Magazine article The Spectator

Favourites and Scapegoats

Magazine article The Spectator

Favourites and Scapegoats

Article excerpt

Favourites and scapegoats

James Delingpole


by Mike Jay

Penguin, L9.99, pp. 416

About five years ago, I wrote a novel satirising the excesses of 'New Lad' magazines like Loaded. One of the scams my imaginary editor came up with was to have a column called 'Me and My Drug' in which celebrities waxed lyrical about their favourite illegal substance. At the time it seemed such a radical idea that I could scarcely imagine it happening. These days, however, such articles are so commonplace that no one would bat an eyelid.

I say this not to boast how clever and prescient I am but to illustrate how public attitudes towards drugs have changed in so short a time. You can detect this, inter alia, in the lack of general outrage when Noel Gallagher declared two years ago that taking drugs is about 'as normal as having a cup of tea'; in the jury's reluctance to convict the Earl of Hardwicke for having supplied cocaine; and in the fact that Penguin feels it worth its while to publish a learned, open-minded, drug-related anthology like Artificial Paradises.

As Mike Jay points out in his erudite introduction, the most interesting aspects of drugs - what do they do? how do they do it? why do people take them? what are their effects on those who do and on the wider society around them? - have tended to be obscured by the political rantings of pro-drug evangelists and anti-drug crusaders. Artificial Paradises (a phrase invented by Baudelaire in one of his treatises on hashish) is Jay's attempt to rectify the imbalance.

Since it is traditional when reviewing anthologies to have a grumble about things you think ought to have been included but weren't, I'll get mine out of the way now: I've never read an acid-trip sequence more spectacularly evoked than the one in Julian Cope's rock 'n roll autobiography HeadOn, and rarely has a psychedelic experience been more amusingly described than in Redmond O'Hanlon's accounts of his experiments with the Amazonian hallucinogenic yoppo. It's an awful shame that neither appears in this book.

In fact, if I were going to level a general complaint about this otherwise admirable collection, it is that it doesn't include enough 'drugs as fun' anecdotes. …

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