Last night I watched Russell Brand in a BBC documentary, From Addiction to Recovery, argue, among other things, that drug addiction is a disease and as such should be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal one. He also engaged in some lively debate with a health specialists about the use of abstention as apposed to methadone as a rehabilitation tactic.
We have never been short on narratives relating to drug addiction and drug dealing from the offenders' perspective but very few stories are told from the point of view of the wider community which is a gap I hoped to fill with my book, Block. At first I wasn't going to watch the programme, reluctant to revisit old visions, still, I found myself drawn in as Russell spoke to addicts, ex-dealers, health experts and charities, taking his views as far as the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee and contributing to the Drugs Policy Inquiry.
I don't doubt that evidence shows a predisposition to addiction in some people and that it should indeed be treated as a health issue but it has to be accepted that criminal behaviour should carry with it criminal consequences because what about the victims of the crimes? So by all means rehabilitate but in considering yet another account from addicts' perspective don't forget about the ruined communities in between. One police officer said that it was his belief that dealers should be incarcerated but that addicts should be treated/rehabilitated. The reality is that addicts are also often dealers so where do you draw the line?
It's clear that whatever the 'system' is at the moment it's not working otherwise those of us within poorer communities would not be witnessing the sad scenes we see every day and the point is why should we have to? Because the law sees fit to give chance after chance to dealers and addicts? What about our second chances? Why should we have to live in fear, anxiety and always with the threat of violence and crime?
Watching the programme I did feel an enormous amount of sadness. It was hard to watch; Pictures of junkies who had used for so many years that their veins and bodies were (for want of a better word) fucked, first hand accounts from people who obviously wanted to make a change. I've always maintained that none of us are immune. All of us are only one bad decision or one bad experience away from that slide towards addiction/social isolation/homelessness etc. Are they often victims of abuse or circumstance? Yes, but so are many of us and you can't remove the element of personal responsibility. We are all victims of poor policies poorly executed within a piss poor system but there are different levels of victimhood. If we as a community find ourselves victim to violence, robbery, fear can we accept personal responsibility for that? No, but surely the dealer/addict must accept some responsibilty for sticking a needle in his/her vein and then going out and commiting a crime. Otherwise you throw them back into society without rehab, without jail time, without support, and what does it create? Yet more victims. Too often rehab seems to consist of putting addicts and dealers back into the very same communities they have damaged. How does that help them or their victims?
Another argument posed was that they are part of society and should be treated as such. Well of course, but let the addict accept their part in that too. It is only once they accept that they have both a personal and social responsibility that they can be helped and welcomed back into society. So by all means treat it as a health issue but look at it from all sides because those of us who live within those damaged communities often find ourselves suspending sympathy/empathy because for us it's a matter of day to day survival.
Finally made it to the cinema to see The Dark Knight Rises. I was not disappointed. I thought it contained some very strong performances from Michael Caine and Joseph Gordon-Levitt who is fast becoming another one of my favourite actors. Near the end of the movie I did find it rather bizarre when the battle between good and evil descended into a bit of a scrap between the entire police force of Gotham City and all the bad guys, Bane and Batman included, which basically consisted of several minutes of people just cuffing one another as hard as they could. I guess they got bored of using their rocket launchers, machine guns and atomic bombs. I was actually glad when Batman and Bane managed to take an exit from that scene by boxing one another into the indoors. It was only then that the film came back to semi-reality. However, it did seem odd that it only took a few well aimed fisty-cuffs for Batman to momentarily gain the upper hand over this clearly physically superior opponent. All in all it was good entertainment (if a little bit over-manipulative with the constant driving soundtrack).
I found myself in quite a tightly packed cinema, one of the smaller screens as it seems to be coming to the end of its run, but every seat was filled. Not all audience members were as satisfied as I was by the end of the movie. I heard one woman remark that there was "just killing killing and killing and no storyline," while leaving at the end of the movie with her young son. Number one, why would you bring your son to a movie if you had no idea of the content? It wasn't such a departure from the other Nolan films in the trilogy and the trailer certainly didn't leave you in any doubt as to what to expect. There were some very young kids in there I might add. I'm not convinced all of them were 12. Number two, there was indeed a storyline and a very strong, long and convoluted one at that. The script/dialogue was very good compared to most action films but I suppose that's the risk with these kind of movies, audiences pay more attention to the visuals than to any underlying messages they might have, messages which in this case related to the nature of justice, revenge and heroism etc.
So, whilst I was snivelling into my tissues at Batman's final line, "Anyone can be a hero. Even a man who put a coat around a young boy's shoulders to let him know the world hadn't ended", other disgruntled viewers were off to book themslves tickets to the next Alvin and the Chipmonks movie. I'm not saying I enjoyed the violence quite as much as the psycho who was sat next to me, who laughed every time someone got their back or neck snapped, but come on, this is the Dark Knight we're talking about not the latest offering from Dreamworks.
As for other charges levelled against the film, well I didn't think that Bane mumbled too much. I could pretty much understand everything he said. The only thing I remain bemused about is my fellow audience members, including one woman who immediately got up and moved to another seat the moment I sat down and unwrapped my Subway sandwich. No, it was not bought on the premises but no, it was not very smelly and no, I did not intend to eat it at all noisily. Next time I'll bring sardines. Clearly she felt I was impinging on her own private living room space and would likely ruin her viewing pleasure and that of her eight year old son who was sat next to her watching a cert 12A film. Sorry!
Watching the latest music video from rapper/singer Plan B I thought to myself ‘what the hell is this?’ With its searing violins the track, Ill Manors, is a bit of an assault on the senses but it’s the provocative visuals that make you sit up and take notice, along with the fact that the production makes you feel like Plan B is actually shouting ‘Oi you’ right in your face. It’s instantly recognisable as scenes from last year’s riots. My initial reaction was one of disgust, seeing all this replayed; cars being burnt out, people being aggressive and I thought how disrespectful to all those who lost their lives, homes and businesses during the riots… but then I looked a bit closer, listened a bit closer and did a bit of research by reading the lyrics, listening to a couple of Plan B interviews and looking at a few articles.
Whilst I can understand the controversy over the video I don’t think it benefits from being assessed in isolation. In essence he’s trying to urge people towards looking at why youths behave in an antisocial way and provoking people into considering how negative stereotypes perpetuated by the media can back people into a corner and create a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not wrong to search for answers. It does not excuse the behaviour but it goes some way towards preventing it from happening again. Unfortunately a call for a deeper understanding of a problem is often seen as someone condoning bad behaviour.
The riots are still a raw subject for a lot of people. I for one did not appreciate the sight of riot police charging down my road, the noise of helicopter propellers disturbing our sleep in the early hours of the morning, being evacuated from the public library for fear of marauding teenagers, not being able to buy a loaf of bread or milk because the shops all closed mid-afternoon (if they opened at all) and I hated the fact that I couldn’t even take the kids out past 4pm for fear of their safety. It truly brought tears of anger and sadness to my eyes to see ordinary shopkeepers sweeping up glass from the pavement because each and every shop front had been smashed. To see people who I knew made homeless just because they happened to live above shops that had been burnt to the ground. To hear stories of neighbouring children who had nightmares because they could see buildings burning to the ground. To speak to parents who had to struggle on for days because they’d lost their weekly shopping after the gas and electricity had to be cut off during the fires.
But if it’s worth punishing the arsonists and thieves it’s also worth questioning what it is that makes people feel that they can just take what they want and destroy the rest because in most cases the people that they were taking from were little better off than themselves.
I struggle to view the events of last year as a political protest but it’s also not enough to label it as pure opportunism. What is it that makes some people seize on the opportunity to cause mayhem and then seize once again on the opportunity to say it’s because of injustice and deprivation? Of course these things are valid factors in some cases but for each person who jumps on that bandwagon it devalues the argument for those for whom these things really were a factor in their bad behaviour. So Plan B’s video rubs people up the wrong way. Rap always rubs people up the wrong way. Rappers are an easy target and an easy way for authority figures to deflect attention away from their own failings but I don’t think he’s wrong to raise questions. I’m just not sure the message is overt enough in the video for people to see past the dramatic scenes and listen to what he’s saying.
It's fair to say that, depending on where you live in London, you can't spit without hitting a betting shop. Most people frequently do (spit, I mean). No wonder TB is on the rise. Opinion seems to be a little divided as to whether the risk to public health is real or theoretical. But theoretical or not, I'd like to walk the street without the risk of getting gobbed on every 5 seconds. Why is it that some people can't take two steps without sharing the contents of their mouth? (and don't tell me it's a cultural thing because I see people of all nationalities doing it). All sorts of people are spitting everywhere, in every direction in every minute of every day.
Anyway, let's fight one battle at a time and the battle for today is the one against betting shops. The Government recently rejected the proposal to put betting shops in their own planning class (a recommendation put forward in the Portas Review). MPs David Lammy, Dianne Abbott and Cllrs Nilgun Canver and David Schmitz are a growing league of politicians who have something to say on the subject.
To get to my nearest bookshop I have to catch a bus and a tube, whilst the local betting shops are a mere gobshot away in a variety of different directions and yet, the Government sees fit to reject the idea of making it harder to get planning permission. I mean what do they think? 'Oh, the poor plebs look like they need a a little help getting out of poverty. Let's throw another betting shop at them and see how they do, that'll solve the problem. Come to think of it they haven't quite reached their spit quota yet so while we're at it let's send some people down there to gob all over them so that they all catch TB and die. We'll have them all swimming in sputum by Christmas but let's send them some armbands so it looks like we're actually doing something to help.'
Why should these shops be able to set up wherever they like in vacant pubs, restaurants, cafes, bars or takeaways without applying for planning permission? Why not make them jump through a few hoops? Could it be that the councils don't want to deal with the extra paperwork?
By comparison, as a homeowner of an ex-council flat you have to ask for permission from the council before you even change the colour of your front door. Just to upset people even more they paint it some inexplicable shade of brown, the likes of which I have never seen on any paint chart. It is a hue that wavers somewhere between a skid mark and very very cheap chocolate. You have to get the nod of approval before you put in double glazing, for example. I practically have to ask for planning permission before I vomit my disgust down the toilet bowl after reading the overly boastful local council newsletter. We couldn't have that kind of thing entering the communal environment could we? No No No. We are restricted in ever new and inventive ways. Here are just some of the signs of prohibition that are plastered across London boroughs.
My children can't play ball games, feed the pigeons, ride their bikes, but it's quite alright for them to slip on a patch of mucus and fall headlong into some geezer stood outside the local bookies counting his change who's so juiced up to the eyeballs that he thinks his 2p profit is actually a tenner in disguise. I've got nothing against having a flutter every now and then but if betters had to pay bus and tube fare and travel halfway across London to furnish their pleasures then perhaps they'd think twice about spending money they didn't have. After that, if they're still so keen to waste their cash, they can come round my place, wipe my face with their tenner and throw their money down the loo after I've vomited in my monthly fit of rage.
Anyway, having solved the mystery of the mask (and the mystery of why anyone in their right mind would choose to cover up Tom Hardy's delicious face) I then stumbled across a clip of some of the lovely work he's doing for the Prince’s Trust.
Might I add that the very same people he's trying to help are not dissimilar to the muffled voices that live in my new novel, Block. Getting pointers from an ex-addict must surely help. Tom has admitted in countless interviews that financially/socially he had a good start in life but just took a wrong turn somewhere. Unfortunately some kids have less of a foundation to build upon. A lot of families face daily challenges. I’m not even talking about the big life changing events like a death in the family, someone losing their job or a father walking out, I’m talking about the tiny ways in which societies can become ground down into the dirt. The minuscule events which eat away morsel by minuscule morsel. Without the right support it’s too easy for some kids to fall into a certain pattern of behaviour, behaviours sometimes inherited simply by virtue of the location of their home, behaviours that they acquire almost through a process of osmosis by being too close to crime and poverty. Add to that, endless bureaucracy and inefficiency and, without meaning to remove any element of personal responsibility, you have real recipe for disaster. So it's great that the Prince’s Trust does such work to help kids turn their lives around but a lot of their problems should never arise in the first place.
There will always be poverty, and it's always relative of course, but surprise surprise lives can be made a lot worse by mismanagement by various agencies and the Government is at the top of the chain. Take children’s centres for example; in these poorer areas I have spoken to so many people who have lost their jobs. Some centres have closed full stop with others having to downscale the services that they offer. I know the recession is hitting everywhere but does it make sense to batter childcare centres so hard when they are the information hubs of some of these poorer communities? They are not only a safe place for disadvantaged children to play and learn but a place where developmental issues can be picked up early and addressed by various experts, a place where parents can meet others in similar situations to themselves and gain support, a place where out of work parents can learn new skills and gain advice, a place where some people learn parenting skills so that they don’t just repeat patterns generation after generation. These are the places that strengthen communities and offer a way out. These kinds of services are of benefit to us all as a society… rich or poor.
It's all very well setting up youth programs. I have nothing against that, but sometimes you can improve a person’s life in small ways just by fixing a lock that's been broken or providing them with a noise free and pollution free environment, by setting up CCTV cameras and patrolling problem areas. You’d be surprised what a child can achieve when they can breathe clean air, get a good night’s sleep (without listening to wannabe ASBO chick/chap from three floors up) and go out to play without tripping over a crack pipe. And please please please can they one day visit the local play park without fear of being eaten by a rabid dog that’s been cross bred to within an inch of its life? It does wonders for their confidence. Create better management of estates/social housing and better policing and a better justice system, create better schools and better support for people who want to do the right thing and you might just create better communities who don't see drugs and crime as their default option.
Bane, Hard Men and Hard Dogs
Forgive me for being a little slow on the uptake but it's just come to my attention that the next Christopher Nolan film is due for release in July 2012. I'm clearly not fanatical enough in my love of the Bat. Still, although I'm sure you real fanboys out there are ready to punish me for my ignorance by collectively cyber spitting in my direction, please indulge me a little.
How intrigued was I when I saw the pictures of the new villain? Do I want to meet that in a dark alleyway? No I do not. He looks like a bloody hard dog with a muzzle on it, the likes of which I'm not accustomed to seeing round here in North London, the pit bull capital of the world. Muzzle or no muzzle I'd still cross the street and take my chances with a drooling rottweiler that's still slobbering over the carcass of its last kill after having been let off its leash.
I want to start a campaign; the tagline of which would read 'if your dog's pure muscle buy it a muzzle'. The only kind of dogs that I want to see strolling next to me are the ones that wear a coat in a light spring breeze. You know, the ones that are so small that you wonder whether you should stroke it or call pest control.
A few rules;
Anyway, how intrigued was I still, to find that hiding beneath the mask of the super psycho Bane was none other than Tom Hardy who is currently one of my favourite actors? Don't worry Tom I forgive both you and Christopher for Inception, which in my view could have been a great movie had it not been so unnecessarily complicated. Although I am willing to admit that perhaps I just don't get enough sleep and that's what's messed up my intellect. My mate on the other hand did catch up on some sleep... sat next to me at the cinema while I was scratching my head trying to work out what the hell was going on in that movie. Perhaps it was just one of those nights. You know, one of those cinema nights where you don't want to work your brain too hard. Where you just want an excuse to eat your own body weight in popcorn, scoff pic 'n' mix till you're so amped up it takes a week to come down from the sugar high. And let's not forget the main reason for going to see a movie on the big screen, to have a really lengthy conversation on your mobile phone until the person sat next to you wants to stab you in the eye with the straw from their Coca Cola... repeatedly or rub salsa in your hard to reach places. But there I go rambling again, off on one of my many cerebral detours.
Back to Bane, penned as 'the man who broke the Bat'. Quite literally, for in the Knightfall story arc in the original comics he breaks Batman's back. Don't like the sound of that at all. No I do not. Upon checking the character's backstory on Wikipedia I find that,
'Bane was born in the fictional Caribbean Republic of Santa Prisca, in a prison called Peña Dura ("Hard Rock"). His father Edmund Dorrance had been a revolutionary and had escaped Santa Prisca's court system. The corrupt government however decreed that his young son would serve out the man's life sentence, and thus Bane's childhood and early adult life are spent in the amoral penitentiary environment. '
Ahh, the rough justice of fictional lands. What follows involves several killings and altercations in which a teddy bear may have been involved but to cut a long story short...
'Bane ultimately establishes himself as the "king" of Peña Dura prison. The prison's controllers take note and eventually force him to become a test subject for a mysterious drug known as Venom, which had killed all other subjects... The Peña Dura prison Venom experiment nearly kills Bane at first, but he survives and finds that the drug vastly increases his physical strength, although he needs to take it every 12 hours (via a system of tubes pumped directly into his brain) or he will suffer debilitating side-effects'
I suppose that such a childhood would leave you a bit pissed off wouldn't it?