Disgusting scenes in Birmingham last week. In this video, captured on CCTV, a white car pulls up on a residential street, blocking the road. Then, instantly, a stream of about 30 drug-users all dash towards it. They surround it, and one by one, buy what they need. Fair enough. Yet, shamefully, none of them thought to form an orderly queue. These people, who call themselves Brits, instead just scrapped and jostled their way to the front of the line, with less calm English civility than a scrum around a Mogadishu food aid truck.
What's gone wrong? Perhaps it's time we engaged in a bit of national soul-searching about our drug habits and where the manners have gone from them. We've always viewed ourselves as a nation of polite, courteous hard drug users. Yet now it seems like time to take a short refresher course on proper drug etiquette in the 21st century.
First of all: the purchase. Never send a dealer more than one text. They are drug dealers. They know they need to check their phones every now and then. If they do not respond it is because they are a) dealing drugs, b) being terrible people, c) raping someone, d) hitting someone, e) sleeping, f) doing drugs, g) taking a shit, h) just ignoring you. None of these reasons means they will benefit from your third, increasingly antsy text message written in slightly too slangy textspeak and filled with paper-thin code about "the stuff", and "what I'm after". Practice zen, and then find someone else.
Image from reddit
When buying drugs on the street, as you walk away with your usual fake casualness, always try to resist the universal urge to peek inside the package that has been shoddily taped together from a 96th of a burnt plastic Aldi bag. It's rude towards the dealer. More importantly, there's no point. If it isn't what you ordered, what exactly are you going to do? Kick off at a man who spends his life standing on street corners selling drugs? March down the road to the Citizen's Advice Bureau, and ask them if they've got any pamphlets about claiming back mis-sold narcotics via the government's Drug Fraud Reimbursement Programme? No. You will look a bit sad. You will try to eat these de-worming tablets anyway, just in case. And then you will put your card in another ATM and go back to another street corner in a slightly worse neighbourhood, and try again. If you insist on buying drugs on the street, your whole role is to pay over the odds and smile nicely when someone hands you the oregano and ibuprofen. Remember that you got yourself into this, and it's not the drug dealer's fault that he has to rip you off. It's simply market forces at work. He takes no pleasure from the punishment of your stupidity, any more than a lion actively enjoys ripping the back legs off of a baby buck. We are all just playing our part in the ecosystem. Never talk down to a drug dealer just because they are younger than you. If you say things like “Well, we smoke this shit and then we spend a lot of time watching YouTube clips of stuff we used to see on The Big Breakfast. But I suppose you're a bit too young to remember Johnny Vaughan, aren't you?” he will just get pissed off. These people have a hard enough time trying to retain their air of authority without being patronised by the older clients. Buying drugs on a mobile phone: never give a dealer a fake name unless it's really outrageous. He has to deal with far too many phoney Johns and Garys all faking-up his contacts list. Not only is it rude in terms of establishing trust, he also simply won't remember you, and you'll get lost in the fake-name overload of his shitty Nokia address book.
Once you've got the drugs, it's important to know how to share them properly. Never is the ever-present battle between politeness and fiendish need more sharply played out than in the dance of the last line. Marijuana is never-ending. No one has ever physically run out of marijuana at a party. They just haven't asked around hard enough. Cocaine, however, is far more finite. It is also a bourgeois drug, with the sort of intensive ritualisation of its possession and doling out that makes your average Japanese family reunion seem like a street brawl in Kinshasa. The paradox that most clearly defines this is the last line: having unleashed a monster of insatiable need in their brains, if there is one line left over, then no one is allowed to touch it, because, like the last biscuit, or the last chocolate, a phoney war of politeness is legally required to break out. A string of after-yous to which the only acceptable response is "after-you" will proceed. There is no way around this without looking like the one thing everyone is trying to avoid looking like: a craven drug addict (i.e. the one thing they all are). Of course, it's a different order of magnitude. You don't feel the last chocolate physically pulling your eyes away from the person talking to you until you have no bloody idea what they're saying. Similarly, you don't lock yourself in the bathroom and stare in the mirror for 15 minutes wondering whether you might have avoided this panic attack if you'd just been given the last biscuit.
Image by Marta Parszeniew
Regardless, no matter what happens, you should never look too eager. This is the first rule of all drugs, and the first rule of life. We all know that if you put enough drug users in a room and then constrict the supply of substances it's like that experiment where you put rats in a bucket then gradually heat the floor until they literally try and eat their way through each other's abdomens to get out. But at the same time, as human beings, the twin evils of Hollywood and Descartes have sold us this idea that we are rational, enlightened beings with the power of choice. Unfortunately, this persistent myth means that you're going to have to grin through more pain than you'll ever know, if you don't want to look weak and crippled by need. Alternatively: buy more drugs and do them in the bathroom instead? Never tighten the heroin belt of a person of the opposite gender who is already partnered up. It's just too intimate a gesture. And, like adjusting someone's tie, it carries a heavy inbuilt dose of flirtation. Children younger than five it is perfectly acceptable to do drugs in front of. They won't understand anyway. Children over the age of 15 it's perfectly acceptable to do drugs in front of, too. They understand only too well.
The ethics of drugs is a complicated subject. It varies enormously. For instance, MDMA is ethically good. Everyone knows it's made by nice people wearing white coats in a lab who use science to make people happy. No one ever shot their brother because they took too much M-dizzle. They just lost all of their teeth and couldn't remember the word for "Tuesday". Cocaine is very bad. It's made by FARC guerrillas who really don't understand ethical consumerism at all. They seldom recycle. They have few considered opinions on Adam Curtis. They probably buy Israeli oranges. Perhaps there might be organic, ethically-farmed cocaine from small suppliers going into their supply chain, but sadly no one has yet worked out how to FairTrade Kitemark the stuff. Ethically, heroin is worst of all. It actively promotes grunge rock. It brought us "heroin chic", where 12-year-olds who shampoo with beer and weigh less than 40kg were considered fashionable. It's nasty stuff, but at least no one ever died taking it. Not only your choice of drug, but even the manner in which you take it can be an ethical etiquette nightmare. Snorting gak through a £50 note is out of the question if you have any interest in social justice. This is Austerity Britain. If you're going to take £40 worth of cocaine, you're going to have to do it with a £10. A £20 note if your friends are all stockbrokers. It's just no longer polite to be a high roller. You just end up looking like Peter Stringfellow, and I imagine Peter Stringfellow has a £100 note that he had to pay £200 to buy that he keeps in a little silver rolled-up-note case, held together with a gold band, and snorts lines out of the clitoral hood of one of his club girls and then rolls back onto his Thai peasant-skin rug chuckling with mindless self-satisfaction.
Spare a thought for those who have been hit hardest by the downturn. How are you going to explain to those who've been subject to a £7.50-a-week real-terms benefit cut that you are happy to do cocaine with high-value notes? No doubt your dealer has had his benefits cut too by this heartless government, so try not to pay him with high denominations either.
Last but not least: No one wants to hear about your screenplay.
Previously: This Is What Will Happen When the Queen Dies