I Stole Some Hallucinogens as a Teenage Delinquent and It All Turned Sour
The intense chaos of being lost at 17
It was a warm, summer night in 1995. My friend and I had found a large, soggy paper bag of magic mushrooms in the back of a camper van off a suburban road in North London.
It wasn’t luck exactly, we knew the van had been used as an irregular overnight stay by a local drug pusher, someone my friend knew, so we went to the van looking to see what goodies we could find.
Deep in the recesses of my mind, I worried that we were ransacking the ad-hoc bedroom of someone who could be a dangerous individual, but such was my audacity in those days, it was a fleeting thought at best, and besides, I would have much rather pursued excitement than worried about consequence.
We took the mushroom bag and walked around the surrounding streets eating its bitter-tasting contents. It wasn’t pleasant but we wanted to get off our heads, so we did what we had to do.
The two of us ended up at a friend’s house, excitedly telling him we’d just consumed a wealth of magic mushrooms and he should come out with us as we came up. Despite there being no drugs left, and the plan was to simply walk around town seeing what we could find, he happily tagged along, our first stop to buy a bottle of spirits so he could join us in his own form of intoxication.
Looking back at my friendship group, we spent a lot of time on the streets in those days. Residential streets and suburban fields. This was because everyone lived with their parents and pubs were both expensive and full of angry barmen asking for ID. When the weather was good, like it was that night, we would roam freely and consume whatever was available.
There was a lot of low-level trouble that came with such activities. One night several of us were drinking and smoking skunk around an improvised fire, only to be interrupted by the police driving their car across the playing field to stop us. We scattered into the bushes in a blind panic and got away.
Another favourite was a sprawling golf course that we drank on and vandalised, in that order. To this day, I feel guilty about the damage we caused. It came to a head one weekend. I was sitting on top of a golf course shelter as friends kicked panels out of the sidewalls and swarmed around, loud, drunk and zealous. The police arrived out of the darkness and sent us on our way with a warning and no arrests, a minor miracle considering the damage we’d done.
The roof of a local factory was another common hang out. Once, during one of the many evenings up there in the dark, navy skies, we grew loud and raucous and a nearby house called the police. I remember looking down on a policeman as he stood at the top of the fire escape examining the bottles and cans we’d left in our wake before we’d scaled the wall to the roof.
Essentially, we were a whole lot of teenage nuisance; drunk at 4pm outside the shopping centre kind of nuisance, setting fire to dry fields and fences kind of nuisance, breaking into empty factory units and taking what we could find kind of nuisance. It’s not something I’m proud of, it was despicable and anti-social, but I was a deeply dysfunctional teenager, and this sort of nihilistic behaviour came with the territory.
Unsurprisingly, we garnered a lot of hostile attention over the years and we got our comeuppance more than once, don’t you worry.
One evening a friend smashed a discarded sink in the road only for a resident to come out and grab another one of us and try to fight. That same resident attacked my sink-smashing friend a few months later when he burst into his house, throwing fists, because we were shooting an air rifle at his window. Another time, two neighbours came round, both in their underwear, both wielding rolling pins (this is absolutely true) demanding to fight us because of the constant noise at night when my friend’s mother was away. A few weeks later, a different and much more furious neighbour showed up and tried to get in the house as several of us cowered in a locked bathroom.
This was a common occurrence, we drove ordinary folk to the edge. No-one liked us but we didn’t care because we had each other.
That didn't stop me getting my own brand of comeuppance of course. A girl was on a payphone near a friend’s house and as we walked past, my friend needlessly called her a bitch. Two weeks later her boyfriend saw me in the same phonebox, opened the door and slowly hung the phone on the receiver. There was a few seconds of blank stares as I struggled to keep my anus closed, and then he proceeded to headbutt and punch me as his girlfriend shouted "that's enough!"
It wasn’t exactly my fault — I didn’t call her a bitch — but I can’t complain. We were awful and she had been one of the many local people sick of our delinquent shit.
We also got the blame for things that weren’t our fault; a bin fire in the factory, and an aunt of a friend getting us arrested for burglary, which came to nothing because it was a complete fabrication. But these things happen when you make a name for yourself. A local pub landlord once claimed a friend and I flooded the gents by hiding beer cans in the toilet cisterns. We did indeed fill up our pint glasses with cheap lager and hide the evidence, but the flooding bit was simply not true. He said we’d caused thousands of pounds worth of water damage and had chased us down the street as we left, whereas we actually left civilly that night and even said goodbye. But act like little shits and everyone will treat you as such.
Anyway, back to the magic mushroom night in question.
By about 9pm the three of us were on the street and I started noticing shadows cast by the street lights were moving and expanding, I was coming up. My friend was in the same position. We eagerly pointed at objects and shared what we were seeing. The drugs were kicking in and we gawped at everything as their edges moved and perspectives blurred.
We went to some fields as my vision turned black and white. The drone of cars from a nearby motorway sounded like an ambient track I had been listening to around that time, and I didn't know if it was real.
My mind sped up and I wasn’t able to talk without one thought overlapping another. My body felt spacious and disproportioned; my head massive, my limbs made of air and my mouth a floating object.
We knocked for our friend Helen but for one reason or another she didn’t come out. It was at this moment we met three skinheads on the street, one of which had mugged me only a month before. I had lost a good Walkman and about 5 cans of beer that day. Another friend had received a bloody nose.
It was an amicable meeting this time, though tainted with fear and panic on my part. Weirdly, the main culprit recognised me and apologised for the mugging whilst his two smaller friends darted about in the dark, looking through car windows for valuables or I don’t know what.
We left them. I just wanted to get indoors. The black and white night had grown dangerous and alarming. My friend who was also tripping needed to be home else his parents would lock him out (it had happened before), so he left. Things were starting to unravel.
I went back to my drunk friend’s house to call my mother and tell her I was staying over. I couldn’t go home in the state I was in, and besides, I didn’t want to navigate the dangerous night alone. His house phone felt oversized in my hand as my disembodied mouth spoke to my mother. I sounded odd. She didn’t guess. I wanted to tell her I’m sorry. I wanted to hug her and cry.
The kitchen floor overlapped and moved around itself as I sat there dejected. I was convinced there was a sea of aggressive skinheads outside and the front of the house was about to collapse and they would come pouring in and get me. I was terrified.
My friend had been forcing spirits down his throat for a couple of hours and was in no position to give me the emotional support needed, so he went into the living room to tell his mum I was tripping and it was going badly. He was correct, but still, that wasn't my first idea of salvation.
She took sympathy on me as I held back tears of guilt and confessed. I felt like I’d let her down. She sat me down with a glass of salt water and a sick bucket in case I wanted to drink the water and throw up the contents of my stomach, mushrooms perhaps included. I’ve since heard that salt water can make a trip worse. I don’t know how or if this is true but I couldn’t do it anyway so I just sat there, tripping heavily with a bucket in between my legs, watching television.
Wayne’s World 2 was on. In a bizarre slice of domesticity, we all sat together and watched the film in silence. At one point, Wayne talks to a Native American that only he can see. I thought the fact that I could also see him meant I had some kind of super-perception because I was tripping. Reality blurred. The glass in my hand kept growing taller.
I thought of my friend, tripping alone in his room. I asked if we could call him. I insisted. He came to the phone from his bed and said “I’m fine.”
A few hours later my mind began to calm down. I slept in a sleeping bag on my friend’s bedroom floor and awoke feeling normal, if not slightly spikey. That spikey feeling seemed to come as standard as an aftereffect; I also felt it the next time I tripped (along with a few years of flashbacks and panic attacks, but that’s another story).
That morning my drug partner in crime came back to the house, exasperated that we'd called him as he was peaking. “I was tripping off my box and you got me to speak on the phone in front of my parents, what the fuck were you thinking?” I guess we weren't. He told us he was in bed, convinced he was a fetus in a womb before being rudely interrupted by our call which we had said was “a matter of urgency”.
I went home. I got on with life. I didn’t feel much different, though I won’t lie, it did feel like I’d seen another dimension of existence, but only a fleeting glimpse, like seeing a 2D life as 3D, if only for a moment. That probably doesn’t make sense but it’s the best description I can find. It didn’t change the way I thought day to day and I didn’t enjoy the experience in general.
It wasn’t until my second trip that problems began. A much more enjoyable time led to much worse consequences, the drugs opening up an avenue to my anxiety that took a long time to close, if it can ever be truly closed. Essentially if you play with fire, it’s rare you come away better off. Don’t believe the hype.
Still, as I write this, I remember only two things of significance; the closeness of my friends and our wretched behaviour. The pure teenage chaos that descended upon our leafy suburban town, the reckless abandon of doing whatever we felt like when we felt like it. They were great friends and we were as thick as thieves, actual petty thieves at some points, but mostly just drunk, bored teenagers. Looking back I regret nothing. And of course, everything.
That was the first time I took hallucinogens. I was 17.