock doesn’t matter when I’m fucked, time is an irrelevance, it’s all one big blur, one big dream, one big trip.  Imaginary places, imaginary slights, imaginary grudges, imaginary hate.  There’s no distinguishing between what’s real and what exists in my head.  The reality is what you don’t want to face, there’s too much fear involved, too much trouble.  At the moment the only thing I want is my comfort blanket.

I am not sick at the moment.  I still had some left from last night.  I feel just about right.  That’s the fucked up thing.  When I have nothing I am so ill I can’t walk.  Vomiting, shaking, death is imminent.  When I’ve had too much I don’t know what it is happening.  I am away in a different world, a world that is far safer than the one I exist in right now.  When I’ve had just enough I’m normal.  I get hungry, I feel the cold or the warmth of the day, I fucking feel.  The tears run down my face.  It’s a release.  A release from what I don’t know but they need to flow.

I see that the time has passed, the shop is open now.  I am okay for the moment though.  I don’t need to go straight away.  I am in control here.  This time you’re not forcing me to get there in your time, it can be my own fucking time.  I listen to the birds, their noise is soothing as the sky turns pinkish.  Their lives seem so much simpler than ours.  They wake up in the morning, they look for food and then sit in their nests.  They’ll never be offered the option to take another road.

We have choices, choices that branch out into different roads different destinations.  Can you go back down the road though?  I am not sure I can.  I am not sure anyone can.  If I go back down the road I will have to face everything, face everyone.  That’s a long fucking road, a road I don’t know how to walk.  I am a kid.  I might be 23 but I don’t know how to feel, I don’t know what emotion is.  I just know how to cry.  Crying is the only way it all comes out.  You can say I waste my life, but who the fuck are you?  You’ve not walked this road.

I know there are seeds there.  I know that there is just the slight thought that maybe this isn’t what I want.  Maybe I am doubting that this is the road that I want to take.  I’ve tried before.  Sitting in rooms full of people talking bollocks.  Talking about how they’re the worst, no one is worse than them.  They say you can relate.  The only thing I can relate to is the need to cling on and not let go of this life.  Let go of this and what do I have?

They say it’s the only way.  If it is the only way then I am well and truly fucked because I am not doing it that way.  If I keep on, how long will I have left?  The doctor reckons a couple of years but I think he’s only saying that to scare me.  I know I am unhealthy but 23?  No chance, I’ve got until I am 30 at least.  The problem is if I die, I can’t get fucked and that’s a problem.  Dying is not the problem.  Not being able to get fucked is the biggest problem.

The sun is shining in onto the sofa and I can feel the warmth on my skin.  The last couple of drops of cider are left in the bottle.  I pour them out into my glass, the chemical smell making me gag.  I put the glass back down, I’ll finish it just before I go to the shop.  I drift off to thinking about places I could go to.  I wish I could go off to Asia.  Smoke drugs, drink and no one would give a fuck.  That’s what I could do.  Thing is I don’t have any money.  I don’t have anything.

Time to go.  Time for the morning ritual, today it’s a bit later though, I am in control.  Walking down the road it isn’t all so fuzzy.  I can walk properly.  Usually I can’t walk properly because all my motor skills have gone.  One step is difficult.  The fear of death isn’t present today either.  I know it isn’t quite imminent.  I have confidence in my walk, I don’t fear that everyone is out to get me.

The one person that never judges me is the lady in the off license.  She doesn’t look at me with pity, she doesn’t look at me disparagingly.  She treats me like a normal person no matter what state I am in.  This morning she smiles and asks how I am.  I’m fine.  She hands over my tobacco and vodka. “Take care of yourself, darling” she says with a big smile on her face.  It’s one of the few comforting faces I see.  No judgement.

As I walk back towards home I take the long way around.  I am enjoying this relative freedom.  Perhaps this reality isn’t all that bad.  There are slight shivers down my back but not enough for the fear to set in, not enough that I have to rush home, not enough that I have to drink out of the bottle as soon as I am outside the shop.  I can take my time.

As I walk a fear overtakes me.  Not the usual fear.  A fear that I am wasting everything.  What kind of life is this?  This walk, a 20 minute walk around this shitty little town is the only bit of freedom that I have.  I don’t even know when I am going to be able to have this freedom again.  It’s not every day I wake up with drink left.  When I am off the drink there is no freedom.  It still consumes my life.  I am just waiting for the right time to go back to it.  Maybe leaving it for a few days longer just to spite myself and to spite the thing that has this ever reaching control over me.

It takes over my dreams.  It takes over my whole fucking life.  There is no escape from it, yet I feel as though I don’t want it any other way. It is my escape from the world, but there is no escape from its world.  This is what people don’t understand.  You can’t just walk away from it.  Without it there is no world, there is only a reality that is distorted.  It’s not the reality that you know.  But then you don’t even know what the fuck reality is.  It’s been lost, all there is a haze, a fog of occurrences, things that happen but they don’t seem to have any sense of being connected.

I come out of my day dream as the philosophical psychobabble bullshit is confusing me.  I have no idea what I am thinking about.  I can’t even express myself to myself in my own fucking mind.  If I can’t express myself to myself how the fuck am I supposed to express myself to someone else.  I laugh.  I’m bordering on an insanity that I can’t escape.  Perhaps insanity will be a lot easier than being able to have to think coherently.

I put the bottle on the table and stare at it.  I sit back in the sofa.  I’ll leave it for 20 minutes.  It’s all a big contradiction.  Me not drinking it is my form of control, but if it wasn’t in control I wouldn’t have to try and control it.  I open the bottle and pour neat vodka in to the glass.  It goes down my throat in one go.  The burning feels nice.  My head clears of all thoughts.  For today it’s just going to be me and my bottle and that’s how I want it.  No need to worry about what’s going to happen in the future.

This is another excerpt taken from my book.  The book will be released in early August this year.

Streets Paved With Gold

Go to England they said.  Go to England and you can have anything you want.  They give you a house, they give you a job.  You can have anything you want.  Everything in the world.  All you need to do is go to England.

I sat in darkness for days to get here.  I am not sure how many days.  When it is always dark you have no sense of time.  No sense of where you are.  All I knew was that at some point I would have to run.  Even though I had not seen light for days, not moved my legs.

All this because I want a better life.  A life with no fear.  You can not describe to a person the fear of war if they have not experienced it.  They do not understand what it is like to see your friends killed.  They do not understand what it is like.

Here is where I want my new life to begin.  I want to make a family here.  I want my children to grow up without fear.  I want them to be able to go to school and learn.  I want them to grow up and not have to run.

When you become numb to death, that is when you know that your life has no meaning, there is no purpose.  Or perhaps your purpose is just to avoid death.  Small children who are supposed to be too innocent to understand already understand too much.  They’ve already seen too much.

And here I am now.  I spend my days wandering the streets.  People ignore me.  Not one person looks at me in the eye.  I have no choice but to beg.  All my money is gone.  I was promised a job, but there was none.  No, I lie, there was a job, but I would get no money for it.  I am illegal, what can I do?

So now I walk and I beg.  I walk through this city, a city that is supposed to be where dreams are made.  A city that everyone in the world knows.  All of the famous buildings, I walk past them everyday.  I watch the tourists take pictures.  I want to be like them.  But I can’t.  All I want is to be able to survive.

Sometimes someone will talk to you and ask where you are from.  When you tell them they say they are sorry, they say that they understand.  They don’t understand.  They will never understand.  Do they know how it feels to run?  Do they know how it feels to have everything taken away from you?

I try to persuade myself that they mean well.  In my heart I know that they can never empathise with me.  They will go home to their house, big or small.  Tonight they will eat.  This they know.  I don’t know.  Maybe I will eat tonight, if I don’t, maybe I will eat tomorrow.

As I sit by the train station in the morning I take a newspaper from the floor.  They say we should not be allowed here.  If we are here then we should go home.  We are taking all their money.  I take no money.  I have nothing.

On the cold mornings I dream of my home.  My home that is no longer there.  I feel the warmth, it is not real, but it is an escape.  These are my only escapes.  The only place that I want to be is my home.  I came because I want better.  Now I wonder if what I thought was better is worse.

There are no dead people here though.  There is no fear.  I will sleep on the street in the cold, maybe I will not eat, but I am not frightened.  I hope one day I will go home.  Now though I know, these streets are not paved with gold.

 

I’ve Made It

9th January 2009.  Just off the plane in Delhi.  This was it.  All my life I’d wanted to travel and now I’m standing in Delhi airport.  Walking outside the exotic smells immediately hit you.  The humidity too.  It’s January and it’s still 20 degrees.

There are people everywhere.  So many people.  Herded on to a small bus.  Gazing through the window as we move through Delhi.  I can see poverty.  You hear about it, but to experience it leaves you with a different feeling.  The appeals on television at home are all so distant, but now you can actually see it.

A long drive to Agra.  There are dogs everywhere.  I need cigarettes but I’m scared of the dogs.  I don’t want rabies.

Next morning and it’s off to the Taj Mahal.  I’m standing in front of one of the most iconic buildings in the world.  I am getting somewhere.

This what I had been waiting for all my life.  The exotic smells, the exotic people.  I was in the land of the Jungle book.  There is fear mixed with excitement.  I don’t know what to expect.  There are elephants and camels on the road.  I’m illiterate, I don’t know how to read the script.  I can’t communicate with people.  They can’t speak English.

Jaipur.  It’s warm.  The locals are all dressed in wooly jumpers and have ear warmers on.  We all have t shirts.  They think we’re crazy.  Summer in Jaipur can reach 50 degrees.  The roads are so busy, cars, tuk tuks, buses, cows.  Dogs lie in the middle of the roundabouts.

Time to do some shopping.  The streets are narrow and dark but there are shops everywhere.  The owners stand outside looking at us.  They are wondering what are we doing here.  Probably also thinking these people must have money, I need to get them into my shop.  I need cigarettes but I’m scared.  I can’t speak Hindi.  The stares are unnerving me.  I approach the shop.  I make the movements of someone smoking, the shopkeeper looks at me and says “which kind do you want, sir?”.  He speaks English.  All worry over nothing.

Back on to the train.  It is full of people eating and talking.  It’s a social occasion.  It makes the long journey easier.  The gang of white people attract their attention.  Where are you from?  Are you married?  Why have you come to India?  All these questions.  I’d never ask people these kind of questions.

The train arrives and the snow capped mountains stand out.  The Himalayas.  This is the place that dreams are made of.  It’s clichéd but I don’t care, this is my dream and I am making it.  There are monkeys everywhere.  They look cute, harmless.  The guide says to leave them alone, they are a nuisance and will bite you.

The Himalayas get closer and closer.  We arrive at our house for the next 3 months.  I step out on to my balcony.  In front of my eyes are two mountains.  Both are capped with snow.  The sky is a brilliant blue.  I’ve made it.  I’m doing what I have always dreamed of doing.

My Cow is Black and I Want to be a Pilot

 

The sun rises up over the mountains as I sit outside watching the cow eat.  I live in a small village in the mountains of Northern India.  From my porch I can see the six other houses that cling to the mountainside.  In the distance, over the river, you can see the flat land that rolls off towards distance places that I have never seen.  Down the to the tropical south.  One day I will go.

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My village is high in the mountains.  There are no cities nearby.  Only sometimes do we go to the large town.  It is an adventure that I love.  I love the noise and all the people.  Here there are few people.  It is a simple life.  A life that I love, but I long to go far away.  To see more of my country, see more of the world.

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I walk to school with my friends.  Our school is a small building.  Every class fits in to the one stone block.  Our teacher is a good man.  He teaches us everything.  English, Maths, Geography, Hindi, he knows everything.  Our school has no money but he still tries to teach us.  There are a few desks and a blackboard, a poster on the wall with English letters, A is for Apple, B is for Ball…

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My favourite lesson is English.  Most of my classmates can’t speak any English but everyday after I go home I spend all my time looking at my English book.  Learning words, everyday I try to learn 10 words.  If I can’t speak English then what will I do?  When I grow up I want to be a pilot, I want to go beyond the river, down across the plains to the big cities.

At lunch time we eat our packed lunches and then we play cricket.  I love cricket.  We use any ball we can find.  If I can’t be a pilot I want to be a cricket player.  In the evening I can’t play cricket, I can only watch the big kids play.  At school I can play all lunch time.  Our school is on the side of a mountain and sometimes the ball falls over the side.  Sometimes we nearly fall down too.

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Back in class we learn Hindi.  I hate Hindi classes.  They are boring.  I can already speak Hindi so I don’t understand why I have to learn.  My grandmother can not speak Hindi though, maybe she can take my place.  Perhaps she is too old.  I wish I could find someone I can speak English with.  My English is nearly as good as teacher’s, I hope one day I can find an English person to speak English with.  Then I can get better.

School is over and I walk back home with my friends.  My village is small, but I love it.  When I arrive back home I do my homework and then sit outside and look out across the mountains and the plains to where my dreams lie.  The cow is still eating.  My cow is black and I want to be a pilot.

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About seven years ago I spent some time teaching in a village in the Himalayan foothills.  The schools were basic and lacked funds.  The people however seemed to appreciate their lives and made the most out of what they had.  This short story above is of a small boy that I taught who wanted to be a pilot.  Given his circumstances he spoke excellent English and studied hard.  Most of the kids understandably didn’t have very good English, however they could all repeat one phrase they were taught which was “My cow is black…”.  I often wonder what became of him and if he will ever realise his dream.  All the pictures are mine that I took while there.

Depression and Introspection

You can’t get out of bed.  No matter how much you know that lying here is no good you just can’t find the energy to get up.  Even if you get up you still have to find the energy to face the world.  Facing the world that you feel is judging you, facing the world that you feel is looking down on you.  The sun is bright outside and you know you should be outside enjoying yourself, but you still can’t find the energy.  You resent those that are enjoying themselves.  You resent that they don’t have to go through the pain that you’re feeling.  You resent that they think you just need to “sort your head out,” or “stop feeling sorry for yourself”.  That’s the advice that’s always given.  You want to scream out and tell people how it feels to feel like this.  How it feels to be constantly trapped with no way out.  Pessimism and a sense of doom are what take over your life.  All you want is someone to listen and to believe you.  Just one person listening and believing allows a tiny bit of light through that dark tunnel you stare down every morning.

While researching for writing this I was surprised at the number of people that were either affected by depression or knew someone that was affected by depression.  By writing this blog I wanted to highlight how prevalent it is within society and also look at different attitudes towards it and also possible causes and what can be done to help those suffering with depression.  I’ve read many articles on depression and also listened to people’s opinions on it but have found that those who have actually suffered or suffer from depression have little voice.  The nature of depression and the ways in which it is portrayed often mean that sufferers are scared to let their voices be heard or they don’t want their voices to be heard.  The society that we live in today and our exposure to each other adds to the pressures we feel.  We are often too quick to criticise rather than listen and try to understand the positions that other people are in.

One of the greatest difficulties with mental illnesses is not being able to accurately describe how you feel and the effect that it has on your life.  With physical illnesses we can relate to other people, symptoms are often visible and easily described.  With mental illness the symptoms are not always obvious and can often be ignored by the sufferer themselves.  There can be the feeling that you are going crazy or that you are imagining things.  This can be exacerbated when the symptoms come and go and don’t always have an obvious reason for appearing.  This was one of my greatest difficulties with depression.  I didn’t know how to express how I felt in an articulate way, nor did I really believe that anyone would believe me.  While depression was not the sole cause of my addiction I do believe that it played a significant part as it was an easy fix to escape the feelings of fear, despair and overwhelming worthlessness.

My personal experience of depression is one of not recognising it, not believing it existed and seeing it as a weakness.   I remember listening to a conversation between family members where one said depression didn’t exist.  That it was just an excuse for the person to be lazy and unmotivated and if they just sorted their head out they could get on with their life.  At the time I was in the midst of a cycle of depression and addiction and while I was in no denial of my addiction, depression was something that I found hard to accept.  By people insinuating that depression is a form of weakness or is just an excuse for people is one of the biggest barriers that sufferers of depression face.  When suffering from a mental condition in which you see most things in the negative you will always take the negative rather than the positive.  No matter how many people support you and believe you, it only takes one person’s ignorance or unwillingness to understand to make you question yourself.  People tend not to like to question what they already know or believe they know nor do they like to admit that they are wrong.  While this could be thrown back at someone suffering from depression, the fact that most suffers will spend a lot of time questioning themselves, some to the extent of questioning their own sanity, that ignorance and lack of introspection is not a valid accusation.

Having lived in a culturally different society for the last seven years I have recently returned to Europe.  As well as suffering from reverse culture shock, I have found that I am also seeing the society that I grew up in a different light, not one that is positive.  While it does not hold true for everyone, I have found that there is a large culture of criticism, one that can be at times vindictive and narcissistic.  People live through what other people haven’t got rather than what they themselves have.  A lack of fulfillment that is projected onto other people.  I again want to stress that this isn’t true for everyone, but I have still found that it is prevalent.  This lack of fulfillment and inability to empathise with people extends to understanding those with mental illnesses, and also those who care for those with mental illnesses.

The least supportive of people are often those that have their own insecurities and their own fears.  The most supportive are usually those people who are most comfortable with themselves and are able to articulate their thoughts and feelings.  We project our fears and insecurities on to other people and denial is one of those feelings that readily appears when we see something in someone that we have in ourselves but aren’t willing to admit.  While not as widely stigmatised as it used to be depression and the ways in which it manifests itself lead to people seeing it as weak and something that they will not easily admit to having.  Addiction, promiscuity and isolation are all ways that it does manifest itself and these are all things that are not socially acceptable.  As well as them being socially unacceptable people will see these things as completely undesirable and in a lot of circumstances extreme.  This will lead to people comparing their lives to that of others and if they themselves are not exhibiting these traits then they will feel that they are fine and ignore their own problems.

Our exposure to each other through social media adds pressures that are not always necessary or justified.  When you are feeling down and you are seeing pictures of people out on the town enjoying themselves or on holiday for the fifth time this year you will naturally have an inclination to compare it to your own life.  It’s difficult to remember that what people post on social media is not always an accurate reflection of their lives.  Social media is also a way for us to attempt to gain affirmation although that affirmation may not always be forthcoming.  While hoping to be praised we are leaving ourselves open to unexpected criticism.  This is especially relevant for younger people who see social media as important parts of their lives and allows school to extend into their lives at home.  It adds pressure onto young people to always put up a front and an image that they want to portray to their peers.  Not being able to hold up this front, having everything they do being scrutinised adds to the already immense pressure of being young.  While people are responsible for what they post on social media, the need to be included and be a part of something when you are a teenager means it is hard to avoid.

While social media is certainly not the cause of depression I believe that it has a larger impact on people’s lives than we are willing to admit, especially those that are vulnerable. It is a vehicle for people to express themselves with relative anonymity and without direct human contact. It can also allow people to hide behind a persona, portraying their lives as something that it is not and having the consequence of living their lives as the person they wish to be portrayed as rather than facing the problems that are leading them to hide from themselves.  These added pressures can add up and do lead to depression.

When looking for support one of the first people that we turn to is our doctor.  Although my experience is not recent, when I did go to the doctor, he appeared at a loss as to what to do.  By the second time I went to see him I was prescribed pills.  The pills didn’t have an effect at all.  I didn’t even know what they were, being an addict at the time my knowledge of pills and various medicines was probably comparable to that of a chemist.  I concluded that it was just a placebo.  After this experience I gave up with the doctor.  He clearly had no idea what to do.  I would hope that in recent years that there has been a lot more awareness about what to do with patients suffering from depression but from anecdotal accounts I have heard that pills are still readily prescribed.  Recent cut backs in mental health services do not help either.  This lack of support and being tolerated only adds to the despair that you can feel with depression.  In a situation in which you are already feeling hopeless, a lack of answers and empathy for your situation will only make it worse.

Alternatives need to be looked at in how depression is treated.  Therapy and counselling  in their various forms are a good release for people and allow them to express themselves and also allow them to understand their own feelings better, in turn helping them to control them.  Creativity and arts are also a way in which people can express themselves, it is especially helpful for those people who find it hard to talk to people or unable to express themselves vocally.  As well as those suffering from depression there needs to be more understanding for those that care for them.  Understanding depression doesn’t just extend to the sufferer but also to their carer.

There is a misconception that those suffering from depression and other mental illnesses are looking for sympathy.  They aren’t.  What they are looking for is someone to understand them, listen to them and show some support.  Although usually well meaning sympathy often comes across as patronising.  Just by giving someone your time and willingness to try and understand you are doing far more than any expression of sympathy ever could.

Introspection and giving those who need help a voice are the key to being able to move forward.  As idealistic as it maybe, until people begin to show each other more empathy, realise that ‘weakness’ is just a projection of our own insecurities and perceived strength we won’t move on.  Mental health services also have their parts to play.  However an improvement in these services and a an extending of their importance will only come when there is widespread recognition.  While we may believe that there is widespread recognition and understanding of mental illnesses, anxiety and depression I still believe that we are lying to ourselves.

 

Red Tubes

Everyone on the tube is looking at me; I can feel the stares burning into me.  The sweat is slowly starting to fall down my face.  My arm is shaking, I am trying to control it but I know it’s not worth the effort, there’s nothing I can do at this point.  I’m in the limbo between paranoia and not caring.  The bottle of wine in my plastic bag falls onto the floor as the train jolts.  They all stare at me.  I pick it up and read the adverts above their heads.  Adverts for holidays, I wish I could go on holiday, maybe next year when I sort myself out.

The train pulls into the final station and I walk quickly to the escalator, bounding up the steps with a newly found energy.  Out onto Brixton High Street.  It’s early in the morning, I’m not sure exactly what time it is, but it’s before 9.  I’m on auto pilot, I know where I am going and don’t need to pay attention.  I just hope he is there.  If he’s not I’m not sure what I will do.  I’ll just have to find somewhere to plot up and drink.  I’ve only got a bottle of wine though, that’s not going to get me far.

I walk down the leafy backstreets trying to remember which door it is.  I’ve not said I’m coming.  I don’t have a phone, I don’t even know his phone number.  There are people hanging around outside the door.  I recognise one of them, it’s that Australian prick, at least he knows Jay, he lives there too, hopefully he’ll let me in if he’s not there.

He sees me coming and I can see the contempt in his eyes.  I don’t really know the guy, I am not sure why he doesn’t like me.  To me he’s just some dude who thinks he’s hardcore, who’s living in a house in Brixton, smokes weed, takes drugs, drinks a lot but he’ll grow out of that and get himself a job.  This is just a phase for him.  Like most people, they think it’s cool, they think that they are hardcore, that no one can take as many drugs as them, no one can drink as much as them.  They stop though, they have days off, they have weeks off.  For me this is my life, I don’t have days off, I can’t have days off, not anymore.  There’s too much to blot out, there’s too much to feel if I stop.

He greets me with a stupid smirk on his face.  I need to be friendly because I need to find out where Jay is or get into the house.  I ask him where Jay is, he says he’s out.  I ask him if I can wait for him inside.  He doesn’t seem too happy but says okay.  I don’t know any of the people that he’s with but they all look the same, all on the same vibe.  I couldn’t give two fucks what they think about me, I’m numb and I just want to open this bottle of wine.

We sit in his room.  I don’t even know what his name is.  He thinks he’s a DJ.  He puts records on then starts talking about music, I haven’t drunk enough to want to talk.  I listen to them talking but I can’t take it all in.  It’s just a blur of words.  He occasionally looks over at me, I know he doesn’t want me here but I am not going anywhere.  He phones Jay and they exchange what terse words.  I know it’s because I am here.

Jay arrives 10 minutes later.  No greeting, just “what are you doing here?”,

“Just thought I’d come and see you, man.” He knows I need somewhere to go to drink.

“You’ve already drank a bottle of wine,”

“I’m okay, honestly, you know that.”

“Why did you go to his room, he doesn’t like you.”

I can’t be bothered with this, what’s the point in having friends if you can’t even turn up their house when you need a drink.  It was the only place that I could think of going to.

The house was a Victorian terraced house.  People seemed to live in every room, I’d been there a few times before but I didn’t know most people’s names.  They all took drugs and drank, so I thought no one would be bothered.  It seems they were.  I wasn’t that cool wasted, I was that no hope waster.  The one that doesn’t stop when everyone else does.  I wasn’t the one that looked forward to the weekend.  What day it was was of no relevance to me.

I opened a can of Strongbow Super.  I hated the stuff.  That smell of chemical apples, it was dry, the taste lingers, when you sweat it seeps out of every pore.  I hate the taste of most of the things I drink.  Aftershave was the worst.  It doesn’t matter though, as long as it does what is required.  Jay took the can from my hands.

“For fucks sake, you don’t need this.”

“You know I need it Jay, I am an alcoholic for fucks sake.”

“You’re not a fucking alcoholic”.

I’d had this argument with everyone I knew.  I wake up after a few hours of not drinking needing a drink, if I don’t drink I sweat, shake, hallucinate, vomit, freak out, become consumed by a fear that can’t be described in words.  How the fuck can’t these people see I’m an alcoholic?

I follow him out to the garden.

“Just give me one more sip, just one more, that’s all I need.”

“I ain’t going to pour it out, you are,” he said handing the can over to me.  I look into his eyes, pinholes from a few days on it.  I’m being lectured and forced to stop drinking by someone that has what he wants, what he needs.  I hesitate.  I’m tired, I have nowhere to go.  I’ve drank enough that my body feels sleepy, it doesn’t need alcohol.  I just want to sleep.  I drink another two mouthfuls and pour out the last couple of drops.  That’s when the fear starts.  I have no money and I have no drink.  I want to sleep but I know when I sleep I’ll wake up, and when I wake up that’s when it’s at its worst.

Jay takes me up to a room.  There’s someone asleep in there.  I collapse on to a beanbag.  I can’t fight the sleep anymore, my body has what it needs and now it needs to sleep.  My eyelids slowly close as I hear the noise of people laughing.  I’ll be awake in a few hours and it’ll all begin again.  The whole fucking process.  This isn’t hardcore, it’s a monotonous process of pain, sickness, numbness, nightmares that will only end when I’m dead.

Vietnam

I wrote this in 2011 after spending 6 weeks in Vietnam.  I am hoping to go back this year.

Vietnam was a country that I had always wanted to go to.  I love modern history and Vietnam played a large part in the Cold War.  I will admit to not knowing much about it though, other than that there was a war there 40 years ago.  Maybe that is what gave it that sense of mysticism, a country that had defeated the Americans and taken control of their own nation after years of being a French colony.  That is a very simplistic view of it and the Americans never officially went to war with North Vietnam.  Neither do I agree with the politics of the Communists that took power and the policies that were used to punish the South Vietnamese after.  After a friend suggested going to Vietnam during my holidays I thought ‘why not?’ and went three days later.

The process of getting to Vietnam was pretty painful.  I had made a last minute decision to go and I had to get from Chengdu to Nanning near the Chinese-Viet border.  I also needed a visa but that was easily obtained in Nanning.  The hardest part was getting to Nanning.  I went to buy a sleeper train ticket and they had none so in my wisdom I bought a hard seat ticket.  The girl asked me twice if I was sure I wanted a hard seat ticket.  I said “Yeah, no bother, I’ll be fine”.  It was a good thing I didn’t have too much time to think about it because I think I may well have changed my mind about sitting on a hard seat on a Chinese train for 35 hours. 

Sitting on a train for 35 hours is not something I want to do in the near future.  Although everyone was very friendly, sleeping was impossible.  Chinese people seem to be able to sleep anywhere at any time but I think I managed about four hours on the whole journey.  All I could do was smoke and laugh and nod and pretend to understand the guy who was speaking an obscure Chinese dialect.  Not that my Chinese was much good at that point.  The pain was well worth it though, after waiting a few days for my Visa in Nanning I headed off to Hanoi by bus.

At Chinese immigration I gave my passport to a Chinese girl with a scowl on her face.  She inspected my passport, stamped it and threw it back at me.  I love Chinese immigration.  I then got on a little bus thing with two Dutch girls and we went to the Vietnamese border post.  There were a lot of Chinese crossing with us and chaos ensued.  Vietnamese immigration at Pingxiang entails you throwing your passport through a window along with everyone else while the 3 immigration officers stamp them without even looking at you. 

So 7 days after leaving Chengdu I finally arrived in Hanoi.  I stayed in a dorm in the Old Quarter and as soon as I got into the dorm I thought “This is a fucking mistake”, as a crazy Texan in an Argentina football shirt tried to force Jack Daniels on me.  He said I looked like a man that liked a drink.  Good observation.  Five years ago we’d have been best friends.  When I met him a few times after though, he was a nice bloke, just a bit mental.  His plan was to travel to Myanmar, go to Munich for the beer festival and then go to Vegas to be a professional gambler.  I truly believe that is how it will go for him too.

The first morning I was in Hanoi I went with a couple of girls in my dorm to see the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh.  I am not sure if it is legitimately him or not.  He is supposedly sent to Russia every year to be fixed up.  I reckon the Russians have stitched them up to be honest and sent back one from Madame Tussaudes.  It was a very surreal experience; just the sense that it may indeed be him gives the room a very strange feeling.  The guards make sure you do not smile, laugh or talk while you walk around the mausoleum.  He is highly revered in Vietnam and against his own wishes he appears on all banknotes and was embalmed.  The Vietnamese see him as the man that freed them from the French, although I am not sure what he would think of Vietnam today, much the same as I often think what Mao would think of the China of today.  I spent a few days wandering around Hanoi, drinking coffee and trying to avoid being scammed by all the people that try and approach you.

When I came to Vietnam I had no plan and just decided to do whatever I felt like doing rather than being held to a set plan.  You can only really go north to south or south to north in Vietnam because it is such a narrow country.  I booked a train to Danang which I knew nothing about but would see what happened when I got there.  Danang is where the Americans first landed in 1965 and there are still remains of air force bases on the outskirts of the city.  It is also home to China beach which is where the marines had R&R.  I stayed at My Khe beach where there were no tourists except for myself.  Danang is not a tourist spot and is a good place to see a ‘real’ Vietnamese city.  The streets at night are bustling and full of open air restaurants.   If you walk along the beach in the evening you will find the locals playing football or going for a swim in the sea, and it was the only place in Vietnam that I attracted stares for being a foreigner.  The people were very friendly though.  On my second night there the hotel thought I had left and gave my room to someone else.  They sorted it out and the Vietnamese guy was put in another room.  I went back out a few minutes later and there was a hooker knocking on his door so it was lucky I arrived when I did!

Marble Mountains, Danang, Vietnam

About 10km outside of Danang is the Marble Mountains.  The Viet Cong hid in these mountains during the war and when you go inside you can see the hospitals that they built inside.  The American Air Force bombed the mountains but from what I was told they were not very successful in flushing the Viet Cong out.  It’s strange because from the mountains you can see China Beach and can imagine the Viet Cong watching them on R&R.  The mountains also have temples inside them.  Some of which are liking walking on to a set in an Indiana Jones film.  I went through a small door and came out into a massive hall with statues of Buddha and altars.  It was one of them moments you get when you are travelling when you think ‘is this real?’  There was not much to do in Danang after seeing the mountains and a museum so I headed on to Hoi An and Hue.

Old American airbase just outside of Danang

America beach in Danang where the U.S soldiers would go on R&R

Hue is a city that saw a massive amount of fighting during the war.  There is a large citadel in the middle of the city which was a battleground and in the book ‘Dispatches’ the fighting is described very vividly.  I wandered around the citadel a few times while I was in Hue and it seemed strange that only 35 years ago it was a scene of such carnage.  From various descriptions I have read and heard from the Vietnamese the citadel was littered with bodies.  One account tells of how the Americans approaching the bridges up to the citadel find a Vietnamese kid walking down the road smiling and laughing, while others went about their everyday business.  It was something the Americans could never understand.  The Vietnamese just got on with it regardless of the absolute chaos that was going on around them.  The resilience and industriousness they have is what has got them to where they are today: A country with the aim of joining the first world by 2020.  It wouldn’t surprise me if they achieved this either.  While walking back from the citadel one day a lady at a shop I bought a drink in asked me if I could spend some time helping her with her English.  She was 55 years old and had never been out of Hue but she knows that if she can speak English she can attract more customers.  I went back a few times to see her and although I didn’t want anything for helping her she gave me a few Cokes.

Nha Trang, Vietnam

Hoi An is about 150km from Hue and very close to Danang so I ended up going south then back north again to get there.  I had heard a lot about it, but I was not very impressed with it.  It is just a tourist town that has been fixed up to make it look better.  It is also expensive compared to the rest of Vietnam.  Unless you want a suit or some other clothes there is not much reason to go there.  I did get lost there though which I don’t think is very easy to do as it is not a very large town.

From Hoi An I carried on to the city of Nha Trang.  I had been told by various people that this place was the ‘Magaluf of Vietnam’.  I didn’t think I’d be spending much time there because that is definitely not what I was in Asia for.  I ended up staying there for two weeks.  It is not anything like Magaluf and is a nice place to relax and just do not a lot.  It gave me time to think and relax.  My job in China for previous 5 months had been incredibly draining and difficult and I needed that time to chill.  I was also having doubt about returning to China.  I didn’t look for a job in Nha Trang but if I had been offered one I would have taken it.  There isn’t an awful lot to do apart from sit on the beach and then chill out in a bar in the evening.  I went across to a small island with some friends I had originally met in Nanning and then met again in Nha Trang.  We managed to find a boat to take us across and then wandered around a small village before getting chased by guard dogs.

Although I avoided the places they went to, there were a lot of people of foreigners in Nha Trang that were only there to get pissed.  I’ve had my years of madness and all I can say is ‘WHY?’.  You go all the way to Asia to get wrecked every night.  What is the point?  When the Vietnamese staff realised I didn’t drink they were much more friendly and would sit and talk with me.  Their opinion of westerners is that all we do is drink and get out of our heads every night.  Seriously, just go to Magaluf.  I am so glad I never went years ago because I would have missed out on some of the most beautiful countries in the world.

I was offered a job in a town near Dalat while I was in Nha Trang.  Dalat is high up in the mountains of southern Vietnam and is a nice escape from the heat although at night it did get quite cold.  The scenery was beautiful and Dalat reminded me of India.  I decided against taking the job because by this time I had decided that I wanted to go back to China and learn Chinese.  I’d learnt a fair bit and I thought it would be a waste to not learn it to a good standard.  After deciding against the job I headed off to the place that is synonymous with southern Vietnam: Saigon.

When the North Vietnam Army ‘liberated’ Saigon they renamed it Ho Chi Minh City.  Very few people in the south call is that though and stick to the name Saigon.  It’s crazy, it’s hot, it’s full of people trying to scam you but it has a charm.  It took me a few days for me to appreciate it but it is one of my favourite cities.  The War Memorial Museum has a section devoted to the effects of napalm.  I had to walk out after a few minutes.  I wanted to cry and I couldn’t look at the pictures anymore.  I can’t comprehend why it was used against civilians.  There are still people that are being affected by its use in the war and it really is tragic.  I am aware that there was a lot of propaganda in that museum but with napalm you don’t need propaganda, the results of its use need no embellishing.  The book ‘The Girl in the Picture’ is a good read about a napalm victim.

I also went to the Palace in Saigon that has been left as it was when it was liberated in 1975.  It is like stepping back into the past with war time maps on the walls and old telephones.  There was an old American helicopter on the roof and the American tourists all wanted a picture taken with it!  On my way back I was approached by 3 people claiming to be Thai’s and they wanted to take me to a wedding the next day.  To get away I agreed to meet them the next day.  I didn’t go and meet them but it is part of a scam where they start playing cards and let you win.  Eventually they take you to the cleaners and from what I have heard a lot of people have fallen for it.  The scams in South East Asia are very clever and I often wonder if the same happens in London.

Map room in the presidential palace, Saigon

I wandered around Saigon for about a week while waiting for my visa extension.  As I didn’t know where I was going next I finally made the decision to head for Phnom Penh via the Mekong Delta.  The trip through the Delta was impressive although we kept being harassed to buy things and due to it being rainy season the rain was non-stop.  After 6 weeks I made it to the Cambodian border by boat.

Cambodia, taken from the Vietnamese side of the border

 Vietnam left a massive impression on me.  More so than other countries in Asia.  My interest in modern history is probably part of the reason but also I have said before, the resilience of the Vietnamese people.  The French said ‘The Vietnamese plant the rice, the Khmer watch it grow and the Laos listen to it grow.’   They work extremely hard and nothing illustrates that more than the floating market near Can Tho.  People go to the market at 2 in the morning to buy things to sell in markets as far away as Saigon.  They are also very friendly.  Considering their previous interactions with western countries this is pretty admirable.  Market reforms in Vietnam only took five years to come about after reunification and even before that there was a massive black market.  If there was any country not suited to Communism then it was Vietnam.  They are fiercely proud of their country but they are also very open.  One Vietnamese man openly criticised the corruption in the country.  This amazed me because having lived in China I didn’t expect it.  There is still problems in Vietnam, ethnic minorities are still considered a problem by the government.  There is still poverty, although no as obvious as in Cambodia or Laos.  There are only 2 million members of the Communist Party and there are 86 million people in Vietnam.  Perhaps political change will come at some point in the future but for the moment the Vietnamese just seem happy to have what they have.  I admire their being able to come back from a war torn country stricken with poverty to what they are today.  Many people I met didn’t like Vietnam but it is the most beautiful country I have been to with some of the friendliest people I have met.  You just need to get past their instinct to sell you something!