Tag Archives: drugs

The Retcon Files

In which The Author needs a memory upgrade

You won’t be familiar with the word ‘Retcon’ unless you’re a fan of the sadly discontinued SF series Torchwood – or, latterly, Doctor Who, where it got an unexpected namecheck in ‘Face the Raven’ a few weeks ago. For the uninitiated, Retcon is a drug which Captain Jack Harkness and his pals administer to the unwitting victims of extraterrestrial contact. It’s part sedative and part memory wipe, and it leaves the people of Cardiff with no memory of their close encounters.
I used to think that Retcon would be a great idea, personally. A few years ago I wrote a piece called ‘Memory Dump‘. I speculated about the real-life applications of the Mierzwiak Procedure, the selective memory erasure at the centre of Michel Gondry’s terrific (and terrifying) 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I could free myself from my traumatic childhood memories, wipe out at least one sort-of ex-girlfriend, and get rid of all sorts of crap I remember from the book trade and will never draw on if I live to be a hundred. It was a choice between the Mierzwiak Procedure (non-invasive but still dangerous brain surgery), or a little white pill to add to my nightly cocktail of Things Beginning With M. With no pun intended, it seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?
However, to judge from a number of recent conversations, I seem to have been spiked with Retcon quite a few times already. Over the last year or so, I’ve lost count of the number of apparent strangers who’ve started talking to me like old friends. In fact, it’s reached the point where it’s embarrassing.
I used to put it down to the fact that I worked in a city centre shop with a very large catchment. Consequently I met a couple of hundred of people (at least) every week. It was hardly surprising if I couldn’t remember everyone. Oddly enough, when I was in Cardiff before Xmas, literally the first person I bumped into on my way from the station was one of the shop regulars. I groped around my neural archives for his name and came up with Neil. It’s actually Nick. Two letters out of four isn’t bad, though – especially after nearly seven years away from the place.
If I hadn’t met people in the shop, I might have met them on the train, where the same people tend to cross paths fairly regularly. If you don’t believe me, have a quick look at the daily feature in Metro, where lovestruck commuters can invite their fellow passengers out for coffee – or whatever else comes to mind. (My own commuting crush kinda paid off one evening, when I woke Shanara the Dippy Bint in Aberdare and rescued her from an unplanned journey back to Cardiff.)
The third place where I might have struck up a conversation with a random stranger is, of course, the pub. After all, who needs Retcon when there’s beer on tap? If you can’t even remember leaving the place – never mind who you were with, what you were talking about, or what karaoke songs you inflicted on the rest of the punters – then everyone’s favourite legal amnesia drug has obviously had the desired effect.
On Boxing Day afternoon I called into the Lighthouse for a pint, and ended up staying until the early evening. There was a cracking live duo playing there: The Shakes, from Swansea. They’re two middle-aged guitarists who’ve been doing session work for years, and now play gigs and small festivals across South Wales. I had a chat with them while they were setting their gear up, and stayed for the first half of their set. They managed to get through forty minutes without touching anything from the Kings of Leon’s or Stereophonics’ backlists, so that was a good sign. When they stopped for a break, I explained that I had another gig to go to. For once, I wasn’t just making my excuses and leaving.
The other gig was at Aberdare Rugby Club, and featured my friends Replaced By Robots (see ‘Robot Invasion of Earth (Phase II)‘) as the headline act.
[A digression: There wasn’t much competition, to be honest. On my way into town on 23 December, I passed the Constitutional Club, a huge place on the corner opposite the library. For well over a month they’d been advertising a show band (a guy and two women) for Boxing Night, with large full-colour posters in the windows. I know these agency photos are always touched up before they hit the streets, but the women both looked pretty tasty. If the tickets hadn’t been seven quid a throw – and if it hadn’t been in the Con Club – I might have been tempted to check them out myself. On 23 December, though, I noticed this:


I posted this photo on Twitter and added the message, ‘Now you know what happens when everyone in Aberdare will be Replaced By Robots on Boxing Night.’ Andrew L. (one of the keyboard players and vocalists in the band) added the comment ‘Oh dear!’ I just hope everyone who had tickets for the Con Club gig got their money back.]
Anyway, when I got to the Rugby Club the boys were still setting up, so I went into the bar and checked out the price list. Call me old-fashioned, but three quid a pint (in a club, for Goddess’s sake) is almost Cardiff prices. I bought a glass of Coke and killed some time with the big FT crossword until it was time to go upstairs.
The place was filling up nicely when I got into the big room, so I grabbed a chair and staked out a place at the back. I’ve previously mentioned Tug Wilson, who used to come to the Carpenters for the Thursday night gigs. He was well into his eighties, and would have a whale of a time grooving with the youngsters who frequented the place.
Well, on Boxing Night, I knew exactly how Tug must have felt when he was surrounded by people at least half his age. I checked with a couple of other people, and was reassured to find that I was officially the oldest person in the room.
I decided to stay on the soft drinks, mainly because I begrudge paying three quid for a pint and having to wait over five minutes to be served. It wasn’t all bad news, though. The boys played a cracking set; there were lots of attractive female punters in the room; there was a great atmosphere and a good crowd. Gareth L. came in and we attempted to have a chat before admitting defeat. I didn’t see him leave, but when I went to get my final drink there was no sign of him.
This was the point when the Retcon must have kicked in. I was on my way back from the bar when an attractive dark-haired woman started talking to me. She knew my name, and knew that I used to work in Waterstones. Her other half knew me too. A fortnight later I still have no idea how, or from where, though.
The three of us chatted for ages, and we decided to head to Thereisnospoon for a late(-ish) drink. The conversation continued until closing time, covering a wide range of topics. It turned out that she was interested in having a website for her business. I said I’d get in touch with Chris D., who’s sorting out the websites for the Lighthouse and Alwyn’s artwork, and put them in contact with each other.
This was the really awkward part. I simply could not remember her name – if I’d ever known it to begin with. Fortunately for me, my phone battery had died a couple of hours earlier, so I was spared the horror of asking her name when I was saving her number. She took my number, though (that was the easy part) and promised to get in touch when the Xmas and New Year nonsense had died down. Later on, her other half mentioned her first name, so I was halfway out of the dark. Halfway …
We went our separate ways and I walked home, racking my brains to recall how we knew each other. Over the next few days I spent quite a while wondering exactly where the hell we’d met in the first place. I’m still none the wiser.
All I knew for sure was that my new/old friend’s first name was Linda. That doesn’t really narrow it down. (On the other hand, I’ve absolutely no idea what her other half’s name is.) I wondered whether I could track her down via Facebook, but with only a first name it’s a very long shot. I didn’t even have the first letter of her surname, which might have narrowed a billion or so people down to a few million. It crossed my mind to ask my Facebook friends (many of whom were out that night) if they could fill in the missing information. The snag was that there was no guarantee anyone else would remember either – it had been a long few days, after all.
The whole affair reminded me of the time when Jeffrey Bernard was approached to write his autobiography. He famously wrote a letter to the New Statesman, asking, ‘Can anyone tell me what I was doing between 1960 and 1974?’
Michael Molloy, the editor of the Daily Mirror, replied, ‘On a certain evening in September 1969 you rang my mother to inform her that you were going to murder her only son.’
Next time I can’t think of anything to blog about, I’m going to get one of my friends to post the message ‘Steve O’Gorman is unwell.’
I was in Lidl on Wednesday evening when the woman in front of me at the checkout struck up a conversation with me. Once again, I was totally unable to place her. I knew her face, and I was sure I’d known her for a long time, but her name simply wouldn’t come to mind.
I’ve had to adopt a crafty tactic to cover up my Retcon phases: if I’m chatting to a guy, I call him ‘mate’; if I’m chatting to a woman, I can usually get away with ‘babe’ or ‘chick’.
I once bluffed my way through an entire sub with a book trade rep I’d known for years, by calling him ‘mate’ throughout the appointment. At the end I reached for the diary, flipped it open to that day, saw his name on the page, thought, ‘Oh, for fuck’s sake, of course it is!’ and said, ‘Right then, Dave, when are you in town next?’ Nicely saved, even if I say so myself.
I managed to hold a fair conversation with my friend at the checkout, all the time trying to remember her bloody name. She left before I did, and headed for her car. That saved me from digging an even deeper hole for myself.
Anyway, I was walking up Gadlys Road when – joy of joys – I bumped into Linda herself. It was perfect timing. I grabbed my pen and scribbled her number on my hand, to make sure I had it when the time came to store it in my phone. Just to complicate matters, it turns out she’s Lynda with a y – yet another Doctor Who reference, folks. Unlike me, though, the Doctor has the enviable gift of being able to remember everyone he ever meets.
It was only when I got home that I realised who the woman at the checkout was. Her name’s Liz. She grew up about half a dozen doors away from me. Not counting my cousins, I think she’s the woman I’ve known for the longest period in my entire life. Even worse – she used to be my local Plaid Cymru councillor, and her husband is the branch secretary! I’d seen him less than twenty-four hours earlier, when he’d given me a lift home from the meeting. Ridiculous!
When a computer runs short of memory, you can either delete some unneeded files or upgrade the hard drive. In fifty years’ time it might be possible to do the same thing with the human brain – plugging in extra storage as and when required. Until then, unfortunately, we’re all in the same position as the schoolboy in Gary Larson’s cartoon, asking to be excused because his brain is full. (Of course, the cybernetic memory add-on could be an uncomfortable affair, because human beings have only a limited number of expansion slots.)
If I’m like this now, a couple of months short of my fiftieth birthday, can you imagine what I’ll be like when I’m in my eighties? It doesn’t bear thinking about. Even Tug managed to remember people’s names on the odd occasion. Scary prospect, isn’t it?

That Don’t Impress Me Much

In which The Author bursts someone’s bubble

Yesterday the rain managed to hold off all afternoon, so I decided to walk home through Aberdare Park. It was approaching four o’clock, and small groups of teenagers from the new ‘community school’ were making their way towards town.
‘Now hang on just a minute,’ I hear you think. ‘Isn’t the new community school just outside the town centre? Surely, if they were heading home they’d have been going in the same direction as you?’
Well, yes, in a manner of speaking that’s true – except that the new school wasn’t completed on schedule. It didn’t surprise me one bit. I’ve said for a long time that the last building project in this country to be completed on time and on budget was Stonehenge. It came as no surprise to anyone else, apart from the education authority, of course.
Having prematurely closed the three schools which were due to be amalgamated into the new super-school, RCTCBC had little choice but to reopen some of the existing buildings at the start of September. (They couldn’t reopen the Lower Girls’ School, of course, because they’d sold that off during the summer, as I told you in Last Chance to See…?) Staff and pupils alike are currently spread over three sites a couple miles apart, and it seems that a great deal of the school day is spent in simply getting from one to the other. Depending on whom you believe, the new building will either be completed by Xmas, or by next Easter, or in time for the start of the 2015-2016 academic year. I’ll try and keep you posted.
Anyway, I was on the slight incline between the lower gates and the Industry Statue, heading for the middle gates.
Gratuitous Industry Statue photo to compensate for lack of photos this week
Gratuitous Industry Statue photo to compensate for the lack of pictures this week
At the same time, three teenage lads in school uniform were coming the opposite way. They were talking among themselves, and one of them deliberately broke off from his mates and walked towards me. I don’t know why, but I was instinctively braced for trouble. However, I was wrong. Instead, he pretended to accidentally drop something from his pocket and it landed on the tarmac between us.
At the same time the lad said, quite loudly, ‘Oh no, my drugs!’
I glanced at it before walking on; it was a miniature Ziploc bag containing a small amount of some green substance.
I was out of earshot before his mates were able to reply. I didn’t bother to look back, either, so I don’t know what happened next.
I can only assume that this kid, on seeing a fairly long-haired old hippy type walking towards him, had decided that he’d earn some kudos by openly displaying his stash in public.
Well, if he should happen to read this, I’m addressing this next bit directly to him:
I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I was incredibly unimpressed by your whole act. For one thing, you need to develop your sleight of hand a bit. Anyone who saw it could tell that your ‘dropping’ of your stash was anything but an accident. Also, your shocked tones at realising you’d ‘dropped’ it might have worked in a school nativity show, or maybe an am-dram production of a Frank Vickery play, but you really need to work on your delivery before it sounds convincing.
Furthermore, when you’re a little bit older you’ll have to be a bit more circumspect about the whole possession schtick. You’ll soon learn that you shouldn’t advertise the fact that you’re carrying anything in public, in case you get stopped and searched. You certainly won’t produce your stash in front of a total stranger, who might well be an undercover copper or a police informer.
Most importantly, when you get older, and after you’ve spent a bit of time with the sort of people I used to hang around with, you’ll discover that a little bit of green really doesn’t count for anything. The big boys and girls – the sort of heavy people whom you’ll eventually come into contact with – will just laugh at your pathetic, trivial, infantile first steps into the world of drugs.
I’m talking about the sort of people who’d smoke your little stash for breakfast and then send you on your way. I’m talking about people who will take all your pocket money in return for a little bit of dope, make you run errands for them so that you’re ‘obliged’ to them, and eventually set you on the road to small-scale dealing. You might have some minor run-ins with the law, and maybe gain some ‘respect’ from your wannabe gangsta mates, but that’s as far up the ladder as you’ll get. It’s only the big boys and girls who get to live in the big houses, drive the expensive cars, and set up the front businesses to launder their takings.
You, on the other hand, will have to mix with the worst sort of lowlife, the ones who take every prescribed and non-prescribed substance known to humanity, because they think it’s a ‘cool’ way to spend their time. I’m talking about people who will do literally anything for money, just to feed their habits. I’m talking about people who become so desperate for their next hit that they’ll steal anything that isn’t nailed down, betray the trust of their families and friends, and end up in a sad, socially-isolated circle of junkie mates.
I’m talking about people who don’t usually make it to my age. Their lives tend to run out pretty quickly once they get into that pattern of existence. It’s unusual to meet a smackhead much past the age of forty, believe me. By the time they’re in their thirties, their bodies are pretty much washed up. Even the ones who manage to steer clear of the hard stuff aren’t always safe. I’ve seen friends of mine lose their sanity by playing with forces they don’t understand. By contrast, I fully intend to live well into my eighties, or even longer, and keep my mind in gear for as long as I possibly can.
So, little boy, I hope you now understand why I didn’t pay any heed to your pathetic attention-seeking behaviour yesterday. I’ve lived far too long, seen far too many things, and seen too many people whom I used to know fall by the wayside, to be impressed by your little baggie. Please keep it to yourself from now on – or I’ll acquaint you with another meaning of the word ‘grass.’ When I do, try to think of it as just an interesting form of extra-mural education for the weak-minded.