Mark Steel: The ecstasy of hearing a police siren on the way to a rave

'The cruellest trick was the Taliban's, who allowed plenty of drugs and then banned music'
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The Independent Online

Now police chiefs are saying they should be lenient with ecstasy. What's happening? The filth are becoming one of the most liberal sections of society. They'll be changing their uniform to red and yellow baggy jumpers and trousers with loads of pockets, raiding sports shops yelling: "Alright sonny, we've been watching you sell those Nike trainers. I don't suppose you even care how much them kids in China are paid, people like you make me sick. Get in the van." And if they're promoted they'll get an extra nose-stud.

Maybe the police will start taking ecstasy themselves, then instead of the siren warning everyone within a mile to dive out of the way of a screeching police car, it would just mean there was a rave on at the station.

What some police chiefs have noticed is that with an estimated 500,000 people taking the stuff every weekend, the law isn't proving as effective as it might be. Partly, this is because the most attractive side to ecstasy is it's for the young. People over 40 can drink beer or smoke dope or snort cocaine, but if they try ecstasy it's as pathetic as a 40-year-old in 1977 trying to pogo. Which is a shame because old people could benefit the most. You'd find 70-year-olds saying: "Ooh, do you know what, Emily? My son came round to dinner on Sunday afternoon, so I popped a couple of Es and I managed to stay awake all afternoon."

People who yell about the horrors of ecstasy should consider that figure of 500,000. That must be almost everybody between 15 and 26, and they clearly they don't all go mad. Just as Amsterdam still seems to function, despite drugs being legal, and the canals aren't full of people drowning under the impression they're a water-lily.

My most peculiar Amsterdam moment was to try a slice of "Space Cake", temptingly laid out on a trolley in a nightclub. The strange effect of this was to make everything seem 20 times faster than it was, while leaving every other sense perfectly intact. I seem to remember getting in a mini-cab, and a few seconds later saying perfectly lucidly to the driver: "I know this might sound odd, but would it be possible to go a bit slower please, only this speed is making me a bit uneasy." To which he answered: "Well yes, it is possible. But we are only travelling at eight kilometres per hour." Surely anyone would agree my life was enhanced by that experience.

What these police chiefs have grasped is that no one's attitude towards taking drugs is affected by the law anyway, and with stronger drugs, that applies even more. No one sits behind the rubbish chute on a council estate, tapping their arm to find a vein and then thinks: "Hang on. Or is this against the law?" Equally, if crack was legal, few people would say: "In that case, let's stir-fry a beaker-ful with our noodles as we've run out of parsley."

Because the reason people take ecstasy is they enjoy it. And that seems to be the main argument against it. It's part of the English heritage When I was a boy I remember my granny complaining that "modern medicine doesn't work because they make it taste nice".

But the cruellest trick with drugs was that of the Taliban, who allowed a plentiful supply of the stuff throughout the country, but then banned music. That must have driven anyone on ecstasy mad. They must have spent their weekends at all-night mosques, advertised as "three floors of pumping religious chanting, with Mazar-i-Sharif's top imams".

Maybe these would wave their arms and yell: "This one's going out to the Kandahar posse, keeping it real in the chill-out cave with Osama and the gang from the al-Qai'ida massive. It's a special request for 'Allah the eternally merciful' on a special 12-inch dub mix, pursuing the pillars of Islam large-style."

That would have been the time for the Americans to nip in and do a deal, as everyone would have greeted them with: "Ah, Great Satan, good to see you man, keep it cool."

Maybe this explains the Taliban's recent behaviour. For security reasons, only a few people knew the exact location of their next venue. The rest were told to meet somewhere in the desert, where they'd be picked up and driven to a warehouse, before asking each other if they were sorted for rocket launchers.

Besides, if ecstasy has had such a horrific effect on our youth, it's strange that the seediest people in youth culture were the stars of the music scene before the stuff was invented. Because after Gary Glitter and Jonathan King, it's beginning to seem there was hardly anyone with a number one record in the early 1970s who hasn't been suspected of lusting after juveniles.

If any other glam rock relics have got any sense they'll be out of the country by now: though if this was a trend the people to feel most sorry for was any poor sod cornered by the Scots dragoon guards who did "Amazing Grace".

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