Wednesday, 2 March 2022

Vladimir Putin has become today's great enemy of the west - a dictator who sends unwitting Russian boys into a conflict they never wanted and who allows the extreme elements of his military to commit war crimes with impunity. While Russian forces are shelling civilian areas, destroying infrastructure and murdering children, some of their soldiers are sabotaging their own vehicles, refusing to fight and surrendering to Ukraine. 

Ukrainian resistance has clearly been much stiffer than Putin expected, partly thanks to NATO weapons, and things are not going to plan for Russia, to say the least. This leaves Putin with one of two options: either he can choose to escalate an already horrific conflict that is turning his own people against him, or he can seek a diplomatic solution. Given many of his own troops clearly have no appetite for war and have already lost thousands of their comrades in battle, a peaceful solution seems increasingly achievable. 

The peace talks so far offer hope of a way out of this nightmare. There is every possibility we can persuade the Chinese to use their leverage and isolate Putin who cannot risk losing too much support at home. And his oligarchs will surely abandon him as western sanctions hit them in the pocket. Wealth, after all, is going to be much more important to them than loyalty to a dictator. 

A way out that enables Putin to save face will become increasingly appealing as this conflict goes on, so surely, the rhetoric from the west should focus on de-escalation and finding a permanent solution to this crisis. Both the left and the right seem to be getting this now. Yet the one political faction who is not getting this at all is the so-called moderates - the people who unironically call themselves the "grownups in the room".

A large number of moderates have been outright arguing for a no-fly zone (someone please take Dan Hodges' Twitter away from him) and insisting anything less would be equivalent to appeasing Hitler. Other moderates are not explicitly calling for a no-fly zone, but hinting they are leaning in that direction, or at least sympathetic to the argument.

Meanwhile, moderates are screaming at anyone who tries to understand the nuance of the situation (something which is essential if we are to negotiate peace) that they are a Putin sympathiser. The Labour leader is even threatening critics of NATO with expulsion from his party and condemning the Stop the War movement. Perhaps we should be not surprised: it was, after all, this faction that dragged us into illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Clearly, they have learned nothing from their past mistakes.

Let's be clear what these people are arguing for:

A no-fly zone would not be a no-fly zone at all; it would be NATO jets fighting Russian jets in the skies above Ukraine. It would be the start of World War 3 and dramatically increase the risk of nukes being detonated across the northern hemisphere. Even if Putin did not resort to nuclear Armageddon, he would surely start fighting a hell of a lot dirtier than he currently is. Let's not forget he has only used a fraction of Russia's military might so far.

Do we want to risk a situation where Putin is carpet-bombing Ukrainian cities? Do we want to risk a situation where he turns his attention to European cities? Because those things are a distinct possibility, even if nukes are off the table (which they aren't). We would have no choice but to escalate into full war with Russia at that point, and Russia is not Iraq or Afghanistan. It has state of the art weaponry and a military might comparable to our own. It would be a war of equals and the death toll would be unthinkable. 

If you doubt Russia's might, you can always travel to Ukraine yourself and sign up for their military. They would welcome keyboard warriors like yourself with open arms, but I'm guessing you don't want to do this. I'm guessing you simply want working class lads and lasses to do the work for you while you revel in the glory of a war you never fought in, just like you do with World War 2.

Trouble is, this is real life and there is so much more at stake than you showing the world how courageous you are on social media. As horrific as the conflict in Ukraine is, our direct intervention would risk worsening things one thousand fold. Far from saving lives, we would be killing many, many more. 

And what do you think would happen when Russia start losing this war and their cities are in ruins and Putin is on the verge of being captured or killed? At this point, you had better hope his own people refuse to take his orders and arrest or kill him, because you can bet your right arm he will be ready to push that nuclear button. If he is going to die, he is going to take the rest of us down with him.

Now I don't think everyone understands what nuclear war would mean (I even saw someone on Twitter argue it would be preferable to letting Putin win!) so let me explain for the hard of thinking: it would not be a war at all. It would not be a tit-for-tat bombing campaign in which a handful of cities are taken off the map. 

If you push the red button, you know your enemy is going to respond with overwhelming force so your only option is to unleash your full military might at once. It would be a desperate last gasp move to take out your enemy, knowing full well they are going to do the same to you. It would be pressing the self-destruct button of the northern hemisphere and quite possibly the whole planet. Let's not forget western missile defences are maybe 50% reliable and half of 6,000 Russian warheads would be more than enough to do the intended damage.

There would likely be no survivors on an island the size of Britain, and you want to be among the first dead because instant incineration would be preferable to your skin peeling off in the ensuing wildfire. Sorry to be grim, but that is the likelihood.

Further afield, nuclear bombs would kill an estimated 20-50% of the human population, and the survivors would be left to starve in an irradiated wasteland during a nuclear winter that would last for decades - it's plausible this would wipe out our entire species. The most optimistic estimates suggest a reasonable number of people would survive in the southern hemisphere with high cancer rates, common birth defects, and a life expectancy shortened by 10-15 years. Again, this is the most optimistic scenario.

This is why the loony lefties who are demanding peace at all costs are right - they understand the horrifying reality.

A few days ago, I thought the prospect of nuclear war was unthinkable, that no one would escalate to that extreme over a fight for the Russian-speaking Donbas regions of Ukraine. But I never reckoned on the absolute madness we have seen from "moderate" voices, or the way even Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer says he will speak to the prime minister about the possibility of a no-fly zone. 

Starmer did state that a no-fly zone is not his party's policy, but in that case, what the hell is there to talk about? Does he want to leave the option on the table, just in case we change our minds and decide Armageddon would be better after all?

It seems unbelievable that we have to explain to the "grownups in the room" how idiotic their nonsense is, but these are people who scream you down if you dare mention that Ukraine was embroiled in an eight year civil war prior to the Russian invasion - and that civil war left over 13,000 civilians dead. You're certainly not allowed to mention the neo-Nazi Azov battalion in the Ukrainian army, but you are allowed to mention the Nazi elements in the Russian military. You are allowed to criticise Russian imperialism but not NATO expansionism. You are only allowed to state the Ukrainian government is an entirely blameless victim (separatists would beg to differ) and NATO is a purely defensive organisation (Libyans would beg to differ).

The thing is, the above points must be discussed, not to "do Putin's propaganda for him", but because understanding the politics around the Donbas regions, the Ukrainian civil war and NATO expansionism is central to all of this. You simply cannot have a peace process without these things being discussed.

You might prefer to act like this is a Marvel movie and Putin is the super-villain who must be stopped at all costs, but in this scenario "all costs" would likely mean the death of yourself, your family, all your friends and mine too. This really is a time for "grownups in the room" to find peace and the moderates are not behaving like grownups.

Thursday, 24 February 2022

After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence from Ukraine, following referendums in which 90% of voters chose autonomy. These regions consist of roughly 70% native Russian-speakers.

An opinion poll carried out on the day of the referendum found that 94.8% of those who intended to vote would vote for independence, and even if you factor in those who did not intend to vote, 65.6% still backed independence. 

Ukraine argued that any referendum would only be valid if all Ukrainians were allowed to vote - a principle which flies in the face of the right to self-determination. Ukraine has since engaged in an eight year civil war which has resulted in civilian casualties on both sides - 80% (13,000) of those casualties on the side of pro-Russian separatists. Many were killed by the notorious neo-Nazi Azov battalion who are now equipped with state of the art US weaponry. You can see why the separatists are nervous.

The US has been talking about the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO since 2004, and in 2020, Ukraine joined NATO's enhanced opportunity partner interoperability program. From the Russian perspective, NATO bases are appearing all around their doorstep and they now face the threat of a US military base in Ukraine, just 800 miles from their capital. 

As Putin's former bodyguard Viktor Zolotov recently stated, "We don't have a border with Ukraine, we have a border with America, because they are the masters in that country".

NATO member states essentially become satellite states of the US empire. While we call them "freedom-loving democracies", they surrender a degree of their freedom to US corporatism in exchange for security. 

The US is basically an oligarchy and more imperialist than Russia, or as the popular meme puts it: the US is a corporation with an army. If you don't see this, you're probably one of the people living in a middle class bubble - the Waitrose army who would happily send working class kids into war to protect your lives of privilege.

Russia is hardly some blameless victim here, but the notion that Ukraine is a blameless victim and Russia the mindless antagonist is sorely lacking nuance, kind of like when we highlight the Russian/Georgian war in 2008 and fail to mention an EU report found that conflict was triggered by the illegal actions of Georgia. We can acknowledge truths like this without siding with Putin.

Russia is obviously wrong to be launching a military offensive against Ukraine, it's just a shame that neither Russia nor NATO seriously wanted to avoid war in this situation. 

Russia and the US have been engaging in cold war brinksmanship for the last two years. Hardly a week has gone by without the New York Times or Washington Post running a headline about how war with Russia (or China) might be inevitable. There has been a careful process of manufacturing consent for western intervention because NATO needs permission to take whatever action it feels necessary to stop the world's other superpowers threatening US global hegemony. Ten years from now, China will be the world's biggest economy, but a weakened Russia would mean a weakened China.

A drawn out war would be beneficial to the US in many respects - the sanctions and cancelling of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline will hit the Russian economy, as will the cost of war itself. If Russia is sustaining large military casualties, this could impact Putin's popularity at home. The same country that wanted Putin in charge when they thought he was their man, now want him gone so they can install a puppet.

The main beneficiaries of this war will be western arms manufacturers whose share prices are soaring, and oil companies whose prices have jumped by 8% overnight.

While some on the left have mocked the overblown "Russia-gate" in which Russia interfered in elections by sharing a few dodgy memes on social media, only a fool would deny the concern about Russian oligarchs making huge donations to the Tory party. Russia certainly interferes in foreign elections, but then again, so does the CIA. It really is hypocrisy of the highest order when the west accuses Russia of what it too is guilty of. It is incredibly frustrating to see so-called moderates foaming at the mouth over the violation of Ukrainian territory while disregarding worse behaviours from the US and UK.

Many are calling for "robust sanctions" against Russia, whatever that means in practice, but they would never dream of calling for sanctions against the US, next time it decides to illegally invade a country. This is because while we say our sanctions only target figures connected to governments, in reality, they always cause hunger among civilian populations, as Afghans know too well. 

Too many have divided their world view into America = good, Russia = bad, and this is exactly the kind of attitude which enables the imperialist behaviours of the west. We are currently criticising Russia from a moral low ground as though our criticisms of their unacceptable behaviours somehow absolve ourselves of ours. See the problem here? To understand the belligerent attitude of Putin you have to also understand the image that we project on the world stage. We pose a threat to any country that refuses to bow to western imperialism, as every country in Latin America would  testify.

If we really want to stop war, it starts with acknowledging who we are and appreciating that our ongoing military expansion is wrong. A dictator like Putin is not going to back down because we threaten him with sanctions when he is starting a war precisely because he feels threatened. On the contrary, he is only going to feel antagonised into further aggression. 

Now you can yell all day long about how Putin ultimately started this war, but if we look beyond his bluster and the western hysteria about rebuilding the Soviet Union, what we see is a vulnerable man wanting a buffer zone between his nation and the US. If we can have a serious conversation about ending NATO expansion and allowing Russian separatists their democratic right to self-determination, then we might have a chance at restoring peace. But while we screech we will welcome whoever we like into NATO and insist on building endless military bases and look the other way as Russian separatists are killed, we can't sensibly say we did our best to stop war, can we?

Sunday, 20 February 2022

It is so frustrating how otherwise good people get sucked into western imperial narratives. The public are lied to about every conflict that Britain and America involve themselves in, yet every time, some people will tell themselves this one is different. This time intervention is necessary. Their gullibility enables consent to be manufactured, and ensures the anti-war movement is labelled as crazy (just like Stop the War right now), but the anti-war movement is vindicated every single time.

In 2001, if you questioned the narrative, you were pro-Al Quaida. In 2003, if you questioned the narrative, you were pro-Saddam and his WMDs. In 2011, if you questioned the narrative, you were pro-Gaddafi. In 2018, if you questioned the narrative, you were pro-Assad. 

Challenging your government when it's beating the war drum does not make you pro-Putin or anyone else. It's literally what every responsible citizen should do. And remember, the west is happy to support foreign aggression when it comes from one of their allies.

If the US and UK really care about the safety of Ukrainians, why aren't we extending those concerns to the people of The Yemen who are being killed by the Saudis with British and American bombs? If we are so opposed to brutal dictators, why are we training the military of Cameroon who are butchering their own people? If we are so opposed to annexation, why do we keep giving Israel a free pass?

The fact is the US and UK are okay with crimes against humanity that are committed by our allies, especially if there is an opportunity to make profit. Let's not forget that we helped install Putin because we thought he was our guy and we looked the other way when he was invading Chechnya. 

Putin is not a saint, clearly, but to pretend that anyone who opposes western intervention is Pro-Putin is simply absurd. History shows there are always consequences to our interventions and there is almost always a better way. Some of us don't want to rely on the benefit of hindsight this time and we don't want to be hypocrites.

Consider our illegal conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Would Russia have been justified in intervening then? Should they have given state of the art weaponry to Saddam or the Taliban to help them kill our troops? If your answer is no, but you support western intervention now, ask yourself why the double standard?

It's time to stop dividing the world into good and bad guys and try to understand the complicated reality. The truth is the behaviour of so-called defensive alliance NATO is aggressive expansion. After promising not to expand one inch east, they have been doing just that, installing US military bases in Europe and pointing their missiles at Russia. 

Remember when Russia installed a missile base in Cuba? That was the Cuban missile crisis and everyone agreed it was a huge act of aggression. Now imagine if Russia had also installed missile bases in Canada, Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and half of Latin America. Imagine they were now pushing for a military base in Puerto Rico. Americans would feel pretty damn intimidated, wouldn't they?

Now let's bring this a little closer to home. Imagine that rather than NATO spreading into eastern Europe, a military alliance with Russia was spreading into western Europe. Imagine how you'd feel if that alliance wanted to move into Ireland. The thought is pretty claustrophobic, right?

You can argue all day long about how any country is free to join any military alliance it likes. This is true, but if you want to join such an alliance, it is foolhardy to not consider how your neighbours might react to such a move.

The behaviour of the Russians is so very far from perfect, but things are less black and white than is often portrayed by the media where nuance is sorely lacking. 

Many people in Eastern and Southern Ukraine speak Russian and there are many pro-Russian separatists. The US and UK are currently arming neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine who are chomping at the bit to butcher these people. Remember when we armed "friendly" rebel groups in Syria and it turned out we were really arming ISIS? Well, it looks like we are making the same mistake all over again.

Thankfully, the calmest head in the room is the Ukrainian president who is far from great, but at least calling out the hawkishness of the west and asking our media to calm down. He understands that we're inflaming the situation with our rhetoric, but there are reasons why we're talking the way we are.

Our governments need the public to be afraid - this is how they obtain consent for increased military budgets and fund our proxy wars. Our governments need former Soviet states to be afraid - this is how to push them into the arms of NATO and the EU. And I haven't even gone into the politics surrounding gas pipelines, but needless to say, we have economic and strategic interests, which are not necessarily the same as Ukrainian interests. 

If military conflict does break out, then we will continue arming the Ukrainians and position ourselves as their selfless allies. We will tell our public that our motives are to keep the Ukrainian public safe, rather than increase profits for Lockheed Martin and BAE. We will hail the conflict as proof that Putin was the only villain in the equation and we will infantilise the public who will sadly lap this up. However, armed conflict would be entirely unnecessary, and if the west just backed off and let Russia and Ukraine talk, we'd probably find diplomatic efforts went a lot more smoothly.

Saturday, 19 February 2022

Facebook is accusing its users of spreading fake news if they dare mention that some companies are enjoying record profits during inflation. The thing is, Facebook is not disputing that these companies are enjoying record profits during inflation because that claim is factually correct. Instead, they're saying that inflation is not caused by the record profits, therefore, the posts are false or missing context.

Here's the thing, Facebook: You do not need to be an economist to see that any company enjoying record profits has no need to inflate their prices. If they are doing so, they are doing it because of corporate greed. At this point, any external factors become irrelevant.

What's particularly disturbing here is how Facebook does not seem to be making a sincere attempt to counter fake news at all. It looks like the latest in a long line of attempts to control the narrative. Rather than allow genuine pluralism on their platform, they're pushing a centrist, pro-corporate but socially liberal agenda to create the illusion of balance. They're pissing off both the left and the right wing under the false notion this is equivalent to objectivity. Yet it's the very opposite of objectivity. It's manipulation.

I fell foul of Facebook's "fact checkers" myself last year when I made a post which was labelled as fake news, even though the gist of the post was correct. I had facetiously suggested Serco had "magically disappeared" the £37 billion test and trace budget, but what I was essentially doing was questioning where the money had been allocated. Only a fool could have taken that line literally. Facebook did, saying the post had "no basis in reality" and they reduced the visibility of my Facebook group as a result. To this day, if I post in my own group, the visibility of my posts is much lower than they used to be.

Here is the screenshot of the original post that I'd shared from Twitter onto Facebook:

If I'd changed the words "that Serco magically disappeared" to "allocated to the test and trace program", my post would have been 100% accurate. Instead, Facebook said it had no basis in reality. With a few Google searches, you can check my claims yourself and find out if they have any basis in reality.

It gets even better. Serco personally thanked Full Fact on Twitter for doing their "fact check" on me. It genuinely looked like someone had put them up to this.

This is not tackling fake news. That would come with only targeting posts that make objectively false claims, like for example, if I said Joe Biden had just kicked a puppy on national TV, you could say that statement is objectively false. But then again, what if the post was satirical?

Facebook should not be intervening when there are ambiguities and when posts stray into subjective opinions or satire. Only in the most clear cut cases of fake news, should they be applying a warning label or de-boosting someone. Instead, their staff are going into every political group and page and applying these questionable warning flags. This is a huge attack on free speech.

Sunday, 6 February 2022

He is like a turd that will not be flushed.

Sorry to be crude, but you know immediately who I'm talking about, don't you?

He refuses to be flushed, even though no one wants him, even though his approval ratings have fallen through the floor and his staff are fleeing from the sinking ship like rats. Okay, I'm mixing my similes now, but whatever, he has been an unmitigated disaster.

Thanks to his leadership, or rather lack of leadership, we are facing a cost of living crisis. Well, by we, I actually mean middle-class people. Us working class folks have always been facing a cost of living crisis and now millions of middle-class people are joining us, so hi, welcome to the club!

You're about to learn what we've been banging on about for years. You're about to understand all the issues you ignored because you thought you knew better (socialists excluded). You're about to learn everything you previously understood to be common sense was bullshit and the people you called loonies were right all along.

By now, you can probably see how bat-shit insane someone like Kirstie Allsopp sounds when she insists poor people can easily get on the housing ladder, as long as we're willing to move to cheaper areas, like we're not already living in those cheaper areas, on minimum wage and zero hours contracts with no chance of saving for a deposit. 

Privately-educated Kirstie had to go without her gym membership and ask for a little help from her father, Charles Allsopp, 6th Baron Hindlip to get on the housing ladder, aged 21. It's that easy.

Hands up everyone who has never been able to afford a gym membership, let alone a mortgage deposit?

If you've recently gone from middle-class to struggling, you're about to find out just how unbearably patronising Tories like Kirstie Allsopp can be. Prepare to not be as polite and measured in your responses as you once were because poverty can make people cranky.

You see, the art of conservatism is to give us the absolute bare minimum they can get away with and only offer a little more if we kick up an almighty fuss. And even then, they don't give us a fraction of what we need and they brag about their generosity like we should be grateful. 

Why do we accept this? Why are we always grateful for the absolute bare minimum when rich people are doubling their wealth? Well, we don't actually and we're not. It's just that we've always been outnumbered by people like you who sided with the likes of Kirstie Allsopp or Boris Johnson. Hopefully, we are reaching a tipping point and that is about to change.

It seems astonishing that after all the terrible things Boris Johnson and other Tory leaders have done, that a few parties are what could finally bring him down, but in another way, it makes perfect sense. People get mad when they see other people having the freedom to do things they can't, and middle-class people seeing someone holding parties when they couldn't hold parties filled them with rage. 

Now think about how mad you'll be when you can't afford to put the heating on, but your MP is claiming £3,500 for his heating bill on expenses.

The prime minister told us our heating bills would come down after Brexit and they are going through the roof. He told us unemployment had dropped by 440,000 when it's gone up by 600,000. He told us crime had dropped by 14% when it's actually gone up by 14%. He omitted fraud to come to that last figure, which is ironic when you consider Rishi Sunak has written off £4.3 billion of fraudulent Covid loans, many of which seemingly went to the Tories' mates. 

Don't forget these fuckers are introducing a national insurance rise throughout this utter shambles and the non-stop pathological lies. And even worse, any politician who has the balls to call out their lies gets kicked out of parliament. Imagine that! Imagine the prime minister being free to lie in parliament and the people who highlight the lies facing punishment. That's our "democracy" for you.

We live in a country where only the rich and powerful have representation because they buy that representation through "donations", but amusingly, this doesn't always work out for the corrupt billionaires. 

Take Telecoms mogul Mohamed Amersi, for example. He donated £200,000 to the Tories and now wants a refund because he got nothing in return! Amersi says he was excluded from "elite gatherings" and denied "prizes" like breakfast with Boris Johnson. He is complaining that he attempted to buy access and the Tory government ripped him off. If this doesn't show how corrupt our system is, I don't know what does.

But it's a mistake to call the system broken because this is capitalism working exactly as intended. The reality is the economy is doing fantastically. It's just that it's doing fantastically for them. It was never really your economy and it was certainly never ours. They just let you have a little more than us so you would side with them against us. Thanks for that.

But anyways, you're on our side now, so time to do some thinking.

Have you noticed how whenever the country is in a crisis, the working class are always asked to go without? We could easily ask the rich to pay their way, but instead, we must have a cold house in winter so they can keep getting richer. The entire system is a massive scam and now you're one of the people being scammed so you don't think the scam is fair anymore.

If anyone still needs proof of the contempt they hold us in, just look at the way Tory MP Karl McCartney spoke to Andy Burnham recently, actually coming out and saying Burnham was not representing his constituents because he dared criticise the government. "Do not bite the hand that feeds you," he said.

Some of us have been living this shit our whole lives and we wanted better too, but we were cut out because there wasn't enough room in the middle-class. Making room would've meant the rich sacrificing too much wealth - and by "too much", I mean not even enough to put a meaningful dent in their lifestyles. We mean that little to them.

There was a caller on This Morning recently who was desperately explaining how she couldn't feed her kids because her financial situation was impossible. Rochelle Humes and Alison Hammond agreed to send this poor woman £500 to help her out and some idiots were presenting this poverty porn as a feel-good story, rather than a scandal this was happening in the 6th richest nation on Earth.

Imagine believing there was no better way to allocate the nation's resources than the way we are now. Ordinary people deserve leadership from a compassionate and competent government. We deserve policies. We deserve hope, but instead we are told our living standards will continue to fall, and for those on the breadline, a further fall in living standards would mean destitution. Welcome to Boris Johnson's golden age.

Sometimes, I think back to when I was a kid, when I would lie under my bed and daydream about the hoverboards and flying cars of the future. I wasn't sure if we would have those, but I knew technological advance would surely lead to the advancement of humanity. I knew economic growth would be shared among all. I knew we were leaving the old ways behind. It never occurred to me, the first thing we would do with robotics was create killer robodogs (yes, they're real), but that's the world I ended up in. A world of control through intimidation with a veil of democracy that anybody could see through, if they were willing to admit their privilege was based upon lies. 

Back then, way back in the 90s, everyone understood the old ways were wrong; they could see plain as day the damage they had done to our region, our livelihoods. At least everyone I encountered understood, and the other people who'd voted for this, they weren't that bad, surely. They could see what they'd voted for had not worked out as promised. How could they not see?

Fast forward to today and those 10 to 15 years of failed neoliberalism have become 43 years of failed neoliberalism. It was Albert Einstein who said: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." But we were forced to keep doing the same thing over and over because it was the only way, according to the selfish and the gullible.

"Boris Johnson saved us from Corbynism!" they insist as everything bad they claimed would happen under Corbyn, happens on their watch, but at least we didn't get universal fibre broadband, that would have been terrible. Policies are not supposed to help the poor.

Remember at the start of the pandemic, when they were giving the middle-class vouchers to eat in restaurants? Now they're making the working class skip meals to repay loans to energy companies they never agreed to take out. £200 loans that some people will never receive, but still have to pay back. Yes, you read that right! People will be repaying energy loans they never actually received. First time customers, for example.

The Tories deliberately have this upside-down because their ultimate goal is a system in which the working class are voiceless. They yearn for a time before the union movement when we just had to do as we were told. The bastards would bring back workhouses if they could.

In 1979, our society was split in two by Thatcherism and the post-war social democratic consensus was destroyed. The country became dog-eat-dog. It was not enough for the 2/3 of boomers who voted Tory to enjoy their free higher-education and buy their own home at a bargain price. They had to buy up the other homes at bargain prices too, before their peers had a chance to get on the housing ladder. They absolutely shit on their own working class peers so they could leave them behind. And what came next?

In the blink of an eye, a huge chunk of a single generation turned itself into a parasitical class. They became the landlords who took half our wages, voted away our working rights and rigged the system against us. It was so easy to rationalise though. The system had rewarded them for their hard work, so if the kids dare highlight the issues they face, they're just being "woke". They're starting a "culture war".

Can these idiots even hear themselves? They would not last two minutes in today's job market, but they don't need to, of course, they escaped the clutches of capitalism so fuck everyone else's material needs. They know they need us, but they don't care about what we might need from them. In a fair system, the people who tell us to earn our way would have to earn their way too and it would be hilarious to see them try.

Millennials and gen Z don't get to have anything. They must forever be trapped in this cycle of negative money, working constantly, never having time to see their friends. And now the system boomers created, the system they refused to acknowledge was failing, is crumbling. That system is finally hurting some of you and soon enough, it will be hurting them too. It took for the middle-class to get a taste of the working class experience for some of you to consider we might be human beings too. The situation became unacceptable when you were personally affected for two fucking minutes.

The working class have been living this shit for 43 years. Choosing between heating and eating is nothing new to us. I remember living in my bachelor pad in my twenties and wrapping myself in a blanket, mid-winter, while I was fully clothed and still freezing. My neighbours were clearly doing the same because I was living in an apartment block and I sure as hell wasn't receiving any warmth from their apartments.

So yeah, this cost of living crisis is just called normal life for us and now it's becoming normal life for you too. So here's the deal: we need to fight this together, and whatever solution we find cannot take us back to the status quo where you're okay and we're being shit on. Going forwards, we need systemic change so roll your sleeves up because they're going to come for you like they came for us. The best way to overcome that is to stand in solidarity, to recognise that we are all ultimately working class. Yes, even you

In reality, there are just two classes in society - the capitalist class and the working class. You kidded yourself that you were closer to them until they inevitably shit on you too. You sided with people who would turn you into human batteries if they could, if that would make them money, if they thought they could get away with it. You sided with people who only protected your privilege, to protect their own, to stop you finding your class consciousness and demanding change. Don't make that mistake again.

Thursday, 20 January 2022

I'm not the type of person to take comments from the Labour right-wing to heart because they're really not worth my attention. Don't get me wrong, I often find that lot irritating or frustrating, but they don't usually impact me on an emotional level, and yet recent comments from Rachel Reeves have somehow done just that.

Now, if you're unfamiliar with Rachel Reeves, she is the Labour Shadow Chancellor who once proudly boasted of being "tougher on benefits claimants than the Tories" which should immediately tell you she is in the wrong party. But to remove any doubt, read the following post on Twitter from Aaron Bastani about Reeves' recent comments:

Rachel Reeves is saying quite clearly that the Labour members, who joined the party under Jeremy Corbyn, not only never shared the party's values, but are antisemites and were never welcome. These words are horrendously insulting and quite frankly unhinged.

Reeves completely overlooks that Jeremy Corbyn won two leadership contests by a landslide and won his first contest based on votes from the existing membership in 2015. Clearly, the Labour members of the time absolutely did share Jeremy Corbyn's values, as did the unions, so it's strange that Reeves thinks 150,000 others who were inspired by Corbyn did not. Plus, political parties are supposed to attract the public to their ranks, not drive them away. It seems utterly bizarre that Jeremy Corbyn's ability to inspire the downtrodden could be portrayed as a bad thing.

Labour is supposed to represent the downtrodden, but alas, Rachel wants to be tougher on us than the Tories are. Let's not forget that in towns like mine, pretty much every family is in receipt of Universal Credit, and Rachel thinks being tough on our kind is a Labour value.

One of the most galling things about this whole farce is how Labour is welcoming Tory MP Christian Wakeford into the Labour Party. This is a man who voted against the £20 Universal Credit uplift and against meaningful action on climate change. A Tory through and through. If you're excited about conservatives joining your party and you're excited about socialists leaving your party, you're a conservative. It really is that simple.

Something tells me the man who founded the NHS would not have been so welcoming to Mr Wakeford:

"That is why no amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party that inflicted those bitter experiences on me. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin. They condemned millions of first-class people to semi-starvation." Nye Bevan

You don't get to lecture people on Labour values when you're alienating the unions who helped found your party and welcoming an MP who last year called that same party a "bunch of cunts". Imagine being a member of Bury South CLP and finding your new Labour MP is a Tory who believes in all the things you've been campaigning against. What a slap in the face.

This kind of nonsense is exactly why I left the party - not because I didn't have Labour values but because the party no longer did - and what's worse is neoliberals rigged internal party democracy to ensure the left never reclaim their party again. The vision of Keir Hardie is dead.

I may no longer be a member, but I am proud to be one of the people who joined Labour after Jeremy Corbyn became leader. I would therefore like to explain exactly why I did and exactly why the comments of Rachel Reeves were so hurtful.

If we rewind back to 2015, I did not know a huge amount about Jeremy Corbyn, but I was casually interested in the Labour leadership contest. I was not particularly enthused by Labour after the disaster of Tony Blair but still very much of the mindset the Labour Party was the only option for the working class. I was going to vote for Labour at the next general election or I was going to vote for no one.

Now, as I've written many times on this blog, I've lived a fairly tough life. I grew up during the Thatcher years in a council estate in a forgotten northeast town. We had close to nothing and every child was consciously aware of the damage Thatcherism had done to our communities. All the parents would bemoan that there was "nothing for the kids to do". Anyone who wanted a better life had to move away and those that could move away, did. We had few constructive ways to occupy ourselves, and as we grew up, crime and drugs were just part of our lives. Our town had over 90% youth unemployment and there was no sign of things improving any time soon. It's worth pointing out these difficulties continued during the leadership of Tony Blair.

It wasn't until my mid-twenties that I was in stable employment, and even then, working full time and earning promotions at work, I would run out of food days before the end of the month and I was scared to switch the heating on because of the extortionate bills. This way of living is normal where I'm from, of course, and it's bullshit.

This is precisely why, if you speak to people from towns like mine, they are so desperate for systemic change - we've been left behind. Indeed, this is why Brexit happened.

People hate the establishment because it provides us with little or no opportunity. If you browse the JobCentre, you'll be hard pressed to find a single job offering £20k that doesn't want a Master's Degree and a string of qualifications and years of experience. And this situation absolutely is not just a product of Tory rule, it's also the legacy of Blair and Brown who privatised more of our economy than Thatcher, stopped building council houses and destroyed the housing market.

Now I'd never been party political, but from 2010 onwards, mostly thanks to the internet, I was becoming politically aware. I was seeing videos from the US from politicians like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who were speaking up for the working class in a way Tony Blair never did, and I wondered why we didn't have the equivalent voices over here. Where was our Bernie Sanders?

Then I saw the guy called Jeremy Corbyn running for the Labour leadership and he felt like a breath of fresh air. "Thank God there is someone talking about the issues that matter to us!" I said at the time. And the more I listened to Jeremy, the more his message resonated with me.

Now I've no idea what Rachel Reeves thinks people like me were looking for when we decided to join Labour after 2015, but the absurd Jew-hating caricature in her mind has no basis in reality.

From my perspective, issues like Israel/Palestine and antisemitism just weren't conversations I was ever part of. These things were not on my mind when I joined Labour. My only thoughts on Israel and Palestine were that I wanted both sides to co-exist peacefully, so it's extremely offensive to be lumped in with a tiny minority of antisemites who represented 0.05% of the Labour membership. The rest of us who joined Labour in the Corbyn years abhorred those antisemites too.

I joined the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn because I was tired of my region being left behind by neoliberalism. I was tired of the stagnating wages, the unaffordable rents and mortgages, the lack of job and education opportunities, and I was so incredibly angry that as one of the most gifted kids in my school, I was never given a fair shot in life. My potential was wasted.

I just wanted a leader who was prepared to discuss these regional inequalities, someone who was willing to listen to working class concerns and come up with a plan to address the problems that we faced. In particular, I wanted a better future for my children, not least because we are living on a dying planet which so badly needs radical change to save it. Anyone who doubts that simply doesn't understand science.

Jeremy Corbyn was prepared to offer leadership on issues that centrists rarely even want to discuss. One thing I realised as I was developing a class consciousness is that is what they are referring to when they call us "hard left". They simply mean a working class person who is becoming politically aware and understands we need to dismantle the structures which are causing so much harm in our society.

I grew to understand those structures are built on capitalism and those who don't want to dismantle them hope to financially benefit from them. Just look no further than Sir Keir Starmer sending out begging letters to corporations now that the membership money is drying up. He has left the Labour Party on the verge of bankruptcy because neither ordinary people nor unions want to financially support his neoliberal project. This is because it would take the country in the exact wrong direction - it would exacerbate problems that have destroyed our communities for 43 years to enrich billionaires.

Under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour was able to move away from corporate donors and take on the Murdoch empire - these are unquestionably good things. A Labour Party should never be beholden to capital interests which are at direct odds with the interests of the working class.

I had naively assumed Jeremy Corbyn would receive praise from his party for bringing in so much revenue and a huge surge in support - the biggest surge of any leader since Attlee in 1946. Instead, the Parliamentary Labour Party were horrified by Corbyn's initial successes and it became clear whose side they were really on. This was not simply about them having different ideological views on how best to run society. This was about them consciously favouring the needs of corporations and billionaires over the needs of the working class while pretending more neoliberalism is what the working class really wants. We all know this nonsense is what the Tories are about, but it turns out this is what Labour is about too.

And before anyone screeches that the public does not want socialism (they mean social democracy), it's worth pointing out that poll after poll shows about 2/3 of the electorate want our public services to be nationalised. They're not idiots. They know that privatisation has led to rip-off prices, shoddy services and one private contractor after another going bankrupt after taking huge tax-payer subsidies. Neoliberalism is a scam.

Yet today we have a Labour Party where anyone left of centre, anyone who suggests a shift from the blatant failures of neoliberalism is marginalised, and anyone who self-identifies as socialist inevitably receives a suspension letter, often for the most spurious of reasons. Imagine a Labour Party that wouldn't even have room for someone who shares the politics of its founder Keir Hardie. That is Starmer's Labour - a neoliberal capitalist party that will continue injecting the market into every part of our lives, including, quite horrifyingly, the NHS. 

Is that a true Labour value, Rachel Reeves? When Attlee and Bevan were founding the NHS, did they want US corporations to run it for us and cream off profits? Was that part of their grand plan? Or were they socialists who understood the market should never be allowed anywhere near certain parts of our economy? Who understood that some things are sacred and should prioritise human need, not human greed?

When Keir Hardie founded Labour, was his goal to rig the economy so corporations could extract profits and tax-payer subsidies from every section of it? Or was his goal to reclaim the means of production for the working class and abolish capitalism and landlordism? Because if you read about that guy, or indeed Attlee or Bevan, you will quickly find they are exactly the kind of people you call "hard left".

"By inherited instinct we are all Communists at heart" James Keir Hardie

The irony, of course, is that there was nothing "hard left" about what Jeremy Corbyn was offering and it was so very far from communism. It was simply bog standard Nordic-style social democracy. We wanted to move away from the neoliberal capitalism that has given the UK the worst regional inequality in the developed world and move towards an economic system that has given Scandinavia the best living standards on Earth. We simply wanted a better country for everyone and a sustainable planet to live on. We wanted hope.

Like I said at the start of this article, not much upsets me, but Rachel Reeves comments really stuck in my throat. And I suspect this is because we were willing to give so much to the Labour cause with the noblest of intentions, only to effectively be spat on. I would like Reeves to look me in the eye and explain exactly why she thinks its okay to talk about people like me like we're the scum of the Earth for wanting better lives.

Thursday, 6 January 2022

So I'm back to writing again after taking a break due to my crappy health and Christmas and having a six month old baby and just generally being exhausted, and on my return, I want to write about drugs. Yes, drugs. This is because during my time away, both main political parties spoke out against the decriminalisation of drugs. The leader of the Labour Party mumbled some nonsense about how decriminalisation would contribute to organised crime, failing to consider the many ways you could safeguard against this, or the successes of Portugal with decriminalisation. It seems we are back to 1980s socially-conservative talking points.

I want to write about drugs, not because I'm a huge fan of them or a user, but simply because I suspect we have abandoned the approach of having an honest conversation. Politicians want to return to vilification and that approach leads nowhere good, not least because it actually seems to increase drug use and certainly increases prison populations.

Coming up are my experiences with drugs, the good and the bad. Everything you are about to read is 100% true, or at least as best as my memory serves me, but obviously if I mention real people, I will be changing their names. I don't want to embarrass anyone or land them in trouble!

As a child, I occasionally witnessed people high on drugs because drug use was pretty common on our council estate. I witnessed a guy from our local boxing gym visit my next door neighbour and loudly ask if she had any speed, in front of about twenty kids. I witnessed a man who was clearly off his nut, push an old lady aside in a parked car to steal her radio. I witnessed one of the local dads proudly smoking a joint as he walked his kids back from school and I witnessed the row when his wife spotted him!

Drugs were normal where we lived and yet I never had a positive view of them, partly because I was sternly warned away by my mother. I saw drugs as dark, dirty and unsettling, and always promised I would never touch them. 

I genuinely believed I would honour this promise, but then my teenage years arrived, along with peer pressure. And me and my mates were already regular binge-drinkers before we'd reached our teens, so the transition to drugs was inevitable.

My friend group involved Gaz, Carl and Brian. All three of them were idiots. I was the smart, sensible one, relatively speaking, and I hated being the smart, sensible one.

By the time we were fourteen, some of my peers were already sneaking off to a local rave on weekends and taking ecstasy. And even though I was not involved and still had a negative view of drugs, that darkness and dirtiness was slowly giving way to intrigue. Gaz was the first among my friend group to sneak off to the AfterDark and I remember vividly the reaction of his mother (who was like an aunty to me) when he returned home after being out all night. He could barely speak as they met at the front door and she was yelling, but then stayed at his bedside as he slept, in case he choked on his vomit and didn't wake up.

Gaz was the first among us to drink alcohol, the first among us to hang around with older kids and do drugs and everything he wasn't supposed to do, and as a result, his mother was always a nervous wreck. And, of course, the rest of us eventually followed in his footsteps because we did not want to feel left out. We wanted to be in the in-crowd. And in our town, the in-crowd was, let's say, a bit dodgy...

I was well into my rebellious stage when my mates scraped some money together one Saturday and excitedly suggested we visit a nearby drug dealer and buy a "tenner deal". Next thing, I was being dragged along, more nervous than excited, and I found myself squeezing into a caravan on the drug dealer's drive so he could smoke bush with a bunch of children. Nice guy.

Now I've no idea if bush was so-called because there was any difference to other types of weed or if it was just an alternative name. I never bothered asking. But I do remember nervously taking the joint and thinking how unpleasant it tasted as the smoke rushed down my throat. I never even smoked cigarettes, apart from when my friends in the smokers' corner at school left me a couple off their cigarette. But now I'd found myself smoking weed. Drugs. Exactly what I'd promised I'd never do and genuinely believed it.

Suddenly, here I was, breathing in that smoke and being mocked for not inhaling properly and feeling like I'd transitioned into a much darker place. Our council estate was pretty rough, but I'd always been encouraged to stay on the nicer side of it, away from the bad influences, and finally here I was in their world. It was daunting and while I can't say I particularly enjoyed the initial experience, it certainly felt compelling, like I had to be there. I got the sense I did not quite belong but also the sense I was becoming someone else. 

My memory of that day is a little vague, but the next thing I remember is sitting on Carl's flee-ridden bed, laughing at the Animaniacs toys on top of his TV. The earlier touch of paranoia had worn off and I was in fits of giggling until the pair of us fell asleep on his bed and woke up sometime later, dry-mouthed and hungry. Those are the effects cannabis - paranoia, giggling, sleepiness, dry mouth and hunger, so if you've never smoked it, that's what you can expect, aside from a brief and overwhelming burst of creativity, which some of the world's greatest artists have taken advantage of.

Cannabis use in moderation is actually perfectly fine for most people - it's safe, relaxing and not particularly damaging to your long-term health, but what you certainly don't want to do is overdo it. Cannabis in excess can mess you up - which leads me onto my next experience. Buckets.

Now buckets are more elaborate than a simple spliff and a nightmare to construct when you're a clueless teen with only a vague understanding of how they work, but a bucket is essentially this:

A three-litre bottle with the top cut off, filled with water, and a two-litre bottle with a bit of gauze and cannabis sitting on top. You place the little bottle into the big bottle and light the cannabis as you pull the big bottle up. The vacuum sucks cannabis smoke into the top bottle and then you remove the gauze and suck all the smoke out in one go.

If you are an inexperienced cannabis user, do not do this! In fact, just don't do this, full stop. It's not good.

One night, we were sitting in the council house of Caroline, a twenty-three year old mother of three, listening to our hardcore rave music, and yes, we were all still fourteen, so God knows why Caroline was hanging around with us. Anyways, my mates decided it would be a fantastic idea to have buckets in her bathroom. I did not want to do this, but I wanted to say "no" even less, so I waited in a bedroom as everyone took turns going into the bathroom. I felt pretty sick as it came to my turn and Gaz said he was going to pull me a pea soup - that's basically a really strong, bright green bucket.

I watched wide-eyed as bright green smoke filled that bucket and Bri insisted I suck it up all in one go. "Just suck really hard," he said. And I did. Too hard.

I knelt over the bath to grab the bottle and the smoke rushed down my throat, then a couple of seconds later, the pain hit my chest. It was like a fireball had consumed my lungs and burnt them to a crisp. I was in agony. My eyes were streaming and I genuinely thought I'd done myself serious damage, even fatal damage.

Next thing I remember is sitting on a bed with my shoulders pressed into the walls as everyone laughed at me. Why were they laughing at me? Clearly, they were going to do something. They were plotting, I could sense it. What was I going to do? I was helpless. I just curled up into a ball as they laughed and I prayed for the experience to end. But it didn't end. Not for hours. Or possibly a few minutes.

Next thing I remember, I was sitting downstairs, listening to the rave music again, feeling the words Disco Land pulse over my skin. And then the pulses became tiny, fluctuating space invaders, like from the videogame. And then the space invaders were tiny grinning monsters. And the music was getting loud and quiet in rhythm. But I wasn't hearing the sound, I was feeling it. Synaesthesia. That's the crossing of senses. And I'm not sure that's a typical symptom of excess cannabis, but it was certainly what I was experiencing. That period really wasn't too unpleasant, but then I was back to the sleepiness again.

And I guess that is why cannabis never really got a hold of me like it did my friends. Many of them became regular smokers, but I was too prone to the paranoia and sleepiness, and felt crappy during the come down, so I was never more than an occasional user. But I must say, I did have some pleasant experiences on cannabis, and some people, probably most, have more positive experiences than me.

Fast forward a few years, and I was a jobless young adult, staying on a mate's couch and I had absolutely no social life, apart from those occasions Bri would take me out. We used to go to the Tuxedo Princess in Gateshead on a Thursday night. It was a tenner to get inside and then all your drinks were free, so we'd wait until 11 o'clock before calling a taxi because we couldn't afford to do a pub crawl first, and we'd go straight to the boat. Yes, the Tuxedo Princess was a boat. A cramped, stinking boat, and one of the few places riff-raff like me could go in my shitty old clothes and not look out of place.

It was inside the Tuxedo Princess that Bri first introduced me to ecstasy. I remember him approaching the drug dealer on the dancefloor and I've no idea how he knew he was a drug dealer, he just did. The drug dealer told him to come to the toilet in a few minutes, but not to walk inside with him, because he did not want to be clocked by the bouncers.

A few minutes later, Bri returned and placed a couple of colourful pills that looked like sweets into my hand. Now I was always nervous about the idea of taking pills, because unlike cannabis, which is just a plant, pills could contain absolutely anything. This didn't stop me though and I felt like I was playing Russian roulette as I placed the pills in my mouth and washed them down with blue WKD with absolutely no idea what to expect.

Now I can't remember how long the drugs took to come into effect, I just know the moment they did was electrifying. Suddenly, I was moving at one hundred miles an hour, dancing in the clouds, talking to every hot and not-so-hot girl. I could not stop talking, and in that moment, the shyness which came from being a jobless lowlife was gone. My confidence was infinite, as was my energy, and my jaw felt really tight but was rocking all over the place for some reason.

I have never felt anything like I felt during my first experience of ecstasy. The sensation flooding my every nerve ending was indescribable and the closest thing to magic I can possibly imagine. Everybody deserves to experience that feeling. But the night was not all good. Far from it.

The thing is, at about 2.00am, the DJ at the Tuxedo Princess would turn the music off for about thirty minutes to grab a random person onto the stage and play a pointless game. This was incredibly boring at the best of times, but when I was off my head on ecstasy? Well, the paranoia that I'd experienced on cannabis came back one thousand-fold. And those thirty minutes felt like lightyears. And yes, I know lightyears are units of distance, not time, but honestly, those thirty minutes lasted so long, I could probably have crawled several lightyears.

The paranoia was hideous and I just remember sitting in a booth, gawking at a couple of girls I'd happily been chatting up, suddenly terrified to move, and just asking myself over and over again why had they turned the music off? When was this torment going to end? 

And then the music came back on and I was electrified again, like nothing had happened. It was the strangest thing, almost like someone had pressed a switch. The paranoia became, well, ecstasy.

And I was partying the night away, becoming best mates with some bloke I'd just met called Toolsey and chatting up the girl Bri had already pulled. I remember walking along to the taxi pickup and being told to shut up, over and over again because I literally could not stop myself from talking. I also remember Bri walking along the railing of the bridge, then jumping down and thinking it would be a hilarious joke to grab his new girl by the waist and dangle her over the railing.

For about five minutes, she was kicking her legs as I pleaded with him to pull her over because the state he was in, a horrible accident seemed inevitable. But thankfully poor Sarah survived this ordeal and immediately forgave Bri. She must have been just as fucked in the head as he was.

We crashed at Sarah's house - it was the temporary accommodation that the council put parents into when they become homeless. Single lads like me weren't so lucky. Well, I say lucky. This was hardly the kind of place you'd want to live. It was barren and felt like a glorified prison cell, but we partied there until the morning, and because we were off our heads on drugs, literally anywhere would have seemed nice. 

I guess that's one thing privileged people so often fail to understand about working class drug users. Those drugs take us away from the hell-holes they've never had to experience. Drugs are our way of experiencing the pleasant side of life which they don't need to reach through artificial means.

It's just unfortunate drugs are very much a double-edged sword. I remember jerking up in bed in the morning with my heart racing, with the most intense feeling of terror and an incredibly dry mouth, following a horrendous nightmare. This wasn't a one-off either. The nightmares went on for weeks and this happened to me each of the five or six times I took ecstasy.

Maybe it's just the way I'm wired that makes me prone to negative side-effects from drugs, but I never tried any drug that didn't give me some side-effect like this. Perhaps in a weird way, this was a good thing because it was certainly enough to stop me getting hooked. But drugs certainly did get some of my friends hooked, case in point being Carl who was totally addicted to cannabis. Now cannabis isn't too addictive to most people. I never felt an intense craving, even during a six-week period when I stayed with Carl, smoking his weed regularly.

But Carl was hooked by his own admission and his addiction was psychological, more than physical. He'd had an even more fucked up life than me and explained cannabis is the one thing that could take away his suicidal thoughts. 

For so many, cannabis is an anti-depressant. And it was just that for me during the weeks we were staying in the most filthy flat imaginable, but I don't really want to discuss cannabis again, because I want to touch upon a much more interesting experience: MDMA.

Carl took me to his sister's house one day and we were playing Mario Kart on the GameCube. His sister went into the kitchen and he whispered that he had some MDMA, then quickly gave me a line before she returned. Now I'd always thought MDMA was just the stuff found in ecstasy, but the experience was nothing at all like ecstasy so I'm not sure what it was. I just know this was without question the most mind-bending thing that ever happened to me.

First came a touch of paranoia and everything seemed a bit grey: I was numb and already regretting my choice, just wanting the effects of this stuff to wear off. Why the hell did I agree to take it?

Next thing, Carl asked: "Ricky, what are you doing?"

I was pecking at his Berghaus coat with my finger and thumb, over and over again. I'd suddenly become convinced he was made out of cardboard, kind of like Paper Mario, and I was expecting him to tear. I couldn't understand why he was not tearing. And today I can't understand why I kept trying to tear him! But that's what I did and he was just laughing at me.

Carl took me outside for a walk, probably because he didn't want his sister to discover that we were high inside her house. As we walked through the streets of New Biggin Hall, I kept stumbling because I was tilting my body sideways. This was to adjust to the world which was rotating like a passageway in the Legend of Zelda and determined to make me fall over. Everything got a bit sparkly at that point and the experience was surreal but not enjoyable. I never got the high that I did off ecstasy and it makes me wonder if I really did take MDMA or something entirely different. It really could have been anything.

MDMA (or whatever it was) was one thing I was never going to touch again. 

When it comes to snorting drugs though, there was a drug that I definitely preferred and that was cocaine, which was introduced to me by Gaz.

We'd been staying at a medical facility in Edinburgh, being a guinea pig as the company tested drugs on us. And what was cool about being a guinea pig like this was that we were being paid to hang out with hot girls. So when we finally got out of that place and got our money, we all hit the town.

Edinburgh is a nice place to hang out with all its historical buildings and the striking castle on the hill in the city centre. It's just a shame the sun never shines! The city is beautiful and very chilled and basically the opposite of Glasgow (not that I'm knocking that place, they're just very different). 

We were all sitting in a bar, I think it was a Wetherspoons (don't cancel me) and somebody suggested we buy cocaine. That was going to be a first for me and so I expressed my reservations.

"You're worried about cocaine after what you've had put into your body for the last two weeks?" a girl asked and it was a fair point.

So a couple of hours later, I found myself squeezed into a toilet cubicle with Gaz as we took turns snorting cocaine through a rolled up tenner like a pair of sleazy Westminster journalists and I'm not going to lie, it felt really cool. It wasn't like when I tried some other drugs and it felt daunting and dirty. No, for some reason, hanging out in some minging toilet cubicle felt like the height of privilege. Figure that one out.

Now the thing about cocaine is it makes you become hyper-alert and energetic. Not in the different planet way that ecstasy does, but enough to make you highly confident and also a bit of a dick. There was another lad out with us who liked the same girl I did so I took the piss out of him the whole night. It wasn't even in my character to behave like this, but cocaine made me become a different person. And because it was my first time taking it, the effect was much stronger than it was on the others. I was being a total idiot, but this seemed to impress the girl who preferred me over the other lad. Who said good guys come first?

I stayed in touch with that girl for a while, but alas, nothing serious became of it. I did, however, learn that cocaine was my pathway to women, it's just that unfortunately it's an expensive habit. Well, I've no idea what it costs today, but back then, we were paying £40 a gram, and another problem is your body quickly builds up tolerance so you need to take larger quantities to have the same effect. This means that even though the drug is not necessarily super-addictive, people can still be pulled in and this is how celebrities end up losing bits of their nose. Thankfully though, I was too poor to make cocaine a regular habit.

But on those occasions when I tried it, usually to impress a girl, I did experience draw backs which seem to be unique to me. For example, I would have nightmares for weeks afterwards, similar to how I did on ecstasy. I think it messed with the chemical balance of my brain. And the other problem is that I would sneeze for weeks, and my nose, and even my whole body, would itch terribly. Clearly, this was some kind of allergic reaction and I'm not sure if this was to the cocaine itself or to the washing powder it was probably cut with, but either way, it was not pleasant.

My experiences with cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana represent my main encounters with drugs, but my mates got involved much deeper than I did. Particularly Gaz.

One day, when we were in our late twenties, Gaz led me into his loft which was like a dazzling ultra-violet sauna filled with heat lamps and cannabis plants, with tin foil covering every surface. It stunk.

The place was a fire hazard and hardly the type of thing to have over the heads of small children. And the best thing about it was the plants weren't even his. He was doing this as a favour for a drug dealer friend who didn't have the room in his flat. Talk about stupid.

Now the thing about cannabis plantations in your loft is they are so very easily detectable by infra-red cameras. Plus, your roof will be the only roof in the street that snow doesn't settle on, but thankfully Gaz never got caught. Because as dumb as he was being, I didn't want him going back to jail. Yes, he'd been to jail recently. Not for drugs though, for fighting. Everybody always seems to be fighting where we're from.

Throughout our mid-to-late twenties, me, Gaz, Carl and Brian never actually saw each other that often. We'd more or less grown apart, but that started to change when I had my own place for the first time and suddenly, the three of us were hanging out again. Now when we were sober, we got along like a house on fire, but when we were drunk, it was another story, and of course, the lads started insisting on buying cocaine. This was something I hadn't done in quite a while, but suddenly we were partying weekly.

Sometimes it was just us, playing Fifa or watching the boxing, other times, we'd persuade some girls to join us, and when it was good, it was great. But when we were drunk or high, things often got rowdy and sometimes rows would break out. My neighbours soon reported me to the landlord, meaning there was a risk of eviction, but it gets even worse.

One day, someone rang my bell and a neighbour I didn't know existed told me that my mates had been arguing with him. He then went on to explain how he was a big time drug dealer who'd just been released from a ten year stretch in prison and was best mates with another big time drug dealer. He told me to Google his name, like I should be impressed.

Anyways, I did and he was telling the truth.

He then pointed around the car park and told me that ten cars were his. He explained that if anything happened to his cars, he would hold me personally responsible. He explained that his drug dealer mate actually wanted to slash me, but he was going to give me a chance. 

Bearing in mind, I had a girl I'd only recently met standing at my side the whole time, I had to keep my cool. I was torn between telling him to fuck off, which wouldn't have been a smart move, and using diplomacy to calm the situation. I opted to apologise for the behaviour of my mates because I was sure they would have been behaving like idiots, and from that point on, I was reluctant to have them around.

One time a few weeks later, Bri decided to start a fight with me in my living room because he was high as a kite and wanted to impress his girlfriend. What is it with cocaine and being a total dick to impress women? Anyways, it wasn't much of a fight. I got him into a headlock without throwing a punch and agreed to release him if he would stop. However, when I released him, he attacked again and I got him into a headlock again, this time dragging him outside and locking the door on him. Needless to say, his girlfriend was not impressed.

And this, if I'm honest, is definitely one of the biggest drawbacks of recreational drugs. Some, but not all, can make men more aggressive and much more prone to falling out. My friends and I got along great when we were sober, but always got a little bored, and if we were tempted into consuming drugs or alcohol, there was always a risk of us falling out.

Alcohol is a drug of course and in my personal experience, every bit as problematic as the other drugs I've encountered. Alcohol killed my grandfather. It helped turn other men I knew into women-beating bastards. It destroyed the lives of so many people who couldn't enjoy it in moderation. And that's the thing with many drugs really. If you can enjoy them in moderation, they really aren't too harmful to most people and can be quite nice, but like alcohol, they are devastating in excess, make idiots behave terribly, and some people just don't process them well.

I personally don't drink, let alone take drugs now, because my body does not process any of this stuff well. Therefore, I would not recommend drugs to anyone, certainly not my kids. But at the same time, I could hardly be judgmental if they did dabble and I think it's absurd to criminalise people for this.

Now this piece probably made my mates sound like the worst friends in the world, but I must say we did have great times together - I've just highlighted some of the bad parts. But their foolhardiness, which was certainly exacerbated by drugs, was the key reason we finally grew apart. By the age of thirty, I was a dad and could not have that recklessness and unpredictability in my life so I had to steer clear. Now you might think that if I could grow out of this, they could too, but I was never quite as volatile as them and they never did grow up.

In 2017, I received a message on Facebook from my mother, explaining Gaz had passed away. Turns out he'd got involved in hard drugs in the years since I'd seen him and one night he went to sleep and never woke up. He left behind three children. Worst thing is I never even got to go to the funeral.

It's funny because in the years since I'd seen him, I would more often than not picture the negative, but now he was gone, suddenly every positive memory we shared flooded my mind - from the day the new kid walked into class at five years old and instantly became my best friend, to the first time he played at my house, to the first sleep over, the first trip to the fun fair, the swimming pool, the cinema, and the time his parents took me on my first holiday to Menorca and we had the most incredible time. All the innocent stuff...

I remember playing in the den we'd built when we were eleven and he asked me what age I would like to be, if I could be any age? 

"I don't know, what age would you be?" I asked. 

"Twenty-five," he replied, "because then I would be in my prime." 

I paused and said: "Nah, I'd want to stay this age forever because things will never get better than they are now."

I was right, of course. It was only months later that alcohol entered our lives and in the coming years, drugs, and everything went downhill at that point. Were drugs and alcohol the sole cause of this? No, absolutely not. The problems were driven mainly by lack of opportunity and the inevitable sub-culture that emerges to help people cope with fucked up situations, but whichever way you look at it, drugs left three small kids without a dad. Kids who are just like we were during that innocent stage and who I'd rather not see go down the same path.

We all get one life and part of me thinks we should enjoy the full range of human experience within that time. Drugs open up pathways in your brain that take you to realities you never thought possible and offer experiences you otherwise could not comprehend. But it's important to understand, anything stronger than weed should not be taken by anyone, and really, even weed and other soft drugs, and yes, even alcohol, should be treated with caution.

I must say as a final thought, that the criminalisation of drugs is idiotic and if we want to save people like Gaz, we should do so through rehabilitation, not imprisonment. You don't save a life by destroying a life.