|The 40 In 40 Days Project.|
38. The “Catharsis Of Joy” (1994)
The Au Pairs
on, and it already feels like a previous life.
When I was eight years old, I had a
class teacher called Mrs. Mills. She was a remarkable character – a
true maverick, whose free-form teaching style and scant regard for
structured timetables would never be allowed in these regimented days of
national curriculums and SATs. She was also the most inspirational
teacher I ever had. And this is what she had to say about drugs.
Your friends might all be taking
them, and you won’t want to feel left out of the fun. So you’ll try
them as well – and you’ll have a fantastic time. You’ll feel great.
You’ll feel better than you ever have done before. But that’s the
problem, do you see? Because when the drugs wear off, the real world
won’t seem the same again. You won’t be able to feel as great
without the drugs – so you’ll want to do them again, and again, and
again. That’s how you become hooked.
Autumn 1979. A whole bunch of my
friends decide to try dope for the first time. We all sit around in a
circle in a disused garage, and pass a little pipe round. Soon, we’re
all giggling like crazy. It’s fun. I can take it or leave it, though.
Don’t really see why everyone kicks up such a fuss about how dangerous
it is – there’s clearly no danger at all, and I certainly haven’t
become hooked, either. The politicians and newspapers have got it all
wrong – they must be scared, or ignorant, or both.
Autumn 1983. I’m offered some speed
for the first time. Before taking it, I insist on reading up on the
subject. Everyone is telling me that it’s completely harmless, as long
as you don’t do it too often and you don’t mind feeling tired the
next day. This doesn’t sound dangerous either, so I take some. It’s
fun – I just have a bit more energy for dancing, that’s all. Again,
I can take it or leave it. Again, I don’t become hooked. Of course,
I’ve seen “druggies” around the place – boring, pathetic losers
who always want to drone on and on about what exactly what they’ve
taken, and where, and when. But there’s no chance of me ending up like
Autumn 1994. Quite a few friends of
mine are doing E now. I’ve always been distinctly wary of it, but they
keep telling me how brilliant it is. I also keep reading magazine
articles which tell me how brilliant it is. I’m getting curious to try
it for myself. A night out at London’s Sunday gay club FF is arranged.
My friends promise they’ll look after me, and that I won’t be given
anything “dodgy” – just pills that they’ve tried before.
"Doves" are best for first timers, apparently – I’m told
they’re “nice and fluffy”.
On the night, I’m tense and nervous,
but also dying to find out just why everyone says this place is so
fantastic. I’ve always hated that hardcore techno music though –
there’s no soul, just crass banging and crashing noises. I can’t see
how I can possibly enjoy dancing to it. And isn’t everyone really
aggressive and unfriendly down there?
My friends suggest that I just try half
a pill first of all, to see how I get on. There will be plenty of time
to try the other half later, if I want to. I swallow my half and sip
some water. I’ve been told that nothing will happen for a while. We go
downstairs and start dancing.
Much as I love dancing, I’m finding
it really difficult to connect with the music – too hard, too fast, no
syncopated funky backbeats – in fact, no songs, no choruses, and
almost no words at all. Weird. I politely go through the motions.
I’m starting to enjoy this a bit more
now. We’ve got our own bit of space, and everyone seems quite laidback
and friendly, despite the bonkers music – what an odd contrast. The
lights are bloody impressive, I have to say – especially those lasers.
Actually, this is great. I’m getting the point of it all at last. Wow,
there are so many beautiful looking people down here. Just…look at
them all. Wow. Wow. Wowwwwww.
And dance. And dance.
And-dance-and-dance-and-dance. Woo, this track’s quite a good one
actually. I smile at all my friends. They all smile back. Big, broad,
Is it just the lights, or is everything
starting to look a bit wobbly now? It’s as if I’m underwater. It’s
quite a subtle effect, but it’s definitely there. Ooh, that’s really
And dance. And dance.
And-dance-and-dance-and-dance. There’s a quiet section in the music
– just time to relax a bit, look around some more, then –
WALLOP! The beat kicks back in, the
lasers go mental, everybody’s whooping and cheering and throwing their
arms in the air and smiling at each other and jumping up and down and
dancing like maniacs, and so am I, and oh my God! This is FANTASTIC! NOW
I get it! NOW I understand! Oh my GOD! I feel – BEAUTIFUL! I feel –
SO HAPPY! I love this place! I love everybody in it! I look at my
friends, and give them a thumbs up.
“It’s started, has it?”
Yes, it has – it’s FANTASTIC! Thank
you! Thank you for bringing me here! You guys are just the BEST!
And we all put our arms round each
other, and hug, and dance together in a big circle, looking at each
other straight in the eyes, and grinning all all the while, and feeling
like we’re all sharing the same feeling, right here, right now, and
it’s the same feeling all the way round the club – one shared
emotion, one shared experience, pure joy.
I start thinking about all the stuff
which has been getting me down a bit recently – feeling in a rut,
feeling trapped, feeling like I’m underachieving and there are no
options out there for me. Now, I can see it all in a completely
different light. It’s all a matter of perspective. There’s so much
opportunity out there for me. I have so much potential inside myself. I
have so many people who love me and care about me and want me to be
happy and successful. I’m so lucky. I have a WONDERFUL life. Who could
ask for more? I’m going to stop whinging and being negative – I’m
going to focus on all the good stuff that’s inside me. I can do
anything if I put my mind to it. I’m strong! I’m f***ing invincible!
Look, I’m a good person, with loads
to offer, and I just forgot that for a while. But now I can see clearly,
and it’s all because of this WONDERFUL drug and this FABULOUS place
and these BEAUTIFUL friends and oh, this BRILLIANT music, like I’ve
never heard before, so energetic and positive and full of life, and
I’ve never danced this way before, with so much fluidity of movement,
and I’m just going to lose myself in the music now – and dance, and
dance, and dance-and-dance-and-dance…
Yes, dear reader. I made the first and
most fundamental mistake of them all. I had a Profound Spiritual
Experience. I thought that the E was going to Help Me Grow As A Person.
A couple of days later, I’m walking
home from work with my Walkman on, and I’m suddenly weeping on the
street. The reason? I’m listening to the new M People album for the
first time, and I’ve just got to a track whose chorus
goes…”You’ve got to search for the hero inside yourself, until you
find the key to your life.” Because, you know, that’s me!
This is what ecstasy can do to you. It
can make you weep to bloody M People. Doesn’t that alone sound alarm
bells in your head?
Well, not to me it didn’t. I started
to think of that life-changing night at FF as…wait for it…my
Catharsis Of Joy. Sheesh...
And of course – of course! –
I had to get back there as soon as I possibly could.
Thus began The Trade Years. January
1995 to Summer 1998. The best of times – and the worst of times.
Unbelievable highs, but increasingly terrible lows to matchs. Never as
good as that first night, either. After a while, I stopped trying to
chase the memory of that initial moment of pure enlightenment. Instead,
I just wanted to get twatted.
This wasn’t some sort of springboard
to a better way of life at all – if anything, it was rather the
opposite. It was an escape. A fantasy world, cut off from all semblance
of reality for a few hours every few weeks or so – like a waking
dream. Where everyone was happiness and smiles and love and sexiness
and, you know, really talking about stuff, and the music would
take you over, and your vision would melt into a blurred kaleidoscope of
colour, and you just felt f***ing fabulous. For a while.
It was a dead end, though. A
synthesised form of happiness, achieved by crudely hot-wiring your brain
to release a particular fluid. In fact, it was nothing less than the
wholesale commodification of happiness. Capitalism’s ultimate triumph.
Joy in a pill, for fifteen quid a throw (less if you were cool and knew
people). With the money all passing its way back, via the nice friendly
matey dealers in the clubs, back up the food chain to the dangerous,
violent, ruthless criminals behind the whole operation. In this respect,
buying drugs involved a massive moral compromise. To think that I had
spent the entire 1980s piously avoiding South African fruit because
buying it would “taint” me in some way, and now here I was
cheerfully handing over money to gangsters. Oh, I hear you say, but
isn’t all economic activity morally compromised? Maybe, but when was
the last time you heard of Macdonalds kneecapping people, or funding
Worse than that – ecstasy was my
gateway drug to nicotine. Before too long, I was regularly getting
anxiety attacks in the early stages – usually just after the initial
“rush” had worn off. You know in the cartoons, when the Coyote runs
off the cliff, and he hasn’t noticed yet, and his legs are still
running round, and then suddenly he realises that there’s nothing
beneath him, and he plummets down to the earth below? Well, it was just
like that – and I discovered that cigarettes could calm me down and
help me through. The shittiest, nastiest drug of them all – smelly,
antisocial, addictive, fatal, and even the high itself was - well, a bit
crap. So, I became a “social” smoker. For nearly six years - I only
managed to give up in December 2000.
It was all a case of diminishing
returns. After a few years, I could no longer fool myself that the drugs
were working any more. The comedowns were a nightmare, and even the very
peaks of the peaks were nothing much to write home about. I slowed up
– as I knew I always would, right from the start – and eventually, I
stopped altogether. My last whole pill was taken eighteen months ago.
I’d be very surprised if I ever took one again.
Essentially, everything Mrs. Mills said
to me when I was eight years old turned out to be true. Waste of bloody
time, basically. Oh, but don’t I have my memories? Well, no, not
really. There’s nothing substantive to latch onto – all I remember
is a blur of lights, noise and sweaty torsos. It has felt like waking
from a dream. It all seems like a lifetime ago.
We live and learn.