Jeremy Clarke recalls his career on drugs and a failed attempt to grow cannabis in his father's greenhouseby Jeremy Clarke / December 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Published in December 1996 issue of Prospect Magazine
The price of illegal drugs in Britain is the highest in Europe. Recent seizures of substantial shipments of cannabis and cocaine by vigilant customs officers are pushing up prices still further. Although many of these seizures have been made on or just off the rocky Cornish peninsular, we in the southwest do not get to see much of it at any price. Occasionally the local television news bulletins tantalise us with footage of familiar, picturesque quays where drugs are being unloaded from impounded yachts. If the arrested yachtsmen’s home addresses are given out, they are more likely to be Hackney or Chorley than Polperro. It is galling for our local hippies that on the rare occasions they can afford to buy imported cannabis resin, they have to go all the way to London for it. While this year’s harvest of locally grown marijuana is safely gathered in, business is steadily improving for my friend Terry, a small but reputable drug dealer. Such was the dearth of illegal substances in the west country earlier in the year, Terry had to turn some of his best customers away empty handed and his reputation suffered as a result. He blames the erratic nature of his supply on a lack of enterprise by Cornish youth. “With a coastline like ours, and the cutbacks in the customs service, I can’t understand why drugs get so scarce down here,” he says indignantly. He started smoking dope in the 1950s during the Malayan emergency, in which he was serving as an infantryman. He often likes to reminisce about some of the once common, now fabled brands of cannabis resin that were easily procurable in Britain during the 1960s-Red Leb, Moroccan Gold and the brain-curdling Paki Black. “Look at this rubbish,” he says disgustedly, rapping a hard light brown square of obviously inferior quality cannabis. “Eighty quid an ounce! I’ve forgotten the last time I had a really decent smoke!” But Terry does concede that the home grown marijuana hybrids lately developed in Holland, called “skunk,” are positive signs. To demonstrate for me the effects of smoking skunk he pulls his stoned-out-of-his-head face; which if anything suits him better than his normal expression. Terry was a sort of early shamanic mentor of mine. It was he who showed me how to grow cannabis plants; how to prick out the heads and when to separate the females from the males. The first time I tried it, I grew six plants in my father’s greenhouse. When my father enquired about them, I told him they were Sweet Angelica and got him to water them when I was not there. The snails were a bit of a problem to begin with. Hundreds arrived from all over the district and headed straight for the greenhouse. To keep them at bay, I had to slaughter them regularly with deadly chemicals. On Terry’s advice, I carefully nurtured the plants with a special diet of fertiliser and crushed eggshells and they repaid my attention by flourishing spectacularly. They had a tremendous, almost regal presence. My father paid them extravagant compliments. “Aren’t they beautiful?” he kept saying; and he vied with me for the privilege of watering them in the evenings. They grew quickly: by the end of August they were up against the greenhouse roof. “What did you say they were called?” asked my father, after he had taken visitors into his greenhouse to show off our exotic wards. Evidently when he had innocently passed on to them my misinformation about the plants’ identity, it had been met with scepticism. For several weeks I had been picking off some leaves, drying them under the grill and rolling them into neat chillum-shaped joints. The proper thing to do, however, is to resist the temptation to harvest the plants until late September when they are at their most potent. Unfortunately for mine, the sceptical visitors had been able to identify my plants correctly by looking them up in a book when they got home, and had rung my father about it. I was offered a choice: I could either take them out of their pots and set fire to them in the garden, or I could explain them to the police. I chose the former. I think my father was as disappointed as I was. I smoked dope all the time then. I cannot do it any more because it has burned out the small but significant part of my brain which is affected by the THC and if I smoke any now, I just get paranoid and sit in the corner all evening like a petrified gonk. But during my career “on drugs” I noticed that certain classes favoured particular drugs, as they do mental illnesses. Whereas nice, middle class people enjoyed thought-provoking narcotics such as cannabis and LSD; those among the working classes who did not despise drugs chose to get off their faces cheaply and unpretentiously on uppers or downers. (The aristocracy were reputed to smoke, snort or inject anything they could lay their hands on.) Nowadays these distinctions have largely disappeared and people take whatever they can afford. In London, for example, hash and ecstacy are treated as common or garden substances and patronised by all classes and all ages. Down here in the impoverished west country where we still point at aeroplanes, nature’s bounty of magic mushrooms and homegrown marijuana is the staple, and glue our designer drug.