Thursday, 30 May 2013

On the Turps

I've been doing a bit of DIY. Only a very small bit - viz. repainting the blackboard outside the kitchen where I chalk up all the things I mustn't forget to buy next time I go shopping (and then forget to buy them, because, unlike a piece of paper, a shopping list written on a blackboard is quite difficult to carry).

The blackboard list, impractical as it is, is a ritual I am fond of, but the surface had become so murky that, even if had I been able to take the thing with me to the supermarket, I would have found, when I got there, that I couldn't read what was written on it. What it needed was repainting. Thus, I went to the DIY shop and bought myself a small tin of matt black paint and a medium-width cheap brush.

The process of buying these things took a good deal longer than the actual act of painting and so, after completing the task, admiring the result, then painting a kitchen chair for the sheer pleasure of painting something else, adding two more coats to both the blackboard and the chair, casting about for anything else that might need a slick of black and persuading myself that the fridge would not be improved by such a radical step - and nor would the rubbish bin - I broached my new bottle of meths, pouring a generous slug of the stuff into an empty jam jar.

AsI did so, I remembered how just after university an enterprising friend of mine decided to run film evenings once a week featuring Australian movies that would not otherwise get a screening in Canberra. He got quite a good turn-out, despite the fact that it was winter when he decided to do it and that on one occasion the people at the City Technical College, where he'd managed to hire an auditorium, forgot to leave the electricity on and so he had to refund every member of the audience the price of the ticket and send them home.

Anyway, the reason the meths made me remember my friend Tony and his laudable activities was that one of the films he showed was a story whose heroes were all alcoholics living on the streets of Sydney, whose mainstay in the grog department was methylated spirits. I have the idea that the film ended with one of them, a man who looked less like a human and more like a lion by that stage - a consequence of his chosen beverage, I assumed, rightly or wrongly, at the time - going toward some kind of apocalyptic ending, (possibly burning to death?) while suffering a meths induced hallucination of some wild and florid sort.

Ever since seeing that film, I've always looked at bottles of meths with the same alarmed fascination I normally reserve for the emergency cords on trains. I could, if I wished, start knocking back shots of methylated spirits for breakfast I think each time I see one. If the mood took me, I could choose to become  a shambling wreck like that film's hero. I could give myself up to the demons of addiction. I could set decadence loose in my life.

But I don't. What is more, the government trusts me not to. Which is odd, because it doesn't let me anywhere near heroin, cocaine, amphetamines or a range of other addictive substances, and, while it keeps reminding me of the danger of cigarettes, it also invites me to fill its coffers by buying a packet or two from time to time, (I resist, by the way, although I used not to).

There's no logic to the state's approach to dangerous substances. Nor does it do any good. I've observed illicit drug use at quite close quarters and I've learned that, no matter what you do, there are people who are going to take things that are bad for them. All you can do is warn them, and keep on warning them. If you try to prevent them, you will waste time and money and cause endless problems, thanks to the age-old law of unintended consequences.

Stop the war on drugs or start the war on methylated spirits, I say, but for heaven's sake, get some consistency in your policies, government. If you're flogging us fags, how can you justify filling our cities with organised crime by denying us other harmful but fun things? Stop treating us like children. Educate us and then let us make up our own minds (which many of us are doing anyway, without your permission). If we want to go to hell in a hand basket, that's our business. Sure a government is the people's servant, but the member of staff we want is not the nursery maid, thanks all the same.


  1. I've never had an addictive personality. I love beer, but when I do drink, I automatically shut off at some point before the silly stage by putting down a (usually half full) pint and walking away. A few hospital experiences, however, made me understand addiction, at least to narcotics. They gave me something for the pain and it was then that I understood. That stuff is ridiculous. I'm glad I don't have ready access to it. That said, I do agree with you. Too much attempt at control, here in the US, too.

    1. I bet you wouldn't actually become an addict even if you had ready access, particularly if the government re-routed the resources they devote to policing toward information about the consequences of becoming an addict instead.

    2. But that would be destroying the prevailing economy, especially of USA, where massive private industries are devoted to prisons, employing guards, psychologists, purveyers of religion, security equipment, gunsmiths, makers of lethal injections and electric chairs. Prison slave labour keeps prices down in some manufacturing areas. Much of legal system employment – police, lawyers, judges – depends on a constant supply of illegal drug users. Politicians' incomes would be reduced if they weren't enhanced by illegal drug traffickers' subsidies. Home security, personal weaponry makers and retailers would suffer. For a variety of reasons, hospitals would have fewer customers if illegal drugs were made legal.

      So even in Australia where things aren't quite the same, the revolutionary implication of rerouting resources would destroy the rich extremes of life's tapestry. What could replace the glam of drug crime? The thrill of walking the streets unafraid of mugging by someone desperate to finance their habit? Documentary/movie makers – where would they get their authenticity?

      You mean well, but it's almost unpatriotic, hey?

    3. Denis, you seem a little jaded. May I offer you an illicit chill pill? (Of course, as usual, you are completely right)

  2. Hah! What are you offering? I did once have Valium before an op, which isn't even illicit. It was rather pleasant.

    I was being too cynical/sarcastic in my approach to writing about that. I guess I do feel strongly that the effort to deal with most illicit drugs is so counter-productive that why we persist with it as a society is a mystery to me.

    I've chilled. Thanks, Z.

    1. The ACT government has just announced that people will be prosecuted if they smoke near a bus stop or a playground in the Territory and, while the same government is fighting the good fight to make needles available to prisoners in the euphemistically named Alexander MacConochie Centre (probably got the spelling wrong there, but who cares actually), they are going to ban all prisoners from smoking anywhere on Centre premises (they already have to smoke outside). There is an impulse abroad to prohibit. It makes me want to turn to drugs. Perhaps I will, starting with a nice packet of fags - I think I'll go up to the local park and sit on the absurd contraption they put there in place of the slide, which was deemed too exciting, (the thing that's there now is baffling and unuseable) - and puff my way through a carton or two, possibly while swigging from a flagon of meths with sherry chasers. This is what the we-know-best-do-gooders have driven me to, sanctimonious swine (and as for the skywhale and the lack of policing of who is parking in disabled parking, which leaves my mother and brother having to hobble miles, while unstickered cars sit happily in the places reserved for them, do not get me started).