RIP Harris Wittels. Parks and Recreation writer. Wise and Funny. Enlightened Soul.

It’s harder to be funny without cruelty or snark, to be good-hearted without sentimentality. Harris Wittels helped create a charming, innovative show full of unique characters. His humblebrag concept was a popular twitter feed and book. Parks and Recreation in print was smarter and funnier than such tie in products generally are. He made some amusing cameo appearances in P & R, played in a band and he was consistently entertaining and inventive in podcasts, particularly this one

where he discusses his heroin use at length, coming over as a wise, enlightened soul.

Was his first extremely expensive rehab much more than a very fine hotel? Twelve steppers prefer a harsher regime for new recruits and, highly intelligent though he was, he was ultimately too laid back about a serious threat to anyone’s survival. It feels wrong criticizing someone who died far too young but too many good people have succumbed recently.

I dabbled a few years ago but the experience of meeting vile, odiferous thieves soon palled. His memories of street junkies awakened mine. Clean clothes, good trainers, all your own teeth? You must be a cop! Although I had some longstanding serious problems I was still a tourist who didn’t need to be there. Harris Wittels had even less reason to be plumbing the depths: much younger, a deserved critical and commercial success, he was an in demand party animal in the world capital of show business. New creative opportunities were opening up, he had a good relationship with his family. However, young men are often reckless, risking their lives in fast cars, dangerous sports or even enlisting as mercenaries. He may just have succumbed to curiosity. There has to be something better than what you know.

I hope this isn’t ‘karoake grief’ (coined by Rory Bremner for the mass emoting after the death of Diana Spencer and other tragedies). It may be inappropriate to write about someone I first heard of the day they died. Well, it probably can’t be said often enough: however experienced you are with drugs, you can’t control heroin.

I’ve been fortunate relapsing after long periods of drug and alcohol abstinence, there were injuries and arrests but an intravenous heroin user loses tolerance. (Just snorting heroin can be fatal, two visitors to Amsterdam recently died from a much purer form of the drug than their usual dose.)

Despite some mystical musing about reckless behaviour – roughly ‘what’s an extra fifty years compared to eternity’ he didn’t want to upset his family by dying young and had worked hard in recovery. He was on stage the night before he died, in a good place. Then a final snap decision…

So very sad but his work will live on, as will the love and affection he inspired in many people.

Harris Wittels 1984 -2015


Kratom: herbal anti-depressant. Mood elevator. Energising painkiller.

‘Don’t call it a high! They’ll ban it!’ said more experienced Kratom users, many of whom need it to ease severe pain or to come off opiates. (Kratom is invaluable to recovering heroin addicts.) They need not worry as no one reads this blog. MI6 could post the UK’s most valuable secrets on here, instead of leaving their laptops in Vauxhall wine bars: the information would be perfectly safe. (LATER: Needless to say I was wrong, as so often, particularly when predicting anything.  Kratom was banned in the Spring of 2016, despite its proven medical benefits.)

This is a great shame as it’s far better than any SSRI anti-depressant I ever tried, with no side effects such as weight gain, loss of sex drive, suicidal thoughts etc, and it works immediately, well, after ten minutes or so. This magical, versatile substance chiefly mimics opiates, even down to occasional itchiness, although you won’t start stealing, begging or listening to the Velvet Underground. This is no placebo effect or new age BS, it really does kill pain and zaps depression. It energises and calms, depending on quantity. You feel more communicative. There is pleasure from mundane activity, even household chores. (‘Verily this is indeed a miracle’: various ex partners and housemates.) Tonight, as well as the usual warm pleasant mood, it was easy to add an extra ten press ups and stomach crunches to my usual sets of forty, then forty seconds extra to a two minute plank exercise – extra energy and pain killing right there. I even laughed at Have I Got News for You – which is now tired, lazy and stale – although much improved by the insouciant Martin Clunes. He is a card. Incidentally, I have the same birthday as Ian Hislop. He’s four years younger, has not spent most of his life drinking and drugging to excess, as far as we know, yet looks like a weary double-chinned gargoyle. I digress.

 More seriously Kratom has been a great help to my wife Ruth who has several longstanding conditions in addition to me being a massive pain in the rear. She has psoriatic arthritis, psoriasis on the soles of her feet, Oedema (swelling and water retention near the ankles), tendonopathy in the Achilles tendon. She can have agonizing pain while trying to walk, and doesn’t always have her prescription pain medication. For whatever reason the government would rather prescribe opiate based painkillers which are extremely addictive, often before people notice what is happening. 

Back to the good, safer stuff. Some people take a little Kratom powder washed down with juice, two to four grammes. I’m more of a vintage gas guzzler, running on heavy fuel. I gravitated to a large dose immediately, 15 grammes (the tea this makes is bracingly vile. Further proof it’s proper medicine.) Cutting down now. Ten grammes feels about the same, the trick is leaving enough free days inbetween doses.

It is of course much more sensible to get used to lower doses, which I eventually managed. 

It was foolish to hope for what I got from three day, no sleep ketamine binges or youthful overindulgence in booze, Afghan black and MDMA. Only an idiot would expect to get fully zonked from a medicinal herb (although I did on 30x strength Salvia Divinorum come to think of it, an especially gruesome near death experience.) but there is an upside to that mild disappointment: I’m not likely to get in too deep.

In any case, opiates were never my drug of choice – despite their fearsome reputation they don’t grab everyone. Fran Landesman, an enthusiastic lifetime drug user, was once injected against her will by Lenny Bruce, a Jehova’s Witness of heroin, a tireless, tiresome evangelist. She was not converted – having never liked downers, perhaps even less so after hours of vomiting on this occasion. Whereas her beloved marijuana was a lifelong companion, helping her create sublime poetry and lyrics.

Chaka Khan Chick Corea Spring Can Hang You The Most – inspired by TS Eliot’s April is the Cruellest Month.  music Tommy Wolf  lyrics Fran Landesman

Hunter S Thompson, not the most abstemious of men – whom I once saw almost comatose in a Hong Kong bar, reduced to a zombie drone of ‘Amyl nitrate. Amyl nitrate,’ – he had no time for heroin and the mushroom guru Terence McKenna thought cocaine was about much use as an espresso. Although you can remain unscathed or even uninterested in much more dangerous drugs you nevertheless have to use Kratom sparingly. Tolerance will develop. I’m not in a financial position to keep upping the dose but nor do I need to. What’s currently working: exercise, a little 5 htp, (a herbal serotonin booster), Stoic mindfulness, (‘there is depression’, not ‘I am depressed’. Thanks Ruby Wax. And if you think your parents could be difficult try hers.) My faithful SAD lamp blazes away by my desk. Cutting carbs helps: The Way of the Vain. Coming soon: my Jesus of Nazareth low carb diet book: ‘More fishes, fewer loaves.’

Careful moderation in alcohol and drugs is helped knowing there can be the occasional holiday with Kratom. It’s also good to have an anti-depression medication – without weight gain or diminishing sex drive – when all else fails. All of which beats white knuckle abstinence, Christian guilt and slogans – the boom and bust of 12 step. 

So this could be an actual cure for depression. With no side effects! (Unlike Big Pharma’s remedies.) Although I’m well used to false dawns, I’d like to raise a cautious cheer for this uplifting substance. Hell, let’s make it a full on Marine affirmation: Hoorah!


P is for Prostitution: A Modern Primer by Charlotte Rodgers and Ruth Ramsden

I like autobiographies out of chronological order: it’s quicker to get to the juicy bits. This has an alphabetical structure, each subject illustrated by a unique disturbing vision from Ruth Ramsden, (some relation, hello dear, xxx).

Already familiar with bulimia, drugs and madness Charlotte came of age before feminism made an impact on the free love culture, when women were expected to have sex with more or less anyone.

It wasn’t much of a step to get involved in sex work, especially while consuming vast quantities of an astonishing variety of drugs.

Charlotte writes with honesty and empathy on this process, inevitably immersing her in crime, her clear eyed approach much better than William Burroughs’ Junky, a pulp fiction pastiche scrawled by a cold-hearted Trustifarian, (which also had some inaccurate bullshit about heroin ‘colonising cells’ which had to be countered in a Doctor’s footnote.) More importantly, this is written free of opiate addiction and with a positive mindset. Having said that the Grim Reaper is never far away. Jaw dropping sentences abound. A lover with whom she was about to start a new clean life. ‘Found dead in a toilet with his pants round his ankles, a needle in his groin’. Then there was the Christmas where a criminally neglient doctor cut numerous junkies off their maintenance methadone. 2O of them died, having gone back to illegal drugs.

The upside is some charming memories of Hong Kong and Mainland China, a fascinating journey through the New Zealand’s hard drug culture and the sleazier parts of Alternative London.

Charlotte’s visual art, not covered here, is forged from roadkill and blood magick, best to read her previous Mandrake books to experience the power. I would guess this memoir is a rite of passage, an exorcism of some very dark material, an enlightening trip that will also reward the reader.

P is For Prostitution
A modern primer
Charlotte Rodgers (Illustrated by Ruth Ramsden)
158pp (12 picaresque illustrations) – Trade paperback original
£9.99/$18 (includes postage unless otherwise stated)