Miles Kington: It's one rule for Floyd Landis, another for Dylan Thomas

'Nobody banned Hunter S Thompson or Louis Armstrong for taking performance-enhancing drugs! They were applauded for it'
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"What's the latest on this Landis fellow?" said the Major, during a shocked lull in conversation, caused by him buying a round for everyone.

"What Landis fellow?" said the woman with the golden hairdo. (She's drinking cider at the moment, and she thinks her hair colour matches it.)

"The man who made An American Werewolf in London?" said the resident Welshman.

"And Blues Brothers," said the man with the dog.

"And Airplane," said someone else.

"No, no, no," said the Major.

"Quite right," said the Welshman. "John Landis didn't make Airplane."

"No, no, no, NO!" said the Major. "Not that Landis! Not John Landis! I mean Floyd Landis!"

"Who's Floyd Landis?" said the golden lady.

"Fellow who won the Tour de France," said the Major. "American superstar. Seemed out of it, then did a super miracle ride and came first, and then failed a drug test for testosterone, and they were going to do another one on him, which if he failed would get him disqualified, but I missed the announcement about whether he'd passed the drug test or not. Or been disqualified."

"I'm bored already," said the golden lady.

"Is testosterone a drug?" said the man with the dog. "I thought it was something we men all had naturally."

"I'm more bored than I was a moment ago," said the golden lady.

"I tell you what's interesting, though," said the resident Welshman. "When a sportsman is convicted of taking some illicit substance or other, he is immediately disqualified. Stripped of victory. Banned for years. But it's almost the opposite in other fields."

"How do you mean?"

"Well, if it was found that this other Landis, John Landis, the film-maker, had been taking drugs while directing a film, he wouldn't be disqualified, would he? His films wouldn't be banned, either. Nobody is ever disbarred from an artistic endeavour because he takes performance-enhancing substances, are they?"

"But nobody approves of it, do they?" said the golden lady.

"On the contrary!" said the Welshman. "Dylan Thomas took copious amounts of beer, and everyone cheered. De Quincey took a lot of opium. Louis Armstrong smoked dope all his life. William Burroughs, Hunter S Thompson ... they all were high on something. But nobody said: 'You're banned for taking performance-enhancing drugs!'. They were applauded for it. If De Quincey had written his Confessions of an Opium-Eater and it turned out he hadn't taken any, he might be disqualified for NOT taking drugs!"

"Surely there's a vital difference," said the Major. "Sport is competitive. Art is not. Someone in the Tour de France who takes that stuff has an unfair advantage over someone who isn't. But Dylan Thomas wasn't running the same course as anyone else."

"I once tried to read James Joyce's Finnegans Wake," said the man with the dog. "I assumed it had been written by a drug fiend. Then I found out he wasn't on anything. THAT was scary."

"I'm guessing," said the Welshman, "but I would imagine that the times when Dylan Thomas drank were not the same as the times when he wrote poetry."

"I beg to differ," said the man with the dog. "I have also tried to read Dylan Thomas. All that poetry was written by a man who was drunk, even if only drunk with words. He was so drunk with words that he dribbled them down his jersey, fell over his feet and couldn't find the way home."

"Are you being disrespectful of the great Dylan Thomas?" said the Welshman.

"I am," said the man with the dog. "He was a very fine and very funny prose writer, but his poetry is a glorious drunken mess."

"Nobody in Wales would ever be allowed to say that," said the Welshman. "You'd be run out of town for saying that in Wales."

"You'd be run out of England for writing like that," said the man with the dog.

At this point the landlord rang his bell. "Health and safety regulations," he said. "Racial conversations are forbidden."

So we changed the subject and talked about Margaret Beckett and caravanning instead.