Read by Max Berendt
About my relationship with Norwich, prior to the events of the evening in question, I will say very little, because I didn't really have one.
So it seemed safe to say that relations between me and my fans in Norwich weren't that good. Which was equally true of sales of our album: at one point, the figure of twelve was being bandied about, which, even allowing for mitigating factors, had seemed enough to have anyone reaching for the laudanum, really. Well, or maybe people were downloading it. Either way, I'd done a lot of work on my novel after hearing that, if you see what I mean.
So perhaps it was a feeling of guilt that drove me to Norwich, on that fateful Christmas Eve. It seems unlikely, but you never know. Or at least I don't anyway. Famously, I guess, I try and keep a diary, but those of you who've seen the published volume will be familiar with the problem, that, as a book, it's quite experimental. I mean I don't know what a lot of it says, and I wrote it.
Still it's a nice object, I like to think. And that, regardless, was what I'd agreed to go to Norwich to promote, at my editor's uncle's bookshop. I owed him a few favours, as I'm sure you can imagine.
They'd suggested I do a reading at first, but that might have been tricky, so what I'd said I'd do instead was play a short acoustic set, then sign some copies. No doubt illegibly, but there you go. It wasn't as if I had much else to do. The situation between me and the London police was such that even a trip to the cornershop felt like a Benny Hill chase sketch, as reimagined by William Burroughs. As for Christmas at home, well, I still hadn't forgiven Mum for writing that book about me. Which isn't a euphemism for taking heroin, although I rather wish it had been. So thumbs down, basically, to the idea of a traditional Christmas. If anyone had asked me what I thought about that, I might well have replied "Bah, humbug!"
So if you're going to be lonesome, why not in Norwich?
By two o'clock, when Bob, my PA, finally bundled me into the Jag, we were already a bit late. I hadn't heard, or perhaps even set, my alarm, so Bob, as we set off in heavy traffic, the snow already falling hard, was tight-lipped in the rearview mirror.
And only more so by the time we parked in front of the bookshop, which, by then, had been shut for an hour. On the door, somebody had pinned a sign reading 'Fuck off Doherty' so I'd signed that, at least.
'So what are we going to do now Bob?'
'Well, let's see. Play a few songs outside the cathedral? 'What A Waster' might be good.'
'I'm sensing some hostility here, Bob.'
'Oh are you?'
'I stand, Bob, for the spirit of Merrie Olde England,' I reminded him 'Not all this commercialism'.
'Pete, I think I might have enjoyed being violated by festive capitalism more if I was at home with my partner.'
'Who, Tiny Tim?'
'One of the reasons you hired me in the first place, Pete, is that I have a black belt in karate. I suggest you remember that.'
'Yeah ... Anyway, maybe we should see about getting a hotel?'
'Well, can you face driving back through that blizzard?'
'Both inside the car, and out. No, I suppose not,' Bob relented 'But I'm having the penthouse suite. And you're buying the drinks. Because should I, Pete, be working on Christmas Eve? What would the NME make of all this? From their erstwhile Coolest Man of the Year?'
'Let's not get into that again, Bob.'
Much, much later, I came sailing out of the elevator, in wherever it was we were staying that night. Bit blurry by this point, I'd had a few, although not so many that it wasn't still something of a surprise when the door of my room began to talk to me. 'Hello, hello, hello', it seemed to sing, actually, in a low, dolorous moan. But the corridor was empty, there was no one about, Bob having passed out during a crying jag a few hours earlier. Probably, someone had spiked my last sambuca, so the first thing I did, after putting on MTV, was chop out a line of something soothing. And then I started to see about raiding the minibar. At £150 a night, the last thing you want to do in a place like that is sleep, really.
It was then that the first ghost appeared. Clutching a shotgun and a used syringe, it emerged, long-haired, from the television, dressed in Levis and blood-stained Converse, bandaged about the head. Quite an alarming sight, in principle, but equally, as a long-time fan of recreational pharmacopoeia, I was quite used to this sort of thing.
'Kurt?' I said. 'All right?'
'I guess not, man.'
'Oh. Would you like some of this?'
The spectre emitted a bloodcurdling wail.
'That's why I'm here, man. You've gotta get off the junk.'
'I used to get this off Kate the whole time though. What good did it do?'
'I hear ya.' Kurt muttered 'Look, you've read the book, right? So here's the deal. Tonight you'll be visited by three spirits.'
'Excellent. Alistair Sim and all that.'
'No man, you don't understand. I'm in eternal torment.'
'Are you? That seems a bit rough. I've always thought 'Nirvana Unplugged' was a great album. You haven't actually gone to the lake of fire, have you?'
'I mean, at least you weren't like Sting or Bono, going on about charity the whole time …'
A deafening howl at this point.
'But I should have been! Charity was my business. I should have been headlining Live Aid Two.'
'I did play that, though.'
'Dude, you were seriously fucked up.'
'But at least I turned up.'
'Man, before you dismiss me as a crumb of PCP, I've gotta tell you, there's a place in heaven for Phil Collins and those assholes from U2, whereas conversely …'
At this point Kurt threw open the window, to reveal Johnny Thunders, Sid Vicious and others, floating around by the charity muggers, trying to intervene.
'Some of us,' said Kurt, unwinding the bandage around his head (not a pretty sight, that) 'are otherwise occupied. So I got you a pass, man. Just try and listen to what the ghosts have to say.'
'But why me?' I said.
'Nothing better to do, I guess. Anyway, enjoy.'
I suppose I had another line the second it vanished.
I don't know what time it was when the second knock came, but I was reasonably sure I hadn't hired anyone from an escort agency. Did they even have those in Norwich? Being the singer in a cult indie band, someone else usually sorts out that kind of thing. Anyway, I opened the door. Or is that right? Perhaps the ghost just materialised while I was lying on the bed, thinking of sleighbells and reindeer and so on, floating away in a starry sky.
The figure outside was short and blonde. I may as well say she looked a bit like Kate (Moss, for those of you who've been out the game lately – though physician heal thyself, I suppose) and so consequently, was plausibly somebody I might have asked to keep me company, over the phone.
Basically, if you're ever in this situation, it's best not to drop your trousers before you've established what's going on. Particularly if it's just before you're dragged back in time.
To, in this case, an earlier Christmas when I'd been gigging with The Libertines, and Carl was still in the band. I haven't got much to say about this. Yes, all right, we could have been more successful if I'd been less difficult about things (I saw myself huffing away on a makeshift crack-pipe in the Gents, before phoning my lawyer, and then, horrendously, Elton John) but life is short, and you have to keep moving. As I explained to what was presumably the ghost of Christmas Past, who very much resembled Nikki from Big Brother. Who I'd apparently once had an assignation with, back when she used to work for 'Angels Of Islington'. Allegedly, I'd been unable to rise to the occasion; it was in the Sundays at the time. Anyway, she hadn't changed much, throwing a tantrum as she melted away.
I think I already had some idea of what was coming next.
I was drifting off to sleep when it arrived though, this ragged, grey-haired figure in a Santa suit
'Give me your fucking money!' it demanded, in a grating Irish accent, 'Don't go to the pub tonight, just give me your fucking money.'
'Yeah …' I heard myself saying, as, without further ado, I was enveloped in the fetid, red cloak of the ghost of Christmas Present, or Bob Geldof, if you'd rather, and taken on a whistle-stop tour of what a swine I was, as an employer; 'Tiny' Tim, Bob my PA's partner, who was actually a fifteen-stone weightlifter from Bondi Beach, would be gone by next year, leaving only his surfboard by Bob's fireplace, if I carried on paying Bob such lousy wages, and so on.
'Fair enough' I said. Not, and I should have realised this, that my forbearance on the subject was likely to stop this particular aspect of the ghost of Christmas Present from opening his robe up, to reveal the starving children beneath. And also, if inadvertently, (I had to hope) his cock and balls.
'Poverty! And Ignorance!' Bob yelled. 'Look at them!'
I was still a bit shaken when the spirit of Christmas Future arrived, then, with its hood and its scythe, to whisk me off to the site of my Chatterton-esque resting place.
'Still,' I supposed 'Jim Morrison's headstone isn't that big either. And I've always fancied an early death.'
With its skeletal hand, the spirit pointed out the inscription. Which didn't mention my poetry or music at all, instead just stating; 'Pete Doherty 1979-2057. Beloved father to Nigel, Kevin, Cosmo, and Keith Jr. Beloved husband to Lily Allen.'
And there was a sign by the crossroads that read; 'Slough Cemetery.'
Perhaps this wasn't so romantic, after all.
The next morning, I leapt out of bed, past the empties and so on, with a new sense of purpose; I would clean up my act, keep Christmas better, and stop wasting away in provincial hotels. Full of the joys of the season then, I rang up room service, asked to speak to the manager, and offered to treat the good folk of Norwich to a festive sing-song, in the hotel bar.
'Yes. Well, we appreciate the gesture, Mr. Doherty, but Christmas was several days ago. And there's the matter of your bill.'
'Bah,' I said, as he read out the total. 'Humbug.'
Pete Doherty's Christmas Carol was read by Max Berendt at the Liars' League Santa & Satan event on Tuesday 11 December, 2007.
Quintin Forrest is a fan of Pete's earlier, funnier work.
Max Berendt studied drama at Manchester University and trained at Mountview. Max’s theatre credits include The Trial (BAC - Total Theatre Award), Peer Gynt (Arcola), Journey’s End (West End), The Devil is an Ass (The White Bear). Max works regularly as a voiceover artist. He always enjoys reading for the Liars’ League.