life in a plastic bag


NOT THE REAL BEYOND THE iMPLODE: Book review: “INHALANTS” by Mark Pownall 1987, Franklin Watts.

Martin’s always on top form when it comes to moral panics of yesteryear (see especially his writing on rabies public information adverts), so his look at the perils of glue sniffing is a real treat.

It also gives me an excuse to bang on about the eighties, as I tend to do. (Pretty morbid this week – dead music journalists and ragga producers and now this!). It was another one of those things that you found out about as a kid which made the world seem like a darker place. But it also added a bit of sinister glamour to TV dramas and John Craven’s Newsround.


I recall at least two TV shows with glue sniffing sub-plots (possibly Casualty and Juliet Bravo?). Pasty white kids shuffling tentatively into hardware shops woth doomy background music playing. Vacant looks and knackered skin around the mouth. Don’t do it kids!

The 1981 NME soundsystem splashdown special issue also featured a good piece on glue sniffing, but unfortunately I don’t have it any more.

I suppose it’s a testament to human creativity in a way – getting wasted the cheapest way possible.

I’m sure that in most classrooms across the land kids are still sniffing anything they can get their hands on to relieve the boredom of their lessons. But for the most part glue has been replaced by cheaper and better highs. Not least alcohol, which wasn’t exactly easy to get hold in the eighties even if you were of drinking age.

A google image search for “glue sniffer” shows faces a million miles away from pasty skinheads. It looks like a destructive hobby for poor kids everywhere. Perhaps that means its ripe for a revival amongst the doyens of global ghettotech / favella funk / holidaying in someone else’s misery.

The last time I saw someone with a glue bag was ten years ago in Brazil. Sao Paulo is the 2nd biggest city in the world and has a horrifically visible rich/poor divide. We were staying with a friend of a friend in a gated apartment block guarded by a man with a gun. There was really no middle ground between that and abject poverty.

Driving along a motorway in a flash car, we saw a little kid in rags who couldn’t have been more than ten. He was hanging out in the rubble underneath a bridge, lifting the tell-tale plastic bag up to his face…


  1. They used to hang around in Glovers Walk, Yeovil – mid-teens, mostly – inhaling from empty Golden Wonder crisp-packets, then go bright red and start screaming at each other and howling in horror at imaginary monsters. Haven’t seen kids sniffing glue for a decade at least round our way. Aerosols seemed to get, umm, hip for a while. These days all the 13-16 yr olds are chuffing on skunk instead. Got more spare cash, I guess.

  2. yeah it’s a weird side effect of relative affluence I think. Probably marginally safer as well (though I guess we’d have to weigh up the relative chances of psychosis…)

  3. Glue sniffing was big in the seventies too…. You’re probably too young to remember the storm in a tea cup over The Ramones songs Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue… and they did a follow up Carbona Not Glue…. But not just skunk but also heroin is much cheaper now (relatively)… and even coke…. But the punks I knew would try almost anything… Actifed (a brand of cough medicine was very popular) but I even knew some punk girls who’d go on a nothing but brown rice diet which after three days was supposed to lead to a natural speed high… definitely one that appealed to the girls and not the boys back then, and probably about as effective as smoking dried banana skins… And the drinks people would go for them, boys with snakebite and girls with lager and black, yuk!

  4. STN – image is “off the internet” 😉 can’t find the exact place I found it now, but it also appears here:

    What I mean about the non-availability of alcohol isn’t prohibition or anything like that, but just the madness of the licencing hours. You couldn’t buy booze anywhere on a Sunday afternoon, for example.

  5. Stewart – yes the 70s are a bit of blur apart from lego and Star Wars really. Though yes I’d heard the Ramones song and Mark Perry’s zine which was inspired by it…. and yeah there did seem to be more people just getting completely wasted on whatever they found in those days. I remember going to a shit party in Manchester in the late 80s and some guy was asking if anyone had a car so he could syphon off the petrol and sniff it.

    Maybe this shows people were more creative and resourceful back in those days or perhaps things were just a lot worse so a variety of routes to oblivion were attractive…

  6. nice post john
    i think we are duty bound to try all forms of oblivion at least once… i remember a mate sniffing some bollocks in a can,lit up a snout & up went her hair… after that,we stuck to the safer drugs like skag and speed… xx

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