The Consequence of Living

God, we were cruel kids. But battered and beaten at such a young age in life, what else could we have been? What chance did we ever really have? When life tramps and kicks wearing 21up Steel toe-capped DM boots, what else can one do but kick back? And so we kicked back, but not at an invisible life that as yet we had no concept of, no, our return blows were directed against people, objects and possessions. We kicked, smashed and bottled our way through tender years, and in our wake we spilt blood, teeth and glass. More than just delinquency, vandalism and violence, this post is about friendship and escape. It is about what happens when young kids are united through abuse and face that world together. In a way it is about hope, in another about hopelessness. It is as much about death as it is of life. For as we live so we die, and in those days we died so much. This post is dedicated to the lost and the broken... this one is for Simon & Shelley... As always, this one is for You.

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Simon & Shelley Maudlier were my best friends. It had been that way ever since I punched Darren Marsh in the throat for going “Urrrgghhh” when the Mayor kissed Shelley after she handed him a bouquet of flowers in front of full school assembly. In what should have been her proudest moment she stood there crying as the school jeered her presence - laughed as the Mayor kissed a greasy-haired girl who smelled of stale urine and burnt wood. As Shelley was led of the stage in tears, a pair of oversized brown corduroy trousers sat down beside me and a grubby nail bitten and scabby hand was placed upon my kneecap. That was Simon and it was the beginning of the first friendship of my life.

Like me, Simon & Shelley were the produce of alcoholic and drug addicted parents. For the first six years of their lives they had travelled Britain and Ireland going from flop house to flop house, from one social service unit to the next. Every time they were on the verge of being taken by the authorities the family would flee, until finally settling down in London. It seemed that from the womb all they knew were vile beatings, social services, alcohol and abuse. At least I had had half an hour of innocence before being hit by life. But not for them, they were born straight into the shit. It was all they knew and it had only ever gotten worse.

At the age of eight they were forced by a drunken carer to have sex with each other. This practice had continued over and beyond that, and for the years I knew them they engaged in sexual activity together. It was in their bedroom one day, whilst we were playing, that they confided in me what they did together. I remember Simon touching Shelley, then Shelley kissing him almost as a token of acceptance for what he had done. They fell back on the bed laughing, both looking at me with dark brown eyes. They showed this to me. They were proud of it. Not proud of the sex, but of the adult behaviours they were mirroring. At the time I laughed along with them. I saw nothing wrong with it. It was almost the same as badly smoking a cigarette or knocking back a teacup full of vodka - it was that kind of naughtiness and nothing else. Now it’s a memory which I can’t ever forget, and it’s sad, because they showed me this and then Simon retook up his Space Invaders game which hung around his filthy neck and Shelley returned to playing imaginary families with her collection of cheap naked dolls which she'd pulled from dustbins. And that image of us on the bed, of the broken innocence that it relates, forever reminds me that this is a cruel and unrelenting world, and that our place within it is a hazardous one. But at the time, it meant nothing. Sure, we knew what sex was - the physics at least- we had seen it all our lives, but we didn’t understand the intimacy or the morals... we had no oversight. All we knew is that adults and animals did it and there seemed no laws concerning where or with whom. It was a reflection of innocence, that is all. But innocence cannot always be understood or accepted, and the events of those years would be a 10 year timebomb between brother and sister that would explode and blow them both off the edge of the world.

After Simon & Shelly's confession and me realising that what was going on in their house was the backside of my own mirror, we became inseparable. Our days and evenings were spent together toughening ourselves up, bonding and preparing our offensive. Our first decision was to join a boxing club. We were weak targets for the bullies and in order to walk the streets and parks untroubled we needed to learn how to throw decent right hooks. So one Wednesday we joined Chelsea Boys Boxing Club and on Thursday we knocked each others teeth out. The three of us taking it in turns to square up to one another and direct our anger and pain towards a physical body. But we never hurt one another: we toughened each other up. And as we lay in the park, on the grassy hill with black eyes and busted noses, we joked and laughed as love and friendship throbbed and stung upon our young bodies. We felt tough not just against the other children, but against the adults too. The same adults who had heaped abuse upon us ever since we were born. We were fighting a force much more twisted and perverse than our immediate peers, we were fighting our homes and our histories. We were fighting ourselves.

Not many people realise just how violent Britain is. It’s a cruel, cruel place, especially for a kid in toeless shoes. There is no sympathy and little escape. If you can’t impress with a pair of £150 trainers and a half decent phone, then you’d better be able to impress with something else... and that ‘something else’ is usually violence. So violence became an everyday fixture for a while. Almost every evening we’d return home with some cut or other. Shelley as well. She kicked and punched and bit just as hard as any boy, and aftern when it was finished, we licked our wounds and celebrated our victories together.

Our friendship was an honest and equal one. It wasn’t based on toys or videos or clothes. It was based on understanding and comfort. Apart from that we didn’t have much else to trade. We had nothing alone and even less together. Between us we had half a parent, two pairs of trousers and a dress. My shoes were football boots with the studs removed, Simon’s were leather strapped sandals and Shelley went barefooted - soaking up all the piss, shit and spunk that South West London had to offer. On and off we would spend almost five years in each others company. Five years of escaping the hell which we were born into.  With our six fists and our scarred and beaten bodies we used violence and delinquency as a means of escape... as a means to unprise life which had taken lockjaw around our necks. But in escaping one hell we started replicating another: stealing cigarettes and beer and vodka and imitating the actions of our elders. In a certain way we escaped our lives by joining it - we became a part of the hurt and the world that had made us. Instead of fleeing it we copied it, but in our replica world we were the kings of the castle...  the abusers and not the abused. We became the enemy.

In the following year we took the beatings but fought back. We’d raise with bloody lips and swollen cheekbones and rally for more. We built up a reputation of recklessness, and if we couldn’t win with our fists, well, there were always cricket bats. There were kids stronger who hit harder, but our relentlessness scared them. When someone screams “Fucking stay down!” it means they’re scared, that they know eventually it will be them running. And we never stayed down. We had mouths and angers that could not be shut. Eventually we instilled fear and terror into those we saw as potential threats: those other cruel kids, with other problems, who were also looking for escape. If we were not strong we would be it, punching bags, the buffer that soaked up our peers domestic problems. We would have become the escape route not only of our parents and their problems but also of the other kids, and that would have been one hell too many. We were on the offensive from a very young age. The bottles and bricks which made up our homes now became objects to throw at the world. And my god, did we throw them.

We threw them at bus stops, policemen and ambulances. We chucked bricks on the motorway and through car windows. We vandalised vending machines, ticket machines and shop shutters. We set fire to post boxes, telephone booths and elevators. We pulled up parks and gardens and demolished garden gnomes. We roamed the streets inciting violence and bloodying the noses of anyone who so much as looked at us. We robbed the more fortunate kids and destroyed the toys of the rich. we done it all. Then we went to bed, woke up and done it all again. We didn’t care for nothing or no-one. Not the living, not the dying not the dead. Everyone and everything was fair game, and that is how we escaped our lives. That’s the exit we took. We were cruel kids preparing to die.

Our lives meandered on like that for the best part of two years and then one morning on going to see Simon & Shelley I received news that they had been carted off by the authorities and placed in a foster home.
   “My kids... they’ve taken ma fucking kiz!!!” Bridgette slurred before throwing herself around me and breathing a mouthful of vomit and whisky fumes into my face. And that was it, they were gone, taken away by unknown and distant forces - the kind most children are only ever threatened with. I strolled back home alone and waited for news. I asked at school, I asked my mother and I asked Simon's mother, but no one seemed to know anything. Yes, they would be coming back, but when? well, that was anyone’s guess. Three months later they were back, and the first thing we did was scheme escape plans in the event it ever happened again. And it did happen again. Later in that same year they disappeared once more.

Simon remembered our plan. Within the week a letter was delivered to my house carrying their new address. I was ten at that time and along with my brother we boarded a train to the address just outside London. On finding Simon and Shelley we skipped the wall and all made the journey back to London. We stayed missing for two days, passing the time at a friends house in Shepherds Bush. On the third day we were apprehended by the police on Uxbridge Road and were all taken into custody at Hammersmith Police Station. My brother and I had been reported missing by my stepfather and Simon and Shelley by their foster parents. I wasn't beaten much by my stepfather as a child, but arriving home that day I took ten years in one sitting. I was so bruised they did not send me to school for over a week. I’ve only ever curled my body up to kicks once in my life, and that was it. But of course, in my family that was an expression of love. It was because he loved me that my stepfather kicked my ribs in.

In the following year Simon and Shelley returned, disappeared and returned again. They didn’t seem to mind too much as away from home they enjoyed proper meals, proper baths and proper clothes. We still remained friends but the separations took their toll and as I left lower school and approached my teenage years we slowly drifted apart and spent less and less time in each others company. The final break was when my own family split up and we left west London and was put in hiding from the hands of my stepfather. We were reallocated to the other side of London and Fulham was out of bounds. Contact with Simon or Shelley was impossible and it would be more than twelve years before I saw either of them again.

In that time we had all changed considerably. Our young accepting minds had started examining things, processing all those behaviours we saw, heard and done. Youthful innocence developed into an illness that plagued and ate away at us. We were all sick, suffering from memories and actions that had been forced upon us. With the end of youth and the coming of our real sexual awakenings we realised we had been corrupted... that certain fantasies and shames had been branded into our minds forever. We each tried to eject these, to vomit up our pasts, to reject history, but vomit leaves a very specific taste in the mouth and is a memory all of its own.

So it was, that the events that formed us also repulsed us, and when one cannot reconcile one's history with ones present then the only option left is to split, and that's what we done. But not just friendship and kinship, we split internally: we divided as people and as adults. Shelley became a young prostitute, Simon found his way in and out of psychiatric hospitals, and I ended up trailing them same old streets searching crack and smack and dreaming of the Black House. In the end our youthful hooliganism and cruelty had served for nothing. It was just a natural reaction to a life that was putting the boot in. All it done was deflect the blow - absorb the shock of the impact and delay the consequences for a later day.

More than anything else that is what this blog is about. It’s not about heroin or addiction or murder or abuse, it’s about consequence. But not always consequence of a good or bad decision, more the consequences of independent and external forces which we have no control over. It’s about history and the equation of all our yesterdays... it’s about who we are at this exact point in time. It’s about the consequence of living.

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In 2002 at the age of 27 Simon Maudlier finally found his peace. It seems he died as a result of huge amounts of alcohol on top of prescribed medication. He was buried in a communal grave in Fulham without ceremony. As far as I know Shelley is still alive and as late as 2006 was still working the streets of West and Central London. Neither of them, nor myself have any children, and that is probably the greatest gift we can offer this world.

As always, I wish You all well and thank you for reading and making it all worthwhile. My next post will concentrate on my feelings towards Dennis Nilsen, his continued imprisonment and my thoughts concerning his controversial and as yet unpublished autobiography “History of a Drowning Boy”. Until then, take care & take heart, Shane. x

The Man Who Looks Like Life

And then you are down. And you realise you’ve been hit. There is warm blood trickling from your nose. And then someone is pushing your face in the gravel while another puts the boot in. Hard, brutal, ruthless boots to the head and stomach. And then your ribcage rattles and all the oxygen in your body bursts out your mouth. You are defenseless, choking for air as a flurry of blows knocks your head this way and that. And then you lose a tooth... And then your sight... And then consciousness. Only when all is black does the pain stop. And then you wake up.  Your assailants have gone - just a white van driving off in the distance. The skin from your knuckles is scraped raw from the struggle. You sit there, in the wet and cold, the cuts and blows stinging more than when you took them. And as you push the blood away and dust yourself down, you ask yourself: “Why? Why me? What did I ever do to deserve that?” And then it comes. You remember. Once again, you had broken all the rules.

My time in France is coming to an end. Five years here have taken their toll. I have lost one tooth too many and the invisible sculptor who chisels with a scathe has began hollowing out the flesh from below my cheekbones. The history that I have tried so long to hide is now unhideable. I’m beginning to look like The Man who looks like life.

But that has not always been the case. In London I was vibrant and full of energy. My face was clear and youthful and sweet. Sometimes I even charmed myself. But looking in the mirror now I feel unrecognisable to the man I was then. And not just physically. I feel something has changed below the skin. I feel I have died a little more.

France has not helped. In fact she has accelerated my decline. My existence here has been a constant struggle. There has barely been a week passed without some kind of drama or worry. If it wasn’t the police knocking down my door, or days spent waiting for my dealer, then it was relationship troubles, exploding ovens or apartment fires. Only the other week I was knocked up at 11pm and informed that my then partner of six years was in hospital after swallowing a belly full of her mother’s Xanax. It seems that life can never just pass, she always insists on leaving a calling card.

Two weeks ago I commiserated my 34th birthday. For the occasion I received one card and one death threat. That put my life here into perspective and I’ve had enough. Enough croissants, enough pain au chocolats, enough random police searches, identity checks and bureaucracy. I am tired of the language, the people and the bars. I can no longer queue quietly for an hour to buy tobacco on a Sunday. I can no more hang around for eight hours in stairwells scoring obscenely cut heroin. I am sick of it all. It’s five years that I have been here, five years that will not tick into six. I am preparing for the exit, ready to flee the country and flash my arse at the last copper I see.

But it’s not time to moon at the law just yet. I am in no position to do it. I’ve barely enough money to put a roof over my death, let alone flee the country. There are also medicaments and repeat prescriptions to think of. Until I can either transfer my script elsewhere or reduce and stop my medication altogether, I am once again constrained to my immediate environment - bound on an upside down cross. Even without the drug worries, five years leaves a lot of attachments. And so before I make my exit I must make certain things good, or at least plug the holes.

One of the latest holes to plug and something which has now become critical is finding a new apartment. A broken relationship and a wandering heart have left me with less than a month to find a place to stay. My habit of not protecting myself and trusting in others humanity has shot me in the foot again. My decision never to officially put my name to the joint property we shared has left me at the whim of another. And that is not a good position to be in, especially when that ‘other’ spends their days wishing upon you a violent and painful death. I should have learnt by now that humanity disappears with love. That if one goes west, one goes west alone. But I suppose I do not want to believe that. The world becomes too sad if that is the case.

My search for an apartment began full of hope and confidence. Me believing that within the same afternoon I’d be in a new place with my own keys. But France doesn’t work like that, there are no simple transactions here. “Six weeks, minimum,” I was told, “that’s the timeline you should realistically plan to.”

"Six weeks! No, that’s impossible. I’ve money for rent and deposit and have an income. How can it take six weeks?”

Eight weeks later I am still nowhere closer to finding a place. In fact,  I am even further away friom it. My deposit I blew on four weeks in a hotel and 15 grams of heroin.

But I don’t regret that, money wasn’t the real problem. The real problem is that France is a country of bureaucracy... your money counts for nothing if you don’t have the correct papers. People live in fear of it. There’s no screwing up your payslips and overarming them into the bin here. That would be tantamount to administrative suicide. No, in France people tiptoe down the halls of bureaucracy, praying to all 5495 Gods that they have the correct papers. But you NEVER have the correct papers. And if you do, they’ll invent another one just for you. It is soul destroyingly frustrating, and if you are as disorganised as me, it’s impossible.

So, I didn’t post my dossiers off, I didn’t even fill them in. Instead,  I holed myself up and spent my time numbed by opiates, telling myself:  “something will turn up... a solution will come, it always does.” Well, that solution hasn’t come yet and now I am in the position where I have three weeks left at my current abode and then it’s shop doorways and pillows under the sky.

But it’s unfair to blame France for my woes. She is another country with a different language, protocol and laws. It’s me who is at fault, refusing to do the things that are demanded of me and trying to busk through the unbuskable. It’s me that will quote laws that do not exist and then stand there to a shaking head and the words “Well that’s not the information I’m in possession of Monsieur. Desolé.” All the little tricks that I had perfected and relied on in England do not serve me here. It seems impossible to get what I want, even what I need. And it’s now too late to backtrack. It’s too late to fill in the dossiers... too late to put my applications through. I’m down to the cardboard, burning my lips on the roach.

The time for property agencies, guarantors and carefully worded contracts has gone. That takes too long and is too long term and legal. No, what I require now is an unscrupulous businessman, someone with absolutely no morals and a nose for money. A person who’ll take my readies and then put me in a rat infested hole that is only worth a third of it’s price. I need that. This is no time for flat hunts and cosy apartment views. It’s a time for handshakes and notes in the top pocket, the oldest contract there is.

And that is me... that sums it up. Nothing is ever quite legit, but always on the edge. I sneak along the line of illegal activity, always something in my pocket which could get me into trouble. I break the rules and I take the consequences for doing so. And the consequence is stress and worry which leads to heroin which leads to sacrifice, unpaid rent and bank loans. This in turns instigates relationship failings, brothers, white vans and bruised ribs. And this, all of it combined, is the real consequence, because it shows on the face and under the eyes. It marks you for life with life and leaves one looking like the Prime Minister after eighteen months in office.

And that is the debt I pay to be able to write these words. They are not just there... they are not free of charge. I acquire them at a 50% interest rate. I will die closer to forty rather than eighty. I have surrendered more than just a few teeth. The truth is, the marks I wear are not the marks of living but the marks of dying,  and that is the paradox of The Man who looks like life.

Take care All... Thanks and Best Wishes, Shane.