Welcome to the next chapter of my black comedy novel, The Nurse Diaries – The Life and Times of a Brighton Serial Killer. It is packed with ripe swearing, so click away if bad language makes you feel a bit poorly or offends you to the core. Otherwise, have fun!
Aching for home
Missing all sorts of weird shit
She gives it her best shot. But while The French are pretty cool they’re just not the same as her dear, drunken compatriots back in Britain: the amiable stoned, the sarcastic, the arseholed, the ironic, the stupid-and-proud-of-it, and the witty. She misses the Brits’ self-deprecation, the nation’s passion for the underdog, a decent cup of tea, and word play. She longs for the DNA-deep British sense of the ridiculous and the many, many unspoken things you don’t need to explain to someone from your own country because they already understand.
Unlike here in Dieppe, at home they know what you’re going on about without you having to waste hours on tedious, usually futile, and often humiliating attempts at explanation. At home in England, when you ask someone how they are, it is a formality. You do not want to know the truth, never mind the whole fucking story chapter and verse. You answer ‘fine’ even when you are not. Maybe you have just lost an ear or your wife has exploded.
Back home sarcasm is not rude. It just means someone is relaxed enough in your company to let rip. Cynicism is more or less a national currency. At home one’s personal space extends to around a metre in all directions, in France people lurch a little too close for comfort so it feels like they’re always slightly in your face. The Nurse still finds herself rearing back like a horse when someone stops for a chat. It feels rude and she doesn’t mean to be. It’s instinctive.
She misses British food, the sheer comforting familiarity of it, the flavours she’s known since childhood, those she first encountered before birth, filtered generously through her mother’s placenta. Cornflakes. Toast. Baked beans. Fish and chips. Digestive biscuits. Marmite. Marmalade. Curry. Chinese take-away. She misses the fact that you can drink from the tap at home. And French bogs are so strange. She can’t quite get used to the hovering, the squatting, and the hopeless search for the flush – where is the bastard thing, for crying out loud.
In Dieppe The Nurse is at home in some ways, far out on a distant cultural limb in others. Even the ambient smell of France is different. Less chippy, less beery, less curried. Roll these individually insignificant disconnects into one and she’s never quite comfortable in her own skin. Such is life for a stranger in a strange land.
The Nurse endures. This is an awful lot better than a life sentence in a loony bin. Life en France is infinitely more bearable than being endlessly chased to kingdom come and back by hundreds of uniformed bell-ends. It is light years away from having to shit in a bucket in front of your fellow inmates. And her pastry drugging experiments are becoming increasingly interesting thanks to Johnny Dieppe’s widening net of contacts and her explorations on the dark web. She mustn’t complain.
Funnily enough garden centres are a decent and completely legit source of obscure hallucinogens used by Shamans. Angel’s Trumpet, Agara, Bakana, Blue Water Lily, there’s not far short of a hundred reasonably common plants that make people hallucinate like fuck.
Small doses remain The Nurse’s thing, nice and discreet. The trick lies in crafting blends of hallucinogens that deliver a tiny trip, one that can safely be put down to enlightenment, visions, love, religious passion, delusions, self-knowledge, deja vous, or a particularly exciting lightbulb moment. Temporary perhaps, but still a big fucking surprise when you’re not expecting it. She cannot wait to see what happens with the next batch of doctored pastries. Or Nursed pastries, she quips to herself with a grin.
I can’t get no satisfaction
Marianne walks into Patisserie Katrine, unusually chic today thanks to a newly-immaculate chignon of lavender coloured hair. She’s wearing a beautifully cut violet suit with big gold buttons and a slit pencil skirt. The Nurse admires the outfit as Marianne twists and turns. Katrine, what do you think of my new look? She does indeed look wonderful, as do increasing numbers of local ladies, inspired by a blend of Katrine’s wonderful personal style and magical drug-sprinkled pastries.
The Nurse winks and hands over a bag containing three of her latest concoctions, palest yellow banana flavoured cream cheese tarts topped with thick curls of rich salted caramel. One for you, Marianne, and one each for les filles. Marianne pays for them, and for three coffees, and trots out on kitten heels, holding the fragrant brown paper bag aloft as she waves with the other hand to Suzette and Nicole. They cross the road, do the air kissing thing, then choose a table, settle down, and devote their energy to the pastries.
As she watches through the patisserie window the Angel’s Trumpet added to the pastry mix by The Nurse starts to take effect. The chemicals that cause euphoria and hallucinations kick in and the ladies laugh with delight, chattering ten to the dozen. Faces flushed, sweating slightly, they order pastis, then more pastis, and the toasts fly. The Nurse sighs, absently scratching her arse. This isn’t very interesting. The ladies are glowing with joy, but so the fuck what? Big fucking deal. She turns from the window, realising she needs to up her doses to get the satisfaction she needs. This just isn’t hitting the mark. Familiarity has already bred contempt.
One fine day Johnny exceeds himself with a batch of 5-MeO-DMT, AKA 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine. It’s a psychedelic in the tryptamine class, easily extracted from a variety of plant species and also from at least one type of toad. The Nurse has been longing to test it. She has read about a 2019 European study involving 42 volunteers, the one that shows how a single inhalation of the drug gives people a ‘sustained enhancement of satisfaction with life, and easing of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.’ If anything’s going to help ease her PTSD out of existence, this is this bunny. Rather than foist it upon the locals she stashes the drug in a drawer to test at the weekend, accompanied by Johnny Dieppe. She doesn’t feel one hundred percent confident getting totally off her tits on a powerful substance like this all on her own.
The 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine blues
Colours shift. Straight lines wiggle. The Nurse sees beautiful, intangible things in her peripheral vision. She flies upwards, ego-less, on a glass-clear crest of warm air, feeling like a scrap of nothing, a chunk of minus-stuff, a thing with neither meaning nor purpose. Billions of years pass silently as The Nurse trips, floating far out on the crusty lip of the known universe, observing as civilisations rise and fall. She ventures deep into her psyche, swimming surely in the smoky currents of her own madness. She has cosmic conversations with deities, spirits, and ancestors. She dines with fucking Cleopatra.
The Nurse sees everything, knows everything, and understands everything. She touches forever, and it is beyond words. Then she comes to and she’s still on the settee in her flat, sun streaming through the window, Johnny Dieppe opposite on the velvet chaise, out like a light with a big smile on his face. Prodding her inner self in a cautious sort of way, The Nurse finds it unusually solid. She’s feeling rather good. Hopefully the DMT trip will have a damping effect on her struggles with insanity. She’d love to be free from the PTSD-driven night terrors, the flashbacks, the frighteningly fast descents into furious misery that she carefully hides from The French, the Beach Bum, even her mate Johnny.
Believing a belt and braces approach is always wise, The Nurse tries a collection of exotic hallucinogenics over the next few weeks. Ayahuasca proves the best fun. She mixes it into a powerful drink and falls hard into an infinitely deep well of self-awareness so rich it feels like she’s been given a century’s worth of psychotherapy in a single session. No surprise, since it is one of strongest narcotic substances known to mankind, used for millennia by Shamans and surprisingly trendy with out-there caners in the USA and Israel.
Ibogaine is fun as well, used in some countries to treat opioid addiction. The psychedelic bit is what The Nurse is interested in, mind you, and this time she experiences a profound shift in perspective that lets her see her entire life more clearly. The drug is supposed to inspire users to make life adjustments for the better, but fuck that. She’s happy as she is, happy being a mental-crazy cunt of an ex-serial killer, and she has no plans to change this particularly valuable part of her personality.
Foods can make you hallucinate, too. The Nurse reads all about it. In 1946 Malcolm X was banged up in Charlestown prison. He got high on nutmeg, a common prison hallucinogen. He claimed it had the kick of ‘three or four reefers.’ William S Burroughs, a renowned psychonaut, snarfed ridiculous amount of nutmeg in the pursuit of a great trip, as did jazz man Charlie Parker, who took it mixed in milk or cola. Sadly, after getting off her tits on DMT and whatnot, The Nurse finds nutmeg way too tame.
Fish can have unexpected side effects. The sarpa salpa, a kind of sea bream, stashes supplies of the powerful psychoactive Indole – very much like LSD except it can last for days – in its head. Honestly, she shits you not. The term for it is ichthyoallyeinotoxism, hallucinogenic fish poisoning. Then there’s rye, a harmless-seeming thing with a dirty secret. Rye is susceptible to ergot fungus, from where scientists get the precursor to LSD, and it causes violent hallucinations and convulsions called St Anthony’s Fire.
The Nurse particularly enjoys weedwine, which she blends from a cool combo of cannabis, citrus fruits and honey. She doesn’t get any hallucinations, though. She is merely totally off-her-ass stoned, rendered incapable for an entire day. It feels fantastic but sadly she’s far too stoned to bake, and that won’t do at all.
Having experimented thoroughly, The Nurse sits back and waits. She usually gets at least one PTSD attack a day and the triggers differ. On some days a glimpse of the beach can do it, reminding her of the time she and Phil spent in the grey, frigid North Sea. It isn’t nice seeing his dear, familiar face sinking below the waves time and time again in her mind’s eye, her worst nightmare on permanent fucking replay.
When Charlene from the pet shop drives past the patisserie in her old banger, which backfires loudly every few seconds, The Nurse tenses. Then she relaxes a bit, tenses again, and finally drops her shoulders, wriggling them in circles. Hm. No flashbacks, no horrific soundscapes so real they throw her back into the past.
Pitch darkness doesn’t seem to hold as much horror as it used to, either. Night time always used to sweep her back to the horrendous days she spent bobbing across the English Channel towards Dieppe, the sky so black with storms that the light was swallowed, leaving The Nurse trapped in what felt like a vast flotation tank – one of those awful, smelly, greasy bath things that hippies enjoy, the dirty bell-ends. The darker the night is, the less comfortable she usually feels. But the sharp spike of fear that used to scrape her skin has eased to a mere tickle. The Nurse pats her lustrous hair and grins.
The very sight of a rozzer once sent her into a rough spin, all breathless and sweaty. Even the French rozzers, le gendarmerie nationale, with their blue uniforms, big boots and gay hats, made her feel edgy. Now she finds she can walk past the cunts, salute them, even say bonjour without a flicker of the overwhelming panic she used to feel in their presence.
Smells prove a bit more tricky. Scents are strongly evocative, and the sickly fragrance of oil on salt water – common in Dieppe thanks to the ferries, fishing boats and harbour – throws her the same old curved ball. The slick, thick chemical stink worms its way into her eyes, nose, and mouth and under her skin, impregnating The Nurse’s body with nightmare memories. Maybe it’s not as bad as it used to be, although it still knocks her sideways and she still feels the urge to run whenever it wafts her way.
Once The Nurse discovers that PTSD sufferers have found success with cognitive behavioural therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes like yoga, she knows she is scraping the barrel. There is no way she is going to descend into fucking woo-woo land. The symptoms that remain are more or less bearable at this stage, and while she isn’t completely fixed she’s made a fucking good start on the road to recovery.
Thank goodness for hallucinogenics. Thank fuck for that.
Amazingly, it is possible to become bored of cake
To those of you who feel there is no such thing as too much cake, it may seem hard to believe that its magical appeal can eventually pall. It just doesn’t seem possible. The Nurse knows better. Having run Patisserie Katrine for a year without a problem, she is fast becoming bored of pastry. Bollocks. The Nurse sighs, trudges up the stairs to the flat and slumps on the settee as Jeremy and Corbyn look on, purring.
The Nurse could carry on with the patisserie. Or she could sell the business to Marianne, who has always wanted to run a cake shop. Then she could try something different. But what? The Nurse’s mind wanders then alights on thoughts about the men of Dieppe and the problems she used to have warding off their wandering hands. Men. Sex. Money. A whorehouse! That’s the ticket. A bunch of classy whores with her as the Madam, a remote personage who does not have to engage in any nasty sex behaviour herself – yuk – but sells the services of her not-at-all-skanky whores for a small fortune.