More Unchartered Heights of Disgrace

Helen Roberts opened the door of Hammersmith and Fulham social services and all four of us pushed in. She gave a hurried look down each end of the road and when sure we had not been followed closed and locked the door. “Is that it?” she asked, looking at the large bag my sister and I were holding. “Is that all you've got?” It was 1987 and we had just fled the family home.

  “He's gonna fucking kill us, 'elen!” my mother slobbered. “That door won't stop 'im... You ain't seen 'im after a drink. He's a fuckin' dang'rous alcoholic... not fit to be around children!”
  “Yes, although when we spoke to Mr Levene, he said it was you with the drinking problem. That it's you who's not safe to be around the children. That you're drinking in excess of two bottles of vodka a day.”
  “Yeah, did he also tell you he fucks men! That he brings perverts and child molesters back with 'im!” my mother retorted. She tried to do that thing that women do where they say something clever and then pout their lips and slam their hands on their hips, but in her state she just kinda stumbled a few steps forward and stood there growling with a whiskey laden face.

Helen peered in at her with concern. “Come this way, we all need to talk.”

We followed Helen up some stairs and through a security door into a family holding room. There were bean bags on the floor, boxes piled high with grubby toys, and story books with every other page torn out. At the very back another door led into a room that contained only two wooden chairs and a table. Helen, our Social Worker of the last three years, used this room to speak to each family member in turn. Rachel, my elder sister, was called in first. Before the door even closed shut my mother was in her handbag unscrewing the cap from her half bottle of scotch. She took a few huge swigs then turned to me.
  “And remember Shane, if she asks am I still drinking you say “No!” If not they'll send you back to that bald cunt!” She took a final swig from her bottle then circled her lips with her forefinger and thumb. She somehow thought that by rubbing the alcohol from her mouth that it would render her less drunk. Of course it didn't and a moment later she was sat lurched over on her side with a pee patch breaking around the crotch of her jeans.

For some reason my sister returned having been crying. Mum gave her an evil drunk look and then turned away in disgust. Rachel flopped down on a bean bag anf wiped her fringe out her wet eyes. She must have cracked and admitted to the horrors of what we were all living.

It goes without saying that I didn't crack. I was proud to lie, proud to be Mum's impenetrable boy. I repeated all I was told and sat there looking smug and disinterested.
  “Shane, there's little use denying it, I can smell alcohol on her breath!”
I just shrugged “Well she ain't drinking. My mum don't drink.” And then I was set free.

Of course, it was obvious to everyone that mum was paralytic drunk. She was flopped down in the cushions with the world a blurred view through top and bottom eyelashes. In front of the whole family Helen bit the bullet and came out with it.
  “Lesley, we need to speak about your problem with alcohol. I can understand why it is you may have felt the need for a drink today, but leaving home with the children entails a new kind of responsibility. There is no way we can let them permanently into your sole care without taking steps to combat this.”

At first my mother just sat there furious, looking off to her side and slightly nodding her head. When she realised the game was up she broke down crying. At first silent tears, then sobs, then shrieks between caught breath. When she finally finished mascara was dripping off her nose and chin. She looked like something which had come in from a storm. It was then agreed that mum would stop drinking, take up AA meetings and visit Helen once a week to report her progress. To show how earnest she was, mum gave Helen her almost empty bottle of whiskey and in another pathetic alcoholic outburst she bawled, “Take it, just TAKE IT!... I don't want it anymore: It's killing me!”

We must have been in the social services all day as when the police finally arrived to escort us across to a hotel on the other side of town the evening dusk was hanging low.

I remember that car journey well. Not so much the sights but more the scents: my mother's lipstick, leather jacket, chewing gum and whiskey. In a way it seemed perfect for what was passing us by outside - like a smell track to a film. Driving through central London's early evening bustle seemed almost unreal, like a magic world that only existed in books or dreams. It was exciting and beautiful, but somewhere I felt, even knew, it was probably the worst possible place my mother could ever be.

Surprisingly enough for a whole month my mother did stop drinking. She began AA meetings, met Helen sober once a week and got us enrolled back into school. She applied for grants to buy us new clothes, made the court custody appearances that had been proceeded by my stepfather and even started talking about taking us on holiday. And then one day I returned home from school and she was lolling naked on the floor pouring out a glass of Vodka. “I've started drinking again!” she stammered, “but I suppose you fucking knew that already!” Spread out on the bed, sucking on a B&H, was Tony, her AA sponsor and the person she was supposed to call if she was having a crisis. He just laid there looking shot and blowing smoke rings to the ceiling.

In the hotel we had two rooms: R104 & 105. The first was for my mother and the second for my brother, sister and I. I went into the adjoining room and joined my siblings.
  “Have you seen mum?” asked my brother raising his eyebrows. I just nodded, sent my bag crashing to the floor, then sat on the bed staring at theTV.

From that point on life returned to how it was. The only differences being we were in a new borough, in a newt house and with no step-father to lay down the law. As a result my brother Daniel and I quickly started exploring Victoria and going to all the places we were told we shouldn't. Because of its links with prostitution and its proximity to London's sex district of Soho, Belgravia was advertised as a dangerous area for children. But for us the danger was exciting. We'd wander around in the dark evenings peering  into bars, the social foyers of large hotels, and the ringing and flashing games arcades. It was not long before we met other kids who either could not or did not want to go home, and with them we sat around Victoria's main station smoking and mucking about until the early hours of the morning.

My mother's drinking only worsened. She quit AA, quit seeing Helen and quit trying to make one bottle of vodka last. By the time she met Caroline she was knocking back two full bottles a day.

Caroline was a young 18 year old prostitute. I have no idea how my mother met her, just one day she was there... living with us. Her 'thing' was being paid to shit on men; that's what she did. She said that some men like that. Laughing, she explained that the best thing to eat if she didn't want to hang around too long was spicy curry or Mexican. Like many prostitutes I have since known, she seemed to take an enormous pride in her hustle, saying that no-one could “drop a load” like her. But we were young and it was just a big joke.

Caroline lived and slept with my mum. She drank but never to the extent that mum did. In fact, I can not ever recall  seeing Caroline obviously under the influence. As with all my mother's lovers (male or female) it wasn't long before violent arguments started bashing their way against the wall. The next thing we knew Caroline had moved into our room. She said mum “needed mental help”, that she “was fuckin' crazy.” And she was absolutely right.

By this stage we very rarely saw mum anymore. She hardly ever left her bed, even less the room. She just laid there as the piss slowly spread, occasionally leaning over and puking up milky lumps onto the floor. Then she started locking herself in, and this is where the climbing out the window began.

Our rooms were situated on the fifth floor of the hotel with the windows opening up onto the street. From window to window ran a small ledge just over a foot in width. With my mother's disposition for suicide, and having locked herself in, it was the only route into her room so as we could check on her. For that reason my brother and I took it in turns to crawl along the ledge and into my mother's room. Once there, we'd make sure she was breathing, nick a few cigarettes, unlock the door and leave. And not just once or twice. We carried out that manoeuvre multiple times per day. One slip and we'd have fallen to certain death. But we were small, fearless and agile. It was a whole different story when my mother decided to climb out.

  “So you think it's fuckin clever coming into my room, stealing money and pouring my drink away, eh!" mum shrieked, looking at me with hatred. “Well, we can all play that fuckin game!” And with that she pulled the belt tight around her dressing gown and began climbing out the window. At first we started screaming and then Caroline clung onto her legs so as she couldn't get out. Mum gave a frenzied couple of back kicks and was suddenly free, out on the ledge and raising to a stand, 100ft over central London. Then she started to walk.

No-one moved. We were all in shock and had even stopped screaming for fear of distracting her. I closed my eyes and had scattered visions of blood, brains, teeth and blond hair. I imagined the panic that would strike me when she fell,  the silent milliseconds before hearing her body hit the concrete below. I thought of the horror I would feel looking down to see if she had survived. Mums body smashed and broken and dead.

The room was dry crying. Just large terrified eyes looking desperately at each other for help, as if by showing such extreme fear the other could produce some kind of a miracle solution to stop the others anguish. Of course no-one could and mums drunken ranting and screaming was drifting in from outside.
  “Don't worry.. I'm not gonna jump! Though you'd all fucking enjoy that!” And then she was back in view; crouching slowly with an unsteady hand on the ledge. Then sitting, with her pale legs dangling down, mum leaned back into the room and looked at us upside down. “Well fucking help me then!” she demanded, looking like she was holding back vomit. We all rushed forward and grabbed a hold off her. With our combined weight we pulled and dragged down. After a moment she fell in, banged her head and her right tit fell out. She lay on the floor looking concussed and spastic. Slowly turning her head,  and focusing in completely the wrong direction, mum slurred, “Caroline, I want you out of here you fuckin' little bitch!” Then she stood up, staggered to the door and was gone.

Caroline never left and by morning mum had even forget she had climbed out the window. She just remained even more in her room,  bleached white and withering away to nothing. Her hair became matted and dread-locked and now she even shuffled down to the off-licence in her soiled, bloody, vomit crusted nightgown. On the rare occasions we saw her she'd either  be steadying herself down the hall (usually with bags of vodka) or sometimes with a saucepan of tepid soup. And then just as quickly as it had started, one day mum called us in the room, and laying there like a queen on her deathbed, she said: “I'm packing in the drink.”

That was the first time I saw mum withdraw from alcohol. “It'll take three days,” she warned us.
“On the first day I'll have the sweats; on the second the shakes; and on the third: DON'T LET ME OUT THE FUCKING ROOM!” She kinda gave a loving laugh. In relief and joy we laughed along too. Things were finally going to be OK.

That marked a new pattern in her drinking behaviour. My mother would now binge – stop – binge - stop - binge. She could be sober for 2 days, 2 weeks or 2 months, no-one knew, not even her. And then one day she'd be drunk and it would all start over again. The only sure thing in it all was that she was always drunk more often than she was not.

That small period in Victoria was probably the most isolated of our lives. We had no neutral adults or grounding forces around and really had to fend for ourselves. We done our own washing, cooking and ironing. We put ourselves to bed and got ourselves up for school. When we got home we'd take it in turns to be on suicide watch. We were children looking after children.

Whilst awaiting the custody hearing a temporary court order prevented us having any contact with dad (stepfather) and he was not allowed to come within a hundred metres of any place he knew us to be. As I'm sure it did my brother and sister, that hurt and saddened me. In a strange way I had grown to love him... to enjoy him for who he was. I had certainly never imagined that one day he'd not be there. That just kinda happened. Mum had asked us to make a quick-fire decision and we chose 'her'. 5 minutes after nodding our heads, Dad, the dog and the house were gone. It was a shock and none of us really thought through the consequences of that choice. It was only when we understood Dad could end up in prison if he approached us that it really hit home.

Our forced separation was sad, for us, but by far the saddest part was imaging Dad all alone. I was obsessed with that thought, of what he had done when he arrived home on the day we left. Did he find it strange the lights were out and the place silent? Did he at first call out? Sense a strange emptiness? Did he then realise certain things were out of place, missing? That Mum's room had been ransacked of a few important things? Did he then rush up into our room? See most our clothes and hand held electronic games were gone? Did he knock the neighbours up in a panic asking if they'd seen us? Did he break down and cry? As the weeks and months passed I became more and more preoccupied with what had become of Dad. If he was alright. And then I could take it no more... along with my brother we decided on a secret visit home.

It was a spring evening and the light was just on the turn. It was cold and wet and pale mauve. In a park barely 10 minutes walk from the old family home, my brother and I had just finished football practice. Instead of taking the bus home at the nearby stop, we decided to walk to the one a few stops further along the route, cutting by our old house to get there. “Just keep low and follow me,” I said to Daniel “if he's there we mustn't let him see us!”

Ducking down behind the cars on the opposite side of the road, I led the way. Like that we crept along until we were right opposite the old house. I raised myself just enough to be able to see. “All the lights are out. I don't think he's in.” I reported back “Shall we go across and have a look?” At my brothers nod we both came out of hiding and crossed the road.

The first thing that happened was Shandy, dad's dog, saw us coming and began doing back-flips at the window and licking the glass. We tried to calm him down but he just got more crazy, barking and whining. In the backdrop the place was a mess. There were bottles, betting slips and torn newspaper strewn everywhere. Down next to the fire was a grubby stained duvet and sleeveless pillows. “Try the bell.” I said to my brother “see if there's electricity?” Daniel pressed the bell and shook his head. “It must've been disconnected. He ain't paid the bill.” he said. “He's living here in the dark!” It was sad beyond words. Sadness of the like which can only ever be felt. Bending down, I lifted the letter box and peered through. The hallway where we used to play football and cricket in was now just a littered mess. There were clothes and books everywhere, unopened letters and boxes. A light switch hung by wires from the wall. Down through the kitchen I could see piles of dirty pans and dishes stacked high. But for a split box of economy teabags and a bowl of sugar the back cupboard was bare. The stairs leading up to mums old room had been stripped of their carpet; some of Mum's old clothes clung to the steps as if they'd been torn up and chucked down in anger. The bannister we used to slide down now had every other post missing or broken. Dads beige summer jacket hung at the bottom with the dog chain. It's strange because it wasn't like looking at home but felt more like looking back in time. Like in a museum, where behind glass they have created a scene from some bygone era or other. That's what I felt looking in. It was a reconstruction of a broken home.

By now the evening was almost dark. The house had descended into shadow and seemed profoundly empty. It no longer smelt like home but like the dust that settles on the top of an old box. It was a place of sadness and pain; a place where a man sat who had lost his children and didn't know what to do. A place where the owner didn't want to live there anymore. I let the letter box fall down and looked at Dan. “Come on, lets get outta here.” I said dejectedly, and without speaking a word of what we had seen we ran off and caught the bus back home.

We had now been in the Hotel five months, and mum, bedridden, soiled and dreadlocked took a turn for the worse... she got depressed! That on top of being suicidal was bad news. Now, for some unknown reason, she could no longer bare living in the Hotel and all we heard were sobs and wails trailing from her room. That and the sound of neat vodka glugging its way out the bottle and down her throat. Lucky for us good news would soon arrive and a week later we would be gone.

Of course that final week was a memorable one. It ended with Caroline leaving in tears, my mother going through the shakes and sobering up and an Indian tenant leaping to his death from a 4th floor window. The gypsies on the ground floor who caught his landing said his “head cracked open like a coconut and he bit his tongue off”. They also said he was “bollock naked”. Unfortunately all that was left when we arrived was the blood. A dark red stain in the shape of Ireland.

Two days after that we received a letter from the council saying they were pleased to inform us they had found us a home, albeit another temporary one, in Maida Vale, North London. Before the bottles and puke piled up it was the most fantastic and luxurious place we ever lived. Mum later told us what we already knew, that  out of pure desperation to quit the hotel she had been fucking the manager Mr Patel, who in turn had written to the council nominating us as the family most likely to benefit from re-housing.

Benefit? Not really, no. The next seven years just brought more of the same. All that changed is we were growing up and growing wiser. We stopped phoning 999 after each fake suicide attempt and instead of tipping mum's drink down the sink we tipped it down ourselves. Soon we were just as wasted as her and twice as reckless. Mum would eventually lay her alcohol demon to rest, only to fall into the arms of crack and heroin addiction in the same year. But compared to alcohol abuse, crack and heroin are nothing... as it turned out, they were the best years of our lives.

Thanks to Everyone who has stuck through this blog and stuck through this post. As ever it is appreciated more than I can possibly say.

Love, Thoughts & Wishes, Shane. X


Gledwood said...

fucking hell!

well I suppose at least your early life wasn't boring!!

Gledwood said...

Shane you like your drugs don't you...(!) Well I posted up a history of heroin on Friday I thought you might like it, but also tell me whether I made any howling errors...

... also I have been looking for figures detailing world heroin and/or opium production and use but haven't found anything going further back than the 70s and 80s... you don't happen to know where I might find anything a bit longer-term do you? I've googled and googled without success

Stacy said...

although i think i know you well enough to know you will say you don't need it...i have the overwhelming urge to hug you right now. that was a heart wrenching post.

Stacy said...

also, thank you, i have missed your posts.

coffeemaiden said...

Your posts always make the 'mother' in me want to cry. No child should have to grow up like that. Sending you Mama 'air hugs' and prayers. Take care.

Gledwood said...

Hi Shane thanks for the reply here's what I put at mine:

I gave up posting about my drugs for ages and ages. I did mention them sometimes but mostly it was furry animals. I keep trying to convert over to Just Methadone but cannot make the transition.

The info you read here was gathered mostly over the last 2 weeks, I was interested in how heroin addiction actually took hold across the world when on the surface this "war on drugs" "should" have killed it off ~ yet war seems only to make the heroin trade flourish!

I didn't used to believe these political interpretations that blame America for "drug dealing" and while I don't know about that it does seem to be true that they've been more than willing to turn a blind eye when some "greater good" ~ a political one giving America more control over a region ~ is in play.

Also I suspect a lack of political pressure over Afghan heroin purely because it is NOT, in the main, going to America. If it were, somehow I suspect the situation might be rather different.

I very much resent being dependent on anything or anyone, but especially an illegal chemical that puts my happiness in the hands of outright criminals. I hate it and want it to stop, but I don't know how. With years of methadone as well as heroin in my system stopping is going to be a far from straightforward process...

You should carry on posting. Your stuff is really good. [More than really good. It is unique.] You are just about the only one out there posting as you do.

Remember the Community of druggiebloggers that built up after the Follow funciton came online?... Most of them appear to have given up [blogging]. I carried on posting but gave up too. For months I seemed to post about little furry animals and not a lot else... o man it is 5:48 am and I haven't slept, take care and see ya later!

math said...

totally absorbing

Wildernesschic said...

Shane I had to wait for someone else to reply first as i thought it was just me being over emotional. Your post made me cry, especially when you returned to see your "Dad" ... Did you ever see him again? Did he miss you? Sounds like he did .. and the dog :(
Your poor mum too... I am angry at her for how she neglected you ... but.. also feel sorry for her. Life as a parent is tough you never realise until you are one just how tough. Its tough enough looking after yourself never mind dependants.. Great post though intense .
I dont know........ I also want to send a virtual hug xx

Stella said...

holy crap. love that thing about the blood puddle the shape of Ireland. You are a terrific writer, and a survivor it seems.

All the best to you,

TwistAndShout said...

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn,


Eleven nights said...

It’s been a rainy weekend in this southern continent on which it never rains and I spent the entirety of it – neglecting my domestic duties – reading your blog from the beginning.

I commend you on your honesty and admire your writing talent.

From your profile I note that you are just less that a year older than I and that we have had very different life experiences.

I briefly discussed with my fifteen year old son what I had read of you and your recent account of your relationship with your father (step).
With wide eyed and brutal honesty he said ‘You’re just like Shane’s step father’

I was floored.

JoeM said...

One of the most relentlessly grim ones yet. But somehow the comedy of the situation is always there too. As in:

Before the door even closed shut my mother was in her handbag unscrewing the cap from her half bottle of scotch. She took a few huge swigs then turned to me. “And remember Shane, if she asks am I still drinking you say “No!” If not they'll send you back to that bald cunt!”

Ha! My mother used to call my father 'that baldy-heeded cunt!'

There was the horrible perfunctoryness of 'the nod' which ended contact with the step father.

The visit to the museum and

Sadness the like of which can only ever be felt.

I think it's interesting your mother went from alcohol to heroin. You've said yourself that alcohol does nothing for you. Maybe that's after doing H though since you mention drinking her Vodka. So you've found the cure for alcoholism - heroin!

But it does seem that people choose one or the other.

I think you said your mother eventually got totally sober. I imagine it's slightly weird seeing her like that.

Look forward to your version of
The Best Years Of Our Lives.

Only you could write a story that would begin:

"It was the start of the Good Times. Mum had just got hooked on Heroin and Crack'...

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Hi, lovey. Glad to find a new post here. Your childhood was quite something. I can't imagine.

You are loved.


Reeny's Ramblin' said...

Came by this way through Gledwood's blog. I started reading yesterday and couldn't put it down...

You have a way with words.

Dusty Rose said...

dear shane,
when i read your posts sometimes it seems that you have had more wild shit happen to you than i have.
how lucky!
all the beast,

Chic Mama said...

I honestly don't know what to say....I just can't believe what was allowed to happen....and we're not talking that long ago. Part of me wants to print this off and give it to my son to read.
Thanks for sharing....I'm speechless at the moment. xx

The Total Impostor said...

Shane, your words come across like a man falling from the top of a skyscraper who describes his experience in real time as he falls - even your anticipation of hitting the ground lurks between the lines. Hope you bounce, mate, splats hurt. Your words will live forever even if you don't. Immortality rules. You are your own death threat, I will keep my death threats for those that need them. Be seeing you

Memoirs of a Heroinhead said...

Thank You All,

for reading and commenting, and excuse me for not having come back and replied to each of You.
I (hopefully...;) will in the near future.

All My Thoughts,

Furtheron said...

So amazing that you've written this - well done.

I wish this was the national curriculum to explain to people the real damage of addiction.


Scott said...

After reading this post; I went home and hugged all four of my sons. I am not perfect but try to set a good example and live drug and addiction-free. Don't take this the wrong way, I am not judging you in any way as I've had my substance abuse issues in the past.
That was truly one of the saddest stories I've ever read and I believe every word is true. I imagine my 10-year old having to deal with the challenges you dealt with and it breaks my heart. That there are people out there with so little intelligence and self-control to bring children into this world and then drag them through the hell you went through astounds me. Even more astounding is the power of the human spirit to say "this hell I'm going through today is normal so I have to figure a way out of or around it." I know from what I've read on your blog you'll just say, that is what makes me, me.
Hang tough and I hope you kick it some day; you deserve better than the legacy and example set by your parents.

Anonymous said...

I've spent the last two nights reading your blog after following a link from Gledwood's and I am in love with this prose. You have a real talent for words, for making squalour beautiful. Stay strong and do what you have to, but keep writing. Always.

Memoirs of a Heroinhead said...

Hiya Beatifnik and WELCOME: X!

What you say is very wonderful and flattering, and so: Thank You!

I think the world is beautiful, and even the ugliness that's in it has a charm. These are memories and the days of our lives... we have to love them... to see the beauty of the pile-up. I think it's more I'm just happy with who I am today. I've no regrets nor bitterness and actually quite enjoy being ME. In that sense the past is something to appreciate and celebrate... no matter how good or bad it was.

I'll keep writing but you'll then have to keep reading as if this stuff was for me I'd just keep it all in my head and wouldn't bother with the bore of getting it all down.

Take Care... All My Thoughts, Shane. X

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