Nothing to declare

Over the next six issues, Mark Dempster shares his uncompromising story of drug dealing and addiction. Growing up in Glasgow, the young Mark already starts to push the boundaries.

I was too young to sit in the pub so all I could do was watch through the window. I’d spy the men drinking and smoking. I desperately wanted to be in the pub. I wanted to sit and laugh and chat. I wanted to watch and listen to my dad while he made them laugh. 

Everyone was a heavy drinker in sixties Glasgow. It was how they washed away the slog of the week – they drank to forget the cold poverty, the falling jobs, and the grey tenement buildings we all lived in. Except my dad always got into trouble when he drank; stealing cars and skipping work. When he tried to stop drinking it was just as bad – he would see snakes, spiders and dead grandma. He had the DTs, mum would say – I knew what that was before I kissed a girl. Mum said it was why dad was sicking and sweating and could see things that weren’t there. She said not to tell anybody. So I didn’t. 

I hid from home by playing with friends. Most of the time I got myself into trouble without knowing how. I just got so angry and jealous. I wanted to fight people to make them like me or be my friend. I felt a rush when I had fights. The same rush I got from jumping between the bins, clearing four-foot drops, and the same rush from the first time I had sex with Theresa, when I was just ten. The rush didn’t last long – I had to fight more and more to get it. 

Not long after my first sips of my dad’s Special Brew, at the age of thirteen, I had my first proper drink in the pub. I was selling the evening newspaper and ran into a gang of eighteen-year-olds who took me under their wing and showed me how to down half a pint of beer and a whiskey. The feeling was like nothing I had ever experienced before – I was full of confidence and bravado; I could talk to anybody about anything. I wanted to do this as much as possible. I saw how the gang acted like they didn’t care what anybody thought – they were cool and they drank alcohol.  

After that it was a spiral; I didn’t do well at school because I was too busy with drinking, fighting, girls – then someone showed me how to smoke hash. I had learnt what I needed from my childhood. I learnt that I never needed to feel shit about anything if I was high. I didn’t realise I had crossed a line. I had crossed it with no warning, no worry, no prophecy of some future locked up in jail or needles sticking out of my arm, dying. But that’s where I was heading, and there was nothing I could do about it. 

I was dead already; I just didn’t know it.


Mark Dempster is author of Nothing to Declare: Confessions of an Unsuccessful Drug Smuggler, Dealer and Addict, available now on Amazon.

Next issue: Mark sets off to London to become a big time drug dealer