Withnail & I showed up again on my new smartbox during the week, and, yes, just like the finest wines available to humanity, it seems to get even better with age.
Camden Town, London. 1969. Could be right here, right now. I always forget about that scene in the flat, early on, when Withnail picks up a tabloid newspaper and starts reading aloud, to I.
Withnail: Listen to this. "Curse of the superman. I took drugs to win medals said top athlete Geoff Woade. "
I: Where's the coffee?
Withnail [reading from the newspaper]: "In a world exclusive interview 33 year-old-shot putter Geoff Woade, who weighs 317 pounds, admitted taking massive doses of anabolic steroids, drugs banned in sport. It used to get him bad tempered and act down, said his wife. He used to pick on me. But now he's stopped he's much better in our sex life and in our general life."
[I pours water from the kettle into a bowl and goes back into the living room. Withnail follows him.]
Withnail: My God, this huge, thatched head with its earlobes and cannonball is now considered sane. Geoff Woade is feeling better and is now prepared to step back into society and start tossing his orb about. Look at him. Look at Geoff Woade. His head must weight fifty pounds on its own.
[Withnail stands in front of a mirror and brushes his long, greasy hair with a comb. I sits on the settee and starts drinking the coffee from the bowl using a spoon.]
Withnail: Imagine the size of his balls. Imagine getting into a fight with the fucker!
If Withnail picked up a paper this week he’d easily get a good line out of it too. And not just about British cycling, or whoever seems to be making the latest headines about drugs in sport. Because scarier than any of Sky’s ‘marginal gains’ or indeed any Geoff Woade story is the latest report of a massive dose of anabolic steroids seized in Ireland. Not necessarily for competitive sporting use, although that may only be a matter of time.
Not many people seem to be noticing either: Jack Chambers TD, the Fianna Fáil spokesperson for national drugs strategy, was one of the few to highlight the issue this week, in response to the latest seizure in Donegal earlier this month.
There, a joint operation between An Garda Síochana, Revenue and the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) found an estimated €2 million worth of anabolic steroids and other drugs, including human growth hormone (HGH) and products indicated for erectile dysfunction (mainly sildenafil citrate, more popularly known as Viagra).
Chief among them, however, were 60,000 units of ready-to-use anabolic steroids, which by any standard sounds like a lot. In 2015, the total number of units of anabolic steroids seized in Ireland was 38,049; last year, that total increased to 109,006. Now, 60,000 units in one Donegal seizure alone: you do the math. Evidence of an illegal medicines manufacturing operation was also discovered, and so far only one person was arrested.
What Chambers rightly pointed out is that this should be a warning sign to us all – not just in sport: “Those that are sourcing these products are either unaware of or ignoring the significant dangers posed by abusing these substances. The wide range of side effects can manifest in physical, psychological and behavioural problems. The misuse of anabolic steroids has been linked to a range of significant side effects including blood clots, headaches, depression, irritability and stomach pain
“Those that are hooked on steroids may not present like other chaotic drug addicts but it is in addiction in the very same sense. It is difficult to reach this group as they often don’t see themselves as IV drug users but are in fact exposed to the same risk of blood-borne disease.”
Again, there is no evidence to suggest this increased use of anabolic steroids is finding its way directly into elite or competitive sport, but there is a clear and present danger. In one of his last acts as director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), David Howman, speaking in Dublin this time last year, admitted he was worried about the "entry level and amateur athletes" just as much as the "elite athletes": the biggest threat to the integrity of sport is no longer from the top down, but rather the bottom up. "Only that's the area where there's no testing," he warned. "That's the concern."
Dr Una May, head of Sport Ireland's anti-doping committee, has similar fears, also highlighting the large packages of expensive anabolic steroids and other banned substances regularly seized by Irish customs, having being ordered over the internet and destined for amateur athletes for mostly aesthetic reasons. Although who knows exactly where that line is drawn.
Indeed these are now being labelled as performance and image enhancing drugs (PIEDs), rather than old-fashioned performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). The popularity of HGH is explained by the fact it does exactly what it says on the tin – generates human growth – and that it no longer needs to be extracted from the pituitary glands of cadavers, but comes in a clean-smelling biosynthetic version.
Sky's reported use of Viagra as part of its 'marginal gains' philosophy is nothing new either: Vitamin V, as it's known in doping circles, has been popular for years, Victor Conte of Balco fame claiming that back in his more deceitful days he regularly supplied his athletes with Viagra, best taken along with the blood-booster EPO.
We all know professional cycling has a problem with painkillers and anti-inflammatories, and that elite athletes are injecting themselves with vitamins and amino acids, but who exactly in Ireland is taking all these anabolic steroids?
Imagine the size of his balls. And imagine getting into a fight with the fucker!