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

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...

    BC2

    £50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

    SAP Data Migration Consultant

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

    Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

    £300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice