lab rat

Lab Rat (Chapter Thirty Four and Thirty Five)


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.

Chapter Thirty-Four

We spent the next few days roaming around Cannes and its surroundings. Tim kept drink-driving everywhere we went. Without driving under the influence, the only choice was to take expensive taxis or to stay sober – both of which were unrealistic options. The holiday partying was underway and we blasted 90s rap as we cruised around Cannes. We were two young guys, single and unemployed, deluded and drunk, with nothing to do and nowhere to be. Well, I had a flight to America at the end of the week which was looking increasingly doubtful with the ever-growing pandemic. I kept trying to avoid the news of it and just enjoy my time there on the south coast of France. While taking in the sights of the Riviera, I felt bad that Tim hated living here so much. The sun, the sea, the beach, the beautiful women. It was the good life, but I understood how lost he felt. He probably wanted to be living somewhere else in Europe with his Russian ex-girlfriend while starting up his own modelling agency; unfortunately he was stuck with me while living in his parents house with nothing to do but keep on getting drunk off cheap wine.

As the week drifted on, we stopped going to bars and just got drunk at his house in the hills. I downloaded the dating apps again as we tried to find some girls to meet up with. I was still speaking to Christina, of course, but it seemed a good chance to have a fling with someone else before we got married and lived happily ever after in the states. The matches came in and we invited whatever girls we could around to his parent’s house for a party. There were a few who said they might come, but inevitably it ended up with me and him chatting shit about life and putting the world to rights into the early hours of the morning. Eventually I did get speaking to one girl who was actually keen to meet. Her name was Tina and she was twenty-years old and lived in a small village somewhere outside of Nice. I told Tim about my catch and he agreed to take me to go and meet her the next day. “Fuck, let’s do it man. Why not? Maybe we have a threesome or something…”

We picked her up from the train station where she was waiting outside. I gave her a kiss on the cheek and asked her how she was doing. “I’m good!” she said jubilantly. “Well, I had to sneak out the house because my parents didn’t want me to leave because of the virus. My village is a bit out the way so I also had to hitch-hike to the train station. But whatever, I’m here now!” She was a pretty little thing with long dark hair, hazel eyes, and pale skin; an exotic mix of Danish, French and English. Aside from her general attractiveness, I also noticed some self-harm marks down her wrists, some of which were still fresh and bloody. I pretended not to see them while talking to her and realising that, once again, I had attracted a tortured soul. There were now three of us in one car: a lab rat on his latest escapist adventure, a self-harmer who had snuck out of her house, and a depressed guy who was drink-driving while trying to forget about his ex. We made quite the team and spirits were good. The world was seemingly going crazy with the outbreak but we didn’t care. It was a nice day as always and we went to buy some alcohol to drink on the beach. By now the supermarkets were regulating how many people were in the store at once. I think it was at this point I started realising my big adventure was about to fall apart before even properly starting. Still, I kept putting my head in the sand and purchased a bottle of spiced rum and some beers. We passed them around in the car as Tim drove us to the beach. Once there, we found some rocks to sit on and watch the sunset. I sat with Tina on one rock, and Tim sat on one alone, staring out at that setting sun, no doubt wondering if he’d ever get back with his ex, or if one of his business ventures would transpire, or if he would ever be happy in this world.

“So what do you do back home?” Tina asked me.

“I test new medicines for a living.” At this point I simply couldn’t be bothered anymore to dress it up.

“That’s cool,” she said, starting to hold my hand. I was surprised by her blunt reaction and lack of questioning on the subject. At this point it was clear she wasn’t after anything serious. I had already told her that I was supposed to be flying to America in a few days. Things were going to shit real fast, but hey, at least it was looking like I was going to get laid.

A couple of hours later we were at a bar when all of a sudden they started closing. I went to ask the bar staff what was up. “We have to close because of the outbreak. The government has declared a military lockdown from midnight tonight.” It was a striking sentence which suddenly made it all seem very real. Disaster was looming; the world was closing in on us. Our debauchery looked like it was coming to an end but Tim had an idea.

“Fuck this shit man! Let’s get some more booze and go find a hotel.” We all agreed it was a good idea and within twenty minutes we had two more bottles of red wine and were in the reception of some budget hotel. Tim was arguing with the receptionist to let us have a room. There was some uncertainty as to what the rules were with the new lockdown, but eventually the staff caved in and allowed us to have a room for the night. We headed into our lair with our bottles of wine. Me and Tina sat and drank on the bed while Tim sat on the windowsill, staring out into the city of Nice, the lights shimmering like everything was almost normal. There was a distant look in his eyes and it was obvious he was thinking about his ex. I thought of how many other poor bastards were out there, sitting and staring out at windows and wondering what was left out there for them in this messed up world. I almost was going to go over and console him but Tina had started fondling me under the sheets. Standing up at this point would have been slightly awkward. It didn’t take long for Tim to realise what was happening. None of us were clearly interested in the threesome, and Tim invited himself out.

Chapter Thirty-Four

The next day I awoke to a loud knock on the door. The woman knocking was repeatedly saying something in French. I tried to carry on sleeping but her knocking was persistent. I got up bleary-eyed and looked around the room. Tina lay there naked, half covered by the blanket. There were empty wine bottles and red wine stains on the sheets – not to mention bloodstains from her self-harm marks. It was another one of the times in my life I had woken up in a strange room with a strange person in a strange circumstance, my head pounding and wondering what the hell life had in store for me next. Eventually Tina awoke to the banging too. Unlike me, she could speak French, so she got dressed and went to speak to the angry woman at the door. I watched them conversing in a heated fashion for a minute before Tina closed the door and walked over to me.

“The lady said they are being forced to close the hotel because of the lockdown. We have to leave as soon as possible.”

“But we paid for breakfast.” For some reason that was my first thought.

“She said she’ll bring it up now but we have to be gone within the next thirty minutes. Apparently we are the last ones left in the hotel. The streets are deserted too.”

“Okay,” I said. I started flinging all my things into my backpack before scoffing down the continental breakfast. It really felt like I was in some sort of disaster movie. Only a few days into my trip and I was already in a totally bizarre situation where the world was getting turned on its head. Sadly, this was looking like one of the last parts of my trip with the way things were going. I had already received messages from people back home telling me I needed to get back to the U.K before they closed the borders. I had just escaped the damn place, now I was being told I had to return.

We left the hotel and started walking around the streets. Tina needed to get back home to her worried parents and I needed to get in contact with Tim, which was made more difficult by the fact my phone was dead and I was without a charger. For an hour we walked to the train station, meandering through the eerily quiet city, feeling like we were at the beginning of the end of days. Everything was shut or in the process of shutting. At one point I asked Tina if I could come and stay with her for a few days in her small village. She seemed keen, but a quick call with her parents and the idea was swiftly dismissed. “Don’t you realise there’s a pandemic going on!” they shouted down the phone. “We can’t have strangers around. Get home now!” Well, it was worth a try. We carried on walking to the station where we bumped into a German traveller. He had been travelling around Europe for a few months with no money, just a backpack and a bible. We smoked a joint with him then wished each other some luck on our ongoing journeys – it seemed like we were both going to need it.

Eventually Tina got on her train and drifted out of my life. We said we’d see each other again but we both knew that wasn’t going to happen. Alone again, I carried on wandering around, and eventually found a shop where I could buy a charger for my phone. I purchased it, then went back to the station to charge it off a plug socket. I then got in contact with Tim and found out his situation was even more dire than mine. After leaving us at the hotel last night, he had driven home only to get pulled over by the police after five minutes. The breathalyser saw him come in about five times the legal limit and his license was now gone for at least the next six months. I knew the poor bastard was already in the pits of despair, but this would be the thing to send him plunging deeper into that abyss. His life was completely off-the-rails, just like mine, perhaps even more so than mine had ever been. He also told me that his parents had rushed back from their holiday and that I could no longer stay around the house. My things were there, but he arranged for his neighbour to drop them down at the station for me.

After I had my things, I knew I had to get to Nice and take a flight back to the U.K. But it was too depressing a reality to face. So instead I continued walking around in a hungover daze, trying to avoid the police who were asking for papers to be out on the street. At one point it all hit me just how totally fucked up the whole situation was. My adventure was down the drain and the whole world was entering a crisis of epic proportions. The only thing I could do was go to a shop that was still open, purchase a four-pack of beers, and head to the beach to drink them out of sight of the police. I didn’t have anywhere to stay for the night, and most of the hotels were closed or closing. As I had discovered in times of crisis in the past, getting drunk was one way to solve the problem temporarily. I opened the beers and sat down on the shore, looking out into the Mediterranean sea, my back turned to the world that was in a state of collapse. My life had reached a peak of chaos in the last year, but now it seemed the whole world had caught up with me. Everything was falling apart. People were about to die, get sick, lose jobs, holidays, life savings, businesses.

Still, I was glad in a way that everyone was about to experience a life crisis along with me. There was even a part of me that welcomed it. And with this new virus that was shutting down societies and collapsing economies, there were sure to be a healthy amount of medical trials available. The vaccines and medicines would need to be produced quickly to combat this global pandemic. My career in the human guinea-pig industry was looking secure for the time being. This sick world needed its lab rats and I was a man with some sort of purpose. I then checked the news to see that the USA was shutting down its borders too, and that non-essential travel was not possible, and that some people were predicting a lockdown for the next six months or even a year. I hadn’t contacted Christina in two days, but that was confirmation that our adventure was now definitely down the drain. I knew many things were down the drain, and I thought of Tim, and Tina, and Warren, and Eliana, and Lee, and all the other misfits I had met over the last year. We were just surviving, enduring the trials of life, trying in whatever way to get by as the absurdity rained down upon us. The world was more insane than ever and there was nothing left for me to do. So I just sat there in silence and drank. I just sat there in silence, staring out at the sea, sipping my beer, nursing my hangover, thinking of the insanity of the last year, and of what was to come next, and if I would ever finish my stupid novel, and realising that my life was destined to forever be caught in a storm.

lab rat

Lab Rat (Chapter 31, 32 & 33)


– 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.

Chapter Thirty-One

I had lasted six weeks on the course until I was back to being unemployed and out of education. Reflecting on my latest dropout, it quickly became apparent how foolish it was of me to go back to university. I considered that perhaps there was a part of me still clinging onto some form of normality; maybe the fact I was back in institutional education would take pressure off the fact I was essentially a drug-testing bum. But now that final finger had slipped from the ledge and I was freefalling back into the abyss of the unknown. I was feeling a bit confused about everything, to be honest, and when my friend said there was a job going at the call centre where he worked, I did something out-of-character and took it up. That job lasted a whole two weeks, all of which was the training for the role. I spent that time learning how to take calls and the information I would need to adequately answer them. By the time the first day on the actual job came around, I got ready, walked to the office, then felt some overwhelming force inside of me preventing me from entering the building. It was something far beyond my control, and that force instead pushed me to a park full of deer where I chilled all day while ignoring the calls from work trying to find out what had happened to me. Like my tutor, I couldn’t be bothered to give them an explanation for my erratic behaviour, so I just kept ignoring them while hanging out with the deer and wishing I could become one of them. What a simple life it would be. Roam around, eat grass, and fuck. Yes, oh yes. That was the life for me.

After a while of wishing I was a deer and getting drunk and failing to get much down on my novel, it was time to get back into that clinic again. With the student loan and the payment for the last trial (and even the two weeks of actual work payment), I was richer than I had ever been. With another trial under the belt I would be able to disappear for a prolonged period of time. Truly, after ten months, I was done with being back ‘home’. It was time for one last cash grab then to resume the travelling life with my newfound riches.

This time the trial was a short one – ten days of testing some medicine for Parkinson’s disease. By now it was business as usual. I was an intermediate guinea-pig, and it was one of the few things that now made sense to me in this world – as well as one of the few things I was actually good at. I passed all the usual tests on screening, lied about my alcohol intake, then a week later I strolled back into the facility to recommence my life as Subject 55355. Unpacking my stuff in the ward, I felt a strange joy inside. It now actually felt good to be locked up away from society. In a way, I felt like I endured more tests and trials just trying to exist in everyday life than I did in the clinic. The life of a lab rat was almost as easy as a deer’s and at that point I probably would have traded six months of the year in the clinic for six months of freedom. That was a sweeter deal than most got. No doubt my life expectancy would keep dropping with all the experimental drugs going into my body, but after my latest episode, there was only so much more of life’s bullshit I could endure anyway.

Anyway, I lay there back in the clinic bed, having procedures, dreaming of what I could do with all the money I’d have after the trial. The trial group was a quiet one and for once I wasn’t really feeling like chatting and getting to know my fellow guinea-pigs. It was more of the same anyway: one girl back from Australia trying to get some money for her next trip; a guy who taught English in Thailand and came back in between terms to do a trial; some other guy who had his own business converting vans into living spaces for other people. They seemed interesting, as always, but I was in a reclusive and reflective mood. I just worked on my book and emailed Christina and dreamt of what life had in store for me while on this next adventure in the states. Somewhere inside, I knew it wasn’t going to go to plan. Speaking to my girl in America, it was evident she was just like me: manic, unpredictable, erratic – unable to live in this world for a certain period of time without having a breakdown or going completely off-the-rails. No doubt us travelling together would be a chaotic experience. I envisaged us having an explosive argument two weeks after our trip and going separate ways on a rainy night somewhere in North Dakota. Still, I was ready to roll the dice and see what madness was in store for me this time on the road.

Another person I was speaking to while on the trial was my French friend Tim. I had met him on my last trip to Nepal in a bar in a lakeside town. “I knew that you are one of my people when I saw you sitting there,” he had told me. “You are a thoughtful person who reflects deep on life. We are from different country, and speak different language, but we are similar souls.” He was now back living with his parents on the south coast of France, just outside of Cannes. I had been messaging him occasionally the last two years, but during the trial we started speaking a lot more. I attributed this to the fact he was clearly feeling nostalgic about our trip. This no doubt came from the depression of being jobless and living back home with his parents. The things he said reminded me of myself when I had lived at home after my two year round-the-world trip. I understood how he was feeling, and when he invited me to stay with him for a few days, I knew what I was going to do. After the trial was finished, I’d come out, leave my place, then travel to Cannes for a week before flying to the states to meet Christina. The wheels were in motion and I went onto the flight websites to book those one-way flights once again. I entered my card details and used my medical trial millions to pay for the tickets. It was always a joy to do. Something in you just awakened when you hit that enter button. The confirmation of booking email told you that you were leaving it all behind again: the monotony, the bullshit, the routine. Life’s doors were flung wide open for adventure, exploration, and everything else that made life worth living. I sat on my guinea-pig bed and looked around the ward at the nurses and my fellow test subjects. For once in my life everything felt in the right place. The drugs were flowing in my bloodstream, the money was going into my account, and a plane would soon be taking me away from my home country once again. Life was good.

Chapter Thirty-Two

I was out the clinic and the world was my oyster. I was feeling pretty great, although I wasn’t looking it. A side effect from the medicine was acne and my face looked like it did when I was a puberty-ravaged thirteen-year-old. Still, I had nowhere to be for the next few days and I was hoping some rest would help make me look normal again (I didn’t want to meet Christina for the first time looking like something from a horror movie). I was also feeling pretty wealthy. I now had over ten grand in my account despite working only a month in the last year. I sat back and thought about the reality of my financial situation. There was no way around it: I had cheated the system. I had made money for nothing and I walked smugly down the streets while watching the people in the morning commutes on their way to work. No doubt many of them would have despised me if they knew how much money I had while living a slacker lifestyle. Sometimes I felt like running up to the cars at traffic jams. I would spot the most stressed looking person and bang onto their window shouting “There’s another way! There’s another way!” Of course, I never did. The secret life of the lab rats had to be protected, only to be exposed in my great novel. And besides, I had just come out of being locked up in one facility; I didn’t need to be locked up in another straight away.

I spent the next few days preparing my trip, restocking my supplies again for when I lived my life out of a flimsy backpack once again. I told the landlady I was leaving and arranged the end of my tenancy. “Off on the road again,” she said. “Good on you. Do it while you’re young.”

I was a little sad to be leaving in all honesty. The house had been a comfortable nest for the last year. But too much comfort was bad for the soul and I knew inside it was time to leave. I hadn’t ended up dwelling there for ten years like the alcoholic woman who previously lived in my room. I was moving onward to another place, no doubt with some alcoholism involved anyway. I stroked the cats one last time, drank a last glass of wine with Thea, and then got up to leave my latest residence behind. Rahul looked at me as I left through the front door: he had seen me living there for a year while unemployed, and now I was about to jet off around the world for a prolonged period of time. At first, I thought he saw me as a degenerate loser, but now I had a feeling he thought I was some sort of strange genius. I knew he wanted to travel too and I had hoped I had planted a seed in his mind. Who knew, maybe soon it would blossom and he would be quitting his corporate job and joining me in the lab rat lifestyle. There I would come across him, somewhere on a beach in Mexico, lying in a hammock with a hot latina and sipping a Cuba Libre cocktail. “What was I thinking?” he would say to me.

“What were you thinking?” I would say to him.

Chapter Thirty-Three

I landed in France. After one year of being home, I was back out in the world in a foreign country. Tim was coming to pick me up from the airport and I stood outside the arrival lounge waiting for him. I waited for twenty minutes until suddenly his car pulled up with a skid. It was an old car full of smoke and random junk on the backseat. He got out to greet me with a kiss on the cheek, then I got into his car as we drove around Cannes. It was the place where the famous film festival was and we found some bars along the beach-front to catch-up properly and toast my arrival. We sat down and straight away he ordered two pints of strong beer. “Are you able to drink and drive?” I asked him.

“Sure, no problem,” he said confidently. “I always do this. My parents’ house is far away from town, in the mountain, and taxi here is very expensive.” He then proceeded to knock back the drinks in a steady fashion. It was quickly obvious to me that he was going through a bit of an episode. That had become clear through our recent messages, but now I could see it before me with my own eyes: the excessive smoking, the drink-driving, the bloodshot eyes, the non-stop talk about his ex-girlfriend. “Fuck, I am still in love with my ex,” he kept saying. “I am missing her. I need to go to Russia to see her. I make a mistake. I make a big mistake.” Tim was three years younger than me and probably just as screwed up as I had been at twenty-six. Although most of my life had been a crisis of some sort, that crisis had never really been caused by a woman. Tim seemed to be experiencing the usual existential pain that came with being a disenfranchised man in your 20s, but with some heartache thrown on top. All in all, it was a potent combination: being unemployed, living at home, still in love with his ex-girlfriend. It didn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to figure out he was depressed as hell. Still, my presence seemed to be cheering him up, and the talk of travelling again put a spark in his eye which otherwise seemed dimmed by his current life circumstances.

Pretty soon after the fifth beer, he drove us back to his house, whizzing around corners at a quick speed as I tried to tell him to slow down. My words had little effect upon him and he kept that pedal pressed down. After holding on for my life, we arrived at his luxurious maison. It was at the top of a mountain, overlooking Cannes and the Mediterranean sea. It had its own swimming pool and was generally a bit of a small paradise. “You live in a place like this?” I said to him.

“Me? No. My parents live in a place like this. I stay here like a prisoner. I am twenty-six-year-old; I should be living in my own place, not staying here with my parents like a child.”

“Still, if my parents lived in a place like this, I think I’d be quite happy to live with them for a while.” How impressed I was with the house meant nothing to him. He had grown up here, and like any person, if you live in one place for so long, you just get used to it, no matter how nice it is. I saw it as a paradise; he saw it as a cage in which he was trapped – the same way I had seen my parents home after I had come back from my big trip a few years previously.

He showed me around the house and then we poured some drinks. We sat and drank them in the garden, overlooking that beautiful vista. I was enjoying it, but Tim clearly was still blind to the world around him. Like most, his vision had been blurred by the relentless thoughts inside his head. “Fuck, I am so lost man. What am I doing with my life?” He drank his beer and stared out at the surrounding hills. “No money, no girlfriend, living at home with my parents. I don’t know where to go next.” It was self-pitying talk – the talk of a person who sat around staring at contented members of society while wondering how he’d ever be one of them. It didn’t help that all around us were the fancy homes of accepted members of society who had ‘made it’. We looked at those finely groomed houses and lawns as he kept venting about his issues. I wanted to help him but naturally I didn’t want to offer any solutions to problems I suffered from myself. Fire could not put out fire, after all.

“And you?” he suddenly asked me. “How you feel about your life? Testing drugs and travelling – is this okay for you? Are you happy?” I sat there thinking of what to say; he probably thought I was just as hopelessly lost as him. I knew he was cynical about the drug trials already, thinking I was selling my body and soul to ‘the man’.

“I guess so,” I said. “Like I said, I just want to explore and write about my life. Medical trials help me to do this. To write my books I need to travel and see the world and experience life. And even if I don’t write anything, I still enjoy travelling more than any career or having a family.” He looked at me incredulously.

“And your books. You can make a lot of money with this, you think?”

“Probably not,” I told him.

“Then why do you do it?”

“I have to.”

“You have to? What you mean you ‘have to’?”

“It’s hard to explain, but I just have to. I don’t have a choice.”

“Okay, but for me, if I invest so much energy and time into one thing, I would want to make money from it. You always tell me you’re writing and working on a book, but how many books you sell?”

“At the moment, about six hundred. But I’ve only just started writing properly recently. It’s slow and steady right now. Besides, it’s not about the money like I said.”

“Then what it’s about?”

“You can have a lot of money and still be miserable. To me, it’s important just to do what makes you feel alive. I could be working as a lawyer, making a six-figure salary, but be miserable because my job does nothing for me. To me, I’d rather do what fulfils me and earn little. There’s where true happiness lies…. I think.” He continued sitting back and looking at me in a studious way.

“You are a philosopher man, but for me, stuck here in this prison, I just want money. As much money as possible for travel and women and beer and to live alone. To be free and to be happy! The good life!” I listened to his spiel while reflecting on our differences. We were quite similar in many ways, but it was clear he was more business-minded than me. He had even told me he was once a member of the freemasons for a short while. He told me some more about it before moving onto his business ideas. Since we had been speaking, he must have mentioned over five different business ventures, none of which he had made a start on. He was another confused young man, full of ideas and struggling to get to terms with the practical nature of making any of those ideas in his head a reality. At one point he was going to move to London to start a modelling agency; the next he was going to Paris to start a consultancy; the next Dubai to be a personal trainer.

“And what about the virus?” he suddenly asked, switching the attention back to me. “Many countries are now locking down because of the virus. Do you think you will still be able to travel with the lockdowns?” The issue was something I had been trying to ignore on the news. I tried to ignore most of the news anyway for the general sake of my mental health, but the recent virus outbreak in Asia was now hard to avoid. It was dominating the world news and social conversation. I had heard it all before: swine flu, bird flu, ebola, and the rest. I just figured it was another media panic over a virus which would quickly subside. But it had carried on growing and a recent outbreak in Italy had seen the north of their country go into a full military-style lockdown. Some were predicting it wouldn’t be long before the rest of Europe and even the whole world followed suit.

“I’ve tried to ignore it,” I told him. “If it keeps growing and I get locked down in the USA, then at least I will be in another country with a hot girl. It will be an experience. Surely it will only last a couple of months or something anyway.”

“I don’t know,” he said. “It could last a long time. It could last a very long time.”

“So be it,” I said. “At least something interesting will be happening for once.”

lab rat

Lab Rat (Chapter nineteen)


– 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.

Chapter Nineteen

One day out of nowhere Steven turned up at the madhouse. He had texted me to let me know he was in the area then all of a sudden his big army-green van was making its way down the small close where I lived. It squeezed in between the parked cars and finally made its way onto the drive of the house, where it would be situated for the next few days, being stared at by the posh curtain-twitchers of my middle-class street.

“How you doing mate?” he asked, climbing out of his van. We chatted for a minute and then he showed me around his living headquarters for the first time. I got in the front passenger seat then made my way through a small door into the back. It felt like crawling into a cave, or perhaps the wardrobe to Narnia. In that space was the lair in which he had lived for the last four years. It was the size of a small bedroom and had everything a human-being really needed to survive. Shelter, a bed, a kitchen with a gas stove, a generator, a toilet, a fridge, a sofa, a collection of drawers and, of course, some speakers – which proceeded to play The Rolling Stones as we kicked back in his van with a glass of whiskey. The obvious absence was that of a shower, although I never asked what he did regarding such a basic necessity. I knew he had friends and family to visit where he could do that every few days, and there was always the option of wet-wipes. There was also no window as he liked to keep his living space as clandestine as he could when parked in city streets (people had been known to slash the tyres of van-dwellers for parking on their streets; ultimately most people were petty at heart and couldn’t bear to see someone living more freely than them).

“All that trial money went to my ex,” he told me, catching up over the last weeks since he trial finished. “She put a lot of money into the van and I was the one who kept it, so I’ve been paying her back. Money is pretty low, so I’ve been doing some odd bits of work here and there. I was stopping at the place of a friend called Nigel, helping him out with property. He’s a single old man and likes to go to the pub every night after work, so I’ve been hitting the sauce a bit too. I’ve also just sold a load of stuff on eBay so I’m waiting on the money from that to come in.” He continued to tell me about the events of his random life as we drank. He had a small bar in the kitchen space, filled with a wide range of spirits. “People love it when you’ve got a van at festivals and things like that. You can always invite people into it for a bit of an after-party.” A bit of a party it seemed to be as he told me about the diverse assortment of drugs he also had in the van. Everything from weed and MDMA to ketamine and DMT. Suddenly I felt like I was with Hunter Thompson myself, and I imagined undertaking a wild road trip fuelled by all the narcotics he had with him. That Steven was into his mind-altering substances came as no surprise; it was clear he had done a lot of psychedelics over the years – something that was noticeably common with those who led alternative lifestyles. Usually psychedelics seemed to unlock a different way of seeing the world; or those who had unlocked a different way of seeing the world were drawn to psychedelics. Either or. Not many people were smoking DMT or tripping on acid while living the corporate lifestyle, that was for sure. Instead they were doing medical trials and living in a van and trying to write fantasy novels.

Sitting there in that van and sipping that whiskey, I wondered if I could ever hack the life Steven was living. I had fantasized about it for sure, but I didn’t believe it was the great life many thought it was. Ultimately it came down to how much comfort and convenience a person was willing to give up to collect some more freedom. Was the discomfort of not having a shower, shitting in a bucket, and having to worry about people slashing your tyres worth the freedom that came with having a mobile home? In a way, I felt like it was. The idea of just moving your home to somewhere else at the flick of an ignition key was an alluring one. No annoying neighbours which you couldn’t escape from. Ever-changing environments. No council tax or rent to pay. Unlike Steven, I was throwing rent money away to an already rich woman who would die in the next decade or two, and then that money would go to a young grandson who had never worked a day in his life (the silver spoon of society in action). For now, that was how it was. I didn’t even have a driving license and the cost of buying/converting a van was a large one. Consequently, I figured it would be a few years until I would consider such an extreme endeavour.

After a while we headed into my place to carry on drinking. It wasn’t long before he had met my housemates, including Sean who proceeded to quiz him on his adventures before getting out some old photos of when he was a young man hitch-hiking around Mexico. “So where have you travelled my amigo?” he asked in his typically socially-awkward way. Steven proceeded to tell him about his road trips across Europe before Sean interjected to talk some more about Mexico, most specifically about the treehouse he lived in. I noticed that whenever Sean told the treehouse story, some of the details were different. After that he bid us farewell to return to his room and play the guitar.

“I expected you to be living with a bunch of young people in some student place,” Steven said. “Not like this. Everyone is old. But I like it. It’s different.”

“It’s like living in a very strange hostel,” I said.

“Seems that way.”

“It’s also a good environment to do my writing.” I showed him the area in the conservatory where I chilled with the cats and wrote my literary masterpieces. We then poured some more drinks, put some rock music on, and continued to chat about life – all the things we couldn’t speak to openly about in a ward full of people. Naturally it wasn’t long before the subject of sex came up. Becoming recently single after ten years, Steven was wanting to make up for lost time – hence why he was signed up to all the dating apps and chatting to a range of girls. I couldn’t blame him. Ten years of being in a relationship – especially when he had been travelling – meant he had missed out on a lot of promiscuous fun in his prime years. Although it seemed he had definitely had some fun before that as he told me about the sex clubs he frequented as a young man in London. It seemed quite a contrast to go from regularly banging strangers in depraved orgies to being shacked up with one girl for an entire decade. Typically, I couldn’t imagine what such a reality must have been like. I was just about to turn twenty-nine without ever having been in a relationship. I didn’t know what excuse to come up with first whenever people asked why I had been single all my life – the fact I had been so nomadic, the fact I was never really looking for a girlfriend, or the fact I was just a bit odd. Most women saw it as a massive red flag when they saw a guy near the age of thirty who had never been in a relationship. They obviously figured there was some terrible characteristic you possessed that had led to that solitary fate. But when I sat back and thought about it, the reason I hadn’t been in a relationship was purely out of circumstance – the circumstance being that I had always been on such a wild path of self-discovery throughout my adult life. I was a man breaking out of some prison, driving a fast car towards the horizon without a map or plan. I simply didn’t have any time or room for anyone to be in the passenger seat with me. I didn’t want or need it; other things were calling me and they still were as I continued speeding off into the unknown fuelled by some inner fire blasting out the exhaust pipes.

Okay, okay, don’t get it wrong – it’s not like I was celibate or something. Far from it. In some ways, I felt ashamed of the amount of women I’d slept with. I didn’t know the exact amount, but it was a lot. Women from all around the world. Women I’d met for one night in a hostel bar or a nightclub. Sometimes even on a bus (it was dark). The truth is that I couldn’t get enough of women, especially when travelling. Women of different cultures and different accents and ethnicities. The world was a treasure chest of feminine beauty and perhaps that was one of the reasons I was never interested in just being cooped up with just one. I was now at the age where people were looking for ‘the one’ though, and typically – as I was with everything else in life to my peers – I was at odds with how things were supposed to be. Beautiful women passed me in the street and I wanted to fall in love with them all. Steven was the same – a clear lover of the female kind – and it occurred to me how in all aspects of life we were both hopeless romantics chasing after whatever got our heart pumping. In a way, I was surprised he had stayed in a faithful relationship for so long. Whatever had kept him in it, it was now over. He was now a man looking to make up for lost time and naturally it wasn’t long until we headed out on the town to see if we could meet anyone.

Our first stop on our failure of a tour was a new cocktail bar. I got a drink from the bar and looked around at the women. It was the usual Nottingham crowd of beautiful women with fancy dresses, impeccable makeup, and well-styled hair. Women drinking expensive cocktails while Instagramming their drinks. Women that worked as solicitors and marketing executives. Women who watched reality TV and went to the races occasionally. We both knew in their eyes we would be seen as degenerates, but we didn’t care. We chatted to them anyway. Steven knew he couldn’t hide the fact he lived in a van, so he owned it. He didn’t look like a hobo or anything; he was relatively well-dressed and groomed – a handsome man – although still had his rough-around-the-edges look. Maybe it was a thing for some girls. He told a couple of girls we were chatting with about his unconventional living arrangements. They were interested but you could tell they saw us as spectacles – something to merely observe and study from a distance. I had noticed over the years that people living alternative lives were treated like showpieces at some circus event. People would stand back and marvel at them. They would be interested to hear the story. Sometimes they would even admire and respect them. But ultimately that was where it ended. There was still a fence between them that they were not willing to cross. We were wild animals of some kind, and there was no way they would come out to the dangerous space in which we roamed. That was exactly what happened as we reached the point of brick-wall conversation. After that, we headed to the next bar where the same thing happened again. After that, we headed to the bohemian bar where we figured we might have some more luck. It was the place where the skin-head had told me about medical trials – the place where you could sit down and be chatting to some vegan anarchist within a minute or two about politics and philosophy.

We sat down at a table with some rum and cokes. All around us were tables of hyper people, shouting, laughing, downing drinks. For the first time it hit me how young everyone was. Normally it was a diverse range of ages in there, but it appeared me and Steven were clearly the older ones in the vicinity. Well, maybe it was student night. Indeed, it only seemed like a couple of years ago I was at university studying a degree for the sake of it. The time had flown past in a blur of drinking, travelling, and general existential chaos. I was not far off thirty and in a way I felt a bit cheated with how quickly time had passed me by. I guess it was the same feeling everyone had and I wondered how Steven felt at thirty-three. It did seem like the age thing was noticeable after all. One girl sat down and started chatting to us, immediately asking how old we were. “How old do we look?” I asked.

“You look about twenty-six, and he looks… I’m going to say a bit older. Thirty-one?” It was a couple of years off for both of us, but it seemed it was the accepted rule to knock a year or two off when guessing someone’s age (this was to politely spare them the horrors of realising how much closer towards death they were getting). I told her my age to which she replied “oh that’s my brother’s age.” It turned out I was now at the age where attractive young women thought of their older brothers when weighing up whether or not they wanted to sleep with you. Well, at least she was maybe thinking about it. “Do you guys not want to have kids or anything?” she then asked.

“Not right now,” I said. “I mean a man can have kids until he’s sixty or something, right?”

“I guess,” she said. “I just always imagined I’d be getting married and having kids by the time I was around your guys’ age.”

“Well, it’s a brave new world,” I said. She carried on chatting with us until her mates left and she had to go with them. Next we got speaking to the table next to us – another bunch of students enjoying the temporary shelter from the working world that was university. We carried on drinking with them and talking about our lives until they invited us back to a house party. It was then, getting up to leave, that one of the girls of the group suddenly decided I wasn’t invited. Steven was, but not me. I hadn’t even said anything to her, and I was relatively sober. “He can come,” she said, pointing to Steven. “But him? No.” Her friends asked her why, to which she pulled them aside and whispered something in their ear. I had no idea what was said, but after they were all set on me not coming to the party. I had to laugh; this wasn’t the first time such a thing had happened. It appeared there was something about my presence that some people just didn’t trust. I told myself that ‘I had one of those faces’, but it did hit me that maybe there were people out there who saw me for the foreign creature I was. They knew I wasn’t one of them; they could smell it from my scent or see it in my eyes. I didn’t argue but resigned myself to the situation – I wanted to go home anyway at that point. Steven was curious though and kept asking them why I wasn’t invited and what I had done wrong. “You’re welcome; he’s not,” she kept saying. It was all she said. “You’re welcome; he’s not.”

After that we headed to get a kebab and walk home, musing at the situation. “Maybe it’s because she knew she would have no chance with you,” Steven said. It was a nice thought that I could possibly delude myself with, but no – I probably would have gone home with her if she didn’t hate my guts. “Maybe she mistook you for someone else?” It was another nice thought, but one that again seemed unlikely. I had decided in my head that it was just the way it was. I was just a black sheep – more of a black sheep than the guy who lived in a van apparently. Some could sense I didn’t belong and they wanted me out of their sight as quickly as possible.

It started to get me down but then we got back to his van and my feelings of sadness were quickly pushed aside as we reached into his drug drawer. He elected for some MDMA and some ketamine. We were very close to smoking some DMT as well, but perhaps fortunately there was no pipe around at the time. We turned the music back on, got the whiskey back out, then started hitting the substances. It was two in the morning and it would be another eight hours until we hit the hay. And it would be another five days until the partying stopped. Steven had turned up out of the blue and suddenly I had been thrown into a multi-day bender of excess and madness and female rejection. Well, at least the drugs we were taking were the sort of drugs that would be out of our systems fairly quickly. By the time the next medical trial came round we would be easily in the clear. Once again, ‘healthy volunteers’ who didn’t smoke, do recreational drugs, or drink more than twenty units of alcohol per week. Upstanding members of the guinea-pig society. Medical research heroes. Thoroughly decent guys.

lab rat

Lab Rat (chapter eighteen)

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.

Chapter Eighteen

Two weeks later and a life box had been ticked. My book was published and people were ordering it. I felt like a real person; I felt like I could even call myself an author. Life was good and I imagined the books arriving through random letterboxes. I imagined them sitting on the shelves of old living rooms and bedside tables. I imagined little children picking up the books in a few decades and flicking through them, wondering who this great writer was. Yes, yes, yes. It brought joy to my heart. I was a man on the path to his destiny and there was no greater thrill. Well, I had only sold a few dozen books so far, but it was a start. I saw that money come in from the sales, not even a hundred quid, but still, it was something. It was the first time I had made any money from my writing. Even during my journalism degree, I hadn’t made a single dime. I was a victim of the ‘free work experience’ culture in which companies exploited students and graduates to work for free work so they could have something to put on their CV. Yes, it was now a world where you had to study for twenty years, then work for free for a year or two, just to have a chance of getting a job that wasn’t minimum wage. Anyway, I digress. No one becomes a writer to get rich, but it was priceless knowing that the things in your head – things you thought they’d put you in a mental asylum or on the guillotine for thinking – were of value to some other people out there under the ether.

I sat back and enjoyed the fact I was now a writer who could sell books. Even if it was self-published online through Amazon, it was good enough for now. At twenty-seven, I had done what Steven hadn’t done by thirty-three – I had actually finished and published a book. ‘The Thoughts From The Wild’ was out there in some shape and form. Hopefully it would eventually be out in top book stores. It was a romantic feeling and when I was in the city centre, I would walk into those book stores and imagine my creations sitting there one day. It hurt to see the Rupi Kaurs of the world take up the space on the shelves that should have been mine, but I knew one day true justice would be served. The Thoughts From The Wild and my future novel would be hailed as modern classics. Yes, yes, yes. My will and delusion was as strong as ever. I was nearing the age of thirty and still clinging onto my dream. I hadn’t given up and I wouldn’t accept anything else. My role was to write. My mission was to write.

One day I was at the house chatting to the landlady. I was telling her about my book for the first time while she informed me of the past tenants who also claimed to be writers. It seemed her house had attracted people of a similar ilk. She even got featured in a book a woman who had walked across the country had written. It was a total bore of a book and I hoped my book wasn’t being pulled out one day by people and mocked by future tenants. Nothing was certain. Maybe I was a hack like the others. Although Thea knew my creative passion was writing, she was always trying to get me to learn to play the guitar. She regularly hosted her folk music lessons and wanted to teach me too. With reluctance I started on the ukulele, learning two chords before giving up. It was true that music had been my first artistic awakening. At the age of thirteen I listened to alternative rock bands like The Verve and Radiohead and imagined myself being in a band. I always imagined myself as the front man – the one who would pour out their heart into lyrics and have the crowd in the palm of their hand. I wanted to be on that stage and have the same power that those people had over me. Sadly, this dream was cut short by the inconvenient fact that my voice sounded like a cat being drowned. My rock star destiny was not to be. But as I started writing, I realised I could get onto that stage in another way. With my instruments of syntax, metaphor and simile, I was able to jam out and create in another way. I can’t remember who said it, but poets and writers are frustrated singers. There is a truth to that, I think.

Anyway, I was living the retired life with Thea as usual, jamming out and sipping wine, when her son came barging in the house. “Mum? Are you there!? I need something.” Since I had started living there, I had quickly realised her son was abusive, manipulative, and downright insane. At almost the age of forty, he was the classic man-child. He regularly got kicked out by whatever girl he was living with and then came to scrounge off his mum. He would come steal her food and wine, even her car, and almost always some money. This time he wasn’t stealing her car, but asking for it. “I’ll just need it for this afternoon. You’ll have it back by this evening.” This was, of course, total bullshit. He was a master bullshitter, even trumping outrageous Lee, without the humour of course. Thea knew it was bullshit too but would convince herself that he was, for the first time in his life, being sincere and honest. I think the truth that her son was a scumbag was too much for her to face. After he had taken the car, it dawned on her she wasn’t getting it back any time soon. The last time he had taken it, it had ended up in a pound and she had to fork out £200 to get it back.

“What can I do?” she would ask, frustrated.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Get a restraining order?”

“I’ve tried that before, but it’s no use. And I can’t just cut him off. I won’t be able to see my grandson Henry.”

“He’s emotionally blackmailing and manipulating you,” I would tell her. “He does things like steal your car and money off of you, then he’s nice to you for a few days and you think he’s changed. Then the same process repeats itself.” I could see her sitting there, reflecting on those home truths. Of course, somewhere inside she knew this, but she had blocked it out.

“One thing is for sure,” she said. “He’s going to be in for a nasty shock when he sees I’ve left him nothing in my will. I’m leaving it all to Henry.” It was good to hear that, although I knew the son would try and find a way to weasel the money to himself. I was later to find out that he had already stolen over £100,000 off her over the years. Half of that he put into a house, which got repossessed during his time as a heroin addict. This was the same time in which he would regularly break into her house during the night to steal money off her for his next fix. The more I learned about the story, the more my mind was blown. That someone’s son could be so despicable to their mum, and then for the mother to keep on putting up with it. It was a strange world and once again my decision never to have kids was strengthened. This was an extreme case and really highlighted how detached from money rich people could be. Thea was a bohemian, but a rich one. She had been born into money and got even wealthier after renting out the house she bought for a mere £10,000 for over forty years. Every year she made that same amount of money through our rent and she no doubt had hundreds of thousands in the bank. Her son had been born into her money too, but he had ended up as a thoroughly screwed-up individual. It reminded me of all the rich kids I had met on my travels. Being born into wealth was no way to insure good character. People who are born with everything handed to them on a silver platter was an easy way for a person to get fucked up. I recalled one Jewish guy from L.A in a hostel in Cambodia, bragging about all the countries he had visited, how much drugs he was buying and taking on a daily basis, and how he hadn’t been home or worked for five years. Being the tender age of twenty-four, I wasn’t sure how much he had worked for his funds. Moments like that made me think that I never wanted to get rich. I wanted to struggle in a way, to have some humility and perspective on life. I didn’t want to idolise being poor either, but I felt relieved to see at a young age that money wasn’t the answer. Whatever the good life was, it came from doing whatever it was that set your soul on fire. That’s exactly what I kept doing while writing and dreaming of literary glory.

lab rat

Lab Rat (chapter seventeen)

– 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.

Chapter Seventeen

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.”

lab rat

Lab Rat (chapter thirteen)

 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.

Chapter Thirteen

The weeks went on as my days settled into a steady routine. I’d awake about 10am, have breakfast, meditate, go running, have lunch, then spend the afternoon writing. I put a little more money into my blog and had amassed over five-thousand followers. I was beginning to feel like an entrepreneur or something, apart from the fact I was spending money and not making any. Still, the interaction was rewarding and I was getting messages from people from all corners of the globe. One person asked if I had a book available, and so came the idea to collate all my writings on the book into a singular book. I started working on that, creating the book and looking to self-publish it. I had pretty much turned the conservatory into my writing den and I sat there with the cats, typing away as the summer rain banged on the roof. No one in the house asked me if I was looking for work or anything anymore; they just accepted that I was the third cat of the household, sitting around, eating, doing my own thing. At one point I did actually apply for a job the agency offered me; I sorted out all the paperwork and was almost ready to go, until I realised at the last minute I was only applying because I felt like I should have. It was a little pressure, I guess, bowing to constantly being asked whether I was working or not. At one point it just struck me and I stopped and thought to myself: “Why am I agreeing to do this job I don’t want to do? Sure I’ll have a few extra savings, but my living costs are low, and I’ll be able to do another medical trial soon. Why don’t I just use this time to keep writing before I start my next drug-testing assignment?” After that, the insanity of my behaviour became clear to me and I decided to stay unemployed.

In my writing routine, I had admittedly become a bit of a social hermit. Only the cats were my allies as they sat on the chairs next to me while I wrote my masterpieces. Like any social outcast, I did enjoy my solitude, but too much of it had you going funny. Next thing you knew you’d be living in a treehouse in Mexico while slowly losing your marbles. I hadn’t been out in a while and so when I got a message off of outrageous Lee to come visit him in Sheffield for a night out, I was ready to go. I caught the train that evening and went to meet him in a bar near the station. It was my first time in Sheffield and I was eager to see if it was what I had imagined when listening to the tales told in Arctic Monkeys’ songs.

“Ey up lad,” he said as I entered. He had a pint waiting for me. I sat down and started drinking it. “So how you been since we finished the trial?”

“Ahh you know, taking it easy and enjoying the summer. How about yourself?”

“Well if I’m honest with you, not too great. I’ve been stuck in a bit of a rut.” I looked at him, wondering if he was winding me up. A deeper look revealed he was telling the truth; he had black rings under his eyes, had put on weight, and was just generally looking a bit worse for wear.

“What’s up then mate? I thought you’d be living it up since we got paid from the trial?”

“That’s the problem,” he said. “I’ve been living it up too much! I’m off the rails. I’ve pretty much blown all the £4500 from the trial. Well just the other day I went in ta’ casino and blew £600 in one go. I’ve asked them to bar me but I’ve done that before and they’ve let me back in. The next night I went ta’ brothel and did five prozzies in one night. That was another £200 down the drain…” I sat there trying not to laugh at his misfortune – truly the guy was something else. “But it’s not just that,” he continued. “I’ve been out on the piss every day pretty much, throwing my money down the drain. I’ve stopped going to the gym and piled on the weight. I’m just in a bit of a slump and don’t know what to do with myself.” I sat there, sipping my pint, nodding my head. I felt like some sort of therapist. I knew I was supposed to say something comforting, but it wasn’t coming to me, so I kept that pint pressed to my lips while looking contemplative. My initial thought was that I myself often felt like a walking disaster on this earth, but when I met someone like Lee, it made me think perhaps I wasn’t as self-destructive and hopeless as I thought I was. It was a comforting thought for myself naturally, but perhaps not so much for Lee. I continued racking my brains for something to say to him when it occurred to me what was the route of his problems. The poor bastard had too much freedom. As I discovered in the trial, he was a guy who had never seemed to work, living off medical trials and some other form of riches he hadn’t told me about. Like many, when he had that time and freedom, he didn’t know what to do with it, so ultimately he went crazy and lived a life of hedonistic excess. It reminded me of those stories you hear about lottery winners blowing all their winnings in a few years of revelry only to end up broke and stuck in a miserable job once again. Perhaps man was never meant to taste such freedom I thought; perhaps I was also heading in the same direction as Lee and going to end up killing myself in a cocaine-fuelled brothel orgy. Putting everything together, my mind came up with a suggestion. “You could get a job,” I said. He looked at me as if I’d suggested having a sex change. “It seems to me you’ve got too much time on your hands; if you had a job, it might give you a bit of structure and order. You wouldn’t be able to go down the pub every day and get drunk. A bit of work might be good for you.” I couldn’t quite believe the words coming out of my mouth; I was beginning to sound like my parents.

“I’ve thought about it,” he said. “It’s just so easy with the medical trials you know. I wouldn’t be able to do them if I had a job. Well, maybe I could but it’d be a lot more difficult, especially to do the bigger studies. But you’re right. If I was busy, I wouldn’t be tempted to go get smashed down the pub every day. I think I need to get back in ta’ gym. That would keep me busy. I used to be a boxer you know. I had a few amateur fights and won most of them. When I was doing that, I wouldn’t even drink! All my friends were going out but I was down the gym six days a week. I don’t know what’s up with me at the moment. I just need to get myself together.” I carried on nodding like an idiot in an attempt to show some understanding. I quickly realised the extreme idea of getting a job had been dismissed.

“I know what you mean,” I said. “I’ve not done any work since the trial either and I do wake up some days feeling like I should be doing something. I’m not sure if it’s a natural feeling or it’s just letting myself be influenced by society. But I think the difference between me and you is that I have something to work on which is writing. I’m always working on some book or blog. I think it’s important to have something to get out of bed for – something that keeps you from spiralling off into alcoholism and madness.” Suddenly I actually really was feeling like a therapist. It amused me that I often ended up giving people life advice, even though mine was in a perpetual state of chaos. I continued the pearly wisdom as Lee sat opposite me with a pensive look.

“You and me – we’re old souls us,” he said, after a short silence. “Other people don’t understand us. We think a bit deeper about things and don’t want to swallow the same lifestyle everyone else does. There’s more to life than being stuck in some job, but at the same time, I want some connection with other people, and I guess I find that through the pub and going out. Even with going to the brothel – which is a bit sad thinking about it. I think what I said to you on the trial was true. Maybe I do need to find a nice girl to settle down and have some kids with. That would stop me from going off the rails all the time.” I thought about mentioning the fact that you couldn’t exactly support a family by only taking part in medical trials, but I decided not to dampen the poor guy’s spirits anymore. Instead, I turned to blind encouragement. I was as guilty as everyone else when it came to not telling people the harsh truth.

“That’s the spirit mate! Perhaps you’ll even meet that lucky lady tonight…” At that point we clinked pints and said cheers. There was then a sense of brotherhood between us and I could see where the evening was heading. After just a few moments after addressing his drinking problem, Lee ordered some more drinks. And with outrageous Lee being outrageous Lee, they were treble bourbon and cokes – with the bourbon being the most expensive in the bar. We knocked them back and headed to the door.

The night progressed on as we did a pub crawl through Sheffield city-centre. Lee wasn’t the biggest guy at 5’5. However, despite his small stature, I’d never seen someone knock back the drinks in such an excessive fashion. It was treble after treble, and we were doing rounds, so I was sucked into his self-destructive madness as the world began to blur around me. I saw him pull out a roll of cash at one point which again made me think what his secret was. I considered that he was a drug dealer, but quickly decided he wasn’t the type. At some point we ended up in one of the casinos he hadn’t banned himself from. I managed to squander £20; he blew a casual £150. Not bad for his standards. After that we returned to the bars, still smashing back the drinks, and naturally it wasn’t long before we started chatting up any female within close proximity. At that point, we were far too gone to close the deal, but it didn’t stop us from trying. One point it always got to when chatting up a girl was the dreaded ‘what do you do?’ question. It was a question which could cause a lot of women to mentally pack their bags in front of your eyes. Were you in their league? Did you have your shit together? Were you making enough money to take them out to fancy cocktail bars? With me and Lee essentially being bums who occasionally tested drugs for money, I was eager to see what bullshit Lee was going to feed them.

“Construction,” he said, with a confident nod. He was chatting to some blonde in a green dress, the sort that looked like she wouldn’t go near anyone like us. “I like to work with my hands, get a bit physical you know. So construction was the natural thing for me. It pays well too.” As I had realised on the trial, Lee was a proficient bullshitter and could confidently invent some story from nowhere and stick to it. For me, I wasn’t good at faking it, so I chose a half-truth when chatting to her friend.

“I’m a writer,” I told her.

“A writer!” Oh wow, that’s so cool. What sort of stuff do you write about?”

“Well I do a bit of freelance content writing, but I also dabble in a bit of fiction. I’m currently working on an adventure-romance novel.” (I was taking a leaf off our Lee’s book – feeding them some Grade-A bullshit myself). She then proceeded to ask me about the plot, at which point I realised I hadn’t thought my bullshit story through. I wasn’t a natural like Lee. Or anyone. Half the words being spoken in the average pub on a Saturday night were total crap, but here I was unable to join in on the act. I spoke softly, mumbling some words, hoping the music would drown out what I was saying. After that, I raised my voice again to ask her about her life. She went on talking about her job as I stood there, trying to seem interested as the room spun around me. Things were getting wavey and I thought we were in but our delusion was swiftly squashed as they left and told us they were going home.

After that I’m not sure what really happened. The drinks kept sailing back, the money went down the drain, and then sometime around 4am I was stumbling through Sheffield city centre with blood running down my face. I was meant to be staying at Lee’s but I had gotten separated from him at some point. I later found out he had also been attacked and mugged which explained why his phone wouldn’t answer. At least he had his bed to go home to though; for me, it was a long wait outside a closed train station until I was able to get the first train back to Nottingham. I got on that train and sat there as families stared at me in my gory state. My face looked like I had gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson and my t-shirt was covered in blood. I felt like humanity was finally seeing me in my true state for the first time. I had been exposed for the freak I was and little children stared at me with frightful looks. Things got worse when I realised my ticket wasn’t valid for the train I was on. I bought a new one from a conductor keeping his distance, and then got a taxi from the station. I had managed to squander over £200 in a night. Me and outrageous Lee, there we were – flying high, feeling on top of the world, knocking back the expensive bourbons. Reality had quickly caught up with us and as Sunday morning dawned, we were two losers, beaten by the world, dying of a hangover. I stared into the mirror and saw the cuts on my face which were sure to leave more scars on my already scarred body. It was a horror show, but my misery soon subsided when I looked at the date and realised I was just two weeks from the washout period being over. Things were looking up. Soon me and Lee would be back where we belonged: locked up away from this violent world, living the easy life, getting rich once again as pretty nurses fed us experimental drugs. Yes, yes yes – it was time for my next assignment in my guinea-pig career. It was time to be a lab rat again.

lab rat

Lab Rat (Chapter Twelve)

 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.

Chapter Twelve

After a while, I did actually decide to do something productive. I started a blog. I had failed to get any writing done in the clinic due to the lack of solitude, but now I had no excuses – my room and the conservatory were there for me to type away in glorious isolation. Solitude was important to a writer and I always saw those people sitting in busy cafes writing their novels as mere posers. To me, writing was an intensely private art. It was a chance for a person to retreat from the world, collect their thoughts, and try to make sense of what the hell was going on. Naturally, it only made sense that a person was best positioned to do this while alone in a room. Now my medical trial money afforded me both time and solitude, I figured it was the time to fulfil my literary destiny. I sat alone at my work station, my old laptop on the desk, the blank page ready to be assaulted by the genius my brain possessed. Yes, sure, I was technically unemployed, but in my head I was a man with important work to do. Even when I was out roaming the world, getting drunk with strangers, scratching my arse and staring into space, deep down I knew it was all research for my true profession of writing. I was a man soaking in the human experience only to reap it later when I put words to paper. However, try to explain this to peers or parents when they see you without a stable job, wandering around the world, living out of a backpack, experiencing life but not “putting any roots down”, then you were sure to be met with rolled eyes and raised eyebrows. And then, of course, there was the unfortunate fact that less than one percent of writers made enough money to live off. It was a fool’s crusade and truly you had to be a bit insane or deluded to want to be a writer primarily in this life. I think a bit of both and then you were really in Kafka or Bukowski territory. But ultimately in my eyes the true writer didn’t have a choice; once that bug had bitten and you were infected with the madness, it was either you got the words down or died trying.

Like every other creative person, I was a thief, and the blog I started was inspired by ‘Humans of New York’. It was a blog that uploaded photos of New York residents and some dialogue about life there in the big apple. I guess a part of me liked the personal nature of it – the everyday person being able to share their introspective thoughts on the world around them. I had an idea to do something similar related to my past travels, so I found a website where I could get copyright-free images of people hiking in nature. I’d then upload them to the blog alongside some sort of internal dialogue about life or society. The concept was that people would share their thoughts on society while outside of it – as if that was the space to make sense of the world and see it through sober eyes. It only seemed fitting then to name it ‘The Thoughts From The Wild’. Unlike the Humans of New York blog though, it was really just me writing and pretending to be these people in the pictures. I liked the anonymous nature of it, almost Banksy-esque, and I only uploaded photos of people without their face visibly to maintain the innominate vibe. The thought did occur to me that maybe I was just too cowardly to put my name and face to the words. Yeah, probably it was a bit of that too.

Anyway, I went live with it and started posting my musings to the internet world. My work had begun and it was after a week or two that I started getting visitors to the blog. I sat back at that keyboard like a man of purpose; like a man of importance. For the first time in my life, people were reading and interacting with my writing. Even just a few likes, comments, and shares was like spiritual heroin to me. People thanking you for your words; people sharing them and getting emotional about something you’ve written. It was a rare and strange feeling to see something you’d created be of emotional worth to people; it was even enough to remind you that you weren’t totally batshit crazy for having these thoughts in the first place (social gratification…. yeah, I guess I was as guilty as the next man). Although there was a part of me which identified with the purposeless life, I also knew there was a yearning in my soul to create or leave something behind in this tortured world. Having a mission or purpose was commonplace to most, of course, but mine – like every artist – was a crazy one. I wanted to create art. I wanted to affect people through my words. I wanted to change lives and inspire people to live fearlessly and unforgivably. I knew from an outside perspective a lot of people would look at me and see me as an unemployed, unmotivated bum with no drive or ambition, but to me it wasn’t like that at all. It’s just my ambition was different from most people. I didn’t care about status, or material goods, or stability and security. To me that was all corrosive to the soul. All I cared about was what my heart was guiding me towards – whether that was to a mountain top in the Himalayas, or to writing a book, or even just having some understanding of who you really are. These things were what I craved and I was relentless as any sociopathic businessman in pursuit of my desires. But unfortunately the world had a rigid image of what success was and for that I was seen as a loser by many people. But I accepted that. I had my own philosophy and to me success was any human who managed to go out into the world and live their best life. Ultimately, success was living life so that if you were to die at any moment, you could sail off into the abyss with no regrets, knowing you’d lived your life as true and as pure as you could. 

That was one of the key themes of my blog and I typed out such ideas alongside those images of people hiking in nature. I quickly realised the anonymous nature of the blog allowed me to write more fearlessly than I ever had before. Not thinking about what people would think of me, I was able to let rip and spew out all my deepest thoughts and feelings. I had to think of one of the Greek philosophers again: “Give a man a mask and he’ll tell you the truth.” It was exactly that, and without my name attached to the writing, I was able to write from the heart and not from the ego. My words flowed out of me and I was soon racking up followers – two-thousand in the first few weeks to be exact. I sat back at that desk feeling like old Shakespeare himself. Finally I had a voice and the excitement of it propelled me on and on. I even went as far as investing some of my medical trial money into advertising on social media. This soon started getting me even more followers. In they came from all across the world: America, Australia, Europe, Asia. I could see it now: writing my way to the big time while living off medical trials. I’d never have to work again; just test drugs and write until writing was enough to just live off. Finally, I’d found my place in the world; finally, I’d have an answer to the awful ‘what do you do?’ question. Okay, maybe the delusion was sweeping me away again.

One day I was writing in the conservatory when Sean came stumbling in. He saw me sitting there with my laptop and asked what I was up to. “Just a bit of writing mate,” I told him as I carried on typing, hoping he took the hint to leave me alone.

“Oh yeah, what sort of thing are you writing about?” It was no use. For a moment I considered telling him and even sharing some of my writing with him. He was a man who had just lived in a treehouse in Mexico for ten years while playing his guitar and teaching English – a man who had clearly taken a few too many psychedelics through the years and was completely out of loop with mainstream society. No doubt the things I wrote on the blog would appeal to him, but for some reason I couldn’t be bothered. I was still secretive about it, I guess. “Ahh nothing important. Just a few short stories,” I finally said. 

“Well it’s good to have a creative passion,” he said joyfully, snapping his finger at me. “You know, I’ve been playing the guitar for over forty years now and, for me, I do it because I love it. But I believe I am great at it because I have put in the hours, and if you put in enough hours with your writing, you can be great at that too. Have you read the ten thousand hour theory?” I knew what he was on about straight away. A man had once written a book claiming that if you devoted ten thousand hours to anything, you could master it. For some reason I told him I hadn’t though; I think I just wanted to hear him explain it in his own awkward way. He did exactly that as he explained the theory and encouraged me to keep on writing until I had amassed those ten thousand hours. He went on for a few minutes, telling me what a great guitarist he is, and that I could be as great as he is one day if I persevered with my writing. He then left, but not before giving me a copy of Game of Thrones. “A little inspiration for you,” he said, not knowing I had zero interest in writing fantasy novels. 

After he left, I sat there staring at my screen and thinking about what he’d said. He’d been practising and playing his guitar all his life, writing his own songs. No doubt at some point he probably thought he would be the next Bob Dylan. His guitar playing was good, but unfortunately his singing was atrocious, and I didn’t care what anyone said: you either have the talent or you don’t. The voice, the words, the vision – it cannot be taught or learned or stolen. Naturally it made me reflect on my own abilities. Here I was at twenty-seven thinking I had something inside of me – some talent that would lead me to my destiny as a writer. It was probably just the same feeling he had when he was young. Hell, it’s the same feeling every artist, writer, singer, actor or whatever has. Everyone thinks they have the special magic but, of course, it wouldn’t be special unless only a few people out there actually possessed it. No doubt in thirty years time, I’d be just like Sean – approaching the retirement age, unemployed with no savings, living in a shared house with no friends or partner. A madman or freak to the rest of the world. It was almost enough to make me think about packing it all in and getting a career, but the bug was simply too strong. There was no way to stop myself from heading down the same path as Sean had. And even though Sean was a bit crazy and annoying, he had a purity about him that was rarely found in someone past the age of thirty, let alone sixty. With that I mind, I kept on strumming away on that keyboard. Even if I was going to end up destitute, or starve in a ditch, my words would keep raining down on those pages. Nothing was going to stop me. Nothing was going to make me give up the delusional dreams inside my head. Yes, I thought, looking at a Van Gogh painting on the conservatory wall, maybe – just maybe – I was crazy enough to actually make it.

lab rat

Lab Rat (chapter eleven)

 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.

Chapter Eleven

I was out. My first stint of being a guinea-pig was over. I had helped advance the world of medicinal research and now was ‘the washout-period’ – a period of three months in which I wasn’t able to test any more drugs for safety reasons. This meant no more trials until the Autumn, but that was okay; the payment from the trial would sustain me plentifully until my next drug-testing assignment. I had to wait a week or so for the payment but there it came: a singular payment of £4580 into my bank account. I’d never seen such a large payment go into my account and I sat there staring at it, touching the screen, wondering if it was real. It seemed surreal to acquire that sort of money in such a short space of time – especially for basically having a relaxing retreat from society. In a way I felt like I had cheated the system, and I kept refreshing the page to see if it was still there. It was and naturally I started wondering how I could spend it. I could have just jumped on a plane straight away, but I had my contract with the room and, if I was honest, I wasn’t feeling like going away again so soon after getting back from a big trip. I could have invested it, but that was essentially gambling in my eyes, and my luck hadn’t been in since around birth. In the end, I figured I’d just take it easy and enjoy the rest of the summer doing my bike trips, drinking and writing.

For a few days I just did nothing. I walked into town with no real mission or quest. I felt like a Buddhist monk while roaming those streets. Sometimes I got a coffee at a café; sometimes I got some beers to sit in the park and sunbathe. It wasn’t long until I had a tan which made people wonder where I’d been on holiday (I’d explain to them that it wasn’t a holiday tan, but an unemployment one). I’d also go to the main square in the city centre and just sit on a wall people-watching. Observing the human race was one of my favourite pastimes and Nottingham city centre was a good place for it. Often I felt like I was on safari in public places – merely an observer in an environment to which I was a visitor. I think it was the comedian George Carlin who said: “When you’re born on this planet, you get a ticket to the freak show; when you’re born in America, you get a front-row seat.” Okay so I wasn’t state-side watching some shotgun-wielding hillbilly tell me god hates fags, but I felt like I had a pretty good view from where I was as I sat in that square. I saw all the crazy people – cursing alcoholics sitting and drinking their bottles of wine at midday; preachers telling us that we were all going to hell; a washed-up hippy hitting some bongo drums while singing to the pigeons; a man who rode around on his bike with an amp blasting nineties’ dance music. Occasionally a fight would erupt and the police would turn up to calm things down. It was a solid show with riveting performances all round. Aside from all the madness, I watched all the regular people go about their day: the shoppers, the teenagers, the mums, the people going to and from work. With those people I saw the faces of society: some scrunched up and worn down from life, some still looking great as they strode proudly with purpose and passion. They were the faces of the winners and the faces of the losers. The faces of those who were top of the pile and the faces of those who were being trampled underfoot. It was all a big game and I wondered how my face was going to look in twenty years time. I figured if I kept on doing medical trials, I’d be able to live this stress-free lifestyle, get plenty of sleep, and have time to exercise. Maybe I wouldn’t grow old with a twisted face full of tiredness and despair. Maybe the light would still be there inside my eyes. Maybe there was a chance.

Meanwhile at my house I was still living with an odd collection of people. At first, it did feel strange to live with the landlady, but it turned out she was quite a bohemian character, very gregarious and laid-back. Her name was Thea and she was a retired nurse spending her retirement baking cakes, hosting folk music lessons, drinking wine and just generally living the good life. Her house was her castle and it was a big one with a sprawling garden, brimming with different types of plants and trees. A pond full of frogs. A greenhouse where she grew tomatoes and potatoes. There was a conservatory with a load of instruments in and a big kitchen where she baked a new cake every day. She was in the final chapter of her life, watching the sun set of her one existence, sipping that wine as she soaked in the final years of the human experience. I had always assumed the best years of your life were when you were young and full of fire, but seeing her living that way made me rethink things. I had to even admit I was a little jealous of her, but I knew that such a decadent life was far out of reach. She had bought the house in 1973 for £10,000 and now its value was over half a million pounds. Even with inflation, the value of the house was many multiple times worth what she paid for it. Owning a place like that was simply impossible now with renting prices, low-paying jobs, and the general cost of a house these days. We were the first generation to be poorer than our parents and affording a home was simply a pipe dream for most. I had to think of the girl from the trial currently living off £150 a week while walking dogs. Or Jamie struggling to get another job after just getting made redundant. No, there was no point even imagining such a life. Even the idea of retirement for most was unrealistic. Our generation would be working until we were dead. Personally, I didn’t expect to live until my retirement age anyway, whatever that was going to be, so I didn’t worry too much about it. I figured I’d go out in a blaze of glory on one of my trips, or maybe overdosing in Vegas on my 60th birthday. Maybe even on a medical trial. Who knew. For me I wanted death to embrace me before I was some senile old man having my ass wiped clean by a carer. To die with dignity was a rare thing.

Anyway I was enjoying living there and I spent time there relaxing in the garden, working out, reading, sunbathing, relaxing, drinking. In a weird way I was living the retired life with the landlady. The employed one of the household, Rahul, would occasionally watch us with a contemplative look. He was twenty-six years old, at a similar stage of life than me, and was working hard in his graduate job. He regularly worked fifty-hour weeks. He was growing into his career, climbing the ladder, working hard to become a real person. In the meanwhile he watched me sitting around stroking cats and sipping wine. It was hard to know whether he was thinking I was a degenerate loser, or whether he had it all wrong and that I was some sort of genius. I wasn’t too sure of the answer myself to be honest and I guess I was interested to know his thoughts on the whole thing.

I wasn’t the only slacker of the household. There was the sixty-year-old Sean who spent his days in his room playing his guitar and singing the same awful songs again and again. Having just spent ten years living in a treehouse in Mexico, he had come home for some surgery and gotten stuck here. He didn’t seem to have much money and he was looking for work. Occasionally he even found some, but it never lasted long. A week or two after starting he’d be back in his room strumming on that guitar once again. I couldn’t help but look at him and wonder if that was what awaited me in old age. I tried not to think about it really; it was an uneasy thought. I knew my path was far more likely to end his way than Thea’s. Apart from him there was Simon – the fifty-year-old conspiracy theorist who lived in a shed at the bottom of the garden. Now Simon did have a job as a sound engineer at a bar in town, but work was so sparse that he was rarely in. He had some other odd jobs that he worked here and there, but if no work could be found then he’d be in his shed smoking weed and watching YouTube conspiracy theory videos. At times I had to think, what was more of a madhouse – the clinic or the house. It was a close call and it did make me pause and reflect that I always seemed to end up in such environments. No doubt I was just another inmate in the madhouse too.

lab rat

Lab Rat (chapter ten)

 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.

Chapter Ten

The days drifted by and suddenly I was two weeks into the study. The bone pain they warned us off had come, but it was nothing that couldn’t be cured with a few more pain-relief pills. Drugs upon drugs; my body was working overtime. Other than that, things were going smoothly and I was well-adjusted to the guinea-pig way of life. I’d be awoken about 7am every morning when the nurses switched on the blinding lights of the ward. Then we’d have some procedures, take our pills, and then have some more procedures. Breakfast was at nine, lunch at noon, and dinner at six. The meals were the highlight of the day and in between came the games, the movies, the naps, and the general chit-chat with my fellow test subjects. It was groundhog day in there and after a while we were all close enough to know each other’s story. There were two people I tried to steer clear of – both were devoutly religious. One was a mormon and the other was a fundamentalistic christian. Both were, of course, completely insane. They’d sit in bed constantly reading their holy scriptures while occasionally glancing over at the other with judgmental looks – the sort of look which said “poor lost soul, soon you’ll find the way…” Everyone was waiting for them to erupt into an argument, although they never did. The mormon was quick to inject his opinion on every topic under the sun though, shutting the other person down and speaking for ten minutes, but everyone had quickly realised this and learned to not toss out the bait when he was around.

I had deduced that the most interesting person on the study was Lee – a twenty-nine-year-old guy from Sheffield. Some people in life you just wonder how they came into existence and Lee was one of them. The guy had absolutely no filter in a social environment and from the off he was regaling everyone with his outrageous stories. Nothing was off topic: masturbation, sexual encounters (complete with videos), gambling addiction, fights. His most outrageous tale was about how he had borrowed money from a loan shark and had ended up shagging his wife. While owing money to this man, he’d be having his wife over and “giving her a ‘reet good seeing-to” – as he so eloquently put it. It was all fun and games until the loan shark went through his wife’s phone and read their messages. He text Lee to let him know he was coming around to, presumably, beat him to death. Shit had hit the fan and there was old Lee – pacing up and down his flat, fearing for his life, not knowing what to do next. His situation seemed hopeless until he was suddenly struck by a divine stroke of luck. The loan shark – presumably speeding while in a fit of rage – had got pulled over by the police just before he reached Lee. The police then breathalysed him to find him over the limit, and then searched his boot to find a load of gear in the back. Old Lee – it seemed he had the gods on his side that night. The loan shark was taken to the police station and was charged then later thrown in jail for one-and-a-half years. I had to laugh thinking about it. I imagined this guy sitting in his cell spewing with venomous anger. This guy owed him money, had slept with wife, and had now indirectly got him imprisoned for over a year. It was an outrageous story from an outrageous man. I say that because I never heard of anyone living as outrageously as Lee. He told us how he drank a crate of beer every single night and lived off takeaways. The luxury didn’t stop there. Expensive designer clothes, massages, prostitutes, tanning salons, Waitrose steaks, frequent taxis – not to mention his own flat. This would all be fine except for one little hiccup. Lee didn’t work. In fact, he had never seemed to work. We asked him how he afforded such a flamboyant lifestyle and he, of course, said it was due to medical trials. But a quick calculation of his lifestyle made it clear that he was spending far more than he could earn in a year doing trials. I suspected parental support, but he was out of contact with his dad and his mum lived in shared housing – indicating she wasn’t exactly rolling in it. I then suspected the loans, but he claimed he only borrowed a few hundred pounds. Either way, he was a mystery, a maverick, a madman. Unlike any creature I’d ever met. The sort of person you’d only meet once in a while. And I guess that’s why we became friends.

One day we were sitting in the lounge. Lee had just pretended to ‘see the light’ with the christian and had a prayer with him. He came in laughing and telling me about it. I guess he was in a philosophical mood and he started asking me about life. “So do you see yourself carrying on travelling in the future then? Don’t you want to settle down at some point mate? You know, the wife and the kids and all that. I think I’d love that. I think it’s what I need, you know, to keep me a bit grounded.” I had to let out a smirk; there was no force in this universe that could keep this bastard grounded.

“Well never say never,” I told him. “But for now I just want to go on adventures and write my books. I want to live a life of experience; a life to tell stories about. I tried to do the whole traditional thing. I went to university, got a degree, applied for some jobs. But I always felt it inside that it wasn’t what I really wanted. There was this force inside of me, a feeling in my gut telling me it was wrong. So I’ve been travelling on and off since then. I still can’t see myself settling down. I’d like to have a partner, sure, who wouldn’t, but I’m not interested in spawning some more humans into this world. You have to have faith in humanity to bring kids into the world and right now that faith just isn’t there for me.” He looked at me, nodding with a look of familiarity. Maybe he had experienced some similar misanthropic feelings before.

“I see your point mate. Not everyone is made for that lifestyle, but give it a few years yet mate. You never know, you might meet a woman and it’ll change you. I’ve partied a lot and been about a bit as you know, but I think I’m looking to settle down now. I never thought I’d want kids, but I think I do now. What could be more rewarding than raising a little version of yourself?” I looked at him for a second, analysing his expression. It was hard to know when he was being serious; half the time in here, he spent winding people up.

“Well like I said, maybe one day I’ll run out of steam. You like gambling don’t you? I feel like life is a lot like being in a casino, especially when it comes to settling down. When you get married and have kids, it’s like you cash your chips in. If you don’t do that then anything is possible in life really. Yes, you might end up dying alone in a ditch, but who knows what else could happen? You could become a mountaineer, an artist, a sky-diving instructor. You could do so many things, start a new life in another place. Once you settle down you remove all that possibility. You’ve cashed in your chips and walked out of life’s casino. The writing is on the wall from there on in. A steady, predictable path to the grave is what awaits.”

“That’s a good analogy,” he said. “But I think getting married is a risk too. Lots can still happen. My mum has been married twice already. Now she’s speaking to some guy in Turkey who wants here to go and move there. So you never know. And besides, sure there may be more possibility in life if you don’t settle down, but will you be happy? Isn’t that what it’s all about? There’s a reason the vast majority of people settle down. It’s because it gives them happiness.” I sat there and thought about it.

“I don’t necessarily see it as people settle down because they think they will make them happy. I can’t remember who said it exactly, maybe Plato or one of the Greeks, but whoever it was said something like: “men get married because they are tired; women get married because they are curious. Ultimately both are disappointed.” Lee laughed and took a sip of his decaffeinated coffee (normal wasn’t permitted in the clinic). He nodded and seemed to think about the quote, no doubt analysing whether his desire to settle down stemmed from a lust for life or a tiredness from it. He looked like he was about to say something but then the rest of the group came into the lounge to watch the football. Philosophy time was over for the day.

The rest of the trial came and went. Soon we had stopped getting dosed and it was the home straight towards discharge from the clinic. Towards the end of the trial I did start to experience some cabin-fever. The main frustration stemmed from not being able to do any exercise. I’d stare out the windows at the July sunshine and just want to go on a run or a bike ride. I could feel my body weakening and my mind becoming restless. However, I had to remind myself that it was still a much better trade of time than the minimum-wage jobs that awaited me out there. I had had a little holiday while earning a lot of money and I was looking forward to coming out back into society as a free man. A man with money, not chained to a job or a wife or children. A man who was still young with a world of possibility before him. Oh yes, life was looking glorious as the summer sun continued shining. Perhaps I’d finally get writing my literary masterpieces, I thought. 

lab rat

Lab Rat (Chapter Nine)

 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.


Chapter Nine

It was about two weeks later that I started my first study. I first attended a screening where I had my blood taken, my heart rate and blood pressure recorded, underwent a drug test, a breathalyser, a smokerlyzer, and, finally, had another brief medical with the doctor. Once again I passed with flying colours and was admitted to the clinic for the trial. The trial involved taking a medicine that treated some condition called ‘Neutropenia’ – a white blood cell disorder that was a side-effect of chemotherapy. The medicine was supposed to increase your white blood cell count – a response to the condition which typically lowered it, causing people to be more susceptible to diseases and infections due to weakened immune systems. I wasn’t totally sure what the whole thing was about if you want to know the god’s honest truth. I guess like everyone else I was blinded by the money – four and a half thousand pounds for twenty-two days in the clinic. Ha! It seemed absolutely ridiculous thinking about it – so much so that I was willing to get sick for it, even though the doctor made it clear many people had taken the drug before and the only real side effect was some ‘bone pain’. A bit of bone pain? That sure trumped the pain that came from the alternative. In particular I thought of what was required to earn four thousand pounds in that pet-food warehouse – the back pain, the stomach pain from the smell, the mental pain from the monotony. It was a good trade in my books and I was ready to get to work. I unpacked my things and prepared myself to be experimented on. It was go-time. (Oh, if you’re wondering why I was trialling a drug for a condition that I didn’t suffer from, it was because they didn’t want people who actually suffered from the condition. All the trials there were not to see if the medicine actually worked – that research had already been done – it was just to see how it was taken up by a healthy person and if there were any side effects.)

So there I was: unpacked and preparing myself for twenty-two days of lounging around, playing games, daydreaming, writing and laughing at the situation I had found myself in. I sat on my bed and got comfy. At the bottom of it I saw a piece of paper beside it. ‘Subject 55355’ – my guinea-pig identity for the next few weeks. I then looked around at my surroundings. I was staying in a shared ward with another eleven volunteers. It looked a lot like a normal hospital ward – there was no real privacy and all our beds were about two metres apart with no curtains around them. With the room being my home for the next three weeks, I was naturally curious to see what other types of people I would be living with. A cursory look revealed it was a diverse range of ages. The youngest volunteer looked about twenty and the eldest was a man in his fifties. It was mostly men, with three women who would no doubt be sick of us by the end. They all appeared surprisingly normal on the surface of things, although I believed that couldn’t be the case. The fact that they were doing these trials meant they weren’t normal by default. Not everyone with a regular job could just drop out of life and check into a clinic for twenty-two days to test some pills. The very nature of the whole thing was unconventional and consequently I was expecting to meet fellow outcasts, oddbods and outsiders. That was one of the things I had loved about my travels over the past years. When you venture out from the realm of ordinary life, you were sure to find those who were a bit weird and interesting. I thought of all the wild-eyed and undomesticated souls that I had crossed paths with on my travels – a retired army sergeant with no home who walked around Spain; a female circus-performer who hitch-hiked around the world on her own; a middle-aged engineer cycling through South America after a divorce. They were all people full of flame and fire; people with the spark of passion burning bright in their eye. Yes, if you want to find where the colour is in life, you have to head to the edges – almost always, that is where the magic is found. Throw a jar of ink at a wall and you will see that in the middle it is dense and black; however the further out you go, the more complicated and interesting the patterns become. It was the same with society and I avoided the core as much as I could. To me, it was a black hole for the soul.

Anyway, the first day came and went then we were getting dosed. Nurses wearing red tabards which read ‘DO NOT DISTURB – DOSING’ would come round our beds one by one. They would check our details and then give us the meds with a glass of water. A quick chat with the resident doctor to ensure everything was okay then you were all good to go: you’d swallow those pills down and know that whatever happened from then on, you were guaranteed to get paid four and a half thousand pounds. Ha! I had to laugh once again at the thought of it. Even if you got sick and had to be taken off the study as a precaution after two days, you’d still get the full payment. In a strange way, I kinda hoped I did get sick. I’d take a skin rash or a bit of vomiting to get out early. Maybe even a heavy fall from fainting. Perhaps a mild seizure? But no, everything went smoothly from the off and – after a morning of relentless procedures – I was able to get up and enjoy some well-earned leisure time. I watched TV, read some newspapers, and then played some pool. For the first time I interacted with some of my fellow test subjects. You were all in it together and naturally there was a sense of brotherhood between you all.

The first person I got speaking to was the eldest person on the trial. His name was Darren and he had recently quit his job as a store manager for an Ikea. He seemed reluctant to talk more about it so I spoke about my life to him – about all my adventures and odd jobs and writing aspirations. “I tell you what son, good on ya,” he said. “Do it while you can. Bricks and mortar isn’t all it’s cracked up to be you know.” It was something I had heard from a few middle-aged people before. You could always see regret in the eyes of older people whenever you spoke about things like travelling, and they were usually those who had ended up disenfranchised with the life they were living. In the case of Darren, this was true once again. Finally feeling on good terms with me, he began telling me the real reason he had quit his job. He told me how his best mate had also been a store manager for Ikea and had ended up working seventy-hour weeks until it ruined his life. At first came the rapid aging due to the stress and lack of sleep. Then came the alcoholism. Then the weight gain. Then the breakdown of his marriage. Then the loss of contact to his kids. And finally? Suicide. Yes, after twenty years of being a high-earning retail manager, the poor bastard hung himself in a hotel room. He died a rich man apparently, but not in spirit. His mate had completely neglected everything else in his life aside from work and finally it drove him over the edge. Darren had seen this happen and realised he was heading the same way. He quit his Ikea job almost immediately with no real plan other than to not kill himself. A few weeks later, here he was: in a medical trial research facility playing pool with a twenty-seven-year-old traveller and failing writer. Well, it seemed like a good start to me.

The second volunteer I met was one of the girls of the group –  a twenty-two-year-old recent graduate of environmental conservation. Like me, she had quickly learned that having a degree meant absolutely nothing and was enduring the post-graduation crisis which gripped hundreds of thousands of young people out there. She was currently surviving by walking other people’s dogs occasionally and living off £150 a week. With her also not having a fixed schedule, she was able to come and take part in these studies. She joked about the state of her life and I also shared with her my shambolic situation. I told her that I was unemployed and also had a useless degree which I only got because I was pressured by my school tutors to go to university. Hearing my story, she smiled and seemed to feel better about herself.

Next up was Jamie – a gym buff who had recently been made redundant from an engineering job at the age of thirty-two. He was now trying to figure out his next move while in the clinic. He had recently applied to be a fire-fighter but had just failed some online test which had swiftly put that dream to bed. Now he could be seen scrolling through some textbooks while he researched what other profession he could unsuccessfully try to break into.

To many these stories were tragedies but oh how I loved them. I loved being around people who didn’t have it together and whose lives were in a state of crisis. I guess that’s because I was one of those people too. But things just felt more alive, more vibrant. Talk of television and jobs was replaced with existential ponderings. Ultimately people only got philosophical when things weren’t going how they were supposed to; that was something I learnt over the years. When things were going how they were supposed to, you could switch off your mind and ride the cultural conveyor-belt through life until the grave. It was only when you were off it and having to figure out a new way for yourself that you stopped and questioned things. You needed to justify the fact you were a beatnik and philosophy was the natural go-to. Yes, it was a madhouse in there and I looked around at my fellow guinea-pigs realising this was where I belonged – locked up with other people pushed out to the edge and testing drugs because there was no room for them in the centre of things. There was no room for me out there either. But it was okay; I had found a new way. Test drugs, travel and write. I saw my path slowly unfolding before me. I was happy with it.