(This is a true story and a work in progress. Mark is now in Rampton high security hospital 'At her majesty's pleasure.' Surely one of the most chilling phrases in the English language.
It was the year Agassi came good at Wimbledon that they put Mark away for ever. Agassi cried - Mark didn't. The commentator spoke of his opponent's tragedy - I wonder If Mark knows? The judge ordered him to be detained without limit of time - I wonder if his victim knows? He'd come within an inch of bludgeoning her to death in a state of alcohol induced dementia. She's still in a coma. He says he recalls nothing of it. 'Blackout' they call it but I'd say that there's a lot that Mark will not bring himself to remember.
I remember the first time I saw him, he came into an A.A. meeting wearing an old blanket with a hole cut out as if it were a Mexican poncho. He was extremely filthy and smelt the smell of years of living rough, coupled with severe alcohol abuse. He looked achingly thin under the blanket, about 5'IO with a crop of hair the colour and texture of pasta, which had been permed into the shape of a badly ploughed field. His jeans were filthy, with a coating of grease, yet he was wearing a brand new pair of cowboy boots. On reflection considering his louche style it should have warned me that we were not dealing with just another drunk. This guy had style. I liked him. He sat there shaking like a leaf looking for all the world like an extra from a 'Spaghetti Western'.
A few of the die - hards from the meeting were standing around the way people do after a road accident, very concerned but I won't get involved, thanks.
Maybe they knew something I didn't; it was his eyes that were to draw me into his world of self-corrosion, they were like a child's with an innocence that betrayed his exterior. He just managed to whisper in a soft Scots accent "help me, please help me over and over again. I got him a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits, he could barely hold them he was shaking so much, I knew how he felt. He put all of the biscuits except one into a carrier bag which seemed to contain his world. He shoved the remaining biscuit into his mouth, crunched once, swigged his tea and swallowed the mixture. But his stomach or what remained of it was having no truck with anything resembling solids. His body suddenly heaved and he began retching biscuit and bile deposit over his kid glove boots. Someone ran to the kitchen to get a cloth and a bowl of water to clean him down but Mark couldn't wait, he tried to wipe the vomit from his boots with his fingers. The incongruity of that motion and his condition was not lost on me.
I cleaned him up as best I could and with only a few minor interruptions from him we had our meeting. In the cool of the night air after the meeting he began to brighten and asked me if he could possibly 'borrow' a quid for a sandwich as he hadn't eaten for a few days. I realised that the sustenance that he wanted was of the liquid variety, I said "o.k. I'll buy you a sandwich, his face fell. He didn't bother to protest as he shuffled along beside me. It was unspoken that he would remain outside the shop while I went inside. As I perused the variety of sandwiches on offer I wondered if he might be allergic to sea - foods. Ha! This guy's allergic to life, why am I concerning myself with what he can and can't eat? Although I don't want to be the one who finishes him off, I thought I'd better go outside and ask him, given his propensity for throwing up. I looked up and just at that point he approached a young girl who was just passing by, he said something, she dug into her bag and gave him what I presumed was small change. I felt vaguely cheated, here was my charge seeking help without asking me. How dare he! How dare she?!. I'm in here pondering over the advisability of Prawn cocktail sandwiches and she's giving him the means to go and destroy himself. I suddenly remembered what it was like to be dying for a drink, and when you're an alcoholic there are no niceties in life save those that will further your cause. As I'd retained my integrity in not giving him money to buy drink I absolved myself of any guilt that might be involved in leaving him to his own devices. I wondered how he was going to get around the slightly tricky question of how to get a drink with my being there. Would he be blunt and say that he's desperate, or be evasive and make his excuses and leave? I picked out a dog - eared cheese salad baguette and while I was queuing up I saw the same scene being re-enacted outside. Again it was a young girl. I paid for the food and went outside, he was very grateful, he was far too grateful.
"Oh thanks, thanks I'll pay ye back, ye'll not regret it.
This boy could charm flies off shit. I realised that his gratitude was born out of his pleasure at breaking my sanctions, now he could eat his starter knowing that he had the wherewithal to buy his main course.
"I see you have a way with the girls I said. I wanted him to know that he was not dealing with a complete mug. The same sheepish pleading look returned to his face.
"Look man, I'm rattlin' inside, I'll wean me'sel' off, jus' one can please.
He proffered a pound coin with trembling hands. I was reluctant to take it but as it was his money now and he was in no state to be let loose in a supermarket, I relented. I bought a can of extra strong lager hoping against hope that no A.A. member was around to see me buying it; they can accept that you can fall of the ladder of sobriety yourself, but there's nothing that a die-hard A.A. member hates more - you can turn up at meetings drunk, piss and shit on the floor, heckle the speaker, puke into the collection cup, heck - you can even step on his blue suede shoes but never ever encourage a fellow alcoholic to take a drink.
I bought the beer stuffing it inside my jacket just in case there any prying eyes, we walked a little way down the street until I was sure it was safe. He grabbed at the life saving ambrosia with trembling hands, he took a few gulps then exhaled in great big gurgling belching burps. His eyes misted over and a look of contentment and peace came into them, oh if it were only that easy Marky. I took the precaution of standing a few feet clear just in case he threw up again. We began walking down the road together and he became quite chatty, he talked about how long he'd been on the streets where he'd been dossing down and how he intended to dry out - you know - typical opening conversational gambits. I suggested that he might try the hospital but his reaction was hostile, "fuck no way man, I'll do it me'sel'. I realised that any urgings in that direction would only stiffen his resolve. But I told him that I knew of a 'kip' that would take him in with few questions asked as long as he behaved himself and as long as he had no cans on him, he acceded to this with a grunt.
We made our way back to the hostel that I was staying in at the time to get one of the members of staff to make the call, he had to stay outside as the hostel operated a strict no drinking policy. As it turned out a fellow resident, Ali had worked at the 'kip' I'd mentioned and knew the night staff so he said that he'd make the call. Ali was the only Sikh alcoholic I'd ever met, and as slippery as a bar of soap in a fat fryer. If this guy said 'good morning' I questioned it. Ali made the call, and the usual questions were asked by the staff at the night shelter and answered by him, "No he's not violent to my knowledge, yes I'll make sure he has no cans on him when he arrives, yes he understands that he's back out on the streets if he causes trouble. Ali put the phone down and said "O.K. lets take him straight down.
It was by this time midnight and the doss-house was in the centre of Kings Cross; not a pleasant prospect. If ever there was an area that needed lancing like a boil to rid it of human puss this was it. All human low-life was there, prostitutes and their pimps, drug addicts and their pushers, alcoholics and their vomit. Ali took the keys to my car, I was grounded for a year due to a recent drink - driving charge and Ali seemed to be the only one in the house who had a driving licence. I did wonder about the validity of it considering his many convictions for fraud. We bundled Mark into the car and told him to finish his beer and if he felt like puking he was to let us know - quickly! If he puked in my car he was going back onto the streets quicker than he bargained for. We got to the doss - house and I couldn't help but be reminded of some of the dives I'd drunk in. We had to rap heavily on the fortified door for a couple of minutes, there was a square in the centre of the door which was eventually slid back; we were asked our names and nature of our business. Ali explained - the square was slid back into place and after what seemed an eternity, the turning of several locks could be heard. The door was swung open and the memory of drinking dens was revived, there were men of all ages with barely an inch of skin that was not covered with some kind of tattoo. They all looked up and stared. The sense of controlled violence was tangible.
We ushered Mark in and again I was reminded of a scene from my past; the first day at school. Here was a new boy and he was not scrubbed clean, I hoped he wouldn't burst into tears or wet himself. We gave the Care Officer, Marks' particulars and that we'd keep in touch, this fella looked the most dangerous man in the place, about six feet two and fourteen or fifteen stone, with muscles and personality to match. Hard. I wondered if he'd ever had a drinking problem and felt very sorry for the people that he'd come into contact with if he had. I felt that I should explain a few things to the big fella but knew that I'd get short-shrift and anyway Mark was not my problem - for the time being. Ali and I left and I experienced yet again a sensation from my past, it was just like leaving my son at nursery school for the first time. I just hoped Mark wouldn't break any of their toys or bite teacher.
The next morning I had to resist the temptation to phone immediately to check on my new charge. My new charge? - I wondered why I was becoming so obsessive about someone I didn't know. He was undoubtedly not without some charm and there was a wan - ness about his character that owed no part to his alcoholic improbity. It was quite endearing.
I left it until the afternoon before phoning him only to find that he'd left already. What time was he coming back I asked - the response was curt - he's not - no they didn't know where he'd gone - please don't bother then with your trivial concerns - you'll learn - asshole.
I felt anger at my impotence and at Mark for not having the good grace to value my help in the correct manner. How could he do this to me? I was trying to help him get better, the insolent little sod. I made breakfast and wondered where he might be, it was then I recalled him mentioning a derelict shop he'd been skippering in - it was worth a try.
The scene of devastation when I found the shop was one I was not prepared for, the little light that there was, came through holes in the roof, the shop front having been boarded up. There was no upper floor, it had collapsed. The floor was a sea of rubbish bags, collapsed ceiling joists and the flotsam from the back yards and alleyways of the council houses and tower blocks nearby. I could just make out a chromium car bumper, old wheels, what looked like a soil pipe, piles of clothing, black plastic bags, and of course discarded beer cans by the score. No modern artist could have created such a monstrous comment on the consumerist society. There was a movement in the corner which made me start, I immediately thought, rats! and put my hand to my throat. It was an instinctive reaction, something that had been inculcated into me as a child. Our elderly next - door neighbor Mrs. Gibbs would send us in to her wooden chicken runs to collect eggs, she always warned us to 'be a'feared 'o' them rats as they'll get you by the throat if'n you corners one'. Mrs. Gibbs was taken away by men in white coats some years later. We never understood why. Maybe she cornered one rat too many.
The movement continued and the mound of rubbish began shifting like some huge prehistoric monster extricating itself from the primordial ooze. Only this one seemed to be wearing cowboy boots and spoke with a Scots accent. "Who the fuck izzit!?, will ye fuck awf?
"It's me Mark
"Who the fuck is me and wha' ha ye come fe?
"It's me ' Mike - from the meeting last night
"Who's' fuckin' me? ya dopey cunt - fuck awf!.
There was more movement and the rattling of beer cans, I couldn't quite see what he was doing in the darkness, I hoped he wasn't preparing to hurl an empty bottle. I then heard the familiar 'tsk' of a can being opened - I suddenly had a momentary yearning for the old days, just to be out of reality for a short while. Only it never really was for a short while and the price had become too high for this alcoholic. Yet the temptation was still there, does it ever go away? Still I suppose it's something I shall have to learn to live with. Though if I had been sitting in a fashionable wine bar and a drink had been offered by an attractive lady with the promise of an exotic evening - how high is too high a price?
"D'ye wanna drink mate?
"Wad ye want?
"I just wondered where you'd got to after walking out of the night shelter
"How d'ye know I wuz there?
"I took you there last night
"Och I - now I remember - wass ye're name?
"Och ay - I could'nay stand tha' place, that big fucker got on mah tits - I threatened to deck 'im, so he asked me to leave - well he picked me up an' dumped me oot side.
I laughed at the image of a drunken Mark picking on 'Man - Mountain.'
"Wha' yer laughin' fe'?
"Oh just you and me; all for a drink eh?, me talking to a pile of rubbish, seems fitting in some way
"Go fuck yersel', I ain't no pile 'o' rubbish
He then laughed like a drain. You're going to need that sense of humour Marky me' boy.
"Do you want some tea or anything? I asked.
"Noo, fuck yersel an' yer tea, I'm alright
He began to get up - very unsteadily; like some drunken Gothic Bambi.
"Fuck man, mah heed hurts
He stood there swaying for a few seconds and then began to emerge into the light, it hurt his eyes and he grimaced and put his hand up to protect them from the offending glare. What stood there would have won first prize in any photographic competition. He was black from head to foot, his poncho and jeans were torn, with blood in his now matted hair and all over his face. He had the beginnings of a black eye and a cut on his cheek, he was in a very sorry state.
"What the bloody hell happened to you?! I said.
"Wha d'ye mean?
"Have you looked at yourself?
"Oh yes I've go' a mirr'r, shavin' cream an' ay fuck'n en suite bathroom back there an' if'n I'd knowed guests were'a comin' I'd a baked cakes an' we could'a had tea an' fuckin' crumpets!
"Sorry - it was just that you didn't look quite so bad last night - were you in a fight?
"Ah don' noo man, wass the mah'r?
"Well you're all covered in blood and you're clothes are all torn He looked down at himself and at his hands then felt his head and winced.
"Oh tha', I think some sleekit bastar' jumped on me las' neet, ooh mah fuckin' heed
"Well we'd better get you to hospital to look at your head and get you cleaned up
"Fuck awf, they'll wannay keep me in an' ah don' like hospitals - have ys go' any money?
"No Mark, if it's a case of you not wanting to go in because they'll want to detox you, I'll make sure they don't, and I'll help you out with some spare change after they've looked at that head of yours.
"Aye, mah fuckin' heed needs looking at
I thought if I could just get him to a hospital, he just might see sense although that's not a commodity one normally associates with alkies. He seemed to relent at this and agreed to accompany me to the hospital which luckily was in walking distance.
We began to walk in the general direction of the hospital with Mark defying all the known laws of gravity and muscular coordination, he resembled a spinnaker in a force nine gale. I sort of trailed along behind hoping he wouldn't injure himself or any passing pedestrian with that rolling gait; he kept up quite a pace. From his wiry build I would have said at one time that he had been fit or had the makings of an athlete, but I don't know how, given the extent of his drink problem. Mind you, I managed to get in at least fourteen hours of tennis a week and usually with a hangover the size of Gibraltar. We arrived at the hospital which was a fairly formidable concrete block in the centre of leafy Hampstead, we went straight to A&E. The receptionist had thermic lance eyes and razor sharp cheekbones and gave us her receptionists glare - I'm sure they all have to learn that look of disdain at receptionists school, because no one can have that much contempt for their fellow man and not die a painful life. She could smell the sickly sweet smell of the alcoholic and would I'm sure dearly loved to have removed Mark from the premises; she fired questions at me. She said there would be a long wait, I wanted to have a word with the houseman before he saw Mark but knew that wouldn't be possible.
We sat on a bench and a grey little man and his grey little wife got up and moved across the waiting area. A little colour had entered their lives. I hoped they would keep him in. A small child came up to Mark and stared at him for a good while. Mark looked up from his boots and gave him his urchin's smile of recognition. "Wot 'appened to you mate? said the boy. "Och ah fell on mah heed an' hur'tit - I'll be alreet - wor yin fuh?
"I'm wiv me dad 'es 'urt 'is foot wiv a fork. He pointed over to his father whos left boot was the colour of beetroot. "Och that looks nasty Mark said, "Ow'dya fall over said urchin boy "woz ya drinkin'?. "Ay said Mark "'Ow many bottles 'o' beer d'ya drink a day? said ragamuffin boy. This question was asked with such childish simplicity that it threw Mark totally, if Mark blushed we couldn't see it given the rubicund nature of his face. The conversation had been conducted without adult reserve and the rest of the group were waiting for an answer.
"Och, about ten a day; we all relaxed. "Ah that's nuffink, me dad drinks about twenty five, there was much collective heaving of shoulders in quiet mirth. His father looked up and beckoned his son to come over knowing instinctively that his son was the source of all of this.
He didn't chastise him.
The boy skipped of f and began asking his awkward urchin questions elsewhere.
We were called some three hours later and the houseman was a housewoman and darkly attractive. Mark brightened considerably. I whispered in his ear that if he played his cards right he might just be able to get a bed bath from her. I was congratulating myself on communicating subtly through humour, the advantages of being taken into hospital, when he dropped like a stone to the floor. His legs and arms began flailing like some out of synch harvesting machine, his leg caught a wonderful piece of chromium and glass wizardry and it crashed over to the floor sending shards of glass and hi - tech instruments spinning across the room. A young nurse yelped as something hit her leg causing it to bleed immediately. "We have a seizure! said 'Housewoman' "get him out she barked, pointing at me. I was quickly ushered out but told to wait as they might need to ask me some questions.
Someone In a starched white coat and attitude came out later and began asking me this and that and I just kept saying I don't know, I don't know him - questions - questions.
A starched white coat said he'd be taken to a ward for observation for a few days and that I should phone later for further information.
I got outside to the car hunting ground and breathed in the retreshing aroma of carbon monoxide. It beats the death - heads smell of hospital Formaldehyde that's for sure. I found a phone that worked and told Marie that I wouldn't be over to see her, as I was beginning to think that a couple of slugs of brandy would take the tightness from the back of my head. Which they indupitably would. For a while. I needed to get back to the safety of the hostel.
She was pissed off.
B.F.G. or Big Fat Git was back at the house and in fine form. He noisily asked - so that the staff could hear - "bin out drinkin' 'ave ya?, this was his genuine attempt at humour. B.F.G. would have been most people's idea of a joke. He was six feet four tall and round, with a pair of grating lungs and personality to match. He'd been a bouncer for years but had ended up on the streets because of his drinking; he was also a Thatcherite. Typical working class yob, oikish, doltish, thick, stupid, dunderheaded, forelock touching, working class Tory.
Maybe it should have been B.F.B.G., Big Fat Bald Git - doesn't trip of f the tongue so lightly though.
Despite all that and myself I had a sneaking regard for B.F.G., he was now only a regular visitor to the house having left some years previous, and he'd remained sober all that time. No mean feat for anyone, especially someone who'd lied, cheated, stolen, begged and borrowed his way through life to get a drink. Had spent years living rough, never held down a proper job, and here he was now jaunting across to France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and most recently Poland. He really had turned his life around, how many of us can say that. How he paid for all these jaunts to and from the Continent one can only speculate, but at least he's not now staggering all over the street begging you for spare change.
I once asked him how he managed with all the different languages - given the grip he had on his own was tenuous - he just took some spare change from his pocket and jingled it in his huge pudgy hand, and said, "it's fuckin' miraculous 'ow they all understand what you want wiv this in yer 'and. Point taken; simple really isn't it?
Louise the manageress of the hostel came in clucking around and smiled her beatific smile and said "good, right, fine, o.k. I often wondered what she felt, if she felt and when she felt it. Was it the same as us?
The phrase 'A suitable case for treatment' sprang readily to mind when observing her. She was a good Christian woman (it was a Catholic organisation that ran the hostel) who'd sent many an old man into the December night air because he'd had a drink. And the rules are the rules.
Many of them died.
I wondered how she slept at night. I couldn't do that job no sir.
All came bouncing in and said "peace and love to you brothers. A fucking Sikh hippy. I was living in a madhouse.
I loved it!
All wanted to know what had happened with Mark - so I filled him on the events of the day. All said he'd pray for him. So if Mark begins to hear the word of God in Hindi, I'll know that Ali's got through. B.F.G. chimed in with you only stops drinkin' if you wants to, nobody can do it for ya, 'ospitals nuffink, I did it meself, just got a few 'jack 'n' jills (pills) from the quack an' sweated it aht for two or free days. I don't believe in all this God shite 'n' prayin' to a 'igher power 'n' all that, it's up to you, nobody can do it for ya!. This of course started an almighty - if you'll excuse the pun - argument, which is what B.F.G. wanted, so I made my excuses and left the room.
Louise was clucking her way through some dishes in the kitchen downstairs and I asked her, if
Mark stayed sober for the regulation two weeks, could he move into my room as there was of course a bed that had been available for some time. She smiled her smile and said that there would be no problem with that, bring him up for an interview. I didn't bother to phone the hospital little could I contain my - whoops sorry - Marks' good news. I checked with 'Emergency' which ward he'd been taken to and went up in the 'lift of somber people.' One would think that a hospital would be a place where people got better, so visitors would be in a happy frame of mind to think that there loved ones were being healed. But no, illness touches us in some way as if we've been defiled ourselves, or maybe it's to show solidarity with our sickly brethren. Or maybe I guess a lot of people just lie there.
Anyway, I went up in the lift of somber people and kept a doldrum countenance.
I found the prone people and was struck by the nurses swishing around - taking care. Or giving care rather. There is a quality about the profession of nursing that lends itself to a garbled mix of care taking and sexuality. Those starched crisp white uniforms that hint of a smacked bottom if caught with your pants down, a delicious brew of small boy naughtiness and sensual malpractice, I'm sure it's roots lie in the infant years.
I lied in my infant years.
I asked a nurse with limpid eyes which bed Mark was in, she pointed in a limpid kind of way and said "down there on the right, fourth bed. I loved her with a passion so complete she could never comprehend it. I thanked her and moved down the row of beds. He was lying there asleep, his red face silhouetted against the crumpled white pillows, mouth open. I noticed a front tooth was missing, he resembled a collapsed marionette with strings invisible to the naked eye just waiting for their master to tug him into a gaping fraud of a human being. I sat on the bed and gazed at him for a while, he would snort occasionally and would then jump quite violently and moan. I beckoned another nurse over who had red hair, green eyes and a pumpkin face what the prognosis was for Mark. She beamed and said that they would be keeping an eye on Mark for a few days as he'd been - and she used a quaint expression here - 'drinking too much' and had had an alcoholic fit. The doctor would see him tomorrow and we'd know more then.
I loved her with a passion so complete she could never comprehend it. She bounced out of my life.
I decided I needed a meeting and caught the fag end of one and regretted it. No, not the fact that I'd missed the meeting but the fact that I'd actually caught even part of this meeting and the fact that I had to go and listen to this kind of shite because of my own addiction to alcohol. It was the same old hypocritical garbage masquerading as spiritual finery. 'Silver Haired Ned' was into his diatribe against those who didn't follow 'The Programme' and how he had found it and God - though possibly not on the same day - and how his days were now spent in one blissful orgy of meetings and 'passing the message'. Though quite how he squared this with salivating over any woman under twenty five, and threatening anyone with grievous bodily harm who disagreed with his rigid agenda, I don't know. There was also a recent newcomer, a young well dressed man, blubbing that he'd relapsed the night before on a half of shandy. Good grief if this is sobriety, I'm out. I was going into a recovery cul-de-sac. I wanted to be where Mark was.
The lucky bastard's drugged up to the gunwales, surrounded by beautiful women, and here I am listening to some crusty old sex-addicted fart, who'd never had an emotion in his life, describe how, since he got sober, he'd never had a bad day.
Hallefuckinluyah!, no I didn't have to be here, I got up and left.
It was beginning to drizzle when I got outside and everything seemed so drab. Where was I going? I really wanted to drink badly. I had to get back to the safety of the house, as long as I didn't drink today things would seem better in the morning. Damn it.
Big Ron was in the office and in fine form; shouting. Ron did shouting very well. It was what he was best at. Talking at a reasonable volume was for cissys. The stories he told were of his life as an electrical engineer - a drunken electrical engineer on the oil rigs. It does sound exotic, a drunken chartered accountant doesn't have quite the same ring to it.
The house seemed to be buzzing, unconcerned as usual, didn't they know there was recovery to be worked at?. Sitting around chatting, enjoying an open fire, whatever next! they'll never get well this way. I couldn't enjoy company anymore, I suppose that I was the same in the pub though, always sat on my own in the corner sobbing into my beer.
I went up to my room, I was very agitated, I just wanted to drink! That was the bottom line. I didn't feel that I could keep going to A.A. anymore what with all that sanctimonious posturing and simpering rosy cheeked spiritual cheerleading that posed as recovery. "Oh yas Lawdy! I done bin married three times, beat up on all my wives, 'rogered' all my daughters since they were ten years old an' I ain't had a bad day since I got sober!
Yes the Lawd indeed do work in mysterious ways.
I thought of going down to the off-licence and sneaking a quart bottle back but I just couldn't bear the idea of being underhand. I went through the motions that evening - have a bath - get something to eat - play a game of snooker but I couldn't concentrate. I gave in and asked Seamus the in-house Apothecarist and Mountebank for some sleeping pills. This man had more drugs than Boots the chemist. Pills to wake him up, pills to keep him awake, pills to make him feel o.k. about being awake, pills to make him shit, pills to stop him shitting, pills to foster an appetite, pills to surpress his appetite and finally, pills to put him to sleep. The whole day, mapped out in pills. The guy rattled like dried peas on a corrugated roof when he laughed.
Seamus laughed a lot.