A new series of writings detailing my last 5 months of exile in France. As many will know I dislike daily diary/journal writing and the mundane nonsense which that usually circles around. I have never offered up that kind of garbage as literature here. This journal will therefore concentrate on very specific areas of my life which I have a passion to write about. The main themes will concern my continued drug addiction; my thoughts on writing and literature and the process around my life as a writer; the city of Lyon and a retrospective telling of my life and years here. As the sub-title suggests the majority of writing will be written during a series of walks around the city. All writing will be written on my smartphone during the actual walks. Walks do not represent days. Sometimes I will make multiple walks in the same day and other walks may be separated by days or a week. The objective is not to capture the last months of my time in France but to capture the city I have passed the last ten years of my life in. Texts obviously written at home I will for the moment refer to as LOT 1003
The Last French Steps - a walking journal of a writer's final days in France.
Laennec - Montchat
It's quiet here now. There are only the birds left. I can't see them but I hear them all around. Anne has left and this place isn't the same without her. Too quiet. Too lonely. Nothing to get home to but syringes and the computer. Writing away through the night and deleting it because the darkness has gotten into my words. But out here, on these walks, I come down to the level of nature. I am sad with death and sad because I'll be leaving this place in some months and that means leaving a part of myself behind and making the final break from the last lover to have fucked poetry into me and to have left an indelible mark on my existence.
From a window comes the sound of French evening TV. It always sounds like it's reporting the aftermath of a tsunami. I remember walking around the little village of Belleville-sur-Soane the evening that Indonesia got hammered. News reports flashed windows up blue throughout the evening as local restaurants clattered and rang out with the crickets into the night. The television fades and the birds chirp back in. Floral scents abound.
Montchat. I used to work around here. It wasn't really working but I got paid at least. I was charged with looking after the cultural centre from 3pm until 10. The only tasks I had were to open and close the building and be on hand inbetween. In the four months I was there my office door was only ever tapped on twice. On both occassions it was the same old lady asking for the key to the library. "It's open," I said.
"Open? Is it really? Good then."
Aside from these rare intrusions I passed most my days sat in my office, mostly writing and sometimes reading and very occasionally with my shoes and socks removed, watching a film. Once the Montchat Orchestra had finished their rehearsals and packed up I'd make a tour of the building, lock up, set the alarm, and make the 30 minute walk home through the tawdry summer night. When I arrived home I'd be tired, in a good; in the way where taking the weight of your feet and walking barefoot across cool tiles is an absolute pleasure. There was always heroin in those days and it worked well on my body.
She left because of that. She never said so but in the things she did say, the reasons she gave months later, that's what it came down to. Not the heroin in itself but the consequences of it and that she had used up all her savings to secure a hell that she ended up in alone. My life may have looked like hell to her, or anyone else looking in, but it didn't feel like it to me.
I felt terribly guilty for what she ended up living. Even now, two years since she dropped bat and left, I get overcome at odd moments thinking of her counting out money from her purse and leaving it on the table. She had saved that money gradually over years, refusing herself treats but for occasionally, enjoying them immensely when she did. And then, all the guilty pleasures she had wanted but never would allow herself, money that could buy them thrice over, was being handed to me and by me to my dealer. The price is heartbreaking when it's not your own money - it's not easier: it's harder. I had promised her success and she believed it, only she soon realised that there could be no success with me using heroin as I was doing. I ended every other night typing pages of the same letter with my face and that didn't produce the kind of poetry you could hang dreams on. If you ask her now, or in some years, how she experienced the writing process, she will tell you it disgusted her. It never disgusted me; I never saw it. For me it was life. The two had to be, and were, one and the same thing.
It was disappointment and disillusionment. That's what it was. She'd fantasized about the writing process, had eroticised it in her mind. She imagined being close to the poet, fucking through each great sentence, somehow inducing herself onto every page in every word. I'd allowed her too think such thoughts, had encouraged her. But unlike Anne I knew the process to be deeply private, the writer withdrawn from the interference of his immediate reality. Writers mostly write about what has passed - it's the only way to know what road you're on and how to depict and close it. Writing about the present is perilous and writing about the future fantasy. On the odd occasions when I did write of my life in the present, Anne did not figure in it at all. Until such a time as that chapter of my life with her was a closed one, or sufficient time had passed to conclude something of importance from it, she was obsolete in literary terms. I told her that not being in my texts was a privilege, that my writing is a wordyard of corpses and ghosts and that the time I wrote about her, condemned her to words in my work, it would almost certainly mean she was no longer of any significance in my life. She didn't understand that. She didn't understand that I would never exploit a love so loyal and honest for a few lines of poetry. She always saw it the other way around, like she didn't mean enough to me to be written about. That accounted for the disappointment, not the disgust. The disgust came from the poet sitting there half naked, his penis small and shrivelled, blood down his legs, a syringe hanging from his inner thigh and experiencing god knows what in his state of sedation. I would raise my head and prepare to type again. She would stare at me from over her book, her legs open as she sat on the bed, no underwear, her sex aroused. I'd pretend I hadn't seen. She'd remain like that, sometimes for hours, sometimes nudging me with her foot, before getting into bed and crying.
Boulevard Mermoz Pinel
Mermoz Pinel and her estatelands are separated from the east side of town by a dual-carriageway with a central divide. The carriageway is not wide but is sufficient to have isolated that section of the city and turned it into a lawless zone. The contrast is evident, even at a walk down the mermoz-side stretch of road, before turning right into one of Lyon's worst ghettoes. Five storey low-rise blocks run along this side of the carriagway, the windows overlooking traffic and a run down supermarket. Directly below these flats is a two meter stretch of mostly dead, yellow grass. A high perimeter railing runs the grass off, prevents it from contaminating the conctete walkway. The dead grass is strewn with rags of fabric, small pieces of broken toys, fallen plastic plant pots, burnt pages from books, pieces of toilet paper, random playing cards, the odd crayon, and thousands of cigarette ends from ashtrays emptied straight out the window. Throughout this debris are sat little mounds of dehydrated dog and cat shit, maybe human too. Big black flies buzz around, the traffic flashes by, life trudges in out the supermarket opposite and Mermoz Pinel rots away in the wastelands of town.
Turning into the estate brings broken, hole-picked roads, oil spills and dead car batteries discarded alongside the curbing. A car is sat on its rusted metal wheel rims, its windows all out and the seating and interior torn and ripped to shreds. A little kid, no older than 8, is sat at the driver's wheel pretending to drive. Loitering outside the small row of four shops which make up the estate's high street are a small group of shaven headed and criminal looking adults. They stand, blocking the narrow path, forcing people to move around them and following them with their eyes as they do. I walk straight on through the group. When they see I don't care a fuck they give an inch but it's hostile surrender. I turn into the tobacconists. When I leave they've stepped back a foot. I stop and light my little cigar in front of them. They pull up phleghm and spit it out to the side. I leave slowly, back to the Boulevard and off towards home.
As I wait to cross the busy carriageway a Facebook message beeps and vibrates through on my phone. A little circle with Theo's face in it appears on my screen alongside the words 'ça va?' When my dealer messages me asking how it's going, it means come around. I would have usually replied immediately "45mins" and been straight off across town. It wasn't possible today. Before replying I text'd Mary and asked if she could borrow me 30 euros. She said to meet her tomorrow at noon. I asked "not now?"
"I can't," she said. I understood what that meant but that's her private life and not for me to write of here. I agreed to meet her tomorrow and messaged my dealer the word '2omorrow'.
'That works' he replied. I tramped slowly around my area for an extended period. I went home and an hour later took off again on the same route. At 7pm I cracked and messaged Mary again: "There's no way you could pop out for two minutes to meet me?"
"OK. Sorry," I replied.
CroixPaquet - PlaceRouville - Hotelde Ville
I visited Mary today. She had agreed to lend me 30 euros for tobacco. I wrote her a cheque for the money and asked her to wait a week before cashing it. She said she didn't want the cheque. I insisted but she refused. She always refuses. Together we sat high up on the Croix Rouse hill, Place Rouville, overlooking the city and thinking. I told her I would be leaving Lyon this summer, returning home to London. We had arrived here together ten years ago. She, didnt reply. Just stared with a momentary sadness out into the distance. We both did. She has a baby daughter now, a month new in the world. Mary's changed. Motherhood has changed her. For the better or worse I'm not sure. Maybe neither. Maybe she's just changed.
I stayed with Mary and child for nigh on an hour. It's the longest I've been in anyone's company for over 5 months. We found a bar and each took a fruit juice with ice. Mary paid. As we sat out in the sun I asked her if she ever thought about heroin. She said no with such an honesty that it shocked me. "Never?" I asked, surprised, adding: "For me, on days like this, I am seduced by memories of walking up the Saxe Gambetta in the afternoon sun on our way to see Mamms... His dog scampering along and looking back with its tongue out as it slid in those boardings of the squat."
Mary looked at me and seemed to change her mind. Now she said she did have memories. She told me not of summer but of winter. The days we'd wait for hours in the wet, deserted square with our noses dripping and feet turned to ice.
"But they're sick memories," I said. "They were days we were half ill."
Whether or not she really remembers such days, outside of being asked about them, I doubt. I think her initial response was the truth. Its insightful nevertheless. It would take a huge tragedy in her life now to have her return to the needle. Her track marks are all healed. Her depression is gone. She quit her medication and stopped smoking when she found out she was pregnant. The only trace remaining of her heroin history is me, and soon I will be gone as well.
Alone, on my way back down the hill, I took some photos. I never take photos. I've learnt I should. Not of myself. Of the world and the places I've trodden and the places which have trodden on me. I never did of London and it haunted me, that gradual loss of true memory of my roots when I needed them the most. I will capture Lyon. In my literary memory and in photograph. It will be the Lyon of a Londonian, not the Lyon of the Lyonnaise. From my eyes their city may not even be recognisable to them. If I capture anywhere near the truth of my life here it most certainly will not be.
I was honest to my word and made sure to buy tobacco with the money Mary gave me. I purposely kept that 30 euros in my left pocket so as it wouldn't get muddled up with the 48 euros 78 centimes in my right. That 48 euros was my very last drippings of physical cash. It was for my dealer, for one last gram of heroin to be used up slowly over three days. As I waited for him at the foot of the hill at Place Terreux I bought 3 pouches of rolling tobacco, 2 packets of cigarette papers, 4 small cigarillos and a one euro Numéro Fetiche scratch card.
"A vous aussi," I said, collecting my purchases and leaving. I'm sure it'll be a good day for the entire fucking town.
Outside I stared blankly at my losing scratch card. I never expected to win anyway and by the time I had bought it I had already lost. It was a strategic no hope gamble. Hope is a disappointing emotion. I ripped the losing game into quarters and popped it in a trash can. Barely had I done so when a car beeped and slowed and stopped down along the road. I ran to catch up and got in the passenger side, pulling the door closed towards me as it drove off.
I have no cash at all. My dealer dropped me off a mile from home in that state. I am overdrawn all my limit and more so will be living the next two weeks on cheques. For each cheque I cash I will incur a ridiculous charge. My major concern will be tobacco. I've enough for ten days. You cannot buy tobacco with cheques in France, and so once I'm all smoked out I will need to find someone scrupulous enough to want to make a twenty euro profit on a cheque for cash. We will see. For now I have heroin. It will be the last for the month. My fingers will get a well-deserved rest from typing.
Oh God, spring is here in the sullied air and France prejoices to the distant haze of her Rimbaud summer and I'm four days clean and feel so unhappy and vile. To all old lovers, and Lovers of Tragedy, I saw it this morning on white muslin cloth billowing gently from some early window. I was stopped in my tracks. Olfactory memories. Fresh linen pegged on the line in the damp back yard, me lost entangled within it, brief glimpses of the spinning, wonderous blue sky.
When I look up buildings begin to topple.
"Mum, why is the house falling down?"
"I don't know," she would say. I would look up again, and sure enough, the house was falling down. And not just ours, all tall buildings everywhere. It was no illusion. The eyes can only see what they see. No more and certainly no less.
I looked ahead down the length of the Avenue Rockefeller, through the bright clarity of the morning. In the far distance a ghostly shimmering, the last of the cold morning air meeting the heat and laying like mist along the horizon. Sunlight glinted off the traffic far and way up ahead. I had to return home. My head was full of words, terrible words, and that can become a curse. My phone was low on battery charge too and I didn't want to fall into the fury of those words and be foiled by technology. Lost words like that will never return and its better to have never thought of them at all.
By the time I had gotten home and my phone had charged, the day had changed. Rain clouds had come over the afternoon and a wind rattled my door. I drank my methadone and went to sleep.
Albert Thomas - Monplaisir
It's the first day since seeing Theo that I feel well. I've not written much either but for a few emails and some scraps. The heroin was strong. I had argued with Theo the time before last I had seen him. I had left without buying anything which shocked him and I hadn't phoned for a week. It was him who finally messaged me. He gives nothing away for nothing and his stubbornness (unlike mine) only extends to him losing money. When he is losing money he can be capable of the kindest behaviour imaginable. I know this, but even I have to remind myself at times that he doesn't care a damn. The quality of the stuff he sold me was nothing more than good ol' bait. You could be sure if I had made the call he had baited for the next batch would have been half the strength, rotting sardine left for me to make it on. And yet, for all my years of knowledge, I would have still made that call, hoping for some honesty somewhere in this fucking racket of death. I would still like to make that call now. I cannot. I've no cash not even credit. I can be extremely stubborn and exercise amazing self-control and willpower when I'm potless. You should see me in them fine moments.
It drizzles. The sky. It's been a dull misty day, like sea spray. The road Albert Thomas runs on pretty much the same for miles. It's one of those roads you hate to tramp as you can always see how little you have gotten on and how far left ahead. I turn off at Monplaisir and cross the square. My bank is on the corner. I eye it suspiciously remembering so many soul-shrinking moments where the cash machine refused me cash; walking off red in the face, my heart beating and my eyes intent on the ground in hope of a miracle to blow on by in the form of a wallet full of notes. It happened once. 190 Euros. I condemned the find to history in style, withdrawing the notes and tossing the black leather wallet back over my shoulder into the air. The thing caught the wind and flew, the poor fellas ID and bank cards spinning free and blowing away behind me. People were looking at me strangely but I was already on my phone, asking my man if he was at home and holding, my pace quickening and heading towards the metro.
Touches like that are rare. And usually, when they do occur, it is when you least need them. I recall some years ago, in London, having done all my wages and having to stick to methadone for the last ten days of the month. Every evening I took these 6hr long walks around my area, my eyes peeled on the ground. I surmised that doing that for ten days I would at some point stumble upon a ten pound note. I walked for ten evenings, for 60 hours, and didn't find a penny. On the morning my wage finally went into my bank I crossed the road and entered the newsagents. With two thousand pounds fresh in my account I looked down and there staring up at me from the floor was a neatly folded twenty pound note. I picked it up between two crossed fingers, put it in my pocket, smiled and carried on with life.
The drizzle is now proper rain. It feels like there is a storm coming in. I cannot see the distance. Cars flash by and sound like sheeting being whipped and blown by heavy winds. I lower my head and with a shopping bag of cheap tinned food I make the walk back home.
It's 9pm and the evening is in. There are some fantastic dark streets just over the way. It's like being in a tiny country village. Silhouettes of large trees and conifers rise in the front gardens. The place smells of pine. I can hear my own heels clicking and I walk in a way so as to accentuate that. I walk these dark streets until gone 11pm and then head home. I am restless. I don't want to sit and write. I enjoy writing as I walk, as I take in life. I think of heading back out again but don't. I take a selection of authors I enjoy in order to look at sentence structure. I want to see how often other writers employ introductory clauses to open their sentences. I don't like such sentences but they are often unavoidable. I've tried writing without them but it leads to very choppy paragraphs, like sliced ham. I end up masturbating but not over sentence structure.
I take long walks. I constantly tidy the apartment. I run on the spot for 20 minutes at a time. I write and swallow my methadone. I reply to emails. I watch pornography of women urinating. I cook pasta and butter and add pepper and sliced cherry tomatoes. I smoke. I hand wash my clothes and hang them around the apartment. The apartment looks like a campsite. I pretend I'm a sniper holed up in an outhouse. I cannot sleep without heroin. I am constantly wanting to do stuff, to a level where it is irritating. I never get the urge to want to hit the sack and relax back to a film. I put on films but it's out of habit. 10 minutes in and I'm deliberating over what writing file to open, what book to read and take stylistic notes from. I pull up the shutter of the back window and stare out at the Silver Birch tree in the moonlight. It is what Tristram Spencer the hero of my novel Waiting for John does while waiting to have his skull bashed in. All my secrets are being revealed.
7eme arrondissement - Rue Jaboulay
Rue Jaboulay looks the same as ever. In whatever my head remembers the past I find it difficult to relate logically to time. There seems some magic loophole we must be able to exploit. I cannot comprehend how things are the same but life has moved on. I could turn into no. 47 now, climb the three flights of stairs and be mystified that my key doesn't work and my life isn't here anymore. I lived here for the first four years of my exile in Lyon. It was the apartment Mary and I took while we were in London. She travelled back and found it and laid a deposit down in preparation for our move. I remember the photos being emailed through to me as I was injecting in my leg in my office. An apartment in a foreign city I was now paying monthly rent on. It seemed absurd. How the hell would I ever really get there? It was the dream. Not my dream but hers. I went along with it because she was my dream. I'd later set fire to that apartment. Nothing too serious but a lot of smoke. I pass by here occasionally but more often than not I avoid it. It's an emotional place. A crossroads of life and lovers or happiness and heartbreak. A lot went on in this street. A lot of fucked up heroin activity too. I don't turn in and climb the stairs, of course not. I know I no longer live here, that my life is somewhere else. But I am dangerously on the threshold of insanity when I revisit old places. I guess that is why the past and time has so much to do with my literature. Memories are so sharp and feelings so fresh that its hard to comprehend that today isn't yesterday and just where exactly time goes...
"Exskews me mate 'av you got thuh time?" he would ask.
"Five forty five."
"What year is it?"
"What happens to time? Where does time go? It must go somewhere. Everything goes somewhere?"
I look at Chris the retard, 50 plus then, same bulgy eyes, one lazing off into a world that only he inhabits. He stands there staring at me, waiting for an answer, his back slightly hunched, his arms low slung and his fists clenched like a baby. He wears a baggy, dirty white T-shirt, trousers pulled up to his tits and beetle crusher shoes that look like he's been wandering the streets kicking along walls. For some reason he makes me terribly sad and in the same time he is a weird connection to a time which no longer exists.
He'd been on the scene all our young lives, 30 and playing with the neighbourhood kids... Riding bikes and making wild excited noises. I would blow into his large moon face and asked if it hurt. He would start crying and saying it hurt. I'd blow again, a blow that wouldn't hurt a flower. He'd toss his bike away and lumber up the road bawling his eyes out and yelping in pain. A little later he'd come skulking back, his head low and his lazy eye looking sadly at me. I'd blow his face again and ask: "Does that hurt?"
"Yes," he'd say collecting his bike and slowly peddling away for the evening. When he was far enough+h up the road he'd turn and pull a big ugly face at me, blow an horrendous wet noise from his mouth and then peddle for his life. I could have caught him on foot. His bike was childsized and he was a lumbering overweight adult whose burden flattened the tyres. Even at his fastest peddle he got nowhere. I always let him go.
How he recognised me after all those years is a mystery. I had changed so much that I could walk up and down my old street and not one of the neighbours knew who I was.
"I don't know where time goes," I tell Chris, after a moment .
"Muss go sumwhere," he says, "evrything goes sumwhere."
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