Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Having a Dig into Victorian History

Having a Dig into Victorian History

   I remember total insanity. Scouring the floor for more dropped, hidden, lost brown bits of cigarette filter, my drugs worker looking on, eyebrows raised, lips in a pillar-box slit.
   ‘What the fuck are you doing with that? You’re not seriously intending to use that…?’
I was. It would have been better off in a museum. In fact, a quick search reveals that there is a similar model in London’s Science Museum (pictured above), though the case mine had lacked the elaborate engravings. It came in a small, rectangular tin; a nineteenth century hypodermic glass syringe with a detachable, hundred-years-of-bluntness-needle. Its metal plunger fitted leaklessly still into the barrel.
   Its last job had been to inject brandy or rum into boozy cakes and it had been in the family for years. I’d taken it out of a mouldering drawer of pastry cutters, fish knives and spatulas, wooden spoons with the scent of nineteen-seventies Madeira cake: a rolling pin wrapped in a cellophanesque slick of dough. I had never intended to use it.
   ‘Listen, just calm down, the needle exchange opens at eight in the morning. That’s in five hours. You do not have to use that. For fuck sake, look at it, who are you, Sherlock bleedin Holmes?’
He couldn’t hide his laughter now.
   It was like a kilt pin. Fuck knows how Victorian addicts saw their habits through with these cumbersome contraptions. Surely they must have had the technology to make the points thinner than that? I took the sharpening stone I usually used for the kitchen knives and began teasing the needle’s bevel across its surface until it seemed sharp. It wasn’t. No matter how many times I tried, it wasn’t going to pierce flesh like a newly-opened disposable insulin 1mil.
   ‘You try!’ I snarled.
   ‘Fuck off! Listen, Just don’t do it. If you have to do it, plug it. And I’d better go.’
   ‘Plug it up your own arse, why didn’t you bring me a fuckin pin? That’s why I called you. Sorry, mate, just go back to bed.’
      This was supposed to be him keeping an eye on me before I went into rehab. They’d told me to call any time I felt like using, day or night, no matter the hour. For harm reduction’s sake, I presumed that they could help me out on this. Call it the fantasy mobile pin service, but in reality I knew he wouldn’t bring anything but words: perhaps I thought words would help? But if you don’t ask, you don’t get, right? Anything was worth a try. It didn’t work. 
   I can’t remember if he did go then, but I do remember his exasperation. I didn’t have it in me at this point to even grasp the concept that what I was doing was in any way foolish or unreasonable. Perhaps it was neither. Just a logical solution to the problem that I had binned all my old pins on bin day that morning in preparation to detox. Just I didn’t  like detox. And I’d changed my mind. Only, by the time I’d changed my mind unconditionally, every place which supplied needles was closed. And everyone’s phone was switched off.
   So it was the usual take-the-edge-off filters shot, in a highly unsuspecting vessel. I wondered whether the syringe had been used for heroin before, and if so, by whom. Is it such a peculiar object to have in one’s family kitchen? Certainly beautiful, if you’re into medical antiquities. But there was no beauty in this particular dig. If I honestly thought I’d be able to get a vein with this contraption, I fast realised my dishonesty. I wasn’t bothered so much by the fact that trying hurt like a pisshole with terminal, untreated cystitis, but by the fact that it was never going to work. I mean, this needle was thicker than an 8 B pencil lead. It was like trying to slice through bone with a butter knife. And I did try. I tried for a good while, but as slicing my poxy, sunken, cotton-thin veins in half became a more and more worrying possibility, between re-sharpenings, I gave up. In the end I just ended up jabbing it into my thigh and pushing it all in.

And it stung like a subcutaneous cigarette burn.

The metal filings can’t have helped, and I’m thankful to this day that I didn’t find a vein. Goodness knows what Victorian steel dust would have done to my circulatory system. I can’t remember what happened to the thing after that. I’d have gone for my clean pins and then scored is what I imagine, but I can’t remember. And as for the old glass pin; who knows where it went? Perhaps my mother donated it to a museum.

© Vee 1993-2012 

Gravediggin' Under the Mancy Way: here's the second chapter for y'all

Burnt Dumplin

   Tania’s back. I know she’s back because the only person who ever comes here is Tania and I can hear the cellar window banging shut. At least I think I know it’s Tania. I’ve been lucky so far. No unwelcome visitors, not even local kids coming for a mess about. I don’t want people coming and going. Spid knows where I live but I go to his. It’s better like that. I scored a nice fat bag earlier like I planned and I’m as happy as Larry, whoever the fuck Larry is. I often wonder who the fuck these characters from Turnofphraseland are. Well I’m happy as I can be and I ain’t about to give even a pinch of this to Tanya, never mind who paid for it, eh? I do the hard work so you don’t have to. Just call me Mr Muscle, ready for action. I piss myself laughing at that as I pour out the neon-green water from a can of processed peas into a dirty pan. Dead matches float to the top and charcoal dust spreads out in a film over the surface of the liquid. I wipe a spoon on my Le Petit Punk T-shirt , remove the loose lid and eat.
   It’s a miserable fire I’ve got going but it’s doing the job of de-numbing me. Got some wood from the waste ground behind those student places off Wilmslow Road. Funny, people are. The whole time I was busy ripping wood off this rust-sprung bed carcass, there was this old woman with an Aldi bag, just standing there, staring at me. Staring. She didn’t smile or frown. Just looked. She had a familiar face, long-nosed, deep-set, dark eyes; skin like soft, old leather, the colour of well-seasoned laurel-wood. She wore one of those turban-style hats, old and grey as her coat and cardigan. Grey skirt, grey tights; shoes from another era. They made them to last back then. When I’d piled all my wood up and grabbed it, started to make a move towards home, I passed her, gave her a smile. She just stood there, barely moving, on the periphery of this scrubby, broken place: lilacs, ragwort and buddleia breaking through cracked concrete, cans and papers and carrier bags blowing around, and she didn’t smile back. Watery, her eyes: bulging un-shed droplets of salt water just sitting in the loose lower lids of those sad, sad eyes. It made me wonder what those eyes had seen and I wanted to take her hand and just take her home with me. Just to talk.
   But I didn’t.
   -Take care love, I’d said. Take care, love. What the fuck? Then I remembered. It wasn’t ‘til I got back here until I remembered who she reminded me of. My Grandmother.
   Made me sad, that. I loved my Grandmother. Bubbe Ilyana. Ilyana Yablonsky. She was the snuggliest, cuddliest, sweetest lady in the world. I remember, being small, hiding under the table, Bubbe feeding me secret sweet things, giving me secret kind words and kissing my forehead when I was in trouble with my parents, who were always in trouble with each other. Bubbe was my refuge. Never angry, never shouting: not with me. She would defend me even when I knew I’d done wrong. I miss her. Aye, no time to dwell on it, times change. Feel sad though…if she saw me like this…
   So back to the real world. I shove the empty pea can into an empty carrier bag I’ve hung under the stove as Tania’s footsteps increase in volume. Up she comes. Three knocks on the door and she’s calling my name.
   -You on your own Tan?
   -Course, hurry up, my fingers are falling off.
In she comes, swinging a huge collection of high street bags: Kookai, Next, Miss Selfridge, Morgan, Oasis. Her lips brush my cheek and this time she smells sweeter than before, all perfumed up. Can’t say the same for myself.
   And then, something clicks: the shoes. Bubbe Ilyana’s shoes. They were the same. Silver leather with narrow, narrow, pointed toes and soft, purple suede just covering the toes like hearts. Heels like they don’t make any more, silver heels with nails in the bottom that went click-clack, click-clack and I remember her talking about those shoes, how they’d crossed the sea with her on the Kindertransport: her mother’s shoes.

She never saw her mother again.

   Then the lady in the wasteland becomes Bubbe Ilyana and I’m wondering why she was crying. And where she got the shoes. Strange thoughts. I begin to question if she was even there at all. 
   -Look, Lee’s still not answering his phone. You can’t sort us out, can you?
I’m not really listening, not wanting to communicate with this situation.
   -Gary, are you okay?
   -I said Le-
   -Lee’s not answering his phone, yeah I know. Sorry, Tan, I was somewhere else for a minute. Been shopping, I see.
   -New Visa card. What do you think?
She pulls out this transparent top, MORGAN and a red PVC heart plastered across the chest, holds it up against her, grinning.
   -What’s that say? Moron?
   -Don’t be cheeky, I paid sixty five quid for that.
   -Fuck me, so you are a moron.
   -I would fuck you if you ever had a bath, and anyway, I didn’t come here to be insulted.
I can’t be arsed with this. I’m not in the mood. See what I mean when I say she’s lucky she met me first? Credit card scams click through my mind, but I’ll take it slow with Tania. I don’t want to lose her trust. But if she thinks I’m insulting her and not the other way round, I guess it’s just another case of another fuckin planet. Let’s see how long she can keep her head in the clouds. I’ve seen stronger women than Tania dead in bus station toilets with their fancy-clothed arses soaking up their own piss.
   -Fuck off then, Tania. If you wanna spend sixty-five quid on a bit of fabric, that’s up to you. My Nan came to this country with nothing but a pair of shoes and the clothes on her back, but she could take sixty five yards of fabric and feed her entire family for a month and pay the rent off the clothes she made, and trust me, she would never have put her name on a piece of crap like that: look, the stitches are already coming unpicked…
She’s got this crazy look in her eyes now. Maybe she’s going to cry, but then she smiles instead. That pitying look that I shouldn’t like, but do.
   -I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.
Feelings? Hell, I don’t have feelings. Not that I want you to see, anyway. Do I?
   -Ah, forget it. I like you, you know. And I’m not going to fuck you either, okay? No offence meant, none taken, right? And look, if you wanna score, you better get yourself down Cockney Stan’s. He’ll sort you out if you tell him I sent you.
The look of disappointment ain’t exactly breaking my heart; not even a look of desperation would have broken my heart, but she wasn’t desperate then.
   -I don’t even know him. Oh Gareeee- can’t I just get a bag off you? Just a bit?
Frowning now, she is, throwing herself onto my bed and knocking over a Kookai bag, clothes spilling out onto the floor.
   -Watch out, you might not be able to get a refund. Look. I’ve told you. I’ve got fuck all. Last bag I had was shit, didn’t feel nothing off it. I had to scrape it out with the wet filter and do that after, just to take the edge off. Tan, I’ve got a proper bad habit, gotta spend the rest of the day grafting before I can score again and I’m not being funny, but I got shit to sort out now. I’d ask you to help us out but…look, I ain’t no dealer. I don’t need the hassle. Stan’s got one of them new flats down Chichester Road. First flat on the corner when you get to Asda- third floor, with a balcony, right?
   It’s not lying: it’s like that most days, more often it’s worse. I’m telling the truth about yesterday. More or less. Just talking as if we’re still on Thursday. Come on, who doesn’t improvise the lyrics a bit when they’re singing sad songs?
   -Stan, right?
   -That’s him. Just say you know Gary and he’ll sort you out. Look, I’ve gotta get on with some stuff. If you go down to Stan’s…
   -Yeah, I get the message. You going to Dred-Rock tonight?
   -Might do.
I start picking her new clothes off the floor for her, put them in the bag for her and put it in her lap. She puts her hands around it and cuddles it forlornly, like she regrets having bought it.
   -Might see you there then.
   -Yeah, might do.
My mind’s working overtime as I see her out. I laugh, thinking about Lee. Cunt ain’t never gonna answer his phone cos that number’s always gonna be switched off, laying as it is at the bottom of the Manchester shit canal.

   When she’s gone, I take out the bag and do some up just cos I’m feeling the stress. Maybe it’s Tania and her credit card, maybe I’m mourning a wasted credit card opportunity. Maybe it’s just life in general.  Don’t know why I bothered after I do it, cos there’s no rush or nothing. I stash my used filter with the others in my little baggie, counting them, yellowish brownish, some lighter than others, some I swear I’ve boiled half to death in desperate times and been loath to throw them away, Just in case, eh?
   Yeah, I’m on a weird one today. Those eyes stay in my mind. And those silver leather shoes. Bubbe Ilyana’s shoes. Fuck, I miss her.

*   *   *

   Tania gets off the bus at Bonsall Street and walks past the flats, condemned for demolition. Just Malarky remains open, a wholefood co-op; the chemist and bookie’s boarded up now. An old man with a carrier bag dangling from the handle of his walking stick shuffles along a walkway and down the stairs on the end of the block. Huge graffiti designs in multicoloured letters and faces cover entire walls in 3D block script; Tania can’t make out what most of them say. Above, way up high, white letters drip, misspelled against the black painted concrete:

And underneath:


   This isn’t a place for Tania, but she’s drawn in as though watching a film. She doesn’t feel real here. Rows of Travellers’ trucks, caravans and buses crowd the concrete courtyard alongside cars and caravans. Litter blows in the wind with music, techno beats bounce off walls which soon will become empty space. She sees a sofa outside a front door, a woman in a flowery hippy skirt sitting, smoking, her hair a mix of braids, dreads and silk-wraps. These are people, like me, they are people, but not like me. Not like me, she thinks and wonders what she’d say to them. Wondering what she’s doing here, wondering why she stopped that night in Rusholme and put a pound in a beggar’s hat. It’s all unfolding in a seemingly uncontrolled way.
   A clapped out fiat slinks past, slow reggae bass shaking the bodywork. The driver’s a Rasta in a red, gold and green tam and he beeps the horn and slows down. Panic rises in her: why’s he beeping at her? She speeds up walking, then feels a fool as he shouts a greeting to the chef behind the counter of a small catering van which advertises in bold Caribbean colours: akee&saltfish, curry goat, rice’n’peas, goatfish, snapper fish, dumplin and other stuff she’s never heard of, let alone tasted.
   -Y’irie, Star?
The shaven headed bloke waves back, shouting
   -Irie, man, I-rey!
Tania crosses the road in front of the car, parked now, the driver chatting with the bloke in the van. Tania’s wondering what goatfish  is…goat and fish, a fish like a goat? Why would anyone want to eat goat anyway? Yuck. And the worst of all: fried plantain. Fried plantain? And sorrel? Why would anyone want to fry and eat garden weeds? And ackee sounds yucky. There are purple cans of grape soda and a jug of caramel-coloured liquid she can’t identify. But the food smells good and she’s wondering if she’d ever be curious enough to try some.
   Past the Nia Centre and up to the corner opposite Asda. Here we are, Chichester Road. She hangs around on the corner for a minute, looking up at the flats. Counts one, two, three floors. Approaches the door, slowly, nervously. Three buzzers: inside the light-up boxes are names: the bottom reads CRAIG in neat, black fineliner; the middle one’s empty. The button for flat three has STEVE TANNER biroed in inside the light-up box, badly handwritten in blue. Hesitating, she feels inside her pocket: forty quid. She looks back up the street in the direction from which she’s come. Ackee&saltfish, rice’n’peas…the smell still drifts in the slight wind. OK, here goes. She doesn’t want to do it: she’s right out of her comfort zone. Rusholme’s okay; seedy, but feels safer. When she looked up this place in her A-Z, the words MOSS SIDE flew off the page at her, totally freaked her out: I mean, everyone know’s it’s the gangland capital of England, she’d thought. But this is Hulme, right, not Moss Side. Her father would have a frickin heart attack if he could see her now. One…two…three…four…five, silently counting to ten before she raises her hand, extends her index finger and presses the buzzer. It makes a farty, electrical sound. Soon after, a crackle is emitted from the silver-grey slotted speaker.
Even in the yeah, she can hear a rough, Mancunian accent.
   -Is Stan in?
   -Who are you?
   -I’m a mate of Gary’s. Tania. He said you’d sort us out.
   -Yeah? Gary who? Could be Gary fockin Lineker.
She can feel her face glowing. Glad she plastered on the foundation.
   -Gary with the mohican.
   -Uh, hang on, I’m coming down.
Coming down off what? She breathes in and leans against the wall next to the buzzers. Deep breaths. The intercom goes dead and she waits, nervous: nervous enough to light another cigarette as she sees dirty once-white Reebok classics, Adidas pants with poppers down the sides, then the rest of the stocky bloke, who jumps down the last flight of stairs. On top he wears a navy Nike sweatshirt and his hair’s shaved so close his head’s shining. He opens the door just a crack and speaks, his voice croaky like he smokes too many cigarettes.
   -How do I know you’re not five O?
Tania’s never heard of five o before, but she supposes he must mean police.
   -I’m just a mate of Gary’s. He said…
   -Show us yer browns.
   -I said show us yer fockin browns, din’ I?
Tania hasn’t a clue what the man’s talking about, and he’s got these crazy eyes she’s trying to avoid looking at, but he’s staring straight into hers. His face is pitted, skin shrunk tight over sharp bones and his skin’s dry as paper. The myriad lines he has are set in a frown.
   -Don’t fock me about, right. Show us yer fockin arms then.
   -I don’t inject. Gary sai-
   -How the fock do I know yer not five O?
   -Look, I’m not a pig. Ga-
The word escapes her mouth unexpectedly.
   -Any twat can say that, though, can’t they? En’t what you say, it’s who you are.
   -Please, let me finish my sentence. Gary said to come and see you. He couldn’t sort me out and said you would. I’m alright, yeah? Look, I want four bags. I’ve got forty quid, right.
The bloke pauses, looking her up and down for a minute. After what feels to Tania like ten minutes, he seems satisfied.
   -Alright. I can do you five bags for forty. But I’m gonna have to go and pick some up. Be about half hour, right?
   -Cheers. Look, I really appreciate this, Stan.
She smiles, relieved how well this is working out.
   -No problem. Give us the forty and I’ll see you outside the dole in half an hour.
Stan opens the door a bit wider and Tania feeds the money through to him.
   -Just gonna get me coat. Don’t hang around here. Go, shift, for fock sake. Go to Asda do a bitta shoppin or somefink.

   She gave him the money. Forty quid. Forty pounds sterling. Four tenners. A bargain, really: could’ve been five. Simon Tanner; Stan; Cockney Stan. Hold on a minute: Cockney? Cockney Stan, Stan the man. Stan, Stan the heroin man…was he? She gave him the money and he took it.
   Tania’s got money. People say that money doesn’t grow on trees, but it does for Tania. Money is made from paper and paper’s made from wood and Tania’s money comes from Daddy. Reams of paper, scattered with figures: calculations; profit, loss. Daddy’s BIG IN FINANCE and Daddy’s rich. Would she have handed Stan the money had it been her own? A Post Office giro? Signing on, forty quid’s more than a week’s payment, but Tania’s never been on the dole. Would she have handed it over if it had been part of a measly student grant that didn’t even cover the rent? But Tania doesn’t get a grant: she’s not eligible. Her parents earn too much. Instead, she gets an allowance from Daddy. Dearest Daddy, Daddy dear. O Mio babbino Caro, just like in the operas she’d seen on countless family outings. A cheque in the bank every month. And Tania spends money like cows eat grass.
   Tania’s always shopped at Sainsbury’s. Sometimes Tesco, but never Asda. She turns the corner and crosses towards the large supermarket, crossing the huge car park into the shop. The baskets have green handles and she heads straight for the booze aisle. Lingering before rows of wine, categorised into countries of origin: Argentina, Australia, Chile, Colombia…white to the left and red to the right. No, not wine today. She doesn’t want to carry the box. Boxes are divine; a box of red Stowells and she’s got a near-perfect night. But Southern Comfort’s what she’s decided on. The next isle is spirits. She chooses a bottle of Southern Comfort. Reads the labels on a few rums. Cockspur; Asda’s own brand; Bacardi; Appleton; She likes the label, but Wray and Nephew Overproof White Rum sounds more interesting. Adding it to her basket, she’s checking her watch and she’s got twenty minutes to go.
   Okay, clothes? Does Asda even sell clothes? Definitely worth avoiding.  Videos? Music…
   A young mother pushes a toddler in the trolley seat. He has blonde dreadlocks and big blue-green eyes. Totally cute, Tania’s thinking to herself and wondering if she’ll ever have children of her own. Wondering if she’ll ever meet a man she’d want to have children with. She’s smiling at him now, giving him little waves, as he waves his arms wildly at the bright jelly packets, beginning to whine as his mother pushes the trolley on, looking from the jelly to his mother emphatically, reaching and grabbing air as he breaks into a howl
   -I wan yeleeee!
   -Baby, next time we’ll get jelly, okay?
   -Hey, sugar, mummy’s gonna get you jelly next time…I can’t afford it today.
The boy’s wails fill the shop as Tania joins a long queue, the same woman joining the queue behind her. Rows of sweets and chocolates light up his eyes again as he leans and reaches for Skittles and Smarties, nearly precipitating himself from the seat.
   -We’ll get some when I get paid, little man, eh-ey, don’t cry now momma’s likkle man.
Tania watches the woman cuddle her boy back into the seat, rubbing her nose with his, kissing the tears from his wet cheeks and wiping his nose with a tissue. In her near-empty trolley are baked beans, onions, spaghetti hoops, tinned tomatoes and spaghetti, all in the white cheapest range packaging. All the while the boy continues to cry and cry.
   She feels in her pocket for change, offers the woman a pound.
   -For the baby? Is that okay?
The woman smiles, her hazel eyes lighting up and creasing into a smile.
   -Ah, thanks darling, hey, Josh-Josh, this lady’s just given you some pocket money; say thank you to the nice lady.
   The toddler hides his face in his mother’s coat amongst, old, dried tears and snot from earlier episodes.
   -It’s okay, don’t worry, he’s shy, huh?
The woman nods and chooses a packet of Skittles, handing it to her boy.
   -Hey little man, you want these? Say thank you, Josh, like a good boy.

   Adrenaline rushes to Tania’s stomach as she checks her watch. The woman at the checkout bleeps her shopping over the scanner and swipes Tania’s card through the till.
   -Do you want any cashback?
   -Yeah, can I have fifty pounds please?
At the tobacco counter she buys forty Marlboro Lights and leaves through the automatic doors .
   It’s quarter to four when she gets to the dole office on the corner of Moss Lane East and Chichester Road. She can’t see Stan, so she pushes at the door.
   -Sorry, we’re closed. A man wearing a blue and yellow Employment Service tie speaks through the glass.
   Tania lights a cigarette and leans against the wall. Reggae is pumping out of the Little Alex across the road; a greying Rastaman, dreadlocks hanging almost to his knees, is talking into a mobile phone in the doorway. She watches as buses drive up and down Alexandra Road, dropping off and picking up passengers. The smell of hops drifts in the air from the nearby brewery. The Rasta from the Little Alex slopes off up Alexandra Road towards the park as first spots of rain begin to fall. Taking another cigarette from her near-empty packet, Tania lights it from the one she’s just finished. It’s half four and there’s still no sign of Stan. Perhaps he’s had to go home first or something, she thinks, as she turns and walks down Chichester Road towards Stan’s flat.
   There’s no reply when she rings the buzzer. She presses the light-up button again, which is starting to glow yellow in the fading daylight. It’s raining heavily now and the wind’s picked up, blowing the branches of an ancient, lone tree which stands in a random patch of rubbly grass. A car seat leans against its trunk as though the tree’s just waiting for its driver to appear to speed it out of the inner city and away from impending chainsaws and bulldozers. A battered Asda trolley lies beside it, surrounded by empty cans, bottles. Some lay misshapen and melted on a circular patch of black and grey where a fire has scorched the earth. Tania doesn’t know it, but this is the Birley Tree, which once stood at the gates of Birley High School. Its branches curled into the shape of a hand sticking two fingers up to the world, one hundred and ten years it has stood, this black poplar, Queen of the trees of Hulme.
   Tania steps backwards into the dusk street and looks up at Stan’s flat. The windows are dark. After pressing the buzzer again, she walks back towards the dole, rain soaking through her jacket and trousers. It’s just coming up to half past five as she reaches the corner of Moss Lane East, cold rain dripping from her hair and down her back.

Stan is nowhere to be seen.

When Tania looks back at this day, this is what she will always remember: the smell of hops and the scorched earth beneath the Birley Tree.

© Vee 1993-2012

Tanya Gross-Whitekettle, Author: The Woman who Cheated Death

Tanya Gross-Whitekettle, Author: The Woman who Cheated Death

   She has the same eyes as her daughter. Her little girl’s eyes shine with pleasure at having her photograph taken with her newly dyed pink hair, but there’s something in Tanya’s green eyes that seem wiser than her twenty-nine years. It’s not that she looks old for her age: she’s fresh-faced and clear-skinned: it’s something barely detectable at first glance. But those eyes have looked death in the face: and survived.
   Tanya’s book, Six Degrees Away From Death, is a novel based loosely on a true story. In the opening scene, we find Kiko, the main character based on Tanya herself, in a hospital bed, having just awoken from a coma. We follow her story from the events which led to her near-death experience, through her feelings and experiences as a newly disabled mother and lover, to her decision to survive and to totally turn her life around.
   From a young age, Tanya battled with eating disorders and self-esteem issues:

   ‘She hated her body in her teenage years, and starved herself to fit in a size 5.  In 7th Grade, she was a size 11.  By the time she reached 8th Grade she was a size 7.  Her whole family was heavy at one point or another, unless they starved themselves. So to her one tiny meal a day, seemed normal.  Since her Mom was busy starving herself, and her Dad was an alcoholic workaholic, they never noticed.’ 

Tanya felt totally unable to fit into her small-town Pennsylvanian family. Brought up by her grandparents, the generation gap wreaked havoc with her teen years, stifling her free spirit. She looked elsewhere for adult company:

   ‘Kiko loved being the minor everyone fed drinks to at parties. Most of her friends were adults, and Kiko never realized their lifestyle they were introducing her to was toxic.  Kiko thought life was one big party…’

Through these new role models, she became the life and soul of the party. Iron fences had replaced boundaries in Tanya’s home life: from the stranglehold control of her family, she sought new ways to express herself, to find the freedom that had been denied to her.
   Despite having chosen not to use a strictly autobiographical genre, preferring to change characters, places and exact events, in Six Degrees Away From Death, Tanya doesn’t shirk from honesty. She tells it how it is, from her innermost thoughts to her deepest fears. Her internal dialogue is at times brutal, always frank. From the depths of despair,

   ‘The last thought she could remember having was, if I over dose, everyone would be so much better off.’

she climbs, step by step, out of the hole she feels she has dug for herself, with a determination which could rival an Olympic athlete. And for someone who was told that she would never walk again, this is nothing short of a miracle. In Six Degrees Away From Death, Tanya’s inner strength and resolve to triumph never ceases to enthral the reader. Despite setbacks and inner fears, Tanya truly is a survivor in every sense of the word.
   She plans to work with troubled teens, sharing with them her experience, strength and hope:

   ‘If I can help stop just one person from going down that route I took, then my job is done.’

Find out more about Tanya Gross-Whitekettle’s upcoming publication at

Shane Levene, the Writer who Shits on Publishers' Desks

Shane Levene, the Writer who Shits on Publishers’ Desks

It’s time I did a bit of propaganda for a unique writer whose words put mine to shame, for inspiring me to start my own blog.
Actually, it was my good friend and fellow artist, Helena Godwin, who first suggested blogging, and I was probably quite offensive and rude to her at the time. As I remember, I said something along the lines of ‘Hmph. I ain’t putting my stuff out there for free; I want publishing.’ And left it at that.

I never thought I’d end up ‘blogging’; blagging, maybe, but blogging? What? I hated the word for starters. Whoever came up with that word sure put me off sharing any of my precious words with the www.coms of this world. I wanted quids in and I wanted them now. Then. Twenty years ago.

Call me what you want, but I didn’t even know Shane’s page was a ‘blog’. When I came across it a while back, the screen glistening in opaque, rainbow patterns as my spunk splashed over his lovely photo, specifically the lit tip of his cigarette, I was hooked.

Okay seriously now, I can’t produce spunk, and I couldn’t actually see his photo at the time, reading as I was on my shitty mobile version, but his words resounded with me, straight to the gut. It was his post ‘The Sinner’s Eye – The Culture of the Needle’ which first hooked me. I’d never before identified with someone so strongly in the apparent weirdness of my mentality:

‘As it killed me, so it saved my life’

…Hell, yeah.

Before reading this I’d been called all manner of things by all manner of people for my belief that IV heroin saved my life. ‘You have to stop justifying your using thoughts’ ‘Good excuse to relapse’ ‘Fuckin lying junkie’ ‘All you fuckin drug addicts do is make excuses’ et cetera. Ad nauseum. Not that it matters ‘what people think’, but reading certain phrases in Shane’s Memoires was like reading my own thoughts:

‘And more than that I enjoyed the marks I was imposing on myself. It was a thrill, and finally I had some visible mark for the invisible pain I was trying to tame.’

And my god it felt good to have someone tell me, through beautifully written prose, it’s okay, that’s normal: I felt that too.
I don’t have the mis/fortune to be able to read Shane’s work from the perspective of someone who never had an IV heroin habit, but it’s not just about identification: it’s a bloody good read for saints and sinners alike, and if it’s blood and injection fetishism you’re looking for, don’t be disappointed that he covers so much more than just the ins and outs of the pin. Moreover, his work is important not purely on a literary level, but does much to de-stigmatise, demystify and ultimately challenge the way addicts are treated in society:

‘In it the addict has found a means to show a hurt or trauma that is not expressible in words.’

 It is a vehicle for change. Well, that’s a nice thought. Let’s hope I’m right. Addiction is, after all, the new leprosy. And Shane has the cure for the bell-sellers.

And like heroin itself, reading Shane’s Memoires is both therapeutic and addictive. Despite its apparently bleak edge, it’s feel-good literature. That’s the writer’s job, after all, to make the reader feel good. Nothing better than a good book that you can’t put down. Shane Levene has a talent that is rare in contemporary literature. His metaphysical, ethereal imagery transports the reader into his world, where the page becomes a cerebral cinema:

‘It was one of those rare occasions where the people were scarier than the shadows they cast.’

One night or morning, in the insomniac hours, I wrote Shane a fake review, and I meant it, because he truly is one of the best writers I have ever read. Here’s my fake review. Okay, why call it fake? I’ll become a reviewer now, as the blogosphere allows me to do so (fuck sake, I still hate that word, ‘blog’)

Shane Levene’s words cut cold as the pin which slices skin and snags virgin mainline, and suave as the plunger pushes home; sharp, satisfying and deep enough to sting with acidic wit…and always, but always leaving his reader wanting more…like coming home…

So, I decided to start putting my writing out there too. Because I’m sick of being productive yet unproductive, and because I like Shane’s concept of Shitting on Publishers’ Desks. Why lick the arses of publishers only for one’s hard-written words to remain housebound? My words have cabin fever. They feel better now they’re sneaking out: here’s their elixir. 
So thanks for the inspiration, Shane. May you outlive the cut’n’paste archivist publishers by many years.

Check out Shane Levene’s writing at


Thursday, 23 August 2012

Here's a w(rap) of misery for you. Based on the time I ended up in rehab for the second time after two overdoses on some rat-poisoned gear that wasn't easy. Enough to put anyone off going (back) down the dirt-brown track? It was my last straw situation as far as heroin was concerned. The good times had had it at that point, spurred on by the twin towers war on (drugs/opium/terror? You decide)...

Eleven Year Blues

I used to be pinned
But my tolerance is rising
I used to feel the rush
But the lack of it’s surprising
I used to chase dreams
Now the mainline is collapsing
I used to feel high
Now normality ain’t relaxing

Sitting in reality the heroin don’t cut it
And I’m shitting myself believing in the lies: how shall I put it?
How many times did I recover without recovery?
How many miles did I stagger towards the lover me
Arse hangin out of a pair of bondage trousers
Pickin’ me scabs and eating them then calling straightheads losers

How many nights of insomnia and nightmares
Visions of my funeral some fucker get me outta here

Holding together forevers that never exceeded expectations
Monsters from peripheries delusional lamentations

Music in my mind but the decks ain’t got a record on
Bouncing off the tenements and back at me and then it’s gone
Some motherfucker throws a quid at me and goes
With a face full of pity, I ain’t beggin’ but it shows
Am I destined for the place where humanity gives up on me
From needle to the grave what society expects of me
Diggin’ holes in my soul leaving black tattoo spots
My veins are running out and I’m just left with whats

Give me strength to go on cos I ain’t got none,
Cos I’m pukin’ up the bile and my sanity’s gone
Pissing blood, sunken eyes like the junkie clichés
Kissing mud drunk on lies as I dream of my grave

Guess that’s the place that I called rock bottom
Remember me to paradise before I’m forgotten.

So, here's a bit of poetry. Kind of fits in with the last post. I cringe a lot when I look back at old poems I wrote and no longer like. Why I ever thought there was any poetry in any of them remains a mystery. This, I wrote a few months back. 

For my Dad

Sixty something years
Of living fast, get olden,
Used to sing me Sinatra
Just to watch me throw a strop
Never seen you shed no tears
But hell, you must have had some
And when I think of whys and whats
My tears won’t stop.

And you used to talk to god
Down the big white telephone
Sipping back the golden
Of poison homebrew after dawn
Growing poppies in the garden
Watching buds rise up from sleep
With the spinach
And the gooseberries
In your scrap metal heap

When you left, you left her crying
(Well, she weren’t the only one
Who believed you’d make her happy; no, of
Many, she was one)
And the garden started dying
Taken over by the thorns
And my mom was disappearing
Eating nothing but remorse
Did you tell her that you loved her
When you fucked my best friend’s mom?
Cos if words like that come easy
Then I never heard them once

Did I tell you ‘Dad, I love you’?
No, the words were trapped inside
With the caustic taste of single malt
And blame and shame and pride
And if I said a word again, ‘twas likely ‘It’s your fault’
As the train pulled into Piccadilly, something in me died.

You brought me piccalilli
And some dogs’ breath pickled stuff
With our eyes set at foot-level
Lining bottles on the shelf
And believe me it was tough
So we cracked a red one open
Drinking sorrows to our health
And the rest was left unspoken

If you don’t call me
And I don’t call you
Think of me in lima beans
You soaked for cholent stew

Is it no love lost
Or were we both unable
To get further than the zehug sauce
That’s always on the table?

 © Vee 1993-2012

Twelve Steps Down to the Lab

   ‘Shit sticks’
That’s what he used to say, the Old Man. And he should know; working with shit every day as he did. Fuck knows where he’d studied chemistry, for he never went to university. Nightschool it must have been. Working daze and then dozing into the lab, half-cut on best. He always had a thing about doing the jobs that would always be needed. Gravedigger. Coffin-maker. Dustman. Baker. Tailor. Barber. Rag and boner, like his Old, Old Man (his Old Man had kicked the ashtray years ago, surrounded by pipe-fumes, watching George Formby. If it wasn’t the smoking that did him in, it was George.) But he chose shit removal, did my old man. Chemically sifting the shit, puke, piss and blood from water that should never have been recycled. I reckon that’s why I’ve never been into drinking tap water. The stories my Old Man told me about the water, I may as well have been drinking shit.
   They had an old motorcycle, he and his brother.
‘Couple of junkies they were’ the Old Lady would say on one or another of her frequent and vitriolic reminiscences, ‘Couple of bloomin’ junkies.’
So the old man, young as he was then, scooted off to the nightschool lab, collected later by his brother. When he’d finished, they’d disappear down the drinkhole, stagger off to bed and rise early to go to whatever day jobs they were lucky or unlucky enough to have. So the story goes, with or without elaboration.
   Whoever else came before the Old Lady, I’ll leave to the imagination, but he did had a young wife and two kids who he never saw again after he drank and cheated his way through a feckless marriage. (But certainly not a fuckless life, for he sure loved to fuck, the Old Man did.) Between stints on the shit farm, he took up the trumpet, splitting notes over Miles Davis soundtracks played on the old reel to reel. This provided an outlet for screwing his way around, from big band to small band to false overtime and back to the wife with a scrotum full of gonorrhoea. So that’s where he met the Old Lady, at one of his jazz club extravaganzas, like a young Eric Cantona without the ball skills, but who needs football when you’ve got the gift of the pickup? And pick her up he did, as his wife struggled to settle sleeping toddlers, he and the Old Lady played duets in the key of blue.
   How she expected him to change for her benefit was a mystery known only to women who love bastards, but the Old Lady sure expected something: Fidelity. Do you think it happened? Did it fuck. But they shacked up together, and come hell and monthly trips down the genito-urinary clinic, they stuck together. So he worked days and nights on the shit farm, they played early hours in the clubs and bars, her on sax, him on trumpet. They don’t call it the blues for no reason. They shu’ was sad together. And to add mystery to misery, after I popped out, unplanned, unwanted and undoubtedly the carrier of some strain of something or another, they bought a broken down house on the cheap as a DIY project. And in the shit-fragranced cellar, he set up a lab of equipment stolen from work.
   There were twelve steps down. The door was an ancient, woodwormed and dry-rotted thing with cracked panels crazed with grey-green lead paint in matt and never redone. The flakes littered the splintery floor like the dandruff of a scabied dog, never swept, mixed with the purple-grey fluff that suffused the entire Georgian tumble-down house. This was the door to the lab of the Sewage King; my Old Man. There were Bunsen burners, rubber pipes, flasks, all manner of pyrex, petri dishes, crucibles in stacks and three-legged stands. What the fuck he did down there, I had no idea. He’d also dubiously acquired a green-enamel painted rust riddled set of drawers which seeped hazardous substances. Lime. Hydrochloric acid. Unlabelled jars and ceramic vessels and pungent smells. He’d written in permanent black marker on hand-torn strips of masking tape,
‘Highly volatile’
That sort of thing. His favourite emblem was a skull and crossbones, marked POISON.
   As years flowed in dregs of Captain Morgan and homebrew stolen from the virgin-Mary-blue airing cupboard, sentences lurked in the depths of my consciousness.
   ‘I’ve got AIDS: don’t share my toothbrush or razor!’
   ‘I never wanted you. I would have left the bastard years ago if I didn’t have you.’
   ‘I had to sell my sports car because it only had two seats, and you wouldn’t fit in.’
   ‘The only reason I didn’t commit suicide was because of you’
This was the Old Lady, caught up in her own trap of happy family dreams, dreaming of change, of the day she’d be loved. The AIDS was a scare, not for real, well, as far as I know. I went into school, well, preschool, aged four, spouting ‘My mummy’s got AIDS, she’s going to die.’ My world was suspended in swigs of self-administered calming pink calpol and the homegrown green the Old Man spiked my grub with to get a good night’s sleep. And under the big, old, cold-watered, broken-boilered, roof-leaking, crumble-plastered house, the lab festered with secret recipes and hanging corpses of rabbits, pheasants, geese and ducks murdered by the Old Man in crack-of-dawn roadkill missions.
   There was an L-Shaped, grassless garden they called The Yard out the back. From the window of the Lab, if you looked through the hollyhocks you could see the Old Man’s patch of spinach, ganja, goosegogs, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, opium poppies, ragwort and oxalis. The ash tree stopped the sunlight in the back part where the compost heap festered. That was the tomato patch, but the Old Man preferred the shit farm tomatoes, grown from the arseholes of many and fed with the richest combination of humanure in the peripheries of the sludge tanks. They were huge and deep red, and I wouldn’t touch them, never mind eat them. But it was the poppies I loved the best. As they began to raise their sleeping buds, I’d check for the first show of glistening tissue-paper petal, guessing the colour and teasing the buds open to take a peek. Purple-white, pink-white, red-black, purple-black, I had no favourite. I’d sit for hours watching the dewdrops on the cabbage-like leaves, tearing fragments and eating the lettuce-flavoured pieces. As the morning blooms opened, I’d lick my finger and wipe it over pollen-laden stamens, tasting like a bee and burying my nose in its baby-podded heart.
   Sometimes we need to piece the fragments of memory together to understand how we got to the places we travelled on-purpose unawares. The Lab will always be part of that process of growing memories like the seeds I sprinkled from brown-ripe pods into juvenile hands, vocalising vowels and consonants which smelled of warm soil and poppy sap. Oh-pee-yum. Opeeeyum Oh-p-iiiii-yum.
   But that was long ago now. Today the house is full of designer investment tycoons who bought it up at auction. I hope they enjoy the ghosts. 
 © Vee 1993-2012 

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Here's the first chapter of a book (I won't call it a novel. Not into the word) I started years ago and finished and refinished and refinished and continue to refinish.
I should stop looking at it, because every time I have a read, there are changes I can't resist making.
I wrote it on scraps of paper, in notebooks, on the back of Aldi receipts, on my hand and up my arm. Not really, but the scraps of paper and the notebooks are true enough.
When I started writing I was well into the drugs bike and freshly obsessed with the needle. Ah, those halcyon days of sucking up blood and splattering it onto the cardboard innards of the novels of Burroughs et al.
Anyway, here's the first chapter. If anyone likes it, I'll post chapter two.

Vee X

Cold rapid hands

Draw back one by one

The bandages of dark

I open my eyes


I am living

                At the centre

Of a wound still fresh

     -Otavio Paz


Spare Some Loose Change

   It’s fuckin freezing under this blanket. I exhale slowly and watch my breath curl away like smoke. My god, I wish I had a cig. As I check the street for promising free-fag material, a group of evening-out wankers push out of the next door take away.

   -Got a spare cig mate?

A Burberry-jacketed cunt with a number one finished in bleach-blonde offers cigarettes around his mates from a full pack of Regal, looking at me like he’s about to piss himself laughing, trying to get the others to enjoy the joke, then they cross the road, running as they see their bus approaching, laughing, smoking-

   -Fock, fock sake, the fockin bus!-

-all dressed in various crease-ironed trousers, chequered shirts and kicker-style shoes.

   I open my resealable silver plastic bag to count the evening’s takings. Not bad, could be better. Too many coppers and five pees, but nearly there. Well there’re always too many coppers in this job, moving you on half the time but what can you do?  Another hour. Feet pass. Mostly steering away, all going somewhere- trainers; knee-length boots; skater shoes; DMs; Indian sandals with socks; strictly-no-trainers-no-jeans-club shoes. I keep my head down most of the time like, except for the odd occasion when change drops into the Man City hat I’ve got in front of me. Service with a smile, eh? Fuck me, it’s cold.

   It’s early March and a sharp wind’s threatening a drab spring. What your average non-pavement boy doesn’t appreciate is the cold. In a job like this, disillusionment creeps up on even the well prepared with alarming ferocity. And you know what, if I had a tenner here now and some change for the phone, I wouldn’t bother embarrassing myself sitting here any longer. But to be honest, I’m beyond embarrassment. I passed that stage years ago. I put it like that so you understand, but what I basically mean is, I wouldn’t waste my time freezing my arse off here, sat on my arse on a piece of cardboard in a skanky old blanket outside Abduls, if I didn’t have a cash flow problem, right? Right. So now we understand each other, I’ll let you take a closer look.

   If I was standing up, which I don’t usually bother with for a long session, more for the casual opportunist opportunities, you’d notice I’m not a short-arse or a tall kind of bloke, and there’s not much meat on my bones, like my auntie used to say when I wouldn’t eat up the carved carcases she forked onto my plate. Always liked my veg, but meat, I still can’t stand it. Used to chew it and gob out balls of the stuff, stick it on the ledge under the table. Still got a mohie: had it since I was in school. Not that I bother shaving the sides every day, or dye it much; well, I’ve got a cash flow problem like I said, so it’s a sort of cacky brown at the moment, which matches this height-of-fashion duffle coat. Wish I hadn’t sold my biker jacket now, but that’s life. I’d put about a thousand studs in it and done some wicked paintings all over it; copied that Exploited picture with all them punk skeletons on the back too off the album cover for Troops of Tomorrow. Looking back, it was worth more than the fifty measly quid I got for it and I bloody hate this poxy duffel coat, seriously. If I ever see Mogga again, I’ll buy it back; swear to god he had to squeeze himself into it cos he’s a fat bastard. I’m not offending him, he says so himself. He was giving me all that lecture bullshit and all the ‘are you sure about this, Scab face?’ shit when I sold it to him, but he was always admiring it, so I knew he’d be chuffed to buy it off of me.

   I cut the sleeves off this cunting duffel thing, fuck knows why, cos like I said, I’m bloody freezing now. At least I’ve got this navy hoodie and the mohair jumper I can curl my camouflaged knees up into in an attempt at warmth; yeah, it’s not a bad one either: Ites gold and green like the Rastaman who gave it to me said. Moses. ‘Gary, mon, jus satta, star’ he said when I offered him a fiver for it. Wouldn’t take a penny for it, not even a pint of Guinness. Yeah, he’s a top bloke, proper sorted, but I’ll tell you about him later, right, cos my boots are moulding themselves to my feet, they’re that cold. My toes are numb and that Manchester drizzle what came down earlier’s soaked my blanket, soaked everything, freezing my arse, which is also becoming dangerously numb. Ah, but here’s a drip of happiness, a bloke on a skateboard stops and hands us a couple of cigs…magic, eh? Minutes pass. Buses pass. Short skirts and stilettos pass, but do I look bothered?

   Check this out. After today, she’ll probably be here every fuckin night, on the dot, well I’d say on the dot if I had a watch, but you know what I mean. Here she comes, head bowed like Saint effin Ophelia, if there is a Saint Ophelia, that is, this wafer-thin girl. Approaching me now in her Hi-Tec squash shoes, white socks, red jeans. I look up at her: dark-haired, hollow-eyed, in an M&S jacket. Earnest-looking.


She speaks tentatively with a soft RP accent. I mumble a reply; well, more of a grunt, shoving my money bag back into the inside pocket of my coat, looking sideways down the street at the neon curry house signs, the buses. The road and the pavement are Friday night busy. And I’m in a rush now, you know, fuckin aching to get this money changed up and shift. The girl coughs, crouches down in front of me. Biting her bottom lip, hands clasped. Here we go. I have her sussed before she even opens her mouth. I get them all the time; the do-gooder contingent, the god-squad, the wannabe social workers social wankers; social spastics. Helping you to help ourselves. Ok, I know, I’m sounding like a judgemental bastard now, right, but I’ll tell you about judgemental: the ones who spit at me, kick me and do a runner, throw coppers at me, swear at me: Get a fockin job. Scounging our taxes. Sewer rat. There are always the odd ones who are sound: I don’t mind a decent chat from time to time. Takes my mind off the cold. But I prefer most of them to just drop the money in the hat and walk away. I’m not in the job for the conversation. If I’d wanted that, I’d have worked in telesales.

   -Um, excuse me, sorry to bother you, but, um, I was wondering if you know somewhere to get something to eat, uh, because there’s a place behind the university…

Like she’s born and bred in Manchester and I’m not, like. I mean, excuse my sarcasm, but I was working these streets before she was sitting her GCSEs. I’m hoping for the last couple of squid to top up the shrapnel in the kitty so I smile and nod.

   -Yeah, I’m alright, cheers love.

   -Um, and you’ve got somewhere to sleep? The Salvation Army hostel is only ten pounds a night…

Is that all? Like they have vacancies anyway: my left arse cheek they have vacancies, and ten pounds a night to get raped up the arse and your stuff nicked or your head kicked in if you’re lucky? Now we’re talking: I can get the same treatment in one of her Majesty’s overnight suites for free. Now I’m beginning to wish the girl would just piss off. She’s putting people off, squatting my pavement space like a free-ad for a non-denominational cult. She means well enough, but we all know that’s a psuedo-compliment, right?

   -Well, so long as you have enough to eat and a place to sleep…

You should see the way she looks at me, like butter won’t melt, but she’s getting this red glow around the old cheeks and it’s spreading. Roll on tenner time…

   -I don’t suppose you’ve got a spare cig?

   -I’m sorry, I don’t smoke- but I do have something for you: will you read this?

 Surprise, surprise. She pulls out a small booklet and hands it over. There’s a whole bunch of them in her pocket. I fantasize briefly about reaching in and evacuating possible banknotes tucked underneath them, her words blurring into the general diesel engine and car-horn chatter.

   -It’s Mark’s Gospel. I just want you to know that Jesus loves you, whoever you are, whatever you’ve done. He forgives all our sins.

   -Good for you. Sin a lot, do you?

Ha, she don’t know what to make of that one. Just looks at me gone out. So I help her out a bit, get the ball rolling on the business front.

   -Well, ‘ave you got some spare change then, love?

   -I’m sorry, I don’t give money to beggars. If you look to the lord for help…

   -Well, has he got some spare change then?

Ha, that got her. Bloody hypocrite. See what I mean? The tightest of ‘em all, the do-gooders.

   -Who, sorry?

   -The lord.

   -Uh, sorry, I don’t understand?

 I can feel myself laughing now. It’s fun to have a laugh with them now and again. Different planet. Different bloody planet.

   -Has the lord got some spare change? Just you said I should ask him, and seeing as you know him so well, I thought you could ask him on my behalf, maybe he gives money to people like me, so he wouldn’t mind lending you a fiver.

I’m getting impatient now. This is prime time. I’ll put it like this: there’s enough circumstantial evidence in this world to give super heavyweight titles to the argument that the lord doesn’t give a shit about people who ask for his help. If his so-called missionaries won’t help when I ask them, either they’ve misunderstood what he instructed them, or he didn’t tell ‘em owt: you decide. Religion’s only useful to those balancing the books. How much could I get for her leaflet down the nearest second hand bookshop, for example? Sweet eff ay. Get my point?

   -Uh, well, every Sunday, we have a service here…

Now she’s getting another booklet out of her pocket and I’m checking for a stray tenner or even a quid slipping out unnoticed, but it’s not my lucky day. She’s showing me an address on its reverse next to a wishy-washy watercolour of a cross, surrounded by white flowers. Funereal if you ask me.

   -The address and times are on the back. We have a morning and an evening service; you’re always very welcome to come and invite all your friends.

Oh yeah, maybe I’ll pop in some time and relieve them of their burden in the form of a few notes from the old silver plate. Last time the lord’s minions helped me to help myself it was from a wooden bowl, else legging it with the whole plate would have been a distinct possibility. Easy work if you can get it. But with clothes like this and the stink on me like a dog that just got out the river, it’ll be eagle eyes all round. Last time I had a go I escaped with a twenty and a grin like a winning politician on election night, but the speed with which I had to scarper hurt like me lungs were on fire. Should quit the smoking really. It don’t help with the choring: can’t run as fast as I used to.

   I’m beginning to feel pretty frayed around the edges. I’m looking at the toecaps of my boots, checking this big rip in the leather where the steel’s showing through. I’m getting tetchy, the pit of my stomach heaving quietly to itself and I’m not in the mood for this shit. If she doesn’t shift soon I’m gonna to get aggro, and that ain’t good for business, but seriously, it’s like going into a brothel and expecting a sports massage on the NHS with some people, eh?

   -Look, love, I appreciate your concern and all that, but I got a job to do ‘ere.

   -Um, well, uh….pause…Um, well, I’m Sue- uh- what’s your name?


   -Well, Danny, you take care, and take time to real the Gospel…it’s really good, you know…you might be pleasantly surprised.

    -You’ll get a fockin surprise in a minute, love, I think to myself, or do I say it out loud? Either way, she looks a little upset as she gets to her feet, cos when I light the cigarette I got earlier off some Cockney skater, she does these big Princess Di interview eyes at me, looking up and down the street with this scared animal vibe, then back at me. I can almost hear her thinking: how dare he ask me for a cigarette, when he already had one? The cheek of it! Funny, right? I do a lot of imagining what other people are thinking. Not much of it nice.

   -Goodbye, my friend.

   -Yeah, right.

Back to business it is then, and tonight I’m onto a winner after all. The pubs are kicking out, which can mean a number of things, but it’s all good tonight thank fuck, and the quids are flying into the hat and my lucky break comes with the return of the skater who hands me a fiver.

   -Nice one, you sure, like? I ask him, which I immediately regret. Fuckin daft twat I can be, honest: are you sure?  What is it with all this are you sure stuff?

   -No, I’m not sure, now give it us back. Course I’m sure, else I wouldn’t’ve given you it, would I?

See, like I said, there’s sound cunts just like there are daft cunts and evil cunts. So when the last of the drinkers have left the kebab houses with their steaming food parcels, I pull myself up, slowly. Slowly slowly. For fuck sake, it’s painful. My knees have seized up and I can hardly straighten my back. Definitely time to get moving. I take a well deserved stretch which turns out to be painful too, and yawn. What’s up with me and all this stretching and yawning? Right, let’s go: I’m walking faster with every step.

*   *   *

   Tania’s cursing and slamming the receiver of the payphone down repeatedly like she’s trying to tenderise old mutton for the fourth time in a row. Bastard, she’s thinking, switch your fucking phone on. What the fuck’s going on? He’d told her to phone him at eight and he’d have it all bagged up. Now it’s almost midnight. This is taking the piss. Four hours, and by now Adam and Nathan will be long gone and she’ll be stuck all weekend with Hellie. Fuck that for a game of soldiers, no chance. She’s in a rage now, trying to slam the door of the phone box. Frustrated with its slow-closing door mechanism, she gives it a kick, stubbing her toe.

   -Ow, for fuck’s sake!

She’s walking now, then running for the number 47. The driver raises his eyebrows as she flashes her weekly student bus pass.

   -Rushing home through Rusholme love?

God, that joke gets more irritating every time she hears it.

She stomps upstairs to the back, grabbing the cold, chrome bars as she goes, sits on the spring-hard back seat and lights a fag.

*   *   *

   The fuckin lighter ain’t working. I’m not having any of this, I can feel the flint coming loose like it’s about to spring off and it’s times like this when a walk down the road to the garage ain’t the first thing on my mind. Fuck sake, there it goes, landing in no mans’ land. Hang on…I’m remembering now, there’s a box of matches somewhere. Maybe in the kitchen. If you can call it a kitchen. I look around the room, turning over books, trashed drawings, plates, empty baked beans cans. Fuck sake, don’t laugh. Do you see me laughing? If I just shove it all inside this Kwik Save bag I’ll have more chance of finding the matches or even another lighter. Call it tidying up if you like. Fuck sake, there’s so much chaos in here my feet are crunching like the floor’s sandy. Right: wrappers; tins; newspapers; that drawing’s had it; it’s got to go…

   I’m checking the kitchen now. I got this old Calor gas burner off a skip with Spid, and the chest of drawers it’s standing on. Yeah, you guessed, the cylinder’s empty. Yes, I’ve got it. Ha, look, a box of matches inside this pan. Stuck to the side by some cruddy smee, but who cares. Charred stumps, noooo. Hang on, two matches left. I hate using matches but I don’t reckon I have much choice now. Or do I? I light the lighter with the match, which works better. It’s a bit of a bloody fiddle but eventually I’m all sorted and everything’s getting there…

   Fuckin hands shaking like an old alchie with the DTs, swear to god I miss the old times: no rattle, no sweat, no problems finding a route of administration so to speak, ha. Fuck me, there she is, the scarlet in the brown, feel better before it even goes in… the relief ain’t something you can describe unless you’ve got a habit. I breathe in like it’s fresh air in the Blue Mountains, deep and long, and hit home.

   Cushty again. Now I can relax. I’m sitting in this big old armchair, gouching nicely and if I do say so myself it’s about time I sorted out my shit. I got piles of drawings here, half of them all fucked up with black marks and stuff and coffee rings. Then there’s my painting.

   Yeah, I’ll get on with it tomorrow, sort it out, get some stuff sold. Since I was a kid they always told me I had a talent for art. Yeah, it’s pretty good stuff I’ve done, must be able to make a few quid, surely? I should go round the galleries or something. Ha, me, Gary Fitzpatrick, the big talent waiting to be discovered. What a fuckin tragedy. Seriously though, I could do with making something work for a change. Don’t you reckon? Like Moses would say, Lord have mercy!

PART ONE: Squatters’ Rights



Wet Phosphorus


    It’s easy to squeeze through this cellar window, despite its narrowness: she’s done it before. As Tania drops onto bricky rubble below, the dank, familiar smell hits her in the pitch black as she gropes her way across the room, stopping as she hits a stone staircase. Slight, yellow light casts itself down banisterless steps. As she reaches the ground floor, light from the street falls in distorted rectangles onto the floor of the hall from the part-open doors, the musty odour of abandoned buildings hanging in the air. She creeps along uncarpeted boards, clinging to carved banisters, some of which are broken or missing and makes her way up the wooden staircase to the first floor. An empty room gapes at each end of the corridor; two other rooms face her: one, a stagnant bathroom, another a deep pink bedroom with varnished floorboards. Another flight of stairs and she faces a white door upon which is written in solid black marker pen:


There’s a spray-can painting of a punk putting two fingers up on the bottom half of the door as though the artist couldn’t be bothered to stand up to do it, because the top half of the door is white, but for the writing. At the very bottom, a tag’s sprayed in black filled with green: sKaB 9T6.

   There are three keyholes: one, a Yale lock, the other two, mortises. Above, a roof window leaks orange light onto the landing, at the end of which she can see a large attic room with a wide, broken window.

   -Gary, she whispers.

There’s no response. She’s tapping lightly now, putting her ear against the door. Silence. Knocking louder, she’s calling me and stepping away, leaning against the wall. She’s hearing movement, shifting of objects, but she doesn’t know what I’m doing or why. And I know it’s her, but I ask anyway.

   -Yeah, who is it?

I’ve told her never to bring anyone and I know she hasn’t, but I feel the need to ask her if she’s alone. Come on, call me a control freak if you want, but I don’t want no one snooping around, getting ideas, messing up my patch. Before I got this place it wasn’t pretty, trust me, and I want to keep it like this. It might not be your idea of paradise revisited, but it’s better than a kick up the arse and a night behind the Piccadilly Hotel getting the heat from the kitchen vents. Warm enough, but the cooking smell either makes you want to eat or want to puke: either way, I’m happier here and no one messes with me. So here she is. Again.

   I slide the two bolts and turn the two keys and open the door for her. As soon as she’s in, she’s lighting a fag and sitting down on my bed. Anyone might think we were an old couple the way she acts round me these days but that’s never going to happen. She’s looking at the walls like she always does. She spends hours staring at my drawings and she’s always on about them. Here we go, typical Tania conversation as usual. I’ve told you before that I can draw, but some people think they’re a genius when they’re just basically just arrogant and talentless. Maybe I’m talentless, so to avoid being shoved into the first category, I tend to avoid self-inflation.

   -Have you been doing much painting?

I wonder why she always asks this, because the amount of time she spends looking, she should have noticed by now that nothing new’s been stuck up there for some time.

   -Uh, a bit, you know. Haven’t really had the time.

   -You should sell them you know, get them down on decent paper.


   -Your pictures. You’re well good, you know that?

See how them compliments roll in? How do I know if she’s just saying they’re good, though? She’s always fishing for something, is Tania. You know how I met her? A nice girl like Tania, hanging around with the likes of me? I was begging in my usual evening spot outside Abduls, when she stopped for a chat. Gave me a full packet of Marlboro Lights and a twenty.

   -What’s that for? I’d asked her. There was something clingy about her. I’d seen her a few times before in the past week. She’d walk past me and give a nice smile and drop a couple of quid in the hat. After a few times, she’d started saying


Like that, a sort of tinkly, naughty ‘Hi!’ that if it was written down would have one of those yellow smiley faces next to it. Next thing you know it’s the Marlboro fuckin Lights and twenty quid, and it’s not like me to question a twenty quid note being shoved into my hand, but it was loaded. Next thing was the million dollar question:

   -Do you know where I can buy some smack?

And I laughed in her face.

She hadn’t even known what gear was before she met me. Hadn’t smelled it, hadn’t seen it, hadn’t tasted it. I mean, who calls it smack these days? Do they? Don’t start judging me now, will you, eh? Okay, so it was obvious to me that she hadn’t got a habit, but I asked her anyway and she said no, but she used it. So guilt free, okay? I never introduced her to it, ‘someone else did’. Yeah, right. She’s alright though, is Tania. I like her. That first night she’d gone on about her course, how she was only doing it because her mum and dad wanted her to, blah, blah, blah. She’s a posh bird, always got fags, new clothes, money, new hairdos. She’ll lend me money no questions asked and never ask for it back. I wonder sometimes if she keeps a tab of how much I owe her, but she never says owt. And she’s round me now like flies round shit, not that I’m complaining. Shame really: she’s naïve. She’s safer round me than round some of the cunts she could have met first. Yeah, she could have got herself into some real shit if she’d’ve met someone like Lee that night. I’m alright, me, not like some of the cunts out there. Yeah, I look after her really.

   So here she is with her hair all half-short and half-long with blonde bits and a posh frock and she’s telling me to sell my pictures.

   -I sold a few once. Down in Cornwall, I tell her. –Cards and little paintings, to the tourists and that. It’s too bloody cold now, always raining, they’d get wrecked.

She’s got her sympathy face on now. It’s right funny. I reckon some people would call it patronising, but I like it for some reason. Yeah, I like Tania.

   -You could get a pitch in Market Street: you’d sell loads.

Could I? In my humble opinion, I’d do better sticking with grafting like I always did. Days I never sold nothing and had to beg anyway: think of the time wasted when I could have been making money instead.

   -What, and have the pigs hassling me? No chance. I got moved on all the time in Cornwall. You’re meant to have a license, ain’t you? Bastards. Can’t do nothing without getting exploited by rich cunts.

Tania’s face starts glowing now.

   -Not you, love, you’re nice, I reassure her, like she needs reassuring, but there’s something about her that makes me want to reassure her. Like I don’t wanna see her cry. Like she’s got this invisible sign that says FRAGILE.

   -Nice? Ah, thank you, so are you.

   -So gizza cig then Tan.

So she throws us a fag and I break off the filter.

   -Got a light love?

And she throws us a lighter. She might have it back for a bit but when she leaves, it’ll have been converted into my possession.

   -Why d’ you wanna spend all that money on Marlboro Lights anyway? A fag’s a fag, you don’t have to waste your money just to impress the other students. They all smoke them.

   -Ah, but if they really wanna impress the other students, Gaz, they smoke Marlboro reds.

She’s smiling at me, her big green eyes widening as if to emphasise what an important point she’s making. Yeah, like I said, with those eyes, the way she looks, she’s lucky she met me first and not someone like Lee. Seriously. Like the ocean, they are, the fucking Atlantic ocean, all greens and blues with little starry bits and these tiny cute crinkles when she smiles. I’d not say I fancy her cos there’s someone else I like, love; someone I’ve been into for years, ‘cept I’m the only cunt who knows. Unless she’s psychic, that is. Women seem to know things before you tell them, female intuition and all that. No, I’m not interested in Tania, not like that. Tell the truth, even the girl I’m into probably wouldn’t be speaking to me if she knew my private thoughts. That’s probably why I haven’t told her. Ruin the friendship shit like that does, right?

   -Don’t you ever just wanna get away, Gaz? Why did you come back up here if you were living in Cornwall?

   - The winters are freezing. Like fockin Scandanavia. Anyway, apart from that, it’s a long story. I’ll tell you some other time.

   -No, tell me now, I want to know.

That’s the thing with Tania, she always wants to know now or go now or smoke now. And she always wants to know.

   -Alright, alright. When I was living down in Cornwall…you know Spid, right?

   -Him with the huge Alsatian?

   -Skinner. Yeah. Well, we were living in this bus. He got this ex-GM bus in some auction- did it up really nice- we used to park it up down this place near St Ives, Godrevy point I think it’s called, something like that. They’ve got these random fields up on the cliffs near this lighthouse. It’s beautiful. Used to wake up and see the sun rise up over the ocean; well, it ain’t gonna rise down, is it?

   -No, that’s a sunset.

   -Rise down...but they were beautiful too. Blue skies; perfect, long waves. Gorgeous.

   -So what are you back here for then?

   -Wait, I’m telling yer. Used to wake up and find parking fines stuck to the windscreen. Ignored them. Well, you do. And Spid ain’t got no tax or insurance. He probably ain’t got no MOT neither but who’s askin’? It’s just robbery, all that. I mean, it works, he can drive the thing: it’s his fuckin house, right? You live like that to get away from all that shit. We were kids, really, just trying to be free. We go for a surf one day-

Tania’s laughing at me now, her eyes open wider than ever, her mouth gaping like she’s gonna start dribbling any minute and I can see her fillings are gold, not your usual skanky grey stuff that tastes of metal.

   -You went surfing!

   -What’s so funny about that?

She shakes her head and just smiles to herself in amusement.

   -Nothing, really, it’s just you don’t look like the surfy type.

I raise my eyes to the ceiling.

   -Why, cos I ain’t got shoulder-length bleach-blonde hair and a Mambo T-shirt?

   -Something like that. Tell me more, surfer boy, hahaha, you, surfing, that’s funny.

She’d go into paroxysms of laughter in those days, sometimes I really thought she’d pissed herself for real when she got like that. I just dismiss it and keep talking over her squeals and giggles and eventually she calms down.

   -Anyway, we get back and the bus is gone.


   -Yeah, I thought I was tripping for a minute, but it’s definitely gone. We’ve been stopping in that spot two weeks, is all…no one to be seen. Left standing in our wetsuits.

She’s squeeling and giggling again and red as a poppy on Armistice Day. If I was arrogant, I’d say it was a good story, but she’d laugh at anything back then.

   -What did you do?

Forcing the words out between emphysemic wheezes now: seeing her laugh, you’d think it was comedy night at the Apollo, only with a comedian who’s actually funny.

   -Had to borrow some clothes off this bloke we knew in Hayle. It’s a right schlep from where we were; we looked like right wankers.

   -What about the bus?

   -Pigs robbed it. They’d rather see you on the streets than evading their taxes. Robbing bastards.

   -That’s well out of order.

Tania lights another fag and chucks one over to us. She’s gone all sombre now. Changeable as the wind, she is, like smoke from a campfire, blowing in your eyes one minute and in someone else’s the next.

   -Gary, have you got any gear?

Has this girl got chutzpah or what? I guess it’s her who should be saying that about me, but it goes both ways. Yeah, it always goes both ways in this life.

   -Talk about robbing bastards…

   -Nah- seriously…

See, I told you, she’s always fishing for something.

   -There’s a bit left in that bag.

(Yeah, Tania, that bag you’ve been eyeing up the whole time, yeah, that one…nothing left in it to feel anything anyway and I’ve been out grafting since early this morning, so everything’s sorted, and I’ll ask you to sort us for tomorrow: everyone’s happy, right?) She makes a grab for it with an excited little look on her face. Grinning like a cat.

   -Cheers Gaz, seriously, that arsehole Lee wouldn’t answer his phone. Had it switched off all night. He knew I wanted to score, the bastard.

   -You shouldn’t be doing that shit, you know.

  -What, so it’s alright for you to do it, but not me?

   -You know what I mean.

Does she? Does she really know what I mean? I’m not one to lecture, though. What’s the point? So I pick up a pile of my drawings and start looking through them to take my mind off the whole scenario. Things I’ve seen, this pales in comparison, so I’ll let it go. She’s tutting to herself and rolling her tinfoil so she can have a toot.

   -Since when have you been my mother?

So she empties the little bit from the bag onto her tinfoil square and holds her lighter to its underside, letting the melted brown roll down its length, sucking up that sweet smoke like her life depends on not wasting a wisp. Fucking waste.



Fuck me, those were the days, eh?

Tania lays down on the bed, arching her back and closes her eyes.

*   *   *

   It’s rained in the night. Pools of wet mix with last autumn’s fallen leaves, merging into a slippery sludge in the gutters. A car horn sounds below. Tania searches for her bag on the floor, knocking over a pan of last night’s vomit which leaves a crusted circle of yellow where the sick has dried to its sides overnight. Retching, she mops it up with a handful of pages from the Metro News, watching the chunks lodge themselves in the grooves between the floorboards before she crams the crumpled sick paper into the pan.  She picks up her bag, wiping her hands on a photo of a fat white man in a suit with the bold caption of Praise for Local Councillor in Refuse Site Bid. The car horn sounds again. She thinks I’m still asleep as she picks her way across the room to the door and unfastens the two heavy-duty bolts and unlocks the mortises.


I’m laying in a pool of cold sweat that’s not easy, my eyes crusty and watering, bones, back and belly aching like I’ve been flogged half to death and skewered through the intestines.

   -Gotta go, cab’s waiting.

I fuckin hate these shakes. Rattling like a cunt. Every morning it’s the same but I’m safe. If I hadn’t been lucky last night I’d have to get up and go out like this.

   -Yeah, uh, Before you go, you couldn’t lend us a tenner til I get paid? Please?

It’s not like me to say please, but I look at her with my best sad puppy look. I know my pupils are gaping, and she can see the state I’m in. I don’t get some people, cos surely she don’t wanna end up like this, but I understand her too. When it happens, okay, if it happens, she won’t even notice. But I’ve seen that look in her eyes when she’s wanting something; know what I mean? Lady H has got under her skin alright. That’s just my professional opinion and if she don’t believe me, that’s not my problem, capice? She fumbles in her bag, the taxi driver below beeping again, and chucks me over a crumpled note.

   -Til Wednesday, Right? Cheers Tan, you’re a fockin lifesaver.

She reaches over and gives us a hug, which hurts, and a kiss on the cheek, which stings, and stinks of puke.

   -Take care of you, surfer boy, she smiles and winks, giggling a bit. A bit hazybrained still from the night before.

   -Yeah, you too, and clean yourself up, you stink of puke

Before she’s even out the door, I uncrumple the note to find a twenty, instead of a ten. Yeah, I like Tania, she’s a good lass for sure.

   It half kills me to get up and lock the door behind me, but I don’t have the choice. Door’s gotta be locked at all times, can’t get complacent…at least I don’t have to go out right now. Stinks of puke in here as well. I’m sniffing around to see where the fuck she’s vomited this time. There it is, a wet patch on the floor, fuck sake. I’m gonna buy that girl a bucket if it’s the last thing I do for her…the rank, acidic stench makes me gip and I nearly cover her wet patch with my own vom when I see the yellowish-brown matter lodged in the cracks and the sick pan…. my guts churn in the freezing cold as I hurry back to the bed, lift up the mattress and find my stash.

   Chunks of semi-damp phosphorus skit across the room as I try to light the last match, before I remember Tania’s lighter. She might chuck up on me floor and wipe it up with the crossword but I have to give thanks to her. As I suck the luscious brown fluid into this seven-times-used pin, I could kick myself for not getting any clean ones, it’s hard enough finding a vein as it is without this blunt piece of fuckery.

   God, I relish these moments. It’s beyond relief: it’s my fuckin sustenance. I sling the scavvy old pin in the grate. It’s cold enough in here to store frozen turkeys without them thawing. Damp’s clinging to the place, bringing pieces of plaster off the ceiling and bubbling the paint off the walls. With this twenty of Tania’s and the fiver I’ve got left over, I can score myself a teenth. Or get two bags and some coal. Come on, what would you choose? Could go skipping, get some wood for nothing. Wet wood, huh, but there’s plenty of newspaper here. I check my coat pockets and grab my money bag, and out falls that religious leaflet with an empty Rizla packet. By the time I’ve rolled a cig from the crumbs in the bottom of this Dutch Samson packet, I’ve got a plan. I start gathering the general squalour and chuck it bit by bit into the grate without regard to its toxicity: at least plastic bags get wood burning, and it won’t be the first time I’ve broken up and burnt some of the old bits and pieces the students left behind before this place got condemned by the council. Unfit for human habitation. If this is unfit, there’s plenty places worse, but I don’t see no one finding alternative accommodation for them that live there, or exist there, cos the last time I saw the inside of a nice, cosy living room…well, I won’t go into that.

   So everything goes on, from stale chip wrappers to empty yogurt pots, curry house menus, Manchester Evening Newses at various stages of decomposition, club flyers, emptied fag ends (even the re-rolls get re-rolled eventually) blood-encrusted pins and crumpled bog roll, empty match boxes. I weigh up the options of lighting this now and going to find stuff to burn from around the rest of the house or vice versa, or just burning this and going out. Ah, fuck it, I think, getting the lighter and…empty. I flick and flick the mechanism until my thumb’s nearly raw and the sodding flint does one just like the last. Well thank fuck it lasted this long: always gotta think of the positive, eh?

   Outside my door, drips fall from the skylight and run down the walls, following the tracks of the black mildew that peppers the peeling woodchip. The walls are dank with condensation from which small puddles form on the landing, trickling down the first few stairs. Come Manchester monsoon and it’ll be Viagra fuckin falls. So fuckin dark in this place. The tree outside the window’s so tall it’s probably mining the foundations of the big, old house and it’s leafing up now, so it won’t be much lighter in the summer. If I last that long here.

   I’m coughing up phlegm as I head down the stairs and into the biting chill of the morning.

*   *   *

   As soon as Tania walks through the front door, there’s Hellie, with a cheerful TV grin on her face like she thinks she’s stepped out of Home and Away. She’s in her white fluffy dressing gown and teddy bear slippers, fish-slice in hand, frying bacon. The cheerful tone of her greeting precipitates in Tania a deep, laboured yawn.

   -Oooh, so where were you last night?

   -What’s that supposed to mean?

Tania’s sick of insinuations of secret boyfriends and mysterious lovers. Yeah, she’d love to see the look on Hellie’s face if she knew where she’d really been, what a picture that’d be. You could put it on You’ve Been Framed and watch repeats without ever getting bored, she’s thinking to herself.

   -Adam and Nathan were round asking where you’d got to. Seemed a tad annoyed that you hadn’t shown. You were supposed to meet them in Jabez Clegg at nine.

   -I was at a friend’s house. He was having a bit of trouble.

   -Oooh, he, eh? Mum’s the word. Hellie winks and goes back to frying her bacon –Well, I told them you’d call when you got in, okay?

   -Yeah, cheers.

   -Who’s this mystery bloke, then?

   -A mate, I told you.

   -Mmmmm, in the mating sense?

   -Just a friend, Hellie.

   -So how come you were with him all night, then?

   -Leave it out will you, Dad!

Tania watches as Hellie pushes the plunger down on the cafetiere. Always twenty questions with Hellie, but she makes good coffee.

   -Okay, but when we finally get to meet your mystery man, tell him I cook a very nice spag bol and you’re all invited, okay? I will personally cook for you and provide the wine, just for the chance to meet him! Is he older? Is that it? Is he older? Tania, he’s not married, is he?

Bless her heart, honestly, she’s worse than the Australian soaps she’s addicted to, thinks Tania, but she’s so, so off the mark.

   -No, Hellie, he’s not married, he doesn’t have kids and I’m NOT SEEING HIM, OKAY?

   -Okay, I’ll take your word for it, but I don’t believe you. You’re in love: it’s written all over your face. Would you like some breakfast? There’s enough for two here.

   -Just a coffee, thanks.

   -See, lost your appetite as well…missing him already.

She just shakes her head and sighs as Hellie pours two huge cupfuls, topping them up with frothed milk and sprinkling chocolate powder from a specially designed shaker.

   -Ah, wicked, cheers Hel.

Tania sits down at the high real wood counter and lights a cigarette. She inhales deeply, blowing the smoke out across the room in one smooth action as Hellie sits opposite with her breakfast, sprinkling salt and grinding pepper over fried tomatoes, egg, sausages, hash browns, mushrooms and bacon. For a student house, this is the Ritzy end of the market. No en suites, granted, but it’s all been refurbished over the summer vacation, not like some of the places her friends rent in the high Victorian terraces on Furness Road, with leaky roofs and clattering kitchen units and dripping taps. Fifteen rooms, there are, in Adam’s shared house, big old rooms carved up with plywood petitions to make poky little dossers, each complete with its own melamine wardrobe in a selection of chipped off-white or dark woodgrain effect, doors missing or flapping. Where the nice, comfy beds should be are a choice of fleapits, collapsed, broken-springed divans and palliasses, crammed into spaces so small there’s barely room to stand, and no desk. Adam works flopped on his so-called bed, resting on a ring binder to study. So, as Tania sits with her housemate to share curls of bacon fat (the only part she’ll eat), she wonders how people can put up with such filthy, squalid conditions, and vows never to be poor.


   Upstairs, she puts a fresh mug of coffee on the side of the bath, running the water hot and adding loads of Matey Bubbles. It makes her smile, looking at the pink, girlie bottle designed to look like a mermaid. Smells different from the one she remembers using as a kid, the blue sailor smelling of hyacinths. She doesn’t understand why, but last time she bought the blue one it just made her cry and cry in the bath, so she never bought it again. So much for no more tears, eh? She wedges her bedroom door open, puts on a Kid Loops CD and undresses, wrapping herself in a towel. Picks out clean underwear, tight, black kamo pants and a close fitting black jumper, upping the volume enough so she’ll hear it in the bath. Everyone’s out at lectures and Hellie’s just left for her ten o’clock, so Tania’s free to wander around naked if she wants. And why not? This body won’t last, might as well try to enjoy it for all its cellulite and flab. She’s been told she’s fit, got a beautiful body more than twice, not that she particularly believes it, but yeah, she’s young and age won’t improve it. Quality of life, eh? Quality of life…
   She’s got a bit of weed in her knicker drawer she’s been saving, so she rolls a spliff, grabs her half-bottle of Captain Morgan to top up her coffee and returns to the bathroom. As she steps into the bath, the heat cuts into her foot. She’s sipping on the bottle now, turning on the cold tap…have a taste before she sloshes it into the coffee, why not? She’ll try calling Lee again when she gets out of the bath. Might go shopping later with that new Visa card as well; get something half-decent to wear for tonight. Stakki Kays is playing Dread-Rock tonight down PSV’s and she’s definitely gonna be there.

 © Vee 1993-2012