– The following is an extract from a semi-fictional novel I’m working on. It is based on my experience of taking part in medical trials as a lifestyle and tells the tale of a disenfranchised young man living on the edge of society and finding his place in the world while meeting fellow drifters along the way. It is still a work in progress and one that will keep being developed as I continue living this way and collecting more material for the book, but for now I will post extracts on here. Previous instalments can be found here.
Make it through we did. The days drifted by once again and soon enough it was time to leave the clinic. Another drug-testing assignment had been successfully completed and I still hadn’t grown a second head. I must have shitted into a pot over twenty times though, and I was looking forward to going back to the old traditional way of water and flushing. I got Warren’s contact and then headed back to the outside world, £3500 better off than I was when I walked in.
Coming out was always strange for the first day of freedom and I enjoyed that freedom by going for a long walk around a country park beside the clinic. The major negative of doing the trials was that you were unable to do any exercise while you were in there. I was someone who usually went running three or four times a week, but the most you could push it while doing a trial was having a rigorous game of table tennis in the small courtyard, and there were always a couple of strict nurses nearby who would warn you if you looked to be raising your heart rate too much. There was even one who would come out and tell you off for getting any sunlight on your skin (apparently any sunburn or damage to your skin could be a side-effect from the drugs, so they stopped you sunbathing in order to know for certain what caused it). Anyway, not being able to go outside and use your legs much, it always took a few days for the muscles to get used to not lying down and watching TV all day. So I worked myself back into it gradually with some walks before finally going for a run a few days after I got out.
One thing I hadn’t done in a while either was visit my parents – not since the start of the summer in fact. It was nothing out of the ordinary and I always realised how disjointed we were as a family when speaking to other people my age. Most contacted their parents at least once a week, some every day, but for me, I often went months with complete radio silence. When I had travelled in South America, I rang them once a month to update them that I hadn’t been murdered by some drug cartel. For me this was sufficient, but other travellers were shocked by the lack of contact between us. I guess we were a very introverted family. And a small one too. It had always just been me, my parents, my sister and brother. Our wide family was almost non-existent which perhaps contributed to how we were so detached and distant. My dad had been abandoned by his parents at a young age and raised by his grandmother. My mum’s family were from Ireland and I hadn’t even stepped foot in the country. And the grandparents all passed on by the time I was thirteen. All of this had created how we were. But it had been five months since I had seen them, so I headed back to my hometown of Coventry on the train to spend the weekend there.
Arriving at the house, I walked through the door, said hello, made myself a coffee, and then went to join them in the living room where they could reliably be found watching television. We then started catching up. By this point, my parents already knew I had done a couple of medical trials but I hadn’t told them in detail about it. I explained to them the nature of my guinea-pig career and how much money I was making doing them. Hearing my story, I was pleasantly surprised to hear my parents were okay with it. No doubt they had given up on me at that point and probably assumed I’d be homeless, so for them to hear I had some decent money in my pocket was good enough. It was a relief to see they were accepting of my new career choice, but naturally it didn’t take long for them to start raining on my parade. “It’s a good amount of money you’re making,” started my dad. “But you won’t be able to do these trials forever though. Are you not looking for a job as well?”
“Well, maybe something casual,” I said. “If I had a full time job I wouldn’t be able to do most of the longer studies. You can’t just get three weeks off to go and sit in a clinic. Maybe I need a job where I can work from a computer.”
“Like journalism,” my mum interjected. “Why did you go to university and get a degree if you weren’t going to use it?” Here we go, I thought.
“I went to university because I was pressured to go by my school. I was only seventeen at the time when I decided to go. Who the hell knows what they want to do at seventeen and why should I do something I don’t for the rest of my life just because of one decision I made when I was seventeen?”
“You don’t like working for a living like the rest of us do you?” It was my dad, coming back into the conversation. It was two against one and I felt like pointing out that I was happy for the time being, and how their jobs often made them miserable (my dad was a UPS delivery driver and my mum a cleaner at a local university). I also felt like pointing out how all they did was work then come home to sit in front of a flashing box all evening until going to sleep, whereas I was still working away on my dream. It was an argument we had had before, and I wasn’t feeling like opening up that can of worms again, so I sipped my coffee and changed the subject by asking how my brother was doing. I carried on having the debate in my head though, as I always did. I couldn’t help but think how my parents were always trying to pressure and influence me into doing things they knew I didn’t want to do. Humanity worked in mysterious ways and it seemed strange that people had children and then worked miserable jobs in order to raise them, and then encouraged them to do the exact same thing when they grew up. Every generation was sacrificing itself for the next generation, living a life of monotonous work for their spawn. It was a perpetual loop of misery and madness, and it was part of the reason I never wanted to have children. As my favourite philosopher Alan Watts had said: “It’s absolutely stupid to spend your time doing things you don’t like, in order to go on spending things you don’t like, doing things you don’t like and to teach our children to follow in the same track. See what we are doing, is we’re bringing up children and educating them to live the same sort of lives we are living. In order that they may justify themselves and find satisfaction in life by bringing up their children to bring up their children to do the same thing, so it’s all retch and no vomit. It never gets there.”
At one time my sister got these things too. She was like me in many ways and had spent her twenties in a soul-searching state of wandering, starting university courses, quitting university courses. Hell, we even lived and worked together in a small town in New Zealand for a while. She was unconventional and against the grain in many ways, but even she had recently started preparing for the traditional life. She was just finishing a physiotherapy degree and looking to settle down with her boyfriend, get a place somewhere in our hometown. Because she was two years older and had lived a similar life to me, she assumed she was one step ahead and that I was also going to abandon the wandering life for the traditional one.
“Have you not thought about what you want to do for a job?” she asked me.
“Well, I just want to do my writing and travel every now and again. I worked out that if I did a trial, worked an agency job for a few months, and then did another trial, I’ll always have enough money to live this kind of life.” I watched as she rolled her eyes.
“Come on – you need something stable. You can’t be relying on testing drugs all your life. What if you get a health problem that stops you from doing them?”
“I’m as healthy as they come,” I informed her. “Never had a health problem and I keep fit. Never smoked and, hell, never even broken a bone.” She rolled her eyes once again.
“Well your priorities might change in the future. You might meet a nice girl. She is going to want someone who offers her a bit of stability and security.”
“That’s not the type of girl for me,” I said. “I’ll stay single all my life if I have to. Most people end up divorced or stuck in loveless relationships these days anyway.”
“I get that you don’t want to sit in an office, but what about getting a trade or something? You can make good money with a trade and you might be good at it.”
“You know how useless I am with my hands and how little common sense and dexterity I have. I’m borderline dyspraxic. I can barely chop an onion or shuffle a pack of cards – I’m hardly going to be a whizz at fixing drain pipes or circuit boards. No, there’s only one thing I’m good at and that’s writing. And when I say writing, I don’t mean journalism as I know you’re about to say. I mean WRITING. Hemingway, Orwell, Bukowski. You know, all those heroes of mine. I have a gift and I’m not going to let it go to waste by living a mundane life. Ultimately to write it well you have to live it well. And that’s what I’m doing. I’m living it well and writing it well. I’ve got over ten thousand followers on my blog now and I’m about to publish my first book.” I could see her sitting there, thinking I was a lost cause – the classic starving artist who’d be washing dishes at some crappy restaurant in his forties while still proclaiming he was an undiscovered genius. But I could also see her showing some respect for my tenacity, no matter how insane and deluded I might have been.
“You’re a very strong-willed person,” she said finally. “I’ll give you that.”