We were living on what I now know was a rough estate then. It was an ex council purchase. To me , I rebranded tower blocks as skyscrapers. And our maisonette, I rebranded as a good family house. This was when the kids were still quite small. There had been a murder, which my kids saw but probably don’t remember. I remember them handing out tea and squash and biscuits to all the cops and ambulance guys and I thought, oh, they think its a party. I had given a towel to wrap around the woman whose leg had been shot in four places. Her friend had been shot in the head in a car in front of our flat. He was dead, slumped over the wheel, thick ketchupy blood gluing his head to the steering wheel. I heard more than I saw, but I saw the aftermath. When the cops came to question me later, I couldn’t concentrate as I was fixated on his shoes, which were black, shiny Winkle pickers. Are cops allowed to wear shoes like that? He kept asking, so how many gunshots did you hear? And I guessed five or six, it’s not a sound my ears tune in to quite naturally, as they would say, if someone was (improbably) blaring the Ramones from their car speakers. Me, I just wanted to know where he got his shoes, so I could send my husband there.
That night, under the sodium haze of street lights, a special van came and two guys wearing Ghostbuster gear came to scrub the blood away with special chemicals.
The ordeal distressed me. I lived on what was then called Murder Mile, and turned a blind eye to a lot of dodgy stuff we saw going on, largely cos my husband was against living there in the first place, but I wanted, with two kids, to get into a larger physical space than the two rooms we had occupied. I’m a short-term thinker. Largely I felt immune to urban blight, because I had so much internal anxiety that real problems, murder, rape, robbery,over drug dealing, these things were happening around me, I tended not to notice. I didn’t look up when I walked but down, to navigate pit bull poo. You may think all people living on estates look downcast, but actually, we just don’t wanna get pit bull poo on our trainers. It’s a practical thing. So I didn’t notice much. But there was a bigger, psychological reason I did not notice much.
Like Lear in the storm, my mind was not free so my body was not delicate to these things. I was too wrapped up in my own shit. A spaceship could have landed with aliens and demons and robots to wipe out all of humanity, and I would have put the kettle on and told the kids to get out the Rich Teas for the aliens.Because we had to embrace multiculturalism. With tea and biscuits. We had to stay calm. Or at least look it.
I went to see my local GP. He was a Hassidic Jew, and most of his other patients were of this persuasion. His surgery was always full of pregnant women with five or six kids already. They were all in their early 20s, the husbands, bearded, portly, preoccupied, looked much older. But then anyone with a long beard does.
This doctor, he mainly dealt with these stressed out housewives and their eight billion immaculately dressed kids. He understood how hard it could be, how you never get to clock off. So when I went in there and said I was feeling anxious, I had seen a murder, he said, “Perfectly natural. Would you like some Valium?”
I wanted to get down on bended knee and propose to the guy. Hasidism are quite stylish. They knew from the get go that black was and is the new black. Great hats. They are like Goths, with God. And look great in masses, in the snow.
I’ll join your tribe, I’ll shave my hair and wear a Jayne Torvill sort of wig. I will get cankles and dress modestly. I will be fearful of dogs. I will have two kitchens. Milky and meaty. I will drive badly. I will have many more children. I will shag you through a hole in a sheet. I will make chicken soup for your soul if you give me drugs for my head, for like, ever.He asked, “What do you like, fives or tens? How many do you want?”
This was a far cry from NYC, where it was impossible to get a script unless you bought one off a junkie or went down to a stretch of Delancey where they would sell the tens for two bucks each. or you had a room-mate who was an optometry nurse and could just rip a sheet off the script pad, which I persuaded her to do, and proceeded to write myself a ludicrous amount of drugs on script on what I thought passed for doctor’s handwriting. How nervous can your eyes be? Oh, about a hundred tens worth of optometry anxiety. The drugstore guy wasn’t buying it. I skipped out of the place sharpish and next thing I knew, me, the roomie and the eye doc were all under investigation from the DEA. I moved to England.
And in this green and pleasant land, I could get my lovely floaty Valium fog totally legally. Oh sweet Jesus, no sorry, Moses, he’s yer man in this case, I’ll have as many as you can give me, ta.
And that went really well. For those who don’t know what Valium fixes, it fixes everything. It’s a proper medicine show compound. Whatever hurts, take two fives or a ten. It just won’t matter anymore. And when that stops working, chase it with neat vodka. Then eat a few extra strong mints and make tea for the aliens. No one will notice. You will blend in, you will be like normal people. Swig Pepto Bismol straight from the bottle so you don’t get an ulcer. Keep sedated and carry on. When you can’t eat anymore, shove anti sickness drugs in suppository form up your arse in the back of taxis. People have sex in the back of taxis. They don’t care, as long as they get the fare.
And it all works, until it doesn’t. For me , that point was when a good friend died a slow and painful and extended death. I got religion,(not my birth religion, Judaism, which has some good USPs but they are not big on afterlife. I needed one with a Heaven. Or concept of. And I got more drugs, just as a plan B. Maybe religion was the plan B. I just knew that a combination of spirits and spirituality would keep me functioning. If the Good Lord is willing and the bile doesn’t rise, I’ll be OK. Most people get religion after the druggy bit, but I cut to the chase, I wanted two safety nets, one immediate, and one unseen but I felt certain He was there. No matter how badly I behaved, He would be there.
But for the short-term, there was Valium, and we had our own bar in our flat. We’d always wanted one of those 60s style semi-circle gold and glass mini bars. We got one by accident in one of our rented flats, but now we wanted our own. We got one on eBay, and my husband went to pick it up and he said the guys were selling the bar (I mean, why would they, who in their right minds would not want to just, like, stand behind your own bar all day, dispensing drinks to your favourite customer,yourself, for free?) because it was just time, they’d had enough fun. And really, you can’t understand the concept of enough fun until you’ve had it yourself. Enough fun. It’s the opposite of fun.
But for a while we had great fun at the bar. We had a lot of parties that went on forever and wound up with women crying in the kitchen. Always a result. We had optics. We had stools. We had salty snacks. It was really a great bar, even now, I can’t see it as playing a part in my downfall or anything. It was just so pretty and cute and everyone wanted to know where’d ya get it, and I didn’t want to tend house anymore, I wanted to tend bar, and keep it stocked. it was like a Wendy House for dysfunctional grown ups. You could just spend all day pouring drinks and then scooting round the other side to be the customer. My little Wendy bar.
Look I couldn’t advise you not to get one, especially if you are a Hipster and like all things retro, including incipient liver failure. It was just the wrong toy for me at that moment in my life. Because I could pass as cute and kitsch and pretty and unique, something that was ultimately destructive ( to me) and not even that original. I mean, if you want to do retro drinking, just watch Mad Men or Bewitched. Buy some LPs and a Dansette. Wear your mother’s clothing. Wear blue eye shadow. Squeeze cheese from a tin on to Ritz crackers. But don’t, fucking don’t, get loaded and think it’s cute. It’s boring.
And I actually thought I was OK, though my trousers kept falling down and I kept falling asleep. But I didn’t notice or care and then one morning my husband came down, I had slept in the spare room for some reason, we hadn’t had a row, I can’t remember why, but he came down and shook my gently or not so gently and told me our very best friend was dead.
And that’s when I went crazy and into total fuck everything mode. Well not fuck as in sex, fuck as in fuck it. Time from now on, as Caitlin Thomas wrote when Dylan died, was just leftover life to kill. I’m getting too depressed to write anymore. TBC