Friday, 10 July 2015

Government racism or just par for the course?

I know I'm supposed to try and keep this blog about my writing, but this year has been too up and down so instead I'm using it to rant!

This is supposed to be a fair and progressive country, but once again the government have thrown an almighty spanner in the works of my life. Never before have I considered suing the government for anything, but now I'm considering trying it for overt racism...

I'd probably better explain.

My wife is from Turkey. She came over here in 2009 as a student, working to support herself as allowed by her visa. She then got a work visa, and continued to work within the NHS. We met in 2011, got married in 2012, and so we switched to a spouse visa. In all that time, she has continued to work, paying her tax and NI contributions. Because a new rule has been introduced by the government, we now have to pay a £500 health surcharge on top of the visa extension fees due in September, despite the fact that she should be covered by what she's paying already, as you and I are. I just called immigration to confirm, and the lady said "I don't agree with this, but if doesn't matter if they're paying NI already, everyone applying for a visa to remain in the country has to pay the health surcharge". Apparently this surcharge is to stop "health tourism", which is probably made up by the government anyway, but surely health tourism is only done by people who aren't contributing to the system already? On top of that, we're expecting our first baby imminently (the NHS fees having already been paid by mine and her contributions, before you say anything), and now we're supposed to magic up another £500 from somewhere? I've also been told in no uncertain terms that if she doesn't pay the surcharge, her application to remain will be refused and they'll send her back to Turkey, tearing our family apart.
I'm understandably angry, but I can't help but think this:
My wife already pays for a service. The government want her to pay for the service twice because she's a foreigner. Isn't that racism?

Thursday, 2 April 2015

7 weeks, 1 day.

If you read my previous post, you'll know that I ended up having to put my mum in care while dad was in hospital, fighting the fight against pancreatic cancer.  I'll try and pick up where I left off, but so much has happened that some of it is a bit of a blur.

At the end of February, dad had to have an operation to have a stent put into his liver, with the hope that the bile would drain enough for him to have chemotherapy.  His prognosis, given on the 13th January, was only 3 months and came as a complete shock to everyone, as he's always been relatively healthy, with a few bumps in the road here and there.

Although the stent allowed some of the bile to drain, it wasn't draining fast enough, and due to an infection dad picked up during the operation, he remained in hospital in Chichester, and for a couple of days we thought he wouldn't make it.

At this point, I was waking up in the morning, driving my wife to get her bus for work at 0740, then driving over to Midhurst.  I'd get to mum and dad's bungalow, make a coffee, then begin the painstaking task of trying to piece together all the various finances, forms and other paperwork that dad had listed for me so that I could get their affairs in order.

We were now looking at a revised prognosis of weeks, rather than months, but for a while it felt like I was the only one who could see it as I was with him and talking to the (wonderful) Macmillan nurses every day.

My boss, luckily, is also a good friend, and so he told me to do what I needed to do and not worry about work.  Had it not been for him I would have had a breakdown.  My brother, Carl, was stuck working in Abu Dhabi, much to his frustration, but as the family realised how bad things had become, they rallied round and helped, particularly with going to see mum and taking her to see dad when I was too busy arguing with the council or trying to unravel the mysteries of dad's finances.

Every morning at this point would start with a phone call to the ward to see how dad was, before the inevitably teary drive to Midhurst.  I very carefully stayed away from using the ipod in the car, as some of the songs on there would reduce a brick to tears at the best of times, but it's strange how a usually banal song on the radio can bring forth a rush of emotion when you're about to lose someone as close as I've been to dad.

On Tuesday 24th, a space became available in Pendean House, a beautiful hospice and nursing home just outside Midhurst. I drove over to Chichester to pick dad up, and by the time I got there he was more than ready to get off the ward.

Apart from one hiccup where one of the shifts nearly killed him by sending him home (they had the wrong patient, but we would have been out the door had we not challenged it), the staff on the ward were amazing, but it was a post-op surgical short stay ward, and dad had been there for a week, so it was high time for him to be somewhere more comfortable.

I just want to say here that one of my enduring memories of that time is my wife, Asli, sat on his bed holding his hand, while his other hand rested on her 20 week bump and a huge smile lit his face as he looked at her.  He loved Asli as much as I do and I can't tell you how proud he was that he was going to be a grandfather again.

As we left the ward, dad holding onto my arm and taking tiny steps (apart from when he broke away to hug the nurses, of course), he told me that we should drive to Midhurst, where I could get my own car as I'd been driving his, and then we would drive in convoy to Pendean.

I raised an eyebrow at that but didn't say anything, until we reached the lift twenty feet away from the ward and he had to lean against the wall to catch his breath.  I suggested then that he wasn't fit to drive, and he agreed, not having realised, perhaps, quite how weak he really was until that point.

We drove straight to Pendean, and I drove like an old lady.  Dad hissed in pain every time we even looked at a pothole, so I was as gentle as I could be, and tried to keep him engaged in conversation to keep him awake.

Those of you who know dad will remember him as a cheerful, garrulous man with a constant twinkle in his eye, but for the last few days he had deteriorated rapidly, and would spend most of any given conversation falling asleep, his eyelids dropping shut a few words into a sentence, only to pick up a few seconds later if nudged, and if he remembered what he was talking about.  That made it particularly hard to get enough information to sort out the finances and other things he needed me to do, as I often only had half the information I needed.

We got to Pendean and they welcomed us with open arms, in one case quite literally.  One of the ladies who worked there used to be one of mum's carers, and she knew dad really well.  We were shown up to a room that was palatial, peaceful and comfortable looking, with a beautiful view over well-kept gardens below.

Dad had to be wheeled up to the ward, as the walk to the car at the hospital had exhausted him.  Since the news of his illness a month before he'd lost more than ten kilos, and apart from his belly and his beard he seemed to have shrunk, but only in body, not spirit.

Firmly ensconced in a comfy chair, dad directed me while I placed his few "overnight" possessions into the cavernous walk-in wardrobe and the drawers near the bed.  He fell asleep half a dozen times while I did this, and then between us we hammered out a list of the things he wanted from home.

Going back to the bungalow was strange this time.  Instead of looking for documents, I was rifling through my dad's cupboards and drawers to get his clothes, and it felt like I was breaking some kind of childhood taboo.

As well as clothes, I loaded up the car with his telly, his computer, monitor and printer (there was loads of stuff he wanted to finish off, including his blog), and all manner of other odds and ends.  When I'd finished, the house looked as though they'd been burgled.  I took  some photos of the kids off the walls for him too, further adding to the effect.

I drove it all back to Pendean in two loads, filling up dad's room as he looked on from his chair, drifting in and out of sleep and still looking painfully yellow from the jaundice.  I kept up a steady stream of chatter, as much for myself as for him, and once it was all in place I busied myself with setting it all up so that it was ready should he find the energy to use any of it.

As I may have mentioned before, dad and I were supposed to be going out and having a last beer together on the Tuesday of the week he got jaundice.  With that plan firmly out of the window, we instead settled for having breakfast together at Pendean on the Wednesday morning.

Although dad had ordered a fry up for both of us, when I got there (late thanks to traffic), my breakfast was waiting on a tray but dad just had a bowl of cereal as he wasn't feeling too good.  We sat and talked over breakfast, mostly about what I still needed to do, but at least we were spending time together doing something relatively normal, and it was a moment I cherish.

The next few days fell back into the same routine.  Drive to Midhurst, see dad, go and see mum or see her when my aunt and uncle, or my first sister in law, Tara, (who was a godsend throughout, despite being a single mum with four kids) brought mum over to see dad.

As the weekend approached, dad started to become more vague, but when my brother arrived from Abu Dhabi, dad rallied valiantly, and they spent some time together watching the rugby on Carl's birthday, dad proudly in his Union Jack pants.  I would say "lucky" Union Jack pants, but from the rugby score they clearly weren't.

When I got to Pendean on Monday morning, the 2nd March, dad was much, much worse.  He hadn't been able to get out of bed for a couple of days, apart from short trips to the loo, and his itching (a symptom of the illness) was much worse.  I tried to keep him engaged in conversation, but he was drifting off, sometimes for minutes at a stretch, and when we woke again he rarely remembered what he'd been about to say.  I almost felt like I'd lost him already and despite my promise not to cry in front of him, I blubbed like a baby for a good portion of the day.

Some of dad's colleagues came to see him that morning, five of them arriving at about 11.  They were lovely, and dad again rallied when they turned up, managing to hold a conversation for a surprisingly long time.  My heart nearly broke, however, when he started talking about remote IT solutions so that he could continue to work in a couple of weeks when he felt better.

His boss's boss looked me in the eye as she spoke to him, saying that she was sure they could work something out, and they would look at the options when he was feeling a bit better.  The look said that she knew what I knew, but the words seemed to comfort dad.

I had to go back to the bungalow at 12 to meet the chap taking on "Michael Fish", dad's last aquarium occupant.  By the time I returned, dad had started drifting again and his colleagues were gathered around him, keeping him occupied and comfortable.

They left shortly afterwards, and I sat with dad for the afternoon.  I couldn't bear to leave him, but I knew I had to at some point.  Tara was bringing mum over to see him, and she stayed with him while I drove to Haywards Heath to pick Asli up from work, fearing that it might be dad's last night.

Due to the pain and the itching, the nurses had put dad on constant intravenous medication, and one of the Macmillan nurses had had a chat with me and agreed that he had days left at best.  I knew it already, but hearing it from someone else nearly undid me.

We all sat around dad's bedside, and he woke occasionally but wouldn't always make sense.  It was a difficult evening, and at the end of it Asli and I took mum back to chichester and I nearly went back and stayed at Pendean, but decided that Asli was too pregnant to be sleeping in a chair, and although dad was gravely ill, he was still hanging in there.

The next morning, I followed the usual routine, but instead of going straight to see dad, i ended up dicking around at the bungalow, strangely unwilling to go to Pendean.  I finally realised what I was doing just before 10, and got in the car and went straight up there.

Dad was now heavily medicated.  He'd spent days tossing and turning, itching and trying to get comfortable, but now he slept quietly, occasionally moving or saying something unintelligible.

I came to the conclusion quite early in the day that I'd probably had my last ever conversation with him the day before, and even though he was still there with me I missed him already.  He's been such a strong, wise, supportive part of my life for so long that just the thought of being without him was enough to send me into a flat spin.

I sat by the bedside for most of the day.  At one point, I said to him "Did i tell you that I love you?"  He surprised me by answering, although I think he was probably still asleep "No, you didn't", he said, "but I'm sure you do".

That, more than anything, told me how far gone he was was as I've told him I love him every time I've spoken to him on the phone or been round to the bungalow for years now.

So there I was, sitting next to his bed, leaning over the edge as the sides were now up to prevent him from rolling out, the same as I'd had on my bunk bed as a child.  I knew that anything I had to say, I needed to say now, and that nothing I said would make anything better or worse for him.

I started talking about holidays we'd had as a family when Carl and I had been young, then other moments from our lives, reminding him of all the good times we'd had.  I didn't expect him to answer, or even wake up, but after about half an hour he suddenly opened his eyes, turned his head to look at me and said "Are you alright, matey?"  And took my hand, holding it tight.

We stayed like that for about ten minutes, him holding my hand while I cried as quietly as I could, then he let go as he began itching again.  Those are the last words my dad ever said to me, and it was him making sure I was OK, despite his condition.  Just writing this is making me cry again.

That evening, my aunt and uncle brought mum over, while Asli took a train to Chichester and I went to pick her up.  I was terrified that dad might leave us while I was away, but I returned with Asli to find him still sleeping peacefully.

There was just one lamp on in the room, giving us enough light to see by but not so much that he was lying there in a harsh glare.  It was peaceful, and so was he, the itching having subsided again thanks to the medication.

My aunt and uncle and mum stayed for a couple of hours, then said their goodbyes.  The manager at Pendean, Jackie, had already arranged a room which had become free just across the hall, and invited myself and Asli to stay if we wanted to.

I offered to drive Asli home and come back but she wouldn't hear of it, so instead we sat by dad's bedside, listening to his breathing get more and more laboured.  His whole chest was moving with each breath, and we sat one on either side, the final watch to see him safe on his journey.

We fell asleep like that, and just before midnight Asli woke up.  As soon as she moved I was awake, and I took her to the other room and made sure she was comfortable in the bed there before returning to my chair.  I put a pillow behind my head, then let myself sleep again.

Every time dad's breathing changed, I woke up, then when I knew he was still with us I would go back to sleep, but at 3.54, I woke up slightly confused as to why, only to realise that I couldn't hear dad breathing.

I got up and leaned over the bed, then heard dad draw in a breath, followed by another rasping one.

"We all love you", I said, and then he let out his final breath.

At 3.56am on Wednesday the 4th March 2015, seven weeks and one day after his diagnosis, John Grzegorzek, my dad and my best friend, slipped away peacefully in his sleep.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The hardest week of my life

I don't know where to start, so I'll try the beginning of this episode.

This post is not to do with my books, it's to do with the horrific situation I've found myself and my family in, so don't read on if you don't want to hear about it.

My mum and dad are both 66, and live in Midhurst in West Sussex.  Mum has primary progressive Multiple Sclerosis, and dad has been her full time carer as well as working for a national law enforcement agency for some years now.

Mum's mobility is dreadful.  She's in a wheelchair outside the house, and in the house she creaks around on a walker, taking about five minutes to cross the twenty feet from the bathroom to her chair. She regularly falls, and even more regularly doesn't have her care alert necklace on.

A little over a month ago, dad was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer and given a prognosis of about three months.

This hit us all hard, but in order to make sure mum was going to be properly looked after, we began, as a family, to make decisions about the future, with her full involvement and consent.

Mum and dad decided that she needed to go into full time care, as dad would struggle to look after her, particularly once he started chemo to give him a few extra weeks of life.

Two weeks ago, give or take, dad's liver started to fail and he developed serious jaundice, which prevented the chemo from being given.

Last Wednesday, he was due in for an operation to put a stent in his liver to allow the bile to drain, with the hope that his bilirubin levels would drop enough for him to start chemo.

The day before, he was called by the hospital to come in urgently, as his clotting levels were too low and he needed vitamin K injections so that they could perform the operation.

I left work and headed straight for the hospital, as he would need to be in overnight and mum is not OK to be left on her own for that long.  I got there to see him already booked in (i live in Brighton so it took me a while to get to Chichester), looking very tired and yellow from the jaundice.

I stayed with him for a couple of hours, then headed over to midhurst, only to find mum on the bathroom floor, having fallen over with her alert necklace out of reach.

I ended up staying with mum for four days, sleeping on the sofa and doing what I could around the carers who came in twice a day to make her breakfast and lunch and do some washing for her etc.

Dad remained in hospital, to ill to come home, having developed an infection from the operation.

As time went on, i realised that i couldn't give mum the care she needed, and spoke to her social worker at the council about placing her in emergency care until we could find somewhere permanent.

This is where the trouble really began.

West Sussex County Council (WSCC), have a policy where they provide funding for care, but they have a deal with the Sure Homes Group, treating their homes (they have dozens in West Sussex) as the preferred provider.  Unfortunately, Sure have a very bad reputation for bog standard care and mum needs more than that.

The only emergency spaces available were at a place in Southbourne, Glebe House, which is a Sure home.

I took her there on Friday, with some trepidation, knowing that it would only be for a few days as I'd by then found a lovely place in Chichester run by an independent group, Marriott House.

We got to Glebe House, having been assured that the room was ready.  The staff were lovely and welcoming, but the room was filthy, there was no light bulb and no toilet paper. To their credit, the staff rectified this immediately, but they shouldn't have had to.

Once mum was settled in, I took her to see dad, using his car, which I am now insured for as it fits mum's wheelchair.

On Saturday (i spent the day sorting out my own life, my wife is 19 weeks pregnant and i was supposed to be in charge of my company for the week), my sister in law went to see mum to find her sat in her room, in her wheelchair, in the dark.  She didn't tell me this until Sunday, after the next problem, which i'll go into in a second.

On Sunday, I drove from Hove to Midhurst, swapped cars, drove from Midhurst to Southbourne, got mum, drove her to Chichester (and afterwards back via the same route).  I asked her four times how the home was and she kept saying it was fine, but i had the feeling something was wrong.

One of the key things has been to stop dad worrying about mum.  If he worries about her, he can't concentrate on his own health.  He was mightily relieved that I'd found Marriott House and would be moving her soon, as all the nurses on his ward told us never to put mum in a Sure Home.

Just as we were leaving dad, mum in floods of tears, she suddenly demanded to go back and kiss him.  I wheeled her back so that she could, then held her up and looked away to give them a bit of privacy.

When she sat back down, she then said, "I hope I don't have the same carer as last night".
Dad immediately grew concerned and asked her why, and she related this tale.

At about 6am, she'd woken up needing a pee.  THe commode had been palced next to her bed but with no basin in it, so if she peed it would hit the carpet under the chair.

She pressed her buzzer, and when the care worked came in, mum said she needed to get out of bed to go to the toilet.  She was told by the care worker that she wasn't allowed out of bed until 8am, and with that she reset the alarm and shut the door, leaving mum in bed, desperate for the toilet but unable to get up by herself.

Needless to say, dad and i were both livid.  I took mum back to the care home and raised hell, the supervisor assuring me that he would immediately call the manager, who would call me the next day.

It was only the fact that it would disrupt mum even more that stopped me from taking her home then and there.

Monday morning was the time that Marriott House, the nice place in Chichester, was supposed to come and do an assessment on mum, to move her on Tuesday.  I called the social worker, telling him about all the problems at Glebe, and about the complaint.  I then quite firmly stated that Marriott House was our preferred option, but he told me that as it was not a Sure Home, and because it mum needed another eligibility assessment before they would release full time funding, his managers would need to approve a short term respite payment for Marriott as it was an independent home and not their approved (substandard) provider.

As I hadn't heard from Marriott House, I called them next and they said they were ready to do the assessment, but couldn't send a nurse until they had an email from the social worker confirming funding, who hadn't replied to her call.

I then spent the day chasing him.  Being the duty social worker, he was understandably busy, but being my sole point of contact for my mum's wellbeing, it was driving me a bit nuts.  In the meantime, dad had sent me about a dozen texts asking if mum was ok and what was happening, and had had another bad turn the night before, with his blood pressure dropping and shivering uncontrollably, which I'm going to (perhaps unfairly, perhaps not) put down to his worrying about mum.

I went to see mum, and found her sat in her chair in her room, this time with the light on but the window open right next to her.

I noticed that she didn't have her support stockings over the bandages on her legs, which she needs so that she doesn't get more ulcers from poor circulation.  This was 3pm, and they usually get put on by 10am.

I went and spoke to the staff at the home, and they immediately leapt to help.  But they shouldn't have had to, as it should have been part of her assessment, and therefore in her notes already.

The manager of the home spoke to us about the complaint, and again, to be fair he was really good, and visibly upset about what had happened, with that and the state of the room.

When the social worker phoned him while i was there, i heard the manager arguing my case for moving mum to Chichester, which is closer, more convenient, and better for mum and dad both in his final weeks.

I was then passed the phone, and the social worker told me the following, which i will put in points so that i don't miss anything.

As the manager is investigating, there is no need to move mum.

We should look at suitable Sure Homes.

Marriott House is not a Sure Home, so to get funding he will have to speak to his managers to get funding approved.

I need to slow down, I'm having a knee jerk reaction to what happened.

Oh by the way, i know you're trying to hold your entire family together, but your dad is being moved into a hospice this week, as you know, so who's going to pay for that?

As well as all of this, I'm dealing with all of mum and dad's complicated financial matters, keeping the family updated, and travelling to Midhurst every morning for 0830 to start phoning, emailing and fighting to get mum the care she needs, not the care the council think it's OK to give.

I'm still currently waiting to hear from the council about them authorising payment for mum to move to Marriott House, even in the short term.

If I could afford it, I'd pay for her care myself, but I can't, and if it was at all a viable option I'd look after her myself, but I can't.  I can't provide the level of care she needs, particularly with our first child on the way, in a one bedroom flat up four flights of stairs, and we can't afford to move.

It feels to me like this deal between WSCC and Sure Homes is crooked and rotten. The council pay for the rooms whether they're full or empty, and EVERYONE with experience of Sure Homes has bad things to say about them.  No care home is perfect, but this is my mum, I love her, and I'll fight to my last breath to get her the care she needs and deserves.

She's about to lose her husband and her home in one go, I'm about to lose my dad and see mum looked after by strangers, and dad is battling to stay alive.

This is, without a doubt, the hardest week of my life so far.

Monday, 12 May 2014

New crime novel released!

So it's finally here!  12 months after I completed the novel it hits the shelves on Kindle.

This was one of the toughest books to write I've ever encountered.  The main character, John Cooper, is a heroin addict, and must fight against his addiction as he tries to solve a murder which the police believe is an overdose.

Normally I write a book in anything from 4 weeks to 3 months, but this one took a whole 14 months to get right. It's a balance between the realism of addiction mixed with a dark crime story that's as gritty as possible, and I hope I got the mix right.

It's available on Amazon for a mere £2, the link is below and I really hope you take the time to check it out and enjoy it. As always, I'd also love to hear what you think if you do read it!

Sunday, 23 March 2014

What's in a review?

Well hopefully five stars and a thoughtful, well-written explanation of why it's the best book you've ever read, but that's not always the case.  Nor should it be...

As a self-pub author, I can tell you for a fact that we live and die by our reviews.  Not only does every review make a difference to our sales, but to me each review, particularly the good ones, is a reward as important as the money I make.

A good review tells me that someone enjoyed my book.  That alone makes the hours that I sweated blood and tears to pour those words out onto the page in an order that made sense worthwhile.  It means that I'm justified in publishing even though the traditional market said no.  It means that people out there care, and want to read more of my work, and that I'm succeeding.

Just as importantly, a bad review (as long as it's constructive and contains more than "I didn't like this book"), let's me know what I might have done wrong, missed or not quite gotten right.  You can't please everyone, and there will be a number of people who pick up your work and go "nope, not for me".  Most of these people, however, will realise that it's just their point of view and therefore not leave a review, and those who do leave one tend to be fairly pleasant about it.

There are, of course, those who delight in explaining why the book was so terrible, and how no one in their right mind could possibly enjoy it in any way, shape or form.  I usually find these sandwiched neatly between two other 5 star reviews, which sometimes makes it difficult to take them seriously, but I still do my best.

I used to be very bad at leaving reviews.  I'd think "I must review that", and then never get around to it.  Then I realised the statistics regarding just how few people get around to leaving a review.

Say a book sells 1000 copies on Kindle.  Out of that 1000, about 700 will read it straight away, the rest will add it to their "to read" pile.

Out of that 700, let's say that 500 love it, 150 think it's pretty good, and fifty think it's OK.

So that's 500 people who have read it and loved it.  Out of those, guess how many will actually leave the review they've promised themselves (and often the author through social media) that they will leave.

About 10.

I've been self-publishing for quite a while now, and I've put a lot of thought, time and effort into it, not to mention the number of people I've annoyed via facebook and twitter to get them to leave reviews.

To a self-published author, each and every review is critical.  It tells all the other shoppers on Amazon whether or not the book is worth buying, and even a few reviews is enough to get the ball rolling.

So if you know an author and they are constantly prattling on to get people who've read it to review their latest work, it's not just because they love the sound of their own voice, it's because they want recognition for their hard work, they want sales and they want to know what they're doing right or wrong.

At least, I know I do!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Solar flares, the end of the world and lots and lots of tea...

Well it's out on Kindle.  Despite a hiccup with Amazon's kindle conversion (where it looked great in the previewer but arrived on kindles with several times too many line spacing), Flare is now available for download from Amazon.  It's £2 on the nose, and I very much look forward to seeing what you think. Although it's technically scifi, it's really a story about a man in the modern world who has that world stripped away from him, and the moral choices he is forced to make in order to find his little girl.  I enjoyed writing it more than I've enjoyed writing anything else, and I've been told that shows in the writing.

I did more research for this book than any other, and doing so made me realise just how vulnerable we are to solar storms, particularly if we get a biggy.  So while your Kindle still works and the sun isn't frying everything we hold dear, now's the perfect chance to read about what might happen :)

And, as always, if you do download it, please remember to leave a review, they are the lifeblood of self-published authors!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

But for the Grace of God

As I often do, I've decided to post up the first couple of chapters of the novel that, all things proceeding as expected, will be hitting Kindle shortly.

I finished writing this one almost a year ago, but what with one thing and another it's taken me this long to go through the agent process, and there's still a chance that it may get picked up.

If not, however, it will be out on Kindle in the next month or so, and that being the case I thought you might enjoy a sneak preview to whet your appetites...

Chapter 1

It’s the looks that are the hardest to get used to, at least at first.  Some people glance at you as they walk by and in that look you can see the contempt, mixed with the naked fear that just by coming near them you might infect them with something. 
Others stare at you in loathing as if you’re something they’d scrape off their shoe, a cosmic mistake that isn’t fit to share the same air.
It hurt at first, even though I could justify the reasons for those looks, but after a while I learned to ignore them, to tuck them away in the part of my brain where I keep all the things that cause me pain.  They bubble away there, whispering to each other in an ever-present sibilant hissing that sometimes bursts out through the veneer of civility at the slightest provocation.
When that happens it’s like I'm a different person, able to feel the rage but not control it, a small part of my mind watching helplessly as I destroy the few friendships I have left with callous disregard.
Then there are the names.  Druggie, skag-head, junkie.  They bring a sneer to the lips when spoken, as if the addiction makes us a sub-class to be treated with disdain and disgust.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people out there who deserve all of this and more, but believing every heroin addict is a knife-wielding, disease-riddled walking crime-wave is like saying that everyone who likes a drink is a raging alcoholic on the verge of liver failure.
What makes it worse is that I can clearly remember the days when I was one of the people with the sneers and the looks and the sense of superiority.  One of the people who thought I was a better man, a stronger man than those I would walk past and curl my lip at.
It shames me now, thinking back.  People don’t end up on the street or addicted to brown because they’re weak inside, they just get knocked down one too many times, and the last time they don’t have the will left to get back up again to face a world that doesn’t give a shit.
I know; it happened to me.

Sunlight fought a losing battle against the tattered blackout curtains as my eyes cracked open.  Bare white plaster with shreds of fading wallpaper met my groggy gaze as the world slowly swam into focus.
Rolling off the sofa onto the bare floor I staggered over to the kitchen and searched amongst the mound of unwashed crockery stacked in the sink for a glass that didn’t have mould growing in it.
A few bleary moments later I had one in hand and ran it under the tap to clear out the worst of the sticky deposits inside.  I had no idea what I'd last used it for and to be honest I didn’t want to think about it too hard.
Taking a long swig of chalky tasting water I shuffled back into the lounge and dumped myself onto the threadbare sofa.  My hand automatically reached for the TV remote before I remembered that I'd pawned the flat-screen a few days ago when my cheque had been late and I'd needed to score.
Sighing, I checked my watch, a cheap Casio I'd bought with a tiny part of the proceeds from the titanium Seiko I'd sold a few months ago.
It was almost 10am, high time that I was out and about.  I sat back and looked around the flat, trying not to the let the empty walls depress me.  Less than a year ago my home had been nicely furnished, if a little minimalist, but now the only thing to break up the blandness was a patch of mould growing in one corner of the room.
Shaking my head to clear it, I pushed myself off the sofa and jammed my feet into my threadbare trainers.   I'd needed a new pair for about a month but I could never quite get the money together.
Grabbing my thick German army duffle coat from the back of the door I stopped to zip it up before heading out into the communal hallway that my flat shared with three others.
I was on the ground floor of a building in Clarence Square, the front door of the whitewashed Georgian building leading out onto steps that still had the original mosaic tiles, cracked and filthy now but still showing a hint of their former glory.
I shivered in the December chill and squinted up at the cloudless sky, the winter sun doing little more than bathe the railed park in the middle of the Square in its glow.
Seagulls wheeled overhead, calling to each other in their never-ending search for food.
Favouring my right leg, still sore from a fight the week before, I trudged up the hill towards Western Road, seeing but ignoring the worried looks I got from a pair of business-women who moved over to let me pass.
The quiet of the Square was gradually replaced by a low buzz that built in volume as I approached the main road, finally emerging into the raging torrent of humanity that flitted to and fro like a swarm of angry bees.
Western Road is one of the main shopping areas of Brighton, awash with people all day either heading to or coming from Churchill Square, or desperately seeking bargains in the shops that line the road.
I could feel the detachment, the bubble I walked in that separated me from their busy lives, their cares and worries.  The only thing I needed to do today was find Sammy and get a ten-bag.  Not for me the panic over buying the right toys for the kids, big enough socks for dad, mum’s favourite perfume.
No, my Christmas treat would be a clean needle and a bottle of something that didn’t smell like paint stripper, and fuck anyone who thought they’d have a better time than me.
 I drifted along the road towards Hove, knowing that Sammy would most likely be hanging about in Boundary Passage, the alleyway that officially separates the City of Brighton from its posher cousin, Hove.  It was out of sight of the cameras, and apart from the odd plain clothes copper it was a good spot to deal from.  Your average Joe wouldn’t use the alleyway unless there was no other choice and if they did then you could guarantee they wouldn’t do it twice.
As I walked I could feel the hunger coming on, a tingling in my fingers that gradually began to build, travelling up my arms and ending in the pit of my stomach as I thought about the hit I was about to have.
Part of me hated myself for it, being so weak that I had to rely on the drug to get me through the day.  That hate settled down into a quiet sort of self-loathing as I approached Norfolk Square, a sculpted park that strained mightily for a sense of respectability.
A few years ago, it had been a bare patch of grass that was constantly littered with street drinkers, a mixture of the Brighton lot with their cans of Special Brew and White Lightning and the Hove group with their Stella and Brandy.
The toilets at the top of the Square had been a haven for drug users and dealers, members of the public having to step between the deals to stand at the trough and take a leak. 
After years of campaigning to get it cleaned up some Councillor or minor politician had moved into one of the town-houses that surrounded the square and suddenly the police had gone all zero-tolerance and the council found a budget to plant some trees and put up a fence.
So now it was a little-used patch of grass with some trees and a couple of sad looking spiky plants that looked out of place next to the grime and hard-worn buildings of Western Road.  The toilets had been turned into a cafe and a florist, and to be fair the cafe did a good job of serving coffee that didn’t taste like piss.
I stopped and bought one, checking my money twice to make sure I still had enough to pay Sammy, then stood sipping the coffee while I cast an eye around to make sure none of the City’s plain clothes coppers had chosen that particular morning to set up shop by the alleyway.
Finally satisfied I was safe, I crossed to the phone box and dialled Sammy’s number from memory.
“Yup”, he answered.
“Sammy, it’s John”.
“Which John?”  His voice was suspicious, standard in a trade that could get you put away for six to eight.
“Why the fuck didn’t you say.  You over the road?”
“Yeah”.  My voice shook as the hunger built, trying to tear its way up my throat and out of my mouth.  I snapped my teeth together to stop them from chattering.
“Come on over, it’s clear”.  The phone went dead and I left the coffee next to the phone, everything forgotten except that ten quid bag of golden brown salvation.
Hurrying across the road I almost got hit by a bus, staggering onto the far kerb to a chorus of angry honks.
Flicking a finger at the world in general, I hurried into the alleyway to see Sammy, an innocuous looking thirty-something in a smart brown jacket and a pair of designer jeans.
He had brown spiky hair and a stylish little under-lip beard with a diamond earring in his left lobe.  It was a blatant display of the wealth he was amassing by selling my poison, but he was well protected by the lurking form of Danny, his six foot two steroid-freak of a minder.
Danny was well known, both by buyers and the police, the latter only ever approaching him with at least two officers, four if they want to arrest him.
He’s one of those people who’s totally at peace with the fact that he likes hurting other people, and is lucky enough to have found an employer who pays him for doing the thing he loves.
Danny and I didn’t get on, never had.  I was one of the few people ever to have floored him and I could tell by his expression that I wouldn’t get away so lightly a second time, and that second time would come at the slightest excuse.
Ignoring him, I counted out my change and passed it to Sammy without a word.  He knew me well enough by now to know what I wanted and I knew him well enough that I could get away with giving him shrapnel.
Most users had to suffer the trials of going into shops with a pocketful of change until they found someone who would change it into notes for them, a telling sign for any copper on their tail that they were about to buy. 
As soon as the money hit Sammy’s palm he nodded at Danny, who spat into his fingers and pressed a small, hard lump wrapped in the corner of a carrier bag, the top burned to seal it, into my hand.
Deal done, I nodded to Sammy and slipped the package into my mouth between cheek and teeth, ready to swallow should I get stopped by any over-interested plod.

I walked away slowly, for all the world just a man out for a pleasant winter stroll, the lie only given away by the sweat trickling down my temple as the package in my cheek pulsed with its insidious promise of release.