Living the great ‘Edinburgh AIDS panic’ of ’85.

Part 2 of David Graham Scott’s harrowing portrayal of

a junkie’s life on the streets of Edinburgh, Scotland’s

capital city and in 1985, known as the ‘AIDS CAPITAL OF

EUROPE’.

Written by David Graham Scott   (pic above – back in the day…)

(part one is the blog below this)

The only reason people went to ‘The City Hospital for Infectious Diseases’ was essentially for their methadone and free needles which at the time were very hard to come by. It was the carrot they dangled in front of us in order to encourage all the city’s junkies to attend, and thereby get tested for HIV/AIDS.

 

So data could get collected, clumsy attempts at healthcare would be given to all those with a positive result, and then we would all leave clutching leaflets about safer injecting together with possibly the first needle and syringe packs in Scotland.

This methadone and HIV testing clinic was really isolated from the main hub of Edinburgh city and was surrounded by vast woodlands.

1985; David in Edinburgh, in the flat arond the corner from the cop shop.

To get there we would have to board a public bus that took us towards the hospital which we shared with housewives heading back to their genteel homes in the wealthy southern suburbs of Edinburgh.  Each time they disembarked they would glance back at those of us left on the bus; the dregs of humanity, and everyone knew exactly where we were going; The Infectious Diseases Clinic at The City Hospital.

As the bus drove us further down the narrow meandering roads towards the clinic itself, it only seemed to  exacerbate our sense of alienation and fear, heading towards ‘that clinic’.

The Fear

There was an incredibly deep climate of fear at this time which is hard to fully explain today. It was 1985, the height of the HIV/AIDS ‘panic’.  People may remember the time, and God knows we all remember it was confusing and frightening enough, but actually  living within it, being terrorised by the label AIDS JUNKIE in your own community, there really are few words to describe what living through that time was like.

There were two ostracised communities (gay men and IV drug users) and sadly in those days neither group managed to find common ground with the other, such was the fear , ignorance and stigma from all those involved. People stuck tightly to what they knew.

A Slow Death by Newsnight

1985: Edinburgh

By early 1986, my girlfriend and I were asked if we wanted to appear on Newsnight to talk about being an injecting drug user in Edinburgh. Newsnight is the well respected current affairs programme which was (and still is) broadcast across the UK. The journalists involved offered us money, a paltry (but useful) £50 each to basically sell our souls to the ignorant masses. To be fair, the money wasn’t the reason we did it, it merely sealed the deal, both of us being broke and on heroin.

Naturally, we got totally stitched up. They edited the show to make us look irresponsible as they could. The idea was not to expose our status either way, but just to talk about the reality of life for drug users confronting the spectre of HIV/AIDS in Edinburgh.

However, the whole thing rapidly turned into a nightmare that had immense repercussions for us for months and years to come.

My girlfriend’s ex boyfriend was also appearing on the show, claiming to be the man who brought ‘AIDS’ to Scotland from Canada. He had kind of given up on himself I think, and although a very talented guitarist and session musician known by many major bands of the time, I think he ultimately felt jealous and lonely. It felt like his exposure on Newsnight was designed to draw my girlfriend and I into his own private hell. He knew he was dying…

We thought we were just trying to explain to viewers what was going on in Edinburgh among drug users, however pointed questioning from the journalist, who, looked from their body language to be quite fearful and disgusted by these three Scottish junkies sitting before them, soon had us saying things we didn’t set out to say.

True to the Style of Jeremy Kyle…*

My girlfriend soon began to respond to her ex boyfriend’s issues  goaded by the journalist, which meant she began feeling the need to explain her own positive status, something neither of us anticipated. I was negative but it didn’t matter. We had ‘AIDS by default’ of being junkies.

Today, I am a documentary filmmaker and as such, as I sit here and reflect back as I have done many times over the years, I know we were manipulated in an irresponsible, careless and insidious manner. Christ we were only 20 and 22 years old!

As for repercussions, they were horrific. We were both abused and spat at in the street regularly. The local police always gave us a hard time and because we lived around the corner from the local police station, regularly we would get a battering ram smashing through our door and our flat turned upside down for no reason. We were on prescription methadone and they never found anything. It was shameful.

David: Outside the doctors surgery, 1987, Edinburgh

David: Outside the doctors surgery, 1987, Edinburgh

Shameful!

 

It was a different era. We were vilified by the public. Even though I didn’t have HIV, I was positive just by association. When I went back to my family’s home in the highlands I was quickly approached by the local environmental health officer and rudely advised not to have sex with any women in town and it would be a good idea if I left town as soon as possible.

Even years later I was arrested on a trumped up charge when i returned home again, kept in jail overnight and later told that the cell was literally fumigated after I left. Completely unbelievable.

I haven’t put in to this story some of the worst things that happened to us because it is just to difficult to talk about and I don’t want to drag things up especially for my ex girlfriend who is happily still well and is really getting on with her life.

I think now in my life as a documentary film maker I continue to try and write the wrongs of that kind of shoddy, sensationalist journalism by trying to be as sensitive as I can and letting the person feel comfortable enough to talk freely but never to feel that false sense of security that people can do when they let their guard down. It is a big responsibility and I know personally how it feels to be completely exploited and to suffer the repercussions when one goes back into their community.

It was a terrible time for so many of us back then. So many deaths, so much fear, so much gossip,  people drowning others to save themselves, all pressured by an insane media appetite for sensationalist stories that just ruined people’s lives and spread fear and hate like poison. We cannot forget these days. We can never forget these days. We must all do whatever we can to stop the kind of scapegoating society is so apt to do when it is frightened by some unknown quantity. At the end of each day, it is always about people’s lives.

DGS

David today winning an award for Iboga Nights, his powerful film following people struggling to get off heroin using the iboga root.

Iboga Nights trailer from John Archer on Vimeo.

 

HIV/AIDS in 1985; No Really, We Will Never Forget…

It was 1988, in Wick, a small highland town in the far north of Scotland. My wife’s ex boyfriend had been diagnosed as being HIV positive. We knew we had to get tested. My wife was from the infamous period in Edinburgh period of shooting gallery’s where it was so hard to find works (syringes) that people would stand in a line and the dealer would cook up the hits using te same syringe on everyone.

There was a prototype of a needle exchange that had been running from an area called the Grassmarket in Edinburgh but the police were routinely arresting people who visited it. The police eventually closed it down in the early 1980’s. The cops were very hard on junkies who were injectors.

It was a strange time where you could be busted for having traces of gear or even a needle packet on your person. But the drug that was the real gold dust for the using community was Diconol which were bright pink tablets (I think that were made by Roche -dipionone hydrochloride).

Opus Morphia from David Graham Scott on Vimeo.

This film was made by David around the time (1985). Incredibly, he did not go to film school.

It was a really strong opiate analgesic, a mixture of Cyclomorph and a sort of anti-emetic) and the rush was the reason people bought it. It was like a religious experience, you generally felt you were in the company of God for a few moments,  it was a truly beautiful sensation, the best I have ever had in my life.

So anyway, my girlfriend and I went to get tested. I wasn’t really bothered about it, I never even thought I’d be positive, and neither did my girlfriend.

Three weeks later the results were in and it was my girl that got the bad news. She was positive and  I wasn’t. I said I would stick behind her no matter what happened; and typical of her (remains anonymous), she took it all in her stride. God only knows how, as things would get a lot, lot worse.

I would go with her to the HIV clinic and all the positive people had to sit along a wall. There was those old-fashioned weighing scales measuring height and weight, and without any privacy whatsoever, they would announce your weight, like at school, and because everyone always went there  coz they had to for their methadone (there was almost nothing on offer then), it was like some cattle market.

Gallows humour would run loose among the patients, as is the Scottish way, topped off with small junkie self platitudes such as ‘thank fuck I ain’t as bad as him’ .  Comments bounced around the echoing hospital hallways like” Oh, he is going down….61Kilograms today laddy, that’s quite a drop to tell ya ma” or “Oh,lookee there, she has that whatsimacallit, the scabby things, she must be getting AIDS nurse, right or no? “, and on and on it went. People just wasted away in front of you, on parade for all of us to see.

 

Episode 2 will tell you more from David of the shameful story of Edinburgh and HIV/AIDS in the 1980’s and should be about a week behind this.  

HOWEVER!!!

You can see more about David Graham Scott’s exemplary career in filmmaking, covering various issues but covering brilliantly his experiences as a junkie, or indeed battling ‘junkdom’.

In particular the famous ‘Detox or Die (his personal experience of undergoing an Ibogaine detox on film a decade ago (available to view today free online and on DGS’s Vimeo channel to this blog on INPUD’s webpage. This just released film (which you can read about on the link provided) called Iboga Nights. It is the culmination of three long years of in-depth research into the drug Iboga and the lives and detoxes of the accompanying clutch of courageous, wonderful characters involved in the film, the much called for sequel Iboga Nights (google it but we will review it shortly) was a big success on the documentary film circuit recently winning much deserved awards and acclaim.  BP will cover this next in more detail. If this has whetted your appetite, look for David Graham Scott on Facebook and speak to him directly! Or you will find much covering both films and more by googling it.

 

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