Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Opening Chapter from Abandoned Memoirs

I've just finished the first draft of my memoirs: Millions of Women are Waiting to Meet You (Bloomsbury Books; May 2006).

Obviously I can't post any of that, as it is going to be published in a proper book. However, as I know this will be very disappointing to all toffeewomblers, here instead is the opening chapter to a previous stab at my memoirs.

Unlike Millions of Women, the theme of this book was to be my drug life, all my mad escapades. I may one day return to this theme; one day quite soon.

But I'm not sure about the format of this: past tense, ironic style, footnotes. Hmm. See what you think.

My Life on Mars

Chapter One

Holborn, London, 1995

- Shouldn’t you be on your way to Vladivostok?

Said David. I looked up from my sheet of burnt foil.

It was summer, high summer. I was sitting in my friend’s flat in Red Lion Street in London WC1. My friend’s name was David Hutson. David was a public school Englishman with a French mother. At various times in his life David liked to sport a dark, bristly moustache which made him look like an archetypal Royal Air Force hero; the kind of good sort who should have a flowing white scarf fluttering gallantly from his blue-uniformed neck. At this moment in his life David did not have a moustache; he did have a smear of soot from the burnt foil, right across his upper cheek. As I looked at it it, it somehow reminded me of an Apache brave’s warpaint.

- I mean, Terry - David looked down at his own burnt foil, looked up again - Your air-ticket, it’s for Moscow, today, correct?

- Got another lighter, this one doesn’t work?

Dave grinned, and tutted, and handed me another lighter. I had been obviously been doing quite a lot of heroin if I had managed to break the yellow Bic lighter I used to cook up the stuff. Taking the new cheap garage lighter from David, I clicked and played its flame under the flap of Alcan foil, and, through a tube of more foil, I lustily inhaled the resultant puffs of heroin-smoke. A few expectant happy moments passed. Then, yes, I heard the old languid saxophone riff... The heroin rush. Mmyes. Mngyesssss.... Once again I had successfully pulled the soft, warm, lovely duvet of not-caringness over my 32-year-old face.

- Nice stuff?

- Nnyesss...

With a gratified yawn, I slumped back on Dave’s multicoloured sofa. I felt good, sated, languid, ripely indolent. And is there honey still for tea? You fucking bet
In this mood I idly gazed around my friend’s flat. In one corner there was an old dentist’s chair, salvaged somehow and brought up the rickety three flights of early Victorian stairs unto David’s smallish one-bedder. On shelves and bookcases around the flat I could see antique spanners, old sextants, shiny brass things, burnished steel telescopes. Alongside these last masculine gewgaws sat my plane tickets for London-Moscow, and my sea tickets for Vladivostok-Yokohoma.

With the telepathy of the smack addict, or perhaps just because I was staring at the tickets, David piped up:

- Who gave you the tickets, anyway?

Looking back at him:

- This smack tastes like petrol

- It was that Russian travel company, Intourist, right?

- Got any French Fancies?

- They gave you the tickets ‘cause you’re writing a piece, but

Snapping at Dave:

- But what? I am writing a travel piece

- For the Telegraph. I know. BUT - David held up a firm hand - But the real reason you’re doing this journey... - His smile faded - Is so you can come off heroin. Correct?

- Wellll...

- That is why, right? - Dropping the hand - And I take it you’ve told them all this? That you’re actually using them to come off?

- What about mini Battenbergs? Got any mini Battenbergs?

D’s chubby face was grinning. For a moment I wondered why we weren’t both thinner. Wasn’t heroin meant to make you thin? Another myth.


- OK. So I didn’t tell ‘em. But so what?

I stalled, expecting him to retort. But he was busy finishing off a smoke; so I went on:

- Anyway, gimme a break - I paused to watch David exhale, filling the room with satisfying smoke; then - Really. Hutson. How else am I going to clean up? I’ve tried everything else. I’ve tried busting my dealers, and running away to Cornwall, and taking Naltrexone and...

He laughed, smokily:

- So now you’re gonna sit in a train for eight days, before sailing across the Pacific? To Japan? Right?

- The Sea of Okhotsk - I say - Not the Pacific. The Sea of Okhotsk

David smiled; and sighed. We both went quiet for a moment, examining the tracks of treacly ash on our slips of foil. And then he said:

- Diesel lorries

- What?

- The heroin. Comes across the Channel in diesel lorries. That’s why it tastes this way, bit petrolly

And with that we returned to our day jobs. Simultaneously picking up the wraps of burnt foil we chanked our little lighters, and then flourished the little flames of our lighters under the foil, and bent our heads to the puffs of smoke that coiled and sublimed off the half-shiny Alcan. As I smoked, out of the side of my eye I half watched Dave: also smoking, also chasing the dragon. We were both really intent, really working. We almost looked studious, or selfless, enlightenment thinkers doing something tricky for science. An experiment with a dangerous new element...

Sitting back, once again, on David’s strangely coloured sofa, I looked across at my chum.

- Dave

He didn’t respond. His head was slumped.

- David?


I looked at him. I regarded him. He was sat there, slumped, barely breathing, slip of burnt foil still clutched in his sleeping hand. As I scoped him out, it occured to me this was exactly the same pose that they found our good friend Patrick in the previous month: the only difference being that Patrick was dead. Patrick had overdosed. The first of us to die because of heroin.

A thought. I leaned across.

- Dave???

Nothing. Nothing at all. Hmm. It was possible, though extremely unlikely, David was overdosing, even dying. Theoretically it could happen just like this: the heart simply stopping, unannounced, the heart just ceasing and yourself just dying with your drug-buddies blithely nattering away around you.

Far more likely, though, was that David was ‘gouching’ - doing the narcolepsy of heroin addiction. The instant trip to semi-consciousness.

Either way this meant I was now able to steal his heroin.

This was what I thought; this was how my mind worked. And it didn’t occur to me to be ashamed of this selfishness, this Darwinian urge for drugs. It was just the way we all were. All of us addicts. For instance: it was actually being rumoured that, on the day my friend Adam came back and found Patrick dead - dead and with his foil still clutched in his stiffened blue hand - Adam went through Patrick’s pockets, and found Patrick’s wrap of drugs, and took out and finished Patrick’s heroin. Then, when he’d done that, Adam took the silver tube out of Patrick’s white and frigid lips, and unravelled the tube, and flattened it, and then smoked the accreted heroin dust off that, too.

And then Adam rang for the ambulance.

So: steal D’s gear? If I was going to thieve his smack I had better check that’s he comatose first. Firmly nudging my friend's knee with my foot I said:

- One last score, Hutson?

At last, David started, and woke. The smut of black soot was still on his face. He shook his head:

- Jesus Terry

When he was stoned he always called me Terry. Terry Thomas.

- Jesus Terry, you really want to score some more?

- Er.... - I sighed - Yep

- But why? You’re just making it worse. How much are you going to suffer in Russia? How long have you had a habit this time?

I shrugged, annoyed:

- Maybe a year and a half... maybe more

- And you’re going to come off clean, on the train, just like that?

- I’ve got some green

- How much?

- ‘bout ten mils

He snorted:

- Ten mils of methadone! Less than a bloody spoonful - He shook his head, did a pity-you face - Won’t touch the sides. You are going to be in a lot of pain, Terry

With a toss of the head I said:

- Fuck it

Fifteen hours later I woke in the flat. It was still June. It was still London. the only thing that had changed was that David was now sprawled, unconscious, across the living room floor.

Looking around the flat, I winced at the mess. There was burnt foil everywhere, dead matches, used-up lighters, stuff. A good time to go. I looked at my watch. It was now Tuesday. I had to be in Moscow in a few hours. If I wasn’t in Moscow very soon, I would miss tomorrow’s train. The other very good reason I had to be in Moscow was that I was spending all my money, meant for Moscow-Tokyo, in London. Over the previous few days I’d probably bought that Last Bag of Smack at least a dozen times.

Getting up, yawning, I went over to the prostrate figure of my pal, tapped the side of his pale face and said:

- I’m off to.... Vladivostok, Dave-o. See you

He vaguely stirred, but did not wake. He was twitching, sighing, half smiling, dreaming his glorious, De Quinceyish smack dreams. I glanced around the floor looking for heroin to steal. I could see a packet of Mister Kipling’s French Fancies next to Dave’s head. I could see he had eaten them all in the night.

No smack...

Out the door and down the steps I dragged my bags. In my mind I could hear the song. Leaving on a jet plane. I’m leaving on a jet plane. Don’ know when I’ll be back again. This was like me, I decided. I too was leaving on a jet plane. Saying goodbye to smack. Hold me like you’ll never let me go...

Collecting my cases I paced the crowded pavements of summery, recessiony, post-Thatcher London. Then I turned left and took the lift down to the Tube. At last, I was doing it. Actually doing it. Escaping. I was getting out. I was on my way. I was on my way to Vladivostok.


Also known as Naloxone, Naltrexone is a ‘pure competitive opiate antagonist’. In other words it’s a drug very similar to heroin, without the euphoric qualities, which, because of its analogous molecular structure, uses the same receptors in the brain as heroin. This in turn means that if you take Naltrexone, there is absolutely no point in taking heroin, because the heroin receptors will be blocked. In the mid-90s a number of smack addicts, like me, were prescribed Naltrexone in the hope that the ‘blocking’ effect would obviate the need to take heroin.

Unfortunately, what doctors didn’t realise, or refused to admit, was that Naltrexone also blocked all other endorpins (the body’s natural opiates) and consequently many people who tried it went into a complete funk of depression. Like me.


Also known as Dolophine, this petroleum-based synthetic analgesic was developed in Germany towards the end of the Second World War, as a substitute for diminishing supplies of morphine. It was supposedly called ‘dolophine’ after one of its users: Adolf Hitler. Lost in the ruins of vanquished Germany, the formula for methadone was rediscovered in the records of IG Farbenindustrie after the war, and carried back to America as war booty.

Methadone is a potent analgesic with some similarities to heroin. Like Naltrexone, though, it has no euphoric qualities - which is why it is considered a good way of treating addicts who are coming off heroin: it weans them off their psychic addiction to the ‘rush’, while insulating them from the worst pains of withdrawal - the muscle aches and nervous spasms, and so on.

There are at least two drawbacks of methadone treatment. Long term it is more addictive than smack; also you need lots of it. Relying on a paltry ten mililetres to see oneself through a serious withdrawal - as I was doing on that summer’s day in Paul’s flat - is arguably a downright lunatic thing to do. Disaster would be almost inevitable.

As will become apparent in the next chapter.

Incidentally, it’s weird how many serious recreational drugs were invented or refined by German scientists, often as part of their general war effort. Quite apart from methadone, heroin was so-named by a German scientist in 1897, Ecstasy was invented to help soldiers in the German trenches, and Cocaine was perfected as a stimulant for German troops in WW2.



Anonymous said...

Sean you write too much STUFF.

sean said...

ta! so did proust!