Tag Archives: LSD

Don’t take hallucinogenic drugs on the beach until wolf population diminishes.

I have received another missive from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, Anna Smith. She lives on a boat on a river in Vancouver. This is what she says:

A psychiatrist from Imperial College in London named Dr Nutt was on the CBC radio today, extolling the therapeutic benefits of LSD, psilocybin, Ayahuasca and ketamine (not all at once though) to treat depression and to combat suicidal thoughts.

I agree with him that it’s tragic that doctors are not allowed to prescribe these drugs (except for experimental use) when they could be used to prevent suicide.

They were outlawed because they were the only drugs to have a political effect (like making people not feel like engaging in war).

There are some contraindications against hallucinogens – for example in young people and in people predisposed to schizophrenia.

On Vancouver Island, some beaches had to be closed because wolves were attacking dogs.

On a different beach there were guns fired in a dispute over clam licences.

I don’t recommend taking drugs on the beach until the wolf population diminishes and the shootouts die down.

In fact it’s never a good idea to take drugs on a beach. Better to take them on stage in a busy strip club or somewhere near a hospital.

One of my neighbours, the sturgeon fisherman, became concerned because he noticed I was filling up bleach bottles with water from a hose. He thought I was going to drink it. He wanted to give me some plastic jugs of store-bought water and I had a job to convince him that I prefer the water from the hose. My hose is attached to a spigot that is attached to a pipe that is attached to the water main that delivers fresh water from the nearby glaciers on Mount Seymour. It’s probably the best water in the world other than drinking straight from a stream.

Hoses are an important subject of discussion out here.

I don’t mind that.

One of my best friends was called The Hose Guy.

Last night I discovered a Mongolian man singing at the bus stop. After I asked him if he was singing Mongolian songs (as he seemed to be doing) he asked, in surprise, in halting English, whether I was going to Mongolia.

I said: “No. I’m going to Montreal.”

I asked him if there were lots of redheads in Mongolia and he said no. They have lots of grass and lots of sheep. He put his hands on his head to mimic a sheep’s ears because it was hard for me to understand his accent.

Here is a hip hop Smoke Dance which I thought you might like to see.

 

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Will – formerly Sarah, formerly Will – Franken on drugs and shooting himself

Will Franken outside King’s cross station

Will Franken outside King’s Cross… via the British Library

When I met American comic Will Franken at London’s King’s Cross station, he had come direct from the British Library where he had been reading original Elizabethan manuscripts. But his new passion is Sir Walter Scott.

“I’m reading the Waverley novels chronologically,” he told me.

“In order of publication?” I asked.

“In order of historical setting. His dialogue is wonderful. I always read them out loud. Even if I’m on a tube train, I’ll whisper softly to myself. It creates an oral-aural link. It comes out of your mouth, goes back to your ear and tricks you into thinking you wrote it, so brings it to life more. I’m going to mention that on the course.”

In a couple of weekends, on Sunday 21st February, Will is tutoring a 4-hour workshop for comedians: I’ll Be Your Mirror: Using the Layering Craft of Mimicry to Enhance Linear Stand-Up.

Last month, he ran one called: From The Classics To The Clubs: Bringing The Rebellion Of Satire Back To Comedy.

“Why are you doing these workshops?” I asked. “A desperate need for money?”

“Nah. I really enjoyed teaching, you know? It was years since I’d done it. I used to do a lot of teaching. We did a brief mimicry exercise in the Satire workshop, but I really want to flesh it out with a new four hours devoted to faces, voices, accents – telling people how to start big and scale backwards, when to go cartoonish, when to do nuance instead of cartoonish. Dialogue’s another important thing. A gruff voice and a sweet little voice and you can get a comic effect out of the juxtaposition of the two.

“I want to teach people how to take what I consider very dry, linear stand-up routines where it’s just set-up, set-up, punchline… and use what I call the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. If the audience is not going to laugh at the concept, they may laugh at the joke. If they don’t laugh at the joke, they may laugh at the face. If they don’t laugh at the face, they may laugh at the voice. Or they may laugh at all of them.”

“Are you hanging up your dress forever?” I asked.

Sarah Franken - “There was feeling like I was a poster child for transgenderism"

Sarah Franken, now hanging up her dress and wig

For six months last year, Will performed as Sarah Franken, in a dress and wig.

“Yes,” he replied. “Well, I haven’t got rid of the clothes. They’re still in my room.”

“The wig?” I asked.

“Yes, but I wouldn’t use that again. It’s all matted.”

“If you got a rocking chair,” I suggested, “you could perform the end of Psycho.

“I appreciate you treating this with such reverence,” Will told me.

“Have you seen The Danish Girl?” I asked. “Eddie Redmayne as a woman.”

“I wouldn’t see it,” Will replied. “It reeks of trying to get an Oscar.”

“He might get another one this year,” I said. “From cripple in The Theory of Everything to woman in The Danish Girl. That sounds Oscar-worthy. That could be the title of your autobiography: From Cripple to Woman. Have you ever been a cripple?”

“No. I’ve never broken anything. Not a single bone.”

“It might be worth breaking a bone just to get publicity,” I suggested.

“No. I hate pain. Though I shot myself in the toe with an air rifle one time.”

“Why?”

“To get attention. It didn’t work. I wanted pity. I think I was 11 years old.”

“What was the reaction?”

“I don’t know if I even told anybody. It hurt really bad. It really, really hurt and…”

“You say you think you may not have told anyone about it?” I asked.

“In my family,” explained Will, “if you’re not actually bleeding with a slit throat, nobody really gives a shit.”

“But you were bleeding with a hole in your toe,” I said.

Will Franken

“If you’re not bleeding with a slit throat, nobody gives a shit”

“No. There was no blood. It was a big purple bruise. I was barefoot. It was the summer. It was an air rifle. It was a bruise.”

“You missed,” I suggested, “the key to getting sympathy by not telling anyone.”

“I think I might have told my mom, but my mom was one of those people you could never tell anything bad to. I don’t want to hear anything bad! I just want to hear about good things! I think I might have told her: I shot myself in the toe. And she might have said: Well, that’s kinda silly.

“She might have a point.”

“She’s a great study in repression, my mother.”

“What did she tell you when you were a kid?”

“She used to tell me: Make sure you never drink, because your dad’s an alcoholic and you could end up like him. So, when I was 14, I couldn’t wait to drink, because I thought: Wow! I will get to be abusive to people and everybody will feel sorry for me cos I have a disease! Same thing when weed went around.”

“The only drugs I was ever attracted to,” I said, “were heroin and acid.”

“I was never attracted to heroin,” said Will, “though, when I was a kid, I saw the Sid & Nancy movie and I kinda liked the pity. It’s like that David Bowie line: It was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor. There’s something theatrical about it, you know?”

“What attracted me to LSD,” I said, “was the expansion of the mind, but what attracted me to heroin was the downer effect, not the upper.”

“I was a big fan of LSD,” said Will. “There was no future where I came from in the Midwest – Missouri – so you might as well drop acid. I did lots of LSD and peyote and…”

“Peyote?” I asked.

“That was a brilliant experience,” said Will.

“What is the difference in the experience,” I asked, “between peyote and LSD?”

Peyote cacti in the wild

Peyote cacti add that little something extra to a cup of coffee

“Well,” Will told me, “the LSD I took was blotter acid, so there was a lot of speed and strychnine in it. I think the peyote was much more vivid. Little cacti buttons; we put them in coffee.

“About four hours into the trip, at its climax, you vomit. That was actually the highlight. It felt so pure. Just opening your mouth and feeling it fall out but not feeling like vomit usually feels. It was like a great emptying and I had an actual out-of-body experience. I think I was 17 or 16 at the time.

“I was with some friends and not all of us were on it. We were all looking at some weird art book. I was there and I was also in the corner of the ceiling, looking down at me looking at the book with everybody else. A complete schism. But I couldn’t do peyote now even if I wanted to.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m an alcoholic and, if I had a trip, I would come out of the trip thinking: Hey! It would be nice to have some weed! Then, if there’s no weed around, I’d think: Well, I might as well get drunk because I can’t stand just naked emotions.”

“But you got wholeheartedly into the drugs,” I said.

”I’m one of those people who likes to get heavily into a lot of things. I was a woman for six months. For a year in 2009, I was a Catholic, but then I sobered up..”

“I was never interested in getting drunk,” I said. “I never wanted to drink to get drunk, which is what people do in Britain.”

“Did you ever drink AT somebody?” Will asked me. “I do that all the time. You think: Fuck her! and then you drink AT her.”

“No,” I told him, “I never did.”

Will Franken

“On some of them I was completely stoned out of my mind…”

“For me,” Will explained, “weed really freed-up some inhibitions. My iTunes are filled-up with recordings from way back when I was 14.

“I was into 4-track recording when I was a kid. I think one of the reasons I perform in the style I do is I learned how to speed up a pitch and slow it down and do three voices simultaneously when having a conversation.”

“So you have recordings of yourself on drugs as a kid?” I asked.

“Yeah. on some of them I was completely stoned out of my mind. And some of it’s really, really good.”

“There’s gold on those tapes,” I said. “Comedy, narrative and autobiographical gold… Is it OK to quote all this drug stuff?”

“Oh, I’m totally cool about it,” said Will. “All the trans activists who hate me for becoming Will again may go Hey! You know, I was disappointed when he stopped being Sarah and went back to being a man, but he does drugs! … You never know what people are going to like or dislike.”

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A brief insight into fame, the drug habits of dinsosaurs and a phone in rice

Matt Roper last week, as Wilfredo (Photograph by Garry Platt)

Matt Roper as Wilfredo in Edinburgh last week (Photograph by Garry Platt)

As I am still a zombie from the after-effects of the Edinburgh Fringe and not yet fully able to string thoughts together, here is a blog (to quote Slaughterhouse-Five yet again) “somewhat in the telegraphic schizophrenic manner of tales of the planet Tralfamadore, where the flying saucers come from”.

Matt Roper is almost unrecognisable as Wilfredo, the greasy singer he performed as at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show in Edinburgh last week.

But yesterday, Matt was paying for fuel at the counter of the Texaco garage in Totnes, in the South West of England, when the girl behind the counter asked him: “Are you Wilfredo?”.

He replied: “Not at the moment, no”.

Matt says: “As I was punching my PIN number into the card machine, she was showering me with praise… I love what you do… I keep up with what you’re up to… It’s so good to see you doing so well! And, at that very moment, with a queue of customers waiting behind me, my card payment was declined.”

Meanwhile, this morning, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith, who lives on a boat in Vancouver, sent me an e-mail:


Anna Smith last night, "after three days of sleeping on a psychiatrist’s couch"

Anna Smith has been thinking about dinosaur eating habits

We had a major wind storm here that knocked down trees and left 700,000 people without electricity for up to four days (including me).

Apparently information websites crashed with people wanting to know when the electricity would return.

My phone is near dead. I dropped it in the bilge… Well it slid off my bed as I slept through the windstorm of ninety kilometer per hour gusts that was knocking trees onto houses and cars.  But it is now in a bag of red rice from Texas, so maybe that will revive it. 

A young server at the McDonald’s Drive Through restaurant suggested I put the phone into a bag of dry rice. It is supposed to work the way rice dries out salt in a salt cellar.


This, in itself, seemed a little surreal to me, but then she added:


Did Tyrannosaurus Rexes hallucinate on prehistoric acid trips?

Did Tyrannosaurus Rexes hallucinate on prehistoric acid trips?

Did you hear about the scientist who found ergot in amber? I was listening to a CBC radio program about it. They were speculating that dinosaurs were having acid trips…


I thought I had better check up on this and, indeed, the Daily Mail wrote a piece about it in February, headlined:

DID DINOSAURS GET HIGH?
FUNGUS CONTAINING LSD COMPOUND IS FOUND
ON A 100-MILLION-YEAR-OLD FOSSILISED BLADE OF GRASS

with the sub-headings:

– Ergot produces compounds that can induce delirium and hallucinations
– Scientists in the 20th century used these compounds to synthesise LSD
– Researchers say herbivorous dinosaurs are likely to have eaten the fungus

And I thought the Edinburgh Fringe was strange.

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Today I reveal THE MEANING OF LIFE and I don’t mean the Monty Python one

God, depicted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling

God, depicted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling

I have never taken recreational drugs. The only drugs which ever attracted me were heroin and LSD.

They were not available to me when I might have taken them.

By the time they were available, I had seen and read too much about people damaged by them.

But, when I was in my late teens, I remember there was a day when – for maybe ten minutes – maybe five minutes – I felt I could feel my position within the air around me, could feel my physical position in 3D or 4D within the room I was in… and that room’s physical existence within the house, within the street on the surface of the earth and that I was standing on the surface of a planet floating and rotating in space and its place within the solar system and the universe. I could mentally comprehend and feel my relationship within all those inter-related elements.

And I also simultaneously felt I comprehended my position in time – how time only exists as a ‘moment’ that, in a sense, does not exist because, as soon as it happens it is over and it becomes an infinity of time stretching backwards while the next not-yet-existing moment is part of an infinity of time stretching forward and, as you can narrow the existence of the exact moment of ‘nowness’ more and more and more down to the non-existent point of infinity, time exists as an over-all concept but the exact moment of ‘now’ never exists. I felt how, at the instant I felt this I could understand where I was in infinity with the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and a woman scratching her nose in 1171 and an insect crawling on the sand in 5,000 BC and something that had not yet happened in the year 2373.

In the 1960s or 1970s I was told a probably apocryphal story about the rock guitarist Eric Clapton. Those of advanced years will remember common graffiti around that time proclaiming:

CLAPTON IS GOD!

The story was that Eric Clapton had taken LSD and seen God who told him the Meaning of Life, but he (Clapton, not God) then forgot the details.

The next time Eric went on an acid trip, he had a pen and paper by him. This time, he wrote down what God told him.

When he came down from the trip, Eric looked at the piece of paper. On it were the words:

“THE SMELL OF METHYLATED SPIRITS PERMEATES THE AIR”

That, as told by God to Eric Clapton, was the Meaning of Life.

The reason I think this 1960s story might be apocryphal is that there are other versions of it.

In his 1945 book A History of Western Philosophy, the British philosopher Bertrand Russell (very trendy in the 1960s) wrote:

William James describes a man who got the experience from laughing-gas; whenever he was under its influence, he knew the secret of the universe, but when he came to, he had forgotten it. At last, with immense effort, he wrote down the secret before the vision had faded. When completely recovered, he rushed to see what he had written. It was

“A SMELL OF PETROLEUM PREVAILS THROUGHOUT”

Before that, on June 29, 1870, the American physician and author Oliver Wendell Holmes delivered an address to the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard University. An extended excerpt from the lecture was published in 1879. He said:

I once inhaled a pretty full dose of ether, with the determination to put on record, at the earliest moment of regaining consciousness, the thought I should find uppermost in my mind. 

The mighty music of the triumphal march into nothingness reverberated through my brain, and filled me with a sense of infinite possibilities, which made me an archangel for the moment. The veil of eternity was lifted. The one great truth which underlies all human experience, and is the key to all the mysteries that philosophy has sought in vain to solve, flashed upon me in a sudden revelation. 

Henceforth all was clear: a few words had lifted my intelligence to the level of the knowledge of the cherubim. As my natural condition returned, I remembered my resolution; and, staggering to my desk, I wrote, in ill-shaped, straggling characters, the all-embracing truth still glimmering in my consciousness. The words were these: 

“A STRONG SMELL OF TURPENTINE PREVAILS THROUGHOUT”

The other day, I was talking to someone about LSD.

He told me that, years ago, a girl he knew took LSD and, after the trip, she told her friends (who had also been tripping) that she had, during the trip, understood the nature of existence, the Meaning of Life and all the rest. But she could not remember what it was.

So they decided that, next time they went on an acid trip together, she would write down what she saw and felt. The next time they tripped out, there was a pen and a piece of paper. And, sure enough, again, she saw and understood the purpose and meaning of life.

She wrote it down.

When they came down from the trip, to keep it safe, they put the piece of paper in an envelope which they pinned to the ceiling for safety. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

And, of course, they forgot the envelope was there. They had been tripping.

A few hours or a few days later, someone spotted the envelope pinned to the ceiling and they remembered that the Meaning of Life was in the envelope.

They took the envelope off the ceiling and opened it.

The piece of paper said:

“IF YOU STAND ON THE CEILING, YOU CAN SEE THE FLOOR”

So there you are.

Life may mostly be methylated spirits, petroleum and turpentine but that could depend on your viewpoint.

And I would argue that taking LSD might be a confusing factor in thinking clearly.

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A semi-naked man poses an old LSD riddle to comics in trendy Shoreditch

Two days ago, the London Evening Standard ran a double-page spread about someone they called THE NAKED COMMUTER.

In fact, the story was less spectacular: the pictures showed a man in perfectly-respectable boxer shorts and the sub-heading said: When he stripped off in protest at the sweltering Tube, he was hailed as a hero.

Today’s blog is not about the semi-naked man nor about his exploits, but keep them in mind.

Yesterday, I went to Rivington Street in Shoreditch to chat to Comedy Cafe Theatre owner Noel Faulkner about his future plans. Noel is always outspoken and, at the Chortle Comedy Conference last Friday, launched into a spectacular verbal attack on Jongleurs’ boss Marios Lourides for not paying several comedians for months – Marios claimed the apparently financially frail Jongleurs chain paid £2.5 million yearly to comedians and the backlog owed to comedians was “only” £60,000.

But this blog is not about that.

The final version of The Tunnel screened in Shoreditch last night

The Tunnel screened at the East End Film Festival last night

After our chat, Noel and I went to the Red Gallery (also in Rivington Street) for a screening to a very full venue of what is claimed to be the final version of The Tunnel documentary about the late Malcolm Hardee’s iconic and infamous comedy club. It was screened as part of the East End Film Festival.

Following the screening, there was what turned out to be a humdinger of a live comedy show but, in the interval between the two events, I went outside for a chat because I bumped into Miss Behave who had, earlier in the day, lost her appointments diary. I share her pain. It once happened to me and I virtually needed psychological counselling until a man found it in a gutter outside a Chinese takeaway, phoned me and I got it back.

Miss Behave thought we would have a chat

Miss Behave thought we could have a nice quiet alley chat

Miss Behave had to rush off and so we went outside to talk about her plans and her compering of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

But we never managed to do that.

Stick with me, dear reader.

“So you lost your diary today…” I started.

“It’s like I’ve lost my brain,” said Miss Behave.

“I have to take a photo of this man,” I said.

There was a man standing on the other side of the road, naked apart from a pair of underpants, putting on a leather vest. It was the man mentioned in the Evening Standard.

“He looks like one of your acts,” I told Miss Behave.

At this point, Noel Faulkner emerged from the Red Gallery.

“This is why the comedy clubs are in a mess,” I told Noel, “because people are doing their acts out on the streets.”

“He’s a local lad,” said Noel. “He may be on Ecstasy.”

The man came across to talk to us.

“Have you seen a pair of glasses lying on the floor anywhere?” he mumbled at us.

“They’re on top of your head,” Miss Behave and I said simultaneously, like a Greek chorus.

“The reason I couldn’t find them is because I never put them there,” said the man.

“Someone else put them there?” I asked.

Charlie Dinkin tries to mimic Gareth Ellis’ hay-fevered state

Charlie Dinkin tries to mimic Ellis’ hay-fevered state

At this point, Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Ellis emerged from the Red Gallery.

He looked at the man with spectacles on his head and said to me: “You always make the best friends.”

I raised my camera. “Don’t take a picture of me right now,” said Ellis. “I’ve got hay fever and my eyes are all puffy.”

“Do you remember pounds, shillings and pence?” the semi-naked man no longer with spectacles on his head but on his nose asked Noel Faulkner.

“Of course I can,” Noel told him.

“Did you hear what he said?” the man said to me in a throaty voice. “He said he can remember pounds, shillings and pence with confidence.”

“I think you’ve taken some,” said Noel.

The man looked at him.

“LSD,” said Noel.

“You can remember pounds, shillings and pence?” the man persisted.

“Yes,” said Noel. LSD. Where are your fucking trousers?”

“In 1963,” said the man, “someone walks into a bank and says: Here’s a pound note. Kindly change it into twenty pieces of silver. And the bank teller says: Certainly, Mr Jones, because she knew him. And the man says: But I want those twenty pieces of silver to be made up of half crowns, sixpences and two bob bits. What quantity of each coin did the bank teller give him that equals twenty pieces of silver and adds up to a pound?”

“Our chat is going well,” I told Miss Behave.

“Absolutely,” she agreed.

As Noel and the man discussed the mathematics of 1963 coinage, Miss Behave and I arranged to meet again at the Pull The Other One comedy club on Saturday.

“We could try not talking to each other there as well,” suggested Miss Behave.

David Mills (right) with Gareth Ellis

David Mills (right) being unusually reticent with Ellis

At this point, American comic David Mills came out of the Red Gallery.

“Great to see you,” he said to Miss Behave and kissed her on the cheek.

“Are you on the turn?” I asked him.

“I’ve got to run,” said Miss Behave. “I wasn’t supposed to have to run, but all this happened.”

I took a photo of David and Ellis.

“I’ll take another one,” I said. “Ellis had his eyes closed.”

“I’m keeping them closed,” he said, “because they’re all red from the hay fever.”

“Not on a computer! Not on a mobile phone!” Mungo 2 was saying.

A 1963 UK shilling, as in Mungo 2’s riddle

A 1963 UK shilling, as in Mungo 2’s riddle

“Listen,” said Miss Behave. “I’m doing something new, but I haven’t figured it out yet.”

“It’s probably in your diary,” I said, trying to be helpful.

“You didn’t listen,” the semi-naked man told me.

“I didn’t listen,” I admitted. “What was the answer?”

“Oh,” said the semi-naked man, “I couldn’t give you the answer. I’d have to give you the challenge.”

“I’m not a challenge sort of man,” I said.

“But you are challenged,” said Miss Behave.

“I am Scottish,” I tried. “I don’t care about your English money.”

“See,” said the semi-naked man, “this is where you walk into a pile of computers. I’m a Border Reiver.”

Painting of the infamous Scottish Reiver Auld Wat of Harden

Painting of the infamous Scottish Reiver Auld Wat of Harden

“You are?” I asked. “Cows? You’ve stolen cows?”

“Carlisle,” he said.

“Oh,” I said. “Carlisle and Berwick-upon-Tweed should clearly be in Scotland. Clearly Scottish cities.”

“Is your history between Scotland and England any good?” asked the semi-naked man.

“I’ll see you on Saturday,” said Miss Behave, wisely deciding to leave.

“I’ll leave you two to…” said the semi-naked man, starting to say something, then turning away and leaving himself.

“Play your cards right and you’re in there tonight,” I told Miss Behave.

She set off towards Old Street station, following the semi-naked man at a distance.

“He’s been round here for about a year,” an unknown and unseen voice said, like unto the Voice of God in the wilderness.

“I used to work down the road. I came out of work one night at eleven o’clock at night and he had a deckchair. You know those deckchairs that have got a beer holder in the arm? He was just in his pants in a deckchair, just berating people as they passed by.”

“It seemed strange,” Ellis told me, “that he could afford hair dye but not trousers.”

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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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Filed under Drink, Drugs

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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Filed under 1980s, Drugs, Music

The British comedian who battled anorexia and was sectioned under the Mental Health Act – and what God said

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Juliette Burton in London yesterday

Juliette Burton in London yesterday

“Someone recently told me,” I said to comedian/actress Juliette Burton yesterday, “about a 26-year-old female comedian who was turned down by two major agents because she was too old. They wanted younger, inexperienced comedians who could be moulded by them. My reaction was: What does an 18 year-old know about except homework and things they’ve read in books?

“Most comedians I’ve met,” agreed Juliette, “need to have experienced the extremities of the experiences of life to have a slightly different take on things. I think anyone who’s been through some darkness in their lives… the only way you can come out the other side is to find comedy in some way. You have to have darkness to appreciate the light.

“For me, at the really dark times in my life, I discovered Monty Python and other things like The Muppets and Richard Curtis’ The Vicar of Dibley.”

On Saturday, I saw a preview of Juliette’s happy, life-enhancing Edinburgh Fringe show When I Grow Up in Stowmarket, Suffolk. Tonight, she performs the first of three previews at the Brighton Fringe.

Yesterday, I chatted to her as she passed through London on her way to Brighton.

“So you were sectioned under the Mental Health Act,” I said.

“Yes,” said Juliette. “I’d been in and out of clinics most of my teenage years. The first time I was sent to a clinic, I went in voluntarily… but, when I say voluntarily, it was because my parents wanted me to and I was very young. I was fifteen – my GCSE year. And then the next time I went into a clinic I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act, which was involuntary. They turned up in an ambulance and took me away.”

“I went into a mental home when I had just newly turned eighteen,” I told Juliette. “They seemed to think it was a bad idea that I had tried to commit suicide. So going into a mental home was suggested as a good idea. I had taken an overdose, which was a silly idea because I had always been very bad at chemistry in school… What did they say was wrong with you?”

“They said I was a month away from dying,” Juliette told me. “It was anorexia… To be sectioned, you have to have five people who agree you are ‘a danger unto yourself or others’. And I was a danger unto myself.”

“I’ve seen your show,” I said. “You’re a danger unto others.”

“In a positive way,” Juliette laughed, “ I hope I’m dangerously fun now!… But my mother had to agree to me being sectioned. Definitely my doctor and then some other medical people and people close to me. Then, after a couple of weeks in that clinic, I had a psychotic episode.”

“What’s a psychotic episode?” I asked.

“I’m sure you know,” said Juliette. “but it’s kind of similar to schizophrenia and it can vary for different people. For me, it wasn’t brought about by drugs or induced in any other way, it was just down to the mental and physical stress that my body was under.

“I personally feel that I was so underweight and the stress of going into hospital and losing all control over my life and the stress of that… basically my mind decided to give up and I went off into various different experiences mentally, so I wasn’t really aware I was in the place I was in.”

“You were hallucinating?” I asked.

“It was… Yes…” said Juliette. “It’s really tricky, because the people I’ve met who have had similar experiences… It’s so… It’s difficult because obviously your body is present in that room in the hospital, but mentally you are elsewhere. It’s a bit philosophical, but who’s to say what’s actually going on? I had experiences of seeing things that weren’t there.”

“Such as?” I asked.

“Such as I saw God,” said Juliette. “And the Devil. And I saw angels.”

“What did God look like?” I asked.

Juliette was surrounded by white light

Juliette: a bright white light from God surrounded her

“I say I saw God because language is really limited,” explained Juliette. “Mentally, the way I processed it was I saw God. What I actually experienced was an intensely bright white light enveloping me, 360 degrees around me, and an overwhelming feeling of being unconditionally loved, like I’d been searching for all my life. Being completely safe and completely held. And I was aware of a figure but not aware of a face or anything distinct.

“I’m not saying this actually happened. It could be medically explained with chemicals. But my experience was that I remember asking God what the meaning of life was. And I remember being very disappointed with his answer, because I was expecting something deep and meaningful… I only got two words back – BE NICE – but, then, I think that is what all the major religions boil down to. And it’s the best moral code to live by.”

“I remember,” I said, “in the 1960s or 1970s someone took an LSD trip and saw God and realised what the meaning of life was, but he couldn’t remember what it was when he came down from his trip. So he decided next time he’d have a notepad and pen near him. He took another trip, saw God and again realised the meaning of life and wrote it down. When he came down again, he looked at the notepad and he had written: The smell of methylated spirits permeates the air…. What was the Devil like?”

“That appeared to me in shadows,” said Juliette. “I was aware I was in the room I was actually in but, in the shadows, there was some menacing form that was coming to get me… There was a time during that psychotic episode when I felt I was God. I thought I was in charge of the world. There was also a time when I thought that everyone in the hospital was talking about me, so that was more paranoia than anything.”

“Sounds more like what most performers hope for at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said.

“I was hearing voices,” continued Juliette, “telling me what to do. And that was also part of the psychosis. It only lasted three weeks, but I had an amazing adventure…”

“Definitely like the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said.

“I thought I was time travelling,” said Juliette. “I went back to the Victorian age, I was a little girl and I was aware of a father not being there and I was crying. Then I was in another time when women ruled the world. I could see very bright flowers and it was lush and green and I was a High Priestess and I remember lots of people turning to me for advice, which was lovely. Then another part of it was when I saw aliens, which was exciting.”

“And they looked like…?” I asked.

“Again, it’s the limitations of language,” said Juliette. “I saw blackness and there was a red laser and it was trying to communicate with me and I understood that to mean that an alien communicated with me. But all of that sounds completely mad and it was over ten years ago…”

“When I was in the mental home,” I said, “they gave me happy drugs. Did they drug you every night?”

“Every day when they could get me to take them.”

“Did they not force you?” I asked.

“I think they must have had to sometimes. But I wasn’t fully aware of what was happening.”

“They gave me drugs,” I said. “The drugs made me feel happy without wanting to be happy.”

“I was put on Prozac when I was sixteen,” said Juliette. “It was really too heavy for me. I felt like a zombie. Yes, you don’t have any major lows; but you also don’t have any highs whatsoever. So what’s the point of being alive if that’s all there is?

“Lots of the anti-anxiety medication that I’ve been given over the years I’ve found actually made me more anxious. The drugs I had at the time I was having the psychosis I think did bring me back down to earth but there were a few weeks where, although I knew who I was and where I was, the paranoia was still strong.

“I remember once being out in Marks & Spencer’s in Chelmsford and I suddenly had an attack where it was like picking up on frequencies and thinking everything everyone was saying was about me and about what I was doing and they were judging me.”

“The Edinburgh Fringe again,” I said.

VanillaSky_poster_Wikipedia

Never watch if having a psychotic attack

“Never watch the movie Vanilla Sky if you are in the middle of a psychotic episode,” advised Juliette, “On one of my weekends out of the clinic when I was past the worst of it but not quite fully grounded, I was allowed back to my parents and we watched Vanilla Sky, which really screwed me up and set me two steps back.”

“Chinese medicine,” I said, “tries to cure the cause, whereas Western medicine tries to hide the symptoms, like papering over the top of the cracks but not filling them in. Giving people drugs just papers over the cracks, doesn’t it? So have you just papered over the cracks?”

“I’m not on any medication at the moment,” said Juliette. “I think the NHS has improved a lot but, for me, the answer is almost never medication. You have to deal with the root cause which, for me, is anxiety and being able to accept the things I can’t change.

“When I was fifteen, I was under-eating, at seventeen, I was very under-eating. At nineteen, something changed. Within three months of my 19th birthday, I doubled my body weight and, within six months, I’d gone from a size 4 to a size 20.”

“What are you now?” I asked.

“I’m a size 8 so, if anyone would like to send me any dresses, particularly any French Connection dresses…

“Back then, it went from food being, in my mind, something I wasn’t allowed to touch to being something I over-indulged in. And that was all about control. Anorexia for me was about trying to retain control. And the compulsive over-eating was about me trying to avoid taking responsibility for life by losing control.”

“How old were you when you were sectioned?” I asked.

“I was seventeen. I spent my eighteenth birthday in the clinic.”

“And with you, why was your anxiety all about eating disorders?” I asked.

“Food is one of the few things in your life,” explained Juliette, “that you can have total autonomy over. For a long time, I used food as a solution – because, if you focus on the details of life, then you avoid the bigger picture. For me, at that time, I wasn’t ready to deal with the bigger picture. Over-eating and under-eating are just flip sides of the same coin. Different symptoms of the same core problem. All the psychological problems I’ve had have stemmed from anxiety.”

“And yet your show When I Grow Up” I said. “is jolly and enthusiastic and life-celebrating.”

Juliette Burton: happy and positive

Juliette Burton: happy & positive show

“Well,” said Juliette, “I hope it’s a positive, fun, uplifting show about me trying to be all the things I wanted to be when I was a child. So, in the last year, I’ve gone off and tried to be all the things I wanted to be when I was a kid – ballerina, baker, princess, pop star, artist, farmer and Muppet.

“I would really love people to see the show and feel positive. A lot of the stuff I’ve just spoken to you about is really dark and I have spent a long time turning into who I am now, but who I am now is somebody who desperately wants to make other people feel happy and connected and not alone. The only way I feel I can do that is though comedy and storytelling and taking people on a little escapist journey and come out the other side feeling Wow! I feel better about life.

“And people will go out with a smile on their face,” I said.

“Did you go out with a smile on your face, John?” asked Juliette.

“I did.”

“Awesome,” said Juliette.

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Filed under Comedy, Drugs, Food, Health, Mental health, Mental illness, Psychology

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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Filed under Airlines, Comedy, Drugs, PR, Travel

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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