PsychoGeography #71: Strange weeds and flying Dutchmen

I ONCE visited the Netherlands three times in one year, which frankly is pushing it. The third time I went I was met by a Dutchman at the airport. We were queuing to get a car-park ticket when I dropped the English Sunday newspaper I'd been reading and its 37 property sections flooded across the floor. One of a pair of burly fellows who were behind us in the queue muttered to his companion "zwaar", and they both dissolved into low church giggles. As I picked up the newsprint I asked my Dutchman, "What does that mean?" And he replied, "Heavy". That to me encapsulates the Dutch sense of humour: the pratfall is conceived of as ironic. It's a form of Little Country Blues that's oddly endearing.

In the Year of Three Trips, the last time I went by ferry from Margate to Zeebrugge, then drove through Belgium to Rotterdam. My girlfriend at the time discovered when we reached Margate that she'd forgotten her passport. We decided to wing it and she attempted to enter Europe using a British Library card - arguably a more impressive travel document. Belgian immigration wasn't impressed and deported her. The official sneered, "If only your Mr Major would ratify the EU Treaty these problems would, I think, not be happening!"

I felt so implicated in Britishness that I misguidedly phoned "our" consul. His answering machine barked, "Don't bother me with trivial problems like mislaid passports!" I left an 'umble message to the effect that we were having problems entering the country, but don't bother doing anything if it's a hassle - and to our surprise he called back three minutes later. "What the bloody hell do you mean bothering me with this!" he screamed down the phone. "I've been up all night scraping four of your fellow countrymen off the central reservation of a Belgian motorway!" I couldn't help but thrill to his flagrant lack of diplomacy.

In truth, this nether Netherlands visit was a bit of a cliche. I was writing a parody of a James Bond story and decided to set it among the dope-growing fraternity. The premise was simple: Bond falls for a lovely Dutch spy, but when he arrives in Holland to investigate the skunk business with her they share a joint and it triggers off his issues. He sees that his activities as a Lothario are simply the flip side of his misogyny. Packed off to boarding school at an early age he has never really understood women and, threatened by them, his priapic progress is nothing but his inability to deal with intimacy. Standing in the opulent Rotterdam hotel room, the gorgeous Dutch spy thrown naked across the silk counterpane in front of him, Bond experiences his first flop-on as his head whirls with disturbing images. I called the story "Rotten Smoke", from the lines in Shakespeare's sonnet 34: "To let base clouds o'ertake me in my way / Hiding thy bravery in their rotten smoke ..."

In the interests of verisimilitude I'd arranged through a Dutch friend to meet up with some skunky operatives and learn about the intricacies of the business. The wacky tobacconists lived in a vertiginous old terraced house in the district of Amsterdam known - rather suitably - as "De Pijp" (The Pipe). Naturally they turned out to be about as glamorous as a couple of c.1976 polytechnic students reciting Monty Python's Parrot Sketch. Yes, they'd got on the wrong end of their product. The house had as well - every nook and cranny stank of skunk and there were about 50 kilos stacked up in Geest banana boxes. In order not to arouse the suspicions of any Dutch narcs who happened to be passing downwind, a ventilation system had been rigged up which continually passed the air through a bucket of bleach.

The grower turned out to be a rather strait-laced young woman from Basingstoke, while the "taster" was an Austrian short-story writer manque. He wanted to talk Hemingway - most tedious. Before I left he handed me a bud the size of baby's fist. "Make sure you've got your head a few centimetres from the pillow before you toke on this," he warned me. "It's that strong." I did as I was told but all that happened was that my girlfriend's face was transmogrified into a hideous vegetative tangle. Rotten smoke indeed.

Ralph Steadman doesn't need to indulge in any artificial stimulants at all as you can see from his superb picture of "gunnera men" (reproduced above, and named after the giant rhubarb-like plant). He saw them at Leeds Castle the other week, high on Assam tea. I wonder sometimes if, like Obelix, Ralph was dropped in a vat of some potion when he was a child. It may explain the tortured elasticity of his vision. "Zwaar" as the Dutch would say. E

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

    Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

    £100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

    Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

    £20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee