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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Monday 22nd October 2012

Sometimes, when I’m giving one of my talks, the subject of poisons in fiction will come up. It may be a question or it could be someone quoting an example of how one of the plants I’ve been speaking about has been used by an author.

I usually try and move on quite quickly because, for the most part, the way poisons are dealt with in fiction leaves a great deal to be desired. Though I haven’t researched the topic so can’t pretend to offer an exhaustive list, I’ve only come across three writers who deal with poisons reasonably truthfully. I wrote about those three - Shakespeare, Agatha Christie and Val McDermid – last August.

Poisoning is one part of my area the interest, the other being the psychoactive substances. Here, again, I don’t pay a lot of attention to fictional depictions of drug taking and drug users because, as one should expect, authors tend to put the need of the overall narrative above the detail of a character’s experience. I want to claim that wariness about works of fictions involving drug-taking as my excuse for having only recently caught up with ‘The Wire’.

I didn’t watch the series when it ran on TV but I had read about it and, finally, decided to treat myself to the box set thinking its 60 episodes would help me pass the forthcoming winter nights. It didn’t turn out that way. I’ve just checked and seen that the £47.38 for the full set including delivery was charged to my credit card on 30th September and I finished watching it on 20th October.

Anyone familiar with ‘The Wire’ doesn’t need me to bang on about how good it is and, if you haven’t seen it, I won’t be providing any details that could spoil your enjoyment. I will only say that it is probably the best £47.38 I ever spent and I strongly recommend you find out for yourself what you have missed.

I will issue one warning, however, and not the one about the language used. My warning is this. Be prepared for your enjoyment of all other television drama to be damaged by the authenticity of the stories told by ‘The Wire’. I’ve been watching and enjoying ‘Homeland’ but last night I spotted a whole raft of logical flaws in the story. With ‘The Wire’ there is no need to tell yourself ‘that wouldn’t happen in real life but this is just TV’.

I was intrigued to discover that the final series only ran to ten episodes rather than the twelve or thirteen of the previous four. With American television, a short-run final season often indicates that the channel has pulled the programme for poor ratings. I’ve had a good look at what has been written about ‘The Wire’ but, it seems, the programme makers decided they could tell their story in ten episodes because there is no indication that it was cut short either in articles about it or in the programme itself.

Quite a few of the pieces I’ve read describe ‘The Wire’ as ‘life-changing’ and my purpose in this piece is to write about one life where that is absolutely undeniable.

A key features of ‘The Wire’ is that, in addition to established actors, including three ‘stars’ from the UK and Eire, cast members were drawn from Baltimore, where the series is set, and not just for walk-on parts to keep costs down.

One of the leading roles, in a large ensemble cast, was played by Felicia Pearson who took her nickname ‘Snoop’ into the part she played as a drug-gang executioner. Ms Pearson had already served time in jail for a killing ruled to have been in self-defence but resulting from her involvement in Baltimore’s drug trade when she happened to meet another cast member in a Baltimore supermarket who suggested she audition.

After the series ended, she returned to her former friends and associates and, as a result, appeared in court in August 2011 charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin. Ms Pearson told the media that her apartment had become an open house for friends and family and she did not know that bulk supplies of heroin were being stored there. She said that she entered a guilty plea rather than have to spend a year or more waiting for a full trial and preparing her defence.

In return for her plea, she received a suspended seven year sentence with three years of supervised probation. The judge, however, granted her permission to travel away from Baltimore for employment enabling Ms Pearson to take up job offers in Hollywood. The Internet Movie Database shows her as involved in two movies in post-production.

For me that makes ‘The Wire’ life-changing for, at least, this one life. Had Ms Pearson appeared on such a serious charge before her involvement in the TV series, one doubts if she would have been offered the chance to go free and build a life away from the world of illegal drugs. 


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