Steamboats- Chapter 6
Living In A Flat With King Rat
On the streets late at night , there are bins everywhere full of things no one needs any more . That’s where you’ll find the king rat and his kind , sneaking along the gutters and peeking through the rubbish in the dark . Seeking out treasures in alleyways and speaking without squeaking with every word that’s heard on the street .
In every city there are lots of rats and every one of them has a hole where they hide and there are many holes in the city ,so its impossible to find out where they are when they run away to hide .
Every rat knows that there is only one who can be king but what is it that makes a rat become a king . It’s survival in the hard times and King rat is a survivor.
While the other rats gnaw and claw their way out of the sewer , you will see the king Rat who will sing and dance on the streets everyday.
While all the other rats hurry and scurry and worry where to go and what to do and where they’ll get a feed , the King Rat just sits there on the edge high above it all , knowing the ways to find a feed and how to succeed without asking any ones permission to get by .
The King Rat owes no one nothing and gets all he needs when no one can share and everything has gone. That’s when you’ll see the King Rat there .
I walked along the Lisburn Road to JJ’s flat . After a while I found his ground floor flat and as an Irish catholic, I realised I was in danger . The upstairs flat had a large Union Jack flying .
I had been told that JJ was also a catholic, so he was in danger as well .
I knocked on the door of his flat and he opened up the door . He brought me inside and I sat down . JJ spoke very quietly and said .
“The fella upstairs is the head of the UDA "
. The Ulster Defence Association who murdered many Catholics over the years . I could not understand why JJ would even consider living there in that flat . If it was found out that he was a Catholic his guts would be thrown out all over the Lisburn Road .
I thought about why JJ would have accepted that flat in that part of town and it came to me that when you have been a resident of a slaughter house there could never be any way out of the madness . Alcohol offered the steamboat an escape from that madness which can make you a resident of a lifestyle with alcoholism .
From that moment whispers will begin to haunt and taunt you with the want for another drink .
This desire will consume your every thought and keep you a prisoner within yourself , locking up your peace of mind inside a personal asylum that restrains your ability to manage how you live .
So for a steamboat it really doesn’t matter where you live or the people you’re with, because you always have the key to escape . Alcohol holds the key for those who are prisoners of self .
Personally I felt very uncomfortable being there with the head of the UDA living in the upstairs flat and deep inside I wanted to get out of there as fast as I could but I guess I wanted to get to know JJ and find out more about him .
Of course it was a dangerous place for me to be but I decided to accept his offer and moved in with him to his flat .
I told JJ I was writing a book called Steamboats and told him he was going to be in the book . I told him about some of the other steamboats I had met . JJ was interested to hear about some of the other problems other people had but never thought he had a drink problem, mind you though , that can be a common thread for people who do not want to accept help with their alcohol problem .
After a few weeks of living with JJ in his flat I got to understand why they called him King Rat .
When ever he got desperate he would call in to some of the homeless shelters to steal food from the cupboards and borrow money and a few cigarettes from those he knew . He would also drop in to Purdysburn hospital and ask those he knew for a handout of one kind or another .
With steamboats there is a kind of camaraderie that develops . They become like allies in a war.
They are on the same page of a story written by a friend . They all share the same way of life . They are on the same side and play the same game.
They go to the same school of life . Somehow a sense of unison occurs behind their everyday events of smoking and drinking . Steamboats support each other in what they say and do .
All At Sea In The Same Boat
By Paul McCann
I’m thinking that it’s a far better place to be all at sea
on board a steamboat with men on the drink
than to be imprisoned in chains by skeletons with no names
at the bottom of Davey Jones sink.
It’s peacefully there, where we share a few hangovers
and stories, in places where the swells never go .
Better off for the times when in good company
we can all sit back and laugh
at the life that we know .
There is a ritual to the habitual that makes them who they are . JJ knew how to tap in to that and feed his addiction by using those he knew could help .
The King Rat would feed himself with the crumbs given from the street breed and from other steamboats who were scattered around town . King Rat had many resources where he could get food so he spent all his money on alcohol and cigarettes . Once every two weeks JJ would get his income support from the Government and on that day JJ had the money to purchase as much alcohol as he could . This was his life supply that enabled him to get steamed up . JJ had get it all together . He had sorted it all out . He had ways that kept him alive and loved the challenge of finding enough to eat until the next unemployment benefit arrived .
He always got up very early in the morning and the steal the milk that was keft outside peoples doors . He knew the bakeries and each day had his hand out for a free loaf at the back door . They never refused him . King Rat was able to get food from the charities like St Vincent De Paul, The Salvation Army , even the local parish priest would provide a breakfast or a sandwich . The church would never turn away someone hungry from their door . JJ King Rat had found many sources that nourished him and helped him to survive . Now and then he would grab a few of the garbage bags from out the back of at a few of the local restaurants . Then when he got them back to his flat he would go through them looking for a feed . He was always able to get something decent in those bags .
He knew people everywhere and had this incredible ability to get money from them .
I walked with him in a hard place that he managed to use and control for his survival.
He was just like a clock , I learned what made him tick . You could almost time him , every fortnight he got his dole payment and he would disappear until he had drunk it all and then he would return to the flat begging for some money or cigarettes .
JJ spent most of his days getting picked up from the pavements where he had fallen down drunk or where he had blacked out. He was always unaware of what had happened or how he had got there . He had no idea of what was going on . Everyone knew JJ but he never knew there was a war going on out there on the streets of Belfast because he was always too drunk to see the full picture . JJ was a bit like a celebrity around Belfast . He was known as King Rat and he had always managed to survive JJ was never found wanting as he always somehow found a way to get by . He was far too shrewd and good at scrounging for food or begging for favours where ever he went .
JJ became an alcoholic at thirty years of age after he lost his career , his house , his wife , his kids and his health . These were the tragedies that drove JJ into the pits of despair with no return . Grasping on to the drink to retain his sanity for all the sacrifices he had already made for alcohol . Now all he had left was a self made image of this well-groomed Casanova .
He struck back at life with an ability to survive by plucking things from skips around Belfast . From alleyways he picked up many items that were thrown out as bomb damaged stock . Early in the morning he took a large pram and picked up pluck from the trash bins to the tip , from the back of shops to people’s back yards and he could resell most of all he had retrieved .
He was good at fixing things up for sale . He could mend anything broken , or rewire anything electrical . He could repaint , refurbish , restore anything that was worthwhile . The market men of Belfast were very generous to JJ and always bought whatever he had to sell .
JJ knew how to scream poverty and ask for handouts . He knew the back doors into places where he could steal from pantries and cupboards . No one and nothing was safe from JJ . He knew how to get in and get out fast .
As I walked with him he would often put his finger to his lips and then he would disappear like a thief through some door of a building only to return with his arms
filled . He never wasted time . JJ was very quick at doing the business .
JJ was one of a kind . He was like a thread without a needle who always found a way to stitch things together .
Tomorrow was not a sure thing because he lived for the moment .
Whatever drove him to do the things he did , no one knows but there was no alternative for him and he always scrambled through .
There were dogs that followed him around . He had different people all over town that he borrowed money from . He had no idea of how much he owed and even who the people were that he had borrowed from .
He never felt ashamed or guilty . In his mind he owed nobody nothing .
JJ was King Rat . He was above reproach .
JJ never thought he had a problem and that’s why he never went to get help ,
In his mind he had made an excuse for everything he did and I suppose that was his reason to get on with life , He had found a method that was acceptable to cope with his problem . We all sometimes have to deal with out own issues as part of humanity and the fact is we all avoid getting hurt . We are all fragile in one way or another .
Steamboats are usually in a place of transit between today and tomorrow where no one or nothing really matters . it is a place called nowhere . JJ was living in a nowhere land for years . He had escaped to a place where many things are unseen , unheard and people in nowhere land can open up an image that portrays them as normal to everyone else they meet in life . In this nowhere land there are no rulers or time keepers over the things they do . There are only visions of a better place . JJ tried to bring other people into his nowhere land but the real world lives with different values . In the company of strangers living in a nowhere land JJ ran way to find another day in paradise . JJ had had escaped from a world that never understood him . He found he could survive better by drinking large amounts of alcohol . It gave him a frame of mind where he could cope with a problem he would never admit he had . Steamboats can be guided by a rational and as ironic as it is , they have found freedom in this nowhere land . In life alcohol brought him to a nowhere land and it was the best town along the way . He was on a steamboat travelling home alone with a bottle and a drink problem he would never really address because it was a normal way for him to live his life .
Drinking too much alcohol effects everyone . It is not just the person who drinks but it is also those who come into contact with the alcoholic . So if like to be there in this nowhere land then that’s where you’ll stay . I had to escape from JJ in his nowhere land because it was not my destination but I was able to appreciate all the things he did to get him through each day . There was no road to recovery for JJ because once he could see that road back to reality he would find an escape back to nowhere land .
Half way to fixing a problem is admitting there is one . Making an excuse for a problem is easy to do .JJ always had lots of excuses . Making an excuse for a problem is easy to do . Accepting it and asking for help is a small part of the journey on the road to recovery
Steamboats will always look for another excuse to justify the things they do .
The road to recovery demands that you leave nowhere land and the company you keep and never return again . It is not easy to walk away from a lifestyle that has supported you in the difficult times . Nowhere is a place where God can hear the sound of your inner thoughts . That’s when steamboats become vulnerable which isn’t such a bad thing . In our weakness we are all aware of the false courage and the cloak of pride that hides away our true feelings inside . Behind this disguise there lies a lack of confidence and that is where in our vulnerability we can tap into a higher place where God can take control . The is the first step of faith that can leads us to recovery . The road to recovery is long but it is a way back to reality which is where all of us are meant to live .
Within the twelve steps of recovery from alcoholism the very first step to make is admitting that you have a problem and then reaching out for the help that is available . Fighting any addiction is difficult but not impossible . There are a great number of people out there who want to help . The thing is people want to help but unless we reach out and ask and accept their help our problems will never go away .
JJ had no intention of making the journey to recovery and I could no longer carry him financially or emotionally . I needed to escape this nowhere land and return to where I could be free as a writer to find people and places for the book .
I needed space to find myself again and so I packed a bag and wrote a note and took the boat to apprehension because there was no need to remain here with the same old empty auditorium filled with fear in the air .
I made the decision to travel to London and stay a while at the peoples palace in the Salvation Army at Blackfrairs . For there would be a chapter or two for the book .
I left JJ the short note one day as he walked away to make another score somewhere out there in nowhere land . As I left the door of his flat I hoped that he prayed that he would be ok .
My thoughts now were on a commune of homeless derelicts who lived in the shelter of the Salvation Army just a short walk away from London Bridge which was a long way from the bright lights of Leicester Square a the yuppie urban class of night life party people who dance the night away in hip hop houses where multitudes make their way attracted by the music of the wild West End .
End Of Chapter 6
Link To Chapter 7