Terence Blacker: Not all drug habits are so easily forgiven

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Illegal drugs, we have learned this week, fall into two broad categories. Some turn their users into hopeless victims who, if they are lucky enough to recover, are to be welcomed and congratulated by society. Others, equally illegal, demonise their users for ever, whether they have recovered or not.

For the young, who are supposed to be taught about such things, it is a complex business of right and wrong, but the last few days have provided useful case studies in good bad drugs and bad bad drugs.

On Monday Amy Winehouse – "troubled Amy Winehouse" as she must now officially be called – was released from the rehabilitation clinic where she is currently living to sing her songs "Rehab" and "I'm No Good" before a small audience in London. Her performance was linked via satellite to the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, and Amy was presented with five of the top prizes. She was "wonderful", said one of her main rivals, Beyoncé, while the Los Angeles Times praised her as "the most exciting performer of the evening".

There was a single discordant voice – the singer Natalie Cole suggested that rewarding someone "in the stupor of drugs" might just possibly set a bad example – but the general consensus was that troubled Amy may have turned the corner at last. Her mother announced to the press that she was on the road to recovery. It was all rather moving.

The other famous former druggie in the spotlight has been Dwain Chambers – "drugs cheat Dwain Chambers" as he should now officially be called – who was running in the 60 metres at an athletics meeting in Sheffield after serving a two-year ban for taking performance-enhancing substances.

Athletics specialises in goody-goody pundits, but not even the most bland and mild-mannered of them has had a good word to say for the drugs cheat. Colin Jackson could hardly bear to mention his name on TV. Steve Cram, normally the soul of dull diplomacy, gravely announced that Chambers should not be allowed to represent his country. The director of the London Marathon, David Bedford, suggested that fans should boo the drugs cheat as he ran.

They cheered him to the echo as he romped to victory, much to Bedford's rage. The true athletics fans, he explained a trifle desperately, were not there, having already "voted with their feet" because of the way athletics is run.

There is another explanation. Those applauding Dwain Chambers were confused. They thought that, because he had served his punishment, he was no longer a pariah. After all, Linford Christie still works in the sport; Christine Ohuruogu, having been banned for skipping three drugs test, was later welcomed back as a national hero.

Some of the fans might have been further bewildered by the media coverage of the Grammies and Amy Winehouse. If the great worry is about negative role models sending out those famous wrong messages, why is it just fine for the music industry to celebrate a famously addled singer, however talented, while the mere presence on a running track of an athlete who took drugs in the past causes trills of outrage from all right-thinking people?

Just possibly, it helps that Amy Winehouse is white and wasted; she looks like a recovering druggie should look. Dwain Chambers, by contrast, is strong, black and not about to burst into tears for anyone. No one has explained to him that the British like their victims to look the part. Only when he becomes "the troubled Dwain Chambers" will he stand a chance of forgiveness.

An unpleasant whiff of prejudice

Although it is not statistically proven, many English people believe the French are not only ruder than most other nationalities, but are particularly prone to wind.

Now these prejudices are to be passed on to the next generation. A new character in the TV series based on Roger Hargreaves's Mr Men series is to include a Monsieur Rude, who speaks with a French accent and invites children to pull his finger. When they do, he farts.

Never mind the complaints about political correctness, this is an outrageous, malodorous slur against our European neighbours. The racism tsar, Trevor Phillips, should have a word with M. Rude's creators.

* Good news for employees of the National Trust. They can stay home on 29 February. The Trust hopes that on what it calls Green Leap Year Day, staff and volunteers will use the time to think about the environment, possibly changing a light-bulb.

"If everybody gets involved, this means over 54,000 people could reduce their impact on the environment," says Dame Fiona Reynolds, the National Trust's director-general.

It is an attractive idea, staying at home and doing nothing in order to save the world, but the idea has certain flaws. Sitting around can be chilly at this time of the year: better turn up the heating. It gets boring after a minute or two: why not turn on the TV, with that high-energy plasma screen?

National Trust employees will be encouraged to write a report on what they have achieved. Doubtless, these will be printed out on – oh dear – paper. There are four more years to think this one through more carefully.


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