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27 January 2016

After doing poppers with my mum, I’m now at least as experienced with legal highs as a Tory backbencher

I hand her the bottle and watch her do a drug in the most Jewish mother way imaginable. That is to say – with the utmost suspicion.

By Eleanor Margolis

You know those lazy Tuesday afternoons sitting on the sofa in sweatpants and doing poppers with your mum? Maybe it’s a January thing. In a month in which winter has become that guy who brought two cans of Foster’s to the party, and is refusing to leave post-4am, maybe sampling arse-loosening solvents with your mother is the only thing left to be done.

“Am I going to need to keep an eye on you?” says my mum.

She doesn’t know what poppers are. She thinks I might die. To be completely honest though, I only have the vaguest inclination of what I’m doing. I’ve always known of poppers. When I was about thirteen, I had friends of friends who used to do them on bored Saturdays, in depressing parks. Not people from my school, exactly. My school was fancy and full of dicks. But kids from other schools in the borough. A friend of mine from one of the other schools told me that she’d heard they make the sky turn purple.

Poppers, in case you’re part of the not particularly rigorous My Mum school of drug-taking, are those things in little bottles, with names like “Jungle Juice”, sold legally (for now) as “room odourisers”. Which, by the way, seems about as sly as marketing a machete as a back scratcher.  Not that poppers have been proven to be any more dangerous than alcohol or cigarettes. But, as part of the government’s recently-announced crackdown on legal highs, these fun size bottles of basically harmless sex fuel for gay guys stand to be banned from April.

Before the ban was proposed, by Theresa May of all people (seriously, the idea of the home secretary having thoughts on any component of rave culture fills me with nothing but glee), trying poppers had never crossed my mind. And if the ban goes ahead, there’s absolutely no way I’m going to make the effort to source them illegally. So, as soon as Theresa May decided to be morally outraged by poppers, they shot straight up to the top of my list of things to try, overtaking ceviche.

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I bought my bottle of Jungle Juice, which boasts “since 1982” on the label as if the early 80s were remotely special, from a sweet, although moderately perplexed, gothy-looking woman in her 20s, at a sex shop on Old Compton Street. I made a joke about the fact I was buying poppers (which she referred to stalwartly as “room odourisers”) for journalistic purposes. What can I say? There was bondage gear everywhere and I got flustered. My flusteredness proceeded, I think, to make her flustered. Perhaps though, “sex shop assistant” isn’t the best career choice for someone who can’t cope with the perpetually flustered. She said, “enjoy”, as I left though, which was a nice touch.

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So here I am, attempting to enjoy. I unscrew the cap and take one cautious sniff.  Nothing. I’m reminding myself of my two-year-old niece confronted with her first mince pie. I take a less cautious sniff. Still nothing.

“I think I call bullshit on these,” I tell my mum.

“What’s the sell by date?” she says, “Check the sell by date!”

I humour her by looking for a sell by date.

I take an even less cautious sniff and suddenly my neck feels really… veiny.

“Oh, maybe it’s doing something now,” I say.

I look out of the window at the sky, just in case that purple sky thing had any veracity. It suddenly strikes me just how subjective the notion of purpleness is. Am I high? Well, not really. My face feels really hot though. Which isn’t unpleasant.

“OK, now you try some,” I say to my mum. Honest to God this happened. My family isn’t like yours.

She narrows her eyes.

“What’s it actually for?” she says.

“Well, technically it’s for making sex better. And a lot of gay guys take them to make anal sex easier – you know – it’s supposed to make your arsehole looser.”

“Are you going to test this then?” she says.

“MUM,” I say.

Anyway, she is very clearly not convinced by the whole concept of poppers. I hand her the bottle and watch her do a drug in the most Jewish mother way imaginable. That is to say – with the utmost suspicion. She screws up her face at the strong solvent smell.

“Eugh,” is her review so far.

Although she adds that she thinks it’s nice that they have safety caps, so as children can’t get at them.

My dad crops up from somewhere. I didn’t even know he was in the house. In spite of him being just as fine with everything as my mum, I get this instinctive feeling of, “Shit. Busted.” Just a reminder here that I’m nearly 27.

“Let him try some,” says my mum, ever the egalitarian.

“No, he has heart problems,” I say, “you’re not supposed to take them if you have heart problems, I’ve read about them.”

My dad takes a look at the bottle, anyway.

“Oh,” he says, “amyl nitrate”.

“AMYL NITRATE,” says my mum, “those are as old as the hills, people have been doing them since the 70s.”

My dad mentions something about me being in an unusually good mood and totters off.

Legal high-wise, I’m now at least as experienced as a Tory backbencher. Which is comforting, in a way. Mike Freer, MP for Finchley and Golders Green recently admitted to being a fan o’poppers, shortly after his mate Theresa suggested we banish them from this gloomy, Conservative kingdom, along (probably…) with all baby animals and any given child’s sense of wonder. But not, of course, Donald J Trump.

In the evening, I realise I have – among many other stresses this week – a tax return to file. I bury my head in my hands.

“Afraid I’m not going to be much fun to be around, the next few days,” I tell my parents.

Fun,” says my dad, “You’re never fun. You were briefly fun when you had some amyl nitrate before.”

Ceviche next.