Know your dealer

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.


Students rising

Students are at it once more, this time causing mayhem on the streets of London. The protests, peaceful for so long, ended in a thorough ransacking of Tory HQ. And of course the protesters were peaceful. The genuine ones at least. It was merely hijacked by a bunch of anarchists throwing fire extinguishers from rooftops.

Our beloved coalition government, following the Browne report into University funding, has decided that the best way to tackle the UK’s budget deficit (which let us not forget was caused by bankers and poor public sector management from the government) is to charge each innocent student £9,000 a year so that a tutor smelling of dope, arriving with a hangover and spitting all over the front row, can prevaricate on the merits of grammatical prescriptivism to a roomful of disinterested youths still piecing together the previous night’s atrocities.

University prospectuses must just write themselves nowadays: “Come to Uni! Get £40k in debt! Fail to get a postgraduate job anyway because the economy is screwed!”

I currently pay £3,300 a year in fees and still feel like I’m being ripped off. I have eight contact hours per week and they can only pass the course off as a full-time degree by saying you need to do thirty hours of reading per week, which is not my idea of education. Even the keenest student will not complete thirty hours of reading every seven days when there is cheap alcohol to drink and invaluable sleep to catch up on. So charging £9,000 a year for this experience seems like an outrageous rip off.

Nick Clegg, caught somewhere between a rock, a hard place and a wrecking ball made from titanium, grimaces as he tells the nation why his party have reversed their commitment to scrapping tuition fees, one of the Liberal Democrat’s most cherished policies – and one which gave them many votes they otherwise would not have gained. Most level-headed people would have recognised that scrapping tuition fees in light of a devastating recession may be a bit risky and some may have even sympathised with the Liberal Democrats if the fees had remained unchanged – it wouldn’t have been the first or last promise to have been broken by a politician.

But to sign up to a walloping trebling of them seems like political suicide. He was even stupid enough to be photographed signing a pledge just months ago faithfully promising to scrap fees, now insisting that they should be greatly increased. If this is the new politics, no wonder so many people prefer to hide behind Now! magazine and pretend politics makes no difference to their lives.

It is truly extraordinary that a central policy of the Liberal Democrat manifesto has not only been neutered but has swung in completely the opposite direction. It would be like UKIP coming to power and then saying “Actually, we quite like Europe, especially Prague. We had a fantastic stag do there one weekend. Anyway, who do we ask about joining the Euro?”

To protest these measures the NUS and assorted other groups descended on London for a day of marching, whistle-blowing and tub-thumping. The Daily Mail later described it as a “very middle class protest” which I found highly unlikely until I asked a friend now studying at Bucks University why he went.

“Well, they had a free coach going and it seemed like a nice day out. We had a picnic and everything”. And then I realised The Mail was correct. The images seen on the news that night may have featured balaclava-wearing young’uns toting pot plants as makeshift weapons at a thin line of police, but the overwhelming majority of the protest was made up of people who wanted a nice day out.

The ones inciting the violence were not students, they couldn’t be. They cared far too much. A normal student reaction to higher fees would be to sigh mournfully, stare into the middle distance and then pass the duchy to the left-hand side.

Writing in NME, a Wolverhampton University student, Henry Langston, summed this up brilliantly, adding a touch of surrealism to the process: “A party atmosphere evolved and everyone started dancing around a makeshift sound system in a wheelie bin”.

No other protest could involve this… “I’m really hacked off about this government’s repressive regime in dealing with tuition fees and believe that education should be free and not the preserve of a wealthy… hold on. Wait a minute… Is that Soulja Boy? Yes it is! EVERYBODY DANCE NOW!”

JLS condoms are here

It’s happened. Popular beat combo JLS have released their own brand of Durex condoms. The reason for this marketing ploy in favour of safe sex is unclear, especially when buying a packet of rubbers is embarrassing enough without the cashier knowing you have a fondness for over-produced synthetic pop with the emotional pull of road kill.

The group have been discussing the idea for a while now and have finally come good on their promise (I struggle in vain to ignore the potential punnery to be made from the phrase “come good” and will head on with a vague sense of regret), with the products available from most retailers.

In four different colours and with each member adorning a different packet, the whole thing could turn into a popularity contest. My knowledge of JLS could fit on the back of a cigarette packet but I do know that one of the group, Marvin, is renowned for his impressive cartwheels, which he can perform at will from a standing start. When he does this at concerts or on television shows, he gets standing ovations from screaming girls, who for whatever reason think this is more impressive than knowing what Optimality Theory means (I’m not bitter). But one of the other guys has looks that could startle a dead badger in the dark. So will people steer clear of his condoms?

A more important question to consider is this: who will be buying these contraceptives? If anything is going to make a man appear less sexually attractive to a prospective mate, I’m sure that having a picture of a world-famous, wealthy and handsome pop star on the packet of the device that will be used for the safe progress of the sexual act, will work a treat. It would basically say to the woman in the relationship: “Look who you could be having it off with if you were a little bit prettier”.

If blokes are ruled out for fear of being inadequate, would a woman buy JLS Johnnies? Surely any female who only practices safe sex on the basis that their favourite pop group recommends it, shouldn’t be allowed to partake in recreational activities more complex than pouring water into different sized mugs and learning the alphabet with Alphabetti Spaghetti.

Even more troubling is the fact I think they are doing quite an honourable thing. Sure, the charts are filled with suggestive-to-the-point-of-audio-pornography songs about sucking lollipops and whatnot, but talking about safe sex isn’t cool. It’s the kind of thing that children’s drama tries to address in an incredibly ham-fisted manner. It’s the kind of thing that a brave teacher would get specific training days for, to deal with at a tough inner-city comprehensive.

One comment I saw on an internet message board discussed what would happen when some of the condoms inevitably break – which approximately 3% of them do; the lyrics to their most famous hit would have to be changed slightly… “Everybody up the duff, go put your hands up”.

The scheme could go further, employing more famous people to front advertising campaigns which attempt to coerce young people into making the correct choice in their life.

David Beckham is an excellent role model for young footballers, so why not have him bring out a range of ugly blow-up sex dolls (not that I’ve ever seen an attractive blow-up sex doll) with high-voltage wires around the entry points to discourage young sportsmen from being unfaithful and make them realise that an ugly sex doll would be as good as they could get without the money and fame of playing for Manchester United (yes, Rooney, how did you know I was looking at you?).

How about branded George Best water, with the tagline “Drink this, or end up like me”? Paris Hilton, recently involved in a spectacular cocaine bust (once more, with Paris Hilton and “bust” in the same sentence, the jokes practically write themselves), could adorn packets of a new wonder-drug disguised as mashed up oregano and sawdust.

She could also release pictures of how she will look in thirty years using a time-lapse photography computer programme, when all the surgery, drugs and drink catches up on her and she looks droopy enough to be mistaken for an umbrella stand.

Ultimately, the possibilities are endless. JLS condoms are the beginning of a consumer revolution.