Well, this is all too familiar, thinks Charlie Pepper as the dawn rises like the tide, drenching the room in the cold blue light of day; washing us up on the empty shore of morning.

After ten years (give or take a few months here and perhaps there) of uninterrupted sobriety (ha!) Charlie realises he’s developing a bit of a speed habit. There isn’t any physical dependency, but the stuff’s incredibly moreish. Yesterday he had to pawn the telly to make up the rent, which was short because he’d spent it on poke. He didn’t care about the telly, it was expendable, and anyway, television rots the brain and makes you dull and stupid and bovine. Of course, the good intentions that trailed him through the doors of Cash Decimators evaporated like the morning dew the moment he had the cash in his hand, and in a microscopic fraction of an instant the decision was made - not consciously, not even subconsciously, but as a fleeting electronic impulse in the dark corridors of his brain - that fuck it: fuck the rent, deal with it tomorrow, go and get some more poke instead, you know it makes sense. It takes me back, he thinks, down the avenue of years to my leafy youth, when I first discovered the beneficial effects of powerful chemical stimulants on the mind. Up until that moment in the summer of 1992 depression had been the constant and relentless hum beneath the surface of his life; it was like having a leg ache, dull and tedious and constant, which meant that even on his best days, he couldn’t escape the conviction that really, if you’re honest with yourself, when you get right down to it life’s a bit shit. That’s probably why he drank, not that he’d ever given it a moment’s thought. Not that he needed a reason. The fact that he was awake and still alive was reason enough. Charlie just liked drinking. It was all he wanted to do. It brought him a sense of ease and comfort that he couldn’t find anywhere else. It didn’t matter how depressed he was, or how fucked up his life situation was at any given moment; he could even ignore the ever more brutal waves of guilt and shame that relentlessly crashed upon whatever was left of his soul; as long as he had a drink in his hand, everything was cool.  

He’d never been one for coffee mornings.

Like all alcoholics, actual and potential, Charlie Pepper had morbidly low self-esteem, and an ego the size of a small country. This was going to cause him no end of problems.


The “ego” is that function of the mind which leads a man to believe himself an individual, unconnected to the world in which he finds himself and separate from the people around him. It is the part of the mind that most people consider to be “I”, my "self”. This is not the truth. The truth is that the one we refer to as “I” – the one who never changes, the one who lends his existence to all phenomena, the one that is conscious -  is the limitless absolute awareness in which all names and forms arise like pictures on a screen, like images in a mirror. The truth is that there is only one “I”; it is the same in you as it is in me and everybody who ever lived or ever will, and the dream of birth and death, the dream of individuality, the dream of being something other than the universe in which we find ourselves is an illusion. Taking it to be real is ignorance, the cause of all suffering, and is called Samsara.

The effect of Samsara is that the limitless nondual reality now believes itself to be an insignificant individual in a world filled with billions of others; a world that is inherently hostile, insecure and uncertain. He feels limited; limited by time, space, money, health and a billion other factors. So he tries to escape his sense of limitation, his sense of incompleteness, his sense of lack, by chasing after objects in the world which he thinks will make him happy and performing actions which he believes will make him complete.  He casts madly around for a solution to his problem, for something to numb the pain. Some people spend their lives in bitterness and frustration; others pursue money and status all the way to the grave; still others join weird cults and allow themselves to be brainwashed so that they don’t have to face reality; one or two become dictators and murder people in industrial quantities. Charlie Pepper sat and drank and thought about things, and looked forward to the happy morning when he would not wake up.


From the moment he picked up a drink, he didn’t have a hope in hell. His life became a grotesquery of drunkenness, blackouts, guilt, shame and embarrassment, interspersed with tedious and predictable early morning phone calls from his ever dwindling circle of friends, who regaled him with explicit details of his escapades and cast violent and ludicrous aspersions on his character.

He dealt with it by putting up a front; by laughing it off and acting like he couldn’t care less. He became an expert in shooting like a bullet in the face quick and deadly ripostes at these sanctimonious cunts who took such delight in being shocked and affronted by this misdemeanours - each one more vile and detestable than the last - for which they would rain judgement down upon him like arrows from the lofty perch that they misperceived to be the moral high ground.

                “…Well of course I pissed on the carpet, I was drunk…”

                “…well I was steaming, honey.  Of course I fucked your mum…”

                “…she’ll get over it…”

 “…I wasn’t even there….”

“…I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…  I’m just so desperately fucking sorry…”

                  And so on.

But he did care. He was mortified, baffled and confused. Guilt and shame became the chattering monkeys on his back which caused him to drink even more, resulting in further blackouts, wildly escalating guilt and shame and - inevitably - more drunkenness.

He didn’t know what was wrong with him. No-one else ever ended up in the situations Charlie did after a few beers. None of his friends ever committed the humiliating, antisocial and unforgivable acts that Charlie did, without fail, whenever he was drinking. When you considered it, it was grossly unjust; his peers were a bunch of straights and lightweights who didn’t even know the meaning of the word “drunk”. It was shameful. He could drink them under the table and grope their girlfriends while he was down there. after five or six drinks they’d have had enough, they wanted to go home. After five or six drinks Charlie Pepper wanted to go to town; he was just getting started. How he wished that just once, somebody else would reduce a young girl to tears by holding her hostage in the shadowy corner of a nightclub and trying to get inside her knickers with his head; get arrested for throwing a brick at a policeman’s helmet or wind up in hospital after falling off a roof, impaling himself on a fencepost or being repeatedly hit by traffic. He was forever apologising for his crimes, always making amends, always eating humble pie. He had unwittingly taken the position - as sooner or later every alcoholic does - of always being the one to blame, of being wrong by default. 

He feared he was mad, but that he might be alcoholic never crossed his mind. It would be years before he found out, by which time he’d resigned himself to the prospect of a life of bleak and hopeless desperation, ending in wet brain and a hideous alcoholic death.

But drugs changed everything. Thin and white and smouldering and able to stay upright; he now felt the power of God coursing through his veins, filling him with holy fire. Life became a joy, an ocean of intense sensual experience he abandoned himself to and drowned himself in. It was Brahman making love to Brahman; God eating God. For the first time in his life he experienced wholeness and bliss. It was Tantra.


One night in the summer of 1992 he had made the acquaintance of Cooper, a university student moonlighting as a purveyor of mind-altering substances, who - in exchange for twenty pounds - supplied Charlie with two grams of amphetamine sulphate, which he swiftly pocketed, and left. He wandered past the Buttercross and down the High Street, dabbing at the speed and licking it off his fingers. Ten minutes later he was – utterly without warning and totally without mercy – assailed by the urgent need to take a massive dump; a dump so massive that there was nothing he could do to hold it in or even slow it down, so intent was it in its desperate bid for freedom. He’d only just made it to the gents in the Abbey Gardens before the monstrous head of the bastard made first contact with the outside world, and he had to sprint for the kazi, and even then was only just in time to clear the way for it as the weight and velocity and trajectory of the thing caused it to shoot out of his body and into the sewers below in a manner and speed not unlike that of a torpedo. The relief that followed was so fantastic that his mind flooded with the bliss of temporary nirvana, and when it had passed he discovered that he had the raging horn. On the short walk across Broadway to the bus station, he wanted to sodomise, well, everything.


The fifteen minute journey back to Springvale seemed to take forever, because the bus driver was one of those surly bastards who really like to drag it out for you. Charlie was in a state of crazed sexual arousal, and could barely resist the temptation to leap off the bus at the next opportunity and go and knock one out in the bushes. By the time he burst through the front door his balls felt ready to explode, which reminded him of Timmy Dingle’s pet rabbit, because that’s exactly what happened to him. Blew the back end of the rabbit clean off. Shocking, it was, the poor little fluffy short bastard. Tripped mostly all the way up the stairs in the manner of a man whose testicles are about to explode. Thirty seconds later he’d embarked upon a savage and frenzied wank over a copy of Razzle that he kept under his bed, little suspecting that he’d still be at it four hours later, but with such violent depravity that he was foaming at the mouth in the manner of an escaped patient from a maximum security hospital for criminally insane compulsive masturbators. Had there been a fly on the wall that night, it would have been massively traumatised for the remainder of its short life. The Razzle magazine wouldn’t even survive the next fifteen minutes.

When he’d finally got the wanking out the way he could get on with the real business of the night, the existential business; an undertaking that didn’t automatically doom him to end his days as a rabid semi-vegetable, obsessively and compulsively jackhammering at the ruins of his penis because it was the only thing he had left and didn’t know he had it anyway, because he wasn’t there. There was nobody there, just a drooling meat machine that got broken. 


With the heavy weight of depression lifted, Charlie’s whole word exploded into the light of infinite potential. It was like Plato’s cave; stepping out of the black hole you’ve been in all your life which you imagined it to be the world, into a luminous and radiant creation of sights and sounds and smells and space, a world that recreates itself in every moment.  Better than excellent, he thought to himself as he wandered through the High Street at the closing overs of Saturday night, the billy buzzing and tingling up his back and through his brain and testicles, a twitching erection stirring in his boxer shorts, I feel like God. I am the wizard of speed and time. I am the egg man, I am the walrus. Goo goo ga joob. It was a novelty to see the lads staggering unsteadily from the pubs, throwing up in bins or on the pavement and falling into the street and fronting up to each other and beating their girlfriends and vomiting over their white Reebok Classics, because usually by this time on a Saturday night he was either lying in a bush somewhere, in a police cell or at A&E.

He had arrived.

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