My name is John Doran and I write about music. The young bucks who run VICE’s website thought it would be amusing to employ a 41-year-old who has been waiting a long time for Dr Martens to come back into fashion.
In case you were wondering or simply too lazy to use urban dictionary, "menk" is Scouse/Woollyback slang for a mentally ill or educationally subnormal person, and is a shortened version of mental. As in, “Your Sergio Tacchini trackie is sick la, look at that menk Doran, he can’t even afford a Walker trackie. Let’s hit him with a brick and push him in the canal."
MENK 50: NONE OF OUR SECRETS ARE PHYSICAL NOW
It’s exactly a month since I stopped taking drugs. Admittedly, the feeling that Dr Manhattan – that giant blue electrical wazzerk from Watchmen – is gripping my heart in the palm of his hand and whacking it ferociously with his giant Ready Brek-glowing cock, is starting to subside rapidly and any impulses to call Jimmy The Saint, my friend with the gold tooth, have been few and far between. However the depression just gets worse and worse. (I went to see Watchmen at the IMAX when it came out. During one scene where he grew really tall, his dick, on screen, was literally the height of a three-storey Edwardian town house. His bellend alone was the actual size of a Ford Sierra.)
I say “since I stopped taking drugs”; a lot of ibuprofen, aspirin, pseudoephedrine, diazepam, caffeine, citalopram and codeine has been consumed this week, and among other things it has allowed me to get away from it for the day with my family to Dungeness. And when we get there, it’s something like perfection. I feel, temporarily, like a brand new person.
There’s nowhere else quite like this cuspate foreland of red, ochre and liver coloured pebbles; a perfect vision of flint shingle, pure bar from scratches of aged driftwood and scraps of sun bleached fish netting. It’s a little nipple of cherty beach on a newly terra-formed planet, awaiting its first ever visitors. A spirit-level flat stony stretch whose uniformity is only broken by nuclear power stations, lighthouses, acoustic mirrors, weather beaten fishing vessels, expensive looking brushed metal airstream caravans, rusting tin shacks and extremely well-designed wood framed huts built by slumming architects.
I walk down a pathway of slatted decking with my son toddling next to me, happily chatting nonsense to himself. We all stand on a pebble dune looking out to sea at distant liners when Little John points at me and says: “Daddy.”
“Woah!” says Maria.
“How about that!” I say. “That’s the first time he’s said it!”
“Say it again,” says Maria.
John points at me and says, “Snow!”
“What’s my name, mate?” I say to him.
He looks at me and says, “Chair!”
“Nearly! Have another go!” I say.
He starts yelling and pointing, “Da ba da ba da ba da ba chair! Da ba da ba da da ba chair! Da ba da ba da ba da ba chair!” Before concluding, “Oh no!”
“Oh no!” was the first thing he learned to say and remains his favourite thing to shout, even over “Choo choo!” and “Mummy”. But at least he’s finally said something that sounds a bit like my name. We know a couple whose kid of a similar age only knows how to say, “Help!” and favours shouting it at strangers while being wheeled round supermarkets.
We jump up and down on the glowing flint shingle shouting stuff out at random and then walk back to the café for a scone and to await the return of the steam train that brought us here. The trip down on the Romney, Hythe And Dymchurch Railway’s petite steam engine, The Typhoon, across shingle, through caravan parks and housing estates, small holdings and fields is so much more pleasant than the approach by road. In fact, when I came here with Jonny Mugwump six or seven years ago, the journey was so hilariously bleak that we almost turned round and went home.
As his ageing VW campervan trundled past miles of chain link fence separating the road from unused military airstrips, gutted and levelled pre-fab buildings and long since abandoned army land, there was nothing to break the uniformity of the flat horizon bar advancing columns of thousands of pylons carrying electricity from the nuclear power station on the horizon. There was nothing natural in sight, unless you counted the weeds that were growing up between the massive concrete flags behind the chain link fences.
Up ahead we spotted a static caravan park with about 20 trailers in it, in the middle of them stood a huge pylon. Someone had placed plant pots round the base of one of its giant legs in an attempt to prettify it; to give the place a more homely vibe. Nearby, there was a white plastic recliner but no one was sitting on it. We slowed down to a crawl to look at the park. Who lived here? Holidaymakers? People on benefits who had been relocated? Seasonal workers? Operatives from the power plant? People running away from circumstance? Those bald dudes from The Hills Have Eyes? It was literally in the middle of nowhere. It was hard to fathom who would live like this.
“What’s that on the gate?” said Jonny, pointing to an object attached roughly to a steel post. It was a bouquet of long since dead flowers.
“Oh God. Someone was run over and killed here”, I said. “The places some people have to live…”
“No one has to live here and no one has to stay here,” said Jonny, putting his foot down.
When we got to Dungeness we parked up by a shack which had obviously been made entirely from material scavenged from the beach including planks of wood, plastic sheeting, twine, netting… On the roof of the shack was a bucket seat from a sports car but it wasn’t facing out to sea. It was pointed at the power station.
“What the fuck is wrong with people?” I asked Jonny.
Back in London on Sunday night, the depression comes back pretty quickly; the amazing break with Little John and Maria receding with the clean sea air. I don’t mean to moan about this. It’s all because of a self-inflicted leisure injury, after all. It’s some proper First World, white people problems, grim-up-North-London bullshit. I should be a bit more stiff upper lip about it. You know, worse things happen at sea, that kind of thing. (I said this to my mate Tommy Udo once and he replied: “That’s the fucking trouble though; worse things don’t happen at sea. Not since the sweeping naval reforms of the 19th century, at least. Worse things now happen on land.”) Anyway, no matter how gauche it is, it still hits you like a wrecking ball. And once you’re stuck on Jacob’s Ladder there doesn’t seem to be any limit to how much time you can spend going up and down it and to what particular depth you can plumb, either.
But there’s one thing in my favour here: I’ve done it all before with drink and I kind of know what’s coming next. Once you get the physical stuff out of the way, it’s time to deal with the psychological fall out.
I dig out some notes that I made for a friend on giving up drinking to try to jog my memory. I want to know how long this fucking dudgeon is going to last. I need to know when I can expect to crawl out of the slough of despond because I can’t keep on going round with a face like a slapped arse. I look like the one out of the seven dwarves who’s always trying to kill himself. He’s called something like Morbid Google Search, Hot Bath With Razor or Helium Shroud. When you look like me, it always pays to be happy. My default setting is distressed looking, so when I’m actually down, I look like the flesh is trying to escape off my face, slide down my body and into the nearest drain, like the skin off a World Record beating giant custard. I look like the guy who has run out of final straws. I look like the guy who didn’t have that many straws to begin with. I look like the guy whose first straw was actually his last straw. You know that good looking guy, who’s always smiling? That chipper cunt with all of the straws and then some more straws to spare? Fuck that guy. I hate that fucking guy. Fucking straw hoarding, piss gargling, thundercunt.
I start reading my notes.
- - -
Notes On Giving Up Drinking For Fabio
"In 2008 I arrived at the position where I had to give up drinking or take it to the next level (which in my case was death, hospital or homelessness). My liver was failing and I’d taken to just going to sleep in the street halfway home or on benches after big sessions. I had a mad epiphany and gave my work laptop away to a tramp. I was having full on DTs every time I didn’t drink “the full amount” the night before. (The full amount being either a litre of vodka, four bottles of wine or about 12 pints and a load of chasers, I was using a lot of drugs so I could stay up all night drinking so my mental health was suffering as well.) I’d gone up to 20 stone and had a lot of attendant health problems.
"My liver was giving me so much grief, that most mornings when I woke up, I’d have to roll out of bed and onto the floor. I couldn’t bend over to any great degree until I got moving. I stopped being able to tie my shoe laces and I was starting to waddle a little, like Vito, the gay mobster from The Sopranos who looks like John Prescott.
"So, the night after the thing with the tramp, I decided to give up drinking. It was a Sunday and I decided to go out for one last drink. I still to this day don’t know why it worked this time and didn’t any of the previous times. The immediacy of it prevented me from thinking: 'This is my last ever piss up, therefore it must involve everyone I know and take place in three different cities over the period of a month.'
"I went to my local with John Tatlock (it was just coincidence he was staying at mine that weekend and I would have gone out without him regardless, but it was good that he was there. We had a really good night.) We got there about seven or eight and then we had a little bit of a lock in, had a few more pints and a couple of lines and that was it. I haven’t had a drink since apart from a couple of mistaken mouthfuls out of the wrong glass at a couple of parties. And they didn’t turn out to be the Earth shattering incidents that novelists like Steven King might make you believe – it was more like, 'Whoops, better not do that again.'
"Maria was so pissed off with me (not just for not coming home and giving my computer away but also because my sister spilled the beans and told her that I was dying) that she finished with me. (Having said that, I think she realised more than me, that I had to give up on my own to try to claw some self-respect back.) I moved into the spare room.
"I had a real evangelical zeal for it at first. This is pretty good as it can take the edge off it for the first few days. If you feel pretty bad at first then it really only starts to let up a little after about a week or two and then you can feel yourself get marginally better physically each day. I was so fucked up I had a hangover that lasted for a fortnight and I didn’t feel right for about eight weeks. My liver sorted itself out in about half a year.
"I only told a handful of trustworthy people about what I was doing. I didn’t talk about it on Facebook or anything like that. There was no big thing, like being in prison and putting a big "X" on each day of the calendar as I wanted it to become normal as quickly as possible. So I tried not to treat it like some Herculean task. I have a rough idea that I stopped drinking on August 1, 2008 but I’m not entirely sure, I just chose a date a year later that roughly coincided. I allow myself one pat on the back the morning I get up on August 1 each year [I announce my anniversary on Facebook] and that’s it. It’s just totally normal to me not drinking now.
"In the spare room, the first two weeks – which I’d done a few times before – were pretty bad. The hallucinations were pretty baroque… real Event Horizon, HR Giger, insects coming out of the walls shit, angels in the corners… and the music I was hearing was crazy, kind of like Anaal Nathrakh but with some acid house and really gnarly dub thrown in, if that makes sense. I had a couple of epileptic fits, really bad night sweats and terrors but during the day I was kind of normal.
"And then after two weeks… that’s when the depression started."
Continues next week.
Photo by Phil Hebblethwaite.