Signs of the times
Stay safe at Glastonbury
Phoenix was always little more than a summer camp for middle class Midlands sixth-formers. As for Reading, dull is the operative word. Glastonbury still has that certain something. But for how long?
It is not the commercialism that worries me. The food is better, the facilities improved (even if the flush toilets were a myth), and the sound in the dance tent was superb (well, it was at the time). It is not even that the environmentalists and faux primitivists got on my wick. They all drop their litter anyway, and after four days in the mud even a crusty dreams of civilisation. No, the problem was that Glastonbury is now swamped with advice about safety.
This year's programme warned that Glastonbury may not be a safe place to take drugs: 'the festival's combination of big crowds, noise, constant activity and an unfamiliar environment are the classic ingredients of a hellish experience which could do you lasting psychological harm.' And there was me thinking that it was just those 'classic ingredients' that made the idea appealing in the first place.
How about a drink then? The Festival Information News (Fine) guide, which is handed out to all festival-goers, advised that 'drunken- ness is anti-social'. Alcopops were banned because 'we believe they contribute to under-age alcohol abuse'. And if you think that still leaves music, nature and passion, think again. The Fine guide told us that 'prolonged exposure to high volume noise can cause severe hearing damage, cancer can be caused by the sun on unprotected skin and you highly risk HIV infection from unprotected sex - however good it may feel at the time. Your body is precious and vulnerable - shield it'.
They'll be turning down the volume next.
I cannot remember if it was 1972 or '73 but it was a gorgeous summer. We were four teenage lads on the run from straight-laced Blackpool. When we arrived at the free festival in Windsor Great Park I was struck by the fact that there was nothing there. For the first time in my life I felt I had left all civilisation behind.
We soon discovered that the festival was counting on common law rights to use the park, and no one had thought to ask permission. 'Great', we thought, 'this really is an alternative society'. Then, the next day, the police did set up a boundary around the festival, by searching everybody coming in or out for drugs.
The only rock group I can remember was Hawkwind, then performing with science fantasy author Michael Moorcock. I was amazed that I could stand right up next to these heroes of mine and dance around with them on the grass 'stage'. Of course, Hawkwind were not being paid for appearing.
There was no law and order but an informal utopian fellowship: 'peace brother', people helping others out, giving away free food and 'pot'. As young kids from Lancashire we were gobsmacked at seeing loads of people walking around in the nude with painted bodies. We drank beer, smoked grass and there were times when I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
At twilight, when people shouted that the 'pigs' were trying to steal the generator, we surrounded the machine, chanting the Edgar Broughton Band's anthem 'Out! Demons! Out!' until it started to rain and the police backed off.
My friends all got busted for drugs when they tried to go to town. Some people wanted to move the festival down to Virginia Water to get away from the cops. But we went off to the Marlborough Downs to search for ancient spirits. The following year we read that the police had pre-empted the festival by smashing up all the equipment and arresting everybody in sight. And that was the end of alternative Windsor.
Love is the drug?
Ecstasy expert Nicholas Saunders talked to Paul Bryan about chilling out with E
'The dangers of Ecstasy have been grossly exaggerated', says Nicholas Saunders. 'Yes, Ecstasy is dangerous, just like horse riding, skiing and fishing are dangerous. The point is that people talk about Ecstasy as dangerous, implying that it is more dangerous than alternative activities which people might be doing if they were not taking Ecstasy. And that is a moot point.'
Middle-class and middle-aged, Saunders lacks the street credibility of Irvine Welsh. But his guides to Ecstasy (E for Ecstasy, Ecstasy and the Dance Culture, and his latest, Ecstasy Rec-onsidered) are as high on the hip-list as Trainspot-ting. With 200 000 hits a month, his website (www.ecstasy.org) attracts even more attention. Not bad for an ex-engineering student who dropped out to take acid more than 30 years ago.
Saunders believes some people have a financial interest in talking up the dangers of a drug like Ecstasy. 'A whole industry has grown up based on the government providing money to combat what they see as the terrible problem of people using illicit drugs. This industry consists of social workers and people in drug units giving advice, and they are in a very odd position. A lot of them are close to the ground and they know there isn't such a problem, but if they said that publicly they would lose their grants. They have to play a double-sided game. They put out pamphlets which have got to appeal to the people giving them grants by looking as if they are being tough on drugs, and at the same time they have got to make them acceptable to their clientele, which is kids who are not going to be fobbed off again with another ridiculous scare-story. What has happened is that these government-backed drugs campaigns, and they are nearly all government-backed, have moved on from what I think they would actually admit was a scare campaign to what they now call education. But the education is a biased thing usually done by telling half-truths.'
Saunders dismisses most supposedly scientific surveys on the effects of Ecstasy as 'complete rubbish, nothing more than a more subtle way of conducting the same old war on drugs: something's illegal, we don't want it so we will provide the evidence that will put people off'. He commends Manchester's Lifeline agency for commissioning 'proper research', while disagreeing with its preference for controlled events over free parties. He also has a good word for the 'more honest' Safer Dancing Campaign, while warning that it may be contributing to a new kind of dependency culture. 'This is looking at the negative side, but what I think they do is possibly create a false impression that everything can be made safe - and that is taking away individual responsibility.'
'I'm trying to give information which covers what people want to know, but one of the real problems is the great reluctance for people to take full responsibility for the experiences they have especially on drugs like LSD. If it gives them a bad time they will blame it on the pill rather than seeing that what a lot of these drugs do is put you in a different state of mind where you can go either way. It might put you in a blissful state, but opening you up to what is around you could equally put you in a bad state. But people are reluctant to blame the effect on the surroundings or what's inside them, and they prefer to say it's the chemical. So there are a lot of misunderstandings and rumours that go around, for instance that there's heroin or rat poison in pills which have never been found in a test.'
Critical of the current readiness to be spoon-fed advice, Saunders says that 'the most important thing for society is to increase individual responsibility and to reduce the way responsibility is laid on them, the authorities, as a sort of nanny state. If everyone is expecting to be looked after by them, people won't actually think about looking after themselves or their friends'. He would prefer people to find out for themselves 'about the drugs you are taking, rather than expecting someone else to pick up the bits and see you all right'.
For all his criticisms of obsessive nannying, however, Saunders can seem as concerned with safety and restraint as those whom he attacks. For instance, he recommends Ecstasy as a means of taking the aggression and arse-grabbing out of social situations. In Ecstasy Reconsidered, there are times when he sounds almost puritanical:
'Traditional alcohol-based events had an undertone of trying to score sexually through flirting and small talk. This was consciously rejected by rave culture where women found it a relief to be able to have fun without being hassled by men, and could also be attributed to MDMA [Ecstasy] as a sexual suppressant.'
Old-style hippie talk converges with modern notions about the hazards of machismo in this endorsement of Ecstasy as the new bromide. Was I off my head or was Saunders turning into a women's safety officer?
He also sees the nineties dance culture as a reaction to Thatcherite competitiveness. 'In the eighties there was a lot of selfishness. Get up and compete with people, make sure you get on top. And the reaction to that is a drug where you can open up and express warmth and love to your friends and feel you can enjoy yourself without being top dog. You get a group of friends, particularly beer drinkers, and they are in a little social group where there is always the top dog and he's the wittiest, the slickest and the others look up to him. When they take E together that relationship dissolves and people are much more open and free and honest and uncompetitive.'
To me, this sounds like everyone dumbing-down to the lowest level. But, citing the example of a community called Centre Point in New Zealand which 'used to take Ecstasy together as a way of ironing out differences', Saunders emphasises the spiritual and placatory potential of Ecstasy. Football supporters and Catholic and Protestant youth in Northern Ireland had already felt the benefit, he claims. At this point the Brave New World of Aldous Huxley's fictional wonder-drug Soma flashed across my mind, and I began to wonder whether Saunders is so very far removed from the government-sponsored ethos that counsels safety over freedom.
Ecstasy Reconsidered, written and published by Nicholas Saunders, distributed by Turnaround £9.95 pbk
Signs of the times
'I have been coming to golf tournaments for more than 30 years and I have never heard anything like it. Every word started with "F". It was absolutely disgusting.'
An 'elderly fan' of Nick Faldo's, after the great man castigated representatives of Mizuno golf clubs, which he appeared to blame for his performance. Golf tournaments have been experiencing outbreaks of boorish behaviour from players and spectators alike.
Not just golf, either. Viewers of Channel 4 Racing were shocked when a passing punter crept up behind colourful pundit John McCririck and shoved an ice cream cone in his face. It was described by a colleague as 'a particularly vicious attack'. Dangerous things, those 99s
Sleaze ain't what it used to be. Since losing his seat in the election, former Tory MP Robin Squire has been raking in the money by entering magazine puzzle competitions - a grand total of £20, to be precise. Surely an inquiry should be looking into the possibility of MPs wielding undue influence on the outcome of such competitions.
Peter Lilley, the former Social Security Secretary is also finding it hard to adjust to life in the slow lane. He recently bolted out of a cab outside the Royal Opera House, only to be called back by his wife. 'Peter, dear', she reminded him, 'you have to pay for a taxi'.
Meanwhile New Labour's new faces are taking to the perks of the job like ducks to water. One was seen boarding a train at Paddington after a serious session in the Strangers' Bar. Upon entering the carriage she looked aghast and said 'Oh my God, this doesn't seem to be first class!' and hurried off to assume her rightful free seat at the top end of the train.
A special mention this month to the public-spirited staff of McDonald's, who smelt alcohol on the breath of Mr Eugene Charlier and arranged for a car to pick him up. It was of course a police car, and Mr Charlier was convicted of driving while over the limit. Terry Foley of McDonald's declared himself pleased that his staff had 'acted so commendably'. Hear, hear.
Who said Tories are boring and fuddy-duddy? The Conservative Central Office Bookshop is doing a roaring trade in William and Ffion jigsaws - or 'engagement puzzles', to give them their proper title. The William Hague portrait puzzle is already a top-seller, but the forthcoming 'wedding puzzle' looks set to break all Tory jigsaw records. Phew!
When President Clinton was greeted by cheering crowds in Romania he will have been pleased to see the people's commitment to safe sex. As a member of the US news crew put it: 'Let's just say that those locals who could not afford balloons resorted to waving balloon-shaped substitutes.'
'Share a Smile Becky' is a new Barbie doll who sits in a pink wheelchair and wears a t-shirt with the Idea (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) logo on it. Unfortunately the designers of the official Barbie toy home are not as aware of the issues. Complaints have been flooding in to manufacturers Mattel about the house's lack of wheelchair access.
Following revelations that SAS trainees asked locals for food and directions during a 'behind enemy lines' exercise, news comes in of Pte Stewart Francis of 216 Para. Francis decided that he didn't fancy roughing it during a 'living on berries'-style exercise and booked himself into an award-winning local hotel. He phoned his mum to get her to pay the bill by credit card, and signed the visitors' book 'unbelievable'. The exercise was abandoned and a search party eventually tracked him down.
Co-producer Jane Hamsher recalls the product-placement that landed Natural Born Killers in hot water
Things go crazy with Coke
The day before the opening, the other shoe dropped on a controversy that we should have seen coming from the start. A member of the press, Variety's Anita M Busch, had been to the cast and crew screening, and had wondered what Coca-Cola felt about its polar bear commercial appearing in the midst of the extremely violent and graphic American Maniacs sequence. Since the whole thing had been handled by Don [Murphy, co-producer] and Coke's West Coast product-placement office, it turned out that the executives in Atlanta were pretty much unaware that they had ever granted such permission. They had an emergency screening of the film for the Coca-Cola board of directors and collectively had a nervous collapse.
When the whole controversy started to break, however, all Don heard was that there was a reporter from Variety calling Oliver's [Stone, director] office, wanting to know how we'd gotten permission to use the commercial in the first place. Don called one of our publicists in a lather - 'If anyone's going to get credit for this, it's going to be me!', he said emphatically.
The next call he got came from Azita. 'Don, I think you want to lie low on this one.'
'How come? I'm the one who pulled it off!'
'Well, Coke is furious', she said. 'They don't know how such a thing happened, and they've closed their Los Angeles product-placement office as a result, pulling all their people back to Atlanta so they can keep a closer watch on them. They're also demanding that we cut it out of the movie.'
Don hung up the phone in silence.
'What, are you surprised?', I said. 'The people who pump millions out of a few cents of carbonated sugar water every year, who essentially have nothing but a trademark and an image of being all-American and wholesome, are concerned about our insinuation that their advertising dollars are financing the production of violent, exploitive, socially debilitating TV shows that care only about ratings at all costs? Gee, who would have thought.'
'Well that's not the only place in the movie where we used their stuff', he said defensively. 'Juliette's [Lewis] also holding a can of Diet Coke in her had when she visits Woody [Harrelson] in prison.'
'Yeah, and she's giving him a hand job with the other one', I said. 'I don't think that's what they have in mind when they say, "Things go better with Coke".'
The subversiveness of the use of the Coke commercial had always thrilled me, as I'm sure it had Oliver, and I knew it had happened only because of a horrific gaffe when nobody was looking. However, the sociological overtones of the appearance of a Coke commercial had never entered Don's mind - he just wanted to scam more free stuff.
He picked up the phone to call the publicist again. 'Remember what I told you a few minutes ago? Well, forget it.'
Taken with the author's permission from Killer Instinct, Jane Hamsher's book about the making of Natural Born Killers, published by Orion Media £16.99 hbk. © Jane and Don Productions 1997. Special Offer to LM readers, £11.99 plus £2.50 p&p. Credit card payments to (01903) 736736, cheques payable to Littlehampton Book Services, PO Box 53, Littlehampton BN17 7BU, quoting reference KI
'Most people need therapy'
Actor-turned-director Gary Oldman says Nil By Mouth is a personal film based on his own upbringing, but it will not be judged as such. Instead, it will inevitably be seen as a Statement. In this case the Statement is, as Oldman himself said at Cannes, 'We are a lot sicker than we think we are. Most people need therapy'.
One of the ironies of these depoliticised times, in which the working class no longer exists as a political entity, is that everybody suddenly seems to be making films about working class people. Their plight is trumpeted from the rooftops, and the minutiae of their lives are picked over. But the result is not a message about inequality, injustice or any of the clichés of earlier social realism. Instead we have a pointless parade of degraded human detritus: loan sharks preying on hard-up single mums, dealers exploiting junkies, gang warfare, petty crime, alcoholics beating up their wives and abusing their kids.
Seen in this context, Nil By Mouth is just another lowlife soap. Never mind that both Kathy Burke and Ray Winstone (revisiting the persona of Carling, the borstal 'Daddy' in Scum) turn in typically good performances. The film inevitably ends up confirming all the prejudices about a feckless, violent 'underclass' (the term now applied to most of the working class).
Oldman says his intention is to treat these people with respect and without sentimentality. Unfortunately, his attempts to give depth and character merely confirm the new stereotypes. Burke is beaten up, and then takes her reformed husband back. Presumably this is meant to indicate her humanity and imply optimism for the future, but the effect is to make her a victim twice over. Winstone is a violent man, out of control and dependent on drink and drugs. His downfall is followed by a period of self-admonishment in which he agonises about how he was denied love by his own violent, alcoholic father. But such unconvincing scenes of angst and personal reflection have more to do with current notions of 'the crisis of masculinity' than with the character in the film.
The Statement is clear: we are destined to live an endless cycle of self-destruction and remorse, self-pity and self-loathing. Thus the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons; and the new stereotypes are projected onto the working class.
I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now is the title of Damien Hirst's first book (Booth-Clibborn Editions, £59.95). A compilation of 700 illustrations, inserts and pop-ups, with an accompanying essay by Gordon Burn, it advertises itself as a collection of Hirst's 'iconoclastic work that challenges the boundaries of art, science, media and culture'.
The road from Marrakech
This summer, I was dozing in a hotel room when an item on Sky News made me sit up and take notice. The story concerned the British government's funding of research into whether scrapie in sheep, the equivalent of BSE in cattle, could be transmitted to humans through the food chain. Too late for me, I thought, since I was in Morocco and the night before I had been eating briouats, deep-fried pastry parcels filled with creamy lamb's brains.
Moroccan food is currently enjoying the attentions of the style press in Britain. Momo, the Moroccan 'theme' restaurant patronised by Madonna, is apparently the hottest new eating place in the capital; and Londoners, if they can get a table, can now tuck into tagines (stews named after the earthenware dish in which they are cooked), couscous and pastilla (a pie containing pigeon, eggs, ground almonds and icing sugar).
Robert Carrier, the cookery writer and long-time resident of Marrakech, rates Moroccan cuisine among the highest in the world, alongside Chinese and even French cooking. But he points out that the best food is not to be had in restaurants; but rather in the home, where cooking is still considered an important part of life.
After a month in Morocco, I understand what he means. Designer restaurants, where they exist, are the preserve of the tourist or the ex-pat resident. The ordinary Moroccan city-dweller is far more likely to go to a cafe, where spicy sausages, burgers and kebabs of lamb or offal are ordered by weight and cooked in front of you over a charcoal grill; or in Marrakech, to a stall in the Djemma el Fna (the main square), where you can sample such delicacies as poitrine de vache (cow's udder). In smaller towns, the 'bring your own' custom is still the norm, whereby patrons take the ingredients with them and prepare their meal in a tagine over a small brazier.
Couscous, considered a staple of North Africa, is normally eaten only on Fridays. This labour-intensive dish, which involves steaming semolina grains in the vapour from a stew containing chicken or lamb, root vegetables, saffron, ginger, cumin and chilli, is eaten from the serving dish either with the fingers of the right hand or with flat bread baked in wood-fired ovens. Made properly, the grain takes on a delicate nutty flavour, far superior to the results obtained from following the recipe printed on supermarket semolina packets. Sweet mint tea, an infusion of Chinese green tea, fresh mint leaves and enough lump-sugar to guarantee instant dental decay, is served at the end of the meal as a digestif.
Although Moroccan restaurants in the West are by no means typical of eating out in Morocco itself, the opening of Momo and others like it adds weight to the claim that London is now the gastronomic capital of the world.
© Neil Haidar, BBC1's Masterchef 1996
Reproduced from LM issue 103, September 1997