The Great Abstainer

sherbert fountain

I should, perhaps, begin by telling you that I have an addictive personality and, as I am fully aware of that particular personality flaw, apart from alcohol and (briefly) tobacco, I have never allowed myself to partake in any non-prescribed substance stronger than aspirin. I do not smoke cannabis because I do not smoke. It makes me cough. A drag on a Christmas cigar makes me light-headed enough these days. Despite the glamour associated with some of those who have succumbed to it, I have always viewed Heroin as a rather sordid habit, much like picking toe-nails, and so it holds no fascination for me. Intrigued as I am by LSD, I am also aware of Peter Green and I carry with me the knowledge that if I was to lose thirty years, I would have nothing left. My greatest concern in trying anything is that I will enjoy it, because I am fully aware how quickly, for me, a pleasant diversion can become a necessary staple. Ask the man that sells me my chocolate.

I keep reading about an ‘epidemic’ of cocaine use in the middle-class over 50’s, and this knowledge has thrown up a thousand questions in my mind that these articles do not themselves seem to address. I will consider some of them here – if you have the answers, please feel free to let me know.

I had to have a camera down my throat some years ago. To get down there, it first went up my nose (I have no idea why). Before spraying the anaesthetic up my proboscis the doctor asked me which side I breathed through. I had no idea. Surely both. He sighed and blocked each nostril in turn. When he blocked the left side I was fine, when he blocked the right, I turned blue. I had no idea that, given the option of using two perfectly good nostrils, my body elected to use only one at once. Even more bafflingly, the doctor told me that it occasionally changed its mind and used the other one instead. Why, he did not say – he was too busy feeding his Leica up my snout.

Anyway, my point is this: should I attempt to snort coke up the non-functional side of my nose, I would do nothing other than make one end of the rolled up twenty slightly soggy. Any light-headedness would be due to lack of oxygen. Worse, if this happened, my reflex would be to breathe through the mouth. My initial inhalation would be half a face away from the unmolested line and, thus, it would be unaffected, but my subsequent exhalation would almost certainly redistribute it over every available surface in the vicinity.

If, by some mischance, I stuffed the tubular currency up the functioning nostril and inhaled, I would sneeze – loud and snotty – probably pebble-dashing the mirror with a viscous form of cocaine that not even the hardiest of recreational users would want to touch.

Is there, I wondered, some kind of technique, other than thrusting a finger up it, for working out which half of the conk is in working order and, thereafter (post-snort), how does one stop the sinuses from responding to the biological imperative to expel unexpected items from the bagging area and into the nearest available tissue?
I am puzzled by where these mid-life ‘professionals’ meet their dealers: the golf club, the Masonic lodge, the W.I.? I’m taking it that these deals no longer go down on drizzly street corners and dingy doorways, but take place in bistro, wine bar or tasting-menu eatery. I also understand that the product itself is getting cheaper – I’m not sure why, but I’m not inclined to research too deeply in case Big Brother decrees my interest to be unhealthy and sends the boys round. Really, all I want to know is how, gram for gram, it compares for price with a Sherbet Fountain. More to the point, given the cashlessness of the economically endowed these days, how do they pay? Bank Transfer?

Thankfully, curiosity is all that troubles me these days, the age of the need to experience has happily slipped by me. The vices I have now are the vices I had thirty years ago and will be the vices with which I die, and, in the meantime, the only thing I will be shoving up my hooter will be a digit-full of Vick’s when my body decides to close down both nostrils at once…

Three quotes today, all by Robin Williams, two because they are about cocaine and one because it is just great:

“Cocaine is God’s way of telling you you are making too much money.”

“I couldn’t imagine living the way I used to live. Now people come up to me from the drug days and go, ‘Hi, remember me?’ And I’m going, ‘No, did I have sex with you? Did I take a dump in your toolbox?”

“You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”

The Spring Has Sprung, The Grass Has Ris*…

blue tape measuring on clear glass square weighing scale

… and the diet starts today. It’s the time of the year to try to starve this sad lump of a body into some kind of shape (strange phrase that – it’s already in some kind of shape: an amorphous sort of blobby one). Now, I’m not the most sophisticated of dieters. There are no fancy recipes, no points to count: generally I reduce my alcohol consumption to feature weekends only (the weekend, I should point out, starts on Friday, obviously) and I eat less chocolate (probably less of a challenge for me than eating more chocolate – after all, there are only so many hours in a day) and… well, I have to be honest, that’s about it really.

I’ve never really understood calorie counting. If you’re that bored, you could try counting the spikes in the Artex to similar effect. I have a simple principle really: trousers are getting tight, either a) lose a bit of weight or b) buy some new trousers and I cannot tell you how much I hate clothes shopping. So, my waist being somewhat more malleable than my waistband, it is the obvious place to start.

I’m not hugely overweight (pounds rather than stones) – I would say rotund rather than obese – and I’m relatively fit: I walk a reasonable distance each day and I cycle during the summer (as I cannot function in the cold). I can get my arse out of the chair without becoming too breathless. I played football until I was well into my 50’s – hence the on-going battle to get my knees to bend in the morning – but I don’t take any kind of formal exercise; no gyms or classes or anything else where I am forced to look my porky age whilst others do not. Meeting new people leaves me rigid with fear. I have no idea what meeting a new group of people all dressed in lycra might do to me. And, whilst we’re here, I really do not like public swimming pools. I’m a very weak swimmer and, while I’m perfectly happy to bob around in the shallow end with the grandkids, I would look a bit weird without them.

Now, it was my intention to tell you my starting weight, but I can’t. The battery has gone in the bathroom scales so, unless I can find some means of perching on the kitchen scales, the diet will have to be postponed until I get a new one: what would be the point of losing weight without knowing it? It’s all about verification isn’t it? Tomorrow I will buy a new battery and I will weigh myself before I start to diet so that I am aware of every single gram that I lose. And, in a week or two, when my trousers have become too loose, I will be faced with another dilemma: buy new trousers or eat more chocolate. If you want my advice, buy shares in Cadbury now.


*The spring has sprung, the grass has ris
I wonder where the birdy is
Some people say the bird is on the wing
But that’s absurd, for I would say the wing is on the bird.
(My mum’s favourite springtime quotation)

Love in Mind – A Valentine Divertissement.


…on falling asleep in the dentist’s waiting room over elderly copies of Psychology Today and Woman’s Own with Jeremy Kyle playing in the background…

…Dreams are dreams; nothing more, nothing less. Reality cannot hide behind the thin veneer of truth and ‘self’ cannot be discovered in the fevered fantasy of uncertainty. Order cannot exist where there is no logic, nor logic without order. Reason sleeps while the mind stays wakeful, and from where it raises its images, who can say?

They met, quite by chance, after he inadvertently bid £371 for a second-hand corn plaster on E-bay. Their emails, confirming prompt despatch, became increasingly fevered and he realised that love was in the air after discovering that she had somehow removed £3000 from his PayPal account in order to finance a romantic weekend in Venice. Not with him, unfortunately. Never-the-less he continued to pursue her, purchasing over the ensuing weeks one slightly bent can opener, two novelty corkscrews, a pair of slightly soiled tartan socks and an autographed photo of Hilda Baker. Knowing only that her E-bay name was sociopath1 and that she did not live in Italy – a country with which he had refused to deal since he discovered that his uncle Derek was being systematically short-changed by the local Mr Whippy to the tune of fifty mini Flakes per year – he hired a private detective to discover her whereabouts. Eventually, having hired another private detective to find the first who had disappeared with £1000 in cash, his bank card and PIN, he managed to trace her through a specialist fraud unit and made her an offer she could not refuse. She refused, but eventually agreed to meet him as soon as he had given her his credit card number.

He remembered the first time they met: the way she seemed to drift towards him as though on the back of a driverless milk float, her head held steady, her feet unmoving, her delicate hands holding a sack of a handbag. He remembered the faint smell of cats. She was nothing like her photograph, yet he recognised her at once. She was wearing a plaid Tam O’Shanter as arranged and she had a carnation in her lapel as he had asked, although he was slightly surprised to note that it was a can of evaporated milk rather than a flower. She was carrying a rolled-up newspaper which, he was alarmed to note, she held like an improvised weapon. She terrified him and he loved her for it. She demanded it. His panic at her approach seemed natural at the time – he had never met anyone in such a fashion before – the quickening of his pulse, the perspiration on his forehead, the pricking at the back of his neck, the pain in his groin; was this love at first sight, or the bubonic plague? If only he knew her name. He was sure it would be a symphony. A bow with which to caress the strings of his heart. It would be musical; it would be lyrical; it would be magical; it would be mystical. It would transcend the boundaries between beauty and emotion. It would be Tracey.

She spoke and her voice washed over him like the gentle flow of a sparkling brook: her words were a song (something by Marilyn Manson); her teeth glowed with the mellow hue of a golden sunset; her breath a nostalgic reminder of the farmyard. Her hair was long and auburn with a slight ‘flick’ to the right – the consequence of having received so many swipes left – she walked on her toes, giving her the appearance of a panther stalking its prey, or (as was actually the case) someone with a hole in their shoe. In her eyes he saw all the hidden depths of Woman. They were very well hidden. And very very deep. Like the Mariana Trench they were unplumbable with all currently available equipment.

Love is blind, they say, and certainly it helped that they were both seriously myopic. She was his first love. Infatuation made him blind to her tendency to leave him regularly for anyone she considered more attractive or exciting, coming back to him only after he had bought the chips; her habit of smearing her bare backside in Vaseline before sliding down the banister at the local shopping centre; her practice of violent nose-picking (seldom her own) during times of stress. She, fortunately, had remained oblivious to his own peccadilloes: his propensity to chant aloud selections from the AA Guide to the Yorkshire Dales when queuing at the post office; his habit of picking at his toenails with a sharpened matchstick when intimidated (usually by the wine waiter); his unwillingness to change his underwear in any month without a ‘Q’ in it. He had to be honest with himself – he was never love’s young dream. Truth be told, he was not even love’s young slightly-distracted-by-a-walnut-whip. He was a wallflower in his own bedroom. The ugly duckling in a brood of one. The non-detonator in the family box of Brocks*. He had never kissed her. Perhaps he never would; his teeth, after all, were very inexpensive and not quite his own (much like his hair and the faux-leather truss he had borrowed from a friend) and anyway, he was disconcerted by the muzzle that the police insisted she always wore in public.

He remembered his own humble origins. His fourteen years living alone in a mud-lined shack at the end of a rubble cart track, wondering why the rest of his family lived three-quarters of a mile away in a nice pre-war, red brick semi’. He remembered his favourite toy: an empty crisp packet with a bottle cap, which he called Eric, inside. He remembered his pet pebble. And he remembered his mother with her hair always neatly bunned, her arms folded tightly across her chest and her apron, always covered in cookie dough, despite the fact that she had last made cookies at school in 1943. Of course, his mother loved him, but then she also loved Vesta Chow Mein, and she never remembered to fry the crispy noodles. Was she not the woman who had nurtured and fed him throughout his childhood; cared for him and loved him; advised and supported him? No, as a matter of fact she was not. She was the woman who scolded and chided him; who taunted him about his extra nipple; who boiled his underpants while he was still wearing them. She told him he was gullible and he believed her. She played strange games: Hide, But Not Seek; Hunt The Food; Lick The Electric Light Socket. She made him hide from the rentman, the milkman, the window cleaner… God! How he hated Postman’s Knock.

He remembered his father. Dear father and his homely homilies. The smell of tobacco; the gentle mocking laugh; the great hook of a nose with the semi-permanent dew-drop which eventually formed a stalactite some four feet long. He too liked to play strange games, but could always be discouraged with an electric cattle prod.

That golden summer of love seemed so far away now. A distant memory of fleeting passion that burned violently for just one glorious season before it was extinguished by the suffocating reality of life and her court appearance on the charge of multiple bigamy. Too short that time, when his mind, unfettered by the quest to understand his own mortality, began to consider how best to get his arm around her on the bus without knocking the e-cigarette from the mouth of the woman on the seat behind. Too short the time he lived his life with the gay abandon of feckless youth and somebody else’s bank card; too short the time that they had meshed together like separate pieces of the same jigsaw puzzle; too late by the time that they realised that she was, in fact, the edge of the Hermitage Museum by Twilight and he was the belly of the Fat Controller. Too short the summer when they thought of nothing but joy, love and beauty… and chocolate. Lots of chocolate. The bond they had once shared became a bucolic indifference which eventually boiled over into spiteful intolerance and a sock-full of frozen peas.

As for love, well, after that one magnificent summer, he would never feel its full flush again. There were moments, true, when he felt certain that it was waiting for him just around the corner, but it was usually a mugger… He was certain that sometime, in the middle of it all, something had happened that had changed him forever, but he could not remember what. He did not wish to recollect, because to do so would be to remember and to remember would be a betrayal of the past. And the past was his present and his present was a giant, hand-knitted crew-neck sweater from his grandmother, four sizes too big, with three arms and the neck-hole sewn up. Dreams are funny that way…

Valentine’s Day is 14th February 2019 – when normal blog service will be resumed. And for all aspiring psychoanalysts, before you ask, the answer is ‘No’.

*Brocks Fireworks – the poor cousin of the more popular Standard Fireworks: a limpid potpourri of damp squibs in a cheap cardboard box.