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My First Pandemic

coronavirus

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If you want a break from continuous Covid-19, I have an article coming soon about my Philippines adventures. The photos and memories are an escape from the chaos.

The threat emerged in China. It was awful but far away.

“Don’t go” my aunt begged. But there were few cases in the Philippines. I was going via Singapore. People had spread it at their airport and a London airport shortly before I arrived back, but it was not a common event.

Someone on the plane has a fever.

A poster at a bus stop, beside a nurse who was coughing profusely.

We were hovering over Heathrow when cabin crew marched quickly up the plane, one wheeling a suitcase. There was a flurry of activity up the aisles and a curtain was yanked shut.

“Just to let you know, someone on the plane has a fever” announced the captain. There was stifled anxiety and a father was explaining the situation to his child.

We landed and a health visitor distributed forms. Unlike the cabin crew, reassuringly, he was not wearing a mask, just gloves. Waiting outside the plane a medical professional stood wide-eyed, wearing a hazmat outfit with a clear visor covering her face.

Days passed and I heard nothing, so I forgot about the pesky plague.

Then it came to Italy and coronavirus contaminated my newsfeed.

I’ve got a temperature.

My boyfriend had gone skiing in the North Italian Alps in February and there was a good offer for the Austrian mountains, in Tirol.

“Do you need another ski holiday?”

“It’s not for long” he replied.

I said goodbye on the 1st of March.

“I’ve got a temperature so I’ve come back from work early” the text read, on Wednesday 11th.

He phoned NHS111.

“You haven’t been to an affected area so you don’t need a test” they responded. No mention of infection control.

The first UK nationals returning with the virus had been on holiday to Europe. A friend who had dared to enjoy the Sagrada Familia and Sangria in Barcelona was now cuddling her cat in bed.

sagrada familia

We never get ill. Not like this.

Worried, I text my boyfriend. “What are your symptoms?”

“Headache, aches, sore throat, cough and my chest feels tight”.

“You must isolate.”

“I’ll go back to work when I’m feeling better.”

Day 3:

“How are you?”

“Temp going up and down now. Woke up last night with the heat, had some really weird dreams. It’s strange how a fever affects you.”

loo roll lockdown

On Saturday 14th March the panic started.

It was day 4 of my boyfriend’s fever but it was finally dropping. I wanted to be sure.

I desperately visited every shop in a five mile radius.

Boots nearby? sold out.

Boots in town? sold out.

Superdrug? sold out.

Argos? sold out.

John Lewis? didn’t sell them.

Online? sold out all over England.

This could have put his life in danger. Why were they so selfish? Why didn’t they have thermometers? Why didn’t we have thermometers?

Because we never get ill. Not like this.

The media started announcing a daily coronavirus count. There would be bulk-buying. But to my surprise it was business as usual in the pharmacy that morning. There was still a sense of calm. Everything was in stock apart from most of the paracetamol. I bought two lots of products to ease flu. One for me, one for my boyfriend.

A man in the queue turned and looked at my basket, whispered to his wife and walked to the side to wait for his prescription, staring at me nervously as I purchased the items.

“Is this just for you?” the retailer asked.

“No, it’s for someone else as well” I said smiling, as the shop went silent and people gawped.

I was in Waitrose looking for snacks. The bread shelf was empty. The flour shelf (to make bread) was nearly empty. The pasta shelf? empty. The soap shelf? empty. The medicine shelf? empty. The Vitamin C shelf? empty. The toilet roll shelf? empty. Why? “Well at least there’s still beer” someone joked.

star wars corona 1

A nurse was crying in her car after trying to get food. She has now come down with it too, possibly. My brother came back from an A and E shift in Wales to find his supermarket almost empty. My sister found the same in London.

I was going to see a friend that night when she messaged. “Sorry, I have discussed it and we don’t think it’s a good idea”, explaining that her boyfriend had asthma and sending a link to government advice on social distancing. I don’t know when I can visit her again.

Some people have had to make the heartbreaking decision not to see grandparents,parents, partners or even their own children.star wars corona 2

Only £94 sick pay.

The Prime Minister’s announcement came on Sunday 15th. All those with symptoms were to isolate for seven days. My boyfriend now needed to stay home for another four days.

“Great, that’s only £94 sick pay.”

“Think of the vulnerable and older people you’ll be protecting.”

I went swimming with a friend and we went in the steam room, with no steam. I had not wanted to go in but there was only one other person.

My friend is a cancer survivor and had been told she was “medium” risk. She has now received a letter telling her she was one of the 1.5 million English nationals that could end up in hospital from the virus. She had been out on the town until midnight, should she worry about it? she asked. No, I replied. Better to go out now than at the peak of the epidemic in mid-April or May. I sent her a flowers and wine delivery with some of the last Merlot left in the city. Yesterday I won the last sour cream in my neighbourhood and last week I bought the last two packets of chicken in the supermarket. Yet I was frustrated one day when I forgot to buy the vegetables for dinner and couldn’t make another trip for a single cabbage.

Her colleagues got coronavirus taking blood.

I later read that the virus was easily spread in Chinese gyms. But again the source was not revealed, so could not be verified. Fake news and “medical” advice began to infect social media, including gargling with salt water for “protection” and holding your breath for ten seconds meant you had “virus-free” lungs. You could “wash the virus away from your lungs” by drinking tea and “kill the virus” by sunbathing.

I informed my friend that the “e-mail circulated in a hospital” was  actually government guidelines with a smattering of lunacy.

The only way to avoid contagion is to keep your distance and wash your hands.

But the public think that does not apply if you are outdoors, so now, as of Monday 23rd we are all on lockdown and gatherings of more than two people are banned. Countryside car parks are shut and the roads are almost empty, perfect for cycling. Meanwhile, our heroic key workers are keeping the country going, including my siblings. My sister worked on the “front line” for two weeks without adequate Personal Protective Equipment and four staff at her hospital tragically died. Her colleague got coronavirus taking blood with only gloves on, and survived.

My brother got infected from his girlfriend who worked on a coronavirus ward. Luckily they got off with a cough and fatigue.

From day 4 onwards my boyfriend started to get better.  His sore throat eased and he no longer had a temperature.

A week later, his only irritation was an inflamed nose and a reduced sense of smell. His housemates did not get infected as he kept his distance, wiping kitchen and bathroom surfaces after touching them.

The Guardian has recently reported that around 70% of infectious people have few or no symptoms. With that figure it is easy to understand why numbers are increasing rapidly. This is from a reputable source, a microbiology professor.

Help others more and read the news less.

Now, every time I get home I wash my hands and wipe down anything I have touched before that. I have even started spraying my shopping in case it has been touched by someone who has coughed coronavirus onto their hands. It is so unlikely, but why take that chance.

People suffering from anxiety have told me that the worry around them has made theirs worse.

The most effective way I have found of dealing with the apocalypse is to help others and to read the news less.

One useful story referred to Mutual Aid groups mobilising volunteers on social media. I joined one and bought some items for a local family.

Do you think she’ll get worse?

A family of four was isolating due to their daughter having a cough. She would give me money. I gave her my details for an online transfer instead. The money could have the virus on it. “I will stand three steps away” I replied.

There was the patter of little feet running to the door. A toddler peered up at me with bright eyes.

“She doesn’t seem to have a temperature” I remarked.

“No, she just has a cough” her mother replied.

“She probably doesn’t have it then” I said, hoping to reassure her.

“But children aren’t as badly affected are they.”

“Well no, that’s true.”

“Do you think she’ll get worse?” she asked.

“No, if she’s only got a cough she should be ok, and like you say, children aren’t as badly affected.”

“Will I get it?”

“I don’t know.”

“What if I get it? Will I get it worse?”

“Well have you got a good immune system?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have any underlying health conditions?”

“No.”

“You should be fine then.”

She thanked me and I left, assuring her that I’d message her if I needed anything. I delivered more bread and milk a few days later.

A board read “GO HOME, COUNTRYSIDE OUT OF BOUNDS.”

Last weekend we went on a walk with my boyfriend’s mother. As we expect that he is immune, we were not worried about him spreading it. He will not be able to see them now until the non-essential travel ban is lifted. Roadblocks have begun to spring up on local motorways.

A fast-tracked emergency bill is ensuring that new infection control laws can be enforced.

Walk with Jonny's mum

The beautiful Pigeon Tower above Upper Rivington Reservoir in Lancashire. Copyright literarylydi

I tried to keep my distance from in case I was asymptomatic (infectious but with no symptoms). We also tried to create some distance with groups walking past. It was only a problem if they coughed or sneezed the virus, but better safe than sorry. Irritatingly we ended up sandwiched in between groups of people and sharing narrow paths with them.

No one was willing to keep their distance. We wiped our hands before eating and at the car before we went home, as we had been touching gates.

corona chaos 1

That land is now shut.

On the way home in the Peak District, we saw a board that read

“GO HOME, COUNTRYSIDE OUT OF BOUNDS.”

The streets were nearly empty and older people were all inside, isolating for 3 months.

At least we don’t live in fear of nuclear attack.

But there were people sitting in parks, walking and cycling. I doubt we will see icecream vans for a long time, maybe not even in the warmer months.

I have been watching “Summer of Rockets” on the BBC recently and it has reminded me that things could be worse. At least we don’t live in fear of nuclear attack.

Audio poems are soothing, those who are creative can find comfort in the arts. Those who are practical are doing more D.I.Y, the drilling disturbing my work. But at least I could cook myself lunch and spend the rest of the break shooting hoops.

There are entertaining videos and memes doing the rounds. An unemployed sports commentator has done commentary for everyday events, such as the “South East halloumi-buying champions” frequenting Waitrose.

There was a video of the actor Antony Hopkins playing the piano with his cat on his lap.

corona cuteness

Classic FM/Instagram / @AnthonyHopkins

I have also found it helpful to try not talking about it, to absorb yourself in escapist programmes and do what you can, instead of fretting about what you can’t.

No, we can’t go to schools, universities, gyms, pubs, clubs, cafes, clothes shops or restaurants (as of Saturday). We might not be able to see our family, friends or colleagues in person, maybe even our children.

But we can see them online, as long as the Internet withstands the increased demand.

We can do so many things in our homes or individually to entertain ourselves and exercise, so we must enjoy that.

Stay three steps away from others, don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth and wash your hands when you get home.

The poem If by Rudyard Kipling is good to keep in mind: “if you can keep your head, when all about you. Are losing theirs[…]you’ll be a Man, my son”.

My favourite is Warning, by Jenny Joseph.

As they said in another war: “Keep calm and carry on.”

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A Remote Rural Rave

 

ladybower rave 2

Credit: Alice Burrow

Yesterday there was a “Peace in the Park” festival in Sheffield. This community music event started as protest to the Iraq war in 2003 and last year 8,000 attended.

I walked over four miles home from work and by the time I got there I was tired so I thought I’d save my energies for Peace in the Dark which follows. The location is released on the night in a phone message, the number of which is circulated by word of mouth. It was quite vague, the anonymous voice telling us (in a very Yorkshire accent) to “get t Ladybower [a local reservoir] and it’s dahn t’yer [down to your] left”. I’d never been to a rave this unofficial and was quite excited. Although apparently times have moved on and they’re now called “free parties”.

So after a fair bit of laser raving at mine (thanks YouTube) we set off into the early morning darkness, clinging on to the sides as we hurtled about in the taxi. Luckily the roads were quiet as we tore round corners going onto the wrong side of the road. The taxi driver said he had no idea where it was but he had been dropping people off at the reservoir all night. It was cloudy so we couldn’t see anything but taxi headlights lit the way as we joined an endless stream of people heading off along what is called the “Snake Pass” because it has narrow windy roads threading through the Pennines of the Peak District through to Manchester. We soon left the grey lake behind. The road was totally unsuitable for walking and there were no verges. It was surprisingly busy with cars beeping occasionally at the rabble winding haphazardly along. A police car with flashing lights sped past. “That’ll be on the way to the rave” I declared, “it’ll be over by the time we get there”. “That’s great for positive-thinking” a spectacled girl in front said, “that’ll get you far”. I shut up.

After a while the excitement of walking in the dark with fellow revellers beside pine tree forests, with hills outlined against a grey sky wore off and I began to get frustrated. We’d been walking for miles away from all civilisation and there was still no sight or sound of any activity other than dazed drunken youths asking each other if they knew the location. I began to loudly proclaim that there were no fields around here open to the public and we were just walking out to Manchester, that it was a big joke and I was tired already. My friend stoically and silently continued, compromising that if we walked another 15 minutes and still hadn’t reached it we could turn back.

Finally we heard the dull thuds of multiple sound systems, beating drums beckoning us to ritual raving and pounding to the beat of our hearts as we picked up the pace. A police car with lights flashing was stationed at the top of a track and party-goers were streaming past it and down the hill to the left. As we went past I heard someone inside calling for back-up. We went down the dirt path and gradually the smoke of several fires, crowds and the piles of speakers could be seen dotted about in the greyness. It was quite a sight. I imagined we wouldn’t have long to enjoy it before it was broken up.

I met one of the organisers on the way down, a cheery chap with black curls framing his face. I asked him about the police and whether the party could be stopped. “Nah” he said “they’ve been here since it started at 11 and there’s nothing they can do cos they’d need at least half the number of the crowd to do anything, all they can do is random drug searches which is what they’re doing. Are they still there? Cos I don’t wanna go up if they are.”

ladybower rave 3

Credit: Lauren-Allen Warwick

After deciding not to jump over the barbed wire fence, I opted for the gate at the end of it. It was a bizarre sight walking in. There were people tripping just standing in the field transfixed by the hills above them, muttering to themselves or just staring into space. Then there were quite a lot of people dancing as if they’d been electrocuted, flapping about manically. Others were in big groups inhaling balloons and there was the sound of gas cannisters being filled everywhere and empties lining the grass. People stared into small fires or cuddled each other enthusiastically on the field. The madness was framed by hills all around with a bank of fir trees as a backdrop. We walked round the four sound-systems playing happy hardcore, trance, drum and bass and reggae.

However I was quite distracted by the swarms of biting flies which dived from every angle. I could feel my face and hands burning from multiple bites. I danced near smokers, it is the only time I have been grateful for nicotine addicts.

I desperately started applying hair serum that I had in my pocket over my face. At least the blighters would get trapped in the goo. A guy with framed kind eyes, a shock of dark hair and a neat beard said “is that Merizalene?” “Merizalene?” I looked blankly and he took a spray out of his pocket. I assumed he was discussing some sort of drug but then he said “yeah, insect repellant”. I was ecstatic and coated my smarting face and hands in it.

ladybower rave

Credit: Lauren-Allen Warwick

Gradually it began to grow light but the party showed no signs of slowing. Less people were dancing now but there still hundreds milling about. We decided to call it a night at 6.30 and headed up the track with a great view of the craziness below. Luckily the taxi fare back was helped by others sharing the journey. The aggressive biting midges that hitched a ride with us too were not as welcome. One of the passengers said she was 15 but she looked older, wide-eyed and wrapped in an orange blanket, sitting next to a youth in a multicoloured woven poncho. At her age I didn’t even know what a rave (sorry, “free party”) was!

5.30am and we're still going!

5.30am and we’re still going!

It was a great morning but next time I’m taking insect repellent. My bacon bean and cheese pancakes were a perfect start to the following day.

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Overheard on the Bus – The “Drunk” and Disorderly

police-helmet

Last time I was on the bus I overheard drug addicts excitedly discussing their upcoming fix.

Tonight I was in for a treat again. I was sleepy and so was quite startled by the exceedingly loud tones of the exuberant rosy-cheeked teenager shouting at her gay friend at the back of the bus. She had black ringlets framing a small face, with bright brown eyes. She was very skinny and dressed in a white sleeveless blouse despite the cold. Her friend was short and skinny with styled hair falling into his face.  I didn’t dare look at her for too long, she was clearly volatile.

“I’M DRUNK!” She yelled. “I’ve had SIX SHOTS of JD and coke” [I wondered what sort of coke she was talking  about] AND YOU ONLY HAD ONE!!! YOU’RE SUCH A LIGHTWEIGHT YOU!” JDcan4

Her friend’s comments were mostly too quiet to hear. He was clearly embarrassed of her.

She said proudly: “I AM OFF…MA….TITS!! WE ARE GONNA GET ON IT TONAAT!” [tonight].  

Silence.

“I AM SO DRUNK! A’VE HAD SO MANY JD’s…

A NEED A WEE!!! BETTER CROSS ME LEGS.

I AM OFF MA TITS!!! AND I DON’T CARE! A DON’T CARE [A=I]

I started to get a bit fed up of this rowdy unhinged passenger. We pulled in at the main stop in town. People piled on and she got excited with the hustle and bustle. All these people to get attention from.

“I AM SOOOOOOOOO DRUUUUUUUNK!!! HAD SOOOO MANY JDs. TOO MANY. I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M THIS DRUUUUUUUUNK!! I AM F****** OFF MA TITS! F****** DRUUUUUUNK!

I rolled my eyes. Yep, we get it, you’re “drunk”!

IF ONE MORE PERSON GIVES ME A LOOK I AM GUNNA START. I AM JUST GONNA GET UP AND SMACK EM. A DON’T CARE”

Everyone staring quickly looked back the other way.

“THAT LADY IS A TRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAMP!! LOOK AT HER! WHAT A TRAMP.

Her hair is SO GREASY! EWWWWWWWWWRGGHHH IT’S LIKE A LAYER OF SLIIIIIIME!!

Have you seen it though? Her hair is SO GREASY!! BET SHE AIN’T WASHED HER HAIR IN WEEKS!! WEEKS!!! A WASH MA HAIR EVERY. DAY!!!

DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIISSSGUSTING!!”

Had she run out of steam? Nope. She started shouting again at the top of her lungs.

“I ‘AV PROBATION TOMORROW AT 9.30 INT MORNIN. 9.30!! WHO GOES TO ANYTHING AT F****** 9.30 GETTY_W_102511_ArrestHandcuffed-300x168INT F****** MORNIN. I’m goin aat [out] tonight and I ain’t gonna be up in time. But a don’t care. A DON’T CARE!!! A TOLD THE B**** I AIN’T COMIN’. SHE CAN DO WHAT SHE LIIKES. A DON’T MIND IF A GO T’T LOCKER, FREE FOOD!!”

She cackled.

“A NEED A WEE! OO I COULD WEE RIGHT NAA [now] WHERE I’M SITTIN! WOULD GO ALL O’ER [over] SEATS! A’M TELLIN YOU THOUGH I NEED THE LOO. BEST CROSS ME LEGS I GUESS.

I AM SO DRUUUNK!!”

[oh, thought she’d forgotten about that. I preferred the probation talk. Maybe she’d enlighten us as to what it was for…]

“A HAD SOOOOOOOOO MAAAAANYY JDs!! Didn’t even KNOW A COULD DRINK SO MUUUCH!! A AM BLINDIN DRUUUNKKK.

CAN WE GET OFF THE BUS AN [and] START ON SOMEONE? PLEASE?

Please lets just get off the bus so I can start on someone. A WANNA START ON SOMEONE. NAA!!”

Everyone flinched.

“I DID IT BEFORE an I got in a right lorra trouble BUT SHE DESERVED IT, THE COW. A’D DO IT AGAIN, ANYTIIME! YOU JUST WAIT! You just wait.”

Ah, so that’s why she was on probation. Oh dear. Perhaps she’d add something else to her charge sheet tonight.

Her friend said: “Wait til we get to town luv.”

“OK, I’M STARTIN ON SOMEONE TONIGHT THOUGH. A NEED TO. SOMEONE’S GONNA GET IT.”

Maybe she felt she had something to prove, being so skinny and short.

“Maybe a’ll snort some coke first.”

“A’M DRRRUUUNK! AND A DON’T EVEN CAAAAAAAAARE. A’m gonna miss ma probation. I’ve missed it like, 12 times and she says if a miss it again I’m gonna court. SO WHAT!! A’LL TURN UP IN COURT AND SAY YEAH I COULDN’T BE ARSED TO GO TO MY PROBATION AND I’LL GO TO JAIL! SO WHATT!! A DON’T CAAAARE! FREE FOOD INNIT. HAHAHAHAHA. FREE. FOOD.

WILL YA COME AND VISIT MA? WILL YA?? EVERYONE CAN COME AN VISIT. There’s loads of flippin’ lesbos in there but I DON’T CARE! They can do what they want. HAHAHAHA A DON’T CAAAARE. A’M THAT DRUUUUUNK A’M OFF MA TITS!”

At least she’d stopped swearing. So she did care a little about what people thought of her. Which probably wasn’t a lot right now.

When she got off sighs of relief rang out all over the bus. A peel of laughter reverberated around where she’d been deafening commuters returning home after a long day at work.

“Terrible” a guy said, and everyone burst out laughing again.

She clearly enjoyed herself not just by getting drunk and going out on the town like a lot of people, but also by assaulting strangers just for the fun of it. I hoped the ladette didn’t commit further offences that night and that she did indeed attend her probation appointment, even though she probably would been hungover or genuinely drunk. Oh the youth of today…

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Filed under Life of Lydia, Overheard on the Bus

Overheard on the Bus

It’s going to take a few days for me to charge my holiday camera and write about my incredible Istanbul adventure. I aim to do it for Sunday but I’m making no promises.

One of my favourite blogs “Stuff Heard On The Bus” frequently documents the random conversations you catch bits of during the daily commute. It’s always entertaining and off the wall so I thought I’d give it a go with the odd chat I overheard today…

There is a larger lady in front wearing a turquoise fleece. Thin glasses frame small eyes almost in the middle of her face. Her hair is glistening with a layer of sebum, it hasn’t seen shampoo or even dry shampoo for quite some time. Next to her sits a slim, slight young man with dark features, hollowed cheeks, a short beard and an impish grin. He’s wearing a sleeveless puffer jacket with a hoodie underneath.

He sings: “Ringing da bell, ringiiiing da beeeelll”

“Shussshhhhhh” she says, looking round at me. I look away.

“Look, aa can’t ‘elp it, you know what a’m like, a don’t av an off-switch. Anywe, a thought a was funny!” he sounds hurt.

She smiles and leans towards him, pinching his cheek: “You wahhhr” she says softly.[Yorkshire language. Translation =were, should be “was” but the grammar is incorrect]

We’re at a busy stop and students are piling onto the bus.

“ON CUM DE ANIMALS TWO BA TWO!!”

The passengers stare.

“Sssssssshhhhhhhhhhhh”

“Ssh yourself, ya can be really annoying you”

“Ye but no one wants to hear ya do they”

“How do YOU know?”

Silence.

She leans towards him again and says in a conspiratorial tone: “Soon we’ll be peelin. You’re peelin tonaht'”

[What were they peeling? vegetables? were they cooking dinner together? How romantic.]

“Peeling it, a peelin it” he sings triumphantly, moving a pack of multicoloured lighters into another bag and sticking a rolled up cigarette into his mouth.

“You’re not allowed to smoke it ya know”

“A know, I just like ta chew it, a like de taste”

Peelin it, a peelin it!”

His eyes widen and he bounces on the seat “Soon we’ll be peelin da foil off tha drugs!”

“SSSSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH don’t say thaaat” she looks round yet again.

They get off at the council flats and as they do I’m hit by a strong smell. I don’t know what it is but I don’t want to think about it as I put my head down into my scarf.

*                                      *                                     *

They were clearly so wrapped up in addiction they weren’t concerned with personal hygeine. It was sad and I felt sorry for them. Thank goodness I have never been caught up in a cycle of drug-taking, debt and despair. I can’t think of anything worse. For example, I’ve heard of heroin addicts who give up their own children to the drug and seen how painful that is.

It’s crazy how intensely these peoples’ lives revolve around their next fix. Drugs become their only subject of conversation, when they are going to take it, who will have it first and then who had the most, who used it all up, when and how they are going to get some more. Once they’ve tried a bit it becomes just a bit more and it’s a slippery slope.

Don’t bother with drugs folks, nothing beats a natural high (e.g endorphins, love) and being addicted to it won’t kill you.

Love

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Raving Rules

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I’m a seasoned raver, mostly tame ones in clubs but I have been to the odd warehouse/grimey ones. Drum and bass has changed a lot since I first cottoned on to the genre in 2005. It started off with Jungle influences, then it had a melodic phase and now there’s a trend for the heavy stuff.

I like the communal sense of it – I’ve never seen a fight there, they have a cheerful atmosphere and tremendous energy. The events are fairly cheap but you can dance the night away.

I’ve fallen foul of these rules with unhappy consequences before so here’s a few things to bear in mind…

1. Keep hydrated. Otherwise you wake up the next day with a desert-dry throat after all that dancing and your drink being sloshed all over you, which brings me on to my next point…. 941246_10100943324164589_12932509_n

2. Find a quieter area of the rave with more self-controlled druggies when doing delicate things such as drinking and taking photos. The mosh pit is a dangerous place. Keep a look out for the Joker, there’s always one, bouncing around with no sense of balance or spatial awareness.

3. Be careful what you are standing on. Last night I was informed that I was standing in someone’s sick, unable to be cleaned up due to conditions.

4. Put your smaller valuables in a zipped inner pocket. They will fly out with the force of the crowd and you’ll never find them on the packed floor, they’ll either be stolen or broken beyond repair.

5. You’re not too cool for ear protection and if you are you’ll have whistling driving you crazy.

6. Dance like no-one’s watching. Even if they are, they’ll just assume you’re on a more epic form of substance than they are and be jealous.

7. . WEAR FLAT SHOES.

8 . Spend time in the chill-out room every hour or so to maintain energy levels.

9. Red Bull is fantastic if you want to stay awake and don’t want to alter your brain.

10. When the Red Bull wears off, GO HOME.

Hazard

Hazard

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No Horse-Play with Local Meat

horse-meat_2487414b

There’s a lot to be said for keeping it local. Now more than ever, as it was found yesterday that horse meat containing a banned vetinary drug had entered the food chain from Britain.

“Six contaminated carcasses were shipped from Britain to France”

Traces of the substance phenylbutazone or bute, an anti-inflammatory drug were found, but it is not harmful in small doses. Six contaminated carcasses were shipped from Britain to France, and half had already been processed and is on its way to supermarkets. After previous scandals with our meat, such as the mad-cow and foot-and-mouth disease, it’s a wonder our neigh-bours across the sea still accept our exports.

In France the meat was much less common and considered working-class fare. Now though, it seems they want to see what all the fuss is aboutFrench equine butchers have seen a 15% rise in profits – they still enjoy eating horses for courses but they want it drug-free. Here there has been curiosity about it too, Findus beef “100% horse” lasagne was being sold for £70 on E-bay before sellers were reigned-in.

Although we have shouted about it til we’re horse, many people have already consumed vetinary drugs recreationally – ketamine (K), a tranquiliser causing incontinence, remains popular with 200 000 using it last year, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales. I once saw someone hallucinating with it, hiding under a table, in another world. Perhaps this scandal will affect its popularity.

We already knew ready-meals were bad for us, being high in sugar and salt, but maybe more people will cook from scratch now. I was not caught up in the hype – you never really know whether suppliers have horsed around with your bolog-neihse when when you eat processed food anyway. I was not surprised 200px-Donkey_from_Shrekthat products were beefed up. Then we discovered we’d really been an ass buying cheap meat as donkey was found. Animal DNA kit manufacturers must be ass-tounded by the sales increases.

An upshot of this is that people are supporting their local shops more – The National Federation of Meat and Food Traders reported a 15% increase in sales at independent butchers, as people turn to sources they can trust.

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When I went to my local farm event this week most of the shoppers were interested in the meat, 100% from animals who roam free (less fat).

Reasons to support your local butchers and greengrocers:

1. It may be slightly more expensive, but you get what you pay for – food which is generally tasty, wholesome and organic. My friend and I found that prices were about the same as supermarket organic food, and some products were actually cheaper.

2. Small shops have a vested interest in providing quality products – they need the business, unlike supermarkets who need to get rid of a certain quota. There will always be enough customers for supermarkets, whereas independent stores have to work harder to keep their patrons.

3. By buying local, you’re supporting your community – the farmers, shop owners, and the local customers who rely on the convenience and quality just as you do. The profits go back into your area.

A friend gets a weekly vegetable box delivered which is filled by nearby farms. The products are full of flavour, ready-to-eat and a good size.

I have got into cooking recently and the extra time spent making meals from scratch is well worth it. Using fresh ingredients makes a healthier and tastier meal. Jamie Oliver recommends organic produce but recent studies indicate this is no more healthy or environmentally-friendly than standard varieties. They do taste better though, and you often get more for your money. His Ministry of Food book is inspiring in getting beginners to have a go. It’s easily accessible and he has made an effort to use simple, cheaper ingredients. I would recommend using truffle oil as a treat sometimes though – it adds a rich flavour.

Click this link for more horse jokes.

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Ecstasy? I’m high on life!

Shy FX doing his magic

Shy FX doing his magic

On Friday I went to a drum and bass night.

The most popular reaction I have when I tell people I appreciate this genre is that I “don’t look like someone who likes d ‘n’b”. By this people mean that I’m not a hoodie-wearing law-breaking drug taker.

Unfortunately these events are dominated by illicit substance fans. It seems people are either addicted, feel peer-pressured, or claim that ecstasy helps them to appreciate the music, that sound turns into colour.

I have always appreciated the genre and have never needed anything extra to enjoy it. I sometimes went out with people who dosed-up beforehand. Most of them respected my choice not to mess with my internal wiring. One asked me why. I told him that I want to avoid the damage it causes, and he still did it. Takers will boast about its effects, but they rarely talk about how they were up  for two days or how they bit their tongue so badly it needed stitches. Like smokers, they seem to ignore its ill effects.

alcohol-composite

Then there’s alcohol, another misused substance, and a massive problem with my generation. When I was younger it was cool to drink in excess and then tell proud stories about what you or others did under the influence. You had a badge of respect if you’d manage to blag a beverage underage. At university there would be drinking competitions. In my halls the annual challenge involved running to the four corners of the main square and drinking as much as you could as fast as you could of different beers. Losers would start gagging and run off. The winner got their name on a silver plaque. People did “Centurions” where a group would drink all day aiming for 100 units. A member of my family tried it and “lost”  – luckily he threw up.

Alcohol

I’ve heard of a heavy drinkers who got cirrhosis – liver damage in their 20s. The government thinks they can help by raising taxes on it and imposing limits, but it’s the culture that needs to be addressed. With 10.5 million of us drinking to excess, alcohol misuse costs the NHS billions every year. It has been suggested that teenagers should be introduced to alcohol early on in small amounts, so that it’s not seen as something forbidden and therefore exciting. This was an attitude I encountered among drug users. I think if it was legal like it is in the Netherlands perhaps it would not be so popular or exciting, and could be better regulated. It was good that drug testing kits were available, just as needle exchanges are.

I wonder why Brits feel that we need alcohol and drugs to release ourselves and have a good night out. I was enjoying the beats on nothing but Red Bull. Everything in moderation though – I had 7 in a row once and ended up twitching as if I’d been electrocuted, and was wide awake until the sun came up. I never did it again, just as someone who knocked himself unconscious on a weed never did. Hopefully if we do overdose on a substance we know not to go back there. But sadly in a BBC series, Junior Doctors an A and E doctor told how regular users sometimes returned.

I took this watching DJ Fresh in his home town of Leeds

I took this – DJ Fresh in his home town of Leeds

I like the drama and atmosphere of drum and bass, its melodies interlaced with a beat I enjoy dancing to – it’s all about jumping to the snare! Its liveliness, energy and frivolity appeals to me. I like most aspects of a beats night. Most ravers are friendly and non-judgemental. You can dance however you like and plenty of people do.

It’s like no other music night and that is what keeps me coming back, other than the talent of the DJs. If you have ever tried beat-matching at that speed you may understand (beat-matching is where you get two records running at different speeds playing at the same time, one record in each ear). You have to be careful of flying elbows and people standing on your feet, and if someone’s had too much it’s best to stay away as they have very little control of their body. I’m also different from most ravers in that I always wear ear plugs, and wax ones. That way I hear the bass clearer and don’t get tinnitus, which a friend got after one too many club nights.

I took this - Andy C,, widely regarded as one of the founders of drum and bass.

I took this listening to Andy C, widely regarded as one of the founders of drum and bass.

From a non-substance perspective, the dance floor was heaving with enthusiastic, bug eyed, love-sharing, sweaty swaying ravers. They probably didn’t know who was playing and perhaps they wouldn’t care.

I have been to raves since 2005 and this was the first time I had seen it. There I was bouncing away to Shy FX when there was a commotion next to me. A guy was on the floor. At first I thought he’d fallen over, until I saw the convulsions. He was white and his eyes were shut. I was looking for a bouncer when one came charging over. They put him in the recovery position. He was then carried off unconscious. A pill-head asked me what had happened. When I told him he yelled “there’s always some that take it too far”. I shouted “I don’t understand it, I don’t need drugs to have a good time”, and he looked at me like I was from another planet. To think that I could just go to enjoy the music seemed like an alien concept to him.

Again it’s the culture. Drugs seem on a level footing with alcohol now. They’re taken socially to enjoy the night.

smokers-lungs-comparison1

Where is the line between social drug-taking and addiction? It’s similar to “social smoking” perhaps. But a smoker can laugh about the tar collecting in his/her lungs and say that life is short and that everything kills you in the end. An ecstasy user has made changes to their brain. Why do both feel so good? Because they’re altering chemical levels in the brain. Smokers become dependent on nicotine, the relaxant and ecstasy users to serotonin, a “happy” chemical. I’ve seen both smokers and ecstasy users being jumpy and twitchy in anticipation of their next fix. Ecstasy depletes serotonin meaning that users can suffer depression. Regular users are more likely to get it for longer.

The question is, what can we do to treat substance misuse problems in the UK?  We were all taught about the dangers of alcohol and drugs, but education is clearly not enough to impact on a culture which seems here to stay, and more prevalent than ever. A Leeds taxi driver told me he had seen a sharp increase in cocaine users in the past 5 years and that they were from all walks of life, from CEOs to students. He was shocked that people were taking this substance which electrocutes the brain as if it was normal. Cocaine is one of the most addictive drugs out causes permanent damage. It also alters personality. I once dated a guy who earned more money than he knew what to do with. His brother took coke so he thought he’d try it.

Side_effects_of_chronic_use_of_Cocaine

Before long he was going out to parties doing it every weekend, and became depressed and tired. When I asked him why he did it, and told him how damaging it was he said “yes but have you tried it”. I told him that as you can get addicted from two goes I wasn’t going to chance it. I prefer to live in reality.

I once saw a video on YouTube by a Buddhist monk where he said that the Westerners’ love of drink and drugs was because we were scratching an itch. They were temporary pleasures, in doing it people scratched the itch but it didn’t cure it, it just made it worse. He suggested that people need to look at why they need to take drugs/drink in the first place, what were they trying to escape from?

Trying to escape from a feeling or a thought means that it’s still there in our mind. The saying goes “turn the dogs of fear on fear itself”. When I worked in law a client took heroin partly to escape memories of her traumatic childhood. This caused her to lose her children and sucked her into an addiction spiral. Have the courage to solve your problems or move on, don’t try and deal with them by distraction.

But my point is this. Is a night of pleasure really worth the risk and damage, permanent or impermanent, to the body and mind?

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