My First Pill is a series where writers tell the story of the first time they, well, took a pill.
I've always considered myself a casual drug user at best. I put this down to my failure to set a good foundation of abuse during my school days. Call me a late bloomer, but when all the other teens were skinning up fat biftas and having Lambrini-fuelled sexual encounters, I was listening to Korn and obsessively arranging Zoo York stickers on a skateboard my mum bought me. Although I like to think I'm now up to speed with my peers in terms of cut lines and casual sex, I don't think I'll ever match the purported pill use of some of them.
These days, it seems like you've really got to want it to find a decent pill, and I just don't have the energy to make more than one phone call. Unlike Dominoes, bad cocaine, or the other vices in my life, purchasing pills seems like an altogether more arduous task. I imagine I'd have to call a dealer who sells Kush, who'd text a DJ who rates Rusko, who in turn would drive his Nova to collect them off a guy who once sold him a TB-303, and still thinks it's 1995. Making an effort to buy drugs is for people who count BPMs and hate team sports - in short, not me - so when my first pill came at the ridiculously old age of 22, I wasn't surprised that it had taken this long.
Like blazing before an IMAX or dropping acid at a Sea Life Centre, you want to take drugs in the best possible scenario - but then you also don't want to die. My mate Evan, with ten years of medical training under his belt, helped me fulfil both of these requirements when he handed me something at Notting Hill Carnival, and said "Trust me, I'm a doctor".
It was summer 2011, and Evan was travelling in from Wales. Because you don't want to break out in a cold sweat and shit yourself during an appendectomy, he only dabbles with the hard stuff one weekend a year, the August bank holiday serving as his preferred time slot. Like many white people, we treat the largest celebration of London's Afro-Caribbean heritage as an opportunity to get shit-hammered in sunlight for two days straight. He called on the Saturday to let me know about "bare Portmore Empire mixtapes" he had listened to in preparation, suggesting he'd earned this year's antics through some sort of cultural recognition.
He arrived the Sunday evening, our plan being to travel out West the next morning for the second day of festivities. I had never been on the Monday, and I only knew about it from stories friends had told me; one mate said he saw a man get stabbed, another said he almost got shanked himself, and a friend of a friend said he puked in Jack Penate's back garden. It sounded like a turf-war with Red Stripe, or better yet, a rugby tour run by Mavado. Either way, it would be far more intense than the tepid 'Children's Carnival' of the Sunday.
On the Monday morning, me, Evan, my sister and three of our friends met outside a flat off Kensington High St. We were picking up pills from a guy who was apparently my third cousin and, given his flat's location, really rich. I was sure that our scant collection of shared genes meant a good price and even better quality. Several awkward minutes passed in an unusually full kitchen before he returned from a back room. I quickly pocketed a small, off-white pill, which I later bit into outside the Whole Foods supermarket. Class As and organic produce, this was how the other half lived.
Anyone who's been to Carnival will know how easy it is to succumb to an endless cycle of missed connections, poor phone signal and walking. Before we really started to come up, we set about finding a friend who wanted to meet us outside Trellick Tower, an estate on the other side of the event, because he thought it "looked sick". Even if you just swallowed a pill, it's hard to talk about any non-medical subject when you spend 50+ hours a week patching up Wales' less fortunate girls and boyos.
So as we began the search for Trellick, Evan told us about a study scientists were conducting involving the effects of MDMA on patients with autism. Apparently, the huge serotonin boost leads to strong feelings of empathy, an emotion people with the condition tend to lack. It sounded like proper shit at the time, but given that we were happily accommodating the whims of a person who designated a meeting point based on his preference for brutalist architecture, I now reckon those scientists were on to something. After we found the guy, we walked through an alley that stretches between Westbourne Park and Talbot Road. As we neared the southern end we passed a young girl flat on the pavement, a film of saliva foaming around her mouth as tending police radioed for an ambulance.
Now there are many reasons people become a doctor. You can heal the sick, the pay isn't bad, and you get a tidy discount at Wetherspoon's with a valid NHS ID. Evan's decision to ignore the girl in the alley wasn't the first time I'd wondered if he preferred saving on Woo-Woos than saving lives. The night previous we'd gone to a chicken place in South London that he'd always visit during trips to the capital. As we were walking back, a man crossing the street in front of us was clipped by a speeding car. The impact separated him from his shoes. We all looked to Evan, expecting him to part the gathering crowds and assist the poor guy.
"He's screaming. He'll be fine". He walked straight past the injured man. Now I'm not a doctor, so I don't know if this was the right way for one to react in such a situation. I'd read somewhere that army medics prioritise the wounded who aren't making a sound. But this wasn't a battlefield. It was the high street in Thornton Heath. He could've at least told the guy he wasn't going to die on a pavement in Zone 4.
Now we were faced with a similar situation. I was convinced he had to make amends for the night before and help this girl. I looked for Evan. I think he mumbled something about the hippocratic oath, but the words could barely escape his clenched jaw. A woman was pissing outside a lock-up only feet away. Some of it splashed on my sister's shoe, but she didn't notice. Evan was dancing up ahead. I couldn't remember why I was chasing him, but it felt good doing it. I glanced back and realised I didn't care about the girl anymore. None of us did. We were all high as fuck.
We gathered at a soundsystem and I felt glorious. I gave myself to the music without really hearing it, preferring to focus on the reverberations that came with gurning into the sub-woofer. Others went wild when they played 'Clarks', one guy even stumbling when he tried to dust his own with an invisible toothbrush. I looked around. A friend's arms hung so loose at his sides he resembled a marionette, a cut string away from melting happily into the floor. My flatmate took out a spliff from a little metal box. He had rolled a bunch earlier so we wouldn't have to construct any on the street. That was smart. I was really glad we were mates. My sister kept handing out those tiny bottles of rum you buy in Duty Free, which seemed like the perfect size for the day. Most families buy normal size bottles of rum and argue. My family buys fun-size bottles of rum and takes ecstasy.
On top of the good weather, the beer, the pre-rolled joints, endless cigarettes, every song featuring Popcaan, and the three hits of ecstasy, I think a small part of my euphoria stemmed from the practicality of it all. With pills, you're never going to face the stresses of cack-handed key bumps, surreptitious line-cutting in pub toilets or the fiendish licking of a cracked iPhone screen. You just swallow it like ibuprofen and the job is done. Split it in two and the second half is a beautiful bonus.
"Lets take the other half now", Evan told me.
Earlier that day, we decided to tell each other when we were ready to drop the second half. What had once seemed like a pretty standard agreement to do our drugs at roughly the same time now felt like the fulfilment of some epic tryst. All the hit-and-runs, medical negligence and potentially dead teenagers in our wake weren't going to sully this moment.
As the light went we parted ways. Some faced two hour train journeys and others looked for after parties. I'd heard carnival got rowdy in these final hours. I just got on the bus. I recognise that using Carnival as an excuse to drop ecstasy at 11am could be considered an affront to what it represents, but then you could say the same about white people with dreadlocks, Reggae-Reggae Pizza and Collie Buddz. All I know is that my first pill was the start of a reunion we've continued to repeat, one that's somehow managed to get better each year since. I still drop a few now and then, but they never match up to the ones we purchase off a third cousin and swallow in the bank holiday heat.
You can follow Jack Blocker on Twitter here: @JackBlocker