K For Krakow

I’d walked into the bathroom, and there were my new pals, nonchanantly carding powder into small thin lines. There were three or four of them, rolling zloty notes, sniffing the dust, holding their heads back. It’d been a while, but it looked tempting. I chanced it with this group that I’d know less than an hour, “Any chance of a bump?” “Sure, but it’s only speed, easier to bring over than coke.” “Fine by me, cheers man” and I took the proffered note. “Want another?” It was the older guy, one of the Outlaws. I accepted and he tapped a larger quatity out. It was fine and dusty already, and the preparation took only a few seconds. I bent over the sink and snorted greedily. It felt like glass granules. It felt like ketamine. I knew this because two months earlier, just before I’d set off on my trip, I found myself polluting a Friday night that had been dedicated to sobriety at the house of a friend’s parents with the same substance. Said parents returned from the theatre and offered us a line, with the caveat, “It’s not coke….” It altered me considerably.

It was late March in 2007, the trip to Kalmykia. After a depressing couple of days in Warsaw, I found myself in Krakow. I was staying in an empty hostel which was being run, through tragic circumstances, by a lovely girl, Agnieska. We struck up a friendship quickly, and she showed me around the city on my first night. One bar we visited, The Irish Embassy, was decked out with quite a few flat screens showing the cricket world cup – not everyone’s idea of fun, but they were loving it as the Irish had just recently scored their famous victory over Pakistan (that game being the highlight of my time in Warsaw). And as for me, well, I devised a nifty strategy of sightseeing in the mornings and then pulling up a stool and watching a match most evenings. I got friendly with the bar staff, and The Embassy became a second home.

Agnieska was very welcoming, and I was often invited over to the flat she shared with some EFL teachers for dinner. During one of these dinners, I discovered a very common attitude to drugs in eastern Europe – anything, pot, mushrooms, coke, E, anything is as bad as heroin. I just agreed, as I didn’t want to be rude or have a poitnless discussion. I’d been flirting with drugs, or rather, had been involved in something of a dirty, destructive affair with them, before I left England, and I had no desire to talk about it.

The clientele of The Embassy was as you would expect. Transient, and I would rarely see the same faces twice. Weekends were busiest, naturally, with stag parties and weekenders taking advantage of the cheap flights that service John Paull II airport. On the Friday in question, I was sat in front of the big screen upstairs and the rowdy early evening crowds were mostly uninterested in the match. I was male multi-tasking – watching the game, watching the people, reading my book, drinking beer and smoking fags. I was at a large table, alone until an Irishman asked to join, with his party of pals over from Dublin. Happy to have the company we started talking about the usual, and it turned out that this was a birthday party away from the judging eyes of girlfriends and wives.

They bought over a pint of Zywiec lager for me and I explained my journey, they showed polite interest. In amongst the usual shuffle of a busy table, I found myself sitting next to two fellas wearing leather and patches – members of the Dublin chapter of The Outlaws Motorcycle Club. In my youth, a friend’s sister had dated a couple of members of The Cheltenham Wolves MC that were “over-patched” (I’ve only got this parlance from Sons Of Anarchy recently, it could be way off) by The Outlaws during the few months some of us spent hanging out in the clubhouse and The Nightowl club in Cheltenham. It was a world of speed, prospects and the faintest smell of criminality and violence that we chose to ignore.

With a lubricated tongue I shared my limited experience with these almost comically stereotypical bikers. I say almost comically, because they were every inch the calm-before-the-storm violence that one might expect. Facing limited conversation with them, I turned to some others in the party and after three pints, I was ready to break the seal. And that’s when I foolishly accepted the offers.

I walked out of the bathroom and dialled Agnieska’s number. Could I come over? I needed to get out of the bar before a reapeat of the evening in the Cotswolds took hold, where I was convinced, for over an hour, that my left hand operated a digger control for my right arm. It was the only way I could get the tea I’d been given that night, and I was worried how a much larger dose might react with the beer I’d had.

Much of the rest of the night disappeared. I came to, although I hadn’t been unconscious, in the living room of Agnieska’s flat, watching Kill Bill Volume II, dubbed in Polish. I was drinking tea. She turned to me and said, “Wow, you were really drunk.”