Tag Archives: Methamphetamine

What life is like overlooking an alleyway near a Batman set in Vancouver, Canada

Today I got an email from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent. The houseboat she lived on sank in Vancouver around Christmas/New Year and she was made homeless. Now she has an update:


After a few small adventures, including nearly being expelled from a church shelter, I have now found a small apartment in ‘Railtown’, right beside the Port of Vancouver, where I hear seagulls and huge cranes.

After finding the place, I went for a walk around the area at night and I was surprised to learn that I had been transported to Gotham because, as I walked up a bridge over the railway line and looked down, the first thing I saw was a big sign reading:

GOTHAM CITY SHIPYARD

Below the towering cranes, people were standing about casting long shadows. 

Clouds of fog obscured some of the port buildings and then three cars side-by-side, one of then a Mustang, revved-up their engines and then took off, drove at high speed and then circled back to precisely where they had started. They waited there, with their lights on. Then a much larger black car followed the same route, but totally silently.  

They were filming a Batman series or movie.

I have not quite moved in to my new apartment yet: it requires a bit of cleaning and – horrors – FURNITURE !

That was one of the things I loved about living on my boat: whenever I passed by a furniture shop I had no covetous thoughts whatsoever…

However, there were a few OK pieces of furniture left behind at my new apartment and my new neighbour – a kind, curmudgeonly sort of guy – has loaned me a couple of fine wooden armchairs. He said that I would be doing him a favour by keeping the chairs for now and that he generally likes to keep to himself. 

I told him: “That’s perfect. That’s just how I am too!”

Although it’s just a few blocks down from notorious Hastings Street, the apartment is remarkably quiet. It is set back from the street, at the intersection of two alleyways.

There is no end of people using substances out there, usually crouched beside dumpsters or slumped in a doorway.

One sunny morning I saw an increasing number of young men sprawled out, with their knapsacks and foil and pipes, lolling peacefully enjoying their meth, as if at a bucolic picnic. Suddenly a large courier van turned into the alley and stopped. The men were oblivious and made no attempt to get up and I imagined the frustrated driver, probably wondering what to do next.

The apartment below has recently been renovated and all its contents dumped in front of the building – old shower curtains, rotting regular curtains, a queen size mattress and even a toilet, perched precariously near the front door.

One time I saw a man standing up on the queen size mattress, bouncing up and down enthusiastically like a small child. 

I don’t have all day to look out the window but, when I checked twenty minutes later, he was still bouncing. Then a black SUV pulled up and he ran to the passenger side. Then they both left. Drugs ?

One day the mattress just disappeared.

Later, two jolly-looking derelict men, wearing good but battered hats, both using canes, came tottering past.

One cried out with surprise: “Look, John! Your bed is gone! “

A few days later, some ragged-looking people moved the toilet off the front stoop and covered it with a soiled curtain. Some of the other rubbish had been organised somewhat. A pillow was placed neatly on a pallet and so on. 

I thought: “Good. At least we don’t have to look at the toilet.” 

Another day, a friend who was in the apartment taking-in the ever-changing cast of characters reported: “There’s a man in a kilt now”.  

I imagined some scrawny punk guy covered in tattoos but, when I looked, it was a beefy older man in full blue and white tartan regalia right down to his socks, marching along as if on his way to an event. 

Then the toilet had its blanket removed and two chubby drunks – a man and a woman – were hauling it away.

But it turned out they had just left it in the alleyway, behind the building.

The rubbish pile keeps shifting with orange needle caps, random socks and discarded clothing appearing and disappearing.

A tall wonky cedar tree and a Queen Elizabeth rose and a depleted strand of bamboo somehow rise up from the garbage pile. I read that the rose enjoys mulch, but it didn’t say anything about whether it likes shower curtains or socks.

Songbirds perch on the bamboo and flit in and out of the cedar tree.

In the daytime, crows stand at intervals atop the blue fence, waiting for an older Chinese lady who empties out a huge bag of peanuts for them every day. They noisily grab a peanut and fly back up on the fence or into the space inside it, which has big signs above it saying: FILM CREW AND SPECIAL EVENTS and NO DUMPING. 

Once in a while, the vacant space fills up with film crew cars, but I don’t think there have been any special events of late.

There is a constant din of dockside cranes loading and unloading container ships, mixed with the cries of seagulls, but there is little car traffic near the place and no crowds of people, as there are just a few blocks away at Main and Hastings.

I walked through there last week and it is as chaotic and raucous as ever, like a demented fairground, people selling anything and everything. There are a lot of dogs too and poo on the ground, clouds of dust and more and more people jammed together smoking methamphetamine or shooting up. 

In the middle of all this, they are also sitting on the pavement furiously crayoning in colouring books, which is supposed to be therapeutic, but to me it looks sad.

People are dressed either in rags or the latest streetwear fashion, in stuff I haven’t even seen in magazines – or in their pyjamas or in rags. There are an increasing number of fashionably dressed First Nations people, wearing clothing printed with their traditional or modern Coast Salish designs. I lusted after an innovative white jacket from Bella Coola that I saw a good looking young man wearing. He was walking very quickly though, so I couldn’t ask who made it.

A few nights ago I saw somebody on the corner who specialized in selling aluminum walking canes, which lay on the sidewalk, radiating out in a circle…They are a hot item, with so many people needing them around here. I wondered where they were stolen from. Or maybe they came from a care home.

A diabetic friend from the marina ended up in a care home in New Westminster and his daughter went to great trouble to get him a nice wheelchair, so he could explore his surroundings. He explored them so well that he discovered the room where they stored all the wheelchairs of people who had died.

So, the next time she went there, he was roaring around in a motorized chair and busy with a racket he had set up in the gazebo, buying cigarettes from street people in exchange for apple juice bottles he collected from the other inhabitants of the place.

There is a huge courthouse and jail that takes up an entire block of Main Street. I’ve noticed nice vehicles parked right in front – an expensive all matt black Japanese motorcycle one day, a bright red 1969 Thunderbird car the next. I can’t figure out who they belong to. Successful criminals? Or lawyers? Or maybe just people with nice cars who think outside the courthouse is the only safe place to park.

Meanwhile, back at my apartment, glancing out the window again, I was startled to see a large young Chinese man with a box-shaped camera on a tripod, pointing right at the back of the building. I wondered what he could be taking a photo of. All that was there was a grey stucco wall, two windows covered with rusty grates and some vague, not very interesting graffiti. 

He must have been an art student I figured, or maybe a hobby photographer from one of the trendy warehouse/condos closer to the waterfront. When I left the building, I saw that the toilet was still sitting out back. 

So THAT was what he was photographing! 

One more thing… 

Just as my friend and I were exciting the building yesterday, a couple of middle class guys were taking a shortcut through the alley. One of them pointed at the building (and at us) and said loudly: “I can’t believe people actually LIVE in that building!”

It is really quite nice inside though. 

Especially the view of the alley.

Anna says: “Here is a photo of what used to be a  snowball or maybe it was a snowman. Snow it goes.”

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Filed under Canada, Drugs, Poverty, Vancouver

Comic Richard Coughlan on the drugs, Doug Stanhope and the death threat

Richard Coughlan: an anti-white PC mangina

Richard Coughlan: really an anti-white PC mangina?

In yesterday’s blog, I was talking to comic performer Richard Coughlan.

That conversation took place in the Soho Theatre Bar.

This can be a bad place to have chats, because other comics have a tendency to come across and sit down to chat with you in the middle of the blog chat. Thus it was with my Richard Coughlan chat.

Malcolm Hardee Award winners Ellis and Rose wandered over and sat down.

Another problem is that now, in this blog, you have to pay more attention when you read it, because it includes Richard (Coughlan) and Rich (Rose).

“We were talking about A Man Called Horse,” I told the two interlopers.

“Eh?” asked Rich (Rose).

“Are you so young you haven’t even heard of A Man Called Horse?” I asked.

“I did a hook-suspension thing,” explained Richard (Coughlan), “where they put the hooks through your back.”

Ichi The Killer?” asked Rich.

“You see,” Richard told me. “That’s the reference you want for the young people: Ichi The Killer.”

“A man is suspended and tortured in it,” explained Rich.

“How much pain is there?” Ellis asked Richard (Coughlan).

“It’s impossible to describe how it feels,” explained Richard. “It’s so intense. It’s like this combined feeling of intensity with the fact you know you can’t go anywhere because your feet are off the ground. So you just hang there and take it and all your endorphins kick in and the adrenaline. There is no sort of pain you can relate it to.”

“Is it like hitting yourself repeatedly in the face with a blender?” I asked, referring to the Malcolm Hardee Award winning stunt in which Rose punched Ellis repeatedly in the face to pretend he had been beaten-up by an irate audience member and thus get publicity for their Edinburgh Fringe show.

There is footage of the stunt on YouTube.

“It was a milk whisk,” said Rich, correcting me. Then he mentioned to Richard: “I saw your Eat a Queer Foetus For Jesus show at the Edinburgh Fringe two years ago. I wasn’t sure what to expect.”

“I always put as much effort into the title of my show as writing the show,” said Richard. “The first show I did ever was Honky-Hating Heterophobic Man Whore. The whole show was about prejudice. My new show is similar: it’s Anti-White PC Mangina ACTIVATE! That was something I got called once online. I got called an anti-white PC mangina.”

Eat a Queer Foetus For Jesus,” said Rich, was weirdly moving.”

“Well,” said Richard, “The whole point of the end monologue, which is about my girlfriend having an abortion in 2006, is it’s supposed to peak in the middle and get the audience to a point where they hate my guts and I come across as a horrible, nasty shit and then I become so pathetic and worthless by the end of it that they actually feel sympathetic for me when I am shitting myself during a religious experience having been awake for seven days on the trot, off my head on drugs.”

“Am I right,” asked Rich, “that you were on heroin?”

“No,” said Richard, “I was never on heroin. I quit drinking when I was 22 but the only reason I did that was it was the most boring of all the things I was addicted to. There was the crack, the cocaine, the MDMA and the meth…”

“Methadone or methylated spirits?” I asked.

Richard Coughlan (left) with Rich Rose at the Soho Theatre Bar

Richard Coughlan (left) & Rich Rose at the Soho Theatre Bar

“Methamphetamine,” said Richard. “Speed is what it’s called over here, but this is like a stronger version of it. Everyone knows what it is now, because they’ve watched Breaking Bad.”

“Except me,” I said.

“At one point,” Richard continued, “there was an eighteen month period where I was addicted to all four. But, from what I don’t remember of it, I was still quite high functioning. I was working 50 hours a week. You have to: I had something like a £600-a-week cocaine habit. I have no idea how I managed that, because I was only making £300 a week. You get to the point where you think: What else can I sell? I’ve got the carpet and my kidneys left.

“But you stopped being addicted?” I asked.

“Yeah. I knocked them on the head when I was about 25/26. (Richard is now 35.) People still think I’m on them because they see me on stage and I’m manic and all over the place and they see how thin I am and think I’m still on stuff but, no, that’s how much I took: it’s still wearing off.”

“It’s quite interesting,” said Rich, “the way quite a lot of comedians have a history of drug abuse.”

“I don’t really care,” said Richard. “I don’t really care what other people are talking about. When I wrote the abortion routine… I started writing it in about 2008 and it was only in about 2012 that I was finally confident enough with it to get it done. Originally, it was a bit longer, because I had written all this other stuff about interaction I had had with pro-life groups and, six months after I had written but not yet performed it, I watched Doug Stanhope’s No Refunds and he does lots of abortion material and he did this joke that was almost identical to what I’d written.

Doug Stanhope

Doug Stanhope replied the very next day

“I was so unsure about my stuff – even though it was true – that I actually wrote to Doug Stanhope saying: Here’s a transcript of a joke I’ve written. It’s almost identical to yours. I’m worried about doing it because I don’t want people to think I’ve nicked it off you. What should I do?

“I thought: He’ll never get back to me, but he got back to me the next day saying: Oh, when I started, everyone thought I was ripping-off Bill Hicks because I did stuff about drugs. He said: If you want to do it, just do it. If anyone accuses you of ripping me off, you can just send them a copy of this e-mail.”

“What is quite interesting,” said Rich, “is that, when Doug Stanhope talks about that kind of thing, he does it very much to make a point whereas, when you do it, I must say, it is moving – Doug Stanhope is rarely moving.”

“Well,” said Richard, “I wanted to write from the experience that This is not really funny. This was not fun. This was horrific and it was a traumatic, horrible experience. But it’s funny

“I really like Stanhope’s stuff,” said Rich, “but when Stanhope talks about that kind of thing, there’s never a sense of regret. What made yours interesting was there was a sense of regret.”

“But I think, though,” said Richard, “that he takes it to such an extreme. He does that great joke where he goes: We only had an abortion. It wasn’t a frivolous reason. It wasn’t cos we weren’t financially secure. It was just cos we wanted to know what it felt like to kill a baby. I don’t think Doug Stanhope is the sort of act who can risk coming across as emotionally fragile. Whereas that’s me.”

“Sometimes though,” I suggested, “it’s best not to annoy the audience too much.”

“There was one guy,” said Richard. “who had never even been to one of my shows. He was an English Defence League member who sent me a message: When you’re in Scotland doing a gig, I’m going to come and fucking find you and kill you, So I sent him my gig list saying: This is where I’m going to be. Then someone sent me a PM saying You might want to be careful – with a link to an article in The Scotsman and this guy had been sent to prison for stabbing his girlfriend.

“So I told him: If you come. let me know in advance, because I can bring a camera so I can get filmed being killed on camera.”

“You could get £250 from You’ve Been Framed!” I said. “Well, your heirs would.”

“At the risk,” said Richard, “of sounding like a bitter and twisted old bastard about not being famous, if I can get someone to kill me, then people will think: Oh, he must have been brilliant. Let’s look at all his old shit on the internet. And suddenly people will find it much more poignant and they will think it was really important and I can become famous without having to do any more work. And the other thing is people will say: Oh, he would have been massive if only he’d lived. He had so much potential. 

“But, of course, I wouldn’t have. I would – I will – fuck it up like I always do.”

On YouTube, Richard talks some more about getting hate mail.

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