Government MP says UK facing alcohol crisis affecting millions that government doing nothing about

Conservative MP Fiona Bruce Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on alcohol harm says the UK is experiencing an alcohol crisis affecting millions of people that the government is doing nothing about

My piece on the UK’s alcohol crisis that the government is doing nothing about according to one of their own MPs headlines the BBC news on the World at One on Radio 4. Tory MP Fiona Bruce – Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on alcohol harm – says the government is  “neither recognising nor addressing” this crisis which is affecting millions of people. Hospital admissions for alcohol have doubled in a decade reaching their highest levels ever – over 1.1 million. The latest figures show deaths from alcohol have reached their highest level since records began. While the number of people accessing publicly funded detox and rehab for alcohol has almost halved since 2013 when £300 million of cuts to substance misuse funding started. And almost half of units offering publicly funded detox have closed since then. 

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Making headline news at the BBC with my stories about addiction

BBC PICTURE SUMMER I am back on the BBC! They liked my story about the “drastic” and “shocking” cuts to prison drug treatment at a time when even the Prisons Minister says the drugs situation in English prisons is “unacceptable” so much that it was headlining the news. Have a listen and let me know what you think.

About me – having recovered from enough mental health problems and addictions to fill a football stadium I hope my experience at crowd control can help others.

Reporting from a barracks in southern sudan in a pair of hot pants (3)

I am a former correspondent for BBC Radio and Television, the Sunday Times, the Guardian and the Daily Mail. My assignments included: reporting from a barracks in Southern Sudan in a pair of hot pants, narrowly avoiding being possessed by a pig at a voodoo ceremony in Cuba and dropping acid with a bunch of Buddhist monks at a commune in California. I have reported from all over the world but was last based in Jamaica where I covered mainly crime and drugs, becoming rather too close to the subject matter. In the course of my travels I met the Queen and Snoop Dogg who became my closest imaginary friends. During my time at the BBC I was awarded an Order of the British Empire Medal (for never arriving on time) and couldn’t hit a deadline if it slapped me in the face.

I graduated from Oxford University with a 2:1 in English and an MA for sprinting around the library at 4am (due to cyclothymia highs). I spent much of my time there fantasising I was the Queen of Spain and, (unrelated to dope) a fried egg about to be hit by a train. I later graduated from Britain’s most exclusive rehab, with distinction, realising my life had taken a wrong turn. In recovery I was successfully treated at the Prison View psychiatric unit where I attended as an outpatient (7 days a week). I entered with 13 personalities and emerged with only 1.5 having recovered from a decades long battle with bulimia and self-harm.

I am celebrating a number of important milestones this year: 10 years clean from alcohol and drugs, 6 years abstinent from bulimia and self-harm, 3 years abstinent from shopping addiction and 23 seconds free of OCD (oops I’ve relapsed again). I am writing this after returning from my first trip abroad for over six years, having been stuck, totally grounded, in England because of my OCD. Apart from having to scan all 23,491 documents in my house, (in case an armed robber partial to eating paper broke in), which has taken the entire year, the trip was a fantastic success.

I am in remission from clinical depression, borderline personality disorder and PTSD. I have asked my therapist to marry me (so the therapy would be free).

I am not in recovery from an addiction to finding new mothers having spent 45 years on the waiting list for a parent transplant.

I am now writing bloginhotpants, a tragi-comic account of my mishaps with drugs, journalism, men and mental health problems while reporting around the globe or, more recently, being stuck at home.                Sign up for updates on this blog
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Next week: Pearl G-Strings, Porsche envy and how to score drugs at St Chillin’s, Britain’s most exclusive rehab.

Being seduced by a (female) teenage stripper who’d killed someone the week before (and then stole my car) and falling onto the luggage conveyor belt at Heathrow.

Heathrow Jamaica BBC mental health addiction drugs cocaine

I got back to Jamaica at the beginning of December 2004 with a cocaine habit as out of control as a runaway bullet train. I was doing cocaine from 9am, not sleeping at all but crashing for an hour at 2pm the next day. I would be out at nightclubs every night, often on my own, as I was so wired I just had to get out of the house. I met a Jewish South African, Woody, at Kingston’s premier expat night club and, after a minor attempt at conversation, took him straight home to have sex. But I was so strung out on cocaine my ladyparts were like a vice and he couldn’t get his willy in. This was my first, but certainly not my last, experience of wearing a cocaine chastity belt. He was highly intelligent and I started going out with him (another advantage was he drank a lot). But he said it was off-putting kissing me as I tasted of cocaine. One night he had an important work function at his house. I left my cocaine at my mother’s house to try to stay under control. But halfway through the meal I announced I was “anxious” and would have to leave. I genuinely believed that cocaine calmed me down. I certainly felt, whenever I took it that a white light was flooding through my brain, obliterating any anxieties. I staggered back to his apartment, laughing and off my head, covered in mud, saying, “Guess what? I’ve fallen into a giant pothole.”

I would leave full and empty wrappers of cocaine lying around my flat. My helper (PC Jamaican term for cleaner) became a help-yourself-er as she stole my very expensive phone and various other things, realising I was completely off the rails.

One morning I’d been out all night at a club and had ended up at the house of some white Jamaicans. I was sprinting round the garden, pretending to be a humming bird. One of them said they would take me home (I wasn’t driving thank god). So I got into his car and swigged a bottle of pink liquid without asking what it was. I started projectile vomiting 20 feet away as the liquid was a heavy duty chemical for cleaning the engine of a car. I was so sick I couldn’t speak for days. But, not allowing that to interrupt my social life, I was out at a party that very night, doing sign language. When people asked me why I hadn’t gone to hospital I was mystified. Surely this kind of thing happened to everyone. Another day I was wondering round the supermarket for half an hour with a massive trolley, containing just 6 bottles of vodka and a tiny orange. I simply didn’t understand why people were staring at me.

Heathrow Jamaica BBC mental health addiction drugs cocaine

I was commissioned to do a story about female sex tourism in Jamaica for Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4. Jamaica had become the world’s number 1 destination for ladies from North America and Europe hooking up with fake “boyfriends” aka SpongeBob no pants. Of course the majority of the women thought these boyfriends were real. I went to stay with my English friend, Tristram, in the countryside as he said his girlfriend, 17 year old stripper Big Bazumba, had contacts with gigolos. Of course she did, they were part of the same union, “Sex workers need Wonga.” The gigolos I met were sitting listlessly around on the beach waiting for women to arrive. But they had zero interest in thirty year old, fairly attractive, me. They were looking for women who were older, divorced and desperate. I was driven, with Big Bazumba, at high speed around the Montego Bay area doing copious quantities of cocaine in the back of the car. Although cocaine was only about 10 pounds a gramme in Jamaica I was spending 90 pounds a day.

I found out that Big Bazumba had stabbed a girl to death the week before. She’d said it was self-defence as the girl had tried to steal her chewing gum. She was out and about, completely free as a client had paid the police to get her off. This was one of the things that had started to disturb me about living in Jamaica. There was virtually no rule of law as anyone who had money would pay the police to drop the case. Thus, at a very exclusive party, a crazed ex-boyfriend beat a girl up in front of everyone, putting her in hospital. But there was no investigation as his parents paid off the police. I had been frustrated in the UK with what I saw as the Kafkaesque maze of rules and regulations that were dreamed up by bored bureaucrats. Like, for example, that it was illegal to do cocaine. But it started to occur to me that if anything happened to me in Jamaica, no one would ever be prosecuted or even questioned, unless they were very poor.

The stories that some of the gigolos came out with were breathtaking. They had women sending them money from up to twenty different countries. And they would tell every single one of these women that they loved them and wanted to be with them. They would obviously schedule them carefully so they didn’t arrive in Jamaica at the same time. I was amazed the women could be so gullible. But many of them were middle aged and single in their home countries, they just couldn’t resist the attentions of these incredibly sexy gigolos. One Italian woman I interviewed (or tried to interview as I kept having to nip into the loo for a line) said when she’d come to live with her “boyfriend” in Jamaica he’d made her sleep outside in the yard with the dogs. But she still didn’t leave him of course. Better psychologists than me can explain why these women would stay with men who were not only rinsing them out but treating them like animals. I would say they were probably playing out some kind of fucked up dynamic with their childhood and their fathers. Some of the women, mainly American, were a bit more clued up and realised these men were playing a game. But it was a game they were happy to play, despite the high entry fees and degrading rules.

Back at Tristram’s house, Big Bazumba starting gazing at me with adoration and playing with my hair. “If I looked like you I could do anything,” she said. As a mixed race person my looks were very popular in Jamaica, where I was known as a “browning,” the highest beauty accolade. Although my friends, by this stage were saying, “you used to be so pretty,” as my skin was grey and my eyes were darting around like a meteor shower because of the cocaine. The staring and fiddling with my hair then escalated to her caressing my leg and trying to stick her tongue in my mouth. “I’m not gay….at the moment,” I said. “And anyway, even if I were, it would put me off a bit that you’ve stabbed a girl last week.”

“Why?” she said, her big brown eyes looking at me with surprise. “Oh I don’t know,” I said, “I’d just rather not date someone who’s so handy with a kitchen knife.” She then got into the bed under the covers with me, giving me a seductive look. “That won’t work,” I said. “If I’m going to die I’m going to kill myself, not get it together with someone who if I piss them off is going to stab me in the chest.”

Hurt, she pulled away and allowed me to go to sleep. But when I woke up both my cocaine and my car had gone. “Tristram!” I shouted, shaking him awake. “Big Bazumba’s stolen my car!”  “You must have upset her,” he said. “She hasn’t done that for a week.” After frantic phone calls to Big Bazumba’s mobile phone, the car was retrieved and she came back again. Of course I forgave her immediately as she brought back my cocaine. Tristram said that her using had got completely out of control since she’d stabbed the other girl, as she was trying to snort away the guilt. I chalked it up to another of those “interesting experiences you have while taking drugs” and thought it would make a good party story when I got back to Notting Hill. Ironically Woody had accused me of being gay and flirting with a female friend of his when I’d been chatting, animatedly and in fluent Spanish, to her. Little did he know what I was actually getting up to….
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With the return of my car I started bombing around the roads of rural Jamaica alone at 4am, which Tristram said was suicidal as only criminals were out at that time. But that was the point, I was suicidal. I knew I needed to leave Jamaica but, because of the terrible state my mother was in, I felt I couldn’t go. The only way out, I thought, was to press the ejector seat on the plane of life, without a parachute. Then no one, especially myself, could blame me for deserting my mother.

After I returned home to Kingston, I was hoovering up cocaine. I had done some incredibly powerful interviews about the sex tourism. But I was so strung out, mind like a roomful of confetti, that I couldn’t put the documentary together. Of course it’s difficult for me to remember the interviews, apart from the most extreme, as I was so off my head at the time it’s all been wiped from my mind.

At least I was eating healthily, I thought. I would have strictly organic, non GMO, preservative free meals until 11pm. Then I would go out bingeing on fast food, fried chicken and ice cream then puke and eat some more. To save time I would eat it all over the loo. The whole process was so quick I didn’t even need to move the television into the toilet like I had before. I was doing that three times a night, ignoring the doctors warnings that the losing combination of full time cocaine addiction and bulimia could make me drop dead of a fatal heart attack any time. I was hurtling towards the ground without being able to stop. Perhaps I thought I could fly.

On Christmas Day I couldn’t go round to see my family, spending it alone with a litre of Vodka and a large bag of coke. It was the worst Christmas Day I’d ever had. The next day, I saw the news of the catastrophic death toll in the Boxing Day Tsunami. But I couldn’t connect with the tragedy, as my life was crashing around me, devastated by my own cocaine Tsunami. I tried to give up cocaine for a few days but was drinking heavily and became so depressed I reached for the cocaine again. I ended up crying on the shoulder of my best friend in Jamaica, Candy, wailing, “I just can’t do this anymore.” I told my family that I was doing cocaine. This wasn’t a big surprise, as I’d made a hole in my nose so huge by snorting it that every time I breathed I made a loud whistling noise you could hear 50 feet away. How they hadn’t realised about the bulimia is a mystery though, as I would literally run to the loo straight after I’d eaten anything. I started looking, half-heartedly, into rehab options in Jamaica but decided that an open ward in hospital with male crack addicts from ghettos would be dangerous (for the designer bags).

I did my final interview as a foreign correspondent for the BBC at the beginning of 2005. Of course I didn’t realise this was the end of my journalism career, thinking that I just had a tiny problem with drugs that would take no time to sort out. I was so wired on coke my brain almost blew a fuse and I took a childish glee in snorting it, loudly and obtrusively, throughout the entire (telephone) interview. And the interview itself was on cocaine – the drop in the amount being smuggled between Jamaica and the UK. I giggled as I relished the irony. Afterwards Radio 5 Live told me it was a “fantastic” interview and they must speak to me again soon. I remember feeling very, very, happy after the cocaine interview thinking, “see I’ve still got what it takes.”

My upbeat mood was not, in any way, affected when I was burgled by my dealer, who pilfered all my bank cards. I assured my family that the break in was “not a problem at all.” I owed him money, of course. My identity and bank cards could easily be replaced, my dealer, on the other hand, could not. My family said I should call the police (the dealer was poor so there was a chance something might be done). But I said I couldn’t possibly call the police as my dealer was: “a good friend, practically my best friend” a fallacy I (tragically) believed. The only person I trusted more, I told them, was my main dealer in England – the shambling, psycho, crack-head with a penchant for punching his girlfriends who’d set up a tent in my sitting room. They decided I’d lost the plot and, despite my declarations that I couldn’t leave Woody, whose jealousy I interpreted as love, my family said I had to go into treatment. My bags were packed and I was forcibly escorted to the airport, accompanied by my cousin Michelle.

Before I left my house, I had a massive cocaine binge covering my suitcase, passport, laptop case and clothes (inconveniently black) in snow. By the time I got to the airport, I was so wasted my suitcase seemed to have developed a mind (and direction) of its own and some kind of fault with the wheels. To be honest it wasn’t just the suitcase, the walls and the other people seemed to be spinning round as well. Officials were alerted to my discombobulated state when I was completely unable to get my suitcase onto the weighing machine at check in. After assistance from airline officials, my bags finally went on their way all lightly sprinkled with cocaine. My cousin Michelle spent almost half an hour trying to wipe the cocaine off my clothes in the VIP lounge at Kingston airport. Luckily (you will see later why) we were travelling First Class. This was funded by my aunt, who was controlling my mother’s funds, not, as usual, my overdraft.

Heathrow drugs Jamaica mental health BBC
Image by Rosie Tulips http://ow.ly/SKjs5

At Heathrow airport I got off the plane, and joined the queue for passport control. They frowned and gave me a funny look when I handed in a white British passport, coated in cocaine. The lady at the desk seemed to turn and make a signal to a man behind.

The baggage hall seemed to be a haze, all the suitcases and people looked the same.  My trolley was travelling in circles instead of a straight line. There was a lot of faulty equipment on this trip. It definitely wasn’t me. As I reached for a bag that I thought might be mine, I lost my footing and fell onto the belt. Surrounded by suitcases, I felt a bit confused. But I only travelled along for a couple of feet before a friendly northern man helped me off.

I was arrested, snorting loudly, after Customs officials asked politely if I “had a cold.”

“An occupational hazard of working in the tropics…” I replied. It did not help matters that I mistook the red and green Customs exit for a traffic light which I (twitchily) waited to change. Sundry dogs, scanning machines, passengers and tea ladies detected that myself and my possessions were heavily (and visibly) coated in cocaine. “We think you have been in contact with a Class A drug,” the Customs officers said to me. “What on earth are you talking about?” I said. “Stop messing around Madam, you’re covered in cocaine.” Luckily, Customs decided I wasn’t a mule (they travel in Economy) but that I might as well be some kind of donkey as I was terminally stupid. I was charged not with smuggling but with “impersonating Scarface” and released into the custody of my family.

I was met by my father and Alex, my friend from Oxford, and sequestered in Alex’s house in the country. I suggested excursions to London, “I must see the latest waxwork of the Pope at Madam Tussauds” – in order to score. But, to avoid a less mind expanding form of incarceration,  I was soon forced into rehab. After careful consideration, I felt St Chillin’s, Britain’s most exclusive rehab, would look best on my C.V. I might even bump into a celebrity.
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More trouble with people being shot in Jamaica because the police leave their glasses at Specsavers. I have 100 orgasms a second with Shagger God of Sex and get hooked on….

Specsavers pictures cropped zoomed

When I finally got back to Jamaica, I had to borrow a bus from a local bus company to get me and my shopping back to my flat. I then called in a removal team of twelve people to unpack. Once this was done, I started getting quotes for a loft conversion as the clothes wouldn’t fit in the flat. But now I was in Kingston, where shopping was as limited as wetlands in a desert, I had to crack on with work. And although I was deprived of my retail therapy fix, I was trying on every outfit in the Boutique of Life in Jamaica and was about to get a lot more than I’d bargained for… I got very excited by a commission from the Sunday Times to write a story about buying your own private island in the Caribbean. I had visions of myself swanning around on a private jet, sporting the fake designer bags, and new designer clothes, hopping from island to island. Perhaps I would meet a rich, island owning, husband I thought. But alas there was no travel budget for the piece and it was scrapped.

As I’ve said before, fed up of the cacophony of confusion that greeted my English accent every time I opened my mouth, I’d adopted a middle class Jamaican accent instead. The British High Commission in Kingston, hearing this new accent thought I was a fake English person, though in fact I was a fake Jamaican. The BBC, who were now trying to employ more “native” ethnic minority reporters, loved the fake accent and insisted that I use it to do all my interviews with them. The middle classes in Jamaica speak standard English (with a twist). But as the number of people speaking Jamaican patois was increasing – both in Jamaica and the UK where Ali G was huge – the Jamaican government was moving towards recognizing patois as an official language alongside English. But as patois developed many people expressed concern that standard English in Jamaica was in terminal decline, and only had months to live.

In September 2003, I went down to the primary school in the Kingston Ghetto of Rema, which the Queen had visited in 2002, to see how Her Majesty’s English was faring. When the children sped out into the playground for their break I asked them what their first language was.

Sacha, a skinny nine year old with huge brown eyes, approached speaking in a strangled voice that she clearly thought was a proper English accent. “I jus talk Hinglish,” she said. “Cos I barn at foreign.”

“Oh!” I said. “Where were you born?”

“In Hingland,” she said with a smirk.

“Oh really?” I said. “Where?”

“Brooklyn.”

“Ah,” I said. “What part of England is that?”

“New York.”

“And what about the rest of you, what’s your first language?” I said.

“Spanish! “ they chorused enthusiastically.

“Spanish?”

“Yes!”

“Um no I mean what language do you speak at home?”

“Patois!” they shouted. “Jamaican language.”

“Not English?”

“Noa!” they said. “English a different language.”

“So when do you all speak English?” I said.

“When we are speaking to very important people like the Prime Minister … or you,” said Delano Campbell, a deep voiced ten year old with an intelligent, searching face.

Their English teacher Cynthia Roberts, came sweeping in. Her hairstyle a bun falling into a ponytail of corkscrew curls – popular with women in ancient Greece – was topped off by a striking pair of red plastic sunglasses. “English should be taught as a foreign language, yes,” she said, “because for most of the children, it is.”

Another teacher, Gloria Brebner, a dark, wizened but still vigorous eighty five year old, said the country needed more adult literacy programmes to teach people English. But she was pessimistic as to their chances of success.

“Jamaica,” she said, adjusting her tweed hat with a dapper purple ribbon around it, “is a place where people don’t really like too many rules and regulations so they find speaking English a drag.”

The police in Jamaica were, as ever, following their own regulations, “shoot first and ask questions later.” In October 2003, just after I’d got back to Jamaica, thousands of people rioted in the island’s tourist mecca Montego Bay, after the police shot dead an elderly taxi driver and his passenger. At first police claimed they had been shot at by the taxi driver but later admitted the taxi, which was riddled with hundreds of bullets, had been fired on by mistake. Another case of the police and their glasses becoming sadly alienated. Earlier in the year, in May, officers of the notorious Crime Management Unit shot dead three people – two women and a man – in a house in south west Jamaica while attempting to arrest a man who was not there. Mr Invisible was never found. Two months later, in 2003, the unit was disbanded. The most notorious incident, also involving officers from the Unit, took place at Braeton just outside the capital Kingston in 2001. Seven youths aged between 15 and 20 were shot dead by police, many at close range in the back of the head. The police had been searching for the killer of a schoolteacher who they believed was in the house but none of the dead youths had criminal records. The police had some unlikely explanation – probably that they’d run out of handcuffs and the police van had a flat.

Emancipation Park Statues, Jamaica, drugs, mental health,
Image by Natalia Perez http://ow.ly/RNp7d

There was also controversy in Jamaica about the erection of a pair of statues in the centre of Kingston to commemorate the population’s emancipation from slavery. Because of the size of the male statues d*** many complained that the statues were obscene and racist in their depiction of black people. The male, stocky and heavily muscled, had huge hands and a …….projection that appeared to be well over 14 inches long. The woman had breasts of a firmness and size that would give Jordan a run for her money. At least the statues were popular with one section of the population: vandals.

But was the offending male organ really that big? I decided to unleash my trusty tape measure and check. This was harder than expected as I was restrained from touching the statues by nervous security guards who feared another assault on their charges.

But with the help of a fishing rod, a bottle of coca cola and a friendly Canadian engineer I established that the…particle would scale down to a human size of six to eight inches. Which for an un-aroused obtrusion was – in the words of my family doctor – “huge.”

“It’s definitely the biggest penis in Jamaica,” said the engineer – a short, plump, twinkly eyed, man whose day job – when not measuring…….pike with fishing poles- was running the biggest bank in Jamaica .

A blonde American woman –short, plump and middle aged with white socks, shorts and a tropical shirt approached the statue in excitement, her camera twisting and flashing.

She babbled excitedly that the statue epitomized Jamaica – a wonderful, perfect, paradise.

“What she really likes about it is the size of his willy,” said her boyfriend with a wry smile.

I asked her – under my breath – if she’d ever had any experience with Jamaican men.

“Darn no,” she said and laughed. But she said she knew plenty of girls back home who had and they kept coming back for more. Continuing in this vein, I asked her about reports, in the British press, that Jamaica was the world’s number one destination for female sex tourists from North America and the UK.

“Well,” she said laughing, “this statue explains why. It certainly works for me.”

This did not surprise me as the sight of white women, with no obvious physical charms, being escorted by lean six packed lotharios, who clearly charged by the hour, was common in Jamaica’s tourist resorts.

A tall robust woman, with firm curls and a firm face jogging by, poured scorn on the idea that the statues celebrated Jamaicans’ freedom from slavery. She thought they showed black people in a very primitive light, “like the highly sexed animals the slave masters thought we were.” She added that nobody even called it Emancipation Park.

“They call it Penis Park.”

But Janelle, an art student writing an essay on the statues, said she had no problem with the size of the …pickle because it was in proportion to the body.

“And black men do have larger penises” she said, her long eyelashes fluttering coyly over her large brown eyes. This was obvious – she said – from the size of condoms in the shops which started at extra large.

A dark barrel shaped woman in a tight grey sleeveless t-shirt, jeans and flip flops sidled up with a gigantic male companion by her side. Both were correctional officers from a nearby prison.

“I don know why people fussin so much.”  Jamaica – she said – had much bigger problems to deal with than the big penis on a statue.                              Sign up for updates on this blog

As for me, the only dick I was really interested in was the (frequently erect) one attached to Shagger, who I’d phoned, not expecting much, when I’d got back to Jamaica. Shagger, a Colombian Venezuelan, had picked me up at Miami airport and said we had to get together. On our first “date,” he admitted he was in a relationship, living with a girl in LA, but said he’d had umpteen liaisons with women as he travelled round the Caribbean. He swore absolutely blind he wasn’t married. Although he was very good looking, tall and tanned with practically a sixteen pack, I didn’t really fancy him that much (as he looked like the tadpole fancying lodger I’d had). But after copious quantities of alcohol, and feeling incredibly lonely, I ended up in bed with him. At first I said I couldn’t have sex as I had my period but he said red was his favourite colour and he didn’t mind. The sex was electric, just like in a movie, moving from X rated wrestling on the bed to humping on my treadmill to both of us having an orgasm in the kitchen sink. And his stamina was phenomenal, I never busted him with Viagra, but as soon as he came 30 seconds later he was ready to fuck again. Sex with him went on for hours. The next day my whole flat was covered in blood and I couldn’t let my cleaner in.

We destroyed the bathroom of his hotel, hooked up in the gym and had sex in a bush at a party where 2,000 people were 5 feet away. And this wasn’t just sex it was SEX I had so many orgasms I would have to beg him to stop. And when my driving instructor picked me up from his hotel I couldn’t walk or sit down.

As always troubled by my ethnicity (I’d spent most of my life claiming to be partly Cuban rather than half Jamaican) I lived in a total fantasy world where I was South American and Shagger was my perfect lover. This fantasy was cemented by the fact that, during sex, we only ever spoke Spanish. As I stared into his jade green eyes, (through my own green eyes purchased for £5.99 at Vision Express) I thought this was the best high I’d ever had, better than ecstasy and cocaine. And as long as I was with him, which was all the time as he was obsessed with me too, saying “I just can’t get enough of you,” I never had to come down. I stopped doing cocaine completely when I was with him as why would I need to – here was 80 kilogrammes of the most gorgeous cocaine I’d ever had. The chemistry between us was like an electric storm. I told him I loved him, I thought I did, but he said, “this isn’t love.” Every sexual encounter was a secret battle, if only the sex was good enough I thought he would leave his girlfriend and stay with me.

I became obsessed with my appearance, moving into my hairdresser and camping out in the gym, totally neglecting work. This meant that I looked amazing all the time, (apart from just after we’d had 6 hours of sex when my hair looked like an Afro cactus) but was practically unemployed. And as I was so highly sexed men’s jaws would just drop when they saw the two of us. I was high, not just on the sex but because at last I felt beautiful. He was clearly, I see now, a sex addict and would get off on juggling multiple women around. He had about fifteen phones so would be talking to his girlfriend on one phone while his driver answered the other phones saying he was in a meeting. And I was a sex addict too, I just couldn’t stop, although I would scream at him that he was a liar and that I hated him. We were both lying to each other. I never took off my green contact lenses for the entire duration of the relationship, pretending I had green eyes. And he, of course, was married.

drugs, addiction, Jamaica, mental health, Kingston

As his contract in Jamaica came to an end he announced his departure from the island, saying our relationship was over. I decided to retaliate, doing one of the nastiest things I’ve ever done in my life. I had his home phone number and called his girlfriend saying I was his “other girlfriend” in Jamaica and that he’d had affairs with eight different people while abroad. I also emailed him to (falsely) say I was pregnant but never read his reply. After he’d gone back to LA, he emailed me suggesting I’d screwed up his life. But this was unfair, it was his dick and his sex addiction that had screwed up his life, he got caught because of me.

I was devastated after he left, didn’t know what to do with myself. I limped back into work. I’d been commissioned by the BBC to do a story on the burgeoning number of Strip Clubs in Jamaica and met Tristram, an English aristocrat living in the countryside who had a penchant for Jamaican strippers. He referred to himself as a “strip-o-phile.” His girlfriend, Big Bazumba, a stripper at least 40 years younger than him, was living with him at his house. As we sped from one strip club to another around the Montego Bay area, hiding from the police, he pulled out some cocaine and we did it off a hunting knife in the back of the car. This was exactly the kind of thrill that was missing from my life in Jamaica I thought. We went to Kingston, doing oodles more cocaine. This was just what I needed to cheer myself up I thought.

I was not only depressed about Shagger but in despair about my mother. I was struggling to fit in in Jamaica, had little support, and felt myself going down the tubes. I really needed to go back to the UK. But I felt such a sense of obligation to my mother that I couldn’t leave. My mother was still crying and screaming all day, causing intense distress to me and everyone around her. I thought the only way out was to kill myself then no one could blame me for abandoning her.

I got so drunk in a club I collapsed out cold in the toilet. Then, not wanting to be separated from the alcohol, I spent the whole car journey home, kicking the steering wheel (and the man who’d rescued me) almost causing a car crash. Of course I couldn’t remember any of this as I was in blackout. When my family heard about this incident and questioned me about my drinking, I said  it was a “cultural thing” they just didn’t understand. Everyone was like me in England, I swore. I genuinely believed this was true. So, instead of cutting back on my drinking, I decided what I really needed to keep it under control was more cocaine….

On my way back to Jamaica in September 2003, in Air Jamaica economy, I had been sitting next to a deportee, a convicted drug dealer, on the plane. Before I decided I had to fly everywhere first class, I was always sitting next to a drug dealer or deportee and they always wanted my phone number. In fact every drug dealer I’ve ever met has wanted to go out with me perhaps seeing an attraction between me and their product that I missed myself. I rang up the deportee thinking he would know where to get cocaine.

I went to Waterhouse, a ghetto in Kingston, late at night with the deportee. We then spent the next three hours driving around picking up the dodgiest looking men we could find as they might know where to get cocaine. I thought quite clearly, “it is highly likely that I will be gang raped here and then have my throat cut.” But I didn’t care – I was on a mission and I had to get my drugs. We eventually ended up at the home of a fat local drug dealer. When I asked him if he had cocaine he said “how much do you want, one kilo or two?” “A kilo,” I sputtered, “I was thinking of a couple of grammes.”   He laughed and said he didn’t have a scale that small. I left the ghetto carrying about twenty five grammes of cocaine. Though in denial about my alcoholism, I was not in denial about this, I knew that having that quantity of cocaine in my house, I would get addicted to it. Concealing the massive bag of cocaine in my chest of drawers I started doing cocaine as soon as I got up at 9am in the morning and drinking at 10 am to take off the edge. There were other things I did on cocaine that I can’t get into now. I once went to the supermarket, circling around aimlessly with a massive trolley for half an hour and leaving with only four bottles of vodka and an orange. I didn’t understand why people were staring at me. When I had a repeated problem with my credit card I would get into irrational rages screaming at people in shops.

With more cocaine than I could handle but gagging for my shopping fix, I went to the UK in the spring of 2004 for a shopping hit. I went mad in the shops and had a room full of clothes all unworn with their tags still on. It’s a pretty good indicator of being a shopping addict, that 70% of your clothes have never been taken out of their bags. The night before I was supposed to fly back to Jamaica, I had a liaison with a man I’d met in a club (who left without sex as the room was such a mess) and didn’t start packing till 5am. Of course when my father took me to the airport I missed the flight. It was at this stage that my father said I was “an eternal teenager” which I thought was a compliment. After our fifth trip to the airport together, I became distracted buying magazines in Duty Free and was so late my luggage was removed from the plane and went to Cuba instead. The shopping deprived Cubans thought paradise had arrived as they fleeced all my suitcases of my still tagged pristine clothes. I went back to Jamaica, doing no work but spending three months doing an insurance claim.

My career with the BBC and the Sunday Times was falling apart, I was so obsessed with shopping I was on eBay 20 hours a day. My new obsession, apart from the fake designer bags, was getting a fake designer watch and (for those snowy nights in Jamaica) a fake designer sleeping bag. My email inbox from that time was totally choked up with emails from eBay looking like I was running an eBay megastore. But my patience was wearing thin with the limited shopping opportunities in Jamaica. Like any desperate addict five thousand miles away from their drug, I had to go back to that shopping Babylon, London, to shop again.                     Sign up for updates on this blog
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Next week: spiralling out of control, moving my “best friend” into my house, then saying I can’t go out with him as “I might get addicted to drugs.” Refusing to pay the mortgage as I’d spent the money on a Dior bikini and five pairs of matching sunglasses instead.

Tony Blair takes us into a war on Iraq, I become the Imelda Marcos of fake designer bags, have my first orgasm and dial 999 and threesomes with the Dwarf of Death

Iraq, Tony Blair, addiction, shopping addiction, Selfridges

In March 2003, ignoring the protests of up to 30 million people around the globe, (and my mini demonstration waving a chicken leg in the back of my car), the United States and the UK invaded Iraq. It seemed unreal seeing it on the television, almost like a video game, with the green night vision pictures looking like something you’d see on Xbox. I was outraged that the British government were taking us into a war that was not supported by the majority of the UK population. Tony Blair was clearly taking lessons in democracy from the Dear Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-il. The war was opposed by most of the world’s population, not authorised by the UN, and the evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was as solid as a straw hut in a hurricane. I totally lost faith in Tony Blair, who was the only Prime Minister I had ever voted for and resolved not to vote for him again. Of course the majority of these weapons were not found during the invasion of Iraq. They might as well have been looking for chickens of mass destruction instead. The BBC story that the dodgy dossier published in September 2002 on weapons of mass destruction had been “sexed up” hardened my view of the illegality of the war. I thought that the governments of the US and the UK had told a bunch of porkies to justify the war as big as the giant Bangur pig in Nepal.

But on a personal level everything was going extremely well. The rent of my house in Notting Hill was paying me almost double what I’d been earning in my staff job at the BBC. So with oodles of money coming in, in exchange for as little work as the idlest footballer’s wife, I discovered a new addiction, shopping. I was staying with Susanna at her flat in Notting Hill, but practically never saw her as I was out from 8am till almost midnight, combing the shops for items to complete my perfect wardrobe. Sometimes I didn’t eat all day power walking up and down the streets hunting from shop to shop. If only I had another pair of shoes, trousers, metal studded g string, my wardrobe would be complete. As I had no interest or need for recovery yet I had not heard the slogan “one is too many a thousand is never enough.” That was exactly true of my shopping. The more my tiny room at Susanna’s flat clogged up with new purchases, so the bed entirely disappeared, the more I wanted to shop.

I was particularly obsessed with Selfridges on Oxford Street and would often have to be escorted out by Security when it closed at 9pm. As I was often there at 10 am when they opened the next day, I suggested to the management that it would be better if I moved in. One time I had been exiled from Selfridges at 9pm but then had to break back in, through the unwilling security guards, as I’d left my handbag inside. I was always leaving my handbag in strange places, and it was stolen while I was prancing around buying exotic lingerie at Agent Provacateur in Notting Hill. I also had an obsession with buying fake designer bags, amassing a massive collection. I was the fake bag equivalent of Philippine Shoe Queen Imelda Marcos. Again I kept thinking if I just buy another Dior bag to add to the (fake ) Fendi Baguette, Gucci Gigolo and Louis Vuitton Lollipop I would stop. Not all of it was fake I started buying designer shoes and expensive clothes. As well as designer hedge croppers which I was sure would come in handy (when I finally had a hedge).   I would turn up at Susanna’s flat near midnight with bags of shopping as exhausted and starving as if I’d done a polar trek. I didn’t really consider that this might have made her jealous as she was a struggling single mother on benefits. But Susanna, a sweet natured soul, never held it against me. Though we did row a lot when we were drinking leading to threats of my being evicted at 3am. I refused point blank to leave, saying I wasn’t going anywhere as Selfridges was closed.

mental health shopping addiction addiction
Selfridges Oxford Street Image from Eloise L: http://ow.ly/RE2OR

Although I barely had time for a love life, what I had was as satisfactory as a month old piece of bread. I was seeing my BBC boyfriend, Mike-R-Phone, who was a wonderful man, kind, caring and had so much in common with me. But the relationship was as lacking in spark as a fused plug. And when Tarzan came to London and unexpectedly wanted to re-kindle the relationship, I decided I’d better juggle the two and said I couldn’t see Mike-R- Phone as I had a flu. Happily re-united with Tarzan, (how we forgive men who are hot!) in a 5 star hotel in London, Tarzan started playing with my nether parts. Suddenly something happened that felt like an earthquake was erupting in my groin. This was very alarming, not pleasant at all and I immediately dialled 999 saying I needed an ambulance. When I explained the symptoms to the emergency operator she said I was suffering from an orgasm and should just lie back and enjoy the ride. This had never happened before, was entirely earth shattering and, after I got used to the sensation, made me as keen on Tarzan as a besotted fan of Leonardo di Caprio. I dumped Mike-R-Phone, manufacturing a row but actually because I fancied Tarzan much more. But Tarzan was soon up to his old tricks again, criticizing my vine swinging skills and saying he didn’t want a relationship. Of course I now know what this means. He didn’t want a relationship with me, he went on to marry someone else. Once again I was bereft although being absolutely knackered from the shopping really took off the edge.

I met a short Irishman at a club in Notting Hill who developed an obsession with me phoning me every 5 minutes and saying we should get married. Apart from the fact I didn’t fancy him, I was slightly put off by the fact that he said, if his wife was ever unfaithful to him, he would cut her into pieces and throw her in the Thames. Luckily he was working as a surgeon on the NHS, so he was being paid by the taxpayer to cut people up. I had BUPA so hoped I would avoid his surgical attentions for the rest of my life. Nonetheless I enjoyed the attention and spent a considerable amount of time with him.

One day when both of us were pissed on cider and vodka and hanging out with a girl I had met in a club, we suddenly fell into an enthusiastic threesome. She gave him a voracious blowjob and I snogged the face off her. She then tried to have sex with him but I put my foot down about this, he was mine to reject. You might have thought, now all my lesbian fantasies had come true, my world was rocked. But she was blonde and I’d gone off blondes as I wanted to snog Nicole Scherzinger from the Pussycat Dolls instead. And I did get put off when the girl’s dog tried to make it a foursome by enthusiastically humping my leg.

When I finally headed back to Jamaica, I was shattered by the shopping and had to hire a Winnebago to transport all my luggage to Heathrow. The Irishman was driving, still professing undying love, amid obscure and random threats. When we got to Heathrow, he had to procure a trail of family sized luggage carts as long as the Heathrow Express. And when I finally got to the check in, the woman asked, “where are all the other passengers from the coach?” When I answered that I was alone she said I would have to pay ten times the cost of my flight in excess baggage fees. I got on the flight to Jamaica, 10,000 pounds overdrawn, but mystified as to why this was. I was earning 6,000 pounds a month so surely that meant I could spent 6,000 pounds on fake designer bags? The, quite frankly, unduly restrictive concept of “disposable income” wasn’t something I understood at all. It would take a crash in my life, (and the removal of all my cards) for it to finally sink in.                    Sign up for updates on this blog
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Struggling to cope with my mother, fugitive chickens and napping US Presidents on Jamaica’s election day and I stage a one person anti-Iraq war protest in the back seat of my car

Jamaica pix summer

When I got back to Jamaica, my mother’s health had deteriorated sharply. Instead of crying and wailing she was now screaming loudly, and it would start at 5am and not end till after midnight. Every morning, before it was light, I was jolted out of bed by her screams, a terrifying alarm clock. I was so traumatized by the experience I wanted to kill myself. I felt like my insides had turned into a nest of snakes that was devouring me alive. But then I discovered the solution to this nightmare. My mother was on Ativan, lorazepam, a much stronger benzo than Valium. And when I nicked one of her pills everything went into a purple haze. She would still be screaming in her wheelchair but, with the lorazepam, it was as if it was happening miles away and I was alright, on a drugged up cloud. But I wasn’t taking the pills all the time, I didn’t get hooked. My mind kept going back to the decision my mother had made in 1999, after she’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, not to have the implant, as recommended by the doctors, but to have a lobotomy instead. I suspected that the lobotomy had led to the strokes and wished to god my mother had taken a different decision. I realise now that my mother almost went mad when my father left her and didn’t really make a single sensible decision after that.

But as my aunt had said there were two options in Jamaica: suicide or enjoying the ride. And despite my despair over my mother, I was enjoying my work. I was doing a lot of pieces for From Our Own Correspondent on BBC Radio 4 which was great as I got to perform all the oddball characters as well as writing the script. They said I was a shoe in for the actors’ union Equity. Not realising the humour of the promise, the government in Jamaica, as part of its road building programme, had vowed that all the country’s roads would be “Pothole Free by Two Thousand and Three.” Commissioned by Radio 4, I crossed the island to take a look, at one point being overtaken by a chicken as the roads were so bad. I was told by a woman in one town that the reason it was so bad was “we na ave na representation,” and that M.P in Jamaica stood for “Missing Person.” Swerving to avoid a pothole was so sudden and dramatic in Jamaica you practically lived with your hazard lights on. When I got on the bus back to Kingston, the enticingly named “Juggernaut of Love,” the conductor said about the potholes: “dem cause a whole leap a accidents. And people lose dem life like nuttin cos of pothole.” But, I said, pointing to huge black patches of newly laid tar, the road repair programme was clearly underway. The driver sniffed that the government would find twenty potholes and patch ten and completely ignore the other ten because the more patching that went on the more jobs they could give out. “And with all this road work goin on,” he said, “who yu t’ink will win the next election”

“I couldn’t say,” I said.

“Well,” he scowled. “Nat the Opposition.”

My first election day in Jamaica, October 2002, was quite an experience. For the first time in my life, I saw fugitive chickens strutting along the main roads in Kingston. Goats, dogs, or even a confused cow would not have been such a surprise. But fat, glossy, brightly coloured chickens? Such prized birds were normally kept under lock and key as, my taxi driver said, “Uno cyan move wid a chicken much faster dan a goat.”

The reason for the fowls sudden freedom became clear as I set off with a photographer at 6am. Frightened by the prospect of election violence, the entire population of Kingston had left, or disappeared, transforming it into a ghost town. Even the buses had gone.

We were following the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former US president Jimmy Carter and his oddly named “Café Observers,” whose job was to supervise the election. At our first polling station, everything was apparently going to plan. Only the voters were missing.

But after a while three turned up – including a large fleshy woman brandishing her candidate’s card, with clear instructions who to vote for. So much for secret voting.

At the next station a large group of voters were already queuing patiently – some in green supporting the Opposition and some in orange – supporting the government. Secret voting again. It was here that disaster struck…. Not for the election, nor for Mr Carter, but for me. Foolishly I’d asked my driver to pop into a nearby McDonalds to get some coffee. Suddenly, Carter emerged and, despite frantic calls to the driver, by the time he returned with the coffee, the Café Observers had completely disappeared. “Get Carter!” I shouted, as we sped around trying to pin point what polling station the former President was in.

Thankfully we bumped into the convoy as it made its way to another polling station in the same constituency. This was the first “garrison community” – enclaves of Kingston totally controlled by the ruling People’s National Party or the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party – that I’d visited on election day. And the atmosphere was frankly frightening. Crowds of angry Opposition supporters rushed at our car, banging on the roof and bonnet and urging us to go to a nearby polling station where they said: “de police an’ PNP conspire ‘gainst Labourite ca dem na wan’ JLP get fi vote.”

The polling station was packed with Opposition supporters and “electoral liason officers” who explain to their party faithful how to vote. A lone PNP official hid silently in a corner- ignored by everyone. Heavily armed soldiers in camouflage barred the doors to the station – preventing the mob of JLP supporters from coming in.

Despite the fact that any voter who’d turned up in an orange shirt would certainly have been beaten to death, Mr Carter and the Café observers said that, “everything seemed to be fine.”

At the other polling stations in the constituency, I was impressed by the fortitude of the Jamaican public – determined to cast their vote. Hundreds of people queued for hours in torrential rain, some had umbrellas, others sheltered under trees, none were dressed for the rain. If the weather was this awful on election day in the UK, I thought, only the MP’s themselves would bother to vote.

But the Carter observers decided, after a while, that the rain was too heavy and retreated to a restaurant for lunch. Determined not to lose him again, I took up a seat where I could observe every move of the Observers.

But after two and a half hours the Observers and myself were confused. Where was Mr Carter? We had the sneaking suspicion that the sprightly 78 year old had, in fact, slipped off for a nap. Well, what’s good enough for a President of the United States is good enough for me, I thought, and had a tiny snooze in the back of my car.

And who won the election? The bus driver was right. The road building programme worked and the government was elected for a fourth term.

After a lifetime of visits to Jamaica and seven months of living in the country, I saw another sight I had never seen before……A man with a vast multi-coloured umbrella attached to his head pedalled purposefully up to my door on a bright red bicycle. “Can I help you?” I asked – “Apartment 14?” – he replied. – “Yes…” I said with a worried look (preparing to say that I did not want a mango, discount air-conditioning, flip-flops, a Bible or an insurance policy. ) “Who are you?”

“Your postman,” he replied, a smile cracking his dark, sturdy looking face.

“My God!” I cried. “I’ve never seen one of those before.”

……. And with that he handed me a letter, from abroad, the first that had actually arrived in the entire time I’ d been there. “Out of many; one postcard,” I thought, paraphrasing Jamaica’s national slogan, “Out of Many, One People.”

It was estimated by local businesses that twenty million letters went missing in Jamaica every year and that 80% of letters from abroad, which often contained money, got “lost” in the post. In search of my absent letters I went down to the Central Sorting Office in downtown Kingston.

As I entered the building, I glanced at a pristine but empty post office open to the public on the ground floor. A post office without queues! I thought, as I made my way up to the Central Sorting Office – a vast cavernous concrete space with windowless walls and harsh artificial lighting which reminded me of a giant underground car park. The place was deserted apart from a small, dapper, moustachioed man who helpfully suggested – with a friendly smile – where my mail might be.

“In Japan..”

“I’m sorry?” I replied – confused.

“You see this is a special period,” he said, gravely adjusting his tie, “since September the 11th and the World Trade Centre.. an all dat business wid de Amtracks.”

“The Amtracks?” I said wondering what the American rail network had to do with the Jamaican postal system.

“The Americans naa let any of de mail in.”

“To Jamaica?” I said.

“No where,“ he said. “Not on dis side of de worl,’” he continued. “Becaa dem wan’ de germ to die before it reach dem…So de mail from Englan’ dat used to go t’ru de United States affu go all roun’ de worl’ before it reach ‘ere. It go t’ru Asia t’ru Panama t’ru Pakistan t’ru Mexico – caa den de Americans t’ink de Amtracks will ketch dose people firs.’”

“Who are you?” I said ..

“Herbert Brown …Chief Inspector of Mail…In Jamaica,” he replied with a helpful smile.

“And what about the mail inside Jamaica?” I continued, thinking of the dozens of telephone, electricity, water, gas and mobile phone bills which had failed to arrive for me or anyone else in my building.

“Well de terrorists cyan strike at America’s friends too,” he continued, glancing away. “So we affu be extra careful…..we jus trying to protec’ the public.”

“But what about before September 11th?” I said. “I understand there were problems with the mail even then?” At this point he directed my inquiries to the Postmaster General or her deputy – who were both in a meeting for the rest of the week.

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One missive from the UK which did arrive was my boyfriend from the BBC, Mike R-Phone, who’d come out to see me in Jamaica. He was kind and caring and highly intelligent and worked as the overnight manager at the Cable Straightening Department at the BBC. We had so much in common but he was quite a lot older than me. It was a bit like Tarquin, he was entirely suitable but the sparks just weren’t flying off the love horse shoe. I still thought an orgasm was a top secret region near the North Pole and that great sex was an attempt to hoodwink the human race that only happened in films. I wondered what all the fuss was about. He was kind and loyal and supportive towards me, seeing the terrible state my mother was in. He had money and properties, in many ways he was Mr Right, but I just wasn’t attracted enough. Maybe not going for Mr Right, but instead Mr Donkey Dong, Mr Dangerous, Mr Hot and Mr Unavailable, was why I was still single at 32. But it was a relief to have someone out there to support me with my mother.

As the situation with my mother got worse and worse, her screaming and distress more and more pained, my suicidal thoughts escalated and I thought I would slash my wrists. Every time I did my driving lessons I felt like I was dying inside and wanted to crash the car. My driving instructor noticed that I could barely drive anymore and asked me what was wrong. “My mother’s ill,” I said, “it upsets me,” I wasn’t able to go into detail about the horror I was going through. I told my aunt I was suicidal and she said they had better find me a flat to live in on my own. She found a fabulous one bedroom flat, an upper maisonette in a little complex. It had an amazing view of a rainforest covered mountain in front and lush, verdant, gardens behind.

It was a relief to be out of my mother’s flat and I went on a shopping spree buying things for the new flat. My aunt took this money out of my mother’s funds she was controlling so it didn’t cost me a penny (or so I thought). I settled into my life as a freelance reporter (and dutiful daughter) at the flat, working till 4am as it was so hot during the day. At least it wasn’t like Oxford and I wasn’t sprinting around the library at god-knows-what-o’clock. I was now rent-a-hack and was working for every newspaper that would pay me as well as the BBC. I had finally found my stringer’s job and there wasn’t a mud hut in sight. But I still, unlike most reporters, switched off my mobile phone all night and wouldn’t answer my landline before 12pm Jamaican time, 6pm in the UK. When they tried to get hold of me earlier and asked where I’d been, I’d always say I’d been in an early morning meeting. Of course I had, I’d been meeting Bunny in my bed.

I made a friend in my new apartment building, Candy, a former beauty queen who was very kind and wasn’t blonde or a Baroness so didn’t make me feel like the Elephant Man. My family were behaving strangely, I’d always been very close to my two cousins, Suzanne and Michelle, like batty and bench as they say in Jamaica. But now I was in Jamaica they never invited me out or came round to see me. People said that it was because they were jealous as I had a lot more money and was all over the newspapers and the BBC. And having discovered that diet apocalypse, Xenical, I was much, much, thinner than them. But whatever the reason, the support I had from my family was limited in Jamaica and I felt very isolated. Almost missing the company of the nurses at my mother’s flat, I felt incredibly lonely and started drinking on my own at home. Not drinking with a meal as I might have done before but, for the first time in my life, drinking alone to get drunk. After 3 double vodkas the loneliness would just go away, replaced by a warm fuzzy feeling in which I felt OK. I had no idea that this meant my alcoholism was progressing, from binge drinking to proper alcoholic drinking on my own.

And it was to get even worse. I covered a big story before Christmas which had an unfortunate impact on my life, introducing me to a different crowd in Jamaica, far away from my respectable family. 19 British Nationals had been arrested in Jamaica’s tourist mecca, Montego Bay, carrying almost a tonne or six million pounds worth of marijuana in their suitcases. While saying they knew nothing of the drugs in their luggage, all 19 had identical designer suitcases which customs thought was odd. UK officials then said there were thousands of British nationals posing as genuine holidaymakers staging organised drugs runs from Jamaica to the UK, sometimes travelling with young children to reduce the risk of being searched or even to hide the drugs. This had escalated partly because of the story I had covered the previous year about the large number of Jamaican drug mules on every flight to the UK. Because of the outrage my story caused in the UK, it led the British government to impose a visa regime for Jamaican nationals entering the UK. This cut the flow of Jamaican mules sharply, leading the drug traffickers to target British passport holders instead. I went to interview the miserable suspected British drug smugglers in the lock up in Montego Bay. They’d probably never seen such conditions in their lives and had plenty of time to make friends with the giant rats. I was hanging out with friends of the imprisoned traffickers in Montego Bay and, for the first time in Jamaica, sampled Colombia’s most notorious condiment. I also came into contact with various Colombian drug dealers who all had Identikit Mansions in Montego Bay, with that drug dealer favourite an anti-aircraft missile disguised as an umbrella stand. They loved me with my fluent Spanish and soon started phoning me up incessantly, asking me to go to Hawaii with them. At that stage I thought this was hilarious and would say to my friends when a call came through: “Hang on I’ve got a drug dealer on the other line.” Little did I know that, later, as my addiction to cocaine progressed, my drug dealer would become my best friend.

That Christmas I threw myself into the party season, trying to forget about my isolation and my mother’s illness. But I didn’t end up face down in a plant, I was strictly vertical. At one party, I was approached by an incredibly tall, handsome, mixed race, man who said his name was Tarzan. Not only was he gorgeous but he had a masters and was living in the States. I was very taken with Tarzan, marriage fantasies started to flit through my head. Of course due to the shortage of Emperor penguins in Jamaica, (no wedding of mine could take place without this essential element),the wedding would have to be in the States. And when Tarzan came out of my bathroom, loincloth hanging from his thumb, I practically wet myself. But I was a good girl, now I was in Jamaica, and didn’t have sex with him.

We kept in contact on the phone when he went back to the States, (frequently interrupted by the drug dealers), and arranged to meet in Miami soon after Christmas. I went to the hotel, in delicious anticipation of amazing sex: his physique was super human, he spent 9 hours a day in the gym. But when it came down to it he was critical about my body saying my nipple was the wrong shade of pink and my eyebrow had a split end. This made me feel as attractive as a baboon’s bottom on an Imodium day. Yet again, like Akbar, here was a gorgeous man I fancied the pants off but the sex was as cold as an Eskimo who’d swallowed the key to his igloo. I despaired at every finding a proper shag. My marriage fantasies dimmed, (the flamingos would have to wait), I set off to Jamaica with a nasty taste in my mouth.

On my way to Miami I’d been pounced on by a Colombian Venezuelan man, called Shagger, who lived in LA. He zoomed up to me at the check-in, forced himself into the seat next to me on the plane and begged me to go out to lunch at Miami airport, which I declined. Although very good looking, I didn’t fancy him as he looked like a weird lodger I’d had, who’d had an overly close relationship with the tadpoles in his room. Little did I know that this man was a sex god who would show me what sex really was.

Back in Jamaica I had finally got permission from the government to go into the country’s only women’s prison at Fort Augusta, outside Kingston. This had taken 6 months to organise, no foreign journalist had ever got in and was basically a massive coup. There were a large number of British inmates in this jail, all there for drug smuggling. My preparation was extensive, this was a big story that I was covering for Radio 4 on the BBC. But when I got into the prison, past all the security, I realised there was one element of preparation I’d missed: my tape recorder wasn’t working at all. The devastatingly poignant and powerful interviews all came out like the white noise when your TV’s broken down. I phoned a friend who worked in Jamaican radio, Tomlin Ellis, desperately needing help, saying “I’m in the prison but my tape recorder is dead as a goat’s testicle floating in a Jamaican stew.” He shot out to the prison, bringing me a working tape recorder, allowing me to cover this scoop. I’m eternally grateful for this favour which would otherwise have left me in the same flustered, red-faced, position I’d been in when the taxi driver in Buenos Aires had shot off with my tape. This meant all my incredibly emotive interviews about the bombing of the Jewish centre in Buenos Aires were probably recorded over by a bootleg recording of the Beastie Boys.

According to the prisoners, the conditions in the prison  were horrific: rats the size of cats, cockroaches everywhere, mealtimes “like a warzone” and people sleeping on the floor. Some of the British prisoners complained of being beaten by the guards, one after she’d tried to commit suicide. The prisoners felt the British High commission in Jamaica had abandoned them. The High Commission said the prisoners committed the crimes because they thought they were in desperate economic situation in the UK but that, until they landed up in a Jamaica jail, they had not really understood what desperation was.

In the wider world, on February 15th 2003, there was a global day of protest against the imminent Iraq war. It was the largest protest the world had ever see, up to thirty million people. And me. George W Bush and Tony Blair were claiming that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that could be launched in 45 minutes. The UN weapons inspectors hadn’t found the weapons but that was because, our Dear Leaders said, they were being concealed at top secret locations and would be found when they went in. In Jamaica everyone was too frightened of offending Big Brother America by protesting in the streets. But when I heard it on the radio, I staged a (very noisy) one person anti-war protest in the back seat of my car. As I had no banner, or megaphone, I waved around a leg of fried chicken I was eating instead. I should have had George W Bush flavour chicken, known in Jamaica as jerk.

But it wasn’t just the people of Iraq who were about to have a spot of turmoil in their lives. My ideal husband, Tarzan, dumped me saying my Advanced Conversational Orangutan was simply not up to scratch. He also, rather cruelly, said I was “clingy” as I “had no one in my life in Jamaica.” Well kick a girl while she’s down. I lay flat out on my bed for an entire night, wailing silently. Of course I couldn’t cry. Once again my fantasies of the zebra, flamingos and Emperor penguins (no wedding of mine could take place without a private zoo) hit the crash barriers of reality. But little did I know that Tarzan had a massive surprise in store for me.                                                                                               Sign up for updates on this blog

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Next week: Tony Blair takes us into war on Iraq, I become the Imelda Marcos of fake designer bags, have my first orgasm and dial 999. And free love on the NHS, threesomes with the Surgeon of Death.

Trying to sell my eggs (my eggs not my chickens’ eggs) getting a house makeover from Vlad the Inhaler and more celebrities causing chaos in Notting Hill.

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I was back in my house in Notting Hill in the spring of 2002. The lodgers were all still there, the house was intact apart from the vegetation which had gone from Day of the Triffids to plant-a-geddon. The psycho locksmith, who’d broken into my bedroom at 2am, had disappeared, probably to found Stalkers Anonymous in jail. I was back at the BBC, miserably, the entertainment reporting having dried up and replaced with a mind numbing producer’s job at News 24. I had a reasonable amount of cash, as I hadn’t spent any of the money from the lodgers while I’d been away. But I needed to raise some more money for the house. The house was no more than a shell, with the higgledy piggledy flooring I’d laid at 3am, the peeling front wall I’d painted when it was dark as a mole’s boudoir, no decoration and bare plaster walls. And they weren’t the kind of plaster walls that looked “Italian” and deliberate, they simply looked like the builders had left halfway through the job. The exposed beams in the ceilings had turned bright pink after being painted with fire proof varnish. And the painters had got so high on the fumes of the varnish that they’d painted the entire kitchen with orange clouds. The place had potential but there was no way I could rent it out.

In my efforts to raise more cash (following the collapse of the ocelot breeding project) I came up with various unusual plans. I was amazed to discover you could flog eggs on the internet for up to fifty thousand dollars per egg. Fifty thousand dollars an egg! Whoopee! I thought, I’ve got millions! I’ll be a zillionaire in no time. Regaled everyone with astonishing good fortune – better than the lottery etc. The building project would be paid for in a day.

“You don’t have millions,” said a Sensible Friend. “That’s sperm. No wonder you failed sex education.”

One a month, I thought, not millions. Still fifty thousand dollars a month! In two months the building project would be paid for. I read on in the swiftly acquired Egg Donation Manual. “Favoured donors are tall, blond and blue eyed and went to Ivy League Universities.” Umm

EGG DONATION APPLICATION FORM

  1. How tall are you.
  2. 5’4” (ish) but am sole dwarf among otherwise giant family.
  3. Hair Colour
  4. Reddish brown (was) now brownish-brown. (Brown)
  5. Intelligence.
  6. High?
  7. Genetic or mental diseases in the family.
  8. Where do I start?

Ok ok……I accepted the fact that the eggs may have to be offered at a slight discount to compensate for dodgy genetic heritage. I read on. “Restrictions on the sale of eggs mean that donors in the UK are only paid up to £15 per egg.” FIFTEEN POUNDS! The price of a taxi! So my future prosperity would depend on rather lengthy trips to the States. I decided I’d stick to the scratch cards or, if I got really desperate, beg my mother for more.

I can’t remember how I met my interior designer Vlad. He swanned in, black cape billowing and with a pallid hue as if his night time surroundings were a coffin and not a bed. Despite his funereal air, he had long thick, flowing, black, locks and a pronounced twinkle in his eye. “Zis place has potential,” he said looking around the house. “What you hev done with it is interesting but it is not a house yet it looks like a sketch.” He rattled off some ideas for finishing the place, (which thankfully didn’t involve red velvet or multi branched candle sticks), and I hired him on the spot. Now he said he would normally charge £500 pounds a week but I didn’t have £500 a week, so he looked me up and down and said we “would sort somezing out.” Not only did he have to come up with all the ideas for getting the house up to scratch but also drive me around to pick up all the materials as the DVLA was persisting in its insane conspiracy against me. I also required lifts to lunch at various venues in London, as well as frequent trips to that North London version of Hades, Ikea Wembley. One on of the trips to Ikea, after we’d been there for five hours, we got to the till and I realised I’d forgotten all my debit cards. I was his poorest client, the others were all in Chelsea or Holland Park, I believe he’d done Robbie Williams house. It just shows what a pretty face and hot young body can achieve. Also of course he “respected my creativity.”

As the original builders had left me minus minor details, (such as a central heating system), I started looking for a new set of builders. After several false starts, I found the perfect team to finish the job in April 2002. They were meticulous, hard working, honest and a joy to be around. The fact that they were very good looking (and trendy) was an asset, I thought. I (very politely) asked all the lodgers to leave and moved a friend from the BBC and her boyfriend in instead, warning them building works were imminent.  They didn’t quite understand what this meant until they came home one day and found the wall (and the floor) to their room had gone. Dust and chunks of wall were over all their clothes and a treasured family vase had been smashed by the bulldozer. I don’t believe they were actually paying any rent but, after much complaint, they moved out. I’ve never tried to mix lodgers and building works again.

Now I had started the job, typically, without the money to complete, and the way we were doing the job, with Vlad painting customized murals everywhere, was very expensive indeed. I soon ran out of money and was on the phone to my aunt in Jamaica, who’d taken over my mother’s financial affairs, begging her for more. This was a lot more forthcoming than asking my mother and I survived the building project with handouts from her.

Of course Vlad extracted his pound of flesh and, drunk, halfway through the job, I ended up in bed with him. Luckily I didn’t have sex and no vampire conversion tactics like neck biting went on. There was also the mysterious disappearance of a large amount of cash I had got out of the cash point (being slightly drunk I wasn’t monitoring it). I never knew whether this was the builders or Vlad or, as I was drunk, whether I’d just given it away to a beggar on the street. But the reason I called him Vlad the Inhaler was that all he had to do was inhale and things would disappear.

It was all go with men while I was doing the house, I had Vlad, and a boyfriend at the BBC. But unfortunately my feelings for Alex, my friend from Oxford, had come back and I thought I was in love with him again. My unrequited feelings for Alex had been one of the most painful things in my life. Aware of the impact my mess had had on our relationship, I became astonishingly tidy, leading my friends to say that I must have had a Stepford Wife change and turned into Anthea Turner. I was also extremely thin, having discovered diet pills in Jamaica. And would go to bed starving and wake up at 3am to eat weight watchers pizza with oodles of chocolate sauce.

I also had my first experience of pure cocaine, or cocaine mixed with something absolutely great. I thought the proximity of drugs in the mews was one of the best things about living there. After snorting it, I just had to go home and lie down on my bed while waves of pleasure gushed through me like the surf on Venice beach. I knew in that instant that if cocaine was that good I could develop a problem with it. Nonetheless, I did do a bit more with Vlad, who appeared positively human in colour after a couple of lines.

I was devastated when, halfway through a beautiful job, the builders announced they had a new boss: Madonna. “Why?” I wailed. The Material Girl had selfishly seduced them with a recording contract, album and promotional tour of the States. Their band, “Soul Hooligans”, acquired the same manager as Moby.

I cobbled together a crew to finish the house which I wanted to rent out. By the end of the job, I was £9,000 pounds overdrawn and so broke that I had to go round to my father’s house cap in hand begging for food handouts. None of my cards worked and the level of chaos I’d conducted the building project in was phenomenal. After spending at least £50,000, most of which was tax deductible from my future rent, I claimed nothing at all as I didn’t have a single receipt. The receipts had gone up in smoke probably when Susanna and I were drinking white lightening in the street, ignoring the trampish vibe we were giving off to the chic neighbours in the mews. Before I left, my BBC boyfriend took a series of photos of me lounging sexily in the newly completed house, in towering heels and a turquoise sequin bikini. I looked so thin I could snap.

After a short marketing process, including an article in the Sunday Times titled, “My Celebrity Hell,” an excellent tenant turned up offering a good rent. My moving date was set for the 19th of September. But “Notting Hill” writer and director, Richard Curtis, decided to spoil my plans. Moving day dawned…but the entire street was blocked with equipment for his latest film – the Hugh Grant vehicle, “Love Actually”. As usual, the catering station was camped outside my house. A six foot dolly was blocking my front door and it wasn’t the blow up kind, it was heavy and glowering, impossible to get around. There wasn’t even any sign of Hugh Grant or the other stars to relieve the gloom. My tenant was not impressed to find me still inside the house when he arrived.

I moved in temporarily with Susanna and Tupai and then shuffled back, broke, to Jamaica in October 2002. Luckily, I left my cocaine in the duty free shop at Heathrow airport (cocaine is, after all, not subject to VAT) before heading back to Jamaica to deal with my mother and cover the elections there.                                                      Sign up for updates on this blog 
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Next week: struggling to cope with my mother, losing President Carter on Jamaica’s election day, why my mail ended up in Hiroshima and staging a one person Iraq war protest in the back seat of my car.

Doing time with my mother, misplacing the Jamaican Prime Minister and losing Queen Elizabeth, the Invisible Head of State.

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When I arrived in Jamaica in October 2001, the situation with my mother was disastrous. She was practically paralysed, only just able to move one arm and a leg and it was difficult to understand what she said. She had regressed mentally and wasn’t an adult anymore and found it hard to fathom what was going on. She would wail and cry for hours on end, frustrated at the state she was in. Nurses looked after her day and night. I settled into her apartment in Kingston, preparing for a long stay. But although she was in a terrible state, the nurses were loving and caring, and my mother sometimes seemed happy, surrounded by a love she had never really had.

But what was I going to do? I couldn’t look after my mother, she was too heavy for me to lift. And wiping the bum of someone who’d never looked after me was more than I could bear. So I set about finding a job. My friend Novia, who worked at the Jamaica Observer, one of the two main newspapers there, took me in to see the editor. They said they needed a reporter and I thought why not? I settled into life as a reporter at the Observer rapidly, covering stories from child murders to the tragic delay of a lobster at a hot local restaurant. I soon dropped my English accent, as I had to repeat everything fifteen times, and assumed a “miggle” class Jamaican accent instead.

I had a very unwelcome phone call from the UK. The artist I’d had a fling with was onto me accusing me of giving him bird flu and saying he was in quarantine. When I explained that I had never had bird flu in my life he said my father’s parrot had been singing the calypso song, “Feeling, hot, hot, hot…” and must have given it to me. I was astounded by this blatant parrotism which made me realise that casual sex can have a nasty sting in its tail.

“If you didn’t laugh so hard in Jamaica, you’d have to kill yourself,” my mother’s best friend wisely said. After I’d been in Jamaica for a couple of weeks, I knew exactly what she meant. I was always howling with laughter, or on the verge of tears. My first major task, apart from finding a job, was establishing the internet at home. This meant going to the offices of Cable and Wireless (a British firm) where convenience was a four letter word.

Upon entering the room, I was surprised to see an abnormal number of plants. On closer inspection, I realized that many were customers who, after decades of waiting in line, had sprouted roots.

Some customers had suffered an even worse fate and disappeared entirely – vaporized by the wait. There came a succession of phantom numbers called by the automated voice.

“One hundred and thirty three!……..” Silence followed. The representative adjusted her black rimmed monocle and pressed a hidden button.

“One hundred and thirty four!……..” Again a deafening silence…

I wondered if some of the numbers belonged to senior citizens who’d passed away in the queue.

Eventually my turn came. I leapt from my seat. The Sales rep looked pleased to see me. But then disappeared for an hour.

“Unfortunately,” he said, returning, “we won’t be able to set up your internet account today.” Then, with the magic phrase allowing every Ditherocrat to wash their hands of absolutely anything, “The System,” he said, “Is Down. You see that Christmas tree,” he muttered, looking darkly to his side. “It’s that…….”

“Your computer system is a Christmas tree?” I said confused.

“No,” he said, as if speaking to a deaf-mute of restricted intellect. “The Christmas tree has interfered with the computer system.” Then seeing I was stubbornly remaining in my seat he carried on: “it’s probably a virus.”

“What virus?” I continued. “The Ghost of Christmas Past……..? or Santa Claus……………?”

“Neither,” he said. “You’ll have to come back again on Monday…..”

After calling in advance to check everything was OK, I presented myself at Cable and Wireless on Monday. As I sprung at my rep, with Internet form in hand, I noticed a sorrowful expression descend on his face

“The System..” he said, a tear beginning to well in his eye, “Is Down Again….”

“Has it tried Prozac?” I screeched. “I find it works quite well!”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “You’ll have to come back another time.”

Eventually on the fifteenth trip to Cable and Wireless, I managed to get online.

Life at work was pretty chaotic too. Due to the constant bungling of our Transport department, I re-christened the “Jamaica Observer” the “Ja-Later Observer” as we always arrived so long after everyone else. One day I was due to interview the Prime Minister at the opening of an Important New By-Pass. After driving at horizontal-hair speed, we arrived at this Major National Event. Unfortunately we were alone. Apart from a wizened tarmac layer stumbling along the road.

“Excuse me sir..” I cried. “Have you seen the Prime Minister going down this road?” He moved not a muscle – probably fazed by the “sir.”

“You dere!” the driver said. The man spun on his bony heel …”Di Pri’ Minista….where ‘im gone?”

“What ‘im look like?” the tarmac man asked.   “‘Im a short man wid big ears?”

“Dat’s ‘im!” the photographer cried. “Where ‘im go?”

“You see dat goat?” MacTar said, pointing his finger at the wiggling backside of a fast-retreating goat. “Im go dat way”

“FOLLOW DAT GOAT!!!!” The photographer shouted to the driver. We quickly caught up with the goat and followed it some distance along the road. Until we bumped into a buxom higgler, selling sugarcane, squatting by the street.

“Where di Pri’ Minista’ deh?” the driver said, craning his neck out the car.

“Mi cyant seh,” she said, thrusting the drinks towards us. “Mi eyes is nat too good.”

“Here tek thirty dollars,” the photographer said. “Where ‘im gawn?”

“Left at dat gas station,” she said. “But mus be a hour ago.”

We hurtled down the street at 90 miles an hour until stopped in our tracks by a pack of wandering goats.

“Goat Man!” the driver said to the man in charge of the goats.

“Actually, I’ve got a PHD in Goat Management” said the man who was a British VSO volunteer.

“OK doctor Goat Man,” the driver said. “You see di Pri’ Minista pass dis way?”

“I believe I did,” the Goat Man said. “He was with a convoy of police going towards Old Harbour Town.”

We whizzed off down the street. Eventually a convoy of twenty police cars blocked the way.

We leapt out of the car in front of a small roadside shack with a hand painted sign saying, “Helpe yourself to Fishe.” Chaos was inside. Around fifty government officials, bouncers and journalists sat waiting around. The Prime Minister was in a low key mode – so low key that after 5 minutes looking around I still hadn’t spotted who he was. “The Prime Minister…” I whispered to the photographer. “Who is he?”

“Dat man in de cap over dere…”

I rushed to the bathroom for a Two-Minute-Tart-Up thinking that if I looked Hot he’d be more likely to do the interview. Although with the opposition spreading rumours about the PM’s sexuality this might have been a waste of time.

I sidled up to the table where everyone was still extracting fish bones from their teeth.

“Prime Minister!” I said. “I’m from the Observer. I’m very sorry we’ve arrived late,” I stuttered, “our car crashed into a cow.”

“I’m sure it did,” he scowled. “Let’s do the interview now.”

So all was well. But in the following day’s paper the Headline ran: “PRIME MINISTER OPENS NEW BY-PASS.”

Unfortunately the photo showed the PM with a large flounder falling out his mouth.

But it wasn’t all LOL at the Jamaica Observer. As Christmas approached, I was writing a much more serious story for them. 23 Jamaicans had been charged with smuggling cocaine after disembarking from an Air Jamaica flight to Heathrow; a week later another 16 Jamaicans had been charged with the same offence at Gatwick. The British High Commission in Kingston then said that up to 30 passengers on every flight from Kingston to London were drug mules. The deputy head of the Jamaican narcotics police said “the drug courier situation is the most available form of employment for most people in Jamaica today.”

I was covering this situation for the Observer but, of course, knew it would be of interest to the British press. But I felt that as the people I’d interviewed, especially the Jamaicans, had spoken to me thinking I was publishing a story for the Observer alone it would be dishonest to sell it on to the British press. Jamaica had been so kind to me, I wasn’t sure I wanted to paint it in such a bad light in the British press. Also the story was published on my birthday and my friend Susanna and her baby Tupai had come to stay. The British press went wild over the story, splashing it all over the front pages. It was the biggest story I’d ever broken. Not that I’d sold the story to the British press but they had “borrowed” the information from me. I could have had a front page exclusive in the Sunday Times to show people at the BBC that I wasn’t just larking around on my career break. But I think this incident shows I lacked the killer instinct to really make it to the top in journalism.

In the meantime, Susanna and I were enjoying the New Year in Kingston. Susanna had brought her baby and everywhere we walked around the city, people would point and mutter, “white baby, white baby. What you doing here?” We took him to Harry Potter, his first ever film, the greatest cinematic experience of his life. He went wild, shrieking at all the scenes, jumping into the hat of the woman in front and then, overwhelmed, fell sleep. He was obsessed with dancing to the doorbell at my mother’s house which had a ragga ringtone.

But whenever Susanna and I were together, mishaps would surely follow. Thus one day Susanna was smoking in my bedroom on the top floor of my mother’s house, when she dropped the cigarette end onto the roof below. This was unwise as the roof was made of straw and immediately started to burn. Someone called the fire brigade but instead of stopping at the address we’d given we could hear them circling round the block twenty times. In the meantime my mother had to be evacuated in her wheelchair as the flames grew higher and higher. My mother’s best friend, generally known as my aunt, swooped in and gave Susanna a very dirty look. We shot out into the street, hearing the fire engine moving further and further away. Then, as it came round again, hurled ourselves at the engine, hanging onto the ladders to make it stop. By the time the fire fighters got to the blaze, it was five hours after we’d called them and my mother’s nurses had put it out. Another little hiccup we had was getting rather pissed at an upmarket party and launching into a moving rendition of “Swan Lake” in the Ladies loo. Susanna was the dying swan and crashed, convincingly, to the floor.

My mother had always disapproved of the friendship between Susanna and I and her attitude to Susanna was chilly to say the least. But now Susanna was shocked to see the state my mother was in. When Tupai’s baby bottle was lying on a table next to my mother, my mother picked it up with her one good hand and suckled it in her mouth. She cried every time she saw the BBC news on the television, not wanting me to go home. And when I tried to explain to her about all the journalism I was doing she said: “but have you done your homework, I hope you’re not going to be late for school.” The greatest trauma of my mother’s life had been my father leaving her, and with the brain damage caused by the stroke she regressed to a time in the past when this hadn’t happened at all. So I was eight and still at primary school, and my father and her were still together at our house in Kensington. My mother became obsessed with Butch Stewart, the richest man in Jamaica, Chairman of the Sandals resorts and Jamaica Observer, who she’d been friends with when I was a child. Every time she saw a pale looking man pruning the poinsettias in a nearby garden she would whoop with delight saying “Butch Stewart is doing the gardening.”

After I’d been in Jamaica for a couple of months, I really felt I was blending in. I caught a cold when the temperature dropped to 85*. And I refused to walk anywhere on the street. “Miggle” class Jamaicans do not walk – for fear of being mugged. The only white people on the streets of Kingston are lobsters in green shorts with a map.

But after various problems with taxis, including being offered a vibrator by a taxi driver’s mum, I decided to Learn To Drive. Although a driving license can be purchased from any supermarket in Jamaica –   between DOGFOOD and DIAPERS in aisle 39 – I decided that it would be safer to Actually Pass A Test.   When I opened my wages and out fell a peanut shell I realised I had to go for value and low price. After skimming through the telephone directory I concluded that the “Lucky Strikes” school of driving had the cheapest rates.

As the car approached my house I noticed something wrong.

“The door!” I said. “It’s gone!”

“De doar?” the driver said with some surprise.

“Yes,” I said, pointing to the space where once a door had been.

“Oh dis door….he said, as if I might have been referring to a door somewhere on Pluto…. “It soon come.”

“How soon?’ I said. “In time for my driving lesson?”

“Not dat soon,” he said. “I tek it off ‘cos de AC don’ work..Is nice an cool like dis”..

Some rules of driving in Jamaica I noticed on my first lesson were:

ALL cyclists (male, there were no female cyclists) rode with their legs sticking out at 90* from the bike – which looked as if it had been “liberated” from a 10 year old as it was much too small.

Despite this, all cyclists had Deep Faith and peddled furiously towards the oncoming traffic in hopes of a quick entry to the Afterlife.

A red light did mean red except at night when it meant “accelerate.”

The police were colour blind – all lights at any time of day or night meant “green.”

The Red Man/ Green Man – standard in most countries – was not here. The Green Man was bent double, as if elderly or wiping something from his shoe….The Red Man – a large hand with orange stripes – revealed the danger of applying fake tan in the dark. . The Green Man suffered from a skin disorder and was – oddly – coloured White.

Only the young and fleet of foot should try to cross the road in Jamaica, I thought. The gap between the Elderly Green Man and Orange Hand was (I timed it) 2.7 seconds.This probably explained why the pavements were crowded with the disabled, old and clinically insane – they hadn’t had a chance to cross the road.

As February 2002 approached, a very important visitor was about to arrive in Jamaica who certainly wouldn’t be allowed to cross the road without a platoon of police to smooth her way. The Queen was coming and was going to visit Rema, one of the most violent ghetto areas in Kingston, where drug gangs and political killings were rife. She wasn’t going to walk around, in fact the government had booked a tank to ferry her in. She was visiting a school, Hugh Sherlock Primary, where some of the children didn’t believe she was real. I was going to interview the children for a report on “From our own Correspondent” on BBC Radio 4.”

My guide to the area – Delroy Johnston – a short thickset plumber with cropped hair said that everyone knew the Queen was coming, as the moment the visit was announced the bulldozers arrived. “You see dat rubbish dere ” – he said – pointing to a mountain of rotten food, rusting fridges, cookers, mattresses and the remains of a wooden house. “Its five hyears it bin ‘ere. But dem tek away ten skip load in the last two week.”

“So you’re glad that the Queen is coming?”  I said. “Fa sure,” he said. “We want her fa come all de time. Den de politician would affu fix de place up. In fact,'” he said – “I think she should move out of Buckin’am Palace an’ buy a h-apartment ’ere.”

He waved the machete at the school where the Queen would be visiting – inviting me to into the yard.

Half the school was newly painted in yellow, blue and white with panels showing Jamaica’s national heroes, birds and plants. The other half was a roofless concrete slab with vast open spaces where windows should have been. A wire from a pylon lay in the middle of the yard.

I approached a shy looking six year old with long curly lashes and asked if he knew the Queen was coming to the school. “Huh,” he said. “Who’s she?” Some older girls in their uniform of crimson skirts and braces gave him a withering look. “Of course we know she’s coming!” said Jaaliya – a tall thirteen year old her hair twisted into tiny braids.  “And what do you think the visit will do for the school?” I asked. “She could give us some money,” she said. I replied that I wasn’t sure Her Majesty carried cash around.. “That’s okay..” she smiled, “she can write me a cheque. And,” she added hastily, “bring a computer and TV for the school.”

“And a bicycle!” said 6 year old Kaneisha who looked about 3.

“And a Nokia!” said 7 year old Monique Reed. By this time a crowd of over a hundred excited children had gathered around pushing and screaming to get their orders in. “I need a bicycle too!” said one “And I need a Playstation Two!”  After being thumped in the face and pushed to the ground I decided enough was enough. We had already compiled a wish-list which included 25 computers, 20 bicyles, 18 scooters, 3 TVs, 15 Nokia’s, 23 Video Games, 4 dogs, 3 cats and a Barbie.

“I think you’re confusing the Queen with Santa Claus…” I said.

Fifteen pairs of bewildered brown eyes looked up at me in shock. “But the Queen is Santa Claus,” they laughed.

“Would any of you recognize the Queen without a crown?” I said to the children. They dipped their eyes and shuffled their feet in silence.

“Is she white?” eight year old Sachelle finally piped up.

“No,” said Jaaliya, in authoratative tones. “On TV she was yellow.”

“She’s sort of Pink,” I said diplomatically. “But she may turn yellow here.”

“Is she invisible?” whispered a six year old with ringlets. “Then where has she been all this time?”

“In Buckingham palace,” I answered. “What you mean a house like we?” said the six year old.

I glanced at the windowless corrugated iron shacks some of the children lived in, thinking the Queen would not put her dog in such a place.

Well what’s it like living in Rema? I said after a pause. “It’s nice…apart from the violence,” whispered the six year old with a hunted look in her eyes. “Night and morning we hear gunshots. But we just run and hide.”

I climbed into a taxi and left the area with some relief – until a shouting match erupted between mine and another driver. “Please stay in the car – that man looks dangerous,” I said. “Jus relax baby,” my driver said, pulling a six inch knife from his belt, “you’ll be totally safe with me.”

A place in which no one was safe (from cows) was the jewel in the crown of the Jamaican government’s road building programme – the “high speed” North Coast Highway, linking the island’s major tourist resorts. Stray cows ambled happily up and down the road, reducing the speed of motorists from a projected 80km/h to less than 8. The project was mired in chaos. The Transport Minister admitted he’d “completely forgotten” the original budget and completion date. And instead of starting the road at one end and finishing at another the government had built the road in multiple sections which were not joined up. So a smooth, perfect, section would be followed by a boulder strewn trench. The contractors had reportedly refused to guarantee the road would last a year. The government was rushing to complete the country’s biggest ever road building campaign not to buy votes in the forthcoming general elections, (clearly not), but to spread goodwill and work.

After six months in Jamaica I realised I wouldn’t be moving back to London at all. My mother was declining, her former aggression whittled down to the helplessness of a two year old. She was crying like an abandoned child, day and night, devastated at the state she was in. I couldn’t leave her on her own. And my career in Jamaica was flying ahead with my work for the Jamaica Observer and the BBC. The editor of “From Our Own Correspondent” said I was “an artist,” he loved my work and was eagerly awaiting more. I was drinking much, much less, it was barely a problem at all. I loved the magical realism of Jamaica and, with my new Jamaican accent, no one asked me where I was from. I would go back to London to finish my house and come back out to Jamaica to live.              Sign up for updates on this blog

Next week: failing to sell my eggs (my eggs not my chickens’ eggs) getting a makeover from Vlad the Inhaler and more celebrities causing chaos in Notting Hill.