Drugs have always been around. I know that much. I’ve never had much contact with people who take or deal them – the heavy stuff – and have never felt the urge to try them even if I was offered. But it wasn’t until this Friday, one of the more interesting bookends to the week I have experienced, that I realised how redundant the ridiculous War on Drugs has become.
To make me wonder which illegal substance I was taking, I beat my highest break in snooker, reaching 88 before missing the last red. This extraordinary feat persuaded me to get trashed in celebration. So the Royal British Legion in Hove, rarely the go-to place for youngsters in search of a good time, had to put up with two inebriated teenagers meandering down to the bar every twenty minutes to order another two shots of sambuca, which tastes like urine distilled in a packet of Bertie Bassett’s Allsorts. Despite the aftertaste of liquorice piss, it was making us reassuringly giggly – the only gauge of how effective a drink is – so the shots kept coming.
After closing time at the Legion, we headed to Tom’s local pub, which I had been in once before on a Sunday night when the place was completely empty, populated only by an ethereal voice on the radio coming in and out of frequency, like an American diner in a serial crime drama just before you hear gunshots. To see it teeming with life was a bit of a shock. On my previous visit, the only thing I could have knocked into was a table jutting out at an odd angle. Now, I had to squeeze past people to get to the bar, who performed the drunkard’s trick of being unhelpful to new bar-comers with ease.
We ordered another round, this time choosing an orange-coloured harbinger of misery before heading out into the beer garden, which was more or less a bus stop with a patio heater that didn’t work as advertised.
It was here that talk turned to drugs. Two blokes came out to have a cigarette and after the usual pleasantries were exchanged (“you alright mate?”, “having a good evening lads?”) one of them, a bald man about fifty years old, began rolling a cigarette. Or what I naively thought was a cigarette.
“I need this joint… it’s been a long day. I better smoke it out the front so the landlord doesn’t get in trouble”.
“Yeah good idea” said Tom, unexpectedly heaping praise on the man, when I expected shutters to come down, red lights to start flashing and a burly policeman to come along and say “you’re nicked sunshine”. I thought smoking dope at your local pub was as hardcore as it got. But then he explained why he was doing it.
“I had two lines of Charlie earlier, I need something to calm me down” he said. Then the other gentleman in the garden, a twentysomething with a receding hairline and ginger hair, piped up. “Was it any good?” Suddenly, I was in the middle of Drugs Mastermind. I half-expected John Humphries to appear and ask in a shrill voice whether I knew the scientific name for Meow Meow.
“No mate, I’m getting bloody pissed off. I keep paying £40 for shit gear” he replied.
Tom piped up once more; “It has been ages since I did it, but you have to pay decent money to get good stuff and really know your dealer, you know what I mean?” This conversation continued for an age, leaving me to feel like a spare part.
Why was a man ten years away from a free bus pass snorting crack with the care-free abandon of someone thirty years his junior? When he returned from smoking his joint (which I repeat; he was using as a come down) he tried to offer an explanation for his behaviour.
“I’ve been told by plenty of people to stop, the missus included” he reasoned, standing up to stretch his limbs and making for the bar once more, “but if I enjoy doing it, why should I?”
Then Tom offered me to crash at his mate’s place as he was going over there to (and I quote) “trip on some balls”. My first reaction was to wonder whether reliving the dark days of year nine hockey was a good idea. Then natural cautiousness kicked in and I declined the offer, preferring instead to spend an hour on a packed Friday night train home, swarming with drunken idiots swigging super-strength cans of beer and acting obnoxiously to impress the opposite sex when the poor conductor asked to see everyone’s ticket.
Still, compared to the regulars at a pub which I daren’t mention in case I get the owners in trouble with the law, drinking White Lightning cider at midnight on public transport is healthy.