Jonathan Livingstone Pigeon.
It was my fifth day of sweating and it was still early, 11am. The thought of spending the rest of the day feeling the way I did was just too much. I could take it no more. So I damn well cracked and, as I had done a million times before, within minutes I was speeding my way across London, on my bike, riding from my home in Clapham all the way to Hampstead where my heroin dealer lived.
Seven months earlier, on my 49th birthday, I faced the horrible truth that my fiftieth year was approaching fast … but I needed more time! Time to really get to grips with this looming junction in my life. If I failed to stop using, on that golden meridian, well… my options would be limited to, A: the lingering torture of perpetual addiction and the total waste of a life. B: The lingering torture of being alive without drugs or, C: that pragmatic and final solution to it all; suicide.
Over the decades I’d tried every method of cleaning up but nothing had helped me create a condition of acceptance. Acceptance that I could no longer take drugs to cover the ache in my soul. That I would, somehow, have to rebuild my destroyed life with nothing in my hands but unenviable experience.
For me it was always a great excuse for doing nothing. You know…the hill’s just too steep to climb, been too far, seen too much. After a lifetime of doing the right thing I still failed to follow through with all the important actions I should have taken. Trouble was I knew how to manipulate myself into believing the world was out to get me. I knew myself inside and out. Twenty years in therapy, well, some of the mud sticks. It’s a hit-or-miss way of doing things but what else is there? It can however help sort through the rubbish; but only so much.
The trouble was that none of my adopted and home spun philosophies had ever really helped. I just ended up with an over indulgent personality…and the distorted ego of the victim, not a good combo for melting seamlessly into the main stream.
My few friends were, by then, all missing or dead. I was on my own. I was simply putting one foot in front of the other. Taking pot shots at my addiction, a few days here, a few days there and forever wondering about myself and how I perceived my existence of myself. Eh? It’s always been this way, I dunno why. I just seem to have an ever questioning mind that loves overly dramatic and deep thinking. Just a symptom of too much time spent alone really.
It was in this run down period that I began getting terrible tooth aches that became my introduction to the oddity of how bizarrely the mind and body can work together with pain. Bare with me.
It usually came around the four day mark in my repetitive but rapid methadone detox. Suddenly one of my few remaining teeth would spark into life. The obvious solution was to get some gear to anaesthetise the pain. So, I’d pick up the phone, arrange the deal. Collect my bits and pieces, get all my motorcycle gear on and head down the stairs of my block to my bike.
However, once on the way, halfway across town, the pain would dissolve away to nothing, but oh crap, I’m nearly there now! Oh well, I might as well carry on, the damage is done.
And that’s how it went. My resolve to stay clean was forever being sabotaged by my teeth that were now calling all the shots…literally!
The really interesting thing about this period was that it was never the same tooth that gave me trouble. The pain seemed to bounce about at random. Most would say, ‘Go to the dentist idiot.’ But I knew it was just the bastard in my brain. The one that kept pushing me to use. Each time I set off to score the pain would subside earlier and earlier in the journey and I couldn’t help but notice this timing. It was as if he was taking his finger off the pain button. As if in a study — just to see if I’d turn round and make my way back home empty handed — to laugh and joke about my pathetic attempts to stay clean.
The next time the pain struck, well, before I had got to the bottom floor of my block, the pain was gone… but I still went to score. It was then I knew, for sure, that the psychological power of my addiction had total control over my pain centers.
The last time this happened I was still on the phone, saying, ‘Is it okay to head up?’ As soon as I heard her say, ‘Yes, it’s okay, I’m in.’ the pain in my tooth vanished but the connection had already been made, so naturally I scored.
Once this oddity had been highlighted in my pantheon of philosophy the tooth ache business inexplicably ended.
The reason for this long tooth ache explanation is to try to legitimize my personal observations of my psyche and it’s apparent connectivity with life inside and outside of myself. Sounds pompous but I’ve been out of communication with the human race for decades and I’m the only one around to talk to and exchange ideas with, so my mad thoughts just ricochet around in my head gaining impetus with every rebound. As if this wasn’t confusing and complicated enough I was starting to be struck in physical ways.
The next incident came about a week after my final tooth ache. I was heading up to Hampstead for my daily fix. Well, on this particular day I’d stopped at Camden Lock to buy a few packs of Beedies (Indian cigarettes) from the hippy stall on the bridge. I parked up as normal, just on the curb stone, out of the traffic. Well, once I had my Beedies I straddled the bike but was surprised to find my supportive foot had not made contact with the ground. As I was leaning I simply fell over and into the traffic. Down I went, wheels in the air, me rolling around on my back in the line of traffic. Dent in tank, humiliation, broken indicator.
I rode off grumbling to myself that it was God punishing me for being so weak. The following week, in the same spot on the bridge, same maneuver to get on the bike. This time my supporting foot failed to make contact with the ground by my torn jeans getting caught in the foot-peg, so over I went once again. This time my fall was curtailed by a white escort van. The end of my handle bar dented the vans door. Once again the humiliation of a grown man having so much difficulty with a motorbike. Cost £250 for that little miss-hap. My god was definitely punishing me once more.
The final straw came when that certain Mr. Jonathon Livingstone Pigeon inadvertently became the catalyst for my change of personal perspective. This unfortunate bird was out and about on that day, with some of his buddies. They were all mucking about on Tottenham Court Road, playing chicken with the traffic.
I was at the South end and heading North, straight towards him. Tottenham Court Road. It’s a three lane, one way road with many-an obstacle of doddering pedestrians, wayward busses and confused cars. The whole trip down – one of dispatch riders most favorite roads – well, it’s an exercise in adrenaline containment as one swoops through tiny gaps, accelerating hard, feasting on the G-force.
Halfway down, feeling just great to be out and on my bike, I was joined by another biker. We rode together towards the junction of Goodge Street; exactly where Jonathon and his pigeon friends were still mooching about.
However, they were playing it too cool and weren’t expecting the two bikes riding so close and so fast towards them. They all leaped up and away in a flurry of feathers as we sped through. My fairing struck one of the wings as we swept by. I looked across to the other rider and grinned, he laughed back. ‘You got one!’ I laughed back and we drove on before we separated at the junction of Euston Rd.
I continued my journey to Hampstead for my score and then rode all the way back to Clapham. Once home I parked the bike in the garage and went back to my flat to have my hit. Some hours later I got back on my bike and rode over to my girlfriends house in Mile End. Parked up and went in to collect some photos, only stopping for a cup of tea before leaving and heading back out through the front door.
To my horror I was confronted by the sight of that pigeon stuck to the bike. I thought I had just clipped with the fairing. I hadn’t clipped him. I’d collected him. He was firmly wedged, on his back, his wings wide open, stuck between the front forks and the leg brace. His little head, dangling down off the side of the mudguard, bare centimeters from the front tire.
As soon as I saw him we made direct eye contact and he shit himself….it was that clear in his heart. I was there to disembowel him. Punishment for being such a young and rebellious teenager, for messing about with more dead-beats and not being a proper and well behaved individual like he should have been.
I was so shocked I began crying out and pacing about, exclaiming, ‘Oh my god, oh my god oh my god.’ Holding my head in my hands. Finally I had calmed down long enough to wonder how I could free this poor bird. I took a closer look.
His main flight feathers were splayed apart, either side of the fork legs. They were so tightly wedged that he didn’t have the strength to pull himself free. The poor creature had been in this state of horror for at least five hours, ridden across London twice, locked away in a dark garage, no chance of escape, held firm in a vice like grip. Then across London for a third time! His little head bouncing about, millimeters from the spinning front tire and me, totally unaware.
I knelt down to extricate the poor pigeon from his position. I began to sooth him with words of apology and reassurances as I gently eased his feathers free.
Thankfully all was well. His wings were fine and were easily folded away. His head was erect but he was still amazingly freaked out. His body was hot with fear. I held him close before placing him on the ground.
Instead of immediately taking off he lay face down and spread his wings wide, in total submission, like he was just waiting for the chop.
My heart was in collapse for the poor creature. I gathered his wings back together again and picked him up gently before placing him under the bench by the front door. I stood a little away-a-way and watched him for a while. But he just sat there. He was just staring into space and perfectly still.
I decided to leave him where he was. He looked okay, no point calling the RSPCA. So I appologised once more and manhandled my bike backwards and away from him before I started the engine.
Though we both came out of it unscathed, our physical and emotional collision had impacted us both. We were forced to take long, hard looks at our little lives. I went home and really understood what I had done. I had wrenched another life nearly apart by my weakness. That I had caused so much pain for a fellow and sentient being deeply upset me. It was okay to fuck up my life but messing badly with another was inexcusable.
I really felt the power of this encounter though. I knew I had to get this heroin business cracked for good. No fucking about this time. I’d just had to sit with the pain. The universe was watching, it had to be… trying to get me to change my ways. Just to take responsibility! Accept the facts and deal with it. And for god sake stop complaining.
And what about the bird? What must he have thought about his virtual crucifixion. Then to be released by this strange human? Was I a god in his eyes? I must have really twisted his melons that day. For Mr. Pigeon, after some no doubt careful reflection, he knew his days of playing chicken with the traffic, were over. It’s a real shame we only ever learn lessons by getting a slap in the face.