Sleep is like sex: it can be done anywhere but it’s comfiest when it’s done in your own bed.
Two weeks ago, I wound up doing it in a graveyard. Sleep, I mean.
It was muddy, it was lonely and I woke up covered in slugs. In spite of the locale, it wasn’t the worst sleep I’ve ever had. In fact it’s not even in my bottom five.
The worst sleeps are the ones you don’t remember. In utero, curled up in the foetal position because you’re a foetus while a pink truncheon bludgeons dangerously close to your personal space. Who’d want to sleep like a baby?
From what I remember, however, these are the worst five sleeps of all time, destined to be recalled on sleepless nights, in recurring nightmares and in this blog. Sleep is like sex with a long-term partner: you don’t appreciate it until it’s gone.
Sleepless in the hospital
When I was a kid, I broke my arm and had to endure a spell in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. I recall one night extremely well. Sleep stubbornly refused to come, so for 12 hours I stared at the ceiling with the interminable tick of the clock and the trite gossip of the nurses to test my sanity. When morning finally dawned, the relief washed over me in an awesome way.
Lesson learned: I may have only been 12, but I was starting to discover how shocking female banter can be.
Sleepless in the station
In 2001 I travelled to see Eminem at Manchester Arena. I didn’t have a ticket but I managed to buy one from a tout outside. I didn’t have a place to sleep either but I did have a sleeping bag. I bedded down for the night behind a wooden barrier in the station. As I was to discover, a sleeping bag is no match for a concrete floor in a draughty train station. Eminem was memorable, but not as memorable as the sleep I was denied that night.
Lesson learned: Homelessness sucks. Manchester sucks. Train stations suck.
Five years ago I was at a party in Aberdeen. Shortly before we left, me and a mate (we’ll call him B_b) accepted a line of cocaine from the host. As we were soon to discover, it wasn’t coke. It was speed cut with a liberal dose of Stay the Fuck Awake Homie. It genuinely felt like I would never fall asleep again. Ever. For the next 24 hours, the pair of us tried everything we could to drop off. Alcohol. Fapping (not as a team, I stress). Nothing worked. Sleep, when it finally came, wasn’t blissful; it was just a relief.
Lesson learned: Don’t take speed. Even if you think it might be cocaine.
Sleepless in the bushes
In 2008, I locked myself out of my flat. It was late at night, the door was too solid to break and there were no hotel vacancies in Aberdeen. So I went to Asda and bought a duvet so I could kip out for the night. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this was to be the trial run for the graveyard sleep of two weeks ago. That one was OK. This one was miserable. I set up camp in some bushes behind Boots at Garthdee. It was cold, damp and noisy, with the elements and the traffic conspiring to ensure I barely slept a wink.
Lesson learned: Don’t sleep rough next to a roundabout. Or at all if you can possibly help it.
Sleepless in the cells
Like all upstanding members of society, I’ve done the odd long weekend in the cells. There’s grim and then there’s the holding cells at Queen Street grim. Concrete bench. Pitifully thin ‘mattress’. Stench of pish. Junkies banging on the wall. For 72 hours straight. Even the most searing of TripAdvisor reviews would struggle to recreate the horror of the holding cells.
Lesson learned: None apparently as I seem to keep doing it.
If you wanna know just how bad the police cells are, click the tab below for today’s bonus feature. It’s a chapter from a novel I began writing four years ago and which I will eventually finish – in another four years perhaps. Although the novel is not autobiographical, the descriptive detail in this chapter – right down to the graffiti – is 100% accurate. That’s because, when writing it, I borrowed heavily from the blogs I wrote after first being arrested. So just to clarify: I’m publishing in my blog an extract from my novel in which I quote from my blog. Simple.
You’re nae bonnie, are you?
When I opened my eyes, it was to discover that I couldn’t actually open my eyes, for they appeared to be glued shut by some invisible force. A fingertip investigation concluded that this binding agent could only be caked blood. Although there were no lab reports to go on, it was safe to assume that the clotted plasma was mine, as this neatly explained the pounding headache accompanying it. Summoning what little saliva my parched mouth could muster, I spat into my hands and with the aid of the viscous solution, set about restoring my vision. 15 feet above me, the ceiling came slowly into focus. Someone had gone to the trouble of tagging it, and I was pondering why anyone would do such a thing when the part of my brain that controlled character recognition kicked in and everything made sense, for stencilled in blue paint was an advertisement for Crimestoppers. Apparently you could get cash rewards for phoning up and shopping your mates. You could also get slash rewards from your mates for having done so. Either way, it was irrelevant; my pockets were empty, and even if I had a mobi, that was the last number I would have been dialling. I stood up wearily and surveyed my minimalist suite.
The cell measured 15 x 15 feet and was bare apart from a dirty yellow mattress upon the raised concrete bench that constituted my bed. There was a metal toilet that didn’t flush, a red concrete floor and four white concrete walls that had been repainted countless times to cover the graffiti that clung to them. ‘Jamie Luvs Claire’ and ‘Mickey Fae Torry’ I could still make out. At the apex of the back wall, a window of frosted glass bricks bestowed some semblance of natural light. Through its cloudy panes, the distorted phiz of the midmorning sun laughed at me. I ignored it and limped over to the stern metal door that guarded my escape route, noting in the process that I seemed to have lost my creps. Pressing an eye to the peephole, I scoped another cell door across the corridor and a crumpled pile of clothes belonging to its semi-naked occupant. Inside my own sarcophagus, there was no way of gauging the passage of time; I could have been staring at the wall for a minute or for an hour. I closed my eyes and focused on the faint hum of the air-conditioning, or whatever its primitive prison equivalent was called.
After several eons of nothingness that probably amounted to half an hour, I strode decisively over to the door and rapped firmly upon it. The retort of my clenched fist slapbacked along the corridor but invited no response. I rapped again, accompanied this time by a swift transferral of foot to door. This seemed to achieve the desired effect, for I presently heard a rattle of keys and the steady stomp of regulation boots. With a creak of disquiet, a metal flap eased open and a burqa-sized portion of face peered through the slot.
‘Yo, do you know what I’m in for?’
‘Course I know son!’ scoffed the turnkey.
‘Well would you care to enlighten me?’
He took a step back and rubbed his chin. ‘Well now…take your pick. I think there’s a few in there, but the worst one you’re facing is serious assault.’
‘Yeah, I’ve already faced down a serious assault thanks, there’s blood all over me, so why am I here and not in hospital?’
‘I told you – you’re being charged with serious assault. Of a police officer no less.’
‘How serious we talking?’ I wondered, the severity of the situation starting to sink in.
‘You tell me son,’ came the terse reply. ‘It was you that laid into him, wasn’t it?’
I wasn’t aware that you could be charged with an offence while unconscious, especially one you had been the victim and not the perpetrator of, but then there was a lot I didn’t know about Scots law.
‘Can I get a lawyer?’
‘Sorry, a what?’
I got the shitty joke at the second time of asking, and sullenly changed the subject. ‘So what happens next?’
‘You’ll be up in court on Tuesday.’
‘Tuesday? Hang on, what day is it?’
‘Saturday. But it’s a bank holiday weekend, so there’s no court till Tuesday.’
‘Jesus! And then what happens?’
‘All depends,’ came the testy reply. ‘Maybe you’ll get out on bail. Or maybe you’ll be going o’oer the water.’
‘O’er the water? What does that mean?’
But with a slam of the hatch, he was gone. ‘Fuck!’ I kicked out at the anti-suicide bedding. The mattress bounced lethargically onto the floor, exposing the grey concrete bench, as well as a rectangular blue object that had previously escaped my attention. It was a book, and at the sight of it, I felt strangely comforted. Since coming to Aberdeen, I’d had little time for reading, a passion I used to indulge regularly; this seemed as good a time as any to get back in the habit. It was the slenderest of silver linings, but right now I’d take what little I could get. I grabbed the tome and read the faded gold lettering on the spine. The Republic of Plato. Not what I had expected, but it would do. I flicked through the pages. Apart from a couple of roached edges, it looked unsullied, probably because I was the first prisoner to attempt to read the damn thing. I sat down and turned to the opening chapter.
‘Be assured, Socrates, that when a man is nearly persuaded that he is going to die, he feels alarmed and concerned about things which never affected him before…he becomes full of misgiving and apprehension, and sets himself to the task of calculating and reflecting whether he has done any wrong to anyone. Hereupon, if he finds his life full of unjust deeds, he is apt to start out of sleep in terror, as children do, and he lives haunted by gloomy anticipations.’
It was going to be a long weekend.
By the time I had reached page 75, two things had happened. The first occurred insidiously over the course of a dozen pages, a faint shiver that grew into a dull ache, like a fever wrapped up inside a hangover. This could largely be attributed to the overzealous tenderising I had received at the hands of five-oh, though I suspected I may also have been suffering from the Buckie Shakes, an apocryphal condition J-man had warned me about caused by too much caffeine-laden tonic. The six shots of Jäeger probably hadn’t helped either. The second thing to occur on page 75 was that I received guests. Just as Plato was questioning whether a man haunted by death can ever become brave, there was a sudden clank and a groan. My cell door swung open and the haunted man locked within it came face-to-face with his bêtes noires. I put down the book and blinked warily. I’d been half-expecting the whole squad to pile in and finish me off, yet felt scarcely better to learn that I was being taken for a blood test ‘to see if it matches any found at the scene of the crime’.
‘The crime’s right here,’ I said, tapping my head. ‘And the only blood spilt was mine. If you want a sample, why don’t you try swabbing your boots?’
‘Well you should have thought about that before verbally assaulting one of our officers,’ came the stiff reply.
My creps, I discovered, were sitting forlornly outside the door, confiscated lest I try to hang myself with the laces. The plainclothes police, too dull to justify describing in any detail, led me along the corridor and downstairs to the medical room. I took a seat and gazed curiously at the assorted swabs and latex gloves, wondering how many men had been intimately searched in here.
‘Are you an intravenous drug-user?’ asked a beleaguered doctor, bustling into the room. He noted the cut and swelling above my eye but made no offer to dress the wound.
I shook my head and watched as he wrapped a tourniquet around my right bicep before inserting a needle. As the vial filled with red, I turned my head the other way.
‘Do you suffer from any addictions?’ enquired the doctor, withdrawing the needle from my vein.
‘No,’ was the swift answer.
‘Hold that,’ he said, placing a cotton pad over the puncture mark.
‘Do I get a special sticker for being brave?’ I asked drily.
My quip was met with an equally dry silence. The two undistinguished officers motioned for me to stand and I rose and accompanied them back up the stairs to my en-suite cell. Although I had no desire to engage in small talk with the enemy, there were still a few questions to be resolved.
‘So have I actually been charged with anything or what? Cos if not, surely you’ve got to let me out at some point.’
‘You’ve not been charged yet, but you will be in due course,’ said the older of the two. He peered at his wristwatch. ‘Probably in the next two hours in fact.’
‘Am I allowed a lawyer?’
‘A solicitor may be present at your interview, though I would suggest there’s little point as he can’t do anything for you at this stage. The best thing you could do right now is be cooperative and it’ll look better for you when this goes to court.’
Although the sage advice of the police could generally be discounted, it was probably true that a solicitor would be of little use right now. My fate had already been decided, and there was nothing that I or anyone else could do to remedy this. That didn’t mean I was going to ‘be cooperative‘ and fess up to the spurious crimes I had been accused of however. In spite of the best efforts of Grampian Police to bludgeon it out of me, there was still some semblance of a brain inside that battered head of mine. I returned to page 75 and tried to lose myself in the measured advice of my mentor.
‘We must assume a control over those who undertake to set forth these fables…because such language is neither true, nor beneficial to men who are intended to be warlike.’
I must have dozed off at some point, for the next thing I recall is being jolted upright by an unearthly shriek. I pushed the prickly blanket aside and padded over to the peephole.
‘You bastards! You fucking bastards. You fucking dirty cunts! Cunts, that’s what you are!’
Apparently I wasn’t the only nursing a grievance with the police.
‘Mon en! Mon en – I’ll take yous now!’ railed the occupant in the cell opposite. ‘I’ll fucking deck yous. One punch and you will go down! What are you waiting for you fucking bastards?’
The commotion continued in this vein for some time (although time was an amorphous concept in here), with the brunt of the complainer’s anger being vented against the cell door. His beef, as far as I could deduce, pertained to being refused toilet paper with which to take a shit. Being denuded of his clothing, which sat piled outside the door, hadn’t done much for his mood either. As I was summoning enough breath with which to unleash a vitriolic plea for silence, the now familiar rattle of keys came swiftly along the corridor. I awaited the inevitable altercation eagerly, but instead it was my own front door that swung open.
My regular escorts motioned me to my feet. ‘Come on then, let’s get this interview out of the way.’
I left Plato wrapped up in the blanket and accompanied my interrogators downstairs once again. I wasn’t relishing what lay ahead, but it had to be better than the ear-melting howls from next door.
Interview Room Number Three was no bigger than the cell I had just vacated, but it did have the luxury of a threadbare carpet and real furniture that wasn’t bolted to the floor. I took my place on the far side of the small table that separated me from the bizzies, or ‘detectives’ as I was presently to learn. In an alcove, a clunky audio and video recorder sat primed and ready to do its masters’ bidding, while a video camera up above squinted sternly at the battered and bloodied subject. When prompted, I initialed the duplicate tapes and passed them back to the older cop, who inserted them into the machine. We were about to make a movie, although unbeknown to my co-stars, it was going to be a silent one.
‘Smoke?’ asked the younger cop, cordially flashing a packet of Lambert & Butler.
I shook my head. Had it been a skunk-filled secret agent, I may have wavered, but not for a plain Lammie Bammie. Police interview rooms and submarines are the only enclosed spaces you’re allowed to smoke in these days; the former because the nicotine encourages suspects to talk, and as for the latter, well, you can’t exactly step outside for a puff when you’re 20,000 leagues under the sea, can you? The pig returned the fags to his pocket and started rolling the tapes.
‘My name is Detective Bruce Jenkins from the Criminal Investigation Department and this is my colleague, Detective Paul Kane. [Or BJ and Porcine as I swiftly dubbed them.] Also present is Eric Belabed who is to be questioned as part of our ongoing investigation into a serious incident that occurred on Windmill Brae on Friday 20th June. Eric, please confirm your date of birth and your current address…Right, now I’d like you to begin by telling us about your movements on the night of 20th June. Please bear in mind that anything you say may be used against you in a court of law.’
For the next 15 minutes I sat in silence, fielding every question that was hurled at me with a glassy stare. In one of my many phone conversations with F, we had discussed such a scenario, albeit one in which drugs, not verbals, were the reason for my detention. He had advised me – in fact ordered me – not to utter a word, and who was I to disobey the boss? ‘Da less datchu say, da more dey gon say,’ he’d noted. ‘‘Ventually, dey’lla learnt nuffin and you’ll av learnt everyt’ing dey got on you.’
The only drawback to omerta was it meant I couldn’t use my appellations on the pair. It was probably just as well, for they seemed to be getting fairly riled as it was. At one point BJ stopped the tapes, leaned over me and snarled: ‘We can do this two ways Mr Belabed. Either you cooperate, and save us all a lot of time, or you play tough and take the bus to Craigie. It’s your shout.’ Porcine nodded sagely, but I continued to gaze right through him, focusing instead on a much prettier boat in a far prettier place than this. Eventually, when I had tired of their cliched cop faces, I did a 180 and stared holes into the rear wall instead. It was an anti-interrogation technique favoured by the IRA and Harold Shipman, among others, which was good enough for me. For some reason, this act served only to further antagonise my interrogators, and I was afraid they might stop the tapes again and apply some jackboot pressure to my aching skull. They kept their cool however and I kept mine, and by the end of the interview, I knew a lot more about them than they knew about me. F had been right. I knew for one thing they had zero intelligence on me, which was quite an achievement considering the amount of food I’d been shifting recently. Due to the coded messaging system I’d introduced at the start of the year, there was nothing incriminating on my phone either. And even if the bizzies had cuffed me and led me to the safe house for a no-stone-unturned inspection, they would have found nothing. Thanks to Scotty’s lunacy, there was nothing left to lose.
When it became apparent that there would be no information forthcoming, Porcine pulled out the charge sheet he had prepared earlier. By the time he had read through two pages of legal speak and petty bureaucracy, I had been charged with half a dozen offences, one serious, the rest trifling. When the words ‘breach of the peace’ rang out, I had to stifle a smile. Perhaps J-man had been right about his bottles of breach. I suspected it was my own idiocy, rather than the potent kick of Buckfast tonic wine, that had caused me to lash out at the police, but it was good to have an excuse to fall back on.
After the interview, it was on to another nondescript room to be fingerprinted and photographed by another nondescript cop. As I was stood there, rolling my palms across the glorified photocopier, another cop stuck his head in the door. This one I definitely recognised, and it wasn’t from the severe thrashing I had taken the night before – this was JoJo’s inside man.
He clocked me but continued talking nonchalantly to his colleague while I toyed with the idea of blackmailing him into getting the charges dropped in return for my silence. I soon concluded that such a plan would be unworkable however and besides, I really didn’t want to see my name linked to that of a dead drug dealer. There were worse things to be in custody for than assaulting a cop, even if it didn’t feel that way right now. When I had been comprehensively snapped, scanned and swabbed, BJ and Porcine reappeared to lead me back along the corridor and up the well-trodden stairwell I was starting to know so well. As we approached my cell, the voice across the hallway started up once again with a growl and a snarl. The tune hadn’t changed while I’d been gone, and I braced myself for a long evening. When were level with the cacophony, Porcine lowered the flap on the cell door and peered at the specimen inside.
‘Aye, you’re nae bonnie, are you?’ he laughed.
This strangely seemed to enrage the man further, and for the next while, I sat slumped in my cell as my neighbour booted fuck out of his. When he had finally worn himself out, like a rabid dog chained to a stake, I returned to my Grecian companion and prayed for the ceasefire to hold.
‘But when dissoluteness and diseases abound in a city, are not law-courts and surgeries opened in abundance, and do not law and physic begin to hold their heads high, when numbers even of well-born persons devote themselves with eagerness to these professions? What else can we expect?’
The next 72 hours passed in excruciating slow-mo, second after agonising second until 60 had stuttered by in succession, epochs of time broken only by the slam of cell doors and the cry of their captives. I shan’t recount my ordeal in any detail, for that is a fate I would not wish on anyone. All that matters is that I somehow made it through to Tuesday, dozing intermittently in snatches of half sleep, dogged by migraines, chimeras and regrets. Occasionally I left the concrete bench to stretch my aching legs and shout obscenities at the kvetcher across the corridor. At other times I rose to accept the cold chips and milky tea that were served sporadically through the hatch. Eventually, after an eternity and then a while had ticked by, my cell door opened for the last time and the turnkey motioned me to my feet.
‘Get your shoes on son – you’re off to court.’
Got a worse sleep experience to share? Type some words into the comment box below. Wanna read more best/worst confessions? Ed Uncovered now has a dedicated category in which I attempt to convince myself that life has been a series of epic wins rather than the abject failure that it actually is.