An Inrush Of Hissing Air
It must be the most expensive single purchase I’ve ever
made on my own. Oh, no! There was the house, of course. I bought
that at auction, whilst heavily pregnant, and exceeded my
husband’s upper limit by several thousand. I could only plead
temporary insanity and excessive competitiveness due to hormones.
My other half and the beginnings of his beer belly nearly went into
labour for me.
But I digress. The purchase to which I alluded was made in Tenerife. My sister and I were holidaying without our spouses, and we’d booked up to go on the Blanket Trip, with the firm assurance to one another that we had no intention of parting with a penny. For those of you who are not familiar with blanket trips, they are, quite simply, a hard sell in a factory, at the end of a free sight-seeing tour. Of course, I now realise, I should never have put up my hand when the audience was asked if anyone had ever suffered back problems. Nor when we were asked about neck and shoulder pain. And my downfall was complete when I admitted to having been hospitalised. It was inevitable that I would be called upon to be the stooge: the person lying on the pure new merino wool mattress, singing its praises.
And sing them I did. Especially when I learned that I had been lying, unknowingly for forty minutes, on two complete table settings of knife, fork, spoon and large white soup bowls, hidden only by a rug. Buy one? You bet I did! Two, in fact. Independent mattresses for our super-king sized bed.
They arrived by post. Yes. You read that correctly. Each mattress was vacuum-packed in polythene and rolled into a cylinder 3ft long with a diameter of approximately eight inches. First we had to slit the outer plastic cylinder, then the vacuum pack. Instantly, there was a loud hissing noise as air rushed into the void in the honeycomb structure of the mattress. We were all on, then, to remove it from the packaging before it became too tight.
It set me thinking. In my novel, A Painful Post Mortem, one of the characters, Claire, having lost her daughter, Katya, to drugs, is mulling over an article she has been asked to put together for a professional journal. Whilst travelling on the train home, she ponders what she has learned.
Uppermost in my mind is a concept I once shared with the student daughter of a friend. With her parents overseas, she turned to me to ask for advice on whether she should join the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. ‘What do you hope to achieve?’ I asked. ‘Well – obvious isn’t it? Nuclear disarmament.’
It seemed to me, I told her, that too many campaigns were waged against things, and too few for alternatives.
‘You can’t stamp out the dark,’ I said. ‘You can only try to shed light.’
Staring out of the carriage window, Claire realises that in the past she has had to apply this same philosophy to Katya when she came home to convalesce after a spell in hospital.
‘Tell me why you started?’ I asked her, sitting on the side of her bed one morning. ‘Why anyone does.’
She gave me a variety of answers: escapism from unhappiness at home; a sense of belonging with others of the same ilk; the initial euphoria and gratification. ‘Just because it’s there,’ she finished.
It set me thinking. Simply removing the drugs was like trying to stamp out the dark. It was a negative. Like weeding a garden but doing no replanting. Or clearing a house of squatters and leaving it empty for others to move in. Useless! Helping Katya, or anyone to kick a heroin dependency, I realised, had to be three-pronged. Because the problem, itself, has three aspects to it. Physiological. Psychological. And practical.
‘You start by thinking that drugs are something you can use, or stop using, whenever you want to,’ Katya told me. ‘You believe you’re the one in control. But before long you realise that, actually, it’s the other way round. The drugs are controlling you. They take you over. And pretty soon you realise that they’ve taken over your life.’
Then Claire recalls observations made by her husband, Richard.
It isn’t difficult to see that procuring the money for the next fix filled the hours of Katya’s day, she thought. To leave the vacuum that Richard identified is untenable; a naïve expectation equivalent to assuming that there will be no influx of water in a holed submarine. Over a period of days, I became convinced that in order to deal with the physiological dependency it was crucial to plug the twin holes of psychological and practical need. Before they imploded!
‘We need to help Katya to find her sense of fulfilment and belonging elsewhere,’ I told Richard, in bed one night. ‘She needs structure; a programme of activities to fill the empty hours of her day.’ ‘And her hands,’ he replied. ‘And her mind.’
‘So what you’re saying,’ Richard propped himself up on one elbow, ‘is that the whole business of finding money for the next fix; building and maintaining a relationship with the dealers; buying and taking your fix – all that is a structure, in itself. One that we need to replace with another.’ ‘Exactly.’
Which is what put me in mind of what the son of a friend of mine is doing. Realising the need to fill this vacuum in the lives of today’s youngsters - if we are to have any hope in keeping them off drugs and away from the criminal element of society - he’s recently set up a business. Still in its infancy, it has links with other charitable concerns, and with some pro Motocross riders, bmxers and skaters. The idea is to introduce children to extreme sports. To fulfil a normal adolescent yearning for risk and thrill with an adventure: something wholesome and character-building.
‘We’ve shown that cultivating an interest from an early stage in life, helps people feel good and achieve goals,’ says the founder, Matt Walton. ‘The whole thing is about promoting lifestyle to kids from difficult backgrounds, children that have low self-esteem, kids who are unfit.’ Adopting the moniker A lifestyle for life, the concept nevertheless retains a cool image with its young customers. It may not suit everyone of course, but for those for whom it is an answer, here is the contact link www.getspiked.co.uk . It’s well worth checking out. A pity blanket trips are all I can manage these days . . .
That said, I’m about to go off for a break. See you next week.
© Mel Menzies
7th July, 2008
BBC Radio Devon Interview
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