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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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.”