the country singer

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A long time ago I used to write about music and interview up and coming stars. Or perhaps they would not become stars, but I would try to convince the readers that this person or band was the next big thing. It was tricky for women in those days because some assumed you were in the game just to meet the star, a groupie with a steno pad and typewriter. I had a strict policy not to socialise, be overly friendly, or wear tight clothing or short skirts while working.I was kinda cute back then, not extremely, but I suppose some sort of thinking man’s half burnt speed freak  skinny crumpet.

I was married, it was not a long marriage, in fact it was a very short one, and not too many months in I was thinking, what the heck  was I thinking about marrying this man? He was funny, always laughing and making others laugh, likeable,kinetic, never stopped moving,  even lovable, but something inside me died very quickly. It wasn’t just his restless leg syndrome. Our attempts at eating out were fatal. Most of the food wound up on the floor, the table juddering ferociously with his restless long legs.  This suited me fine as I took lots of speed and was never hungry.  But  I had lost something. It  was not quite the will to live, but the will to be married.  I can not blame him, though he had his faults, as I had mine.  I think we were married in October, whenever the big storm was, 87, it should have been an omen. Lots of people up North could not make it down for the wedding what with all the fallen trees and stuff. My mother managed to make it over from the States. She asked me if I were sure I was in love and I said yes certainly, but I am not sure it was love, though it might have been, for a while I am certain it was.  Or something near enough.But not for long, for if I were truly in love, I would have not become insanely obsessed with the country singer. I don’t like telling this story because it puts me in a bad light and I was nearly ( but NOT) unfaithful.

A press officer sent me a test pressing of a record which I fell in love with. I played it over and over, rotating it only with Blood and Chocolate, not the bodily fluid and sweet that actually makes me vomit ( hardly anything makes me vomit, I am phobic of vomiting) but the Elvis Costello album. Elvis sounded so horny and depressed,  I wanted someone to want me the way Elvis wanted that girl. Desperate and in despair and anger. This was in direct contrast to the country singer, who sounded upbeat, singing about boats and horsies and a vine call kudzu. I wanted to be in that boat, on that horse,  or on the horse on the boat,I wanted to see the kudzu, I wanted to meet the country singer, who was not good looking by conventional standards, but he had a certain  Southern charm and had a peculiar Southern vernacular, like he’s say We usedta wouldn’t worry bout nothing” which was like a triple negative. I had a feeling that was his songwriting grammar, not his speaking one. I wanted to escape cold and dreary London and go to live in Texas, a state  I knew little of apart from the telly series Dallas, which I didn’t even like. And I know you can’t hold a whole city against the killing of a president,   but my slow witted mind thought Dallas, JFK, grassy knoll, Chanel pink suit splattered with blood, it was wrong on every level, but it was really all I knew, for I did not know nor care who shot JR. JFK, I was only an infant when it happened, but I know it changed the course of history.  I also knew  I just knew I had to meet the country singer, and be professional, not gushing.

The day of the interview came, somewhere in West London. I may have dressed up. I may not have, I can not remember, but chances are, I did. I went into the interview room and he was seated behind a desk. He looked smaller in real life, except his hair, which grew up, vertical and curly, like mine.  I thought crikey we’d have strange looking kids. Maybe even ugly. We’d have to home school them for fear of them being teased. But it would be OK.  I had it all planned out. We’d get them hair straighteners.

 

I wanted the country singer to ride up to New Oxford St on a horse, and he’d be wearing a Stetson, a guitar strapped to his back, and we would somehow find a land passage to Texas, where it seemed he owned a small whole town, passed down from generation to generation, or at least had a large stake in that town. Or we could take the horse on a plane. If I wrote a good enough article and he became rich and famous, the details would sort themselves out. We’d have a porch swing, and fan ourselves and drink mint Julips. We wouldn’t talk much, it would be too hot.  We’d have a mutual best friend who would shuck wood  and chew on a straw and play banjo, but never obvious banjo songs like duelling banjos. He would play When You Wish Upon a Star from Pinocchio.  And the country singer and our mutual best friend would sing in, oddly , impossibly, in three part harmonies, even though there were only two of them.  You never knew. Emmylou Harris might swing by and they had to figure out her part, even though she could figure it out herself. The whole house would be made of timber and decorated in a style called New England, which really didn’t fit, it was just my little dream. I would learn how to ride horses, and sew, and make grits.  I would wear off the shoulder gingham dresses and make pies and babies. The babies would be less trouble than the pies. I would be a natural. He would tour but be faithful, and all his songs would be about missing me.

In my dreams. In real life, we were in this room, and I was asking him questions he’d been asked many times before.  I pretended to take steno but actually I taped and wrote in curly handwriting my first name with his last name, like a schoolgirl bored in geography, but with a crush on a bad boy she could never get.  I was asking him about the song writing process while really, in my head, signing the wedding registrar.  At one point he stared at me intently and said, “Why are you sitting all the way over there on the other side. I think you should come here or I should move my chair over to your side” His chair was on wheels so he wheeled it over to my side of the desk and we were sitting so close I thought anything could happen. He could say, “I got me a horse right outside that door, and we can for for a ride in Hyde Park, and then we could eat something English, like fish and chips, and then we could get back on the horse and go to Texas, and cut each other’s hair when it reached the ceiling.”

But he didn’t say that. All he said was the usual interview stuff, and then he said he had nothing to do in London that night, what should he do, I said he should have fish and chips, it’s what you do, and then, and then, he said, would I like to come with him for fish and chips and I didn’t say what about the horse and boat and haircuts and mutual best friend, I said yeah ok.

 

I was transfixed with an excitement not only sexual, but with something that felt life changeing. I hated fish and chips anyway. We’d just need to get that out of the way and find a horse.  He had more interviews to do. I got his number or he got mine, again, I can’t remember, though the former sounds more predatory, the latter just unsafe.

I pretty much floated back to the office, incapable of speech, only thinking of the night. I went home, changed into something not only clothes wise but personality wise. I was throwing caution , my marriage, and professionalism to the wind. If he asked me to sleep with him, I would. I rifled through my wardrobe, my wedding dress hanging accusingly third dress in.  It had been less than six months that we had been married.  I wore too few clothes and too much make up, is all I remember.  We met up somewhere, outside a West London tube stop. We didn’t have fish and chips. I think we had Cornettos from a van. This next bit is a little hazy. We went back to his modest hotel, and there was a frenzied American girl in the seating area, where you could have drinks and watch telly. She said, Oh my God its _______________ and burst into tears. She said his music changed her life, and she cried and shivered and got his autograph, and he was kind and gentlemanly and patted her hand and gave her a hug and she just nearly died. I knew then that I loved this man, I didn’t care about anything else that happened that night, what I might destroy. This other woman was so happy she could not stop crying, her make up was streaking down her face and I offered her tissues and wet wipes. She asked if I were his manager and I said no, just a friend, which actually was a lie. We had only met that day. A new temporary friend would have been more accurate, but it seemed like more information than she could take in.  She went off somewhere, in hysterics, and we sat in the lounge watching telly and drinking sparkling water. He then said we could watch telly in his room, in fact he was going to be on the telly that night. He said TV of course. I said sure and we went up and sat on the single bed and watched some programme he was on, and he sat closer and closer. We had a kiss and more kissing. Some but not all clothes came off. He said “You’re very skinny” and I said that was because I was unhappy but that was only partially true, because at that moment in time I was ecstatic and I was skinny because I took so much speed. We fumbled about a bit, the sort of fumbling that leads to sex and I suddenly thought of my husband and how hurt we would be, for he too, was a fan of the singer, and I was his new wife, about to cheat, like in a country song. I sat up, for we were lying down at this point, not really watching him on the telly, and I said, I can’t do this, I am married. And he propped himself up on one bony elbow and said “Well, we didn’t do nothing, nothing really bad” and I said yes but we might and he said yes that was probably true and then we lay there on the single bed, two thin bodies with big hair sprouting over the pillow, thinking. And he said, “You should probably go home then, ” and then I felt tearful and wished I had not given the crying girl all my tissues and wet wipes.  And I got up and got dressed and took a taxi home even though I couldn’t afford it. And I crept into the marital bed at 3 or 4 am, which was not unusual back then, what with gigs and parties and deadlines and speed. The next day I was inconsolable, kept bursting into tears and playing the country singer’s record and hoping, just hoping, for the clip clop of a horse and him on it, waving me, saying come away with me. But that never happened.  A few days later it was my birthday, and he was still in London and at four am I crawled out of the marital bed and went to Stoke Newington High St and hailed a taxi to West London, and I went back to the hotel and went to reception and dialed the room and he said come up. And I went up and we made tea in the little kettle and he said he was leaving London but would be at a concert that night. We didn’t even lie down, it felt too dangerous. I was just gonna be another crying girl whose hand he would pat and would awkwardly hug, having seen some but not all of my naked body.  That night, still miserable, I went to the concert. Someone introduced me to him and said it was my birthday, and we pretended we had just met and he said happy birthday and this made me more miserable.

It was a good concert. I blubbed throughout.

A few months later I left the marital home and stayed alone in a cheap hotel in Earls Court.  A few years after that he was a big star and I flew out to Texas to write about him for a big newspaper. I had a new boyfriend. The singer had a very beautiful girlfriend, and then a very beautiful wife, who was different from the very beautiful girlfriend. The wife was later and that was short lived.

He had been hardened by the music business. His manager/friend was no longer his friend. We did the interview in my room. He lay on the sofa, I sat in a chair. That night he played in a club in Dallas with stars all over the ceiling. I think it was called the Caravan of Dreams. He dedicated a song to his friends from London, his press officer and myself. I was no longer obsessed.  He had become slick, with a dry self effacing stage patter I knew he told a different audience every night.

 

Everything in Dallas is a million miles from everywhere else. It was freezing. I took a taxi which I could not afford to a Western outfit shop and couldn’t afford anything but a belt with lots of engraved horses on it. I needed extra holes punched in. I had long since given up speed, but was still very skinny.  I have long since lost the belt and pretty much all my obsessions. Now and then I hear him on the radio and think, that’s a nice song, and then I put on the kettle or do some ironing.  ENDS

 

 

West side story story, or how to get rid of a suitor

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About a billion years ago, when Raquel Welch was still wearing a fur bikini, I had a sort of friend who had a brother who really, really liked me. A crush, I guess.  Well a big time crush. He was young, he was in film school, and there was ever so something slow or backwards about him. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It may have been a speech impediment. Well it wasn’t a diagnosable one, like a lisp or that thing where you can’t say the letter R, he just said “like” every other word. “Here, like, is. like,a present, like, I like , got, like, for, like you.”

Drove me nuts. Hippies and surfer dudes said “Like” a lot, but not every other word and it seemed to display a shyness coupled with a lack of vocabulary.  It may have been his ridiculous enthusiasm for things that did not merit a raised eyebrow, even.  He would come to my shared railroad apartment in Brooklyn, which overlooked a sodium street lit basket ball court. He came with an ever increasing supply of strange courtship gifts. Boxes of welfare farina which were out of date, stockpiled in a basement in Detroit in case of nuclear attack.  Lots of things involving fake blood and gore. I’ll get to than in a minute. Dead flowers.  Very dead. I remember this one in particular because I half smiled and said “Wow, dead flowers.That’s a new one. Is it a goth thing or something? I’m not a goth.”

“They, like, are not, like , dead. They are dried. They were like hanging on  a lamp post. There were like, lots. They will never miss them. Like for some guy called Denzil. But like, he never took the other ones, so like he won’t like miss these”

“You’re kidding, right?” No response. Just a big, proud of himself slightly drooling love sick grin. He really didn’t get it.

“No, sorry, they are dead, rotting, even. My guess is that Denzil got stabbed or shot by that lamp post. And the flowers are in memory of him. I know the difference between dead and dried. I’m no botany expert, but these are dead. But it’s the, uh, thought that counts? Um, what was your thinking?”

“Well, like, guys who like girls, like, get them flowers.But you are like a different kind of girl, like, kind of weird, but like good weird, so I got you like a different kind of flowers. Stolen, like dried ones for like Denzil. But like if he’s dead, he’ll never, like,  know.”

“Well how thoughtful of you. Let’s put them in water and see if they come to life, like sea horses you get by mail order in the back of comic books.” I found a vase and , like all his visits, I invited him in for instant coffee (Bustelo, Puerto Rican and cheap and I developed a taste for it) and to play records and practically every record I played, he’d say “Wow, like, my sister has gone out with one , of like, those guys in that like band.”

I am ashamed to say I don’t even remember his name, though his sister was one of the coolest girls on the planet. She had rock star boyfriends, multi coloured hair, she was funny, she had a good job and was also really nice . It was certainly an unfair genetic distribution. She got the looks, the brains, the fire and wit, he got, well, he got into film school and as such, frequently raided the props and make up department and often came to visit me with horrific fake injuries. An arm that dropped off and spurted blood. An ax in his head. Nose and moustache glasses, a pair for both of us. Once he came up the stoop, rang the bell and the instant I opened the door he started bleeding profusely from the mouth.”

“Oh my God, ” I said. “What happened.”

He grinned a bloody grin and gave me a little box. “Blood capsules. You bite on, like one, or a whole bunch, like I just like did, and people will like think you are like , bleeding to death,like.”

“Fucking fuck. Why the fuck would you want someone to think that?”

“Like, to surprise them. Here, like, have one.” I did. I bit. It tasted like a chemical, and I spat it out.

Another time he got me fruit well past its sell by date. “They were like, in a basket on someone’s doorstep for like a week. So I figured, like, Michele really likes, like, fruit. You can like, cut off like the brown bits. But you should eat the white fur cos like I remember in science it could be like, what’s that stuff that cures infections. Penis,like, cillin.” Dear oh dear, he was inserting it into the middle of words.

So I took the farina, the flowers, the comedy nose glasses, but I felt that by accepting these I was somehow giving him hope and encouragement for some sort of courtship. I knew I had to stop the visits.

Now this was a funny time in my life. I was a newly qualified teacher in primary school and I hated it. My salary was poor, I was sharing a railroad flat with two other girls and had very little money left over after I paid my rent for my little shoebox room. The city was dirty and everybody wanted money for drugs all the time. Rents were creeping up. There were lots of people living on the streets, thrusting Dunkin Donut cups under your nose and asking you for a quarter, a dollar, whatever you could spare. It wasn’t like it was in the movies, particularly not West Side Story, though the basketball court looked quite like the court in the final scene of West Side Story. I dunno, maybe all basketball courts look the same under sodium lights at night.  I liked to sit up out on the fire escape with my Bustelo and a cigarette and stare at the court, the way the light hit it, and I imagined all the dancing Jets doing their Jet walk dance, with the arc legs and splayed arms. I loved this image so much that I thought about it most of the time I wasn’t doing anything else, like teaching or trying to figure out what else I could do for a living. I knew my plan for getting rid of this kid would somehow involve the basketball court, and probably West Side Story.

So one night the kid came with some strange present, I think it was  single , broken drumstick, and he said he brought a video over, a horror film. I said I didn’t like horror films, I liked musicals. This was probably the only information I offered about myself to him. I said I just adored West Side Story, and New York , well, wouldn’t it be more fun if we could just sort of live in a musical? Did he like musicals?

“They are a little gay but you know like, I think that one has some fights in it so it’s OK. Sure, I know like every movie ever, but it there are too like many songs and dances I get like bored. It’s better when there’s killing and stuff.”

“Oh, there’s killing. It’s a good game. You will like it. You can even fake bleed if you want to.”

This was too strange, even for him, but he smiled nervously. I led him to the fire escape. I put my hand in the small of his back. I think this drove him wild with excitement, this physical contact. I said look how beautifully the court is lit. I think we should go out there and play.

“What? Like basketball? You have like a basketball?”

“No, we can play West Side Story.”

“You have like a video player you can play outside, not like plugged in?”

“No, we play West Side Story. We pretend we are in the movie.”

This foxed him. He smiled shyly. “Is there like, kissing.”

“Not really, not in the bit I want to do. Well a bit, but you have to pretend you’re dead.”

“Wow, like you are so a goth. That is like awesome. ”

“No, I just really like the lighting of the court and West Side Story.”

We went downstairs and over the court. He was transfixed with excitement. This was new mental turf for him. I was freaking him out and kind of enjoying it.

We stood there, and he moved closer to me and I said , no, you can’t do that. It’s not part of the game.”

“Well how do you play the game?” It was the first time he didn’t say “like” which made me feel a little, but not very, sorry for him.

I said, “Well, in the story, as you know cos you say you’ve seen it, you know in the end Tony gets stabbed and Maria goes and sort of sings and weeps over his body only it’s not Natalie Wood, it’s probably Marnie Nixon but that has nothing to do with it. And then she sort of walks away and the light, man, the lighting is really good and sad.”

“So what do I like have to do, like?”

“Well, you could be Maria but that would be strange, I want to be Maria, and you be Tony. You could use a blood capsule and everything. You lie down on the court and….”

“And I die and then you like kiss me, kiss me , dead.”

“No, as it’s your first take, I think we’ll just hold hands”

“Like a real hand, or my fake arm, you want me to get my fake blood arm?”

“No, this is fine. Your real arm will work.”

“Not if I’m like dead.”

“Look that’s all technical detail. I can lift it. But it has to be lifeless”

He lay on the ground. Even though it was approaching summer, I could feel the tarmac was cold. He shivered and smiled, grinned ear to ear.”

“No, don’t smile, you’ve been stabbed, you are dying. ”

He tried really hard not to smile but sat bolt upright and said “You are like a very strange girl.”

“GET DOWN AND PLAY DEAD.” I barked.

He did as I told him, but still smiled.

I kneeled over him and tried to look tragic. “Tony, Tony, ” I said. “Boohoo, Tony, you are dying”

He sat up again, for fucks sake. “Um, my name is not like Tony.”

“It fucking is in West Side Story. Now get down and die.” I was starting to say fuck as much as he said like. I am sure that was an indicator of some sort.

He did as he was told. Sort of.

“Hold your breath.  I can see you breathing.”

He held his  breath like a little kid learning how to swim. He took a deep breath and his cheeks puffed out. I decided to let it go.

He waited for something to happen. After about 30 seconds he gasped for breath.

“Do it again. Hold your breath again. Lie there and don’t move.”

He did. And I said, now you are dead I am a just all tragic and sad and have to leave.” He still lay there, not moving. I backed away, then took my shoes off and tip toed out of the basketball court and back up the stoop to my apartment. When  I got there he was still lying down on the court, waiting.  I went to bed.

I never heard from him again. ENDS

A girl’s day out in rehab

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There was a woman there, early 60’s I’d say, and one day she announced she was a bit of a one in her day, she did love a good dance, and sort of waltzed with an imaginary partner up and down the communal room where we said prayers and got our post. And she was so lost in this waltz, which then turned into a bit of a jive. Waltzing, jiving, I could do them all, even pissed, I was a a BIT OF A ONE, she said.  I said quietly, no , a bit of a one means a slag, you were just a dancer, a drunk dancer, but a dancer. And she said, no, I was a dancer and a slag, and laughed heartily at her own joke. She had great legs and a broken veined complexion, the kind you see on people who pour whiskey on their cornflakes and think its normal. She had some sort of early onset very mild form of alcohol related dementia. And though everyone liked her and she was a bit of a laugh, no one ever wanted to go to the shops with her because she would get lost, or just go walkies, and you could never buy your stuff cos you had to find her. She said her daughters had disowned her and this brought up a fresh personal hell for me. It never occurred to me it could work that way around, that the kids could disown the parents. But they were grown ups as well, whereas my kids were still kids. Teens at least.

She loved Primark. She seemed to have a good disposable income and her favourite getting lost place was there, and the queue was always enormous. She liked those coats that looked like duvets. The Indian summer left quite suddenly and we were all rushing to the second hand shops to buy winter coats.  Addicts are not big on forethought. When we pack, we really only check we’ve got our drugs, clean knickers if we are we are not totally nuts. But the lady, the goer, the bit of a one in her day, she would only get new things. Hence, I seemed to spend half of rehab looking for the bit of a one in Primark.

I will always think of her dancing with her imaginary lover. For that moment she looked young, and sober, and you could see the beauty that had been ravaged by drink.

One day, two girls I lived with and myself decided to have a “spa” day. On our meagre budget, this meant going to the Vietnamese nail varnish and eyebrow tidying shop. They did your nails for less than a tenner, your brows for a fiver, your tache, if you had one, for three quid.  We went into the shop, giggling like young girls, taking in the strange smells of Vietnamese Pho cooking on a single burner in a back room where I think some of them lived, because there was a mattress on the floor, a bowl of oranges and some dirty Hello Kitty sheets messed up on the Tracy Emin like bed, that and dirty kid’s  nightgowns and pjs of superheros. Then there was the chemical smells of nail varnish, nail varnish remover and hot wax for ladies who wanted “Down there” seen to. I had no idea what she was talking about. She wanted to pour hot wax on someone’s private bits? Was this some sort of sexual pleasure-pain thing, or did they want women hairless down there, to make them look like children?

The dancer went first. They put the hot wax on what was left of her eyebrows and sorta ripped them right off. They painted her fingernails bright red. She had lipstick to match. She scrubbed up ok, though the over application of face powder made her look rather ghost like, more so than all of us junkies did anyway. We giggled. We read months old copies of magazines, all with Jordan or Katie Price on the cover. We made sure we did not lose the dancer. Occasionally I went into the back room, my guts in upheaval, demanding the medicine I could no longer have. The kids played quietly on computers on the bed. The toilet just had a beaded curtain. “Shut your eyes and ears and nose,” I implored them. They giggled. “You got the bad tummy?”

“Yes”

“You need the medsen?”

“Totally, I totally need the medsen, but nothing you have”

“We have rice. Very good for tummy. You too skinny Make tummy better, not so skinny”

The nail varnish lady, wearing a sort of gas mask, came in and shouted to the kids in Vietnamese”

I said to the kids, “Sorry. Sorry I got you in trouble. And like, for the war and stuff.”

They said nothing.

By the time I got out of the loo, drained , ill, just wanting to get the hell out, it was my turn. I had my eyebrows ripped off as well, leaving two angry welts, which she drew over with a pencil. The other girls were in hysterics. She did the bit over my lip, but it just turned into an angry, welted lumpy thing. I had my nails done in the same shade of the dancer, that way, if she got lost, I could show someone my nails and say, “Her nails are this colour.” Like that would work. 18 quid poorer, in great facial pain, fifty times uglier than when I went in, I slunk out with my friends, who all looked pretty OK, pretty even. We went for coffees, and one of the girls, a lovely girl, she just stared at me and burst out laughing. “They’ll grow back, don’t worry. The rash, well, it might settle….” here she burst into hysterics again. And I laughed too, it was hard not to.

“Well that’s not what I call I spa day,” I said, blowing on my coffee.

“Well we’re addicts, it’s a spa day for like, misfits”

We suddenly realised the dancer was missing. Oh fuck. Wait, I said, she’s probably gone to Primark to buy a coat to match her nails. So we left our coffees and went into Primark, and found her, slinking round the rails, looking for anything red.  I didn’t even have to do the nail thing. I still think of her , dancing in her reverie, when she was bit of a one. She may well still be, she may be dead. I hope she isn’t. I hope she is waltzing with her daughters.

why being off drugs is like being on drugs

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There were teen parties in Queens in the 70s, I remember very little about them except the kids who had the parties were rich. They had pool tables and rec rooms. They had amazing all in one stereo systems. Everyone had a copy of Frampton Comes Alive, a double album that no matter whose house you opened it in, some straggling pot seeds would fall out. Everyone seemed to clean their dope in the gatefold of Frampton Comes Alive, the subtitle should have been “and you all can get wasted to the weary wah wah peddle and excruciatingly long guitar solos and say oi, Peter, no, I do not feel like you do, for I am not a rock god but a skinny 14 year old with a cheesecloth shirt and bell bottoms and a peace pendant round my neck, having a bit of a boring time at this party. There were two “sexy” games people played at the racier parties, so chaste were they , we really were innocents.  No one ever got preg playing spin the bottle. If you kissed someone on the mouth it was a huge deal, it meant you “put out” So I never. There was a more mysterious game called seven minutes in heaven. A guy and a gal ( can not remember the selection process, it was less random than a bottle spin) went into a closet and came out seven minutes later. Sometimes one or both were a bit flushed. I was spared the details. Some items of clothing may have been taken off, or unbuttoned.  Those kids for sure would wind up in Juvenile D centres of correction. Or pregnant, or both.

I never liked pot. It made lazy people even lazier, and bores even more boring.  What I liked to do best at parties was to imagine that I lived in the house, that that was my pool table, my dog, my garage with a deep freezer full of emergency pies My double doored fridge that made ice on the outside, my three toilets, each with a different decor and different scented Charmin loo roll that would hurt your bits, from the stuff they used to scent it. Each with different colour schemes a a tin of air freshener to match. Each with a box of matches in case the air freshener did not work.

But I digress. At some point in rehab a kid ,really a kid, 18, came to stay in our flat. He was addicted to the really strong pot they have now, skunk. He was spotty and had a not quite grown into his face sorta face, big tall body, little boy head full of weed. He worked in a chip shop. He had all the irritating habits of a teenager but none of the endearing ones. I didn’t so much want to mother his as to murder him. The trouble with coming off deaden your soul drugs is that feelings start to come back and in my case, some were murderous. I had  science teacher once who told us eight employees a year vanish near the frying vats of potato chip factories. I didn’t eat potato chips for years after, in case I was eating someone’s dad. I started to think of this kid falling into the vat of oil. Though chip shop ones would not be big enough to accommodate his outsize legs. We used to sit in the front room and glare at each other, neither of us having anything going for us. Me, middle aged, fucked in the head,full of sadness for my dead best friend, no drugs to deaden the pain. Him, a spotty oik missing his weed, the only thing to counter the tedium of asking “Do you want salt and vinegar with those?” and stinking that rank smell of hardly every changed cooking oil that seeps into every pore and lingers.

“Why are you here? Why are you not like, at a kid one?”

He had no answer and even if he did, it would involve stopping scowling at me to open his thin lips.

One night he decided to make himself spaghetti. He emptied the whole packet from Asda into a too small pot and the ends burned and the resulting mounds of glutinous mess (you’ve made too much , I observed) he tried manfully to shovel the whole lot down his throat, to prove the portion had been right for him.
“What the fuck has it fucking got the fuck to do with you?”

“Fuck all. I hope you eat the lot and feel terribly sick.”

And when I wasn’t feeling angry I was feeling sad. Once a week a guy came and stuck needles in our ears and we meditated. I meditated murdering him and sticking all the pins into him. Why was I so pissed off. Had the wind changed direction as I came off drugs and did I get like, stuck in an angry person’s head?  I was nicer on drugs, sure, comatose at times, and more vocal when I was angry, actually no I was not nicer on drugs, I was a pain in the arse.  But was just containing all this anger the only alternative. Was the rest of my life gonna be spent imagining teens falling into vats of oil, hippy guys who meant well being pinioned to death with his own acupuncture needles?  Guys ODing on spaghetti? (never saw that in a mafia film. Probably an impossible way to die) Wandering why I never got chosen for seven minutes in heaven?

But but but, something nice was happening in all this, just for a few minutes a day. It was October, a rather warm one, and the way we had to walk from our flat to the centre every day meant cutting through a church yard, and in this church yard there was a really clean early morning smell, and I would not have noticed it before. I gazed at fat spiders in the middle of dew dropped dappled webs and noticed the fine craftsmenship, the beauty of nature.  People who’ve done a lot of acid talk about spider webs a lot, but never in great detail. Really, the most they say is “Wow, ” or “Like. Wow” or least originally, “We should give that spider some acid” I noticed the way the sunlight hit the brown and red leaves, making a sparkling crunchy carpet. I noticed the sound of the birds singing, waves ( when we were at the sea) crashing, going in and out, in and out ever so gently, never getting bored with going in and out, in and out, wearing out the shiny stones, washing away half built or demolished sand castles. I saw telly kid watching cartoons and eating chocolate cereal in his front room, net curtainless, in his school uniform. What a picture of innocence. Invite me in, telly kid. Invite me in to watch cartoons and drink tea and I will make you  a proper breakfast. After school I will take you to the sea and we will skim stones. You will be better at it than I am, making them leap four or five times, and mine would sink, sink like stones. But I would not mind if it would spare me this glut, this storm of feelings.  Gimme telly and sugar and another child, for I feared I had lost my own ones.

rehab, i forget which part

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There was always a bit before you left, or graduated, when you had to stand in front of all the residents and tell your story. I heard a lot of these while detoxing off valium, and cried my head off, such was the tragic lives of these people, I totally wasn’t thinking of my own, I was in that middling state between coming off drugs which for the main part of my life , was told by American paediatric doctors ( like for kids, you get me)  were perfectly fine and acceptable for people with my anxious leanings. Then not so NICE came in with their no longer than two weeks directive to GPS and man I was FUCKED. I had to make shit up. I had to go to dirty doctors. I had to pretend to be the thing  I actually was , which was fucked. I had to queue up with whores and such like, the sad housewife on sad housewife drugs.

 

And it was time for one of my housemates to move on. His tale was so awful and raw and painful and pretty much every decision he made in his crime filled life was wrong, but he didn’t half bang on, as all the get rich quick and use their own stash types did, about his bloody watches. Watches and cars, the formerly flash gits, that was the thing, a nice watch, a nice car. A babe, yeah maybe, but never as important as the bling,watches, car, threads ( curiously all top of the range sportswear, not suits) STUFF. You sell drugs, you get stuff to show off, not for babes, but for showing off more stuff to other drug dealers. My car does more things if you press the right buttons, my watch tells the time in every country in the world, my sports gear needs to be drycleaned, my trainers need to be baby wiped. F was born into a life of crime and knew fuck all else. I listened to his story and cried to the point of dehydration. One of the workers said its the valium wearning off , her emotions are all at the surface, but you know I lived with the guy and knew nothing about him. And after his talk he went into something more halfway. We still facebook from time to time. I remember he had a go at me for bringing negativity into the house. I remember when we got bedbugs and we had to hot wash all our clothing and all his flash sportswear shrunk. I remember our 5 quid a day eating vouchers while we were in b and bs waiting for our house to be exterminated. I remember at one b and b my minder T, a lovely beautiful caring girl , I thought she might chose to share her room with bling sportswear guy but shared it with me. We had an Indian summer, and we went to the beach, and she gave me her sleeping pills but I was wide awake, watching The Sleeping Bones on HBO and crying my head off as she snored the snore of the justifiably tired.  There was no ventilation in the room save a window that opened an inch.  In the morning we all went down to the buffet for instant coffee, orange squash, toast and individual portions of marmalade or marmite. Everyone filled their pockets which was do-able so long as they did not unnaturally bulge.  I think we went to the beach that day. I did think, at that time, I could live with T forever, with her sleeping pills, with HBO, with individually portioned marmalade, with F and his sad tales of losing his posh watches and cars. Without good ventilation. It seemed possible in the getting off drugs time.

Now, most things feel if not impossible, not very likely.

 

 

 

 

 

The third mugging, in a graveyard

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mama k's true stories

It was the day of the London marathon, early noughties I’m guessing as I recall the sizes of my children, and that Woolworths still existed. They did great deals on Tellytubby dolls, Spice Girl t shirts and Pyrex baking containers. The shop assistants were sullen, underpaid, and largely didn’t give a hoot, if you were after something that was not Tellytubby, Spice Girl or Pyrex orientated.  I had so much Pyrex, so many lentil bakes and pies. We wore a lot of Spice girl t shirts, but I could not abide the tubbies, apart from the one with the handbag, and noo noo the Hoover.  I supposed we farted a  lot,on account of the lentil bakes, but other than that we were your typical nuclear family: trips to the science museum, swimming baths, picnics, bedtime stories, jam sessions ( we did Rawhide a lot.The the line abut roping, throwing and…

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The third mugging, in a graveyard

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It was the day of the London marathon, early noughties I’m guessing as I recall the sizes of my children, and that Woolworths still existed. They did great deals on Tellytubby dolls, Spice Girl t shirts and Pyrex baking containers. The shop assistants were sullen, underpaid, and largely didn’t give a hoot, if you were after something that was not Tellytubby, Spice Girl or Pyrex orientated.  I had so much Pyrex, so many lentil bakes and pies. We wore a lot of Spice girl t shirts, but I could not abide the tubbies, apart from the one with the handbag, and noo noo the Hoover.  I supposed we farted a  lot,on account of the lentil bakes, but other than that we were your typical nuclear family: trips to the science museum, swimming baths, picnics, bedtime stories, jam sessions ( we did Rawhide a lot.The the line abut roping, throwing and branding the cows reminded me a bit of marriage.). Trips to the cemetery. I  know that may seem a bit Goth, but it was also a nature reserve, wild, overgrown, breeding lilacs and shade out of the dead. It was also a big cruising place, and you might stumble upon a couple of men in a sexual act, one always much younger than the other, It  didn’t bug me nor excite me, I felt I was invading their privacy, and I thought, perhaps prematurely, that it would be  a good opportunity to teach the kids that sexuality was on a spectrum, but come to think of it they were too young to know about any kind of sex.

 My husband was running the marathon for Childline, he got a lot of sponsors, and he trained hard. I completely played out the whole cops knocking on the door widow scene, we are sorry to inform you your husband dropped dead near Tower Bridge, as the smell of celebration apple pie wafted from the oven. I would crumple to the ground as widows do, and cry no, no no, you must be mistaken. It must be someone else. And maybe they would say, oh fuck, we’ve got the wrong house, but probably they wouldn’t, and I would be widowed on  day of celebration.

 

 I played out widow scenes a lot, my own mother being a widow and informed over the phone. I was young, in Liverpool, and the call came from Canada, where my dad’s sister lived, Sudden death was my only template of married life. The guy dies.  Transatlantically in my mother’s case,  near Tower Bridge in my death fantasy.

My newly imagined  scenario was nicer, cops with shiney shoes, young, good looking. They would offer commiserations, tell me that he died a hero, doing a good thing for distressed children, then the cuter one , after a decent amount of time, would ask me what I was doing Saturday night, and the less cute one would offer to babysit. I would offer them pie and coffee, and I would go to the bedroom and take drugs. The cuter cop would be persistent, even though he would know I would not be a rich widow. Then we would fall in love, get married, the cop would treat my kids as his own and then one day, there would be a knock on the door, by the less cute cop, telling me the cuter cop, now my husband, was killed in the line of duty, but he died a hero, I should be proud. He would not wait a decent amount of time to ask me out Saturday night. I would be a brave little widow, buying smaller Pyrex dishes, still on sympathy drugs. He would be very understanding, but have his own family in someplace like Cheam. His shoes would not gleam so brightly, his uniform would be slightly crumpled and covered in confectioners sugar from all the donuts he ate in his car on stakeouts. I had it all figured out.He was from Cheam, he loved his partner more than his wife, and he comfort ate donuts, looking at the new partner replacement with disdain at first, contempt in the end. He would tolerate him til he did something stupid or  or talked old cop slang, which even old cops didn’t talk anymore. He would be largely illiterate, and only in the cop game for the early pension, and the great send off he would have should he be killed in the line of duty.

But this is not about getting mugged at all, and I was, in the cemetery, not only a place of lush , overgrown beauty but also a handy shortcut from the shops. The plan was, my husband would come home, having beaten his personal best, and I would have all sorts of foot soaks and plasters at the ready, and balloons, and a really nice meal, and apple crumble 

le with Ben and Jerry’s  American hippy ice cream on top, not shops own brand, which never melted, even in the sun. Like the shops own brand never melted, which made me suspect of its ingredients.

I loved my husband, I was very proud of him, but I knew nothing about eternal married life. I thought for sure I would be widowed in sudden circs, on a glorious sunny day, bad for runners, good for spectators.  I would be a bit sad forever, and on drugs for being a bit sad forever. I would float through widowed life in a haze of “whatever darling” drugs, and my kids would join gangs on the estate we lived on, and talk in fake gangsta accents, and use slang I didn’t understand, and greet each other by knocking fists together,  and I would not care all that much. But for right now, my husband who I loved so much was doing such a good thing, and I wanted to celebrate with balloons  and congratulation signs and a lovely meal.

The children and I were heady with excitement. What does daddy like to eat the bestest? Let’s go to the shop and buy all the nicest food and all the stuff the from foot aid counter, and muscle rub, and bath salts for sore muscles, the kind with Eucalyptus in it. And a semi clad lady on the box, in a waterfall.  We will decorate the flat with party stuff. poppers and streamers. We would place him in a hot bath and then ply him with food. Our hero. My husband, their dad. 

We went to the shops. We bought all the nicest things and stuff you lay out for a party, like crisps and dips and nuts and sweeties, why not, I mean why the fuck not have Smarties til you are stuffed if you’ve run a marathon to raise funds for distressed children.

We cut through the cemetery laden with bags of post  marathon food. We went through the bit in between those who had fallen in Ww1, and the gigantic Booth memorial, the founders of the Salvation army. Suddenly , from behind a gravestone, two guys grabbed me and one put a piss smelling hand over my mouth, instructing me in an Eastern European accent not to scream or I would get hurt. I could not scream, on account of piss smelling hand clamping my mouth. I nodded as if to say, i will not scream. He took his hand maybe about four seconds from my mouth and I went into my speech. “You don’t get it. I am unmuggable. I’ve been mugged twice, surely I have met the mugging quota . My husband has just run the marathon to raise money for kids in distress. We are giving him  a party, and foot aid. You simply can’t mug me, and more than that my kids are here , you are gonna fuck em up psychologically. It’s flies in the face of mugging nature.”

This confused him. He clamped his hand over my mouth again. My kids were not within direct view, they might have been hiding. They might have been there but I could not see them. This more than anything else frightened me. One said something along the lines of, this was a bad idea. I then muttered through pissy hand I had no cash, which was the truth. The muggers entered some Eastern European consultation, the grip of the hand on my mouth a bit looser. I said “Look, take the food. But it’s food for heros and you are the opposite of heros. You are trying to rob me in front of my kids and its just so unfair. Mug me in private, not in front of the kids. They looked at each other, seemed to have a bit of a row, one made a half hearted attempt to grab my rucksack , but it was new from Marks and very sturdy and hard to grab off my shoulders, though it really hurt my back, his attempt to rip it off my back.  They started to bicker and eventually, they abandoned the whole operation and ran off towards the Church st exit, near the Booth memorial.  I looked for my kids who came right to me and clung to my legs.  I held them closely to me for dear life, and said mum was fine, the bad men went away. I picked up my shopping, even the Ben and Jerry’s starting to wilt at this point, and said we would still have the party, we just needed to make a cop detour.   I found a woman with a mobile phone and asked her to call the cops. The kids seemed confused but not distressed out of the ordinary, though I was to find out later this fucked up my son big time. He lived in fear of bad guys taking his mum. 

The cops eventually came, not good looking, and pretty much told me off for walking in the graveyard in broad daylight. “I would never let my wife walk through here,” said one. “Why did you walk in a secluded area,” said the other. And I let rip. This may look like a cemetery cos it is, but it is also a nature reserve, and full of nice, safe gay men cruising, and everyone comes here, it’s not like fucking, I dunno, what is the prime mugging hotspot, whatever it is, it;s not like that. You can breathe tree air, go to the gift shop, they even have an Easter egg hunt at easter, it’s more than a graveyard. Men have hot sex and kids look for Easter eggs. Not to mention the exotic flora and fauna.” 

The cops loaded me and the kids and our deflated balloons and melting ice cream into a van. The point was to circumnavigate the streets surrounding the cemetery. To look for the baddies. 

 

And here is the possibly racist truth about being mugged if you are not very visually orientated in times of duress. All Eastern European crime guys look alike. Bad sports wear, hoodies, cheap trainers and the smell of the desperate. It’s a very certain smell, desperation. The cop van had backwards facing seats. I could see my daughter turn green, riding backwards or forwards in any mode of transport usually made her sick, even puke up the pink anti sickness pills. We circumnavigated the cemetery a few times, all the while me worrying about the melting ice cream. You do stupid shit like that when you’ve been pathetically mugged. All the while the while the less nice cop telling me how stupid I was for walking through the cemetery, with kids.

 

After the threat of the daughter vomiting, we were dropped off at out estate. I tried to normalise things. I cooked. I played Rawhide. I put Aristocats on video. I refreezed the ice cream. Ben and Jerry’s does melt a bit after four hours,

The husband came home, with his sweat, his worn out feet and his air of unmitigated joy and triumph.

“I’ve done it! I’ve run the marathon and raised money for a good cause.”

“I’ve been mugged in front of the kids,” I countered. Not to burst your bubble, but I’ve been mugged. They didn’t get anything, the ice cream is re- freezing in the freezer, we have foot remedies and balloons.”

My husband was suitably concerned but clearly shattered. We had a bad, small, fake party, he filled with fatigue, me filled with the  injustice of life,my kids, probably just scared and fucked up . 

Well for sure my son was. He cried at home time at school most days, telling the teacher that I would be late or not there at all cos bad men had taken me away. A few months later we visited the cemetery and made a wish in a mythical tombstone. It was the Bostock Lion grave, rumour had it if you whispered in its ear and rubbed its nose, your wish would be granted. I told my son to whisper into the ear of the stone lion. As he was partially deaf at the time, he spoke rather loudly and his wish was “I want this lion to crumble over me so I can die.” He was goth, at six or seven. 

 

He’s over it now, if he remembers it at all. He is a fashion model. My daughter has a hundred jobs and is lovely, inside and out. There would appear to be no long lasting effects. Apart from this story. i still go to the cemetery. My best friend Paul who died prematurely has a memorial bench there. Right opposite the magical lion. The magical lion is a bit shit, it never granted me my wishes, but I go to church, I go to the graveyard and pray, not for like impossible things, like my best friend to come back, but for possible things, that my son might one day be on the  side of a London bus in an H and M advert. And stop being so over confident and cheeky. I talk to my best friend, on his bench, and generally call him a fucker for leaving me, his wife, his parents, his dogs,waaay before his time. If anyone wants to mug me on me own, without my children, feel free. I have no job or money. The snow and leaves fall over the living and the dead, as Joyce said, sorta. When the snow falls over me it falls over Paul, and Rory, the briefly Goth son.I remember we made a trip to the cemetery to make it OK again, and the legend of the lion is if you rub its nose and whisper in its ear, it will grant you your wish. My wish was inaudible, please don’t let this fuck up my kids. Rory ( my son) his wish was very audible as he was partially deaf with glue ear at the time. He wished for the lion to crumble to bits and to bury him in fallen stone.

I heard it and asked, Are you like,  a Goth, or just a bit fucked up on account of the mugging?” He did not reply.  He was like six, didn’t even know what Goth was.  I took him to therapy, smiled a lot and played Rawhide every day. He’s OK now, even a  bit arrogant.   I really hope I am never mugged again, but if I am, I have a template.