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Crack squirrels

October 01 2022

In a world constantly vying for our attention, our deputy editor at times felt lost in it all. He talks about distraction, addiction, cracking on in life and, well, crack squirrels. By Mat Amp

Having come close to finishing Netflix during an extended hospital stay last year, a friend decided it was time for me to get back into reading books. To be honest, I wasn’t sure that was something I would still enjoy. It had been a while since I had read anything longer than a standard-length article in the South London Press.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read some quality yarns in the Sarf London Press, most notably an article on crack squirrels, that I don’t have time to go in to right now… Oh, fuck it, there is always time for the crack squirrels that became part of Brixton’s folklore after an article appeared in the paper in October 2005 quoting one fearful resident, who asked not to be named, saying: “I was chatting with my neighbour who told me that crack users and dealers sometimes use my front garden to hide bits of their stash. An hour earlier I’d seen a squirrel wandering round the garden, digging in the flowerbeds. It looked like it knew what it was looking for. It was ill-looking and its eyes looked bloodshot but it kept on desperately digging. It was almost as if it was trying to find hidden crack rocks.”

A week later the Guardian ran a piece entitled ‘South London squirrels after different kind of stash’. It occurs to me as I write this that the reason I may have stopped reading in the first place is my inability not to get distracted in a world that is constantly demanding our attention. Take those distractions away and I find myself in a hospital bed, tearing through each page of Shuggie Bain, engrossed in a kid’s description of his dysfunctional family life in ‘70s Glasgow.

On my side of the book time becomes irrelevant, while inside the story each page can stand time still or move us on a year. As an addict, reading offers me a state of mind that takes me away from the relentless tick of the clock, each second an opportunity to score. It’s like those heavy carriage clocks that they used to give people when they retire. They would sit on the mantelpiece marking each second until you die with a heavy thud and a reminder that you have now been rendered useless. For junkies these seconds are steps to trip on and that’s why you can’t give something up by constantly denying it. That’s too many nos to navigate, too many chances to trip and succumb. NO, NO, NO, NO, NO. For fuck’s sake that is 86,400 seconds in a day: 86,400 chances to fuck it up and say yes. Don’t get me wrong, a bit of resolve goes a long way when you initially give up. I had to quit heroin living with dealers in a supported living house for six months before I got my move on. For me, it was essential that I didn’t use in the new place so I white-knuckled my way to sobriety. But this is no solution in the long term. That level of stress will eventually end you. The answer is not to resist with resolve but to embrace the positive. Alan Carr’s book, entitled Alan Carr’s Easy to Quit Smoking Without Willpower – as the title suggests – is all about this.

Renton, at the end of the film Trainspotting, nails this – even if he does sound utterly sarcastic: “Now I’m cleaning up and I’m moving on, going straight and choosing life. I’m looking forward to it already. I’m gonna be just like you. The job, the family, the fucking big television. The washing machine, the car, the compact disc and electrical tin opener, good health, low cholesterol, dental insurance, mortgage, starter home, leisure wear, luggage, threepiece suite, DIY, game shows, junk food, children, walks in the park, nine to five, good at golf, washing the car, choice of sweaters, family Christmas, indexed pension, tax exemption, clearing the gutters, getting by, looking ahead, the day you die.”

Choose Life, innit, despite the fact that a lot of it is a giant pile of wank. Choose life and move on. Forget about the drugs by thinking about it in terms of allowing yourself something you want, something that enriches life and adds something to the sum total of you.

Reading is one of those pastimes that makes me more still and writing is another. I get lost in them and they leave me satisfied whereas, for me 

at least, binging on Netflix for days on end leaves me kind of fidgety and waiting for the next thing. Netflix doesn’t quiet the addict in me, you could say.

I honestly believe the problem with illegal drugs is exactly that. That they are illegal. I self-medicated on heroin for years, unable to deal with life and the enormous amount of grief it has thrown at me. But for a long time, I had the money to do it. My problems started when the cash ran out and I had a breakdown. It was only then that I turned to shoplifting and a bunch of my teeth fell out.

The vilifying of addicts by the authorities, who on one hand call you a victim for being in active addiction while they beat you and toss you in jail with the other, is one of the biggest injustices of modern times. As decriminalisation has proved in Portugal, arresting and locking up addicts only exacerbates the problem, driving addicts deeper into addiction and further away from the option of a fruitful life without drugs.

I will always be an addict but now I’m a non-practicing addict. I’ve chosen to embrace life, warts and all. I’m not going to get rid of all the hypocrisy and injustice, so I’ve decided to accept them and take part in this imperfect world rather than chase that perfect one that existed for me briefly, at the end of a needle.