Tag Archives: acid

Does the fact I do not smoke, drink or take drugs make me boring or bizarre?

Thoughts on performing at the Edinburgh Fringe

After a lifetime of avoiding drink and drugs…

Yesterday, the BBC reported: “Long queues have been seen as the world’s first state-licensed marijuana industry opened for business in the US state of Colorado… Washington state has also legalised cannabis and is expected to allow the drug’s sale later this year.”

People think I am a bit odd if I mention I have never knowingly taken recreational drugs.

I have nothing at all against people taking marijuana in any form though I think, maybe, I would not want my airline pilot, bus driver or the person overtaking me at 90mph on the motorway (with or without a car) to be totally zonked out of their head.

I think I may have had hash cakes a couple of times without realising it – and without any discernible effect. But I have worked with people who have clearly been taking too much hash for too many years.

I once worked for a TV company where the man in charge of the department found, on a Friday morning, that we were unexpectedly very understaffed due to illness. He spent three hours – three rambling hours – telling us how we were going to re-arrange things to get through the increased workload. I could have killed him but, alas, I was not drunk so had no real excuse.

The only drugs that ever attracted me were heroin and LSD. Neither were available to me when I would have taken them and, by the time they were easily available, I had met smack and acid casualties.

Well, that is not altogether true.

Me - in my late teens or early twenties

Me – in my late teens or early twenties

I never took LSD because I thought it might push me over some nearby psychological ledge and I would never be able to get back again.

By the time heroin was available, I had already tried suicide and that had not worked.

I was never interested in marijuana because I never smoked nicotine (so the actual smoking technique was a mystery to me).

I do not smoke nicotine because, when I was about six years old, I asked my father: ”Daddy, can I have a puff of your cigarette?”

And he said: “Yes.”

I was appallingly nauseous.

I never wanted to smoke again and did not.

The attraction to other people of marijuana seemed to be that it had the same relaxing, uninteresting-to-me effect as drink – though without the bad side-effects of excessive drink like wild, mindless aggression, vomiting and splitting headaches.

It never seemed to me that getting drunk and then proudly saying the next day: “I can’t remember anything I did last night,” was a good life choice. If I want to get so drunk I can’t control my own body and start falling down in the street and/or losing consciousness because my brain has closed itself down to avoid further damage, I might as well get into a boxing ring with a psychopath and get him to repeatedly punch me in the head until I become unconsciousness.

People seem to drink to lower their inhibitions, so that they feel free-er to do or say what they want and, if it goes wrong, they can blame the drink. I think I was always prepared to do or say what I wanted without having to have excuses.

Although that is, perhaps, not good career advice.

People think I am bizarre – they really do – because, except on special occasions when it would be rude not to, I do not drink alcohol or spirits.

I had some mulled wine with a couple of meals over the Christmas period. The last time I drank before that was probably last Christmas.

When I tell people I do not drink, they assume I am an ex-alcoholic.

In fact, it is because I never enjoyed it.

In my teens and early twenties, I used to drink small amounts of lager to be sociable because it had a more bland taste than other beers. I never actively enjoyed drinking it.

I only ever really enjoy vodka drowned in orange juice and champagne drowned in orange juice.

Nothing else grabs my taste buds.

Also, in my late twenties, I encountered two people.

One was the Press Officer for a film distribution company. He had obviously been very bright and intelligent in his youth. Now he was in his mid-forties and I guess had been drinking socially and doggedly for professional reasons for about 20 years. His mind was doolally.

The other was someone I had worked with in a broadcast TV company. We then ended up working at the same Soho TV facility production company AND with him living in my flat weekdays for about six months.

He was highly intelligent. After graduating from Oxford University, he had been talent-spotted and trained by Granada TV. He used to sit and watch University Challenge and effortlessly answer about half the questions, almost without thinking.

But he had been drinking solidly, like the film PR man, for about 20 or 25 years.

He used to drink wine at lunchtime in Soho. Then, after work, he would have a few pints of beer. Then he would come home and drink spirits.

I was still drinking at this point – though only small amounts of lager after work.

I stopped drinking altogether because of him.

His brain – though still able to function at work and answer University Challenge questions – had been damaged.

He would start a sentence, then stop in the middle, drift off and start doing or saying something else, never completing his original sentence or thought process.

I did not want to be like him in 20 or 25 years time.

The irony is that now I have a shit memory. And I witter.

But then I always did.

As far as I remember.

Irony. Don’t talk to me about irony.

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Memories of the Falklands War, the IRA bombings and Glastonbury in 1982

Felexible Anna Smith

Anna Smith, a peacenik in 1980s

Yesterday, I quoted a hedgehog memory of this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. At one time, in the 1980s, she tried performing comedy.

“Possibly my comedy career did not advance,” she told me today, “because I was consumed with altruism for hedgehogs, meeting with Generals Against The  Bomb and rescuing young children who had inadvertently ingested pages of LSD at the Glastonbury Festival.

“In 1982, an elderly actor – George Walton, of Soapbox Children’s Theatre – was letting us stay for the summer in the spare bedroom of his house in Forest Gate, East London. Next door lived a young  boy who spent his days in his garden howling the Tarzan call – Ah-AH-ah… Ahhh-AH AH! – quite musically. I used to wonder if he would write Tarzan – The Opera, when he grew up. Sadly, he didn’t.

“I remember I was staying at this house in Forest Gate not long after the IRA bombing of a bandstand in Regent’s Park. George Walton was upset about the bombing as his nephew had been one of the musicians playing in the bandstand when it exploded. The nephew was not killed but, tragically, he was made deaf. After that, I always made a point of crossing the street near embassies, unless it was one that I was protesting outside of.”

1982 was also the year of the Falklands Conflict.

The 1982 Falklands Conflict - same year as IRA attacks

The Falklands 1982 – same year as IRA attacks

“The war with Argentina was of especial interest to me,” Anna tells me, “because I was born in Argentina and thus an Argentine citizen for life. So, technically, I could have been considered an enemy alien. I remember in English kindergarten in Argentina I had been taught that the islands in the South Atlantic were The Malvinas in the morning and The Falklands in the afternoon, depending on who was teaching the class…

“When I travelled in and out of England during the Falklands War to my striptease assignments in Brussels, the British immigration officials would look askance at my place of birth – though some, seeing my Canadian passport (and shapely figure), added kindly: Ah well, you can’t help where you were born, love…

In some parts of East London, there were street parties being held under banners saying  SIXTY MORE ARGIES KILLED!!! and the like.

It was the same year I went to the Glastonbury Festival.

“We had met a child called Joseph when we were selling anti-nuke badges at a small festival at Crystal Palace. He looked a bit like a monkey. His ears stuck out. He was about eleven. He seemed to be a precocious and unusually solitary child, very outgoing, but always alone. At Crystal Palace he lagged about our area, talking very intelligently. We wondered whether we would see him again and he then asked if we were planning to go to Glastonbury. We were and told him we would be near the train ride.

“A month later he found us exactly there. He had very much enjoyed the train ride and he came round to talk with us frequently.

1982 - the Glastonbury Festival

1982 Glastonbury Festival – children on acid

“On the last day of the festival, he popped by and I was not there. When I returned, my friends said he had been there with some strange sheets of paper with tiny cartoons printed on them. He had wondered whether the papers might be drugs. My friends did not know and he had wandered off into the crowds…

“I realised that it was likely LSD and we started looking for him. We tried to get to the main stage so they could announce that there was a missing child wandering around Glastonbury alone and probably very high, but they wouldn’t let us anywhere the stage, because Alexei Sayle was on and they thought we were merely rabid Alexei Sayle fans trying to get near him, touch him or whatever. So we were stuck with the futility of trying to explain: NO WE DONT WANT TO TOUCH ALEXEI SAYLE!

“Eventually we got them to make the announcement – I think it may even have been Alexei Sayle who made the missing child who resembles a monkey announcement – and the crowd laughed at first, not sure if it was a set-up for a joke. We only mentioned the monkey because of his ears, poor kid…

“He was found and brought to the Samaritans in an enormous white tent overflowing with cots and stretchers and people crying, overdosing on drugs and vomiting and lying on blankets.

“Most of the volunteers were very concerned about the location of the remaining acid. But, at some point, one of the supervisors realised that the emergency tent with its Samaritan acid scavengers and vomiting addicts was not a good environment for any child and Joseph was moved to the cosy living room of the Eavis farmhouse, where he was cared for and we sat waiting for his parents to show up while he hallucinated, seemingly happy, as green lasers lit up the darkness outside.”

Anna lives in Vancouver now.

“I was out at the river yesterday,” she told me. “At 6.00pm. the CBC announced that some of the salmon fisheries seasons were open. Several species of salmon have arrived at the mouth of the Fraser. At 8.00pm I was out watching the fish jump.”

Different times, different lives.

“I hope Joseph is OK now,” said Anna.

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British Airways are a bunch of drug smugglers who ruined a relationship

Martin Soan got high flying with B.A.

The story so far…

British Airways buggered up their flight from London to Beijing by overbooking it, downgraded my ticket, promised to refund the difference in fare (they have not yet) and gave me £75 compensation in the form of a BA Visa card which they are trying to foist on people.

However, most cash machines only dispense £10 and £20 notes, not £5. So British Airways, in attempting a bit of good PR have created bad PR for themselves by giving alleged compensation in a form where they accidentally but actually screw people for £5. Now read on…

As a Scot brought up among Jews, £5 is £5. I would have been happy with £70 compensation, which I could have accessed. But I am pissed-off if they are allegedly giving me £5 which cannot be accessed.

So, yesterday, having had no response to a message I sent to their Customer Relations Dept via the BA website ten days before, I blogged about it and their Twitter team @British_Airways sent me a message:

Hi John, sorry to read of your disappointing flight. Here is a link to our compensation card info.

All very jolly. Except it just says you get your money by using an ATM. That will be the ATMs which cannot dispense £75 then… Their next attempt was:

You can use the card at a retailer for the residual balance.

Sure enough, if you plough through their Compensation Card Info, you can indeed, use your card to pay at selected retailers displaying a Visa Electron sign. Even if you find a retailer visibly displaying this sign, it involves a terrible rigmarole of using another plastic card in addition to using the BA plastic card but making sure you use the BA one first.

At this point yesterday, I was just interested to see what hoops individuals at BA would contort themselves through in order not to sort out the problem and give me my £5.

What retailer? I replied. Why should I? What if I just want the money?

I got no reply to this, but my Facebook friend comedian Sameena Zehra told me:

BA have been crap for years. What really irritates me is the ‘One World’ concept, so that you can buy a Quantas flight (as I did when I went to Adelaide in March) but find out that one of the flights is operated by British Airways. and then they have different luggage allowances, check in procedures and their attitude is ‘Tough shit – you should have booked a different flight’. Arse.

My Facebook friend Aileen Kane told me: “Cash machines in Scotland give out fivers now! Worth checking…” but it seemed a long way to go from London to get my extra £5.

Pursued further, BA’s Twitter twits then tweeted:

Sorry you’re having difficulty withdrawing your cash, John.  Please call Customer Relations on 0844 493 0787.

I decided to see how much worse they could bugger up their customer PR. So I called.

“You can get £5 notes through-the-wall from Barclays Bank and Lloyds Bank,” I was told.

“I have tried that,” I replied. “Their machines don’t dispense £5 notes.”

“Yes they do,” I was told.

“Righto,” I replied.

So, with the same sense of adventure that built the British Empire, I went down to my high street.

I tried (again) Barclays, Lloyds, NatWest, HSBC, Halifax, Santander and Nationwide. None of their machines dispensed £5 notes. I even, humorously, went in to the Lloyds and Barclays branches and told them British Airways said their machines dispense £5 notes. “No they don’t,” replied one bank…. “British Airways are idiots,” replied the other bank.

I had to agree.

At home, there was an e-mail waiting from comedian Ian Fox saying: “I just got 2 fivers out of a Tesco cash machine.”

Unfortunately, this was in Manchester.

There was a second e-mail from Ian. It said: “You know I did think right after tweeting that That’s probably not going to help. I think I was right.”

This morning, I got a Tweet from journalist and Malcolm Hardee Awards judge Jay Richardson telling me: “You can get £5 only out in Glasgow. Don’t even have to pawn anything.”

But life is cheaper in Glasgow. I understand you can get someone killed for £5. If I could get my extra £5, I would put out a contract for a hit on the entire PR Dept at British Airways. Though it might cost £10 in Glasgow.

But Tesco may be the furrow to plough. Sadly, this morning, I am currently far from a Tesco. (Who would have thought such a thing was possible?)

Last night, comedian Martin Soan suggested Tesco probably do issue £5 notes because they would not want to lose the custom of someone wanting to buy £3.99 of lager.

“Why wouldn’t they just use their card?” his wife Vivienne asked.

“I know the mentality of someone wanting to buy £3.99 of lager,” said Martin.

And he told me his own British Airways story.

“My brother was out in Greece” he said, “and I’d never been out of the country before. I was only 18 or 19. My girlfriend encouraged me to go out there with her. But she made it abundantly clear – after seeing my excessive behaviour in the genre of drug-taking – that I must not take any drugs with me on the flight.

“Of course, I completely ignored her and took about five tabs of ‘Orange Sunshine’, which was the best acid you could buy at the time – about twice the strength of other types of LSD. It was infamously very powerful acid indeed.

“I was working as a Punch & Judy man at the time, calling myself The Greatest Show on Legs. Being a Punch & Judy man, I could accommodate – embarrassing though it is to say – a large mass at the back of my throat.”

(Background info: The swazzle which creates the voice of Mr Punch is two bits of silver held together by a piece of cotton thread. It is put in the back of the performer’s throat. When he wants to speak as Mr Punch, he presses the base of his tongue against the swazzle and directs all the air from his windpipe through the swazzle.)

“So,” Martin told me, “I had this ability to hold and manipulate things at the back of my mouth, top of my throat. The night before the flight, I chewed-up a load of chewing gum and lay the five tabs of acid in the resulting tiny ‘pudding’ of chewing gum. I waited for it to go hard, then shaved it down with a Stanley knife, making it into a small saucer shape – roughly swazzle size. If any Customs man caused problems, I could swallow it.

“In the morning, I had the thing in the back of my throat, leaving the country for the first time, going off to Greece which had very draconian laws against drugs. I was nervous.

“In the departure lounge, I took it out and had a drink, then put it back in my mouth. We get on the British Airways plane. A little later, the pilot announces we’re flying over Paris at so-many-thousand feet. I am nervous. I absent-mindedly think What’s that in my mouth? and feel this bit of what feels like plastic in my mouth. What’s that? I think. I put it between my teeth and pull. I see this vaguely orange saliva-ey thing on the end of forefinger and thumb and think Oh fuck! and then swallow the whole lot – five tabs of Orange Sunshine acid – out of shock.

“I spent the next hour ordering whisky from the flight attendant and trying to ‘come down’ but events started overtaking me and I had some very interesting conversations with my girlfriend who was sitting next to me.

You promised you wouldn’t take drugs, she said. Everything’s OK, I told her. Why are you drinking so much whisky? she asked. I thought Why do I have to be stuck in a Social Security office with 150 of the ugliest and weirdest people I have ever seen in my life? Things like that. Then Oh! I know why! Because I’m not in a Social Security office; I’ve taken some acid and I’m on a plane.

“I remember the British Airways stewardess struggling to understand this man behaving rather strangely It was about 1971.

“At one point I thought I’ve just got to say something to appear normal. It’s going to seem weird if I don’t talk. People were murmuring all around me, then the plane hit this pocket of air and we dropped maybe 50 feet. Everybody went Ooh! and shut up. Total silence. But I immediately launched into some loud nonsensical monologue and everyone looked round at me.

“When I got off the plane, the blast of Greek heat hit me and sent me doolally. I completely lost control. I was convinced we were in Ireland and there was some trouble with the tarmac, so I wanted to lie on it to protect it. I was aware people were looking at me oddly but didn’t know why. I then started running to the terminal building and managed to run through the Customs and out the other side before any staff had arrived there.

“Then I panicked and went back through. I had nothing to declare and I wanted to prove it. They accepted that.

“The girlfriend was not pleased. She had this restrained anger about her the whole holiday. When we got back to Britain, she wrote me a horrendous letter. Quite deservedly. End of relationship. I’ve never seen her since.”

“So,” I asked Martin, “British Airways are a bunch of drug smugglers who ruined your relationship?”

“You want to say that?” asked Martin.

“Well,” I replied, “it would be quite jolly and would it make a good blog heading.”

“Oh,” said Martin. “OK.”

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My encounters with Jesus Christ… and the reason I could say Yes to heroin

In yesterday’s blog – drink.

Today – drugs.

Tomorrow, who knows?

If you are lucky, maybe even sex.

I was 13 when the Beatles hit big; I was 17 in the Summer of Love. Prime druggie material.

I once spent a long time in a kitchen in Clapham with a close friend of mine and the boyfriend of one of her friends who, let’s say, was called Susan. We were trying to persuade him that Susan did not really want to see him and that he should get the train back to his home town in the north of England. The problem was that he knew he was Jesus Christ and this kept getting in the way of the discussion. He kept telling us how he could change anything by deciding it was changed. We eventually persuaded him to go with us to St Pancras station and we did put him on a train north, but he was of the opinion he did not really need to travel on trains as he was the Messiah.

The second time I encountered Jesus Christ was a couple of weeks after a plane had crashed on a crowded rural area in (I think it was) Holland. The person who had done this was prepared to make a plane similarly crash onto the Thames TV building in Euston Road, London. He told me (the person who said he made the plane crash) that he would do this unless Thames TV issued an on-air apology because one of their programmes had offended him and I should pay attention to what he said because his father just happened to be God and he himself, as you will have guessed, was Jesus Christ.

I have never taken any non-medical, so-called ‘recreational’ drugs though, at one time, I would have done.

The only drugs which ever attracted me were heroin and LSD.

Marijuana in any of its forms never attracted me. It just seemed to be an alternative to drink, though less self-destructive than alcohol and spirits.

I lost count of the number of times I sat in a room in the 1960s or 1970s while other people smoked joints and talked utter drivel.

The next day, they would go on and on about what a great, deep and meaningful philosophical discussion they had had the night before and I would think:

“Nope. I was there. You were talking utter drivel, like five year-olds after eight pints of beer.”

Hellfire – forget “I sat in a room in the 1960s or 1970s” – I have sat in rooms throughout my life listening to stoned people talking drivel.

Amiable drivel. But drivel nonetheless.

It is rubbish to say weed has no effect on anyone in the long term. Not if you take it regularly in significant quantities over a long period.

Neil in The Young Ones TV series was not a fantasy character.

That was social realism.

I have worked with real Neils.

I remember a very amiable and well-meaning but totally brain-groggy and decision-incapable head of department at a regional ITV company in the 1990s. His entire brain had been turned into semolina by twenty years or more of weed and pseudo-philosophical befuddlement. If he had been an alcoholic, he would have been dribbling saliva out the sides of his mouth; as it was, his few remaining brain cells were almost visibly dribbling out of his ears.

I might well have tried hash in the 1960s or 1970s but it just seemed to be a milder version of alcohol with less aggressive effects and there was also a seemingly tiny but actually rather large practical problem: I had never smoked nicotine cigarettes, so the whole technique of smoking and inhaling was alien to me. If anyone had offered me hash cakes, I would have eaten them; but no-one ever did.

To me, marijuana in whatever form was and is a mild and uninteresting drug. If you want to be relaxed, then I recommend you just eat a marshmallow, don’t stuff one inside your brain cavity.

A friend of mine told me in the 1970s: “You just don’t understand what weed is like because you have never taken it.”

But, in the 1980s, I vividly remember standing in Soho with a long-term alcoholic I knew as he looked lovingly into the crowded window display of Gerry’s booze shop in Old Compton Street.

You could see the tenderness and nostalgic thoughts in his eyes as they moved from bottle to bottle and from label to label.

I was not an alcoholic, but I could see objectively what the drink had done and was doing to him.

In a sense, to see the real effect of a drug, you have to not take it.

I was always very strongly attracted to LSD.

It held the very major attraction to me of mind-alteration and making surrealism real. But the attraction and alarm bells over-lapped and, in any case, LSD was not available in my circles in my middle class area in Ilford, East London/Essex in the late 1960s.

Yes, I went to events at the Arts Lab in Drury Lane; yes I read International Times and went to Blackhill Enterprises’ free rock concerts in Hyde Park before the sheer scale of the Rolling Stones’ appearance in 1969 ruined them. But life in Ilford at that point was not druggy.

By the time LSD was available to me, I had read enough about people freaking out on it, read of Syd Barrett self-destructing in Pink Floyd, seen other people’s minds gone wrong. And then there were the Manson Murders in 1969. Not acid-induced as such, but not totally unrelated to druggy people’s minds going haywire.

The logic of LSD, as I saw it, was that you could alter the chemical balance inside your mind and, as it were, temporarily re-arrange the inter-connections. But if you felt, as I rightly or wrongly did, that perhaps your mind was potentially ‘near the edge’ to begin with, then there was the obvious danger that LSD would tip you permanently over the edge.

So I would have taken acid during a short window of opportunity but it was not available to me until after that window of acceptance had closed. I never took it. And reading about Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s mind being sent spinning over the edge by one drink spiked with acid did not change my opinion. He spiralled out of control after that first acid trip of course but, the way Rolling Stone told it, the whole spiral began with that one tab of acid.

With heroin: the same thing. When I would have taken it, the stuff was not available to me. When it was available I no longer wanted to take it.

When I was in my late teens, a close friend of mine married someone who was ‘an ex–heroin addict’. But, even then I knew that being an ex-heroin addict is a bit like being an ex-member of the SAS. You can never be too sure.

Years later, when the first anti-heroin ads appeared on TV, a close friend of mine said to me, “They make smack look bloody attractive, don’t they?” and I had to agree with her. If I had been an impressionable young teenager and it had been available, I would almost certainly have taken heroin. The first anti-heroin TV commercials were almost, but not quite, as good a commercial for smack as Trainspotting which felt to me like a positive Jerusalem of an anthemic hymn to the attractions of smack.

That first injection of heroin may, as I have been told, give you the biggest high – the most gigantic orgasmic leap – you have ever had. But it is also a drug for nihilists.

So that’s the one for me.

I think, with heroin, the potential lows can be as attractive as the highs – something the anti-heroin ads never seem to have realised.

Whereas cocaine seems to me to be the drug of self-doubting egotists who want to prove to themselves that they are as special as they hope they might be.

But that is another blog.

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