The Situation Is Excellent
Je sucerai, pour noyer ma rancoeur,
Le népenthès et la bonne ciguë —Baudelaire, Le Léthé
*I’ll suckle, to drown my hate’s lash,
Nepenthe and bitter hemlock and hash
(my own very free translation)
“Everything under heaven is in utter chaos; the situation is excellent.” — K’ung fu-tzu, 5th Century B.C.
‘My Drug Hell!’ If one were to believe the tabloid press, ‘Drug Hell’ is a place exclusively populated by celebrities–current, has-been, never-was and never-will-be; mega, mini, micro and nano. As near as I can make out, the ‘drug hell’ of slebs is shorthand for being caught, usually by the tabloid press. I’ve never experienced ‘drug hell’: drug inferno, drug limbo, drug perdition, drug heaven and the drug equivalent of a wet weekend in Hull–yes; Hell, no. But one expects this sort of rubbish from the tabloid press.
Now The Observer, Britain’s worst broadsheet Sunday newspaper–a font of ill-informed, vapid bourgeois drivel–has entered this well-trodden arena with a story that ticks all the wrong boxes.
When Vicky and Ross Cattell woke at the usual time on Wednesday 2 March they had no reason to think the day would not pan out just like any other. They were at their flat in Geneva, where they had been living for just over a year, and their first thought, as always, was for their children in London, Tommy, 23, and Louise, 21. Both, as far as they knew, were still safely in bed, Tommy at the family home in Belsize Park and Louise at her bachelor-girl flat in Clapton, further east.
Ross set off for work at Deloitte, the financial advisory firm, and Vicky prepared for her daily exercise routine. Everything seemed utterly normal. Then, just before his 8.30am meeting, Ross’s phone rang with the news that would rip their world apart: Louise was dead, drowned in the bath after taking ketamine, the horse tranquilliser that is currently the “party drug” of choice among young people across the UK.–The Observer, today
There are a number of problems with this ‘story’. Setting aside the obvious–that this is a tragedy for the family involved–one has to ask: how the fuck did this mawkish, sub-tabloid guff make it into even a paper as degraded as The Observer?
What, for example, does ‘…Vicky prepared for her daily exercise routine…’ mean? What does this ‘preparation’ entail? Putting on a pair of fabric booties? Adjusting her ear-buds and the volume of ‘Sting Plays John Dowland’? I don’t know. You don’t know. Nobody knows. But let it pass.
More egregious is the paper’s description of Ketamine as a ‘horse tranquilliser’. It’s a pity that nobody on The Observer knows how to use Google. Had they searched out ‘Ketamine’, they would have discovered that it is a very useful general anaesthetic. Initially developed as an animal tranquilliser but now mostly employed in human surgery and administered by thousands of anaesthetists in the UK every day. It’s especially useful in patients who have lost a lot of blood but who require surgery, because Ketamine does not lower already dangerously low blood pressure.
As for ‘…currently the “party drug” of choice among young people across the UK…’, one has to laugh. Ketamine has been around, as far as I’m aware, since the early 90s. I’ve never taken it myself. Taking an anaesthetic that allows a surgeon to saw off your leg without your noticing does not strike me as a sound idea. Furthermore, I’d seen too many people on Ketamine, slumped in corners with drool depending from their chins, to think very highly of the experience: that much oblivion, I don’t need.
But ‘party drug of choice’ is arrant nonsense: Ketamine is and always was a minority interest. The ‘party drugs of choice’ in Britain are (as they’ve been for the last 20 years (in no particular order): alcohol, ecstasy, cocaine and cannabis.
Finally, would this story have made it into The Observer if the ‘victim’ had not been a nice, middle-class girl whose parents could afford a ‘bachelor-girl flat’ for their daughter? If she had been a working-class girl on a council estate in South London whose parents couldn’t find Geneva on a map, would we have read about this? I think we all know the answer to that. In papers like The Observer, death is only ‘tragic’ when it happens to ‘people like us’; lives are only ‘wasted’ when they’re lives ‘like ours’.
But it’s typical of the media ‘debate’ on drugs: sensationalism, sentiment, and misinformation with that ever-present underlay of puritan disapproval and class-politics.
I remember perfectly my first encounter with ‘mind altering drugs’. I was 9 or 10 years old and suffering from one of the childhood illnesses–measles, chicken-pox, mumps: I can’t remember which. Feeling feverish and restless, I complained to my mother that I couldn’t sleep. She gave me a yellow capsule with the word ‘Abbot’ printed on its side, (what I subsequently discovered to be Nembutal, a barbiturate) and told me that if I put my head down and relaxed, I’d soon be asleep. In fact, what happened was rather different.
First, a feeling of great physical well-being stole over me; this was followed by a sort of reckless boldness: I was game for anything. I prepared little speeches that I planned to deliver to certain teachers who had incurred my grave displeasure. Then I fell asleep.
It was a milestone of sorts: I had discovered the radical (for me) concept of ‘enhanced living through chemistry’. I’ve never looked back. With maturity comes responsibility, however, and my days of drug debauchery are long over and I confine myself to occasional opiate use and regular infusions of medicinal alcohol.
Never again will I wake up in a squat to discover that one of my companions had died of a barbiturate overdose during the night. I didn’t know the young woman, had never seen her before and couldn’t even tell the police her name. A friend then offered us a place in a squat that he was vacating: “There’s another guy there, bit of a full-on junkie but he’s alright”. We (me and my running partner) accepted the offer: the corpse had somehow drained the magic from the squat we were in. So we moved.
A couple of nights later, we came home late from a party. As we entered the flat, we could smell burning: “Must be something on the stove,” said my pal. We checked the kitchen but nothing was amiss. It was on entering the sitting room that we discovered the smell’s origin. Our erstwhile flatmate had overdosed with his bare feet in front of the gas fire: his toes were still burning like candles.
“What should we do?” said my mate. “First, let’s put out his toes,” I said. “Do you think he’s dead?” said my mate. “I think it’s fair to say that if your toes being on fire doesn’t wake you up, you’re dead.” I fetched a kettle from the kitchen and doused the burning toes. “Shall we call the cops?” said my mate.
I gazed at him in astonishment: “Are you out of your fucking mind? Two stiffs in one week? They’ll think we’re serial killers. Nah…we just move.” And we did.
Ah, halcyon days. We shall not, with any luck, look upon their like again.
I sometimes wonder if we’ll ever have an adult public discussion of drugs and drug policies in this country. Until we do, the fools we elect to govern us will keep trying to enforce unenforceable laws, people will keep taking drugs and people will keep dying unnecessarily because our infantile politicians won’t tell people the truth. Remember, kids: stupidity kills–just say ‘no’.
Verse on drugs, drug taking and intoxication, please.