Low life

I hadn’t had a drink in six weeks but that was seven hours, three pubs and a club ago…

9 March 2019

9:00 AM

9 March 2019

9:00 AM

Standing in a messy kitchen at the tendril tip of a county line at three o’clock in the morning, Trev was applying his concentration to the intricate business of washing the coke in a dessert spoon with acetone and a lighter flame. When the impurities had burnt away, Trev goggled with incredulity at what remained in the spoon. Then he swore in a low, disbelieving voice because the washed remainder was the most he’d ever seen.

Three were a crowd in the small, narrow kitchen. Our hyperactive host, whose eyes were out on stalks and whose voice was hoarse from shouting, was carrying on two conversations at once. He would hoarsely shout at us for a minute or so, then run upstairs to shout at whoever was up there. He was an attractive, self-consciously comic character wearing a blue T-shirt adorned with the decorations of a high-ranking US astronaut. The pipe under construction was Trev’s third, but repetition hadn’t lessened his astonishment at the purity. Our host wasn’t surprised. Indeed, the exalted state of his mind, his shouting, his goggling eyeballs and his manic tripping up and down the stairs to conduct two conversations at once, was as compelling evidence of purity as the surprisingly large amounts left in Trev’s spoon.

I hadn’t seen Trev for many months. Much earlier, as arranged, we’d met in a sedate pub. I had his usual large vodka, lime and soda waiting for him. He began telling me a silly joke as soon as he clapped eyes on me and the punchline left him helpless with mirth at his own joke. Then he faced the other drinkers in the bar, flailed his arms at them to whip them out of their boring conversations and lives, and yelled, ‘Come on!’


But that was seven hours, three pubs and a club ago. When Trev had walked through the door of that first pub, I hadn’t swallowed an alcoholic drink for six weeks or eaten a slice of bread. And, while I was at it, I had introduced a healthy quantity of fresh fruit and vegetables into my diet. I was sober of mind, body and spirit.

The building and loading of each water pipe was an intricate and protracted business, though everyone by now had long ago passed the stage of anticipating a pipe’s completion, and Trev’s skill and application were no longer getting the credit or attention that they deserved. Now Trev was calling urgently and inexplicably, then belligerently, for more cigarette ash. I never found out what the technical purpose of the cigarette ash was, but I dutifully joined our host in a search of his kitchen for a tailor-made cigarette. We found only a small amount of hand-rolling tobacco, which, when rolled up into a cigarette, produced nothing like the quantity required, and Trev became a bit choleric. But by strenuously puffing away like child smokers and quickly passing the limp roll-up back and forth, enough ash was produced to allow him to return to his work.

At which point the upstairs guest indicated to our host, who was still running manically up and down the stairs, that he too would now like a visit to the pipe. Respectfully moderating the volume of his voice to that of a Romford market greengrocer, our host prepared Trev and me for the arrival of this new supplicant, who was then brought down the stairs and ushered into the kitchen. Our host introduced him with a fanfare as a man whose latest drug spree has cost him somewhere in the region of £200,000. He was under 40, perhaps even under 30, but he looked like the President of Algeria, the ailing 82-year-old rarely seen in public since his last stroke and believed by a section of informed Algerian opinion to have died in Switzerland several years ago. ‘All right, dude?’ said Trev, affably. I thought this new bloke was speechless. Later I noticed the lips moving ever so slightly in the grey yellow face and Trev politely bending and attending carefully to what he was saying.

When it had been my turn on the pipe, Trev and our host had gathered around shouting advice in my ears about when to cover and uncover the airhole with my finger and when to breathe in a controlled manner and when to breathe in hard. (With the Algerian President they had looked on with admiration at a virtuoso.) After my third visit to the drinking straw, my technique was judged by all to have been well-nigh perfect and I accepted plaudits from all sides like Noël Coward on the prison stairs in The Italian Job. My improving technique was my undoing, however, because I couldn’t speak after that and had to sit down.

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