The Rattle

The dark flat smelled of dust and damp at the same time. I’d cleaned the bastard enough but the smell just wouldn’t leave. Other people may have called to question the source but I didn’t, I knew. This tiny flat – with no central heating or hot water and a dilapidated electric shower that dribbled out lukewarm water when it felt like it – had been the residence of other single men like me going back down through the years. It was the property full-stop for the failed.

I’d recently been suspended from work, due to mental health (lack of), and even though it was the best summer weather for years I kept the blinds down and myself to myself. Everyone would know the truth out there. Out there was where people would talk to me, then laugh when I went up the high street. I was finished, washed up. Out there was dangerous.

I’d moved in to the flat with a pretty decent opiate habit. I had acquired it again after all those years as a result of a big codeine prescription on the back of some surgery. Then an ex had managed to supply the odd bit of oxycontin and an occasional fentanyl patch – chewed lightly, pressed against the inside of my cheek and under my tongue. It had all been enough, along with some tramadol, to get a half decent habit going without my knowledge. And that’s how it always happens: turn your back for a second from opiates and there you sit, reaching up from life towards them like a baby in a dirty cot. But one night in the flat I realised I hadn’t taken any that day.

I knew withdrawal, the little rattles from years ago, all the first signs without anyone having to explain anything to me: aches, runny nose, fidgeting, anxiety, the usual. That night I noticed the anxiety first, ignored it, then my nose started to run. I knew it’d all be ok though, no need to let the thing progress further, because I always had codeine around the house; god knows, I’d been prescribed enough of it over the past year. There were always a couple of stray tablets in an otherwise empty packet in a drawer somewhere. No worry; never any worry when I had opiates in the house back then. I went to the main med drawer, opened it, dug through the empty packets I hadn’t been bothered to throw away, and………. found nothing.

Ten minutes later the floor of the flat was covered in empty packets, thrown furniture, clothes, and a sobbing body: my body. There was nothing in the place. No opiate, not even a shitty synthetic opiate. I couldn’t believe it.

There is nothing so depraved as an addict in the grips of a withdrawal. A throwaway sentence, half stolen, but it resonates with absolute truth. Clear as a bell. Being denied something, some substance, that your body and mind needs is like suspending yourself above a volcano by the feet – you know how you got there, but it’s inconsequential compared to the peril you are about to find yourself in if circumstances don’t change. It is a vicious and unforgiving place to be. Withdrawal is like punching yourself in the stomach and then hating yourself for the pain. Actually, I’ve done that too, but there is an element of control in self-harm, and there is none in opiate withdrawal.

I went to bed, taking the only thing I could find in the blind rationale that something is better than nothing in a tight spot. They were only quinine tablets, but I reasoned they must have some effect somewhere. Desperation makes logic skewed, so I’ve found. They did absolutely nothing. In bed, my legs kicked, my bones ached, my nose ran, I sweated then shivered, I raged, wanked, puked, hurt, and I rode that hellish opiate bike as the synapses in my brain called out for more, but were denied. Detox equals hell. The whole thing only took four days but it felt like years. At the end of it I’d aged inside.

A week later, with a friendly GP in tow, I forgot every second of those four days as I bounced to the chemist with a fresh dihydrocodeine prescription in my hand. All problems solved. There’s always a next time, no matter what lies you tell yourself when the chips are down.

High Plains Drifter

There was no hope in his eyes. Just a far-away gaze that rested on distant shores, unseen by anyone but himself. His straggly beard bushed out over the top of his green knife-proof jacket and almost hid the badge that read “Parking Enforcement”. His cap was ragged, dirty, and his shoes were cheap cracked fake leather. They’d seen a lot of miles.

I’d stopped him to ask about where to park and now, five minutes later, I was in to a conversation I’d tried to leave three times by holding up my hand and wishing him good luck. I’d failed. He began to test me on where I thought it was legal to park, and went into horrific detail in recounting the tale of ‘the time when I was ticketing a pensioner with a blue badge who’d……’. God, it was horrible. Whatever he’d eaten for breakfast was still deeply protruding from the gap between his front teeth. All his teeth looked like they hadn’t been cleaned since he’d bought his shoes, maybe a year or two ago. I wondered at first if he had Aspergers, and if I should give him a break, but I came to the conclusion here was just a guy who loved his job. An all-weather, modern day gunslinger. Six-shooter parking ticket machine. Radio to call a posse up if things got wild out on the plains.

Last night I’d watched High Plains Drifter. A film so good/bad that I almost forgave the fact Clint’s character just seemed to rape his way through the town for no good reason. It was confusing and it reminded me that Religion and Cowboy movies don’t go hand in hand. A bit like Religion and most things, really. Rape, murder, and a quick ride off into the shimmering haze don’t settle me down at night. I had slept poorly as a result. I was too tired for the parking guy and his own brand of high plains madness.

But there was no overt hint of religion on the street today. Even if it was what was really driving the whole thing. I made my peace and left the conversation. He went off into a car park twirling his holster and stroking his beard. Here was how the West was won.

Guide dogs for the disenchanted

Prison dogs are divided into two types, for two specific jobs: the sniffer dog and the attack dog. There is no problem mistaking the difference. The sniffer dog is medium sized, energetic, and non-threatening, and the attack dog is large, mean, and leaves you with no sense of safety….at all. Then there is the greatest difference: one dog’s work is open for all to see, the other’s is taking place in the atomic nuances of the unseen and the undetectable (by humans, anyway). But the thing is, unless you’ve forgotten, all dogs have sharp teeth no matter what the type.

A dog is not just a dog until you get past the facade and down to brass tacks. When all is said and done, when threatened, all dogs will bite. Same goes for most entities, species, forms of sentient life, even Donald Trump, but especially voters.

I read this morning that his approval rating polls are the lowest of any President at any time, with the exception of Nixon on the day of his resignation following the Watergate scandal. That means he is thought worse of than that bungling fool Bush Jr, the stuffed owl of Ronald Reagan, and that fellatio-addict, Clinton. Take a moment, like Monica’s dress, to let that sink in.

And these ratings are before Trump goes about his ridiculous plans. This is the very best he will ever rate. The thin-skinned Trump won’t take this knowledge easily. It won’t sit well with him. He doesn’t even drink, so I guess the only outlet for the eventual frustration is going to be sexually assaulting women, or blowing something up at the end of a deep push on a button a long, long, way from the resulting hot blast. He didn’t really want to be President, and we are all going to rue that small and simple truth before this game is through. He is being carried by a misguided arrogance and a sense of warped pride that he saw the thing to the end, despite not even really being serious when he first put his name forward on the back of flagging tv ratings for his piss-poor ‘Apprentice’ show. What started out as a simple PR stunt turned into a monster that Trump couldn’t, in the end, override. He simply had to see it through or forever doom himself to self-imposed loser and failure status in his own mind. It was out of his hands from the day long ago when his brain told itself that money and power were the only symbols of success.

When Trump’s ego starts to rage and make petulant decisions that negatively affect the Bible belt of the USA, Trump voters will accept that they have been duped. They’ll also realise that they are stupid. And nobody likes to feel stupid. The next logical step is always anger. Genuine mass anger is a sight to behold, and we’ll see it soon enough.

But what do I know? I’m just a guy with a mental health problem who is sometimes let down by his own mind. In that regard I suppose you could say I’m a mirror image of Trump. The main difference between us, though, is that I’ve always had the ability to know a dog when I see one.

Curse ye no more…

Trump is sworn in tomorrow. It’s one of those moments in time that will be a) important in terms of world history and, b) a pinpoint of cosmic terror that I’m glad I’m not in tear gas range of. Nobody likes to be caught up in a riot, much the same as they don’t enjoy being in the way of a combine harvester. One side always wins. I’ve only ever been in one true riot – prison – and I was on the winning side. Didn’t mean I felt any better about the whole experience. Being a winner in a riot made me feel sick, like the time I watched four Police officers kick the shit out of some poor sap in a Holding Cell. It was all begging and screaming and the dull whacks of polished boots on restrained ribs; an unfair fight completely devoid of righteous motivation, or care of the consequences. I can still hear his sobs right now over the music I’m listening to. I was angry about the truth that day, but there is no truer lesson in winning and losing than losing your house and job on the back of getting sacked for being right…which happened eventually.

Trump is here. He’s in my world, my planet, on the street I live in, and in my home. He pervades the blue sky like a puke-coloured gas. He walks tomorrow into the most important job in the World and he is no more qualified than you to do it. It’s really happening, but some people will try to stop it right to the last. Make no mistake, there will be more people on the streets tomorrow than there were when Bush Jr’s motorcade had to accelerate along Pennsylvania Avenue, for the first time in modern presidential history, to avoid the baying mob waiting for him to step out and try and shake a hand. No, Bush was saved by the fact his Daddy had been President, and a former head of the CIA, and was so deeply connected with the corporate world that Bush Jr would always find powerful friends in any country except North Korea. Bush Jr was plucked away on inauguration day by a completely loyal Secret Service squad who accepted their place in the scheme of things. They understood the power of connections. Trump has connections, but they are transient and not linked to the true cabal of people who really run the show. He doesn’t have friends in the CIA, FBI, or NSA, and the FSB only keep tabs on him out of morbid curiosity rather than protection. He is alone at the head of the table of weirdos he’s assembled around him like he’s casting for a remake of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

The local cops like a good fight no matter who’s giving the orders, but there are so many people wanting blood this time on every side that their focus may well be lost in the melee. Who hits whom, and why, may be a confusing mystery when the smoke goes up. And, in a just world, Trump will be at ground zero, right in the thick of it. But… as always “In the Kingdom of swine, the one-eyed pig is king.” It’s the default life setting. He will escape physical harm to lament on Twitter, drunk in the early hours, sitting on his solid gold toilet and trying to turn the whole shit-fest into something the stupid will swallow no matter what their sense of smell is telling them.

Yes, tomorrow there will be disorder. I am sure of it. His rabid hillbilly supporters, ravaged by cheap whiskey and right wing reports of phony rapes and killings perpetrated by Muslims, Mexicans, non-whites, non-Christians, will have their jaws firmly set against any funny business during the show. They will be on the look out for anyone to grind under their cowboy boots, and there will be plenty. The rest of the USA is unhappy. They can smell the friendly fire and they want to make it all stop before they end up raising kids in a bomb shelter in Nebraska. They are prepared to fight to stop a narcissistic sociopathic, racist, misogynistic, sexual predator from waltzing down that red carpet like Fred Astaire in front of his bizarre Munster family. Make no mistake.

If you are in Washington tomorrow, lock your doors. Lock them for some false sense of protection in the riot but, more importantly, lock them from Trump and all he is yet to do.

There will be many cracked heads, sore throats, burned protest banners, and sprinklings of blood tomorrow, but it is just the start. Of all that has gone wrong in my lifetime, the worst is still down the road, but it’s coming up fast for everyone. A riot can’t stop a crazed pig, it only makes him run for longer, and take greater risks.

Take cover. Dig that bunker while you still have skin on your back.

Never get out of the boat…

The first day at the festival hadn’t been great. I’d had a phonecall as we got near the venue to tell me that my beloved Grandmother had finally died: brain cancer. Then that night I’d attacked some guy at a Steven Malkmus gig who’d been barging into me, dancing too hard I guess. Enjoying himself when I wasn’t. I’d pushed him once and told him to stop it, but he pushed back harder and that’s when it happened. We were right at the front of the gig. Before Malkmus could tell us to ‘Cool it,’ I’d grabbed the guy by the throat and was holding him there. He’d gone all limp in my hand. Fully one hundred percent drained of any fight back. Lame and white with fear. His girlfriend was beating me with her fists but it didn’t register, all I wanted to do was to hurt. Someone screamed, Malkmus looked down from above us like a divine musical conscience judging me from the ether. The girlfriend ran to get security. I came to, let him go, pushed through the crowd, and went and got drunker in a shitty bar.

But that was all history. Tomorrow was a new, and bizarre, day.

We decided to go to the on-site cinema to watch a film none of us had even bothered to read a single word about. It was the middle of the afternoon. We were sober. All we knew was it was being introduced in person by Crispin Hellion Glover (Marty McFly’s dad in the original Back to the Future film). We queued, but there was a mistake – one of the staff thought we were a band playing at the festival – and we ended up going into the cinema first and sitting on the front row about two feet from the tiny stage and screen. The rest of the front row was empty at first. We were laughing about Crispin – his dad had played an assassin in one of the Bond films. I heard a noise beside me. A guy in big platform leather/metal shoes, wearing a ripped t-shirt, old jeans, bald head, six foot five, mean expression, was standing there looking at me with his four long-haired friends. I pushed the seat next to me down and patted it, giving him a little wink and a nod. It was a joke, but he didn’t laugh. He just sat down hard next to me and growled a bit. He stunk of booze.

Crispin appeared. He looked like he’d been dipped in oil. For half an hour he gave a bizarre slide show/performance three feet from my face. He was gurning, slathering, oozing around the tiny stage, simpering into a microphone. He introduced his film by saying he’d financed it himself and filmed it in Bulgaria. He told us the theme was one of disability and boundaries. I was ok with that.

Five minutes in, my friend nudged me saying ‘Ben, we’ve got to get the fuck out of here. Something very wrong is happening and we’re in the middle of it.’ Strong words, but he was right. The film was a B Movie style story of a guy with cerebral palsy who just happened to be a paedophile going around raping children. The lead actor actually had a scene where he got his cock out and genuinely fucked a girl who was wearing calipers. No-one could quite believe what they were watching. All two hundred or so of us sat open-mouthed. Someone behind me left. It was like watching a shark attack.

There was something on my shoulder. And snoring. The big guy next to me had, even in the middle of this horror, fallen asleep on my shoulder. The film climaxed with a final rape and murder. The house lights came up. Crispin bounced onto the stage for a Q&A session. Nobody could think straight, let alone speak. Then a voice – ‘I’ve got a question, Crispin.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Do you wish hoverboards were real?’

Nervous laughter. Crispin, chained to a cult classic seemingly forever, unable to be appreciated for the art he’d always wanted to create, put his head in his hands.

The guy next to me woke up and pushed himself off of my shoulder. I left. It had been an appalling afternoon.

That evening I went to watch Sunn o)) while the others saw another band somewhere else. Sunn o)))… Look them up. It’s indescribable apart from telling you that the lead singer (singer is the wrong word….grunter? priest? Satanist?) wore an outfit that made him look like the statue of liberty after thirty years with a heavy Crack habit. Lasers shot from his fingertips in the smoke. The low frequencies of the music made the hair on the girl next to me move and vibrate. It was the most awe inspiring gig I’d ever seen. As their set finished, they pulled back their monk cowls and the singer took off his mask. It was the guy who’d fallen asleep on me in the cinema that afternoon.

In a haze I went straight out to their merch table and bought a cd. My subconscious was shattered. I probably would have done anything anyone suggested. There’s only so much your spirit can take.

That night I got drunk in a bar with a guy from Cincinnati. He was watching an American Football game dressed as an orange bear. It had been that kind of day.

The Dharma Bum

“Three things cannot be hidden: the Sun, the Moon, and the Truth.” – Buddha

It was the scene of many battles – Sainsburys, Matlock branch, late afternoon. This place has seen the panicked end of many sorties into what should have been a straightforward bit of hunter-gathering. I’m not the only one, I know. I’ve watched arguments; raging, screaming matches, people jostling each other at the cheese aisle at Christmas time. All life is not in a big city, it is in Matlock Sainsburys.

I live on my own, so I hardly ever have the need to use a trolley for my pathetic shopping. Few cans of beer, bread, bit of cheese, etc, doesn’t take up much room. But you’re actually wider through the crowds with a Sainsburys blue plastic basket than you are with a trolley. I like the fact you can ‘accidentally’ whack the basket edges into the backs of people’s knees. Get it right and I think there’s a nerve there somewhere that triggers intense pain and can cause them to limp around for the rest of their shopping trip. I’ve done it more than once. Not been arrested yet. I am not proud.

Today I had the basket clutched tightly and stuck out far from my body to one side, so the action of me going through the store was like a scythe on a chariot. Or it would have been if there had been many people but the place was mostly empty. I saw him as I turned into the cereal aisle.

His name is Chuddar [Sp?].

He is the Buddhist monk in charge of the Temple where I sometimes go for enlightenment and to lie about how good I am as a human being. Last time I saw him I was vegetarian, telling him I was peaceful, and bullshitting himĀ about how I live in harmony with the world; eschewing poisons like drugs and booze. Oh, and Meat really is murder. Sober and living the Dharma all the way, Brother.

We came face to face as he was picking some high quality Alpine Crunch from the shelf. He turned to look at me with his always peaceful face. He smiled. I grimaced back. Then he did what everyone always does in these places: he looked into my basket to see what my life was really about – want to find out what makes people tick, look into their shopping basket. Don’t lie, you do it too.

In my basket there was a newspaper, four pint cans of cheap lager and a packet of pork chops, all bloody and boney, and gristly. I wished I’d had time to hide the fucking things under the newspaper. He looked up from my basket shaking his head in slow disgust and I swear he said a small mantra under his breath. ‘I’ll see you again, mate,’ I said.

‘You are always welcome,’ he replied. ‘Sometimes the path is not easy.’

I’ll think about those profound words in a minute when the first can is being drained and the sizzle of dead animal is coming from my cooker. I’m the worst Buddhist in history. This truth is no longer hidden.

In case of Emergency

The box is walnut, I think. I guess it was a little tea chest or something. It cost me ten pounds from an antique shop in Matlock. The shop is a few doors down from the jewellers where my old Breitling watch is sitting in a safe. The watch is worth something, so I’m told. Enough to make me want to stop wearing it, anyhow, and to think about selling. In the old days that sort of cash windfall would have never seen a bank account; drunk, smoked, squandered. But those are the old days. I don’t even own any snide fentanyl patches to chew now. Really.

I was advised to buy a box – didn’t have to be walnut and stinking of tea – by my Clinical Psychologist and my Community Psychiatric Nurse. I think my Psychiatrist would have been all for it too, but he’s fucked off to Warrington to oversee an Adult Mental health unit so I can’t tell for sure. The only place I’ve been to in Warrington is a Traveller site. I could take you there in the dark, blindfolded. I guess it won’t have been the first time. But I’m always treated well there by good people. One of the few places, in my experience, that things always go well for me. My Psychiatrist will never set foot there, unless he strays from the beaten path in many ways. That much I know, with more clarity than I can say I’m sitting and no-one is truly out there watching me.

I was asked to fill the box with helpful things to use in case of an emergency due to deteriorating behavior. You see, my behaviour has been graded into three levels – the top level containing phrases like “Increased lack of sense of self,” and the bottom, “Lack of ability to keep self safe….. Delusional thoughts…. paranoia….. altercations….hears voices…..suicidal ideation and actions of self harm.” It’s a smorgasbord of fun. And the contents of the box are supposed to nip it all in the bud. But what do you put in that sort of thing? I thought a lot about that question. I mean, I can’t reward myself – I’m so hateful that I don’t deserve praise or gifts or love – so I was stuck. What would you put in a box so you could access immediate relief when the hammer is dropping fast? I guess a theriac is impossible – I’ve never found a theriac yet. One thing I’ve learned is there is no such thing as a single cure.

For the time being – and owing to the best prescribing that I’ve ever come across in all these hideous years – I’ve put some Codeine, Diazepam, Pregabalin, and Flupentixol, in there. Not enough to kill me, obviously, kind of defeats the object, but enough to take any edge away and at the very least leave me sitting on a sofa without Bigfoot wailing in the trees behind the house, like he sometimes does. There is also a copy of my anti-suicide plan (the official NHS one – they exist for the select few incompetents…like me), pictures of Hunter Thompson, Ernest Hemmingway (maybe both ironically bad choices), and some Cannabis, fags, and Rizla. I will add a picture of Nicola and the Kids when I take one that doesn’t make me feel like I’ve let them down. And that’s it.

On reflection, it’s a little med-heavy. Hmmm, is this the right approach? Aw, fuck it, man, I’d put some acid in there too if I could find a source. Any port in a storm, eh. Distraction is better than action in this case.

And the effectiveness of the box so far?

I’ve had cause to open it twice. And today I’m typing this in glorious sunshine.