Until last week, the fact that the denizens of the green benches were about to consider the rights and wrongs of the legality of buying poppers had rather passed me by.
In fact, even when I turned on the radio one teatime and heard Crispin Blunt, the Tory member for one of those places you drive through on your way to Brighton, explaining to Eddie Mair that he was a user of the stuff, things weren't much clearer. It had a touch of Phil Collins endorsing Nonce Sense about it. At that point the legislation hadn't been passed, and when Blunt was asked for his advice to other poppers' users should it go through he said he thought they should stock up on the stuff before the long arm of the law took an interest. You wouldn't want to run out.
It's the first time I've ever heard an MP advocating panic buying. Certainly for something that's used primarily in sex. And this from the party that only thirty years ago couldn't even bring itself to use the term "anal sex" on pamphlets and adverts. Instead, in those heavy-handed AIDS messages of the 1980s, Norman Fowler and his pals settled on "rectal sex". An expression that I read as a fourteen year old and thought must be something to do with a type of vicar. And probably quite often it was. Apparently Margaret Thatcher had preferred the term "back passage intercourse" but I imagine that's because she was a woman who liked a beautifully coined, poetic turn of phrase as much as she did some bracing trickle-down economics.
Just over a month ago, I saw a large display of various brands of poppers available for sale in a corner shop in Kingston-upon-Thames. I'd nipped out of the nearby Rose Theatre during their offering of A Christmas Carol to buy some tissues and there they were on the counter butted up against the Handy Andies and the chewing gums. They struck me as rather incongruous but who's to say there aren't people who, as they nip to the shop to buy a pint of milk or a packet of custard creams, don't think a small serving of amyl nitrate wouldn't go down a treat too.
Many years before that I used to perform occasionally at a particularly dour gig which took place in a Birmingham bar. The audience slouched about on sofas and we acts would go through the motions. One particular night, as I ordered a celebratory drink after wowing the crowd into a profound state of indifference, I noticed they too were selling poppers. As with the shop in Kingston, there they all were: Fist, Rush Ultra and Jungle Juice. How well they sold I've no idea but they seemed less out of place in a gay bar than vying for space alongside Fruitella and that week's copy of Bella. Once thing I did notice was that there was a little sign above the display which instead of calling them what everybody calls them, ie poppers, instead euphemistically described them as Room Odourisers.
Apparently this (previously) legal high often employed to make make bum sex easier was coyly referred to in this way. I trust the innocents of Kingston haven't ever misunderstood this terminology. The people queuing behind me last month, stocking up on tissues and fags to see them through the festive season, might have found themselves thinking: "oh I should get a couple of stand-by presents in. You never know when you might need one. It's that time of year people do have a horrid habit of dropping by unexpectedly. Just in case great aunt Maud pops in with a box of Cadbury's Celebrations again it would be nice to have something to offer her by way of return."
And for us unimaginative present-givers we all know old ladies like nice smelly things and so I can only hope that great aunt Maud is appreciative.
"What was that scented stuff you gave me, dear? I couldn't place it. Lavender, gardenia, lily-of-the-Valley?"
"No, amyl nitrate."
"Oh, I've never heard of that. Sounds foreign. Strange smell. Heady. Very relaxing though."
Now that it's been put beyond our reach, from next year we'll have to think of something else to give the old girls in our lives.