At Sir John Soane’s Museum a brilliant new exhibition of William Hogarth’s paintings on the rotten morality of Georgian London has just opened.
It includes his famous image of an addicted city, Gin Lane. Today’s Hogarth would be painting a different picture of London’s dark side: Cocaine Alley.
Our city is drowning in the stuff. Research by scientists at King’s College London show that more than half a million doses of the drug are consumed in London every day — that’s 23kg, eight tonnes a year, more than three other big cities in Europe, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Berlin combined.
King’s have been keeping an eye on Britain’s drug-taking habits for a while: earlier this year it suggested that one in 50 people in London takes the drug every day and use is going up.
By tracking the concentration of benzoylecgonine — produced when cocaine is broken down in the liver — in waste water they have an accurate idea of what’s going on.
Of course none of this comes as a shock. Police raids finding massive stores of the drug are routine.
This week more than a dozen people were held after raids linked to the discovery of lorries carrying 351kg of cocaine, some of it said to be hidden in boxes of juice for children. It won’t make a blind bit of difference to the ease with which it can be bought.
Purity has gone up, prices have gone down and those who want it can find a dealer fast. Some claim it’s quicker than buying a pint in a busy West End bar.
We’ve reached the point when users aren’t afraid of the law, when the consequences of smuggling and selling the drug are wrecking lives through county-lines gangs and casual violence, and when the consequences for health and mental wellbeing are unknowable.
Attempts to persuade users of the grim impact of cocaine — from the trashing of the natural environment in order to grow the coca plant to the part it plays fuelling knife crime — don’t seem to make any difference.
There is no simple answer. Not the legalisation of a socially and physically harmful poison. Not just more resources for policing. Not just education — although a society in which smoking can cease to be mainstream is one that could surely decide to rid itself of cocaine, too.
Maybe we need a new Hogarth to show us as we really are.
No justice from Trump
“It happens.” Even by the low standard of Donald Trump’s often crass, cruel remarks these words sting.
He was responding to calls for him to lift the diplomatic immunity on a US diplomat’s wife, Anne Sacoolas, who left the country after the death of a British teenager in a car accident.
He doesn’t care, or Britain isn’t important enough for him to do anything about it, but the parents of Harry Dunn aren’t going to give up.
They say they will fly to the US and are considering launching a civil law case. They have found themselves in a terrible situation.
The US President should think again and let Ms Sacoolas face justice.
When Harry met Ed
Today is World Mental Health Day — a moment to recognise an issue that’s been ignored for too long, and joke about it too in support of the cause.
Prince Harry and Ed Sheeran have teamed up to make a video encouraging people to “reach out, make sure that your friends, strangers look out for anybody who might be suffering in silence. We’re all in this together”.
And they are not just talking about their ginger hair.