PUFF THE MAGIC DRAGON

For years, I firmly believed that the song “Puff the Magic Dragon” was based on a nursery rhyme inspired by the likes of J.R. Tolkien or Andy Pandy, but this is far from settled.  There are those who believe that the song is all about drugs, the more so as it was recorded in 1963, just when flower power was beginning to take root.  Let’s face it, if you weren’t shooting or snorting or puffing on something to transport you in a haze to Honahlee, you weren’t living, just taking up space (or so I am told).

I remember the 60’s, I wasn’t in Chicago during the Democratic convention in 1968 but I was just over the border at McGill with many young Americans ready to lend a hand to those chanting “Hell No, we won’t go” in response to conscription and the Vietnam war.

And then there was Woodstock, three days of love and peace and shooting and snorting and puffing and hard rock and roll.  It was 1969, the age of innocence before Richard Nixon came along and spoiled it all.

Drugs have been with us since the dawn of time, and many have been developed for the good of pharmaceutical companies and made available to mankind so long as you can afford them.  But for as long as I can remember, there remain a class of drugs which in this country at least, are prohibited, because the government, advised by little grey men in white coats, have determined that on balance, they are harmful.

But these broad classifications, ‘A’ , ‘B’ and ‘C’, should not be set in stone, as more and more research suggests that some of these drugs have medicinal properties that could, and should be, explored.

Two surprising omissions from classified drugs are cigarettes and alcohol, but as they bring in billions in taxation, the government is fearful of interfering with the status quo.  But the income from sales of these drugs is offset in large measure by serious and fatal diseases, not to mention the cost of treating and caring for these many addicts.

But governments allow themselves the luxury of dual standards, so the classifications remain.

Every now and then, along comes yet another study about classified drugs which shows that some have significant benefits and should therefore be declassified.  The fact that in the past, prohibited drugs, especially Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, otherwise known as LSD, were popularised by so-called experts who bore an uncanny resemblance to Doctor Strangelove, meant that their benefits were overlooked and the drugs cast into the outer darkness.

The latest craze is microdosing, which consists of ingesting tiny amounts of drugs such as LSD to produce subtle changes in cognitive function.  Yeah! Right on man!  There are kits for sale on the dark side of the Net, but results are spotty, rather like the spots in front of your eyes after a dose, but some of the results are encouraging.

I suppose if a drug caused clogging of the arteries, emphysema, shortness of breath, lung cancer and premature death, any responsible government would ban it.  Not so.  And I suppose if a drug caused mental impairment, vomiting, liver damage and loss of control, any responsible government would ban it.  Not so.  Cheers!

The simple answer to this ongoing debate is to declassify all drugs, and those determined to kill themselves should be allowed to do so.

 

BOTTOMS UP

Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer, has obviously been on the sauce.  How else can she explain her extraordinary outburst about drinking and the risks to health?

My late father used to say: “Give a man a whistle and he’ll want to blow it.”  In the case of Sally Davies, give the woman a title, and she’ll expect to be taken seriously.  Not so, I cry, and I am not alone. And on this evidence, do we need a chief medical officer, if this is as good as it gets.

You may have read her report, the first for 25 years, and frankly, it’s not worth the wait, where she opines that men should not drink more than a bottle and a half of wine a week.  Yes, you read it right, and it gets worse.  She continues, without breaking step or wind, that any drinking is bad for you.  Poor Bacchus, never so maligned!

The goodly dame, of pantomime proportions, trots out the discredited ‘units’ calculations, which have been around since the dawn of time and which nobody, not even she, understands, and undaunted, she waffles on about limiting our intake to 14 units a week, not a day, where she would get my vote.

The problem about these perorations is that they are overkill, and risk being ignored.  According to a number of experts, her ‘advice’ is described at best as vague, inconsistent, and confusing.  Even she admits that her advice may go unheeded, and she is absolutely right, because put in these terms, nobody is going to take her or her advice seriously.  Intelligent people will know, without Davies telling them, that abusing alcohol by excessive drinking is dangerous to the health.  Stupid people, who can’t follow the advice if they wanted to, and they don’t, couldn’t give a flying f**k.

Dame Sally’s advice has provoked comment from learned quarters that I never knew existed.  For example, at the University of Cambridge, there is a professor called Spiegelhalter, which back in the Fatherland means ‘mirror mounts’, strange  or what, and he specialises in the public understanding of risk, I kid you not.  I suspect he’s related to Doctor Strangelove.  Anyway, he states the obvious: “It all seems to come down to what pleasure you get from moderate drinking.”  Wise words indeed.  And then there’s Matt Field, professor of addiction at the University of Liverpool, who states, with wisdom beyond his years: “It’s important to bear in mind that most activities carry some risk.”  I wish I’d thought of that.  Finally, Chris Snowdon of the Institute of Economic Affairs, dismissed Sally and her advice as scaremongering and ordered another round.

Everything in moderation.  So Sally Davies should go back into her box, and if absolutely necessary, emerge in another 25 years’ time with an update which, once again, we will ignore. In the meantime, I shall continue drinking, and when it’s time to go, I shall go with a smile on my lips and a glass of fine cognac to see me on my way.  Bottoms up!

CHEERS

When asked what is the most addictive and destructive drug in circulation today, most people would put heroin or crack cocaine at the top of their list. In reality, it is alcohol, freely available, and the more so since the Licensing Act 2003 came into force.

You may remember the controversy surrounding the Act, which brought the prospect of 24 hour drinking to tippling millions. The thinking behind the Act, as outlined by the government, was twofold: firstly, or so it was argued, abolishing licensing hours would persuade drinkers to ‘pace’ themselves when drinking in public, and secondly, it would avoid the dangers associated with bladdered drinkers being ‘tipped out’ onto the street, all at the same time, and looking for alcohol fuelled trouble. On both counts, the Act has failed miserably. Alcohol is responsible for more violence, in the street and in the home, more diseases, more lost days at work, and a greater drain on the precious resources of the NHS and the emergency services, than all the so-called hard drugs put together. And sadly, there is no light at the end of the tunnel, as alcohol remains freely available, not just in pubs and clubs, but in every supermarket and corner shop in the country. Half hearted attempts are made to persuade retailers not to sell to under age kids, but profit is profit regardless of who’s paying.

And not content with drinking and driving, the Brits are now drinking and flying. Incidents of drunken behaviour on planes have increased by 30% over the past year alone.

As Boris Johnson will tell you, it all started with Dionysus, the Greek God of Wine, and Bacchus, his Roman counterpart. Both were credited with inspiring ritual madness and ecstasy through wine, freeing the drinker from his normal self by releasing his inhibitions. Not much has changed in the intervening two thousand years.

And now word reaches me from across the Channel that binge drinking, thought until recently to be the sole preserve of the British, is now afflicting our French adolescent cousins. Le Binge-Drinking est arrivé! As an aside, it has always struck me as strange that when raising a glass of alcohol, the French say bonne santé, as if drinking and good health are synonymous, and as Boris Johnson will tell you, ‘cheers’ comes from the French bonne chère, meaning good demeanour! Surely a better epithet would be à la mort lent. I knew you’d be interested.

So what’s to be done, here and abroad? It’s tempting to blame it all on Gary Glitter, but you can’t blame him for everything. The Licensing Act should be repealed, with rigorously enforced and much shorter opening hours for pubs and clubs. Licensees must take greater responsibility for their clientele and stop serving alcohol to inebriates, preferably before they become inebriated. If they don’t, they should be closed down and prosecuted. Happy hours and all you can drink for a fiver should also be abolished. The tax on alcohol should be doubled overnight. After all, the government are pleading poverty and empty coffers, so what better way to fill them? And those who have budgeted for twelve pints of mine host’s Old Peculiar will find they can only afford six.

The specific gravity of popular beverages should be reduced dramatically. Get rid of ‘extra strong’ lagers and beers. Old and New World wines are also increasing in SG, something to do with global warming, so add water. Stop serving wine in balloon glasses, which in some cases amount to a third of a bottle, and go back to pub measures. Supermarkets and corner shops should be prohibited from ‘in your face’ displays, and stop promoting BOGOFs. They should also be subjected to the same rigorous selling hours as pubs and clubs.

All this may be a drop in the ocean, but we’ve got to start somewhere. Short of prohibition, it has to be worth a try!