Friday, July 20, 2007

Didn't smoke dope, or only once, or didn't inhale, or didn't enjoy it etc

Reading the account of Jacqui Smith's (et al) admission of a youthful pot-smoking past seemed the occasion for getting my own 'issues of substance' off my chest. You know the saying about "if you remember the sixties, you weren't there", well , I was there, and I remember almost nothing at all, except going to work, and learning how to be a married man and new father, or trying to with not much success.

I do know that I never so much as saw a spliff or a reefer. When in later life I heard folk say wrily "Can you smell what I can smell?", assuming they meant the unmistakable scent of dope, and not wishing to seem hopelessly naive, I would wrinkle my nose, tap it knowingly and smile conspiratorially, but it was bullshit for all I knew. I was a cannabis virgin. And not because I was into magic mushrooms or speed. I was a drug-free zone, save for a liking for St Bruno Rough Cut, in a Peterson pipe with a curly stem. Smoking that pipe was a thoughtful-young-man image thing that turned into a genuine taste for the rich satisfaction of a well-filled pipe, a habit that lasted twenty years.

But you must hear about the Amsterdam Incident. A couple of years ago my wife and I spent a few days in Amsterdam, and we did the tourist round of the Rijksmuseum, the cosy 'brown cafes' that sell potent draught ales, the canal walks, the Red Light District (very well-turned out and wholesome-looking women, scantily dressed, behind what looked like illuminated shop windows); and, suddenly, we came across a Coffee Shop. Keen to impress, I told my wife that Dutch coffee shops were more-or-less legal outlets for marijuana, and I was gob-smacked when she pushed assertively through the doors, with me in obedient tow. Having studied the Rough Guide to Amsterdam in advance, I knew that access to dope followed the simple but obligatory request "May I see the Menu?" (you can't ask to buy the stuff directly), whereupon a neat roll-up menu was whipped out from under the counter. Not only roll-ups, you understand. Marijuana biscuits, cannabis cakes, hemp sandwiches too. Everything mind-altering one could want, with brief descriptions and prices. And coffee too, of course: all types and sizes.

She settled on a large roll-up to share, and two coffees. We sat at a bistro table, tasted our coffee, and I asked with some embarrassment for a light from behind the counter. My wife and I passed the lighted spliff back and forth between us, as one supposedly does, and I felt very self-consciously a man of the world, 'as if' an old denizen of the Hippy Trail. As I hadn't smoked for almost thirty years the 'tobacco' made me cough a little, but I remember thinking "this isn't having any noticeable effect". We finished our coffee mid-spliff and I sat down at a nearby computer console (there was Internet facility there) to check my email. I remember having slight but mildly amusing difficulty in getting the on-screen cursor to obey the mouse, and the next thing I was aware of was my wife calling my name as if down a long tunnel.

I had passed out, and the next half an hour involved the cafe proprietors in efforts to revive me with sweetened drinks, and attempts to get me outside onto the pavement and "into the fresh air". This I resisted rather tetchily. I remember saying "You're just trying to get RID of me, but it won't be that easy!" For that half an hour I felt almost unable to move, I sweated profusely, and was thoroughly spaced-out, with a tinge of paranoia (or did they really want me off the premises?). Within the hour we were walking in the sunshine, and I was none-the-worse, my wife relieved to see me thus. The dope hadn't affected her badly, and she finished the spliff herself, with obvious enjoyment.

But I found it a worthwhile experience, albeit not one I want to repeat. On the other hand, I wouldn't mind a go at a spot of psilocybin, if you know where I could get a drop! That Timothy O'Leary business and Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds passed me by too.

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