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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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?”
“Ah,” I said. “What part of England is that?”
“And what about the rest of you, what’s your first language?” I said.
“Spanish! “ they chorused enthusiastically.
“Um no I mean what language do you speak at home?”
“Patois!” they shouted. “Jamaican language.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
“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.
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
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.
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
- How tall are you.
- 5’4” (ish) but am sole dwarf among otherwise giant family.
- Hair Colour
- Reddish brown (was) now brownish-brown. (Brown)
- Genetic or mental diseases in the family.
- 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.
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.
My mother had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s some years earlier which didn’t stop her pointing her fingers very firmly at me. The shaking had got worse and my mother decided she was going to intervene before she became unable to reprimand me. The operation that was recommended by the doctors was having an electrode implanted into her brain to control the shaking. But the electrode would have involved my mother either moving to the United States, as the implant needed to be monitored every two weeks, or constantly travelling to the US. Determined to stay in Jamaica, with the favourite part of her family (ie not me) she decided she would instead have a partial lobotomy. This was a much riskier operation to remove part of her brain to control the shaking.
As my mother’s shaking worsened and the operation approached, I suddenly became obsessed with building a house in Notting Hill. I was living in Maida Vale but all my friends were in Notting Hill, it was 1999 and the epicentre of cool. I spent hours on the phone to my mother begging her for the money to build the house. She kept saying, “why don’t you wait till I die?” which wouldn’t have worked as by then she’d given it all away. It was like pulling teeth from an un-sedated (and peckish) polar bear trying to get the money out of my mother. This was galling as she threw money, quite indiscriminately, at her family in Jamaica. When I said my mother had given me some of the money to buy my first flat, I did somewhat gloss over the difficulty of this. We saw several flats but just as we were about to make make an offer, I would leave a glass on the table and my mother would withdraw from the flat, saying I would “turn it into a slum.” This left me wandering around, without a settled home, for years.
Eventually, in the spring of 1999, I persuaded her to give me one of her flats in Maida Vale. I sold my flat in Maida Vale, for a considerable profit and moved into lodgings in Notting Hill to find a new home. Alas the lodgings didn’t last for long because of my mess and because the landlady, very strangely, slept in the bathroom and would have a fit if you went in there at night for a wee. I was clearly still attracted to nutcases and freaks. I moved in with my cousin, Miranda, in Ladbroke Grove, still obsessed with building a house. She was used to the mess so didn’t complain.
After some searching, I found a derelict garage in an idyllic mews on the lower slopes of Notting Hill, as it slid down towards Ladbroke Grove. Rejected by squatters for decades, its only inhabitants had been a squadron of squiffy pigeons, (Imodium is obviously unknown in the pigeon world). Luckily the pigeons had been removed before I saw the house. But the pigeons have had the last laugh. In 2015 they’re all back there now. Despite the holes in the roof, rotting floors and smashed windows, (“an opportunity to put your stamp on the place” the agent said), the price tag was a hefty four hundred thousand pounds. The London property market was just beginning a massive boom, which lasted until 2008. This came after it had been stuck in the doldrums of recession for over a decade following the late 80’s early 90’s housing crash, with its interest rates of 15% and tsunami of repossessions. The half a million pound garage did have permission to demolish and build a house. But I didn’t actually like the design of the Dadaist greenhouse it had permission to build. It had a glass roof in the main bedroom, which made it far too visible from the higher houses behind. I decided this would interfere with my sex life and that the house needed to be redesigned.
I set about trying to find an architect to revise the plans for the house. I saw a stunning custom made glass staircase pictured in a magazine. I contacted the architect and commissioned her to do a re-design. One of the things I didn’t like about the design of the proposed house was the lack of windows at the back. This made it poky and dark, like a dwarf’s boudoir in Lord of the Rings. I visited the planning officer at Kensington Council to see if it could be changed. The planning officer said the council would welcome the redesign of the house, which it thought was a bit of a modernist eyesore, and wanted more “traditional” mews features, such as stable doors and hay. I said I (unfortunately) didn’t have a horse but would try to work some bales of hay into the design.
I visited the neighbours to check whether the redesign of the house would be acceptable. The Croatian neighbour, Mrs Milosevic, (“No relation! No relation!” she screamed loudly upon introduction), was opposed to the new design. She said the windows at the back would invade the privacy of her garden – a six foot high tangle of weeds – and a poodle nail clipping service on the first floor. Luckily she’d decided to sell her house and the new neighbours didn’t mind.
In the summer, as my mother’s operation approached, I became more and more obsessed with buying the house, not realising that I was wanting to create a nest as my mother was falling apart. The British obsession with buying property has been described as an “Edifice Complex.” And I had one so huge I would have needed to clone Sigmund Freud and move him into my bedroom to sort it out. When I actually went to Canada to accompany my mother for the operation, I was on the phone to the estate agent and solicitor 20 hours a day. My family thought this was awful, evidence that I was selfish as my mother said. But the reality was I couldn’t cope with the fact that my mother might die in the operation and was using the house to distract myself. After all the abuse I’d suffered from my mother as a child, my feelings about her illness and possible death were complex to say the least.
Back in London, I took the biggest risk of my financial life. I was unable to get a mortgage on the flat my mother had given me in Maida Vale, so exchanged contracts on the garage in Notting Hill without the funds to complete. I would get the money somehow, I thought. I also didn’t have planning for a structure I actually liked, the peeping Tom roofed oddity that had permission was not my cup of tea. My mortgage adviser asked me, “what is your attitude to financial risk?” I said I was cautious, he said I was, “as buccaneering as the Pirates of Penzance.” The only way I got through that month, before I finally did get another mortgage, was by necking Valium which I persuaded myself was a new kind of vitamin. But I was buying my dream home, that I would live in for the rest of my life, or so I thought. My obsession with the house was causing problems with my cousin who politely asked me to leave. I moved into the derelict garage in August 1999 causing the estate agent to fall off his chair when I told him. The place was still covered in pigeon shit.
The great attraction was the location – a quiet, charming, peaceful, little backwater. Or so I thought..
I was not the only new girl on the block. A few doors down the street, TV presenter, Paula Yates, ex- wife of Bob Geldof and partner of dead rock star Michael Hutchence had set up home. The house’s framboise walls were filled with fairy lights, exotic drapes and substances. But bereavement had taken a bitter toll on Paula. Soon after arriving at the house, she purchased absolutely too much Absolut in the local Lost Your License. While walking down the street she strayed from a straight line, or even stumbled. Her three daughters with Bob Geldof, the curiously named, Fifi Trixabelle, Peaches and Pixie, went straight back to his house.
Within hours, sinister looking snapperazzi swarmed into the street, parking outside my house all night and day. This made moving all my carefully selected ethnic artefacts into my new house quite difficult. I say “house” because – as they say – an Englishman’s hovel is his castle. And just because I was living in a slum didn’t mean I couldn’t have chic accessories.
But I had very little money and had taken on a massive project I couldn’t really afford. My friends thought I was mad, had taken on too much, and did keep pointing out that I was living in a garage encrusted with pigeon shit. One room, particularly thickly pooed, I optimistically re-christened “the principal guest bedroom.” I promptly announced I wanted to rent it to a lodger, to raise money for the building works. “A LODGER!” exclaimed my horrified friends. “But even the pigeons have left.” “Nonsense,” I said, “all it needs is a clean and a good coat of paint.” And so it was. With electricity and water restored (and a Biological Warfare team to remove the pigeon shit) the place acquired a distinctly bohemian air. The wording of the advert for the room (in London Property Bible Loot) required some care. “You have to say it’s a Squat,” insisted the Friends. “A Squat?” I said. “That’s unfair! I’ve been to far better Squats than this!” The phrase I selected, amid gasps from astonished Friends, was “requiring some decoration.” I also said the house had “a low carbon footprint” ie no central heating.
At 6am in the morning the ad came out the mobile began to jerk in a frenzied fashion. (The room, after all, was cheap and in one of London’s Most Fashionable Zones). “Wearily, I answered.
“Vloom you adletize in Root it flee?”
“No,” I said, “it’s gone.” The same applied to students, vegans and cheapskates who wanted to share the room with a spouse.
After five thousand frenzied calls, I’d selected a crowd to visit the house that night. Returning from work at 3 – I was surprised to see a gaggle of early Looters hovering outside the house. “The room,” I said, “is not ready.” The bed was still in the garage. A suspicious trickle of water was pouring from the roof. “Nonsense!” they cried, “it’s perfect! When can we move in?” Clearly location not sanitation was key in their quest.
An Evil Plan was forming in my head. “Not all of you can move in,” I said sweetly. “But there is the space downstairs?” “The Garage?” a Looter asked. “I wouldn’t call it that,” I said. We trooped downstairs.
“The Car repair pit,” one sputtered, “it’s still here!” “Very useful,” I trilled, “for a sunken bed or bath.” “I’LL TAKE IT!” yelled one and that was that. I was a proper slum landlord, my only saving grace that I was living in the slum.
Despite a large hole in its roof, there was fierce competition for the room upstairs, which eventually went to sealed bids. The winner was a pretty young actress, unemployed of course, who was working in a local bar. In the garage I had the executive producer of TV show, Film 2000. Why on earth would he move in? Well the garage was dark enough to look like a derelict cinema.
The Matrix had been released, arguing that reality was an artificial construct created by machines. I decided to take this on board and mentally transformed the derelict garage into a 7 bedroom mansion with a swimming pool and off street parking for my 5 imaginary cars. The news was full of stories about the Millenium Bug. Businesses were (quite pointlessly as it turned out) spending billions preparing their computer systems for possible collapse. Luckily my garage, where all the fixtures and fittings were already vintage in 1922, was completely immune to the problems that beset the more high tech world.
As the end of 1999 approached something changed – dramatically – which shook our entire world. Not the dawning of a New Millennium – as this was no surprise. Dwarfing this, my flat mate scored a leading part in a TV soap. Her face was on the cover of every TV magazine and her wages shot up to £2,000 pounds an hour. Amazingly, she said she wanted to stay in my “house” saying the rain falling onto her bed was “quite refreshing at night.” Sack loads of fan mail – some clearly from the clinically insane – turned up at the house and were read in disparaging tones. She said she was too famous to walk down the street and started catching a cab to Tesco – at the end of the Road. Requests for washing up were dismissed with the phrase: “please email my PA.”
Celebrity hangers-on, with nasty habits, started to frequent the house and turned my perfectly respectable slum into something really squalid. Cigarettes were stubbed out into rotting plates of food and cocaine was firmly back on my menu. Unfortunately I was sleeping in the sitting room where the cocaine sessions took place.
I made a flimsy MDF wall to enclose my bed with a door held shut with electrical cable. My flat mate said this made her “feel excluded.” So, quite understandably, she chopped through the cable with a carving knife and burst into my bedroom one night, borrowing my cocaine. She must have had a toothache as the pharmacy was closed. I did enjoy the celebrity parties though, where I went wild dirty dancing with a 10 foot inflatable bottle of Banana Schnapps.
But, at home, another thing was happening that was very strange indeed. My flatmate seemed to agree with everything I said and appeared to be just like me. She later said she was acting and “mirroring” everything I did to make me like her more. But, duped by this, I decided we were soul mates and “meant to be together.” I was falling in love with her. I was devastated when she said, just like Alex, that I was too short and that she liked tall women instead. And even more upset when she went off with the other lodger who was living in the cave downstairs. Rejected and excluded in my own home, I asked them to move out, saying building works were imminent, (although they weren’t).
In fact the tenders for the building project had come in massively over my budget, forcing the axing of the glass staircase and glass ceiling in the hall as well as the, less obviously useful, glass toilet and glass dishwasher. When the revised plans arrived, (sadly denuded of glass), I was surprised to see the French doors in the sitting room four foot above the ground. The architect recommended a flight of stairs taking up half of the room. I vetoed the stairs and said the plans had to be redesigned. But I still needed more money, and had a few ideas. I was desperate to have an ocelot and could start a breeding programme creating mini ocelots in the garage downstairs. Upon investigation, Harrods pet department had no ocelots, so I would have to try to beg my mother for more. Sign up for updates on this blog
My mother had nearly ruined the Christmas of 1999 for me, saying as, I was preparing to go to Jamaica to visit her, that “there was no point my coming” as she “wanted some space.” The 5,000 miles between us were obviously cramping her style; she hinted our relationship would be better if I moved to Japan. I stopped speaking to her for weeks but then, after pressure from my Jamaican family, resumed contact again and booked the flight to see her. My family in Jamaica always excused my mother’s mad behaviour. For example, my mother had put all her property assets in London in her cousin-in-law’s name in an effort to avoid inheritance tax which I wouldn’t have been liable for anyway. I said this meant she didn’t legally own the flats but she dismissed my concerns. Instead she forced me to change my will, which she dictated to the solicitor, as she said now the flat in Maida Vale had been transferred into my name, if I died and it went to my father she would have a coronary. In the new will everything was left to her. Of course when I got to Jamaica, at Christmas, the first thing she said was “go and stay in a hotel.”
It was in the next year, 2000, that a disaster happened in my life. My mother had a massive stroke, possibly connected to the lobotomy. She had to go to a stroke rehab centre in Florida in the summer and I went with her to keep her company. But my feelings towards my mother were confused because of her abuse. She said I was selfish and uncaring because I didn’t visit the stroke treatment centre once. But I just couldn’t handle what was happening to her. To fly in like Florence Nightingale and want to look after her just wasn’t going to happen after the way she’d behaved. She had never really looked after me.
In Florida I had another accident in my attempts to “improve” my appearance. I wanted to grow my hair and had discovered Minoxidil maximum strength for balding men, aka “Amazon Head.” This said “do not use if you are a woman,” on the packet, “may grow facial hair,” but despite this I poured most of a bottle on my head. Suddenly my heart started racing and I turned purple in the face. If I’d checked on the packet I’d have seen that Minoxidil was a heart medication and that an overdose can cause heart attack. I was too embarrassed to go to A and E saying “I’ve overdosed on “Amazon Head.”” So I, perhaps dangerously, waited for the symptoms to go away. After my face returned to normal, I decided no more throwing funny chemicals at my scalp. This resolution lasted until I returned to England and the memory of the near heart attack had faded to (just another) beauty legend. This problem of my hair not growing, because it was Afro and would only get to a certain length, had beset me since I was a child. I hated going to the hairdresser to have it cut and dreamt of long flowing blonde locks like Rapunzel. But no matter how much I prayed, waist length hair was as much of a fantasy as winning the Oscar for best actress. I say fantasy, despite not doing any acting, I had already written the speech.
I returned to London and the building works began on September 9th 2000. As the demolition team went in and the house practically fell down on its own, the builders remarked they were surprised we hadn’t fallen through the rotten floors. The immersion heater exploded as the house came down.
When all that was left of my house was a hole, I was surprised to see a picture of my scaffolding headlining the one o clock news. I rushed to the house to find the street swarming with camera crews but not, alas, with builders whose legality was tenuous and had all disappeared. Paula Yates had died of a heroin overdose. I looked bleakly at the hole that used to be my home, wondering when the builders will be back. The BBC was hassling me to get an interview with Paula Yates nanny but she’d flown to Outer Mongolia to avoid the press.
Eventually the builders came back. I thought things would return to normal. Wrong… The TV footage of the idyllic mews had caught the eye of film location scouts. An endless stream of film crews hit the street, blocking it for days each month with dollies, lighting rigs and Big Star Winnebagos. The entire equipment for the films was dumped outside my house. None of my builders or materials could get in and nor could I. I complained and was given a bunch of daisies to compensate.
When the building project started, I had moved out to a friend’s flat in Shepherds Bush conveniently close to the BBC. Although, since I’d developed the obsession with the house, my focus on work had deteriorated rapidly. My room in the flat in Shepherds Bush was too messy to be called a pigsty, (as a pig would have complained) with clothes all over the floor and samples of wood and stone flooring from the house in my bed. I needed to get close to the materials I thought. When I unexpectedly pulled an eligible barrister, he took one look at the room and said “you’ve got slabs of stone in your bed, it looks uncomfortable, perhaps I’d better leave.” He refused to give me his phone number saying it would get lost in the mess. So I took up with another bod at the BBC who said (after I’d puked on the floor) that there “must be something wrong with me,” because of the way I behaved on drink. I still didn’t realise I had a problem with alcohol.
Late in 2000, I went out one night to Shoreditch in East London with Susanna. I got completely shit faced drinking double vodkas and pulled an attractive artist, so said to Susanna I wasn’t going home, or not with her at least. By the end of the night, I wasn’t going anywhere, as I was falling on the floor and crawling around. He took my back to his flat, where I got lost on the way to the bathroom at night and weed in my handbag. Still resolutely anti casual sex I had refused to sleep with him when I was so drunk. But the next day I thought what the fuck and slept with him. After that I became totally obsessed dreaming of moving to East London to start a private zoo, and fantasising about him reading me Chinese poetry in bed. The fact that I wouldn’t understand it just made it all more Zen. The tiny problem that I hardly knew him obviously didn’t stop me at all given I had form for falling in love with men I’d never met. After a short fling he dumped me, saying he wasn’t over his ex. I was heartbroken and continued to fantasise wildly about living with him in an art co-operative/zebra hospital.
It was in the flat in Shepherd’s Bush that I had another of my disastrous attempts to “improve” my appearance. Having been told I was ugly all my life I spent considerable amounts of time trying to enhance myself. I had salicylic acid to treat my acne but instead decided that I was going to scrub my imaginary wrinkles with a toothbrush and the acid for an hour. I gave myself chemical burns that lasted a year.
At the end of 2000, running out of money, I moved in with my father, which was a total disaster as my step mother and I practically killed each other. And the bulimia, which had always been present, got completely out of control leading my father to say, “you’ve eaten everything in the fridge where do you put all that food?” The cat was no longer there to blame so I said their parrot had eaten it. It was at my father’s house that my obsession with the building project reached its crazy zenith. I was finishing work at 1am and, still fired up from my shift, would fly round to the building site to do some DIY. I was desperately short of money and had no option I thought. I spent many nights out on the scaffolding painting and filling the front of the house at 3am, in the pitch dark, thinking it was strange that people painted in the day. I was laying floors with power tools at 4am. When my neighbours asked me to cut it out I just didn’t understand. Of course everything I did at 3am came out completely fucked and had to be done again. Meanwhile back at my father’s house, as the rows with my stepmother escalated, my father said I had to leave. I decided I’d better move into my almost completed property.
I finally moved back in when the shell of the house was finished in May 2001. I say “finished” although the builders had forgotten some minor details – like a hot water or central heating system.
As I still needed to raise some money for further works I then moved in three lodgers to the downstairs. The council had insisted that I maintain a garage in the house although I didn’t have a car or a license and had failed the test so many times that I was on the DVLA’s: “Top 10 (un)wanted drivers list.” The first lodger, sleeping in the converted garage fled after a flood came from the street under the garage door. Her replacement stopped paying the rent as works were ongoing and the carpenter had turned his bedroom into a workshop, covered in saw dust, while he was away for the weekend.
In the meantime my drinking was out of control again. After a friend’s party in which I’d fallen to the floor, (after snogging an Anthurium) I had to be carried out of a bar in Notting Hill by the entire staff. And then, although it was June, I started singing “Auld Lang Syne.” I apparently danced to “Thriller” on the pavement (perhaps it was convulsions instead) and had to be airlifted home. I woke up the next day with my trousers still on but, curiously, inside out. I panicked thinking I’d slept with someone. But when I phoned my friends they said I’d gone into the loo at the bar and emerged, rather green, with my trousers inside out. I was obviously too un-coordinated to manage a complex task like pulling my trousers down. One of my best friend’s, Imran, said “you really have a drink problem and you have to do something about it.” I said I didn’t have a drink problem I’d just been drinking on an empty stomach. It would never happen again, I swore. A portion of chips would cure my alcoholism. Another night I ended up in bed with someone from work. He asked me when I’d last had sex and, too drunk to censor myself, I said “I think it was last night but I’m not sure it went in.” He politely declined my offer of sex, thinking I was a slut, and went home instead. The reality was if I hadn’t been for alcohol I would never have had sex at all; but now it was turning me into something so far from the virgin I used to be.
The artist came back on the scene, newly interested saying I’d “gone up in the world” since I’d moved into the house in Notting Hill. Of course I got back together with him but the fantasy of living a highbrow literary lifestyle with him was dented by the fact that he couldn’t spell in texts.
Then I had a disaster with a neighbour. One night I woke up at 2am to find a strange man in my bed. Thinking it was one of the lodgers who’d made a mistake, I turned on the light to shoo him out. It wasn’t a lodger it was my neighbour who was totally pissed and lying flat out in my bed. I tried to shake him awake but he kept calling me “mummy” and saying he wasn’t going anywhere. I had to call 999 to get rid of him. I later found out one of my lodgers, who was very weird, had let him in and he’d bolted up to my room. He reacted very badly to me throwing him out starting a campaign against me and sending me hate mail written in a circle, (like a snail’s shell), saying I was “the spawn of Saddam Hussein.” Unfortunately he was a locksmith so I felt entirely unsafe as he could have broken into my house at any time. But the police weren’t helpful at all, saying that they couldn’t intervene as he might have ended up in my bed as part of Neighbourhood Watch.
My mother had been phoning me all summer begging me to come to Jamaica to spend time with her, sounding increasingly desperate and weak. So I decided to take a career break from the BBC to spend six months with her. I owed it to her, despite our difficulties, without her I would never have bought my dream property. If I hadn’t been leaving anyway I would have had to move house because of the psycho locksmith opposite. I headed off to Jamaica in October 2001, leaving the lodgers at large in the house. Sign up for updates on this blog
Next week: doing time with my mother, misplacing the Jamaican Prime Minister and preparing for Queen Elizabeth, the Invisible Head of State.
Despite the chaos of the trip to Sudan, which of course I glossed over to the BBC, denying there were any cock ups but saying the circumstances were “challenging,” my documentaries went well. Apart from when I tried to do a feature for the World Tonight on Radio 4 and they told me I was too disorganised and sent me back to reporters’ nursery. But my profile as a reporter had improved, I was on my way to getting a stringer’s job (a reporter abroad for those not in the trade). I just hoped that it wouldn’t involve carting around lots of equipment which would end up in the wrong continent. Indeed I had the honour of being “banned from Sudan” because of the piece I did on the government using food as a weapon against the South. This was in addition to the (spiteful) ban from driving on UK roads by the DVLA after I’d failed my test 36 times. I settled into an attachment at the Aramaic Service, still pestered by Gogol the Gargoyle. He wasn’t troubled in the slightest by the fact that I had a boyfriend, who he thought I would edit out of the picture along with his wife.
But all was not well between Tarquin and me. I was getting younger and younger, and was practically a stem cell. And there was an upsurge in the bulimia, which seemed to have got worse since I stopped being clinically depressed. When Tarquin took me to expensive restaurants he would say it was a waste of money as, “the food only stays in you for 10 seconds before you sprint to the loo.” My behaviour became so outlandish that it was only because Tarquin was infatuated that he kept a straight face. We went to a very posh wedding in a stately home. I sneaked down to the kitchen at night and ate the top tier of the wedding cake, replacing it with a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. Of course it was all regurgitated down the loo. Despite an aversion to dogs, I developed an obsession with chewing dog biscuits and had to invent an imaginary job as a dog walker to convince the pet shop that I wasn’t running some kind of illegal dog cloning programme. I also started sucking on frozen fish fingers, as a more diet conscious version of lollipops. And when I would try to throw food away, an hour later I would just fish it out of the bin, once chasing the dust cart when the bin men had taken it away. To save time and rapidly rid myself of calories, I started eating over the loo, and became so comfortable doing this, I moved the TV in there.
Crazy cravings weren’t my only concern. Unfortunately, though living with Tarquin, my unrequited feelings for Alex, my friend from Oxford, started to rear their ugly head. I suddenly decided I was “in love” with Alex again. I told Tarquin but he loved me so much he swore he would stay with me. I cut Alex off, saying we could no longer be friends, at first without explanation but then saying I was in love with him. He was still not interested in me. Despite this I started fantasising about marrying Alex, which was only marginally more sane than my fantasies about the Sudanese rebel leader, John Garang. At least I’d got over that ludicrous idea a few months after getting back from Sudan.
For the first time in my life, I voted in the general elections of May 1997, of course choosing New Labour star Tony Blair. I had absolutely no idea what was in Labour’s election manifesto, they could have said they were sorting the UK’s housing crisis by colonising the moon, but I thought Blair was an exciting new leader and wanted a change after 18 years of Tory rule. Everyone I knew, apart from my family who threatened to withdraw to a nuclear bunker if Labour got in, voted for Tony Blair and Labour were elected by a landslide. The whole country, apart from my family who thought voting Conservative was as essential as going to the loo, was sick of the Conservatives following a series of political scandals, squabbling over Europe and the events of Black Wednesday in 1992 when the pound crashed ignominiously out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.
Oblivious to the seismic change in the political landscape, Susanna and her boyfriend from Madrid came to stay. This caused massive contention with Tarquin, as he’d told me he didn’t want me doing drugs with Susanna on my own. He clearly didn’t quite trust me to keep my knickers on. Despite this, Susanna and I went out getting off our heads on magic mushrooms in the local garage, which we thought was a spaceship docking on Mars. When we went into a bar where everyone looked gigantically tall with elongated heads, we thought we were on a reality TV show with the inhabitants of Zog. This is why I’ve spent all that money on therapy, I thought, to un-disturb my mind so that acid actually works. But fearing the gigantic size of all the alien penises around me, my sex drive remained on earth.
On the 31st of August 1997, Tarquin and I had been out clubbing, as usual strictly observing the Ecstasy Eating Plan ie handfuls of pills and no food at all. He woke me up the next morning, very sombre, saying I should know that Princess Diana had died. Funereal music was playing on Kiss FM and all the dance music stations – most of the country was in shock and mourning. Because of Diana’s bulimia and mental health problems, I identified with her and was profoundly affected by her death, feeling the only member of the Royal Family I had any affinity with had gone. Tarquin and I, who stood on Kensington High Street watching Diana’s coffin move slowly from Kensington Palace to Westminster Abbey were amongst the three million mourners on the streets of London that day. It was the height of our connection and love. As I stood in the crowd next to Tarquin, I thought, this is exactly what I want with my life. Alex was boring, he didn’t do drugs anymore. With Tarquin I could be myself which, by then, meant taking drugs.
But when I was alone with Tarquin, everything changed. I was like a different person, very abusive, screaming at him when he didn’t do what I wanted and telling him I’d only fancy him if he had plastic surgery. He loved me so much he almost went ahead with this disastrous plan. Thank God he didn’t. He stopped dropping me at work, which he’d done every day, as I kept shrieking it was his fault every time a traffic light went red. One time he popped into my bedroom to tell me he loved me as he was going on a skiing trip on his own. I left 25 abusive messages on his mobile shouting that he’d woken me up. I denounced his un-glamorous Audi saloon, saying it was too tacky for me to drive around in and forced him to buy a Mercedes convertible instead. At first he was heartbroken by this behaviour but later, as he detached, he would just laugh at me. I didn’t understand what I was doing at the time. But now think, that as I felt safe with him, I was taking out my unexpressed anger towards my parents on him. And I was too naïve to realise I didn’t fancy him and felt trapped by the relationship like a hummingbird in a bird eating spider’s web.
Tarquin had told me he would “never love another girl as much as me.” But despite this, as the screaming continued, he started to pull away. When we went on holiday with his friends they all asked what was wrong as we kept pretending to forget each other’s names. We had a “break,” always a presage of doom, and it was then that I realised the perils of ecstasy. I had gone out clubbing on my own with his friends and, off my head on ecstasy, said to Tarquin’s best friend: “well if it doesn’t work out with Tarquin, what about you and me?” I then tried to snog his ear. “I could never do that to Tarquin,” he nobly said, although I later found out he fancied the pants off me.
This led to months of embarrassment for me, having to apologize and backtrack furiously. I started to wonder whether the desire to confess all your darkest secrets on ecstasy was actually a good idea. At a later date, after revealing my soul to someone I’d met at a party who announced I was a “freak,” I decided it wasn’t and that ecstasy wasn’t for me.
Eventually Tarquin said he couldn’t go out with me anymore. Although my feelings for him were confused, I was devastated. He had wanted to marry me and have kids although I had no real idea what that meant. I spent hours on the phone to him crying from the Aramaic service at work, barely able to write at all. Even Gogol the Gargoyle temporarily stopped hassling me. I felt like I’d ruined my life by pushing Tarquin away and that I would never find someone who loved me as much as him. But despite everything I was still too naïve to realise the real problem: I just didn’t fancy him.
With the break up from Tarquin my alcohol use started getting out of control. I would go out binge drinking with Susanna and have to be carried home in a wheelbarrow. I told my GP who said that binge drinking was a form of alcoholism. I thought this was a joke. There was no way I could be an alcoholic. Alcoholics, I was convinced, were very loud people in Newcastle who’d been filmed multiple times assaulting the police. I was loud, while drinking, but I had never been filmed and had no experience of Newcastle. When I woke up from a Rohypnol and alcohol induced blackout, in the middle of having sex with someone I had definitely not wanted to fuck, I just shrugged off this near rape experience as “one of those things that happen when you’re having fun.” Of course despite the fact that it was all over the papers as the date rape drug, I still didn’t stop mixing Rohypnol and alcohol.
Despite the increasing chaos of my life outside, I never let it interfere with work. I was obsessed with work, I never drank when I was going in the next day. And now Tarquin (and my free drugs) had gone I’d stopped taking cocaine. At the office things were going well, I had moved to TV centre and was learning how to produce TV news and write for TV. This was exactly what I needed if I wanted to be a reporter abroad. But I would still be running into the loo to cry over Tarquin 15 times a day. I said my bladder had shrunk, after chemotherapy. I started off at World Service Television news, covering foreign affairs. I had an interview to be the BBC’s Central America correspondent, based in Mexico. But despite being the favourite to get the job, I withdrew before the final interview, saying I couldn’t possibly go as my father had broken his toe. I think this was because, after the trips to Sudan and Argentina, I thought I was too disorganised and would fuck up the job.
As for my father, I wasn’t speaking to him after he’d said I looked like a “dundus,” a very insulting Jamaican word to describe a black albino, who Jamaicans think look like freaks. Reacting to the racism from my father and society around, I was going through a white phase with red hair extensions and green contact lenses. My step mother helpfully said I looked like Michael Jackson.
I decided I wanted a change of direction in my career and went on an attachment to BBC News 24. News 24 had just started, had very young and inexperienced staff and was going through teething pains. It was using experimental TV technology which required expert handling. Alas the staff at News 24 were only expert at muddling things up. There was an issue with live feeds going down, video clips going to black, and a persistent problem with badly spelt Astons. Astons are the captions that come up giving someone’s name or other information on TV. At News 24 it was as if Dada, Dali or Picasso had written them. Thus “The Prime Minister, Tony Blair,” came out as “The Mime Minister, Tony Funfair,” and “the Chancellor Gordon Brown,” emerged on News 24 as “That Chancer, Gordonn Browwn.” News 24 was the only area of TV news that was using this digital technology, where we didn’t use physical tapes to run the news. The main TV bullets were still using old fashioned tapes and manually inputting Astons and would chuckle merrily at the cock ups on News 24. The BBC had watered down their criteria to recruit the staff of News 24. They were not primarily from Oxbridge, in fact some of them spelt so badly they must have bunked off their spelling tests at primary school. There was an atmosphere of chaos at News 24, but also of an exciting project that was just getting off the ground.
Desolate after the break up with Tarquin, I had taken up with a married BBC producer I’d met on a training course. Having been abandoned by my father, who’d left the family for his girlfriend and proceeded to transform totally – dropping the shagging around and worshipping her – I thought that the “other woman” was the more powerful position to be in. Without realising it, I wanted to replicate the situation with my father, without being the one who was left. But when the producer said he “wasn’t quite ready to leave his wife,” I said, “you must be joking, I don’t want to break up your family.” The adult part of me didn’t but the child was confused. Above all, it was some welcome attention and a shoulder for me to cry on. And we had sex in exotic locations – once just before lunch in the disabled loo at TV Centre during Prime Minister’s Question Time. I have to admit that was my idea. It’s always fun having sex at work, (or anywhere you shouldn’t), but I didn’t fancy him enough and still thought an orgasm was something that only happened in Jilly Cooper books. Still at least the whole affair got my drinking back under control and I was able to return from nights out on the town vertical and without my clothes on my head.
The thing that particularly appealed to me about News 24, (apart from the disabled loo), was the entertainment programme, Zero Thirty, that was on at half past midnight every night. This covered showbiz and, as my reading material had increasingly strayed from the Economist to Heat magazine, I thought this was just the ticket for me. I became a reporter and producer on the programme going to film premieres, celebrity photo exhibitions, musical festivals and concerts. When you’re standing on the red carpet at a film premiere it really doesn’t feel like a job. I had never had so much fun in my life. And I didn’t have to get into work till 3 pm. I still managed to be late. The only fly in the ointment was of course, with my disorganisation, I would sometimes fuck things up. Thus I would be due to arrive to film the start of an important showbiz event, but would turn up, after a curling tong crisis, too late to witness it. Of course the great thing with TV was that the camera man did the technical side instead of you. They were always on time and staunchly reliable. It was when it was left to me that things would go wrong, I would be so obsessed with getting the right library pictures for a piece that the piece would be ready a week after it was due on air. But generally I scraped by and I was on TV, no one was saying I was ugly now.
News 24’s entertainment reporter was strangely absent from the job, so I practically took over as their main showbiz reporter. Of course, I was working as a producer as well so didn’t sleep for six months. I met Ewan McGregor, Rachel Weisz, Michael Caine, David Bailey and Snoop Dogg. Snoop was tall and very attractive padding around like a jaguar. One of his sidekicks asked me to spend the night out in London with Snoop and the Boys. I had to say no as I had to go back to work to edit my piece. But that would have been a crazy night, fuck knows what would have happened to me.(well I can guess)
I was flying ahead with my career, out on showbiz stories every night, although the editor of the programme didn’t like me as he thought I was too posh. I could continue like this indefinitely I thought. But then something happened that would change my life and cause me to crash.
Next week: when celebrities destroy your house and cut through your bedroom door with a carving knife, saying, “I miss you.” Sign up for updates on this blog