Heroin Hiccups #1: Fires & Explosions

The heroin life can often be a rollercoaster ride. When it is hard it is hell, though when it is easy, it’s very VERY easy. But in between the highs and the lows there are the ‘loop the loops’ - the often comic and shambolic mishaps and adventures that arrive with the junkie life. In a series of broken posts titled Heroin Hiccups I will detail the bizarre events that have littered my own addiction. They range from the near tragic to the unbelievable, and from runs of bad luck to acts of breathtaking stupidity. Along with one far from fatal overdose, two apartment fires, and an elderly neighbour falling through my door dead, I’ve also had a deer escape from me in central London, a 3am police visit whilst outside trying to recapture my fly away Cockatoos, & an emergency visit to the vets after my dog swallowed a 16th of an ounce of heroin. I’ve had junkies try to sell me everything from monkey meat to kingsize duvets, and have witnessed one exploding kitchen. If one puts that little lot together, chucks in a few close scrapes and seasons with shotgun wielding crackheads, then you’ve got yourself a wonderful book. But this is not a book, it’s a blog post and so for now we will concentrate on the sparks: the fires and explosions.

I suppose setting one’s bed alight must be a very common Heroin Hiccup. Due to the drugs sedative qualities addicts are forever dropping lit cigarettes onto the floor, the sofa, the bed, and themselves. The large burn holes in a junkies clothes are often the sign of a nighttime panic to put oneself out. Along with the obvious scars from shooting, the addict is often littered with neck and chest burns and blisters... another little clue for an eagle eyed observer.

My first bedtime fire was a very mild affair. A dropped cigarette, a light sheet and a fan on low power... Just the right mix of ingredients to further heat up an already warm summer night - me awoken from slumber by my cover burning my back. A well directed cup of cold tea later and it was all over... not much smoke and save having to reverse the mattress and buy a new sheet, an undamaged bed. My next fire however would be a completely different affair.

In very similar circumstances, but this time in France, I awoke to flames and pluming black smoke. My first thought was that I had died and had been sentenced, but unfortunately it was not so... just another dropped cigarette, from another junkie onto another bed on another night. This time, however, it wasn’t so minor... it was way past the stage where a cold cup of Tetleys could get me out of jail free. And as the fumes, smoke and particles found their way up my nose and down my throat it suddenly hit me: I NEED WATER!!! I leapt out off bed, but due to smoke and fume inhalation whilst sleeping I found I was completely dizzyheaded and unstable. In my comical fumble to pull on my trousers I ended up doing the potato sack dance before falling and bashing my head on the dresser and ripping open my leg... but my mind was so intent on getting the fire out that in the moment I felt neither. I scrambled to my feet and staggered to the bathroom. On returning with a mop bucket full of water the disaster had escalated and now the entire bed was burning and smoking intensely... so much so that I had to retreat. I searched frantically for my painting mask, but running consistently with the mess that I am, it was nowhere to been found. My last memory was taking it off, chucking it over my shoulder and muttering “Fucking thing!” With time at a minimum and no mask in sight, I wrapped a cravat around my mouth and nose, retook my red bucket and for the second time that morning I went firefighting.

Of course, one bucket of water was useless... I chucked it on and with barely a sizzle the fire blazed on. If anything, the breeze made whilst chucking the water seemed to have worsened it. I started to panic... I grabbed anything at hand: saucepans, bowls, buckets and started filling them simultaneously. In the meantime I ripped the end of the shower unit and stretching it as far as it would go, I turned the water up full hilt and stood shooting water into the bedroom. After a few minutes of this and so many buckets and pans of water later the flames had beat a retreat, though the bed was still smouldering and smoke was pouring furiously from the mattress. As I could no longer breathe in any room of the apartment I rushed around opening all the windows.

As the bed was still smouldering furiously I continued with my water operation. Just as I was heading back to the bedroom with my latest bucket of water, the door rang. It was my upstairs neighbour who having seen and smelt the smoke had come down to see what was happening. I told her that all was fine and under control, but the popping of the mattress as it once again burst into flames and the thick black smog that bellowed from the bedroom sent her into complete hysteria. “You need the Fire Brigade!” She screamed.. “...the whole building will go up!”

“No, no.. it’s all under control... it’s all in hand. It just looks much worse than it is, that’s all.”

“But the smoke!?! Look, look... it’s too much... it’s TOO much!”

“No... That’s a good sign... It’s the flames you’ve got to worry about...” I wanted to add that when you see the smoke through the flames it’s serious, but when you see the flames through the smoke it’s under control... But I never got the chance. She was gone, hurrying back upstairs. I slammed the door and dashed back to the bedroom, throwing another couple of buckets of water across the re-ignited bed.

I heard the sirens from a distance.... I was hung out the kitchen window sucking fiercely on a cigarette. “Fuck! She’s only gone and called the Fire Brigade!” It was a fuck situation as my kitchen table was littered with needles, small aluminium cups and filters... my gear was poured out on a tea saucer and sitting innocently in the kitchen cupboard. I made a frantic rush to clear the paraphernalia away, sweeping all into a large grey bin bag and chucking alongside the other rubbish that was waiting for disposal. As the sirens came to a stop I went and looked out the living room window to see what was taking place outside. Down below, were two fire trucks and behind them on the opposing side of the street had gathered a small crowd. They were gawping up and pointing and counting windows and shaking their heads... I’m sure it came as no surprise to themthat it was my heroinhead that finally emerged from the smoke filled apartment window on the 3rd floor, smiling and with a cigarette dangling from the corner of my mouth. I gave them a little wave, smile and shrug and then held the cigarette up and gave it a little shake as if to say: “I’m Innocent... it was this little fella’s fault.” As I looked down, my upstairs neighbour emerged from the building holding a sack of belongings and followed by her two children and dog. As they were leaving the firemen were rushing in. I made my way to open the apartment door, but not before seeing an ambulance roll onto the scene... “Shit... that means the police will also be on their way!”

I opened my door and stepped calmly outside. “It’s fine, it’s fine. Just.....” They didn’t listen nor let me finish. Pushed me aside and barged in like some specially trained crack team... small fire extinguishers in hand. I chased in behind them. In the bedroom there was still masses of smoke but no smouldering or flames... that didn’t stop them though. They proceeded to systematically soak the ENTIRE room: my clothes, shoes, walls and ceiling... Only satisfied when water was dripping from the lightbulb. As I turned around in disgust and annoyance, my mouthful of classic British obscenities bounced off the chest of the first of two policemen. I just pushed past ignoring their, “Monsieur... Monsieur!” and went and sat in the living.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I was questioned by the police and fire brigade (a neighbour and friend helped as at that time my french was very poor). Once they were satisfied that the fire was out and that it had been an accident they left me to the clean up, but not before giving me a lecture about the perils of smoking in bed and flogging me a smoke alarm!. My neighbour asked if I needed help and breaking the habit of a lifetime I conceded and said “Yes, I do... BIG TIME. I explained that my wife would be home at 6.00pm and that I needed to clean the bedroom and buy a new mattress and shower unit before she returned. My idea was to cover up everything and not breathe a word. OK, the bedroom would be dripping wet, but I’d explain that away by saying I had awoken with the cleaning bug and so scrubbed the floor, walls and ceiling... No problem, she’d swallow that. The reason for the cover up was one of self-pride.... She’d always said that one day I would do this, and I hate proving people right.... especially her!

After a 20 minute bathroom break and just as I was pulling on my jeans, I heard the key turn in the door... that dreaded sound that arrives when in someway you are shitting on your own doorstep. With that key turn the gates of hell swept open and she was there... I’d been rumbled, caught with my trousers down (again!). It transpired that the Property agency had phoned her enquiring about details of the fire and wanting to arrange an immediate visit to survey the damage. I could only pull a ridiculous grin, and then grimace and then get angry. I think I shouted something about it being her fault “for buying cheap sheets!”... Yes, I blamed it on her. But she was having none of it... instead she just calmly poked her head around the bedroom door and then went and sat down at the kitchen table and cried. And then I felt bad... and then I asked my neighbour to leave.

The outcome of it all was, we were given a 3 months notice of eviction, lost our first month deposit and in addition had to pay €1000 in damages and repair costs. I never bothered to contest this, even though it was only an estimate. I paid and we made arrangements to leave. It had been an expensive cigarette and a very narrow escape. I did make some half-hearted apologies to my wife and promised to quit smoking in bed... but she knows me too well and just nodded and scoffed. We didn’t wait the three months, we searched another apartment immediately and within the month we had moved out and into our new and current apartment.

But as with all Heroinhead's, mishap is never far away and it wasn’t long before an exploding oven blew my poor wife halfway across the kitchen and straight into a bed in Accident & Emergency. Once again she was to blame... it was her fault that I had cut the gas at the mains before killing the flames! The result was that when she went to cook supper later that evening, she was using the hob blissfully unaware that the oven was leaking into the open at gas mark 8. After 20 minutes the gas had filled the oven and had began escaping up the back of the cooker. Just as she was adjusting the pan on the hob the inevitable happened...

Whilst nodding in the living room I was brought around by an almighty bang from the kitchen. I leapt into action only to find my wife staggering dazed and drunkenly down the hallway... the oven door was strewn across the kitchen floor along with a medium sized saucepan and half a packet of bow shaped pasta (not quite al dente.) When she had come down from the shock she explained what had happened. She rolled up her trousers and said that when the oven door was blown from it’s hinges it had smashed into her leg... though she was adamant that all was fine. As the hours passed her leg reddened and started swelling and burning intensely. Finally, at gone midnight, and in quite a bit of pain, we left for the hospital. It turned out that her kneecap was severely bruised and that the heat had hit her with such force that it had penetrated the skin and had burnt the muscle and flesh underneath. She was put through to the Special Burns Unit where they creamed and wrapped her and kept her in for monitoring. I stayed overnight to keep her company.

As we went over what had happened, our first thoughts were that the cooker was at fault... that it was old and had sprung a leak. It was only during he 150th re-analysis of the evenings events, when she asked: “But when you finished cooking earlier tonight did you turn the gas off by the mains without cutting the oven?” that it all finally clicked and we realised conclusively that she was at fault again:

“But you’ve got to check these things!” I screamed... “YOU KNOW WHAT I’M LIKE!” And not for the first time, she gave a forlorn look down towards the ground, and with eyes as cold and as sterile as the stainless steel hospital units she muttered, “That’s just the problem.”

This post is dedicated to Kat Skratch... A loyal and dedicated member of the Shredded Heart Club. x

Take care readers & if you can only be one thing... be careful!
My very Best Wishes, Shane. x

Mythical Darts & Broken Hearts

In 1999 I fell in love, married and died for the first time. The girl was Buket, the marriage lasted three days and my death 3 years. After all the events in my life it was finally an arrow from a familiar bow that got me... left me strung out on the edge of nowhere staring over bridges into dark waters and looking for heavy stones that would permanently weigh my body down. London transformed from a place of beauty into a prison of smells, scents and memories. It was the only time I’ve ever felt abandoned to the wolves, the only time my flesh was up for grabs... I was so alone I was nowhere, so suicidal I was already dead. This post is of love, obsession, loss and hopelessness. This post is straight from the belly of The Black House

I first met Buket in a dark bar on the Fulham Palace Road. I was returning from the funeral of my Grandad and had dashed in to escape the torrential rains and the devils lightening that crackled overhead as South London turned pewter and erupted into storm. She had sought me out in the darkest, loneliest corner of the bar and had awoken me with a light shake and two large brown eyes

"Have you smoked too much?” she asked in foreign English. I smiled, shook my head and tapped my nose. “No, something else.” I said. I fell back to sleep, but when I woke again she had pulled a chair up to the table and was sitting there smoking and waiting. She told me she was from Istanbul and was working in London as an au pair. We remained there like that until last orders, our chairs inching closer together until our knees were touching . We swapped cigarettes in order to touch each others hands and I lent across the table and whispered things to her just to feel her dark hair on my face. Sometimes I would start sinking into sleep and when I'd awaken I’d catch her looking at me. I done the same... stealing hidden glances when she wasn’t looking... blinking her beauty into my head... a beauty that was so immense it made me sad.

By the time we left the bar the storm had calmed. We stood outside waiting for some advance from the other... the silence of the ‘what now?’ Finally I asked her where she lived and she explained it was on a street at the back of Putney Heath. The Heath is a large expanse of wasteland, parkland & open space. It was there that in the late 80’s a series of brutal rapes had occurred. I told Buket this and then I offered to walk her home

As I accompanied Buket over Putney Bridge the lashing winds and rains whipped up again. I pulled her in close, removed my jacket and chucked it over our heads. We hurried along like this, past the swirling river and off into the mist. When we finally arrived at the house where she was staying we stood once again in awkward silence. I tried to move but couldn’t... for some reason I didn’t want to leave. Beneath the wet and the cold there was a warmth... a warmth that neither of us wanted to detach ourselves from. It wasn’t touch or contact, it was something so much more... an excitement that glowed within us like lava from the core of all existence. I eventually moved off into the rain, but a few metres down the road I turned around and shouted “Would you like to walk a little more?” And without a word she gave her answer and came running.

We finally came to a stop at the bottom of a long shadowy tree lined avenue... an open paint flecked bench offered us rest but not shelter. We sat there, huddled tightly together... cheek to cheek as the rain plummeted and fell like dead birds around us. There was no kissing, no fondling, no words... just two strangers with the same eyes, the same hopes and the same loneliness staring out into a raging storm. And as the trees swayed and bent, and the rains and the gales lashed cars and buildings, we peered out from under my jacket and watched the beauty as nature battered the world and the city... taking revenge on all the cruelties that had been inflicted upon us. This was the beginning of the end of all our past tragedies, the start of the healing process, the beginning of stark truth. But as we know, despair and suffering are never more than a shadows length behind in this life, and as this night beckoned the end of many hurts and traumas so it welcomed the beginning of a new disease... a disease so deadly that it takes more lives per year than any other... on the wings of the storm we fell in love

After that night we swapped numbers and waited in desperation for our phones to ring. We met up and I took Buket on tours of London.... clubs, pubs & parks. Being from the Bosphorus she adored the sea, but as there is no sea in London we gave our hearts to the river. I introduced her to parks and secret gardens, and by late summer she had fallen in love with London's public spaces... she had swapped blue for green. For me London had also transformed... from a place of shadows and mirth into cherry blossom and floral scents. Parks and gardens came alive, and the brown sludge of the river suddenly flowed clear and led to unknown and fantastic places

Buket moved in with me, sharing the house in Fulham with my friend and I. Bed covers were changed, the thick blankets I used as permanent curtains were removed from the windows, and the floor was no longer allowed to be used as an ashtray. It was fresh clothes and a shower once a day... proper dinners and sanitary living. But it felt good and it felt right and as the spring crept off the back of winter, the layers of dirt were slowly washed away.

But it was a rocky romance. It was so intense and desperate that a wrong word from either lip would send the other reeling into fathoms of insecurity and jealousy. And as the intensity grew and suicide pacts beckoned, I realised that this was not a healthy love... it was a draining, exhausting black love... an obsession that had only one logical conclusion: death. I watched each day as this love warped into something new, something bent and twisted... as eyes released tears of history and orgasms become desperate cries of help. We couldn’t get close enough to one other... we wanted to become one, but we were separated by our pasts and an eternity of wants and needs. And it was this that ate away at us like cancer.

During the courtship my drug use was open and honest (well almost). Because though Buket was aware that I was crushing up Subutex and snorting them every few hours, she was unaware that I was in the backroom piping heroin and crack.... meeting dealers in restaurant toilets and that the man who she thought was my manager at work was in fact a drug dealer. Of course, she had promised me that my drug use was my business and that she would not be like the others and ask me to quit, but barely a month into the relationship she blew up and demanded that I stop and abandon myself wholey to her. Unfortunately I was incapable of this... love was one thing, safety was another, and this wasn’t a safe love; it was a dangerous messy affair and one in which I needed drugs to get through the exhausting emotions of each day. Still, I had no choice but to go along with her wishes and feign desire to get clean. We came to the arrangement that she would hold my supply of subutex and anytime I needed or felt like it I would phone her and she’d meet me with 5 little white pills. Gradually it would descend to 4, 3, 2,1 until the time I would no longer need them.

I phoned Buket almost daily after this... she became my dealer, doctor & drug counsellor. Sadly by the time I arrived to meet her my mind was intent on getting opiates into my blood, and with barely a kiss or a “hello” I’d snatch the subutex from her, rush into the nearest bar or McDonald's toilet and crush them down and suck them up. I’d then slide down the wall in relief, waiting the 15mins it took for them to get into my system and attack my brain. I would then return zombie eyed and full of shame, apologizing for my weakness and pledging undying love. But she understood I was there for the drugs and not for her, and it was just another of a million problems that plagued us.

Another problem was her mental illness. She had a split personality and this had been accentuated after the trauma of being repeatedly raped by her schizophrenic younger brother just before coming to London. Actually this was the real reason she was even here, her father banished her from Istanbul & the family house on account of her outrageous tales of incest. Through every pore in our skins seeped darkness... black tales and black experiences. Our nights became a time of stories and dark reminiscences... our wide eyes glowering to candle light as we took it in turn to relate our histories of horror. We told our tales and then lost ourselves in music and love. But now in our glances there was a sadness and a fear... an understanding that we were probably the worst possible thing we could offer each other. Summer was coming to an end, and although love still existed enemy forces were encroaching slowly from all sides.

Buket had planned her return to Istanbul for mid November and we both lived in dread of this date. We made hurried plans so as not to separate... not then.. not forever. Our talks and discussions brought this game plan: We would marry in London, she would head off to Istanbul two days later and I would join her in December for the wedding reception which would be held there. But this trip was not just for the reception, I wouldn’t be coming back... we were setting up life in Turkey, an apartment overlooking the Bosphorus Straits.

We married in November, her in a black wedding dress and me in my funeral suit... the same one I had been wearing when we first met. It was a bizarre affair. I was working on that day and in a large van at lunch time all the firm travelled down to the wedding.... colleagues in work overalls and with black hands celebrating and throwing confetti as we left the registry office. Neither of us believed in marriage, we went through with it because her family were muslim and it was the only way we could openly share the same bed together.

As we sat for drinks in the bar afterwards, just Buket, my family and I, I looked across the table at her beauty. We had married for very specific reasons, but in that moment, in that millisecond of happiness before our hells would collide, I was proud. I was proud of her, of me of my wife, and I think she was too.... for a smiles length of time she was proud to have the name Levene. Though an hour later she would be in fits of fury as I returned from the toilets with a single streak of crusty white powder running from my nose and then nodded into the wedding meal. And as she pointed to my nose, letting me know the streak of residue hadn’t passed unnoticed, I knew.... I knew that in two days I would take her to the airport and would never see her again. There would be no reception... no Bosphorus dreams.. only heartache, divorce, pills, heroin and crack.*


The Taxi pulled up at 4pm. I bundled Buket's suitcase into the boot and slipped in the back beside her, my breath awash with the nutty scent of piped heroin.We had arranged for the taxi to exit London by a very specific route - a mini tour of all the streets, avenues and bars that had fuelled these past months. It was a blustery English day and the autumn light was already fading. We looked out the window together and watched as London rolled away into history and memory... as the motorway took us out of the reverie and on the 45miniutes journey to Gatwick Airport.*

I was calm.... we was quiet... this was it. I walked Buket to the departure gate, and we stood outside holding one another. “We’re never going to see each other again, are we?” I said.... holding back tears that could not be held back.. “This is the end isn’t it?” She kissed my nose and wiped my eyes... and then she broke down herself and started making desperate promises and gestures of love. Her eyes wide and speaking a hundred thoughts at once. We held each other on last time and I sucked in an audible lungful of air and courage. Trailing fingers broke free and without looking back I headed off, my tears falling freely as I made my way back home. Patting my pocket to make sure the two little bags of heroin were still there.

We kept in contact over the next month... daily phone calls and desperate pleas for the time to quicken up it’s pace. The reception was planned and booked and I had bought my plane tickets and that of my mothers and sisters for the event. But then one dull afternoon, an event happened that would almost kill me and push me fully into the arms of heroin and crack. A conversation so bizarre that I still don’t understand it now. But in that conversation my wife would slip into psychosis, threaten to have me killed and we would never speak nor see each other again.

I received the call at work, it was Buket and she was desperate... crying and swearing undying love: “I need you... can you come earlier... you need to be here now!”

“I can’t just leave like that” I said. “Anyway, I’ll be there in 14 days.. it’s not so long.” And then she changed.... for the third time in our relationship her psychosis appeared and in a click of the fingers she was a different person... someone evil, uncaring and spiteful. “14 days!!! You think that’s not long.... how can you be so fucking cold! I need you and you speak with tiredness... yeah, yeah, yeah! Are you that bored by me???”

"I’m just a little tired...”
“Tired!!! how can you be tired... we only speak once a day... how can that tire you!” And then the phone went dead and so did I... because I knew from experience that when she became like this she was inaccessible... she was no longer there.

That evening I tried to phone, but got no response. I was in complete panic and began phoning her friends and family. Finally I got through to her family home and it turned out she was there but refused to speak to me. Her father however had this to say:

"The marriage is over. My daughter says it was a mistake and she no longer wants to see or hear from you again... EVER! Please send her clothes and belongings over and do not call back!”

Well I did call back... many times but Buket wouldn’t speak with me, and as the realisation dawned that our beauty was dead, I sunk into a depression and a hurt that gave a self-destructive edge to my recklessness. London and her memories began taunting me and I started to die... and then I broke down and cried. This life was not for me.... all the hurt and the pain and the tragedy and the upset and abuse and...and... and... it could keep it... I’d had enough! But life doesn’t care for such despair and 2 weeks later she delivered my friends dead body to my feet, and for a while I gave up... but you already know that story.

It took me a whole year to get over the break-up, and three years of heroin abuse to ease the pain. Since that bizarre phone call with Buket I have never seen, spoke nor heard from her again. We’ve never divorced and I never sent her clothes back. I hold no ill will towards her, and have no desire to see her again... it’s something that is done and dusted. Instead I think and I laugh.... I laugh about my 3 day marriage and I laugh at just how very human it is. All the things that have passed my way, and finally it was the old dart of love that got me... brought me to my knees screaming for mercy. And I’m proud of that.... I’m proud because I can love and I can hurt. I am proud that after everything I am not numb, disconnected and unfeeling. I am proud because I have a heart... an open heart and a heart that can be broken.

Take care All...

Shane. x

A Post from a Ghost - Guest Spot.

18 years ago, just before opiates made an entry into my life, I was living on the White City Estate in West london with my mother, my brother and my dog. Whilst there, I only ever made one real friend... that was Andrew Frankham. Unfortunately that friendship ended at the end of a lump of wood, a dog chain and a skateboard. Andy breaking my finger and me breaking his colarbone and his heart. In the past weeks we have been back in touch and have once again become good friends. Here is Andy's version of me, 15 years old and just starting down the long road of drugs and danger. I hope you all enjoy...
A Reflection of Me

Shane and I go back a long time, twenty years in fact. That we managed to find each other on the anniversary of our first encounter is no coincidence. I’ve never believed in such things; there is a reason behind everything, whether we’re able to comprehend said reason is another thing. When he asked me to do a guest spot on his blog and tell his loyal followers a little something of the kid I knew back at the arse end of the ‘80s I at first felt quite honoured, but then reality set in and I realised I hadn’t really thought much about those days in nigh on ten years. The only things I had distinct memory of were the events that led to the parting of the ways for Shane and I; it’s curious how easily we are able to recall the bad times. So I took it as a challenge to myself; for just over a year we had some good times, and got to know each other pretty damn well. Indeed, we became best mates; therefore the good memories had to be juggling around in my mind somewhere. And just like all my worthwhile writing projects, this meant a little research.

I left White City in 1991. It’s always struck me as odd that a concrete jungle with roads named after Commonwealth countries, and houses named in honour of participants of the Commonwealth Games, should be called something with such obvious racist undertones. An historical irony, perhaps? Even more ironic considering the confluence of culture that pervades every aspect of that housing estate. But this is not about the place, so much as how it pertains to the relationship between Shane and I. For some inexplicable reason I’ve never been able to decipher, since 1991 I would return to White City in my dreams. No matter where I was living at the time, no matter what friends I had about me, White City would always resurface in that darkest of subconscious arenas.

In this dream I’d be doing my thing with my friends, usually the most mundane stuff, and we’d start off in whatever given place I was living at the time. Then, as if stepping out of the back of the wardrobe, we’d be in White City. And it always seemed the most natural thing; after all the dreamscape of the unconscious mind rarely entertains the notion of logic, and so having my current friends in the place of my teen years made perfect sense. But I never ended up in just any part of White City, always I’d step into the forecourt of Wolfe House, the red brick block of flats in the shape of a capital L, signalling the truth of that place. The home of Lost Souls. Within seconds I’d be jumping up to the fourth floor, like Superman taking a single leap, and coming to rest outside a door in the corner of that L. I never lived in this flat, that much I knew, yet I would enter as casually as if it were my own home. The interior always seemed dark, shadows dancing around. I’d never think to look around the flat, after all there was a familiarity about it that I’d find comforting, and so I’d walk up the hallway, passing both the kitchen and the living room, until I came to this one white door. Knocking never seemed necessary, and so I’d walk into the room beyond. Empty but for the sparse furniture and posters on the magnolia walls; one poster in particular stuck out, a group of men in tight jeans and t-shirts, with the words Skid Row printed jaggedly above. From there the dream would segue into a new place, and I’d be back with my current group of friends.

An odd dream, one full of meaning but little understanding. For the longest time it made no sense to me; why would I keep returning to this place? Recently, though, some clarity has come my way. When talking to Shane on the phone the other day, going through remembrances some two decades old, he reminded me that his flat was number 40, and in a flash I saw that corner flat of my dream. For the best part of eighteen years my dreamscape would take me to the place Shane lived with his mother, brother and dog. A place where, for the best part of year, I could most often be found. It seems that even though Shane and I had parted company in a terrible way, a part of me kept returning. I had not let go of the friendship we once shared.

I forget exactly how we met, but I do remember that I first met his mother. I was living at my sister’s at the time, on the second floor of Wolfe House, and she had struck up a friendship with Lesley, Shane’s mother. Tracey tells me that she met Lesley through Gary, my sister’s then fella, who provided Lesley with ‘draw’ (cannabis). As I was living at my sister’s I’d often see Lesley popping in for a coffee and a chat, or as the old cliché goes, to borrow some milk or sugar, and just as often Tracey would pop up to the fourth floor to return the favour. I seem to recall that my first encounter with Shane was brief; his mother was having coffee at my sister’s and Shane popped in for some reason or other. Memory’s a funny thing, and two decades is an awfully long time. My fist impression was of this quiet kid, a little younger than me (exactly three years to the day, as it turned out), who had a certain sparkle in his eye. It’s what I would now call a cheeky glint; the kind of look you see in the eyes of those for whom mischief is never far away. And me being me, I was attracted to that straight away. Looking back the source of the attraction is abundantly clear; it was recognition of a familiar. We soon got to talking, little more than small talk at first, something which both Shane and I suck at, as I popped up for coffee with my sister. In those first few days Shane was something of a mystery to me; this wraith that would appear from his bedroom, say a few words, ask his mother for something, and then would disappear back into his room. I think it was me who made first contact proper, sticking my head into his room and striking up a conversation. I’m not sure if I’m remembering that, or if it’s merely something I’ve since convinced myself happened as it is the kind of thing I’m prone to do.

Nevertheless a friendship was quickly struck, and it came to pass that Shane and I were more often together than not. It was a pretty standard friendship really, one full of hours talking about random things; music, books, and all kinds of arty stuff. Even back then we were both creative types. Every night we’d be out in Greyhound Park, the overgrown former grounds of the infamous White City Stadium, once renowned for dog racing before it was torn down in the early ‘80s and the ground bought by the BBC, walking his dog. Even now I can see Shane clearly walking beside me, while his dog ran around. Back then Shane was prone to talk quietly while we walked, head lowered, shoulders hunched, thin and tall, dressed in dark clothes. With hindsight and some understanding of body language, it’s obvious now that the signals he was giving off were clearly a clue as to what was going on within. This was a teenager living mostly in his own private world of pain, and as much as I got to know Shane, there was always more to know. But there was so much that he would not let me in on. He often alluded to something nasty in his past, but would clam up whenever I asked him what. Still, those brief moments of potential darkness never harmed our friendship. And yet, for reasons now clear to me, our friendship was a doomed one.

Shane was a volatile young man, always on the verge of courting danger, and this side of him often caused me concern. But again it was something I understood, for I had my own issues going on and there was a heart born of rage bubbling within. That we were kindred spirits was beyond doubt, but he was heading down a path I could not walk, at least not then. We were ultimately too alike; both intelligent, with enquiring minds, prone to mood swings, and bouts of depression. The main difference between Shane and I, though, was his willingness to dance on the side of darkness, a place I couldn’t allow myself to go. I had my family about me, disjointed as they were, and they continued to anchor me. Shane and his family, however, were living in a world of hurt that my teenage mind couldn’t begin to comprehend. As the months past by and 1990 came about, the feeling in the Levene household began to turn grim. They had two lodgers living there; people whom Shane was spending more and more time with. Perhaps it was because they were new and thus more interesting than I, whom he already knew? Here were two adults, two men, doing the kind of things Shane was used to seeing around him; drinking, smoking dope and generally being loud and obnoxious. They probably thought it was funny; Shane certainly seemed to. Drugs became a regular fixture; to my mind it was usually only light drugs, but I suspect it might have been more. I was wonderfully naive about these things back then! I was spending less time there, the welcoming atmosphere diminishing with every visit. To this day I am convinced it wasn’t a malicious act designed to oust me from Shane’s world, rather a moment of life where a single path was meant to split in two.

Shane’s mother was drinking more and it was becoming nigh on impossible to talk to her with any expectations of common sense; and with her drinking came a more maudlin woman talking about random things from her past. In truth I thought she mostly making it up; the brain addled by the excess of alcohol or dope. As for Shane? Well, I saw him around, but we didn’t spend any time alone any more. I do vividly recall one night where we went out to walk the dog and we had this almighty row about something trivial, Shane refusing to talk about what was troubling him, issuing forth sarcastic comment after sarcastic comment. I was left with a sinking feeling in my heart. The loss of a kindred spirit is a harsh reality, and it cuts to the core. I spent most of that night awake, probably crying.

Over the following few months I became the object of much verbal bashing from Shane, almost always when he was with his neighbour whom I suspected was doping up with Shane on a regular basis. It began to wear me down, even though I still held some hope that Shane and I would be able to rekindle the friendship that had been torn away from me. I still popped up to see his mother from time to time, most often when Shane was not about, always sounding her out to see if reconciliation was around the corner. But nada. I had the misfortune of being there on occasion when Shane did come home, and received the darkest and dirtiest looks, usually accompanied by some slur. It was a hard time, seeing this person whom I once considered a friend now treating me like some intruder in his world. The old sparkle in his eyes had started to dim, and now an evil glare seemed to be cast my way.

It all ended one evening in Greyhound Park. Others had got involved in the growing animosity between us. And so egged on, the rage was beginning to burn. Finally we decided, mutually or not I forget, to have it out once and for all. In mind I still see this moment clearly, although I suspect time has altered my perception slightly and built it into something a lot more dramatic than it actually was. But the moment replays like this:
Shane one side of the park, me on the other. Shane’s crowd of onlookers is notably larger than mine. Shane begins shouting obscenities at me, and I think ‘fuck this’, yet at the same time wondering how we had come to this. I know for sure that I do not want to do this. Then I notice Shane has the dog chain in his hand, and so I rip a wooden slat from a rather feeble fence. We literally run at each other, like two wild animals. None of this sizing each other up, provoking the other into making the first move. As I near him I throw the wood away; still I do not want this. But I am on some inexplicable course than I cannot pull away from. We clash, and I rip the dog chain from his hand (possibly the reason for his broken finger), and we lay into each other. There is none of those fancy moves you see on TV, just two teenagers scrapping, tumbling around on the floor while others jeer us on. At some point Shane is on his feet, and someone hands him a skateboard, which comes crashing down on my collar bone.
After this I remember very little of the fight, I still can’t even remember how it ended. But end it did and for the next week I was walking around thinking that my shoulder was only bruised. At that point I’m not actually aware that a skateboard had been used, I only discovered this later. I saw Shane around still, but I refused to be cowed, although I noted his hand has been bandaged and I felt a guilty glow of satisfaction. But it was a temporary thing cause I knew that whatever we had was gone.

I left White City in 1991, and that was the last time I saw Shane on a regular basis. By this point he was a stranger, his hair long, looking more drawn than I ever saw him before. It weighed heavy on my heart that I no longer knew him, that we’d pass in the street with barely a nod of acknowledgement. When coming home I’d usually walk behind Wolfe House, cutting across the grass and past the rear of No. 1, but Shane often hung around there as he was friends with those who lived at No. 1, and so it became a habit to go the long way home, just to avoid any further hostility and emotional hurt.

For eighteen years I was left with a lack of understanding as to just what had gone wrong. But recently we have got back in touch, and in some ways it’s like we never parted company. But what is most amazing of all is that in the intervening years we have been on very similar emotional journeys, even living through closely linked events, like the deaths of loved ones (a step-brother and a friend in my case), and we’ve found ourselves to truly be the kindred spirits we sensed in each other twenty years ago. Only now more so. And we’re still as arty as we ever were, Shane with his paintings and fiction, and me with my own fiction.

I look back, and now having some context on the events going on in his life at the time, I understand what happened between Shane and me. We saw too much of ourselves in the other and neither of us were at the place we needed to be to accept those similarities, to rejoice in and embrace them. Shane had decided he had to be a certain kind of man for his mother, and so did what he had to do to become that person. He isolated himself from the friend who really cared, turning instead to easier more spendthrift friendships, with people who could offer him exactly what he needed at that point in his life, and so continued down his own path, the one that would lead to the point he is at today. And so that path we were once on, the one that had split so abruptly back in 1990, has finally merged once again. And now, finally, there is true understanding.

As a postscript, let me add that since Shane and I have found each other again, my dream world has not once returned to White City and Shane’s old home. Curious, isn’t it?

Methadone Maintenance & Continental Socks.

During my ten years of heroin addiction I have been in rehab just once. That was for a very specific reason and was not my choice. It lasted 5 months. This post details my reasons for entering rehab along with my experiences and observations of it. I do not go into the failings of that system, as it is outside the scope of this post.

I will start by saying: I don’t believe in rehabilitation... not for me anyway. To go for that means you think that you have something to be rehabilitated from, and I don’t feel I have. There is nothing wrong with me...I am dependent on a drug, that’s all. Rehabilitation suggests something so much more... that beyond heroin the person is the problem, that the person needs rehabilitating. But from what? From life?

My reasons for even considering rehab came about because of my wife. We’d been living together in London for a few months and each month had became more miserable and more depressing than the last (especially for her). What she thought she could handle, she quickly realised she couldn’t and that what may have seemed romantic on paper was not so when it was the crux of a daily existence.

By the end of October (I think she waited until after my birthday) she said she was leaving... returning to France. She asked if I was following, but I could only shake my head and look down. As our relationship crumbled all I could do was stare despondently at her red, flat soled shoes and continental socks. We parted on the corner of the street... me heading off to work and her heading to the airport. She was crying, but I was dry... of tears, apologies or goodbyes. Poetry would have been useless... it was that which had brought her here. And so she left.

After a month apart I realised that unless I done something the relationship was doomed and I didn’t want that. The last year (including the fights) had been the happiest of my life. In absence of any other acceptable solution I agreed to enter a rehabilitation clinic (though not to stop using) and promised that once I had been stabilised on methadone that I’d transfer my script to a hospital in Lyon and then we’d leave together. Whether transferring a script to France was even possible I had no idea, although I told her I’d looked into it and that it wasn't a problem. The reality of what I discovered was it was extremely difficult transferring a script from one London borough to another, let alone abroad. Still, I had to tell her something... and as I had nothing to tell her, I lied. On the back of that lie, and actual proof that I had really booked myself onto a maintenance program, she returned.

It was during the middle of December 2003 that I experienced my first taste of white-walled, fruit-filled and sickly Drug Substitution units. After passing my 2 months on a waiting list I was finally there, feigning junk illness so as I could get as much methadone as possible. It was 8.30am, and I was surrounded by snivelling, groaning, moaning junkies... sick to the bones and begging for their dose. From the start I had problems.

After waiting 30 minutes in the dying room I was called by a doctor. I followed him into his little surgery and was joined by my drug counsellor (my key worker). I tried pretending illness as best I could, but it’s a difficult thing to do, especially around those who know it so well.
“When was the last time you used Mr. Levene?”
“Last night... just before going to bed.” I admitted.... omitting to mention the injection I had taken just before leaving
“You’ve not gone the 24hrs? You are not withdrawing?” The doctor enquired.
I explained that I was withdrawing, but that I wasn’t sick and couldn’t understand why I had to show up ill.... did I have to earn my treatment?
“No, but you’ve got to show you want it... that you’re serious on quitting”
“ Well, I’m here...I’ve money in my pocket and I’m here, how more serious can I be?”
The doctor scribbled something on a notepad and gave it to my counsellor. “We’ll give you 10mls... if you want more, you’ll have to come here withdrawing.”
“10ml! That won’t do anything. I need at least 90ml!.. 10ml!!!”
“Mr. Levene, 40ml is enough to bring about fatal overdose... whilst using on top we cannot give you anymore. Tomorrow morning we’ll review your situation further. Good morning.”
“Good morning?? It will be... I’ve gotta go and score now!”
With that I left the doctor, swallowed down the measly 10ml I’d been prescribed and then caught the bus to Shepherds Bush where I scored before heading in to work.

This pattern continued for nearly two weeks. Each day the doctor telling me the same and upping my dose another 5 or 10 ml. By the end of the 14 days I was on 110ml a day, which was enough to stop me from becoming ill if I had no gear.

After being stabilised I still had to travel to the treatment centre each day, see the doctor, have my urine tested and then drink my little cup of juice in front of the nurse. It was a one system suits all... yet from what I could see it was a one system fails all. On account of my job, I asked for special permission to have a weeks script at a time... I explained that I could no longer justify to my directors why I had need of an hour and a half absence each morning (and for the foreseeable future too), but it was refused. It wasn’t until I forged a letter on company headed paper, threatening myself with disciplinary action, that I was finally given a weeks script. Thank God for common sense!

To cut the story short, I was at CAPS, the treatment centre in West London for 3 months before being in a position to transfer my script to France. During those three months my heroin intake remained the same as it had ever been. This disappointed my wife a little, as regardless of my lack of resolve to quit, I’m sure she secretly hoped that I would... or that I’d at least slow down a little. Instead the truth was this: when she left England I was a crack and heroin addict, and when she returned I was a crack, heroin and methadone addict... things hadn’t gotten better, they’d become worse. Anyway, soon she’d have her wish... soon she would experience a life free of any illegal drugs.

Surprisingly the transfer of my prescription to France couldn’t have been more simple. Two faxes and a note from my key worker and it was complete. So at the very beginning of March 2004, my wife and I left London to start a new life in Lyon... a life where heroin was no longer a barrier down the middle of the bed.

For me France would be the unknown.... not just in terms of the language or people, but as an adult living a drug free life. I knew that once I left England that heroin & crack were off the agenda... not possible, at least for the time being. My only heroin contact in France was Alexandre, my wife’s brother, but unfortunately he was serving 3 years for heroin trafficking charges in the local St. Paul Prison. So France was the real beginning of a heroin free life... my first in almost 5 years.

The methadone clinics in France are pretty much the same as in the UK. Early morning visits, drinking your juice in front of an observer... weekly urine test... psychiatrist reports and meetings. The main difference between France and England is the punishment on giving dirty urine's. In England you are punished severely for this, whilst in France they use the information more for monitoring your progress and the success of the treatments. In France all addicts have their own script, in England all addicts are thrown off their scripts. The ideal position to be in, and which I’m in now, is to give enough clean urine's to build up a little bit of trust. Once this has happened you can ask to be transferred to a GP (who rarely if ever takes urine tests).

In France I stayed clean for almost 5 months... just enough time to speak a little, and get some money in my pocket. Those 5 months were not miserable or unhappy I got down and got on with life. I used them to concentrate on my painting and writing and other creative outlets that I had neglected in my drug addiction. That little break really served its purpose as I reviewed the past 5 years and made certain promises to myself. My writing or thinking or painting heroin free was no different... it was no better or no worse. Heroin doesn’t affect one in that way.

My gradual descent back into addiction upset my wife, but she always knew I’d bring heroin back to our bed. Like everyone else I suppose she just hoped. At least here she had some control and a hand in my addiction. She knew the dealers and how much I was buying... if my usage was constant or increasing. The paranoia of London was not here and it was a huge release for us. Also, I had given up my addiction to crack cocaine so she was thankful for that She was also thankful that I was painting and at last doing something creative, though she was always urging me to write... well, maybe now’s the time to do that. In fact, I think it is.

I’ve explained a little of the program and my experience of it and now I will go through the problems of treatment.

1) Methadone or Subutex is NOT heroin. It stops the physical withdrawal but gives the addict nothing else. Unless the addict is also taken away from heroin these substitutions cannot work. 50 or so years of treatment have proved this.

2) The punishment of the addict and the subtle ways he is made to earn his treatment or to deserve it.

3) The strict discipline for dirty urine's. The clinic is fond of reassuring you that a slip up is nothing serious, that heroin is a long term addiction. Yet if you are caught using, or you stupidly admit to it, you have your methadone dose cut down and if use is continued will be thrown off the program.

5) 95% of addicts enter rehab because of financial problems. They’ve hit bottom and can no longer sustain a habit. They are there not because they want to give up junk, but because they can’t afford it.

6) The early morning meetings and all the hidden agenda’s that are attached to drug treatment. Instead of attacking the main problem they sneakily serve to discipline and train the addict.

Of the 52 addicts that I met during treatment in England only one managed to kick first time. Of the rest 46 admitted to being there because of financial reasons. Most were still using heroin at any opportunity.

I don’t offer up any solutions here for drug substitution treatments, I’m not informed enough to do that. But I do know that neither methadone nor subutex works. What is needed is Heroin maintenance programs. These do exist, but are extremely controversial (especially when state funded) and one has to be almost dying (if not dead) to get on one of these programs. The controversy (outside of giving addicts free heroin) is that they do not encourage the addict to stop... that they encourage prolonged drug use. They do, but they stop all the crime, dirt and destroyed lives that come with illicit addiction. And what will be surprising is just how quickly a completely stabilized addict will feel completely stupid using just to feel normal. Once the highs and lows are removed from heroin addiction, the addict is as good as permanently straight... there is very little difference. And if one is straight using, one may as well be straight and not using... I myself sometimes feel this... but then there is a drought.

Take care readers... was it really 7 days??? (No, it was 8! ;))

Help, I Think I'm a Hypochondriac

Apart from being born dying, my first experience of terminal illness came when I was 5. I lay on the sofa, bandy legged and nauseous after a school medical, feeling for whatt had been described as “an irregular heartbeat”. I heard that expression over and over again, and with each repetition the face of the school nurse became more drained and more concerned. Soon, in my young head, she had straightened up after listening to my chest, absolutely speechless and horrified. My future was so terrible, I was so damned, that it was unutterable. It must have been, as she sent me packing with a smile and without a word to anyone. I was only five, yet already I was preparing for the hospice... I was dying.

As neither of my parents were informed of my condition, I battled it alone, understanding what I could from my step-fathers thick volumes of medical encyclopedias. I never did leave those books with an exact diagnosis, but I did leave them with enough medical knowledge and facts about disease to fuel a 30 year long panic attack... and that’s exactly what I’ve had. I can barely remember a time when I was not bound to my bed by straps of irrational fears... imaginary pains shooting up my arms. And it really was that... I didn’t just imagine the symptoms, I felt them.

In the years following that first taste of phobia, I went down with the lot... every fatal disease imaginable. I had tuberculosis, yellow fever and jaundice. I succumbed to the plague, legionnaires, polio and parrots disease. With the winter came bird flu, pneumonia, bronchitis and meningitis. And survival done nothing to brighten my days, all it meant was I was alive to catch rabies, scabies and lockjaw through tetanus. At 10 I made the self diagnosis of HIV, and in the same year came down with diabetes and gangrene. When my brother whacked me in the head with a pair of swinging binoculars I collapsed with brain hemorrhaging. Three stitches later and a short taxi ride home I learnt it was more probably a slow build up of fluid in the skull cavity and that my death would be postponed until at least Friday. When my math’s teacher talked of cubic feet or square foot I looked down worryingly. And as for cancer... well. I’ve had tumours and growths of all sizes on every part of my body. I’ve had cancer of the lung, liver and stomach... I’ve even had cervical cancer and I don’t have any cervix. And that’s not all... oh no, because to top it all off, I worried endlessly that I was a hypochondriac. I certainly had all the symptoms.

But though I can laugh about this, there is a serious side, as it was due to these irrational fears that I first sought an escape from the world... that I first sought an immediate emergency exit. It wasn’t drugs at that young age but rather TV and books. In order to free my mind off a skipping heartbeat and shortness of breath, I’d curl up with a pillow and blanket close to the TV and watch fantasy films and cartoons. I’d become so enwrapped in them that I was lost to the world, lost to disease and lost to death. And it’s here that it is interesting... that it has a relevant place on this blog. Because there began a history of escapism... an early clue as to how I would handle future torment. From that very tender age I was already self-diagnosing and (in a way) self medicating... it was just a small hint of things to come.

As to how I first acquired this fear of disease is not clear, but there are two things from my early years that I can link this behaviour to:

1) my drunken mother feigning terminal illness for attention
2) my step-fathers tales of death, decay and our days out together - spent exploring he local cemetery.

This first point I’ve touched on in a previous post, so will not revisit here, though the second I will expand upon a little.

My stepfather was a bizarre man obsessed by the paranormal, magic and the afterlife. He would often predict the death of family members and explain in minute details all the macabre and grisly details. He would make pendulums and dowse the city maps for gold or lost money... he believed in fate, luck and chance. It will come as no surprise to hear that he was a compulsive gambler. Anyway, along with stories of gruesome deaths, ghosts and rotting bodies, he would take me for dark days out around the local cemetery. There, he’d clear the top stones off old tombs, and holding my little legs would allow me to lean far in... staring down into the blackness. Before a young boy should even know what death is I was looking at it. But death isn’t attractive or clever to a small boy... it’s frightening and scary, and I think my fear of disease (mortality) has more to do with these days passed with my stepfather than with my mothers declarations of having a terminal cancer.

I don’t know for sure, but whatever brought this into my life it exists and continues to this day. What is more bizarre and probably what many of you are wondering is: How can a person suffering with hypochondria become an injecting heroin addict? How can one with an irrational fear of disease take daily injections of street drugs from unsterilized equipment... leaving himself wide open to two of the worst diseases we know of? Well, I cannot answer that, and I do not understand it myself. All I can say is that it’s another one of the many contradictions that hold me together. It's all a balancing act...a calculation. If the the gain from the exit seems worth the loss of the entry, I do it. Actually, we all do that... it's called living.

Still, In relation to heroin and the needle, my hypochondria has served me well. My fears and paranoia of disease have ruled out any sharing of equipment or group use. In my ten years of heroin addiction only a handful of people have ever witnessed me inject... Of those, 3 were addicts. For me, even injecting in the same room is too close for comfort... it's asking for trouble. Instead, I score, sneak off alone and put up with the suspicions and accusations of being the police... the rat amongst the pack. And maybe I am a rat, but you'd better get used to it, because after surviving 35+ fatal illnesses I've got the feeling I'm going to be around for quite some time to come.

Wishing everyone the best of health, Shane.

Apologies Between Posts...

Hiya everyone,

There will be a new post here in the next couple of hours... if you really can't wait, you can go across to my other blog (Memoirs from The Black House) and read some thinly disguised fiction, or search this blog for a Hidden Post... the choice is yours.


Best Wishes, S.

Tragedy Comes On A Calm Wind

Maybe she was a junkie...she had junkie eyes. But that was probably due to the morphine they gave her (they did give her morphine – I saw them). Maybe she was twenty... maybe younger, who can tell? All I know is she was there, impossibly wedged in, looking at me like a lost and depressed lover from under that No.7 bus. At times I thought I saw her move, but I wasn’t sure... it was hard to see through the crowd, and beyond it, the police and the firemen. All I could be sure of was she was unfairly pinned to the tarmac by 7 tonnes of steel, metal and plastic.

Our bus was just to the side, the large windows like a cinema screen. The road leading out of the bus station had been blocked off. We stayed there a good hour watching in shocked horror as the fire brigade tried to free her. What one would imagine to be a delicate operation was carried out with lumps of timber, a heavy duty jack, an industrial grinder and a pair of large metal cutters... it was an excruciatingly slow process. That wasn’t anyones fault or bad practice... it was the only way. Her leg was broken and mangled in the bus’s undercarriage, her arm bent in the way as when children twist a Barbie doll’s arm 180 degrees. How she ended that far under what should have been a slow moving bus is impossible to fathom... when one looks there is barely enough space for a new born child to pass through unscathed.

Many people left our bus... Some to walk home, others just to get a better and closer look. I understand this. I understand trying to understand death... up close and impersonal. What I don’t understand is life, and within it the people who remained seated, cursing the poor girl for getting smashed during the rush hour. Once again the crudeness of a world ruled by money and time was here, unashamedly still pushing on... still screaming for life to move ever faster. It was this crudeness that was my reason for alighting and joining the crowds around the police cordon. At least there I was amongst the caring.

Balancing on the tips of my toes I strained to get a proper glimpse. This was not because I have a morbid obsession with death, I don’t. I have seen too much death to be obsessed by it. Rather, I had a base instinct to know if this girl was dead or alive... If I had stumbled through yet another obscene tragedy. That which I had earlier took for her talking was in fact the firefighters talking to her.. either soothing a terribly injured girl or trying to wake the dead. It wasn’t clear, but there seemed to be movement. I mentioned this to the shocked man besides me: “I think she’s moving?” I said/asked, hoping to get a reassuring nod. But all I got was a hand sliding from over the mouth to the eyes and a cried and desperate “OH NO... oh no..” I followed his line of vision and watched as a white van rolled into the scene. On the side was written: ‘Reanimation unit’. That “Oh no” was now an unbearable sound... especially from a man’s mouth. It was full of all the grief of the terrible and the unwanted... it was an instinctive groan.

‘Reanimation’, what a horrible word. The ‘reanimation’ of the dead... the 'reanimation' of a life. It probably doesn’t have that significance in french, but into english it is an awful name and an even worse presence. A paramedic appeared from each door of the White van and each went to the back. Two returned with a stretcher, one with the oxygen and the other with the defibrillator. They stood waiting in the wings, ready to earn their bread... ready to break the chestbone... Ready to pass an arrow of electricity through the heart.

The young girls body was finally unhinged from the wreckage, rolled over onto the back and carried clear of the raised and broken bus. The leg was already protected, encased in a moulded strapped boot, the arm held down against the the body. The reanimation team approached, had a look and then backed away... they were of no use here. The young girl was lifted and placed on the red-blanketed stretcher of the ambulance and covered, but not completely. She was alive, though in a very poor state. There was still no movement, just the firemen* who raised the stretcher and placed it in the back of the ambulance. It moved off first, without sirens and in no particular haste.. The ‘Reanimation unit’ was close behind followed by a police car. Soon all three were out of sight.

With the undetermined close of the spectacle, the crowd of onlookers dispersed and the exit from the station was cleared. I got back on my bus and sat back down in the same seat. Looking out upon the site of the accident it was hard to believe what had just taken place. Now there was nothing... no blood, no ambulance, no equipment, just two policemen and a parked up and out of service bus. No clue at all of that which had just passed. And that’s it... that’s how this life moves on. Things come and things go, some things are born and other things die. Some live a healthy life and others take the freeway. It doesn’t matter, because death is often indiscriminate and always unfair. I sat and thought about this as our bus pulled away, following the route of the ambulance for a while before turning off. I should be dead, I thought, or at least seriously ill... instead I am watching others fall victim to what is all too frequently a cruel and callous life.

The bus made its way along the route. Some people got on and others got off. Gradually sounds returned as we that had witnessed the accident became the minority. The early evening opened up ahead of us, the sky darkened a couple of tones and the smells off the city and of home became stronger. Life was back, noisy and oblivious to all. Suffering and pain do not exist here and if they do we usually do something about it... all of us. The next time we will be silent again, it will be too late...way too late. But such warnings are useless and futile... they are a waste of time. How can one ever prepare for the unprepareable? We can’t. And tragedy is unprepareable, she gives no warning. The birds don’t scatter from the trees and the dogs don’t cower or take cover. No, when tragedy arrives she blows in on a calm and silent wind, and it’s very similar to the one that is blowing right now.

Take care Readers... and mind your step. All My best, Shane.

*In france if you dial for an ambulance you get the fire brigade... they carry out a dual role. The back of a french fire truck is better equipped medically than a British ambulance.

As forthe girl, I don't know what finally became of her. I've searched the internet and the local papers, but found nothing. I take it she lived, as a death involving public transport almost always makes the news. Fingers crossed.