Venetia Thompson, who has never taken the drug, was shocked to discover a stash in her house. What to do? Her friends’ response was a collective shrug as if it were nothing unusual
It is said that in London, you are never further than ten feet from the nearest rat. It seems that, these days, the same might just as easily be said of cocaine.
Recently, while gathering up my washing, I discovered an unfamiliar sock. This was immediately bizarre, as I recognise all of my socks; there are not many of them, they very rarely travel in matching pairs, and can usually be found lurking in dark corners of drawers next to a forgotten flight sock that I keep, just in case I decide to opt to prevent a DVT in just one of my legs next time I fly. Yes: I know my socks.
So there was something instantly suspicious about this stray sock. It didn’t belong with my others. Its top had been lopped off, and it was tied in a knot, so that it now resembled some sort of bobbled grey pouch. My hands trembling, expecting to find maybe a dead stag beetle or rabbit’s foot, I undid it and risked a look inside — only to find seven lotto slips tightly folded to resemble tiny envelopes. The romantic in me thought momentarily that someone had left me a series of uniformly folded love letters; or even the winning lottery numbers. I began unfolding one of the packages — and then watched as a substantial amount of white powder puffed into the air and sprinkled all over my foot and the floor. At which point, I began to panic.
Now I should make clear at the start that cocaine and I have no sort of relationship. I have never taken the drug, or felt the desire to. I first saw it in action when a friend returned from the bathrooms of a designer hotel bar having done some lines, and I watched as his entire face began to blow up like the muzzle of a Weimaraner bitten by an adder. To have a lotto ticket’s worth sitting atop my right foot and pressed into the surrounding carpet — plenty more still nestling inside an intruder sock — was deeply unsettling. Whom did it belong to? How had it got here? Was I now legally ‘in possession’ and thus doomed to spend seven years in jail? What was I supposed to do with it?
Having shaken it off my foot and vacuumed the carpet, I frantically called a few friends in search of emergency advice (legal and otherwise). Once they had stopped laughing at the indisputably hilarious nature of my predicament, they gave me their thoughts. This ranged from ‘take it to the police anonymously’, to ‘flush it’, ‘give it to me’ and ‘sell it’.
But here’s the rub. The common denominator was a collective shrug: the sense this was simply not of any importance, and if anything, a stroke of luck; finders keepers, and all that. It was even suggested that it might have been a gift left over from a party, like a bottle of Barolo or box of chocolates. But it was not a nice bottle of wine. It was a sizeable amount of a Class A drug and it and the intruding sock vessel needed to go. So off it went down the toilet.
I am not prim or a prude, but it does strike me as amazing that it is now so hard to avoid contact with a drug that was once generally considered dangerous, expensive and the mark of someone living at the limit of life. Was I naive or wrong to be shocked by the drug’s unwanted appearance in my home?
After all, cocaine is now something that we read or hear about on a daily basis. It hovers, spectre-like, ready to descend into the pages of the press; whether in the form of an old or new photograph, a leaked story, or a confession. New stories emerge all the time; whether it is Jodie Kidd’s apparent ‘dealing’ of the drug, Pete Doherty found in possession of rocks of ‘crack’ cocaine, photos of Kate Moss taking it, Marcia Brady trading sex for it (a surprise addition to the ‘crack whore’ posse), the film-maker Gary Busey snorting it off his dog, fresh rumours emerging surrounding various MPs dabbling with it in their former lives, or the £1 million worth recently found strapped to passengers on a P&O cruise as it docked in Southampton. How the four cruisers managed to strap 30 kilos of cocaine to themselves with 23 days of pool antics and all-you-can eat/drink to contend with I am not sure, but at least they will be well nourished for their lengthy prison terms.
It is of course easy for the four cruisers to be identified by society as unambiguously wicked drug dealers who should be punished. They were, after all, on a P&O cruise rather than a private yacht or in a recording studio, and had 30 kilos of the drug — which cannot be passed off as anything other than a dealing quantity. However, how about public figures and celebrities who are caught using the drug only to receive a mere slapped wrist or even sympathy for their tales of misspent youth? Or friends that you know who are partial to the occasional line? What, if any, is the moral and social boundary that separates a so-called ‘friend’ who leaves behind a pouch of cocaine at your home and a convicted, stigmatised drug dealer?
In the past few years, to an extent that I find frightening, cocaine has been gradually normalised, and is fast losing any frisson of impropriety in some circles. First, the inimitable words, ‘Oh, they’re downstairs doing some lines’ started to be said just as casually at gallery openings as, ‘They’re downstairs getting some drinks’. Now it seems that there is such a casual attitude towards coke that bundles of it are not only brought into, but accidentally left behind in people’s homes, like stray umbrellas. And let us not forget: America now has a President-elect who admitted quite openly to have dabbled with the drug in his youth. That is another milestone for coke.
But maybe there is hope for those of us who feel uncomfortable with the trend, in the form of a ‘narco-recession’. If people are being forced to cut back on luxuries like Starbucks coffees, surely it cannot be long before they start reining in their coke habits — perhaps for long enough to realise the error of their ways.
Take the City, for example, where I used to work: notoriously rife with cocaine users. Far more disturbing than hordes of City traders pacing around after work wondering how they are going to afford the new kitchens that their wives ordered months ago, is the thought of hordes of City workers wondering how they are going to fund their coke habits.
In a bull market, it’s all very well to develop an expensive drug habit to go with the expensive cars, homes, whores and designer wives. However, as we lurch into a recession, an addiction to cocaine is a little more inconvenient than a penchant for daily hits of vanilla mocha-choca frappuccinos. A recession will certainly separate the habits from the addictions — if there was ever really much of a difference.
And if the City can no longer afford cocaine, it is highly unlikely that the fashion and music industries, for example, will be able to. Perhaps rock stars and models will spend more time worrying about record sales and cancelled advertising campaigns, and less time snorting coke off each other at parties.
The other side of the coin is that we may also see a rise in crack cocaine and crystal meth use, two cheaper alternatives currently being peddled in Wall Street as cocaine prices soar. But hopefully we will treat these drugs with the disgust that they deserve and not allow ourselves to become habituated to their use as so many tolerate cocaine. And if anyone turns up with crystal meth at your dinner party, or tries to leave some in your sock drawer — well, don’t dither. Call the police before serving the antipasti.