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