Deborah Orr: Pablo the Drug-Mule Dog won't change anything

‘There’s a nod to the horror of the drug trade, even if it is indicated by the sufferings of comic puppets’
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Can we hope for snow this Christmas? Not if Pablo the Drug-Mule Dog has anything to do with it. In an example of joined-up, modern government, none the less pleasing for its rarity, the wise men have decided this year that their seasonal plea for sober driving should be complemented with a similar warning about cocaine-free partying.

Both advertisement campaigns opt for humour as the most appealing bearer of salutary tidings. The drink-drive offering features a barman who does a mean impersonation of Harry H Corbett, in Steptoe guise. (At least I think that's what it is.) The cocaine-bad directive features an acrylic dog with its stomach slit open, delivering an arch script voiced by comic actor David Mitchell, of Peep Show fame and Apple-Mac fortune.

Both have something else in common too. They emphasise the damage an individual might do to herself as a result of substance abuse, rather that the damage she might inflict on others. This is particularly noticeable in the drink-drive advert, which sets out to persuade car-happy revellers that they might lose their licence if they are caught. It would be nice to think that the possibility of causing death or terrible damage to another person might be a more profound incentive, but there's good reason to believe that the cynics are right in this case.

In the case of drug-taking, however, I'm pretty certain that the Pablo approach is misguided. To be fair, there's a nod to the wider horror of the international drug trade in the film, even if it is indicated by the sufferings of comic puppets. And there's a gesture in the direction of community disruption as well, because the street dealer is portrayed with a gun, as he cuts the cocaine with 70 per cent of "God knows what".

But, drug users, I'm afraid, find such nudges unpersuasive. Rightly or wrongly, they tend to believe that such iniquities are the responsibility of the authorities, which won't allow them to enjoy their recreational choices freely, in the manner of their choosing.

That self-regarding tendency becomes all the more powerful when applied to the damage that individuals might do to themselves. Cocaine-using viewers are warned that they may be damaging their hearts, inviting dangerous mood swings, ushering in the prospect of financial difficulties, or destructively re-boring their nostrils. They are invited to visit Frank, the Government's drug-advice website, to learn more about the "dark side" of cocaine.

Yet none of these symptoms is very likely to manifest itself in an unproblematic drug user, who is often right in believing that "it will never happen to me". As for addictive users, the difficulty is that this group is far more likely than the former group to be in denial about the possible risks they are taking, and also far more likely to be using drugs compulsively. The less they hear about "the dark side of cocaine", the happier they are.

The Pablo advert tries to target both recreational drug users and addictive drug users, and the resulting message is confused enough to be almost useless. The drink-driving advert makes no bones about the fact that some people are alcoholics, unable to think of others and to drink sensibly. It simply warns them that such behaviour attracts the sanction of the law, even though their drug of choice is legal. And why not? Most people capable of acting logically on the long-standing drink-driving message already accept the dire social consequences of this irresponsible behaviour.

Drug warnings should aim to create a similar division. Those who are capable of comprehending that they are involving themselves in an immoral and miserable trade, much of it outside the control of national government, should be appealed to accordingly. Those who are not should be warned, like hard-bitten drink drivers, that what they are doing to themselves, and to others, is pathetic, dangerous, entirely destructive, and quite likely, one way or another, to land them in a secure rehab unit. I'm not quite where the humour comes in, but that we can leave to the experts.

The kids are all right and busy singing

Can The X Factor do anything right? This year, the most talented contestant, Alexandra Burke, won the competition. Even more awful, the single released to mark her triumph was a creditable cover of a classic song, Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah". Across the globe, cultural purists have mobilised in an effort to sabotage this heinous turn of events.

Meanwhile, the media are stalking a 16-year-old, Eoghan Quigg, who came third in the talent contest, and a 17-year-old, Diana Vickers, who came fourth. It is important for the nation to know whether a pair of teenagers might, or might not, have developed a significant reciprocal admiration. This bit of light entertainment is not considered controversial in the least, and no one has seen fit to launch any sort of campaign against it.

This only goes to show how right Britain is to hold out against enacting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 17 years after ratifying the document. What sort of society would wish to be obliged to think twice before gratuitously invading the normal private lives of under-18s? Not ours, of course. That sort of thing is best left to those ghastly countries full of people obsessively despairing of the "trouble with young people today".

In the UK, we step in firmly when the kids go off the rails, offering an immediate corrective when problems emerge. Imagine growing up in shameful ignorance of Jeff Buckley's 1994 version of "Hallelujah", recorded in a wiser millennium, when pop pickers had better ideas about the meaning of taste and decency. Good old X Factor, I say, in creating a much-needed opportunity for mass education.

Oh yes, wait a minute Mr Postman. Oh no, you can't

Among the many problems facing the Post Office is the deep-rooted one regarding the speed at which a postie should walk. The reviled new system, Pegasus, says as fast as a flying horse, which is apparently four miles an hour.

The Communications Union says as fast as a broken nag, which is a more sedate 2.1 miles an hour. Heaven forfend that they should be advised to walk at something approaching the average pace, three miles an hour for women, and three and a half for men. That would be too simple.

What might seem like a thrilling new debate is, for our family, an ancient argument. My dad was a postman in the late 1950s and early 1960s. To his amusement, he was ostracised by his colleagues because he did his round nice and fast, so that he could get a round of golf in. The other posties grumbled that this made them "look bad", but my dad was invariably too busy to stand around in the resentful clumps he spawned, endlessly discussing the matter.

He loved being a postman, because the work was mostly outdoors, the interpersonal relationships were so undemanding and the hours (for him) were so short. But he gave it up when I was born, because the wages weren't good enough to support a family. How times change.

Madonna is miles away from the top

The latest release from Madonna's album, Hard Candy, has been the superstar's least successful in 24 years. "Miles Away" reached No 39 in the UK charts, making it the first song since 1984 not to get into the top 20. What could possibly have gone wrong? How could anyone have missed the import of a headline announcing "Madonna's single"?

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