Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Tourniquet in a manger: An unusual setting for a cracking Christmas

Drug addict Bubbles: May or may not have been one of the three wise men I encountered

The walk from Brixton Tube station to my home down the road never fails to bring a smile to my face.

Whenever I journey down the high street I am amused by the juxtaposition of two groups hawking contradictory yet equally omnipotent wares to a crowd of commuters who would rather be left well alone.

These commodities? Religion and drugs.

First you encounter a megaphone-wielding, sandwichboard-sheathed preacher extolling the power of God and the futility of life (or just repeating the word "redemption" over and over).

Then, just as these noises ebb away, a cacophony of whisper-shouts* uttered by dealers promoting skunk outside KFC begins to flick at your ears.

Each opposing promotions posse seems oblivious to the heads-down lapels-up attitude adopted by everyone in the vicinity and carry on regardless.

But rather than a nuisance, I bracket these rather awkward throat-ramming sales tactics as a characteristic 'liveliness' that can usually be kept at arms length by moving speedily on.

But last Friday the liveliness was unavoidable.

My girlfriend and I were finally staging our flat-warming party, a whole four months after we'd moved in. To give it a sense of contempraneity we also christened it an 'end-of-term' bash and a 'Christmas' do but in truth we just wanted an excuse to get pissed.

We have a one-bedroom place situated among a fairly new block of twenty similar apartments and as such felt inclined to warn the other residents of our forthcoming event. This we did by distributing hand-written notes cunningly disguised as invites that very morning.

Surprisingly, one couple actually turned up with wine in hand but soon left as the crush of bodies escalated.

Flash forward to 4am. As the dregs of the party drained away I shoveled all the rubbish I could find into a bin-liner and went outside to the dumpsters.

As I approached the double-doors guarding the big bins I noticed a light shining from within.

I opened the door to see a guy and two women setting up all the paraphernalia required for a spot of serious socialising.

Which specific drug they were about to enjoy I couldn't say (as in I don't know whether it was crack cocaine, heroin or some potent mixture of the two, not that I'm too squeamish to utter such names) but they were using spoons and were most likely addicted to it.

I surmise you must really love something if you're willing to share an intimate space with rotting food and broken bottles - at a time more disposed to sleeping in a comfy bed - just to score a hit.

Taken aback, I said a startled hello and, in a clear case of carry-on regardless (echoing the dealers and preachers of the high street), proceeded to try and open the lid of the dumpster.

Soon realising my doing so would spill their well-prepared items on the floor I stopped and looked kind of lost.

Then: "Give 'em here," one of the girls offered, "we'll put them away after we're finished."

And so a strange exchange ensued where it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to be assisted with the disposal of trash by a trio of addicts who were probably only being obliging so they could get high sooner.

We uttered a few words by way of conversation (I resisted the temptation to ask the knee-jerk "Having a good night?" though). When I tried to hand over a semi-full can of lager the woman returned it to me with the guidance to empty its contents down the drain, ever mindful of the destruction such fluid can cause to a mountain of solidified garbage.

I found her environmental awareness endearing.

"You from up north?" The other woman asked.

"Yeah. Stockport," I answered, warming to this bizarre interchange.

"Me too," she said. "I come from Preston."

"Oh really? My dad worked in Preston for a long time."

"Yeah. Bit shit in't it."

"I believe so," I laughed. With that it was time to leave them to it.

But a thought flashed in my mind: how are you supposed to end an encounter as unusual as this? With a sort of disarming, please-don't-kill-me-I-won't-report-you-promise: 'Lovely to meet you?' Or a buddying-up kind of self-parodying jostle: 'Don't do anything I wouldn't do?'


What I said instead, while slowly closing the door behind me, was the cringing: "Have a good time!"

It was like I was a parent gawkily telling my offspring to enjoy a new computer game I have absolutely no idea how to play, as I edge out of the living room to avoid further embarrassment in front of their friends.

The whole thing gave me a glimpse of the kind of feeling I'll get when I actually am a parent. And that thought scared me more than anything else.

*I feel that while appearing paradoxical it perfectly encapsulates the sound emitted. Namely something mumbled at an ironically large volume.