Thursday, 18 August 2011


BELFAST 2011-08-17
The last time I went to Belfast was just after my partner died when I stayed with his mother and we spent most of the time weeping & protesting at the death of our hero. I remember sitting in her house in Carrigart Avenue looking at the hills and feeling angry, sad  cheated ,and thinking I would never get over the loss. I did of course and now fifteen years later I decided it was time to go over there and put some flowers on his grave.  My visit was prompted by the fact that I dreamed about him nearly every night for weeks.
The mother, a stern woman who smoked forty fags a day, never let alcohol pass her lips and made astounding moral judgements on her daughters  and none on her sons I had liked instantly. This seems perverse but she was easy to be with and when came over to stay we would do all the charity shops in Lymington where she insisted on haggling and announcing that she could have got it for a quarter the price in Belfast. She had a great sense of humour and we could just sit and laugh together, talk about nothing in particular for hours at a time.  She died a year or so after Micky, and the family didn’t tell me, though I heard the day of her funeral.

So really I never knew Belfast at all, just parts of the Falls road and one intrepid visit with my friend to a Shankhill pub (and that’s a different story.)
We booked in at the Ibis to an excellent room which suited us admirably. We needed to eat and the first pub we went into had stopped serving food so we had a half of excellent Guinness then another half and listened to men barking at each other and rushing in and out of the door with betting slips.  Two televisions showed horses galloping and the table was full of beaten dockets. Nobody took any notice of us at all while we took a keen interest in everybody and even began to make our own bets. I took some photos of a line of backs at the bar which my friend will transform into a painting (rejection?)
An extremely effective barman brought out the second half and seemed keen about our welfare; he got us a taxi and told us about a good restaurant and a nice pub with Irish music. We ate and found our way to Kelly’s bar where we chatted to people who were interested in us and apparently liked strangers. We both find people fascinating and are happy to speculate and talk to anybody willing to hear.
The whole point of going to Belfast was to put flowers on Micky’s grave and I got the plot number from a very helpful guy at Milltown cemetery who actually knew Micky.(some coincidence!) We got sunflowers because I love them and they remind me of him.  So, Sunday morning we spent and hour or two searching for the grave and finally left the flowers outside the office with a note giving the plot number and  saying we couldn’t find it. The flowers had suffered from being in the room since Saturday and I thought it was pointless taking them back again. We went to the first pub again where a man with a purple nose declared his admiration for me and got me a half of Guinness and I’m not sure if Micky would be ashamed of me drinking halves or glad that I had come to see that women should drink halves – the first I expect.

On Monday we phoned and went up to Milltown again and got instructions to speak to Jim on the strimmer and he guided us to the grave where the flowers lay on the grave already. I was amazed and moved that somebody took the trouble to put them there and am glad that we looked in the wrong part of the vast cemetery. Micky would have laughed his socks off if he knew about us searching in vain and I found this gesture amazing but typical of the Belfast people, a kindness and warmth that I don’t find anywhere else. So thanks again Micky for bringing me over to see your grave, for all the laughter and joy you brought me and I feel close to you again now.
PS  I feel as if I have done the right thing at last and it was not a sad occasion rather a reclamation of those many years we spent and all the laughter we enjoyed together. Now I am back I miss him again but it is not the savage pain, now I remember how great we were together and am grateful. Not everybody gets to have a Micky in their life! 

Wednesday, 3 August 2011


The only thing I had in common with Amy Winehouse was the fact of our addiction.  She was terribly young and I am old, she was talented beyond description, I am not. She is dead and I am alive. Being part of the so-called 27 club trivialises and glamorises her death. As if it is some kind of an achievement to die so young. It is not it is sad beyond belief.
Amy was pursued by the media relentlessly, every mishap was recorded with glee and reproduced on Facebook and peered at on Smart phones, relished by Joe public. We all played a part by watching in fascination the downfall of this vibrant highly talented young woman and it was compulsive. How low could she go? Yet we loved her didn’t we? Or did we? Or was it just a vicarious pleasure in her outrageous behaviour? Who knows? But if the media would have  let up just a little, have had  some compassion and not gone for the jugular with pictures of her humiliations she might be alive now. The Red tops pilloried her and we all watched knowing the end of her story.
She was also hounded by dealers who fed off her in the same way as the media. Everybody consumed her with relish and left her empty except for talent. I am not sure how we can scupper the media lust for sensation – except by refusing to buy the papers that frenzy feed off such sadness, and I am not sure how likely that is. About dealers? We can lock them up but they proliferate at an alarming rate.
I took drugs in the early sixties for fifteen or more years I was a registered addict and got my drugs legally via prescription. The advantages of this method were manifold: clean drugs of a consistent quality, clean syringes and needles, a kind of stability in my life and best of all no big time dealers. There were of course bent doctors who would virtually sell prescriptions and ones that were on a power trip and expected deference as part of the deal. There were also some remarkably dedicated doctors who cared about their addicts and devoted a massive amount of time and energy to a thankless lot of people. There were small time dealers among us who sold on anything they didn’t need, almost always to fellow addicts.
Nobody led me astray I was a willing participant and it should be made clear that addiction to heroin is very pleasant to begin with for the participants. It is and always has been hell for friends and family. There was little incentive to recruit new addicts and I was not rich enough to indulge in the way that Amy did, I didn’t have access or I might have died forty years ago.
There were some famous addicts then too but the newspapers were not so avid then. We did not have to associate with dealers so we didn’t up the ante. I also knew a lot of addicts who led useful lives while maintaining a habit. The fact that these people paid taxes and did not fill our A&E departments with noisome smells and strident voices should be a factor next time we consider making drugs legal.
The idea of registering addicts raises itself to the top of the ideas box every now and again and ritually gets rejected mainly because it is seen to be deeply unpopular with the moral majority, exactly the same people who enjoy being appalled by the Amy Winehouse dramas.I believe even some of the more liberal sections of the police are in favour of a system of legalisation so when will it begin? Portugal began to treat addicts as sick human beings rather than as criminals ten years ago and it has been a success so why not Britain?
When I worked as a volunteer on a local working women project the fragility of the average addict was dreadful and bore no comparison to the condition of the registered addicts I knew. Also they were subject to appalling violence and abuse from dealers.
I believe that the death of Amy Winehouse was tragic and while it is by no means certain that if drugs had been supplied legally she would be alive now. I am positive that legalisation would not only cut down on young deaths but also cut down radically on crime
I stopped taking drugs not in rehab but in my own home because I wanted to. I had become thoroughly bored with the entire process. I had support from my partner and a doctor. I had already cut off all connections with other addicts. A deciding factor in my case was the fact that the local clinic had said I was a hopeless case. I am still an addict and like Amy will be one until the day I die. The fact that I have not touched any hard drugs for nearly forty years notwithstanding.
 I was lucky Amy was not.