It wasn’t a pill, really. It was a pile of slightly greenish looking crystal and lumps of powder, folded up meticulously in a leaflet advertising some sort of club night in town. One of the rare crossover points between origami and hard drug taking. I was at Leeds festival in 2010, I was 18 and it was Sunday.
My and my friend Dave (which sounds like it was changed for privacy but that’s really his name) were splitting a gram between us. I knew that was a lot but I also knew it wouldn’t kill us, which at that point was the main concern. It didn’t occur to me that it might be too much for other reasons. At this point I’d done ketamine once and spent many hours reading accounts and advice on sites like Erowid but was basically skulling in unknown waters.
Paranoia was the order of the day for a while. The rest of the group had gone to see a band we didn’t care about and we were going to call them when we got into the arena. I was half in the tent pouring the pack into the designated metal drug plate. Somebody had taught me the rudiments of grinding stuff up and I’d seen enough films of people racking up lines with credit cards (or student IDs in this case) to pretend to be competent. It’s hard to pretend to be Al Pacino in a 2 man tent with a multipack of Mini Cheddars in your periphery but I reckon I did a bang up job all the same - this was proper drugs, after all. Dave was standing watch outside the tent for drug dogs, helicopters, humvees, that sort of thing.
I don’t remember it being a big deal at this point. I’d never been involved in any sort of drug culture: none of my friends took drugs and I spent a solid year reading about them on the internet in increasing frustration that I didn’t know anyone who could source some for me. In the end I managed to get a link through a friend of a friend to go into St Anns (one of the worse parts of a not exactly salubrious city - at least there’s no shortage of drugs in Nottingham) and had to track down a flat somewhere.
I spent about half an hour agonising over what to wear. Would I be more or less likely to get stabbed if I wore skinny jeans? What were the most working class looking clothes I owned? Should I buy a tracksuit for the occasion? I walked up the hill to get there through town and when I got to the top I knocked on the address I’d been given, but it was the wrong one. An elderly lady came down and asked who I was looking for. I told her it was “Marcus”, and then she asked for a surname, which I didn’t have. I panicked and guessed Jones because I’d been trying to find the dude on Facebook to see how scary he was and isolated Marcuses who might be drug dealers, Jones being one of them. I was terrified for months after that I’d incriminated an innocent man. The old lady didn’t know, anyway, so I mumbled my apologies and rang the dude. Turns out he was in the house next door and he hurried me in looking pissed off.
It’s hard to pretend to be Al Pacino in a two-man tent with a multipack of Mini Cheddars in your periphery.
He was a short but hefty looking black guy and he was in a messy bungalow it turned out that he was watching for his brother. I came in and sat on the sofa and then he offered me a cup of tea, which confused the hell out of me. Was he just being polite or was I obliged to hang around and watch daytime TV with him before I got my drugs? It was all a bit awkward, as it’s proved with most other friendly drugs dealers I’ve met. You both know you want the drugs but you’re too basically sociable not to ask what they’ve been up to in the 2 minute walk to the park or wait in their car. Eventually he sold me them anyway.
I transported the wrap (along with some ketamine and weed which I sold because I don’t smoke weed and I don’t know why I bought it) inside a pot of gel which was in turn wrapped up in my bedroll which was in turn concealed in my rucksack. I wasn’t taking any fucking chances. While in the queue at the entrance I saw that bags were being searched and I panicked and rescued all the packets before putting them in my boxers, because they can’t search your boxers. This worked a treat and I don’t think I told Dave the plan, him likely being disinclined to snort a line of drugs which had been baptised by some summery bollocks.
Any eau-de-bollock in the end was masked by quite how fucking unpleasant it is to rail 500mg of MDMA. It burned like a motherfucker. MDMA is one of the worst to snort in my experience, second only to 2c-e which was one of the most unpleasant things I’ve ever attempted to put into my face, and this was a lot of MDMA. Half a gram in one line is an intimidating line. We split them in half again for ease of snorting but it all went in up the end. Dave immediately grasped for a Strongbow as the nearest liquid to wash down the avalanche of drip back, which is when the powder begins seeping through your sinuses into the back of your mouth where you can taste but not quite get rid of it. Somebody had spilled a cuppa soup over the top of the cider but he was desperate enough that he didn’t have time for an alternative. I gave him a water bottle and he commenced pacing in tight circles squeezing it tightly and rolling it in his hands while I sat still-ish groaning in pain and muttering “holy shit holy shit holy shit” to myself.
The difficulty with the first rush is the intensity of experience. Everything was just too much. It’s hard to describe what’s happening to you beyond “everything”. Everything was happening at once. My body was coiled with nervous, anxious energy and my chest felt tight. My brain was rushing with sensation - I don’t think it knew what was going on and all that was happening was blaring cognitive sirens and synapses running screaming through fire-doors. Then, suddenly, everything aligned. All the chaos seemed to focus onto one frequency and there was an almost physical wash of relief. A moment of “…..aaahhhh”. I grabbed my water bottle as well and we set off. MDMA is a phenylethylamine and mild hallucinogen and especially at this dose this was the case. Everything seemed vivid and slightly cartoonish and oversaturated. It was gorgeous. We stumbled onto the main path, hands shaking and sweaty. I dropped to my knees suddenly and was sick in front of everyone, then washed my mouth out and got up again. Dave asked me “Shit are you alright, man?” but I was beyond alright. More alright than I’d ever been and ever will be. “Alright” was a meaningless concept to me.
We decided to be an aeroplane. He wrapped his arms around my chest from behind and I put my arms out and we flew up the hill to the entrance to the music arena making aeroplane noises and zooming around knots of people. We retained just about enough sanity to slow down before we got to the gate but I’ve got no doubt we didn’t pass as sober. Our jaws were gritted so furiously that all speech came out with a “fvvv” in front of it. The sound had a funny quality to it anyway, a sort of metallic edge to it, a weird reverberance. It’s something I’ve only managed to regain once since I think. They checked our bands and let us in anyway.
After this is a bit of a blur. I know that at one point we decided to make our way to the main arena by rolling, the we decided we could hug and roll at the same time so we did, awkwardly crushing each other in turn. This was at about 2pm in a still only just filling arena. It was very public. I hope people still tell the stories about seeing us. I don’t think I’ve seen anybody as festivals as obviously wrecked as we were then before or since. Eventually we stood up and kept going, stopping to waylay every single person we met who looked cool. “You have great hair, can I touch it? No that’s weird I won’t touch it. I shouldn’t. Am I being creepy. Oh god. This stuff. Holy shit. You have a nice face? What’s your name?” except we were talking so quickly and gurning so much that you can delete the spaces from that. I don’t know who understood us. A lot of people fled. There was an odd mix of intense need to talk to people and a sort of self-consciousness about upsetting people because upsetting people would be awful. We wanted them to be happy.
We saw a poster for Leftfield and I offered to go and piss on it because one of their songs had once upset Dave on ketamine. He thanked me for the gesture but said I didn’t need to. I wouldn’t have been able to anyway. Pissing on MDMA is difficult to impossible. It does just doesn’t come out. It’s not like being constipated, you can’t feel it lurking, it’s just a weight on your bladder going no further. One of us lost a bottle somehow and we needed to buy a new one from the water man, something which required serious planning in case the man knew we were on drugs and called the authorities. I ran up and put the money down on the plate and said “Hello, sir, can we have one of your bottles of water please” and then asked him his name. No sirens followed us. The fool didn’t suspect a thing.
"You have great hair, can I touch it? No that’s weird I won’t touch it. I shouldn’t. Am I being creepy? Oh god. This stuff. Holy shit. You have a nice face? What’s your name?”
It’s called ecstasy and not without good reason. It’s sheer, rushing joy, unconfined and unrelated to anything happening outside your head. It’s the feeling every wonderful experience you’ve ever had gives you but plugged in direct. It skips out the middle man. It’s happiness in a packet and for a long time I struggled with how comfortable I was with the idea that the greatest moments of my life would only be shadows of this surge of pleasure. It’s jarring to be reminded of just how synthetic your emotional reactions are at the most basic level.
We spent some more time bumming about but were slowly regaining sanity at that point. We found out friends and Dave went and hung out with them while I went to see Gogol Bordello, who are a gypsy-punk band. It was a gorgeous sunny day and everybody was dancing jigs in circle pits with each other. There was an 11 year old child on his own. I asked him if he was okay and he was, and he danced a jig with me. I offered him a piggy back but he declined, because he’d probably been sensibly told to. I decided he’d earned it so I gave him my “Over 18” band and said he should go and buy himself some beer.
The rest of the afternoon was a simmering down. I don’t know who we saw. I was fully sober by LCD Soundsystem and I’d chewed up my mouth so much I couldn’t eat anything. It didn’t heal for a week after and I had to grimace through family meals but I reckoned, all things considered, it was probably worth it.