Will Self

When I began taking cocaine in the late 1970s a gram cost between £60 and £80. The sixty-quid stuff was flogged by patchouli-smelling proto-goths in black Lycra who wormed about in the ’burbs. It was a dusty concoction of mannitol (a sugar alcohol with many therapeutic uses, including relieving constipated babies), procaine (cocaine’s anaesthetising but non-euphoric cousin), and possibly a small amount of actual cocaine hydrochloride – although probably just the far cheaper and more readily available stimulant amphetamine sulphate. In other words, it was barely cocaine at all. The eighty-quid coke, however, was the real deal: a silky pearlescent substance – not powdery but crystalline and scalar. When you snorted it the taste and the effects fused in a single cokey quale. That’s the thing about intoxicants: because they alter the consciousness that assays them, they blur the boundaries between primary and secondary qualities, between essences and attributes.

The full text of this diary is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.

You are not logged in

[*] Jeremy Harding’s essay was published in the LRB of 20 October 2011.