EARLY MORNING KNOCK UP by Harry McAvinchey

rosebank cut 9 pg
“You’d better get up sonny....”  Those were the first words I heard
behind the blazing  incandescence. I was groggily aware of a
looming shape within the halo of roiling light as I rolled
dreamily awake in my duck- down sleeping bag. There was a torch
shining in my eyes and a heavy pistol at my temple.
It was autumn 1975 in a terraced street in Leeds. It was still
coal dark; maybe an hour or two before the sun rose. I wasn't in
great shape then. I was a skinny, hippy, long-haired, bearded
guy in those days, flying my anti-establishment kite, just out of
Art School, some forty years ago,  but I'd picked up infectious
hepatitis somehow during the previous few months and was working
my way through the glamour -free recovery process that would take
another six months. My similarly free-spirited art school
girlfriend and I had split up at the end of the summer and I felt
desolate; back sharing a house with a bunch of male friends, I
would never see her again.
 I wasn't allowed to eat anything with fat in it as my liver
couldn’t deal with it, so I was existing on a diet of mostly dry
bread and fruit and was using separate dishes and my own
knife,fork and spoon. This awful bug that had colonised my body
had made me something to be feared ... I was an untouchable....I
may as well have had the plague....
 At twenty three I felt the world had come to an unhappy
conclusion and while licking my wounds at the loss of my partner
in love, I had been burning my candle at both ends and partying
too hard; drinking and speeding on amphetamine, earning handy
money as a forklift driver, working in a warehouse outside the
city. As short-term gigs went, I hadn't to work shifts; the work
wasn't too hard and my evenings, nights and weekends were free. I
had no real responsibilities either. After Art College, I was
drawing underground comix and doing artwork for a plethora of
small -print fanzines.
That all came to a crashing finale when my skin turned yellow;
the whites of my eyes yellow-ochred over while something like the
worst flu that was ever conceived, set up housekeeping in my
skinny body for months. I could hardly walk or move with pains in
my joints and back .Wasted and wan, is what springs to mind
retrospectively. I’d never even heard of infectious hepatitis
back then but was soon to hear it was the kind of thing that rock
stars picked up while sharing drugs, indulging in too much
energetic, youthful, hormone- mad sex, or generally living in
unsanitary places or travelling and eating food on the road. I
had done my stint of Kerouac –style “On the Road” travels in
Europe too.  It wasn't quite the dissipated horror of "Withnail
and I" but it was in the same shabby bohemian territory. People
like Keith Richards or Phil Lynnot got hepatitis and I was
ticking all the same boxes, back then in my blazing youth.
 I joked that it was nature's way of telling me to slow down. The
guy in the students union bar at the university whom I'd recently
bought a wrap of speed from was the first to notice my condition
and remark on the fact that I was drinking orange juice instead
of beer. Beer was making me sick and the orange juice was the
only thing I could handle. He pointed out that I'd either
acquired a late summer tan overnight or I might be jaundiced. He
was a medical student and advised I should see a doctor. My liver
was packing in. Jaundice? My late mother used to talk in that
country-woman's way about "Getting the Jaundies"...Something I'd
never thought about until then. She posted over a bagful of herbs
and moss, which when boiled in milk and drunk, were supposed to
cleanse my liver. It was an old Irish folk-remedy. Well , I had
ingested every other  kind of medicinal ”herb” by then so I had
no fear of a herb-infused milkshake prescribed by my
mother.....”Mother’s Milk”,indeed.
There it was ...the doctor asking...”Do you take drugs?”. I told
him I smoked the occasional spliff.... “Have you ever shared a
needle with anyone?” Any heroin addicts I'd known were not seen
as potential role-models...all that sweating and the smell of the
coming -down alcohol percolating out of their sour pores. That
wasn’t for me. Old Yan and his "Bloody Marys"; his vodka on his
cornflakes diet wasn't something that inspired me or that I had
aspirations to emulate. He and his room always stank of tomato
juice and vodka while he kept his heroin cravings at bay. I met
his mother  at one point .She reminded me of a gothic  Miss
Havisham from a Dickens story, in her flowing black lace dress.
She must have been a heroic character in her youth...a muse...
because she'd posed for the sculptor Henry Moore .Apparently her
modelled hands adorned the facade of some municipal building.
She’d begged me to make sure "My Yan" didn't get his hands on any
more of “that heroin”. Bearing in mind that I was twenty three
and "My Yan" was nearing thirty, I thought that the “child was
father to the man”. I was as good as my promised  word though and
any time I found his hidden "works" secreted anywhere , I'd
immediately bin the needle and assorted paraphernalia .Smoking a
little dope was one thing but heroin was a different kind of
commitment altogether.
 Well I'd never injected drugs but I'd smoked bales of hashish
and grass over the preceding seven years.Paki-Black, Afghani
Black, Lebanese Gold,Moroccan,Nepalese Temple Balls, Hash
Oil,Sinsemilla Grass...all those different flavours and effects ,
like the assorted highs and unique tastes and aromas  of various
fine wines or olives...I’d become familiar with then all....  .
Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary and the underground press, aided by
my innate seventeen year old curiosity were the entry
points.Since then, I’d taken a boatload of LSD and tripped
through the "Doors of Perception". Just seeing what all the talk
was about and discovering that the psychedelic experience was as
nebulous and unexplainable as the universe. The wash of time and
the cellular extraordinariness of molecular life and existence
was visionary and inexplicable but that was now in the past.
   I dipped a little "speed" when it was offered around or if I
felt like a bit of a lift. Coffee and amphetamine sulphate gave
us all the energy we needed to work and also party like demons.
We mostly enjoyed having a cool smoke of good reefer and
listening to what the effect did to music though. The way it made
the ordinary seem profound; how it stretched time out so that you
could live inside a song, inhabit it and become a character
within its world. It also made us laugh very loudly and really
relax. The downside was the laziness that it brought on but that
was a small exchange for the droll pleasure it gave. It was a
small underground conspiracy that we all shared.
There's always a price to pay for artificial stimulation and the
coming down "low" was the price for the "high" .I didn't really
drink a lot of alcohol. Just enough. Of course there was the mad
wanton sex with my girlfriend and the fact that she shoved a
needle through my earlobe to fit one of the set of gold earrings
we each shared. She’d sterilised that needle over a candle flame,
though, so I don't think it was that contamination that brought
on my illness. Back then it was a pretty unusual, chic thing for
men to wear a single earring. A little piratical or gypsy
gesture, rather than a fashion statement It wasn't until twenty
years later that everyone and his dog sported them, and like
tattoos ,they quickly lost their rebel glamour.
There was the rambling, tumbling rat hole of a crumbling three
storey  house, with the free gas and electricity constantly
running day and night, that the Indian bus driver, landlord
seemed oblivious of.He charged us a tenner a week and left us
alone.It was  due for demolition. We shared it like a commune
with some friends and that delightful little kitten whose mother
had carefully left on our doorstep. Its baleful  influence went
unnoticed until there was a summer heat wave and suddenly the
carpet was hopping with fleas. The kitten had brought some
friends to the party and they seemed to enjoy my blood more than
life itself.
So no drug-filled needles,then, but plenty of hungry little
mouths feasting on my flesh and blood. A combination of these
events conspired to put me the vulnerable position I now
inhabited.
We'd just moved to this new place before the pre-dawn incident
took place.The wrecking ball was moving down the street as we
left the old haunt. This new house was a step up from the
previous crumbling wreck .This one wasn’t quite dissolving before
our eyes. We were all young though and such minor irritations
didn’t bother any of us to a great extent. As long as the roof
was sound and there was somewhere to sleep and a hearty meal
every day, we really didn’t care.
 There was Big Doc and Herbie the Bean, both Belfast men .Big Doc
had returned from a six month hitch-hiking foray in India and
Nepal before resuming his studies at university. Herbie was an
old mate of his from Belfast. He’d been a butcher in his previous
life and constantly expounded on the perfect recipe for beef
sausages. There was another guy from Derry who was studying and
heavily involved in the left wing Young Socialists at the
university. The only other inmate was Grimesie from my own
hometown who'd recently moved up from London to have a look at
the action in Leeds. We each had a room in this little terraced
house with it Coronation Street vibe and its toilet outside in
the yard. We showered down at the university and washed our
clothes in a nearby laundrette. The only concessions to décor
were the few posters stuck to the plain, grubby walls or an
occasional ethnic wall-hanging to add some colour and focus to
the rooms. Like most houses and flats near the university,
polytechnic and art college, there was a constant traffic of
friends and acquaintances coming and going; talking or sharing a
cup of tea or a joint.
 At that time Peter Sutcliff, the Yorkshire Ripper had begun to
ply his gruesome trade across the other side of town. He was
busily murdering prostitutes and various women and telling
himself that God had made him do it. There was paranoia afoot,
especially among the young women and the students of Leeds
University. This was also the era of Irish Republican bombings in
England. The IRA had carried the terror from Northern Ireland to
the English mainland and were exploding bombs in public houses.
In the months previously, the Guildford Four, the Maguire Seven
and the Birmingham Six featured in the news, supposedly captured
IRA gangs responsible for various bombing raids in England .These
Irish people were subsequently found guilty and served long
prison setences , only to be declared totally innocent of any
crime and released many years later. The police wanted scalps
though, and you only had to be Irish then to merit their
attention.
At the time we saw ourselves as nothing more than a bunch of
young scallywags who were only too glad to be away from the
terror of life in Northern Ireland .Our biggest fear would have
been being busted by the drug squad for a half ounce of “shit” or
a few roaches. The last thing we thought about was an anti-
terrorist squad.
That, of course was what had crashed into our house in the wee
small hours of the morning. It was like an episode of a grubby
television cop show, like “The Sweeney”, in real-time. This
dishevelled, sleepy group of young men were herded together in
the front room, while our uninvited “guests” kept a keen eye open
for any untoward behaviour from us. It was tense. We worried
about the few roaches that lay in the fire-grate. The remnants of
a couple of night-before spliffs we had enjoyed. The plain-
clothes policemen were thinking of other things. It transpired in
conversation that a friend of Big Doc’s had been arrested in
Belfast and traces of explosives had been found on his
clothing .Big Doc knew nothing of this though, having spent the
six months previous on the hippy trail east, more interested in
smoking kif on rooftops of Nepal and wondering about the mystery
of the universe and the shining white stars above.
The one person in this “criminal cabal” who hadn’t yet been
roused from blissful slumber was Grimsie ...or the “Groins
Monster”, as he was sometimes affectionately, referred. This was
not actually surprising because he inhabited the top room in the
house, a converted attic bedroom. Access to this bijou pied- a-
terre was actually hidden, in that the door formed part of a
wooden –panelled wall at the top of the stairs. It was like a
secret door. To say that the assorted policemen, now  gathered
downstairs with these potential “terrorists”, were taken by
surprise, would be understating things. When Grimsie, his huge
woolly early- morning  afro, an explosion of the trichologist’s
art , burst through the door, rubbing his eyes from happy
sleepsville,with an rheumy  expletive, followed by Bugs Bunny’s
“What’s up Doc?”, aimed at Big Doc. ...Well , many pins could have
been heard dropping. In that moment of undisguised bloody panic,
every gun in the room was swivelled sharply in the direction of
this woolly, astounded vision. You couldn’t make this up.
The tension in the room quickly dissipated as the absurdity of
the situation sank in. Big Doc and Herbie were taken in for
questioning as a matter of form, but were delivered back to us
having breakfasted to repletion at the expense of the Yorkshire
police force.
Meanwhile I was still eating my bland, dry toast.
                                _
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