Tag Archives: addiction

Comedian Chris Dangerfield is in love

Chris with water  in Edinburgh in August

Chris & some water in Edinburgh this August

Three days ago, I posted a blog in which Chris Dangerfield gave his opinion on the Dapper Laughs kerfuffle. Some of what he said did not fit comfortably into that blog. This is part of what I did not post…

“You’ve recently been to Cambodia,” I said to Chris.

“Yeah.,” said Chris. “Went to Cambodia. Went down to Phnom Penh.”

“When was this?” I asked.

“That’s hard to say,” Chris replied.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because of the nature of my visit,” he laughed. “I got on a tuk-tuk (motorised rickshaw taxi) at the airport when I arrived and the driver asked me: Do you want something to smoke? – I said Yeah – So he gave me some weed… Do you want some tablets? – Yeah – So he gave me some Xanax – And he said Do you want some China White (heroin) – Yeah.

“This was the first Khmer I had spoken to and he offered me weed, Xanax and heroin. I took all three of them, went to my hotel room and spent a couple of days crying.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Remember when I last talked to you (in September),” said Chris, “I mentioned I had left the love of my life? I went out to Cambodia essentially to escape a broken heart and, predictably, the broken heart came with me.”

“But now,” I said, “you are back together again?”

Chris in a famous UK chemist chain - a company which, he says," history suggests got rich on the back of the Opium Wars"

The drug section of a famous UK chemist chain – a company which, Chris says, “got rich on the back of the Opium Wars”

“Yeah. I sat out there for a couple of days shooting heroin and having Xanax for breakfast and thought: I need to get home, I need to get clean and I need to give that relationship a chance while I’m clean. Because there’s no chance while you’re using.  That’s bullshit to think that. How can you have a relationship while you’re using?”

“So why didn’t you get clean last time?” I asked.

“That is a question I’ll probably asked myself forever until I am clean.”

“But, you’re not clean now.”

“No.”

“So what about your relationship?”

“Well, I’m giving it a go now.”

“But you’re not clean.”

“But I’m trying,” said Chris. “I’m certainly trying. A couple of weeks ago, I was doing a gram a day of white Number 4 Burmese – the strongest smack in the world – and now I’m doing about 0.2 of a gram a day. By the time me and her go to Thailand in a few weeks, I’ll be down to an oxycontin a day.”

“Oxycontin?” I asked.

Chris Dangerfield yesterday with abandoned police bike behind

Chris Dangerfield in London’s Soho district last year

“Oxycodone,” Chris explained. “The brief must have been to the pharmaceutical companies: Can you make some heroin? Because all our addicts are giving Afghanistan and South East Asia money, so we would rather them be buying black market American-made goods.

“So, yes, oxycodone: that’s the plan. I’m on 0.2 (of heroin) at the moment; I hope before I leave it will be 0.1 and then I’ll get the oxycontin down and, by the time I come back, hopefully I’ll be clean or just a bit of ‘codeine’. To go from a gram of white heroin on the needle to a couple of dihydrocodeines a day, I’ll be happy with that.”

“How long have you known your girlfriend?” I asked.

“Four years, on and off. I’ve never felt like I do about her. It feels like real love. I actually make concessions for someone else’s feelings, which is something I’ve never done before.

“I love her like I’ve never loved anyone else. I have feelings for her that are new and I think it deserves… I mean, I want to be clean anyway. I’m done with this shit and I want that relationship to have a proper chance.”

“When did you start taking heroin?” I asked.

“I was 23.”

“And you’re how old now?”

Chris Dangerfield and his girlfriend

Chris Dangerfield and girlfriend this week

“42… Well, I think I started taking drugs when I was around 14. But I’m done with it. I’ve been talking to the American writer and musician Mishka Shubaly who does the music for Doug Stanhope’s podcast. He’s been five years clean of alcohol and he’s been an amazing person to communicate with.”

“And,” I said, “as for your girlfriend…?”

“I love her – I really do. Like any love affair, it has its ups and downs. But there’s nothing new there with the smack and it’s stopping me doing other things. It’s time to love, to create and to relax: and they are three things – the last one, anyway – that heroin interferes with. No, it interferes with all of them.”

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How German Polly Trope went from Britain into a US mental home and wrote her autobio-novel “Cured Meat”

Yesterday, I talked to writer Polly Trope in Berlin via Skype about her book Cured Meat – Memoirs of a Psychiatric Runaway. It is dedicated:

To those I left behind

She crowdfunded the book. The pitch is still on YouTube.

“Is it a novel or an autobiography?” I asked.

“I always find it amazing that some people actually manage to make up stuff,” she told me. “The things that are interesting in the book are the things that happened rather than the person. But some of them didn’t happen. What I really wanted to do with my book was to characterise lots of people I’ve met. I wanted to write about many many people, not just myself. And, even when I was writing about myself, I was trying to write about how things happened rather than myself. I was interested in capturing what happened like it was some sort of movie: an outside description of things. Some people say an autobiography has to be about the person writing it, but it’s also about lots of other people. Obviously some things are not completely accurate. I’ve tried to pick out things I heard about or happened which I thought were worth writing about.”

“Why didn’t you want to publish a straight autobiography?” I asked.

“The book is based on The Odyssey.”

“The book is based on The Odyssey.”

“People only want to read the autobiographies of celebrities,” said Polly. “I am not famous.”

“How did you decide on the nom de plume Polly Trope?” I asked.

“Brainstorming names. Greek mythological characters whose names could be turned into English. Polytropos was an adjective Homer applied to Odysseus. So Polly Trope.”

Polytropos actually means “having many forms” i.e. having different personalities – or “twisting and turning” i.e. versatile and capable of manoeuvring through a stormy sea.

“The whole book is based on The Odyssey a little bit,” explained Polly, “because that’s what I did for my degree – Ancient Greek & Latin Literature at King’s College, London. I went to London when I was 18.”

“And then you went on to get a PhD in Classics?” I asked.

“I started one,” said Polly. “I didn’t finish it. I went to America to do it.”

“And I know you checked into a mental hospital just two months after arriving,” I said. “Did something happen?”

“No,” said Polly. “I was already a bit depressed when I went there and I expected it would be really exciting to go to America and I would be magically happier when I got there.”

The woman called Polly Trope in her Groucho Marx disguise (Photograph by Joe Palermo)

The woman called Polly Trope in her Groucho Marx disguise (Photograph by Joe Palermo)

“Was this New York?”

“Connecticut.”

“So was it just depression?” I asked.

“Pretty much. I just felt really out of place; I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know anyone there. I tried the therapist and that was a really bad idea because then I went to the mental hospital and then it just really got very difficult.”

“Did they drug you up?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” said Polly. “It just blew everything out of proportion. It became almost unthinkable to stop.”

“I was in a mental hospital when I was 18,” I said. “The first thing they do, of course, is just give you drugs.”

“All the time,” said Polly. “All the time. All the time.”

On YouTube, there is a song Numb Enough written by Polly (with a video shot by her). Her lyrics include the lines:

And are you numb enough, and is your life on hold,
And did you feel the shock when it all fell apart?

“You were in and out of mental hospital for three years,” I said.

“Yes,” said Polly. “I constantly told my psychiatrist I wanted to stop taking the drugs and he would always say: Well, if you can’t understand how much you need them, then I must put you into the hospital so you know how to take your drugs. That’s a simplified version of what happened, but it was me trying to stop taking tablets and the guy telling me: You must.”

“You were still doing your academic stuff through all this?” I asked.

“I was trying to,” said Polly. “I had to go on leave of absence after a couple of years. Eventually I left for six months, then another six months and, at that point, I didn’t want to see psychiatrists any more and, after that, I just went back to Europe.”

Polly Trope: "It started with the psychiatric drugs and then I moved into non-psychiatric drugs.”

Polly Trope: “It started with psychiatric drugs and then I moved into non-psychiatric drugs.”

“When you became addicted to drugs,” I asked, “was that medicinal drugs or heroin or…?”

“Both,” said Polly. “One after the other. It started with the psychiatric drugs and then I moved into non-psychiatric drugs.

“I was prescribed sleeping tablets and benzedrines and those are also sometimes used as recreational drugs and I had those on prescription and then it just kind of moved from there into prescription painkillers and then to completely illegal opium stuff and heroin and… Yeah… And then, at the same time, I moved from America back to London and… Yeah… That was the transition. We’re talking about 2009 here.”

“And then,” I said, “as far as I understand it, you met a guy in a London casino one night. He was involved with brothels; he took you to one, asked you if you wanted to work there and you said Yes.”

“I had really big money problems,” said Polly.

“Did you do it out of desperation or interest or…”

“Both,” said Polly. “Interest not so much. I was never particularly against prostitution. I don’t think I was especially interested in trying it. But it wasn’t something I was particularly scared of or that I thought could be the worst thing that could happen to someone.”

“Were you still supporting a drug habit at that point?”

“Not quite. But it was very fragile. I had only been clean for about a couple of weeks or so. Everything was quite new. I was feeling quite good, but I was also broke. In a house. I had many many problems. It was difficult.”

“So you were sort-of on an up,” I said. “But this would have taken you down?”

“Yeah. Yes. Yes. That’s right.”

“How long did you do the prostitution for?”

Polly Trope

Polly in London: “Then I thought it would be good if…” (Photograph by Joe Palermo)

“April to December of one year. At first, he took all my money. After about three weeks. I kicked him out of the way. He was terrible. I’d been ripped off. I needed the money even more. Many of the women I met didn’t want to do it in the first place then, later, they got organised and stayed in the job because they were already there and it is quite a lot of money. It was a bit like that with me as well, although I didn’t feel I wanted to stay there longer than necessary. I was not trying to make lots of money. I just wanted to fix a few financial problems.”

“I was once told by an ex-criminal,” I said, “that most robbers have no financial target they want to reach, therefore they don’t know at what point they have reached a place they can stop doing it. So it ends badly. Maybe prostitution is like that?”

“And also,” said Polly, “people get used to more money and they increase their standards. I just had a bit of debt which I wanted to pay off.”

“So is that why you came out of it?” I asked. “You paid the debt and that was it?”

“It was only about £3,000,” said Polly. “But that was the beginning. Then I thought it would be good if I could save up for a deposit and some rent and, once you start paying rent, you have to do it every month, so… Then I thought I’m gonna start looking for a job immediately and, as soon as I find a new job I will take it... And that dragged on forever.”

“What sort of job were you looking for?” I asked.

“Stuff to do with writing and books. Things like editorial work or proofreading or translation. I didn’t realise it was not the right thing to look for. I had a degree but not much work experience. Nobody wanted to employ me. I eventually got a job through the Job Centre. I worked in a call centre for about a year and then I came back to Berlin.”

“In your dreams, when you were 14,” I asked, “did you want to be a writer?”

“Yeah,” said Polly. “I think I always wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t think it was a real job; I thought it was something you did on the side and still had to earn money some other way.”

“Sadly, you might be right,” I said. “And now you are…?”

Polly Trope reads her book Cured Meat

Polly: short stories which turned into a novel

“I’m writing little projects,” said Polly. “But I’m not sure yet. Probably something similar. Short stories which turn into a novel if you read them one after the other.”

“Basically,” I said, “your book is a series of chapters which are self-contained short stories but, when you read them one after another, they become a novel.”

“Pretty much that,” said Polly. “I’ve always been really keen on this idea that you could even read it backwards or you could read it in any order. I was really keen on the book being like that. The plot is just the way things happened. Some readers find it reassuring to know one thing comes before another and another thing comes later and they can remember it all. But some readers just want to know what’s going on now.”

“Where are you going now?” I asked.

“I have to get X-rays,” said Polly. “I have a very bad knee which may be broken.”

On YouTube, there is a song Fucking Princess written by Polly (with a video shot and edited by her).

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Comic Chris Dangerfield in Thailand has not taken heroin for twelve days

Chris Dangerfield photographed in Thailand last month

Chris Dangerfield shot in Thailand last month

Comedian Chris Dangerfield has made no secret of his heroin problem when I have chatted to him previously in this blog. He is currently in Thailand ‘getting clean’. I talked to him via Skype this morning.

“So,” I asked, “are you Mr Clean now?”

“Well,” he told me, “I’ve been off the smack for 12 days.”

“That’s good,” I said.

“It’s fucking horrific,” said Chris. “I used to do this for a laugh. Even the withdrawals used to be quite good fun. But I’m 42 in three weeks time and I just shit the bed and puked rivers of dayglo yellow puke till it was about an inch deep in the whole room and I didn’t have the strength to move and then it went under the door and ran down the stairs and then the bloke who runs this place came in and said: Yeah, this needs cleaning up.

“I’ve come over to this place three times now. They know what I’m going through and are kinda used to it. I’m over the worst but Jesus, man, I just worked out this time I didn’t sleep for nine days. That’s a long time to not sleep when your mind’s racing.

“I used to think I hated myself and that was the core of my problem, but it’s actually a bit worse than that. I think I’m indifferent to myself. Love is not opposed to hate. Love is opposed to indifference.

“If I hated myself, I’d have a real engagement in myself. I’d be engaged in myself as much as I would if I loved myself. But it ain’t that. I just don’t really give a shit. I quite like doing a few things, but this thing Life – I’m just not that into it. Sometimes I just prefer taking drugs to doing anything else.”

“But,” I said, “last time I talked to you when you were off smack, you told me how wonderful it was to be off, how clear everything was.”

“To be honest,” said Chris, “I’m not sure I was off then.”

“When you’re on,” I suggested, “you’re not thinking clearly.”

Chris talking to me on Skype this morning

Chris talking to me via Skype this morning

“It’s wonderful to be off when you’re on,” laughed Chris. “Every interview we’ve done over the last couple of years, pretty much, I don’t remember. I read it a few days later and I think Wow! That’s quite an interesting bloke. I like him.

“There you are,” I suggested. “When you talk about yourself, you’re an interesting bloke.”

“Exactly!” said Chris. “I had five years… No four years… I’m such a good liar to myself… It’s not a lie if you believe it, is it?… I had a few years clean and I done what I had to do and went to Narcotics Anonymous meetings and it was fucking dull, man. It was a hard time – What do you do? – Fuck women and eat cakes. In meetings, I find I just exaggerate my story to fit in with their version of my events.”

“But you’re actually very entrepreneurial,” I said. “Your lock-picking business is doing really well, isn’t it?”

“It’s making millions,” said Chris, “but that’s because I was doing a gram a day of Burmese No 4 and that shit don’t come cheap. The thing is, now I’m clean, I can’t be arsed to work. What do I want money for? It means nothing to me.

The table in Chris room in Thailand last month

The table in Chris’ room in Thailand photographed last month

“I’m being honest with you. The last two years, I turned over £4 million on my lock business – because I needed it. I was using a gram a day intravenously. That’s expensive gear. Now I’m not, I need money for rent and a bit of food, but what else do I want? I’ve got no other pleasures in life.”

“But,” I argued, “if you need fewer things, you need less money so you can work less and you can…”

“But there’s no reward!” interrupted Chris. “There’s no target. When I’m using, I wake up in the morning and I’m shaking and it’s like Man, you have to find £200 pronto! and then you’ve gotta find a score and then you go out and then you’re on the estates and you’re causing trouble, you’re running from the police, you’re having fights and I know that’s all bullshit but, without that, what have I got? I don’t know what I like doing.”

“You’re a creative person,” I said. “You write shows. Your aim is to make yourself a bigger name in…”

“How ugly is that?” Chris interrupted. “You just said to me: Put down the drugs and you can have ambition! – I’ll take the drugs over ambition all day long.”

“It’s not about ambition,” I said. “It’s about creativity, about creating something that other people can…”

“No it’s not!” said Chris. “It’s ego-driven nonsense! – I sit in my flat writing novels; that’s creativity. Standing up in front of people going Oooooh-oooooh! Aren’t I funny! – that’s just my ego going Feed me! Feed me! – I hate it.”

“So you can sit in your flat and write novels,” I said.

“Yeah, about me taking drugs,” said Chris.

“Which other people,” I said, “may read and which, for them, may be life-changing. When Janey Godley wrote her autobiography, she got literally hundreds of messages from people saying how it had changed their lives because they’d realised they weren’t alone and how they could survive just as she had.”

“And Janey’s a fantastic woman,” said Chris.

I’ve read Junkie, I’ve read Queer, I’ve read The Naked Lunch. None of it’s real! It’s bullshit.

Chris Dangerfield photographed in Thailand last month: “It’s all bullshit, John. I’ve read Junkie, I’ve read Queer, I’ve read The Naked Lunch. None of it is real! It’s bullshit.”

“There’s William Burroughs,” I said.

“It’s all bullshit, John!” said Chris. “I’ve read Junkie, I’ve read Queer, I’ve read The Naked Lunch. None of it is real! It’s bullshit.”

“Well,” I said, “yours won’t be.”

“Well I dunno if that’s a fair exchange,” said Chris. “I dunno whether swapping drugs for ambition… Ambition is an ugly thing…”

“Being on stage might be ambition,” I said. “But writing novels is not necessarily ambition. It can be art.”

“Yeah,” said Chris, “but there’s the bit about people reading it, which means publishing, which is ambitious.”

“Am I awful for posting a blog?” I asked.

“Yeah, but I’m not you, John,” argued Chris. “You got humility.”

“But you can’t” I said, “claim I’ve got humility AND publishing something is ego.”

“I’m not talking about you,” said Chris, “I’m talking about me.”

“So why am I writing the blog?” I asked. “And why is that a bad thing?”

“I’m talking about my world,” said Chris.

“Well,” I argued, “if you wrote a blog, would that be a bad thing?”

“I tried writing a blog. It was bad,” said Chris, wriggling. “It was about a football player.”

“That’s not a blog, that’s a novel,” I said.

There was a long silence. Then Chris laughed. Then he said:

“Anyway…”

“If you create something,” I said, “that’s not necessarily bad. If you want to be famous for creating something, that might possibly be bad. But the actual act of creating something isn’t bad. Creating a beautiful painting isn’t bad in itself.”

“You’re right,” said Chris, “but what is different here is that YOU don’t involve yourself with performing.”

“Performance can be a bit egotistical,” I said, “but the writing of a play isn’t bad. There’s nothing wrong with ego provided it doesn’t hurt other people. If, by boosting your ego, you’re actually helping other people… Janey Godley performs and I know other people have been helped by watching her performances.”

Sex Tourist poster

Chris’ 2012 show at the Edinburgh Fringe

“In this year’s Edinburgh Fringe show,” said Chris, “I’ve tried to be a little bit more humble.”

“Has it still got the same title you told me last year?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Chris. “You can publish it now.”

“You say the title?” I asked.

Sex With Children,” said Chris.

“This possibly isn’t a life-affirming title,” I said.

“It’s not a play on words,” said Chris. “Make that clear. It’s about fucking kids.”

… CONTINUED HERE

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Which makes you a better stand-up comedian? Alcohol, cocaine or heroin?

Andy Zapp - the current man in my bed at Edinburgh Fringe

Andy Zapp stayed in my flat at the Edinburgh Fringe last year

At last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, musician/comedian Andy Zapp performed in a show with comedian Ivor Dembina.

Currently, he performs on Saturdays at Ivor’s Hampstead Comedy Club in London.

He is billed as The Orchestra of Andy Zapp.

“A lot of jazz musicians liked heroin,” I said to him over tea in Soho.

“Yes,” agreed Andy. “Miles Davis, John Coltrane, all those ones.”

“One comedian told me,” I said, “that he might take Red Bull, but he never took cocaine before going on stage because he wouldn’t be able to control his act. I’m not sure I believed him, though.”

“Well,” said Andy, “Lenny Bruce managed to do it quite successfully for a time. I think you can do it if you have that creative spurt. I might be quite good doing that for five or six months, then I’d just be fucked. You’ve got that sort of creative burst because you’ve got the energy and you’re not worried about how you feel when they don’t laugh. Subjectively, you’re cut off. You’re not really connecting with the audience and it doesn’t bother you.”

“I suppose though,” I suggested, “it could make the paranoia even worse.”

“Well, yeah,” said Andy, “you’ve gotta get paranoid first, though. When you take cocaine, you don’t automatically get paranoid; that’s further down the line. The initial part of it’s really nice, but then you start getting paranoid. Heroin would be better. Nice and relaxed.”

“You don’t want to be too relaxed performing comedy, though,” I suggested.

“You wouldn’t have the anxiety, though,” Andy argued. “I don’t know how it would work for comedians. They’re more piss-heads. Drink.”

“I wonder why?” I mused.

“Well,” said Andy, “it’s a different type of buzz. More outward. Music’s a little bit more inward: you don’t really have to ‘perform’.”

“I suppose drink makes people go off more at tangents,” I said.

“Garrolous,” agreed Andy. “Drink dis-inhibits. Heroin stops you feeling. You don’t feel physical pain, you don’t feel emotional pain. Me, I couldn’t use anything, really. I’m never tempted that much.”

“Why are you tempted at all?” I asked.

A ‘selfie’ taken by Andy Zapp in London last week

A ‘selfie’ taken by Andy in London last week

“I think: Oh yeah, I’ll just take a bit of speed and I can just really fly about or some cocaine and it’ll really turn off the internal sensor. But doing comedy clean the way I’ve been doing it – I’ve been doing it two-and-a-half years now – being with Ivor helps. He’s really useful.”

“Why? Because he’s analytical?” I asked. “I saw Ivor put his Palestine show together over a few months and it was like seeing a watchmaker paying attention to every little detail.”

“He’s maybe a bit too careful,” replied Andy, “but I’m all over the place, so he’s very good at getting me back on track. I’m still trying to sort this composure stuff out before I go on stage. If I forget my composure, I forget what I’m doing and get scared when I get up on stage.”

“Where did you and Ivor meet?” I asked.

“At the Red Rose Club about 27 or 30 years ago,” said Andy. “I used to like going to comedy shows. I was a junkie then.”

“How many years?” I asked.

“I’ve been in recovery for 27. I’m 15 years clean now.”

“How does that add up?” I asked.

“I was clean for 7; got a tumour on my spinal cord; the doctors prescribed me pain-killing medication and I sort of lost the plot on that; then I relapsed for 4 years; and I’ve been clean for 15. That’s 26-and-a-bit years. It’s been a great journey. I love being clean; I really do.”

“You recommend it as a career path?”

“I would. What’s your bag?”

“Chocolate,” I explained. “I have a stomach to support.”

“Other people do gambling or sex,” said Andy. “I just do drugs. It’s all addiction.”

“But if you’re clean of drugs now,” I asked, “what’s your addiction?”

“It’s kind of low-grade now,” said Andy. “I kind of understand how I roll. I can do chocolate now. I’ve got a high metabolic rate. I exercise quite a lot.”

“Marihuana is fairly harmless,” I said.

“That’s not true,” said Andy. “It isn’t harmless. It mimics mental health problems. Schizophrenia, paranoia, low self-esteem.”

“Sounds like the basic requirements for becoming a stand-up comedian,” I said.

“Well, it’s a good starting point,” said Andy, “but you can’t tell which way it’s going to go. It’s the way you smoke it, really. Physical damage; throat cancer; stuff like that. Heroin is the most benign of all the drugs.”

“Pure heroin,” I said.

In the 1950s, heroin was a popular medicine prescribed by family doctors

In the 1950s, heroin was still a popular medicine prescribed by family doctors

“Yeah pure heroin,” agreed Andy. “I used to get jacks – 10mg tablets – like little saccharine pills. You got them off doctors. As a drug, heroin progresses through the body really easily. Within seven hours, it’s flushed through your system. It doesn’t damage any of the major organs. The only thing is it’s very addictive and, if you take a wrong amount, you can overdose. The stuff people get now… it depends what it’s cut with.

“It used to be only the middle and upper classes that took it and they were injecting heroin. But, once it became a smokable commodity, then it filtered into the working classes and the criminal classes and then it really took off.”

“It was the fall of the Shah of Iran that made heroin big here, wasn’t it?” I asked. “People couldn’t take their cash out of Iran, so they converted it into heroin and took that out.”

“Yeah,” said Andy. “But it was the marketing, really. People were putting it in joints, smoking it and thinking it was quite benign and, two weeks later, they’d got a heroin habit, a running nose, coughing.”

“What IS the Orchestra of Andy Zapp?” I asked.

“It’s me and a loop machine. Makes it sound like an orchestra of harmonicas.”

“That’s nice,” I said.

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Comedian Matt Roper’s addiction treatment gets upstaged by Chris Dangerfield’s continuing addiction

Matt Roper yesterday: concerned at Chris Dangerfield’s addiction tales

Matt Roper yesterday: concerned at Chris addiction tales

It was comedian Matt Roper’s own fault not mine. It really was.

He is trying to kick his nicotine habit in Totnes and he was up in London for a casting session on a film. So we decided to meet up for a chat about his Buddhist-like non-smoking treatment and there might be a blog in it for me. But the trouble was, before we met at Bar Italia in Soho, Matt had perhaps foolishly invited Chris Dangerfield to join us – he lives nearby.

Chris joined us briefly, then said he had to go off and do something, so Matt and I had time to start our chat.

“I’m organising my funeral on Thursday this week,” Matt told me.

“You mean the living wake you told me about a few weeks ago?” I asked.

“No,” said Matt. “I still might have a living wake before I go away to New York at the end of November.”

“New York?” I asked.

“A mate of mine is on Broadway,” Matt explained. “And (comedian) Rick Shapiro and his wife Tracey have invited me to Thanksgiving in New Jersey.”

“How is Rick?” I asked.

“He’s fine,” said Matt. “You know he was mis-diagnosed and mis-prescribed. He had a heart attack, he had amnesia and he fell in love with his bedside lamp.”

“Was it just an infatuation or was it the real thing?” I asked.

“I think it was probably an infatuation,” said Matt. “The shape of his lamp, you know…”

“It was a one light stand?” I asked.

“His vision was all gone,” said Matt, “and he was on a lot of medical drugs. It might have been an Anglepoise or something quite curvy. Basically, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and he was mis-diagnosed in the months before and he was mis-medicated… But he’s getting stronger and more lucid.”

“So you were going to hold a living wake for yourself before you go out to the States,” I said, “but instead you’re now going to organise your own funeral?”

“No,” said Matt. “Not instead of. As well as. Death feels quite close to me. Both my parents died quite early and my health hasn’t been the best this past year. I’d rather everything is sorted out now and not a mess when…”

At this point, Chris Dangerfield returned.

“I’m talking about death,” Matt told him. “I’m organising my funeral.”

Chris laughed.

“I’m quite at peace with death,” mused Matt. “Obviously, I don’t want it to happen just yet, but there’s a guy who arranges alternative funerals in Totnes, so I’m going to put some money into an account and give him a music playlist and then it’s all sorted.”

“Where’s the logic in all that?” asked Chris Dangerfield. “Let other people pay for your funeral.”

“You’re looking surprisingly healthy,” I said to Chris. “Considering what’s happening in your life.”

Chris Dangerfield yesterday with abandoned police bike behind

Chris Dangerfield yesterday with police bike behind

“I’m a connoisseur of the poppy,” replied Chris, “by which I mean a victim of hideous and chronic addiction. My habit is China White. That’s what it’s called, but it’s actually from Vietnam. It doesn’t need any citric acid to break it down; it’ll break down in water. But the point is, I’ve been getting it on the Silk Road, the ‘deep web’, as we spoke about last time I saw you.

“I’m spoiled in a sort of suicidally-spoiled way. When I can’t get China White, I have to get street heroin and that’s what I just got and I have to put so much fucking in it’s like gravy by the end…”

“You still look well,” I said.

“I got rid of a glamour model’s veins intentionally as a cosmetic procedure,” said Chris. “She was talking to me about how citric acid damages veins. My arms have got none. They used to be like an adult male. Now I’m like a child. Citric damages your veins: they retract from the surface of the skin.

“So I told her that and she got me to do it so her skin would be smooth. I wouldn’t do that to anyone now. It’s damaging and unnecessary. But, at the time, I said Yeah, I’ll help you out. So, every day, I’d give her a citric injection and she lost all her veins. Mine, as you see, have gone.”

He showed us his smooth right arm.

“And you’ve lost the veins on the back of your hands,” I agreed.

“Yeah,” said Chris. “Look at your hands, John. Loads of veins visible. Mine have gone.”

“You can’t have lost your veins,” I said.

“They do. They do. They collapse,” said Chris. “They die. Sometimes they fall under and separate. Don’t make it a smack blog, John. We got better things to talk about than that, surely?”

“My thrombosis,” suggested Matt. “You’re on heroin and looking healthy. And I’m the one who’s on his death bed.”

“If you don’t have veins in your hand,” I asked Chris, “how does the blood get to your fingers?”

“Capillaries,” answered Chris, “which are smaller veins.”

“I was always shit at science,” I said.

“I’ve seen people stick needles under their fingernails,” said Chris. “What I went to, before I went to my groin, I…”

“Don’t forget this is being recorded,” I said.

“I don’t give a fuck,” said Chris. “What it is is, because you’re pulling more blood into the solution, it’ll congeal and… so what you do is snap the needle off and stick it up your bum. And, when there’s ten of you living in a squat in Bethnal Green and you’re all doing that 20 or 25 times a day and you’re not very clean about it and you meet a girl at Soho House…

“We’d all be in Soho House in lovely suits charming all these lovely women and saying Oh, come back to our house and when they came back to the squat in Bethnal Green… One of the rooms had no floorboards, because we’d burnt them all for heat, but the gaps were maybe 6 inches deep with poo-covered syringes.

“Do the maths. There were maybe ten of us there, on and off, doing maybe 20 a day – that’s 200 a day – nearly 1,500 a week for a couple of years. Multiply it by 52 or 104…”

“I think,” said Matt, “that Chris is a natural choice to lead Bethnal Green’s new tourism campaign.”

“I loved living there, though,” said Chris. “I really did. I loved it.”

“You told me,” I said, “that you’d tried to get off the smack recently but you’d failed.”

A bag of China White heroin

Is China White heroin equivalent to a packet of cigarettes?

“I had a friend the other day say to me I just don’t understand why you keep doing it and I said You smoke tobacco, yeah? and he said Yeah and I said Bronchitis, septicemia, cancer, your clothes stink, you stink, your teeth are yellow, your fingers are yellow, it costs you more than crack cocaine now. You wanna stop? He said Yeah, well... and I asked Well, why don’t you? It’s the same. There’s no real difference. There’s damage and how it affects your lifestyle, but the basic reality of being powerless over a substance – or behaviour – is the same. I would do anything to be clean. And, when I’m clean, I’d do anything to be using.”

“It’s a bit like being from New Zealand,” I suggested. “When New Zealanders are actually there, they want to leave and, when they’re away from it, they want to go back.”

“Over the last 25 years of using,” said Chris, “I’ve had a few clean years and they were the best years.”

“And now you make good money on your lock-picking business,” I prompted.

“With no financial investment,” said Chris, “just a good reputation and a mailing list, I can sell a product before I’ve bought it. So I send out to the mailing list… Say 500 people respond with a purchase… then the money’s in my account. The product arrives and I send it out. There’s only a 4-day turnaround. On this latest product, the profit after tax is about £25,000.”

“Is that actually true?” I asked.

“What do you mean Is it true??” Chris asked. “John, if I’m going to lie, it’s going to be better than I’ve earned some money – It’s going to be I STOLE some money. It’s easy to make money. I don’t understand people who can’t make money.

“I’ve a BBC TV documentary coming up. Essentially, I was walking round Soho trying to put forward responsible arguments about my lifestyle to a girl and her production team.”

“Your sexual lifestyle?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Chris. “Well, some of it. Also Rupert Everett is interviewing me for Channel 4 in a couple of weeks. That’ll be fun. I thought I’d be clean by then. His autobiography’s amazing.”

“What’s he interviewing you about?” I asked.

“Same thing, probably. I’ll confess things and they give me some publicity. And I’m doing a BBC Radio 4 show for Hardeep Singh Kohli where he has dinner with people.”

“Are you performing at the Edinburgh Fringe next year?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“What’s the show called?” I asked.

He told us.

Matt and I laughed out loud.

“I’ll only perform it three or four times before,” said Chris, “then the full run at the Fringe. They’ll never let me put that title in the Fringe Programme, though.”

“There won’t be a problem printing it in the Programme,” I said. “The words are OK.”

He then described the poster design.

“They may well,” I said, “hang you from a lamp post in Edinburgh.”

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My encounters with Jesus Christ… and the reason I could say Yes to heroin

In yesterday’s blog – drink.

Today – drugs.

Tomorrow, who knows?

If you are lucky, maybe even sex.

I was 13 when the Beatles hit big; I was 17 in the Summer of Love. Prime druggie material.

I once spent a long time in a kitchen in Clapham with a close friend of mine and the boyfriend of one of her friends who, let’s say, was called Susan. We were trying to persuade him that Susan did not really want to see him and that he should get the train back to his home town in the north of England. The problem was that he knew he was Jesus Christ and this kept getting in the way of the discussion. He kept telling us how he could change anything by deciding it was changed. We eventually persuaded him to go with us to St Pancras station and we did put him on a train north, but he was of the opinion he did not really need to travel on trains as he was the Messiah.

The second time I encountered Jesus Christ was a couple of weeks after a plane had crashed on a crowded rural area in (I think it was) Holland. The person who had done this was prepared to make a plane similarly crash onto the Thames TV building in Euston Road, London. He told me (the person who said he made the plane crash) that he would do this unless Thames TV issued an on-air apology because one of their programmes had offended him and I should pay attention to what he said because his father just happened to be God and he himself, as you will have guessed, was Jesus Christ.

I have never taken any non-medical, so-called ‘recreational’ drugs though, at one time, I would have done.

The only drugs which ever attracted me were heroin and LSD.

Marijuana in any of its forms never attracted me. It just seemed to be an alternative to drink, though less self-destructive than alcohol and spirits.

I lost count of the number of times I sat in a room in the 1960s or 1970s while other people smoked joints and talked utter drivel.

The next day, they would go on and on about what a great, deep and meaningful philosophical discussion they had had the night before and I would think:

“Nope. I was there. You were talking utter drivel, like five year-olds after eight pints of beer.”

Hellfire – forget “I sat in a room in the 1960s or 1970s” – I have sat in rooms throughout my life listening to stoned people talking drivel.

Amiable drivel. But drivel nonetheless.

It is rubbish to say weed has no effect on anyone in the long term. Not if you take it regularly in significant quantities over a long period.

Neil in The Young Ones TV series was not a fantasy character.

That was social realism.

I have worked with real Neils.

I remember a very amiable and well-meaning but totally brain-groggy and decision-incapable head of department at a regional ITV company in the 1990s. His entire brain had been turned into semolina by twenty years or more of weed and pseudo-philosophical befuddlement. If he had been an alcoholic, he would have been dribbling saliva out the sides of his mouth; as it was, his few remaining brain cells were almost visibly dribbling out of his ears.

I might well have tried hash in the 1960s or 1970s but it just seemed to be a milder version of alcohol with less aggressive effects and there was also a seemingly tiny but actually rather large practical problem: I had never smoked nicotine cigarettes, so the whole technique of smoking and inhaling was alien to me. If anyone had offered me hash cakes, I would have eaten them; but no-one ever did.

To me, marijuana in whatever form was and is a mild and uninteresting drug. If you want to be relaxed, then I recommend you just eat a marshmallow, don’t stuff one inside your brain cavity.

A friend of mine told me in the 1970s: “You just don’t understand what weed is like because you have never taken it.”

But, in the 1980s, I vividly remember standing in Soho with a long-term alcoholic I knew as he looked lovingly into the crowded window display of Gerry’s booze shop in Old Compton Street.

You could see the tenderness and nostalgic thoughts in his eyes as they moved from bottle to bottle and from label to label.

I was not an alcoholic, but I could see objectively what the drink had done and was doing to him.

In a sense, to see the real effect of a drug, you have to not take it.

I was always very strongly attracted to LSD.

It held the very major attraction to me of mind-alteration and making surrealism real. But the attraction and alarm bells over-lapped and, in any case, LSD was not available in my circles in my middle class area in Ilford, East London/Essex in the late 1960s.

Yes, I went to events at the Arts Lab in Drury Lane; yes I read International Times and went to Blackhill Enterprises’ free rock concerts in Hyde Park before the sheer scale of the Rolling Stones’ appearance in 1969 ruined them. But life in Ilford at that point was not druggy.

By the time LSD was available to me, I had read enough about people freaking out on it, read of Syd Barrett self-destructing in Pink Floyd, seen other people’s minds gone wrong. And then there were the Manson Murders in 1969. Not acid-induced as such, but not totally unrelated to druggy people’s minds going haywire.

The logic of LSD, as I saw it, was that you could alter the chemical balance inside your mind and, as it were, temporarily re-arrange the inter-connections. But if you felt, as I rightly or wrongly did, that perhaps your mind was potentially ‘near the edge’ to begin with, then there was the obvious danger that LSD would tip you permanently over the edge.

So I would have taken acid during a short window of opportunity but it was not available to me until after that window of acceptance had closed. I never took it. And reading about Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s mind being sent spinning over the edge by one drink spiked with acid did not change my opinion. He spiralled out of control after that first acid trip of course but, the way Rolling Stone told it, the whole spiral began with that one tab of acid.

With heroin: the same thing. When I would have taken it, the stuff was not available to me. When it was available I no longer wanted to take it.

When I was in my late teens, a close friend of mine married someone who was ‘an ex–heroin addict’. But, even then I knew that being an ex-heroin addict is a bit like being an ex-member of the SAS. You can never be too sure.

Years later, when the first anti-heroin ads appeared on TV, a close friend of mine said to me, “They make smack look bloody attractive, don’t they?” and I had to agree with her. If I had been an impressionable young teenager and it had been available, I would almost certainly have taken heroin. The first anti-heroin TV commercials were almost, but not quite, as good a commercial for smack as Trainspotting which felt to me like a positive Jerusalem of an anthemic hymn to the attractions of smack.

That first injection of heroin may, as I have been told, give you the biggest high – the most gigantic orgasmic leap – you have ever had. But it is also a drug for nihilists.

So that’s the one for me.

I think, with heroin, the potential lows can be as attractive as the highs – something the anti-heroin ads never seem to have realised.

Whereas cocaine seems to me to be the drug of self-doubting egotists who want to prove to themselves that they are as special as they hope they might be.

But that is another blog.

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Why I am pissed-off but not pissed

I think the late comedian Malcolm Hardee – never knowingly under-promoted in this blog – felt I was a social misfit deserving of a certain amount of pity because I do not drink, do not smoke, have never taken recreational drugs and never go round talking about my sex life, such as it is.

Of all these, I think the one which most unsettled Malcolm – and unsettles a lot of people I interact with – is the fact I do not drink – well, maybe at births, deaths and marriages where not to drink a toast would be impolite.

A friend of Malcolm told me:

“I didn’t trust you at first because you don’t drink, but now I know you’re a bit on the mad side, so it’s OK.”

One inevitable conclusion people wrongly reach when I tell them I don’t drink is that I must have been an alcoholic at some point.

The first of two explanations, though, is that I never really enjoyed drink.

In my late teens and early twenties, in pubs I drank lager because it was less bitter than… well… bitter. And, in restaurants, I drank red wine. But both were more a social convention I went along with, not a pleasure.

I suspect most people started to drink because it was a social convention. And also because it is an excuse. People say it relaxes them or makes the conversation flow or is a ‘social lubricant’.

What they more often mean is that it gives them an excuse to behave in a way they would otherwise not feel they could behave in. Drink is an excuse to do what you want to do. I never felt that need in the sense that, if I wanted to behave in a certain way, I did.

If I want to tell someone they are a cunt, I tell them. I do not need drink as an excuse.

It is not something I would necessarily recommend socially or in career terms.

But I have never understood the wider psychology of drinking. People say:

“Oh, I had a great night last night. I can’t remember a bloody thing. I passed out.”

I have always thought, when something like this is said:

“Well, if you want to affect your brain to such an extent that it shuts itself down to try to avoid the damage and you think losing consciousness is, in itself, a good thing, then it would be quicker and cheaper to insult a professional boxer and let him punch you in the head for 30 seconds.”

I do not see the attraction of not remembering what happened nor of passing out.

My memory is bad enough already.

As far as I remember, I have only been drunk twice.

The first time was in my parents’ house on Hogmanay. I was OK when I was with people downstairs. But, when I went upstairs to bed, my legs gave way.

The second time I can not clearly remember the trigger, but the result was walking unsteadily home along Haverstock Hill in Hampstead and a searing headache the next morning.

There was one other near-drunk experience one Christmas or New Year when I was making my way home. It was in the early hours of the morning; it was dark; I was alone; there was thick snow on the ground; and the street had sodium street-lighting.

I was sick. My mouth poured out vomit into the snow.

I staggered on a few yards then realised that, in among the diced carrot and assorted foodstuffs and phlegm, I had puked out the tiny pink plastic plate to which were attached my two false teeth.

The sodium street-lighting made all the snow on the ground look orange. My vomit was yellow-orange – made uniform orange by the street-lighting. Everything was the same colour. I could not see my vomit in the snow. I had to go on to my hands and knees, very close to being totally drunk, and move my hands slowly and as carefully as I could through the surface of all the snow on the yards of pavement behind me until I found a patch that was warm and wet, not cold and wet. It took a long time. It took so long my muddled mind was worried that, by the time I found the spot, the warm puke would have cooled to the same temperature as the snow and I would miss the vomit patch.

That, pretty much, is what I think of when I think of getting drunk.

The only drinks I actively like are champagne (drowned in orange juice) and vodka (equally drowned in orange juice).

Two double vodkas (drowned in orange juice) sharpen up my mind; though three double vodkas slow down my mind.

But I do not drink them now.

Which brings us to the second reason I no longer drink.

There was a period when, through happenstance, I ended up working with and sharing a flat with a very bright TV director. He had been in the cream of his Oxbridge year and, twenty or so years earlier, he had been scooped up by a major British TV company along with some other very fine – and later very successful – Oxbridge graduates.

We would sometimes watch University Challenge on TV. Just idly, not showing off, he could answer a high proportion of the questions; I could answer maybe one or two if I was lucky.

What I am saying is that he was a bright cookie.

But he had been drinking socially for about twenty years. He had the sort of job where you almost had to drink socially every day.

He would drink wine at lunchtime; beer after work before going home; and spirits at home in the evening. Sometimes, he would start a sentence and not finish. He might say,

“Of course, I remember when the main…”

…and then drift off then, 30 seconds or a minute or so later, start another unrelated sentence.

His mind was, not to put too fine a point on it, fogged and fucked.

Around the same time, I had professional dealings with the press officer at a major British film distributor. He was the same. He was maybe in his late 30s.

He had obviously been very bright at some point. Maybe in his early 20s. He still was bright. He had obviously had a very sharp brain at some point. But he no longer had a sharp brain. He was a press officer. He had to meet and greet and schmooze and smile and drink day-in, day-out. And it had fogged and fucked his mind.

I decided to stop drinking.

I never much liked beer.

I never much liked white wine (except fizzy champagne drowned in orange juice).

Red wine, to an extent, depressed me.

I did not like spirits (except vodka drowned in orange juice).

So I stopped. I just told everyone I did not drink. They thought it was odd, quirky, downright mad. But that was their problem.

I did try to drink to drown my sorrows over a girl once – straight vodkas in excess. But it was ineffective and expensive. To a logical person brought up a Scots Presbyterian, the first point was a major factor. But perhaps, to a Scot brought up among Jews, the second point was the clincher.

The irony is that I do not drink but I now have a beer belly.

I have never smoked but I now have a smoker’s cough.

So I do not get pissed but I am now pissed-off.

Life. Don’t talk to me about Life.

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