Tracey Emin: My Life in a Column

We've all seen people on benches, homeless and smelly. But have we heard how they got there?
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The Independent Online

Have you ever drunk three litres of water a day, every day for a week? I'm telling you, it's like drowning from the inside out. And everyone tells you how well you look, amazing skin, bright sparkly eyes and a very bushy tail.

But the reality is that I'm pissing every 25 seconds and feeling like a baby whale (there she blows!). Oh yeah, and try alcohol - there's just no room for it. In fact it goes straight to your brain. You'd think all this water stuff would sober you up. One moment I was having a sensible conversation and three glasses of rosé later, I was square dancing on the black-and-white tiles in my friend's kitchen. All very harmless.

And even though I was in bed asleep by 10pm, the next day I couldn't move. I'm someone who likes to get up at seven, but I woke up at 9.30am. Like a moron I turned on the TV and subjected myself to the most horrendous programme. Super-strength lagers, Britain's binge-drinking culture (funny how binge rhymes with minge). The whole concept of binge anything is utterly disgusting. Binge pizza. Binge Sunday pizza, which consists of a thick-crust pizza base with a topping of roast beef, double portion of Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, carrots, swede and gravy. I just made that up.

I put myself down as a bit of a binger sometimes, but I am now starting to rethink. Maybe I'm not. Maybe my thing is more psychological, more obsessive. Like if I am going to do this thing, I'm going to do it properly. I'm going to start at the beginning, do the middle and get to the end. That's the premise of unfinished business. Shame to leave the bottle half empty.

But you see, with me, we're talking bottles of rosé champagne, blue cheeses that blow your mind away and buckets of caviar. We're not talking cans of White Lightening at 59p a pop. I've never seen anything on TV that shocked me more. What the fuck is happening to this country? Of course we've seen people sitting on benches, homeless, smelly, incoherent. But have we heard their stories about how they got there?

And hey, Mr Smartarse from surburbia, don't think you're a million miles away, tucked up in your semi-detached, one little iota of redundancy, a quick glimpse of your best mate shagging your wife, and you could just be on that bench so easily. In the TV programme there was a reasonable, intelligent couple, but half their brain cells had been killed off. His name was Elvis. They had a kind of Seventies rock'n'roll look about them, and you could see that at one time they must have been very attractive. As they tucked into the Tennents Extra at the launderette, they made such a good point: "This stuff is made for alcoholics. It's made to keep us drinking. It's made to keep us addicted - and it's legal."

How long do you think it would take to get 59p by begging? You go through rehab, you're weaned off years of addiction, you go into the sweet shop to buy a packet of Munchies. They don't have any. You turn around - and there you are: White Lightning, 59p. One can has the same strength as a bottle of wine. I nearly threw up when we had a tour of this woman's kitchen. She innocently but incoherently said: "The cooker doesn't work any more, because of the grease," and there across the full screen was a vat of fat at least five years old , and two inches thick. The top of the cooker had been completely submerged, the gas rings just poking through the top.

I thought about the TV crew and how much they would have been retching. I also wondered if, after filming, the health and safety people had been sent round to clean up. No one wants to end up in that state. It's a trigger, and once the bullet's been fired, it's very hard to make it stop. And yes, I am moralising on this. I can't believe that class-A drugs are illegal and super-strength beers are not.

Sunny side up

Some days I wake up and I just can't believe how lucky I am. Even today, when I woke up a bit tired, pissed off and miserable and, to make matters worse, really wanting a shag. I still have my brain, I still have my soul and my depths of loneliness are nothing compared to the super-strength gang.

Anyway, I've got to stop writing this now, because I'm totally preoccupied with the work for my show in New York. I spent most of this week thinking it was Friday, which meant that if it had been, I would have forgotten to write this column altogether. Sometimes when I'm working, I'm alone and I'm really happy. I'm locked into myopia of my own world. Art is always there to hold me, I wouldn't go as far as to say to cuddle me, but it keeps me secure. Whether people like it or not, I enjoy my personal mission. If you stuck me on a desert island alone I would still be making, I would still be creating.

To be an artist is to give and receive. The best thing I have done lately is to make a small animated film. It's called Reincarnation, and it stars a beautiful little dog. If I were reincarnated, I would like to come back as the sun.

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