It was just after my brother asked me to carry him into the car and drive him to a clinic in Switzerland to be put-down (his words) that this all started. That was ten years ago. I’m getting ahead of myself.

An inoperable spinal tumour will get you every time. It’ll then spread to the rest of your body: liver, pancreas, kidneys, and lungs. A final, indignant lashing of gravy on your already rotting cadaver. I didn’t think of the consequence or gravity of what he’d asked me at the time, I thought: how will that car-then-ferry-the- car-again journey from England to Switzerland smell with that colostomy thing Keith wears bubbling away the whole time? It was Zen meditation at its most brutal – you focus on the mundane, the quotidian, the banal – focus on the trees rather than flash your spotlight on the vulgar horror of the forest of blood, shit and puke in front of you.

Words were exchanged, documents were signed, plans were laid: I took him to his Swiss death camp. I’d been taking morphine that I’d stolen from Keith every day for the last year but at that point, I had it under control. I never let Keith go without: the people from the hospice were extremely generous with the morphine to ease Keith’s transition from warm, flabby body to cold, baby-bird carcass. But back to the road.

“I didn’t have the luxury of being choosy or knowing an impressionable chemist so I really had to go for heroin.”

           All in all, it costs a couple of grand to get yourself suicided. Turns out the current law doesn’t really work in relation to assisted suicide. But it’s not like I checked on the law or anything at the time. Like I said, brutal Zen fortitude. And lots of morphine. This story doesn’t start or end very well but if you’ve been paying attention you’ll have deduced that my supply of morphine was unswervingly connected to my brother Keith being ill but alive. Everything’s got its shelf-life.

           Without going into the distressing details of the brutal car and ferry journey, we went, he died, I departed. There’s not adequate language to portray how distressing it is to see someone you love eaten up by their own insides so I won’t even struggle to find a weak facsimile of the experience in words. I imagine it felt a lot worse for him than it did for me.

           Unsurprisingly, procuring regular morphine is a bit tricky in the open market so inevitably you embrace the black one. I got hold of Oramorph™ (liquid morphine) at first, then it was Tramadol™ tablets, after that it was Dolophine™ (which is methadone), and finally, I slid smoothly into daily heroin use. I didn’t have the luxury of being choosy or knowing an impressionable chemist so I really had to go for heroin. I tried quitting cold-turkey when Keith’s prescriptions and the morphine vials in the fridge at home ran out but I had to go out and score after two days. I felt like my spine was being dug out, without anaesthesia, by an alternately freezing then burning metal claw. Again, words fail me on explaining that exact feeling but I think a little bit of the mystery and pull of heroin stems from the inability to recreate that indescribable feeling in any other way.

           It’s not long into your heroin career before you find yourself doing, saying or accepting things that are major departures from sensible, hygienic, law-abiding behaviour. Throw out your old to-do lists because you now only have one thing to-do and you will never need to write it down so you don’t forget it. Time just gets compressed into times when you’re using heroin or times when you’re getting heroin. The only complication I had at that time was a visit by a snidey detective called Braddock who talked about The Suicide Act (1961) and how assisting suicide could carry a fourteen-year prison sentence. He also caught me with a little bag of weed which he took off me but didn’t charge me with. Prick.

“Looking back, I should have smothered Keith with a pillow and tearfully claimed I discovered him that way.”

Before my life was caring for Keith, then it was heroin. Now my life was this smug, snidey prick Braddock on my case, The Bullshit Suicide Act (1961) and an unmanageable heroin addiction. Idiots say – life comes at you fast. But I say – life spirals. Fucking quickly.

Looking back, I should have smothered Keith with a pillow and tearfully claimed I discovered him that way. Both Keith and I would have been better off and it would have saved a whole heap of shit. I won’t say you live and you learn. You just live.

I was living in a bedsit and barely paying my rent. Some people climb mountains or run a hundred miles to really find out what they can do when the chips are down: a year or two on heroin and you’ll really find out you can dig deep, survive on little to nothing except drugs, and make twenty quid in less than three minutes if you really really have to. I was starting to see Braddock around the town more and more around this time and I also had normal drug-paranoia so I started to see him as my nemesis.  Fourteen years in the Big House, though. It’s no small pudding.

Photo by

I didn’t really have a plan to shake this prick Braddock because I had actually taken my immobile brother to a suicide clinic. I now know this is illegal. Remember though, an unravelling drug addict is apt to let things slip through the net now and again. The only vague plan my addled brain could form involved wild strokes of luck and a one-in-a-million shot where I suddenly came into loads of money and disappeared abroad, avoiding prosecution and living a cushy life. Shortly after it, I did come into a modest amount of money but my disappearance was in much more dire circumstances and I did not live a cushy life at all. But I run before my flogged, dead horse to market.

One of the many impracticalities about heroin addiction is the inability to hold down a job.  So, naturally, thieving and conniving and being an opportunist tealeaf is the only game in town. Instead of your day at work (where earning your salary incrementally gets you your daily bread, petrol, food, lodgings) a heroin addict  (who has dispensed with the food, car, trimmings) has to go out and cannot return home without at least having earned enough to score. Some days are slow, like proper working hours. Other days something lucrative almost reaches out and taps you on the shoulder. If you really look there are hundreds of pounds of thievable then saleable shit lying around unattended. You just need to know a good fence. Shoplifting is probably the easiest, most accessible avenue to cash for heroin addicts. Smash-and-grab stuff too. Violent heroin addicts – purse-snatchers, armed robbers, and muggers were already violent before the ever got on drugs and don’t let anyone tell you any different. I never did any violence. I was a thief though. Extremely light-fingered. Economic violence. It’s a very exciting lifestyle, unfortunately – which makes it very moreish. Like many things.

Matthew Toothill