Climax of my love with the ex-armed robber as we visit my mother in Jamaica as she is dying

A picture of Caroline Turriff with her mother in Kingston Jamaica while Caroline was working for the BBCMy aunt Beverly in Jamaica, who shouldered the burden of organising my mother’s 24 hour nursing care, had been urging me to phone my mother more often saying my mother’s health was waning. After almost killing myself trying to look after my mother in Jamaica I had decided, since I went into rehab, that I needed to focus on my own needs and was more distant from her.  Before I’d left Jamaica, a psychiatrist I’d been seeing said: “your mother is already dead, she died a long time ago. You need to stop focusing on her and look after yourself or you’re going to die.” Ama, the head of one of my rehabs in London, was softer, saying that although my mother was mentally not there I could still have a relationship with her soul. But traumatised by the experience of my mother’s illness, my contact with her had become sporadic since I entered rehab and the psychiatric unit.  Beverly phoned me saying I really needed to come to Jamaica as my mother was deteriorating rapidly.  I would certainly have relapsed, risking death again, if I’d gone on such a stressful trip on my own.  So Fred who was by now my lover, new best friend, everything to me, came too.

We set off for Jamaica in the summer of 2006, not knowing what to expect. But I knew that, with Fred by my side, I could handle anything.

When we saw my mother it was a terrible shock for both of us. She was sitting, emaciated on a chair, like a concentration camp survivor, her eyes closed and mouth locked in a frightening grimace. She was completely paralysed and her hands were bent double like claws.

A picture of my mother Hyacinth Turriff at a nursing home in Kingston Jamaica when I went to visit her while I was attending the Waterview psychiatric unit

At first, when she saw me, she didn’t recognize me was just staring blindly into space. But then she did realise who I was and gave me a filthy look. It had been a year and a half since I’d last seen her. My family in Jamaica obviously couldn’t tell her that I’d gone to rehab, she wouldn’t have understood, so they just said I had been doing a course in the UK. I saw a Mother’s Day card which I’d sent her earlier in the year, proudly displayed alongside a picture of me. Her nurses said she had clutched the Mother’s Day card for two weeks after she’d got it. She must have been feeling abandoned.

With tears in my eyes I said I was sorry that I had had to leave her but that I had almost died in Jamaica and had to go back to England. I thought something close to the truth would make her feel better. She cried when I said that, and we hugged. I took photographs of her in that terrible state, not wanting to forget.

Fred was incredibly supportive and would even go to see my mother on his own, telling her he would always look after me. That he’d been with me, seeing my mother’s plight in her dying days, gave us a special bond that I had with no one else in recovery.

We went briefly travelling around Jamaica so I could show him my second home. I took him to my abandoned flat, with its beautiful views, now ready to be sold. Its emptiness was like the shell of my former using life I’d left behind. He was surprised by the style and luxury in which my family in Jamaica lived, more familiar with yardies in South London. Ironically as he had less than 10 quid to his name, because he was white everyone in Jamaica thought he was rich and was constantly hassling him for money.

We drove around the magical tropical landscape of Jamaica in a navy blue Toyota Yaris. I took pictures of him staring wistfully into the distance at a lush roadside spot, bursting with greenery, deep in thought. He looked absolutely gorgeous, my tanned white van hero. He took a picture of me (with my fake Chanel bag) in a beautiful spot outside Kingston where he said we would get married.

A picture of Caroline Turriff at a wedding venue outside Kingston Jamaica

This trip was totally magical the absolute apogee of our love and relationship. I was absolutely convinced our love would never end.

As my mother was often completely detached not recognising anyone, couldn’t eat or drink and had no veins left for a drip, my aunt and I decided that we would let her die. I am haunted by this decision, as I saw her, briefly, smile so she was still capable of pleasure. I don’t think she wanted to die. I wonder if I would have made this choice if my mother had not been so abusive to me as a child. But my aunt Beverly was exhausted with the effort of catering to my mother’s needs and organising care for her. This had gone on for six years. We could have fed her through a tube into her stomach but decided the torture of her illness had gone on long enough.

I said goodbye to my mother for the last time, knowing I would never see her alive again.

A picture of Caroline Turriff and her mother Hyacinth Turriff at a nursing home in Kingston Jamaica when Caroline went to visit while she was attending the Waterview psychiatric unit

I gave her some water, urging her to drink, part of me not wanting her to die. She didn’t understand that she was dying. But there were tears in both of our eyes.

Determined to take some mementos of my mother back home, we carried a massive artificial palm tree, in a terracotta pot on the plane to England. This was so huge it caused some consternation at the Air Jamaica check in but with Caribbean tolerance they let the 6 foot plant through in its ramshackle packaging. I’m sure BA would have banned the tree from the plane. For the entire flight back, Fred and I held hands, both of us trying not to cry. When we got to Heathrow, Customs were very interested in the plant, thinking that this was a novel way to smuggle cocaine. I was terrified they were going to smash it up in their hunt for drugs. But when I said I had taken it from my mother’s room where she was dying, they backed off and didn’t search the plant. It was proudly positioned in a corner of my flat in the dry house, reminding me of my mother.

I was assured by the doctors when I left, that it would only be a couple of days after liquids were withdrawn from my mother that she would die. But in fact she clung on for eleven days, starving and thirsty, desperate to stay alive. Everyone around my mother had tried to instill faith into her so she was not so afraid of death. But at the end she was clearly terrified of going and clung onto her pretty wretched life. This has given me not a fear of death, but a fear of being incapacitated and helpless like her. I am far more frightened of Alzheimer’s than dying.

I was in my flat in the dry house when I got the email saying she had died. I clung to Fred, not wanting to be alone. He stroked my hair and said he would always be there for me.

After a disagreement with my family in which they almost had my mother’s funeral without me, Fred and I went back to Jamaica for the ceremony. Although I have said that I never cried, I did cry on the way to my mother’s funeral. Fred was there, arm around me, wiping away my tears. At the funeral all the speakers kept asking why my mother had suffered so much. The state my mother was in for her last six years – paralysed, uncontrollably shaking, with psychotic hallucinations and screaming day and night – was so terrible you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. But I do believe it was a result of her decision to have a lobotomy in her treatment for Parkinson’s rather than the implant that had been recommended by the doctors. This was just the last in a series of poor choices my mother made after my father left her, caused by her rampant stubbornness.

While I was heartbroken by my mother’s death, I felt we had done the right thing. Her life had shrivelled to a husk, she was barely living any more. Little did I know how desperately I would miss my mother as time went on, wishing she was still alive and had never got ill.

I had not discussed my mother’s illness and death with my father, believing he would not be interested. I broke my silence when I got back to the dry house after the funeral having a rare emotional conversation with him. He came out with one of his bombshells. “Well you know your mother never really loved you,” he said. “The person she loved was me.” This was hurtful because it was true, she had unconditional love for him, still worshipping him despite all his infidelities. The closest she came to saying she loved me was “I would love you if you were tidy.” I decided the timing of his comment was unforgivable and didn’t speak to him for three months.

After my mother died, there was a certain amount of chaos around her estate. No one could find a will, raising the spectre she had died intestate. Eventually the will was discovered saying that, although everything was left to me, I could not inherit it until I was 45. As I was 36 at the time this seemed like a life time away. This made no sense as my mother had been totally unaware of my drug addiction and up till the moment she lost her mental capacity I had been (more or less) successfully running two properties, two mortgages, a job and a set of tenants. I’d always known about this will but had never thought my mother would die before I reached 45.  Her desire to control me was now extending beyond the grave.

I had sold my flat in Maida Vale, thinking I could live on the interest and move back into my house in Notting Hill. This turned out to be a miscalculation. So I had one house I couldn’t afford to live in and needed to buy another property for when I finally came out of the dry house. This was going to prove impossible because of my mother’s will. So I now had an unwelcome battle on my hands to change the terms of the will.

As my mother’s death had approached, the craziness that had dominated my life in the first half of 2006 had subsided. I was no longer leaping out of bed at 3am to iron the leaves of artificial plants, or hopping like a frog on speed down streets at night  to avoid dark patches that might conceal a dog shit. My mother’s final illness and death had forced me to be an adult.

While all this was going on, Fred was still incredibly loving. Despite this, I began to pine to have a boyfriend who was less rough, and didn’t smoke. After over a year of being with me I thought, by now, Fred should be middle class. But he was stubbornly refusing to be a Sloane, saying “fuck” and “fuckin’” every other word and teaching me how to speak fluent Cockney rhyming slang. Despite saying he would give up smoking to be with me, he lived with a fag hanging out of his mouth. He had also developed a belly since he’d left the rehab. And amazingly (to someone like me who had an eating disorder) didn’t want to lose weight.

I developed an obsession with an Italian man, Leonardo, who was posher, thinner and didn’t smoke. Unlike blonde, blue eyed, white van man Fred, Leonardo had skin the colour of a café crème, ochre eyes and thick black corkscrew curls. I thought he would get on better with my family. He didn’t have a criminal record as long as the London Marathon. “Fuck” wasn’t his favourite word. I had met Leonardo at “Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous” and would accidentally (on purpose) bump into him at meetings where we would discuss “recovery” while he batted his long black eyelashes at me.

Fred and I had a massive row after one of these incidents. I said I wasn’t sure about the relationship with him and that perhaps he should move out. He left, smashing his phone against the wall, but came back half an hour later saying he wasn’t going anywhere. He had rented out his flat, so he could pay me rent so didn’t actually have anywhere to go.

I was torn wanting to leave him but at the same time not trusting the other guy. Leonardo had shagged a friend of mine, then dumped her, causing her to relapse. On the advice of my support worker I made a list of pros and cons for the two men. It was clear when I read the list that the only option was for me to stay with Fred. We renewed our relationship with a fabulous shag, spending our second Christmas together. As the New Year dawned a new obsession was upon me, far more dangerous than the leaves or the mobile phone. I decided I wanted a baby….                            Sign up for updates on this blog

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Next week: my miraculous recovery from a lifetime of depression.

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

Heathrow Jamaica BBC mental health addiction drugs cocaine

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

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

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

Heathrow Jamaica BBC mental health addiction drugs cocaine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specsavers pictures cropped zoomed

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

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

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

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

“Oh!” I said. “Where were you born?”

“In Hingland,” she said with a smirk.

“Oh really?” I said. “Where?”

“Brooklyn.”

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

“New York.”

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

“Spanish! “ they chorused enthusiastically.

“Spanish?”

“Yes!”

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

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

“Not English?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They call it Penis Park.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

drugs, addiction, Jamaica, mental health, Kingston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Struggling to cope with my mother, fugitive chickens and napping US Presidents on Jamaica’s election day and I stage a one person anti-Iraq war protest in the back seat of my car

Jamaica pix summer

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

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

“I couldn’t say,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“In Japan..”

“I’m sorry?” I replied – confused.

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

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

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

“To Jamaica?” I said.

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

“Who are you?” I said ..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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