Secret Agent (Of Inaction) Man. Or, 1993 – An atypical musical detour.

Dickensian Urchin Musicians.  Probably.


Agents of action: that’s what psychologists call little kids once they realise that they can have affect their environment.  I appreciate that I can and do affect my environment but most of the time any effect I might have on it tends to be unintended because I stymy myself with indecision before I get going.

I need a kick up the arse from time to time.  About every five minutes most days.  Part of the reason why I’m writing any of this at all is to keep writing something while I’m inspecting at close proximity the wall that I’ve run into with my crap novel.

What I say to kids I work with about writing is that you just have to actually do it.  You have to make a start, so even if you end up with a page full of a shopping list, at least you’ve got something you can work with later on.  I took my own advice and just started typing.

Mainly, what I’ve been writing has been autobiographical.  I wrote a couple of posts about records, even though I used them as framing devices to talk about myself a bit more.  I didn’t intend to write autobiographically minded texts, but that what’s came out. I may even have been taking the old adage of, “Write about what you know,” seriously.  I mean, I didn’t have to make anything up, which is more straightforward.  I’m not ruling out the possibility that I may have my own perspective on certain events and they might not be shared by other people who were involved in such events too.  I’ve not made any effort to present myself well or to ignore any of the stupid, callous nonsense that I’ve inflicted on other people.  If I’ve been a bit harsh about other people, well, I’ve tried not to be.  I’ve tried to present them as I understood them, which might not be in line with anyone else’s way of thinking, no but it’s the best I can do.

Anyway, all this reminiscing about the past, specifically the late 80s – mid 90s has led me, periodically, to the records I was listening to at the time.

1993 seems to have been a mildly strange year for me.  I started listening to music that, previously, I’d had no truck with and since then, I’ve rarely bothered with.  However, this last weekend, I’ve been playing a couple of records from that year without consciously making the connection that I used to listen to them in tandem back then, too.  It’s funny what your brain does, isn’t it?  It’s a creature of habit more than anything.  Well, mine is. The bastard.

Still.  1993.

Prior to 1993, I went through a large chunk of childhood not really understanding records – what they were for, why people bought them, what they meant – things like that.  Then, finding some bands that resonated in harmony with whatever was brewing in my mind, I veered towards music that was, in the main, pretty traditional rock n roll: four piece bands; indie or sixties influenced – ideally both.  Melodic guitars.  Nice harmonies.  Groovy drumming and bass playing.  A bit baroque quite often.

That’s not it, of course.  I’ve always been into my soul, funk and hip hop, too.  More recently Folk and Country and Western, too.

So: no metal phase; no swing phase; no crooners.  And, being on the picky side, none of the bleaker elements of indie, either.  By which, I mean Nick Cave and other, vaguely gothy, wearing dead men’s suits and taking yourself a bit seriously records.  I never had much interest in that.

In 1993, however, I found myself quite taken by two records that I’d describe as being a bit like that.  Still not Nick Cave – I’ve never gotten into him.

  1. The Tindersticks.

I bought the first Tindersticks record around December 1993, around about the time I was breaking up with Jayne and starting to go out with Clare again for the final time.  I bought it for a few reasons.  First, my aunty Val had the exact same painting from the cover on the wall of her flat.  Second, it was Melody Maker’s album of the year and I’d not really heard any of it and I resented the idea that, in a paper I read every week, I’d somehow conspired to miss what must have been a lot of newsprint devoted to a band who’d made their album of the year.  Third, shortly after reading that, I was at my mother’s house, visiting, and 120 Minutes – MTV’s alternative/indie programme back then – presented by Paul King out of 1980s mullet adorned, Dr. Marten’s Boots spray painting pop group, King for no reason that I understand – was on.  This video started up and it transfixed me.

Back then, MTV used to pop up little facts about the bands and the videos as they were playing and I distinctly remember mention that Jarvis Cocker directed the video.  I looked it up yesterday and it wasn’t him at all.

Anyway, I liked Jarvis Cocker.  I’d picked up the 12″ of ‘Babies’ by Pulp which came out around about the time I started my third year at university.  Early October.  It didn’t get anywhere, but it was a colossal leap forwards for them.  I played it for a lot of people because it blew my mind.  The reactions ranged from: ‘Why isn’t this big?’ to ‘This isn’t big because it’s shit.  He’s not even singing.’

So, I’d heard about this record and, having inadvertently heard a single off it which I thought was pretty good, I splashed the cash.

First thing: it’s a double album: it’s pretty long.  A lot to take in at one sitting.  It was alright for the first twenty minutes but after that a lot of the songs seemed to blend into one another and I ended up finding that, really, there were two songs that stood above everything else on it.  They were: the song I’d heard on 120 Minutes, which was ‘City Sickness’ and the last song on side 4, which was ‘The Not Knowing’.

Neither of them were very much like anything else I spent my time listening to.

Having never read anything about them until that end of year best album thing in the Melody Maker, I didn’t even know what they looked like.  In some ways, this was my favourite time for many bands that I got into.  The less I knew about them, the better because I would fill in the gaps for myself.  What tended to happen was that, as I found more out about them, I’d like them less because they wouldn’t conform to the image I had of them in my head.

Diversion – Happy Heart and Lee Marvin.

When I hear Andy Williams singing ‘Happy Heart’, my brain instantly makes its own video.  I used to do that quite a lot.  Usually when I was walking the dog or sitting on the bus, listening to my walkman.  I did that for a lot of songs, most of which my brain didn’t record but what popped into my head for ‘Happy Heart’ always stuck with me.

It’s summer, daytime.  Sitting in an ancient wheelchair is Lee Marvin, looking very much like he does in ‘Paint Your Wagon’ – a bit grubby.  His wheelchair is on the edge of a cliff – he’s parked on grass at the top.  Seeing a nice little flower next to his chair, he leans over as Andy Williams is singing the introduction and first verse and, when he sings, “It’s my…” and the drums come in, he topples out of his chair and begins to fall down the cliff, banging into it as he does.  In slow motion.  And each of his many collisions with the cliff face is punctuated by the drumming which is, on this record, absolutely fucking amazing.

Lee Marvin in Paint Your Wagon: top hats would appear to be this post’s subliminal theme.

End of Diversion.

Tindersticks (shit name, by the way), I imagined – much in the way my brain made its own rudimentary videos for pop songs – were a group of former Dickensian urchins who’d grown into middle age and lost the cheeky, chirpy, cockney outlook, but not the battered top hats.  Top hats featured quite a lot in my image of Tindersticks.  To hats that had the top part coming unstuck from the sides and flapping about a bit.  Long trench coats.  Grotty suits and oily looking, stubbled cheeks.  Red noses.  Music for Victorian alcoholics.  I pictured them in an opium did, sat by a blackened fireplace around a stand up piano and a solitary violinist, with the main alky mumbling away bitterly, leaning on something.  Possibly a standard lamp.  A broken standard lamp with the shade sort of balanced precariously on the top of it, smouldering under the heat of the bulb.   He wouldn’t have noticed the burgeoning blaze.  Other instruments would be made out of tables and chair legs.  Bits of wire stretched across the room, a couple with permanently stained baby clothes dripping from them.

Normally, the music I’d listen to wouldn’t be played by late 19th century street dwellers – even in the sanctity of my fevered brain.  Mainly, the bands I listened to would live in the 20th century and buy clothes in normal shops, like I did.  This was a bit outre for the likes of me.

The two songs I liked both had a lot of things in common with each other: they were quite slow, miserable, narrated by a mumbler and they were both about, as far as I could gather, lost love.  Even though I’d listened to slow, miserable songs about lost love before, they weren’t like this.  Maybe it was the mumbling.  The mumbling made it seem a bit more grown up to me, but it was just that.

Morrissey, for everything else that he was, didn’t sound grown up.  He sounded like me: unfinished.  Growing.  Gauche, I suppose.  While I identified with Morrissey about some things, about other things, not so much.  Balf, for instance, never listened to to ‘How Soon Is Now’ and Ploggy said that the reason was because it was too close to home (and too near the bone, to quote Mozzer further), the famous bit about “…there’s a club if you want to go… so you go and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own, and you go home and you cry and you want to die…”  Balf may have identified with such sentiments but, realistically, I couldn’t honestly say I’d made such claims for myself.  Which is odd, because I had gone to clubs on my own and stood on my own and gone home on my home – even though I didn’t cry and want to die as a result of it.  The sentiments of ‘Never Had No One Ever’, were alien to me, too.  For reasons I couldn’t and can’t put my finger on – probably mainly from being fairly thick skinned and quite laissez-faire as far as rejection went – I didn’t have to scratch ’round for a date.  Nor was I driven to vegetarianism as a result of listening to them, although I did know a girl who was converted and remains so.

Having written that, I’m struggling to think what it was about Morrissey that I did identify with if it’s not about being a virgin or a vegetarian.  I think I admired his preparedness to sing lines about being gentle and kind.  That and the sense that you don’t really fit in anywhere.  Being an outsider.   Looking in and turning your nose up at whatever it was that the normal people were up to.

Nonetheless, Tindersticks’ misery wasn’t about never getting anything you wanted, it was about having had what you wanted and then not having it later.  More to do with loss than coming from a place of outsiderdom.  Or, belated outsiderdom, I suppose.  And that’s what I think drew me to them because, at that point, losing was primarily what I was doing.

I’d finished university recently and I had no plans.  The only reason I ended up having any plans at all was so the girl I’d been with through university off and on, wouldn’t dump me, and that didn’t work immediately.  Anyway, that wouldn’t be for some time yet.  Even though we were about to start our final round together, I think I probably knew we were a busted flush.  I think I’d known that for quite some time.  For sure, my parents weren’t keen although they kept their mouths shut.  Dave was the same, except he didn’t keep his mouth shut but he didn’t like anyone I’d go out with.  Why stick then?  I liked the idea of it.  My relationship with a posh, southern, arty-farty girl.  Even though it was horrible a lot of the time, and even when it wasn’t horrible, it was confusing – I think I thought that made it more interesting.   Which it did, in a way.  It wasn’t dull.  The point is, I knew that she and I weren’t going to last for all sorts of reasons, but I didn’t want to believe it because I liked the concept of our relationship.  That, and the fact that I’d made such an arse of the past few years that I think I wanted to salvage at least something.  Even a lost cause.  I think the fact that everybody thought I was stupid for persisting with it might have encouraged me to do the opposite of what they thought.

And I think that’s what appealed to me about ‘City Sickness’.  Give it a listen.

City Sickness.

On first listen it seems to be about a mumbling bloke who feels poorly in the city and you’d think it might extoll the virtues of country living – which I can get on board with – but it doesn’t.  It doesn’t really mention anywhere that’s not the city and, even then, it’s not really about that either.

I think maybe I got on board with it so readily because it’s ostensibly about one thing, but actually not really.  The ‘city sickness’ is just distraction; it’s projection of one problem onto something else.  Primarily, he’s ballsed his relationship up and, rather than address what he might have done or not done to make that happen, he blames it on the city.  Which I could identify with.  Not blaming the city: blaming something else other than me for the stupid things that I’d done.  Which probably made me think of them as being Victorian grown up urchins – industrial revolution landscape and all that.  I feel ambivalent about it.  I’m not convinced it’s very good for people to be shoved into little boxes in cities.  I don’t live the country life, myself – I couldn’t be arsed.  Too much like hard work.  But I like living there, or thereabouts.

It starts off with a lightly scrubbed guitar and another one sliding a note up and down.  The piano sounds a bit like a train wobbling on a track: repetitive but pissed with it.  A lone violin made out of a woodwormy wardrobe woozily lopes alongside, leaning on furniture that’s not yet been utilised into makeshift instruments.  As the chorus stumbles along almost, but not quite, tripping over its ill fitting trousers on the way to the overflowing toilet, a glockenspiel punctuates the off beats.

As it staggers, the lyric slurs with it.  The words aren’t like The Smiths.  The Smiths might have been a bit melancholy, but they had energy; this lot sound fucked.  “I’m crawling, I don’t know where to or from…”; “it chafes away at my heart until nothing remains”.  I like ‘chafe’ in pop songs (My favourite is in “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” – “…So I chaffed them, I gaily laughed…”).

The verses deal with the vague feeling that the city is killing him, the choruses with the yearning for his lost love who is out of reach.  “It’s just used to make people feel better.  That’s not like us,”  That is a bit like Mozzer: the ‘you and me against the universe’ thing.   But the middle eight is where, almost, the heart of the matter is addressed.  Everything is cut back, apart from the lightly scrubbed guitar from the introduction and the singer who, in an apparent moment of clarity, has vomited out a shred of truth and reality along with s couple of gallons of moonshine and potato.  Nice one.  Well, it would be, but it’s like most alkies’ moments of clarity in that they don’t tend to be all that clear to anyone else.  It’s almost impressionistic and there to be deciphered but it’s still nothing more than a feeling.  And he says this:

I’m okay afterwards
Afterwards lasts for minutes only
I’m okay during
You kind of fill up my mind
It’s just that before may last forever
It’s just that before may just fuck my mind

Honestly, I don’t know what he’s getting at with any degree of specificity, but I get the drift.  It’s about nervousness, isn’t it?  Anxiety.  I don’t think there is any one particular event that the before, during and afterwards he can or can’t deal with.  Maybe fear.  Getting worried before you do something.  Who can’t relate to that?  Especially when you’ve been around the block a few times and you’ve noticed doors closing around you and now you don’t want to mess things up anymore, but you don’t know how and now everything’s a lot harder that your naivety toddled off somewhere along the line.  That, and you’re totally plastered.

The ‘before’ is when you’re worrying about things, isn’t it?   Things that might happen or things that might not happen.  And that’s pretty similar to my other favourite off the album.

‘The Not Knowing’

This one doesn’t even start like a band song at all.  It’s still woozy, but there aren’t any traditional band instruments here.  You know, guitars and things.  I’m not really up on orchestral instruments, but it sounds like a clarinet or something.  Some sort of restrained horn.  Not a trumpet.  A violin slithers around some other pizzicato strings and mumbling boy opens his mouth a little bit more than usual.

I listened to this quite a lot during the ‘trial separation’ that Clare decided would be for the best, when I was supposed to be sorted myself out because I hoped that everything would be alright, even though I knew it wouldn’t be because it was already fucked.  Even so, I didn’t particularly subscribe to his point of view – oddly.  I think I appreciated an alternative perspective, even if it was similarly bleak.

It’s about the idea that he can cope with not knowing if his relationship’s knackered, it’s the finality of being dumped that he can’t handle.  For me, I wanted to know, even if it was bad news.  But mainly if it wasn’t.  The waiting outside the headmaster’s office is the worst bit, as far as I’m concerned.  Perhaps I just enjoyed the idea that, whatever happened, I wasn’t going to like it.

2.  Mazzy Star.

Clare and I really were on the final stretch here: we could barely communicate at all, and I don’t even mean verbally because that had almost never gone very well.  You know when you’re having a conversation with someone and they get the wrong end of the stick?  Most of out conversations were like that towards the end.   I just antagonised her by being there and it wasn’t very nice.  For all concerned, I daresay.  I was very unhappy, but frantically hanging onto something I knew about.  It might have been shit, but at least I was used to it, except I wasn’t because it only got even worse.

‘Fade Into You’, lyrically, bears little relation to either of Tindersticks’ although, musically, they’re both a bit vertiginous.  The girl singing doesn’t mumble, but her languid voice merges with the slide guitar and lazy piano to give you the impression of being not so much drunk as on the smack.  A pleasantly secure, warm embrace that’s not so much loving as making you forget that such a thing even exists, so you don’t have to worry about it.  She’s singing about the desire to become one with her partner.  Sort of like ‘2 Become 1’ by the Spice Girls, but less on parma violets and more on heroin.  Everything’s shit, but it’s alright anyway.  That sort of thing.  Anaesthetic.  Which is what I was looking for.  I didn’t know how to fix it – I couldn’t have fixed it: it was fucked, like a bicycle made out of oranges – and I didn’t have any other ideas, so I just went with it and this record soundtracked those final months.

Until I got the kick up the arse that I sorely needed, when I stopped listening to Tindersticks and Mazzy Star and went back to my normal sort of thing.  Until this last weekend, which must make it nearly 25 years since I’ve had those records out and, listening to them again, I was straight back at Aysgarth Avenue, bemoaning my recent losses and having no idea what I was supposed to do about any of it.

They’re miserable records alright, but they’re good.  Clever.  I don’t know if I could cope with listening to any of them again for more than a couple of days, which must mean time is running out for them.

They seem quite grown up records, especially the Tindersticks one but, now that I’m knocking on a bit, they seem more impressionistic than songs about loss.  Sort of imagining what it would be like to be a fifty year old alkie who generally sleeps in a pile of his own sick.  In 1880.  In a city.  On the other hand, maybe they’re not.  Maybe they’re exactly what it’s like and it’s all a bit too close to home and too near the bone for me (Mozzer again) as an adult to take much, if any, pleasure from.

I do see the appeal of that sort of thing though.  I mean, plenty of people are into Nick Cave and that sort of thing.  Maybe I’m misrepresenting Nick Cave because I’ve never actually listened to any of his records apart from that one he did with Kylie and that was pretty miserable, despite Kylie doing her Lady of Shallot thing in the video.

It seems like a big commitment to me: being strung out on one thing or another for that long.

Diversion – Breaking my leg – A long diversion, as it turns out.

When I decided I was sick of being in bands, I went back to playing cricket again.  I stopped playing when I was in bands for two main reasons: 1. Local teams mainly play on Saturday afternoons and the games can drag into the early evenings.  Gigs were often on Saturdays, especially ones out of town, which meant that we’d be setting off mid afternoon, so you couldn’t do both.  2. It turns out I have what are known as poppadom fingers.  Meaning they break quite easily.  My fingers are a bit manky now, especially the middle one on my right hand, the top half of which is bent about twenty degrees towards my ring finger on that hand, due to being taped up to it so many times.  The result of this is that it’s harder to play the guitar with broken fingers although, being right-handed, if you had to have a broken finger, it’s better on your right hand because you mainly use your thumb and first finger.  Unless you’re doing the folky, fingerpicking thing, which I didn’t much.  Not on electric guitars anyway.

Anyway, I’d started playing for YPI and, early-ish one season, I broke my ankle.

When you break bones playing cricket, people tend to assume that the ball hit you.  My broken fingers had caused by the ball hitting me when I was batting.  The big gloves you wear stop them cracking on the outside but what happens is that, when it hits your hands, the parts of your fingers that are touching the bat handle get rammed against it and so they break on the inside of your hand.  When I broke my leg, I was fielding.  The ball was trundling towards me and I was gently trotting towards it when my right foot must have gone into a divot and I cockled over, rolling on the floor.  It didn’t hurt, but I knew straightaway that I’d done something bad because it felt all wrong.  When I looked, my foot was pointing at about three o’ clock and I thought, ‘Maybe I’ve just dislocated it,’ and I wondered if I’d ever heard of dislocated feet.

You can dislocate your ankle, it turns out, but that tends to breaks it as well.

We were playing against the police – the constabulary, not Sting’s band – and they radioed for an ambulance, which drove across the grassed outfield towards where I lay, my leg being held up by a couple of coppers.  When the first ambulance man hopped out of it, he took one look at my foot and did that plumber thing of sucking air in and shaking his head.

That’s not what I’m looking for,” I said to the ambulance man, “I’m looking for you saying, “Ah, that’s nowt, you’ll be alright in ten minutes,

I think you might be looking at three months...”  he said and set about giving me gas and air, which I’d already quite enjoyed when our daughter was born.  They wheeled me into the back of the ambulance and took me to Hull Royal.

The next thing I remember is waking up on a table, surrounded by six or seven people who were doing something to my foot.  It still didn’t hurt.

Oh, hello,”  I said to the group around the table.  One of them turned around and pressed a button and I returned back to my previous, unconscious state.  They were setting my ankle, I suppose.

I woke in the non elective surgery ward with a load of OAPs who were in for hip replacements.  Initially, I thought that might be alright but it turned out that a lot of them were also suffering from dementia and I got very little sleep because of all the wailing, shouting and crying at night.

I needed an operation which I couldn’t have for a while because of the swelling, so I had my foot elevated and read for a week or so until they said it was alright to get started on.

Before the operation, the anaesthetist spoke to me and told me that, even though I would have a general anaesthetic, he’d be giving me a nerve block too.  He said that, when I woke, my leg would still be numb and not to worry but to remember that, when the nerve block wore off, it would happen really quickly, so watch out for it.

I was wheeled to theatre, where I was conked out and, when I woke up, the current Mrs Middlerabbit was by my bed.  I couldn’t feel my leg, but I was concerned that they’d not put my foot on straight.

Whilst talking with Emma, the nerve block wore out and, instantly, I flaked out.  Mid-sentence.  I woke with a ward nurse shaking my shoulder.  I looked at her.

Are you still with us, Middlerabbit?” she said.

Urgh,”, I said.  “My foot hurts,” and passed out again.

This time, I came round to find her slapping me around the chops, telling me, “It doesn’t hurt that much,”

I didn’t say it did,” I replied before flaking out again.

It was the most complicated pain I’ve ever felt.  Some pain can be very straightforward – I don’t mean straightforward pain is nice or anything – like when you cut yourself and it’s an immediate, bright, breathtaking pain but this wasn’t.  This felt like someone had tied my foot to a tractor which was now driving away, pulling it off.

When I regained consciousness for more than about nine seconds in a row, I said I thought I needed some painkillers.  The nurse agreed with me and went off to get some.

When she returned, I put the tablets in my hand and looked at them.  It was paracetamol.

I don’t think these are going to touch the sides,” I said.

Oh, you’d be surprised how good paracetamol is,” she said.

I’d be fucking astonished if they do anything here‘ I thought and didn’t say.  I took them and, sure enough, it was like trying to put out the great fire of London by weeing on it.

I kept asking for something a bit more likely to have some effect on the enormous, extraordinary and impressive pain I felt and the nurses seemed most reluctant to give me anything but I must have made enough of a nuisance of myself to make them change their minds and I was given Oxycontin – hillbilly heroin.

That did the trick alright.  Fuck me, did it.

Within twenty minutes, I was utterly off my box, laughing like a drain.

I can’t really tell you much else about what happened in hospital because I can’t remember any of it due to being absolutely plastered constantly.  The closest I have to a memory is having to poo in a cardboard box in my bed. Not for fun; I wasn’t allowed out of bed, which was an instruction I could get fully behind.

Back home, leg as plastered as my brain, I was rubbing my hands at the prospect of three months off work.  I had a plan, to the extent that my brain was capable of making such a thing.  My plan was that I was going to read books and watch films all day, every day.

John Lennon said, “Life’s what happens when you’re busy making plans,” and I learned that the woman beating, disabled taunting scouse peacenik might have been onto something because I realised very swiftly that I was incapable of doing either of those things that I was looking forward to.

First day back, I was parked on the settee, foot up, bottle of water by my side, cup of tea – the only one I was likely to get until anyone else came home (with a broken leg and on crutches, I belatedly realised that you can’t move drinks from one room to another) – pile of DVDs by the telly.  I picked out an Alfred Hitchcock film from the pile, slotted it in the player and sat down to watch it.

Ten minutes in, I realised that I couldn’t remember who anyone was, what anyone was doing or why they were doing it.

I picked my book up.  I was about halfway through “A Confederacy Of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole, which is a great book.  I opened it up and began to read.  By the time I reached  the end of the first sentence, I realised I couldn’t remember what was happening at the start of it – the sentence, I mean.

So, films were no good, books were no good.  The reason being because I was off my tits on hillbilly heroin.

When the current Mrs Middlerabbit would take my prescription to the chemists, they had to get my pills out of a locked safe.  When she left the chemists, she’d have people following her out and offering to buy my pills.

When I woke up every morning, I had to get a piece of paper and write down a list of times and draw a box next to each one.  The times I would have to take my painkillers at.  I was on Oxynorm as well as Oxycontin, which is a fast release painkiller of the same sort of thing.  The reason I had to do that was because, two minutes after I’d snaffled it, I would have no recollection of having done so.

So, I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything, including reading books or watching films.

What I could handle – and I found it quite interesting that I could – was daytime television.  Cash In The Attic and crap like that.  The reason I could deal with programmes like that was because, I realised, daytime telly programming is mainly aimed at the senile and smackheads.  They could cut each programme down to about a total of ten minutes because what they do is start off by saying, “Here’s Derek and Susan and they’re going to be…”  and whatever they’re doing.  Then they’d show you them doing it.  Then cut to the presenter, who would more or less just tell you what they’d just done.  Then they’d repeat it again.  Which is a pain in the arse for anybody with a reasonably functioning brain, but precisely what people with dementia and smackheads such as I was.

Also, I played ‘Red Dead Redemption’ on the PlayStation and finished it, although I have no recollection of actually doing it.

After three months of that, I was miserable as sin.  The joy of being on Oxycontin had long gone.  In fact, I was sick of it after the first three days anyway.  I didn’t find everything funny after that, it was just misery, to be honest with you.

Which was slightly disappointing to me.  Even though I’d known people who were proper smackheads – people who overdosed and died, for fuck’s sake, I’d retained the pretty stupid idea that I thought I’d be a pretty good smackhead – you know, it’d be up my street in a way that, say, cocaine obviously wasn’t.

Having been in bands, I’d come across more than my fair share of people offering me more or less everything.  Well, actually, there’s no more or less about it.  I’d never bothered with coke because it looked to me like everybody who took it instantly turned into a twat – hence calling it twat powder.  I didn’t say that because, for a time – a fucking long time, actually – everybody I knew was on it every time they were out.  Some of them still are.  What I’d say when I was offered it was, “I already think I’m fucking great, the last thing anyone needs is me on that,” which went down reasonably.  Eventually, people stopped offering me any, which suited all concerned.

Bad as it was, being a smackhead, even on pharmaceutical, and therefore clean, gear was nothing compared to coming off it.

At university, we’d been taught about addiction and withdrawal and, at that point, the thinking about heroin withdrawal as this: smackheads are neurotic, which is why they’re smackheads in the first place.  When neurotics have to do something they don’t want to do, they make a big deal out of it.  So, basically, smackheads whining about how bad it is coming off heroin should be taken with a pinch of salt because they’re just neurotic anyway.  And I thought, “Oh, right.”  I mean, I didn’t know any better.  Or any different.

So, when I was due to come off my pills, I thought it’d be alright because I’m not all that neurotic.  Well, not so neurotic as to have made a point  of taking heroin regularly when I hadn’t been prescribed it.

The current Mrs Middlerabbit took me round to see my friend Hendrik one day, to get me out of the house.  Hendrik’s a great bloke and he had a cat, called ‘Cindy’ because she was the colour of cinder toffee.  We didn’t really go to each others’ house much, but we’d go out quite a lot.  He was ten years older than me and a much bigger wreckhead than I was.  Cindy wasn’t a very friendly cat but, sat on his settee, she hopped up onto my knee, where she laid as I stroked her and rubbed her lugs.  Hendrik – and his wife, Ann – were shocked.

“What the fuck’s going on here?” Ann said, noting Cindy purring on my knee on her back, evidently not a normal state of affairs.

“Middlerabbit’s Saint Francis of Assisi,” the current Mrs Middlerabbit explained, “Don’t worry, Ann, he has this effect on animals.  And children.  They’re drawn to him.”

“That’s weird, isn’t it?”  Ann said, “Is it like this with all animals?”

“Yeah, it is,”  the current Mrs Middlerabbit said, “because he’s a right nobhead, isn’t he?”

And they all laughed, but I wasn’t arsed.  I had the love of a good cat who hated them all, so knickers, I thought.

Anyway, that continued until I must’ve stroked her wrong because she sank her teeth into my hand and wouldn’t let go.  I lifted my arm up, Cindy still attached by her teeth and said, “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do here, Hendrik…”

And Hendrik prized her teeth apart and got me some antiseptic.

It didn’t hurt at all, that’s how good those painkillers were.

“Saint Francis of Assisi, eh?”  Hendrik said, laughing.  I might have been too smacked up to pull an embarrassed face.  Who knows?  I probably didn’t even know what he was talking about.

But that’s how I learned about the nature of addiction, coming off oxycontin and oxynorm.  Not getting bitten by a fussy arsed cat, I mean, I didn’t go cold turkey, but it was still bad enough, I can assure you.

I don’t know if you’ve seen Trainspotting, with Renton hallucinating and screaming, but it wasn’t like that at all.  It was far, far more banal than that, but surprisingly effective, if that’s the right word.

There were three things that happened when I was withdrawing: 1. I couldn’t sleep, and I never have any problem going to sleep.  Not sleeping isn’t very good for anybody.  It’s a classic torture technique, with good reason.  2. I itched.  It was like the ‘Just So Story‘ of  ‘How The Rhinoceros Got His Skin‘, in which the man puts cake crumbs in the rhino’s skin when he’s taken it off to have a swim and then it itches him when he puts it back on and the buttons come off and it goes all baggy from all the scratching and that’s why rhinos are such bad tempered animals.  It was like that.  Something had gotten under your skin and itched like buggery. 3. Constant yawning.  It doesn’t sound that bad, does it?  But actually, this was the worst one.  You know when you yawn, it’s sort of like riding a bike up and down a hill – the first bit is going up it and you just go over the zenith of that yawning hill and then it’s easy, going down.  Except I never actually managed to get over the top part.  I’d be yawning away without ever getting to the satisfying part.  Constantly.  All fucking day.  Occasionally I’d manage to get myself over the peak but within about five seconds, I’d be back up another one, unable to get over the top.

It was shit.

And that’s when I realised that either I’m a lot more neurotic than I’d previously thought, or withdrawing from heroin is fucking horrible, and not in a way that would look particularly bad if you were to make a film about a bunch of witty, good looking heroin addicts.

End of Diversion.

I also didn’t listen to Tindersticks or Mazzy Star during this particular phase of my life, the one in which I was totally off my tits for three months straight.  But maybe I should have because, really, that would have been the perfect soundtrack to being more or less completely useless.  An agent of action, I wasn’t.

Some things are better existing in the memory.  Even if they still hold up today.   They’re too much man.  Much too much.

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