The stuff of nightmares

Heroin isn't the only substance that has bad karma. Special Brew, I think, has the same effect, as do rubber plants in houses and overlong exposure to the Ford Cortina
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We're lounging around on a pile of kilim cushions talking about smack, because I've spent the afternoon in the front row at Trainspotting instead of polishing off the Post-it note full of chores that still glares balefully at me from the kitchen wall. I'm not big on things like heroin, and not just because they seem to turn the people who use them into bores. I am so woefully naive that it took me years to realise that half the people I disliked at university weren't actually arrogant drones, but were out of their trees most of the time. Of course, they could have been arrogant drones as well; there's no law that says any one group of personality types is going to be less of a prey to addictions than anybody else.

The thing I really have against smack is the karma thing. There is something about the stuff that carries bad luck with it like a plague. I don't mean all those ills - prison terms, abscesses, stomach cramps, financial disaster, overdoses - that junkies have to deal with as spin-offs of their habit. I'm talking about the chains of dreadful coincidence, the peripatetic mistakes, the ironic accidents, which often seem to dog users even after they've cleaned up their act.

I knew a guy, for instance, for whom everyone had long been predicting an early death. In the end, he was driving, completely clean, and pulled into a petrol station. As he walked around the back of his car, the driver behind him hit the accelerator, not the brakes. Now, if that's not bad karma, I don't know what is.

Another, elderly junkie opened an overloaded wardrobe, which tipped over on top of him, trapping his leg between the doors. By the time he was found the next day, the circulatory system in the limb had died, and it had to be amputated.

Heroin isn't the only substance that has this property. Special Brew, I think, has the same effect, as do rubber plants in houses and overlong exposure to the Ford Cortina. It is possible that certain people have it as well: who has prospered after close involvement with the Princess of Wales or Courtney Love? Valium does it, and artificial sweeteners, but heroin is the big bad mother of all karmic destruction systems. The person who gets involved in smack is far more likely to be the one who slips between the train and the station platform than the normal run of humanity.

I'm propounding this theory, with illustrative hand-waving, and Nick is saying things like, "for God's sake, Serena, if you get any more New Agey, you'll start vibrating into a higher energy form", but Louis has gone all thoughtful. He used to hang around doing that sort of thing with the dinosaurs of rock, during the Dark Age of Cool between the death of flower power and the emergence of the Sex Pistols. He suddenly reels off a string of names of drummers and bassists and synth players who drowned in the bath, or whose children ate drain cleaner, or who bought hotels that burned to the ground on opening night.

"I think you're right," he says. "I'd never thought about it before, but it all makes sense."

"Look," says Nick, "the only thing heroin does, apart from give you burst veins from the constipation, is turn you into a complete prat. And," he nods at Louis, "a gullible one."

"I wasn't a complete prat."

"Well, that's what you think. Bet you did some stupid things."

"Well, obviously most of the restaurants in Chelsea wouldn't let us in, but I didn't do anything that terrible."

"Nothing? Didn't nick any money? Didn't nick anybody's drugs? Never went to a party and bored everybody senseless?"

Louis goes thoughtful again. Then he says, "Actually, I did once do something pretty awful. It was a mistake, though."

"What? What?" I like hearing about other people's snarl-ups; they make me feel so normal.

"Well," he says, "it wasn't during my big drug period. It was after. I was sharing a house in Malvern with this hippy girl. She came from South Africa, so she hadn't noticed that there weren't hippies any more. She wore dirndls and finger-painted. And cooked a lot of lentils.

"One day I was in the bath and the phone rang. She was out, so I ran for the nearest one, which was in her bedroom. I took a message, and just as I was leaving I noticed this white paper packet on her bedside table. God, I feel guilty about this. Anyway, I couldn't resist having a look. I unwrapped it, and inside there was this brown powdery stuff. Looked like skag to me. So I thought, well, I'll have a taste, just to find out. I licked my finger and dipped it in, but it just tasted sort of grimy and nothing happened. I thought she'd obviously been done by whoever'd sold it to her. So I wrapped it back up and put it in exactly the same position.

"Anyway, I was a bit surprised. I knew she smoked a lot of dope, but I'd never realised she was into the hard stuff. A few days later, I was at a party and bumped into a friend of hers. We were talking about Bella, and I thought I had to ask if she knew anything about it. So I told her I'd found this packet by the bed. Didn't say anything about having tasted it, though. Her friend burst out laughing. 'That's not heroin,' she said. 'Bella doesn't do that sort of thing. Those are her mother's ashes.' She used to meditate over them before bed every night."

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