How Not to Survive

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The next time I open my eyes there’s this blinding white light everywhere, like I’ve died and gone over to the other side. For a few seconds it’s like I’m floating in space, and I’m just waiting for that deep booming voice you always get in films to instruct me on how to proceed when this other voice that’s like, the opposite of celestial, goes, ’S alright, ’e’s coming round!

Get that torch out of his face! screeches another voice, which sounds awfully familiar, Get back and give him some air!

I blink a few times and the white light recedes and replaced with blackness, which gradually evolves into colours, which settle into a view of my two favourite pigs, Algie and Freddy. Freddy’s holding a torch and they’re both peering down at me with these super-relieved smiles like I’ve just come back from the dead.


These hands come between the policemen and shove them out of the way, and the next thing I see Mum bearing down on me. Before I so much as tell her I’m fine she envelops me in this proper wrestlers’ hug that has me like, gasping and ready to black out all over again.

Ahhh, goes Freddie without a trace of irony.

Do you have any idea how on many counts we could sue you on? snaps Mum, finally pulling back from her pile-driver and turning round to face them, This sort of negligence is the kind of thing that ruins careers and closes down departments!

Freddy looks suitably cowed by this, but Algie just affects a big knowing smile, as if Mum’s cracked a good one.

With all due respect Mrs Jones, I think the person to blame for this is sitting right in front of you, he goes – obviously referring to yours truly, We do everything we can, but we can hardly be held responsible for –

Mum holds up a hand and he stops automatically.

That’s Barrister Jones to you, she snaps, And I think I actually might know what I’m talking about, thank you very much.

It’s kind of amusing to watch the colour draining out of Algie’s face.

A young man in your custardy passes out and you don’t even notice, continues Mum in her I-am-a-lawyer-hear-me-roar! voice, He could have died. And you say you can’t be held responsible? I wonder if your chief superintendent will see it the same way. Who is he, incidentally?

By now Algie’s visibly trembling.

He’s like, There’s really no need for any.... drastic action, surely?

Mum snorts and turns back to look at me. She gives me the once over, like she’s checking for other signs of acute police negligence.

Not if you’re releasing him without charge I suppose, she concedes finally, with the air of someone doing somebody else this massive favour.

Algie looks pretty grateful.

Oh no, no charge... he goes, We just wanted him for questioning. His friend tried to implicated him but it’s very clear he was simply mixed up and in over his head. Not the sort of thing I expect he’ll be repeating any time soon!

He forces out a chuckle.

In that case, announces Mum, He’s free to go.

She turns her fearsome legal glare on Freddie, who cowers away from her.

Are you the one in charge of clothing around here?

Within two minutes I’m back in my own togs and being frogmarched out of the station by Mum, who seems to command this instinctive respect from all the pigs, judging by the way they all scurry out of our path. One of them even rushes to open the main door for her, and she rewards him with this fierce nod that seems to strike the fear of god into him. It’s like, boom the bitch is back.

She doesn’t say a word to me, just propels me around the building and over the road, where Des is waiting in beaten up old bomb of a Mini, into which his mountain-sized body has somehow been crammed in with his knees practically touching the ceiling.

I’m like, What’s he doing here?

Mum’s like, Des was kind enough to give me a lift from Rose Evans, since I didn’t have time to go home.

She’s speaking through her teeth, and still has her fingers locked tight around my arm like she thinks I’m going to bolt if she lets go. She opens the door and manoeuvres me to the backseat.

Alright Jaz? goes Des.

I don’t have the energy to respond to The BFG right now, not even to say hi and thanks for picking me up. I just kind of slump against the seat and let my head loll back. But Mum’s not about to let me just fall asleep on her. As soon as she’s in and put the child lock on so I can’t escape, her facade of cool vanishes and she whips round and lets me have it, sergeant major-style:


I try to act like I’m taking it all in but the truth is I’m only listening with one ear, because even though I get that she’s mad and sick of being like, ritually disappointed, it’s so good to see her back in action it’s like it’s all been be worth it. Almost, but not quite, since after about thirty seconds of having my ears blasted off I’m ready to return to the station and beg them to put me back in the clink, and Des looks like he’s ready to be my cellmate.

Just as our eardrums are about to bleed, the amazing volume suddenly peters down into a whimper, and the content changes from blaming me to blaming herself. Mum basically sits there with her face in her hands and her head stuck to the dashboard going on about how it’s all her fault for not setting a better example and how she’s a terrible mother and it’s no wonder I’m throwing my life down the toilet. I’m sort of tempted to agree with her, since there’s definitely something in it, but it’s obviously not the right time for acorns of truth.

Des reaches out and lays a King Kong sized hand on her shoulder, the word HATE spelled out across his knuckles.

This isn’t your fault, he goes, You’re a good woman Lois.

Mum manages a grim smile for Des’ sake.

She’s like, Thank you Des.

She sits up and sniffs, then wipes at her eyes and takes a deep breath. Me and Des both watch with trepidation in case she’s preparing herself for another mega-blast, but thankfully she lets it out again and turns around once more.

This isn’t over, she assures me, But tonight you’re coming home with me. We’ll drive over to yours and pick up some clothes. Des, head for Canary Wharf.

Des starts the engine.

I’m like, Actually, happens I don’t live that way anymore...

Mum’s like, Since when?

There’s not much for it but to admit the whole debacle about getting thrown out and ending up in Danny’s rodent-infested hole of residence. I try to make her understand about what a piece of work Arse Face is, but it’s obvious Mum doesn’t really believe me and I guess at this stage it’s fair enough, since she has just blown off rehab for my sake.

So you’re saying this... drug dealer is who you’ve been staying with, she goes slowly, managing to make Danny sound like the ultimate nightmare.

There’s not much sense in lying at this stage.

I’m like, Yeah.

Mum absorbs this quietly.

Fine, she says coolly, We’ll go collect your things. Where does he live?

I’m not sure it’s such great idea to driving over there but there’s no talking to Mum, who’s seems quite excited by the prospect of a chance to give Danny a piece of her mind, drug dealer or not. There’s something pretty tragic about setting your mummy on your enemies, but when I try to say maybe I should just go round there another time she tells me to shut up in this voice that makes it dangerously clear that not shutting up would be a Bad Idea. We spend half of the journey to Peckham in this tense silence, until Des finally decides now would be a good time to give me a sermon and starts ad nauseating about his own time in jail and how I don’t want to end up like him – which is a pretty accurate statement. At some point his oration changes from how lucky I am to be able to do something about my situation to how lucky I am to have an amazing woman who loves me and is prepared to do anything to keep me out of trouble.

Oh you! gushes Mum, patting his shoulder.

Des seems so pleased by just to be touched by Mum that he misses the turn I’ve told him to take. It’s painfully apparent that he’s tit over minge in love with her, whereas Mum blatantly has no idea and continues to treat him like he’s some kind of cuddly lovable Big Foot.

Half an hour later we pull up outside Danny’s building. There’s a gang of hoodies kicking around a Tesco bag, two teenage mums smoking while they watch from the wall, and some junkie/hooker sleeping at the foot of the stairs with her mouth open wide. Mum’s pretty horrified and like, breathes, This is where you’ve been living? but Des turns all nostalgic and shakes his head at the sight, saying how he used to live around these parts back when he was a lad.

I lead them past the sleeping junkie and up to Danny’s flat. I’m pretty much dreading seeing Danny again and whatever scene’s going to happen. But in the end it turns out there’s not going to be any scene, because when I knock on the door it swings right on open and inside there’s no one and nothing. It’s like the place has been ransacked. What was previously a dump has been transformed into a derelict space, totally empty except for the few boxes of my stuff. It’s not like it was heaving with all Danny’s belongings before, but now everything, even the crummy old mattress I was sleeping on, has vanished.

Well, goes Mum folding her arms disapprovingly like it’s exactly what she expected, Looks as if somebody’s moved house in a hurry.

These things yours? goes Des, casually piling up the two heaviest boxes and then lifting them up with one arm. I nod and Mum picks up another one.

Right, goes Mum, Let’s get this show on the road.

She and Des head for the door, but instead of following I find myself going through to Danny’s bedroom. It’s empty as well – even the old sheet that covered the window is gone. I’m about to leave when I notice the picture of his mum is still there on the broken bedside table. I hesitate, thinking to leave it, but then for some reason I pick it up and pop it on top of one of the boxes. Don’t ask me why. It’s not like I’m ever planning to see Danny again, and if I did it’s not like we’re going to have this long giggle session about the good old days before he tried to pin the blame on me. But still. It just seems wrong to leave it there like that so it can be used as an ashtray by some squatter.

It’s almost noon by the time we get to our house in Shepherd’s Bush. Bilbo greets us as soon as we get in the door by throwing himself at Des’ feet and having an open orgy right there on the carpet.

Hello kitty! goes Mum brightly, reaching down to tickle his chin, Did somebody get used to having Des around to feed him? Ugh– fleas!

She leaves me and Des to unload my things while she starts going from room to room straightening the house up, and making these great Tssk! and Oh dear! noises at all the dust that’s built up since she left. Then she microwaves three frozen chicken tikkas and we sit down to an awkward lunch, during which Mum does nothing but opine about how wonderful the Rose Evans Recovery Centre for Women is. Des spoons his entire meal into his gob all in one go and then simpers along until Mum runs out of bland tributes to pay the clinic and unexpectedly declares that despite it all that she’s rather glad to be shot of it since she was getting perfectly sick of those stupid layabouts around her, and of being held accountable to a bunch of baby-faced know-it-alls.

While Des is saying goodbye I hang out in the living room with Bilbo, who’s still in this ecstatic trancelike state at having so many people around and keeps rubbing up against me like he can’t quite get his satisfaction. It feels weird to be home again, like I’ve gone backwards in life. Which I guess I pretty much have.

Thank you so much Des, I hear Mum saying in the hall.

You know Lois... Des goes, with the telltale tone of a sermon coming on.

I like, close my ear holes off and squat down to stroke Bilbo. As I do all these self help books on the shelf catch my eye. Mum bought them a few years ago, back when me, her and Dad were going to counselling sessions and we were all trying to pretend there was still a chance we could one day be OK. I remember how much I used to take the piss out of her for them. They’ve all got stupid titles like How to Change Your Life with the Power of Positive Thinking! and You Can: A Practical Guide to Modern Life, and How To Be The Best Person You Can Possibly Be. There’s something pretty funny that despite all these gurus’ words of wisdom none of it worked – Mum and Dad still split up, Mum still started drinking, I still turned out to be the miscreant from hell. I mean, you’ve got to wonder who exactly these books do work for, if they really even worked for the authors themselves, and if so, like, for how long?

But I guess it’s the same with everything, like, psychotherapy, homeopathy, hypnotherapy etc – it’s all there to help you lead a better life, but when you get all existential about it, life’s not really all that marvellous and that’s nobody’s fault. There’s no certainty about anything, no clear cut this is good and this is bad, this is right and that is wrong. Shit stuff happens to good people all the time, and great stuff happens to awful people, and there’s no justifying it. So why not put your faith in some dumb How To guide, if it makes you feel a bit better about stuff? Even if that’s all it does, maybe it’s not such a totally bad thing.

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