Jeremy Clarke

Speed limit

A social leper tells you of his miserable existence

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Personally, unlike some, I’ve nothing against the holidaymakers who flock to this part of the world as soon as the primroses are out. They liven up the place. In winter, the geriatric ghettoes dotted along the coast hereabouts are too unnaturally quiet. Owing to the infirmities of age, artificial joints, strong winds, blindness, deafness, incontinence and fear, the indigenous inhabitants that do venture out of doors tend to creep from A to B slowly and tentatively, keeping to the shadows, pausing often to renew their strength. In winter it’s like living in Madame Tussaud’s after normal business hours.

There’s no gossip about sexual infidelity or reproduction in our village because no one is young enough to be indulging in any of it. Village gossip is about who is ill, who is dying, who has recently died, or how lovely the funeral was. A fortnight ago, we lost three in one night. ‘I hear Mrs Whale went in the night,’ I said, as I paid for my morning paper in the shop. ‘And poor old Mr Cox. And Miss Dance,’ said the shopkeeper with relish. They do say, however, that on the coast people hanging by a thread tend to pass away at the turn of a spring tide. So that particular night, it seems, it was a backlog being cleared.

No, I like the grockles. They have pep, vigour. They leap off the cliff top that our house stands on, clinging to gaily coloured hang-gliders. In the blue yonder, they can be seen skimming the waves on powerboats and waterskis. In the village they go about horribly sunburned, many of them with next to nothing on, and get horribly drunk in the pub on farm cider. Going further afield, they fill the snobby little restaurants of the nearest town, utterly oblivious to the fact that they are snobby little restaurants, gratefully packing away everything that is put in front of them.

My one complaint about them is that their energy extends to buying everything there is to buy from local shops before we torpid indigenous folk can get off the mark. By ten o’clock the supermarket’s greengrocery shelves are stripped so bare you wonder whether that department is actually closed for repairs and you missed the sign. You can’t get a newspaper or a loaf of bread or a pint of milk after midday.

No newspapers or food in the shops I can live with, however. What actually gets my goat is when they buy up all the illegal drugs. Last Thursday night I spent the evening in the pub with our main dealer in amphetamine sulphate, No Neck. He’s an affable biker chap, no front teeth, a serial loser in love, and only ever opens his wallet in secret. I was supremely confident, then, that, if there was a party on somewhere after the pub had closed, I’d touch him for a gram and have it put on the account with no problem at all.

Sure enough, come last orders, Sharon said party at hers and I turned to No Neck and asked him for a gram. (Doesn’t it warm the cockles how use of illegal drugs has made an entire generation familiar with the metric system?) And stab me vitals, he told me he’d just sold the last one. While he and I had been idly chatting, he said, he’d sold by sleight of hand 15 grams to various individuals, tourists mostly, which was all he had till Saturday. He was extremely sorry. He could hardly credit the buoyancy of the amphetamine market himself at the moment. Usually he’d sell only 15 grams over a bank holiday weekend. And here he was sold out before it had officially started.

‘Wait a minute, though!’ he said, delving deeply in his shirt pocket and triumphantly producing a wrap. ‘I was saving it for my mum, and forgot all about it. You might as well have it.’ And he stuffed it deep in my shirt pocket. I made a diaphanous protest about taking the amphetamine from under his mother’s very nostrils, but, as I hoped, he waved it aside.

At the party it slipped my mind that I’d bought any drugs. In spite of appearances to the contrary, illegal drugs do not loom very large in my consciousness. Then someone, a holidaymaker, I think, asked me if I’d got any ‘gear’. I had indeed, I said. I had some speed, I said. I’ll chop it up. Thanks for reminding me.

The holidaymaker and a few others gathered round the table like expectant gourmands. But could I find it? I could not. I went through my pockets, the sections of my wallet, my car, twice. Nothing. Old No Neck must have only pretended to put it in my shirt pocket, the scamp. He’s spent the evening brown-nosing the tourists, then rips off a loyal customer with the oldest trick in the book. Wait till I see him.