The middle classes are a little more open about it than they used to be. There are the Which? reports (entitled 'Nanny Takes a Trip') before each holiday season, sandwiched in between SLR cameras and sunglasses: 'We tested 54 brands of prepackaged hashish this time. Since our last report, there has been an increase in the number of cheap brands from the republics of central Asia, whose economies are increasingly dependent on the supply of recreational drugs. We called then for clearer labelling and child-proof packaging. We repeat this call now. Many central Asian brands lack these, and 'Tashkent Toke' turned out in our lab tests to contain large quantities of weedkiller. The manufacturers proved evasive when asked to comment. As usual, the Best Buys are Dutch, but there is promising competition from Tesco's own brand.'
Tourism has been affected, of course. The queue outside Madame Tussaud's is wreathed in blue- grey smoke, and Bayswater has filled up with authentic English raving milk bars, where surly waitresses plonk little cups of coffee-flavoured frothy milk down by overflowing tinfoil ashtrays filled with roaches instead of filter tips.
When Hans and Gretel leave their Bayswater hotel and travel to Parliament Square, they find it lined with souvenir shops selling T-shirts that say 'My grandfather went to London and all I got was, er . . .' alongside eighth-ounces of grass in Union Jack pouches and hash pipes whose bowls are models of Lady Thatcher's head, right down to the bulging glass eyes which glow with conviction every time Hans takes a draw.
Decriminalisation by itself has not changed social attitudes, of course. The great turning point in middle-class attitudes, when the younger generation finally decided that their parents could be forgiven this habit, came once the Archers decided to grow a few fields of Ambridge Ambrosia as part of diversifying their business. Once the plants were admitted to the vegetable section of the vicarage fete, the last bastion had fallen.
But the Archers were only following a lead set in the highest echelons of society. The Country Landowners' Association embraced with delight a crop that is as lucrative and versatile as rape, and much less disfiguring. Even the new King, asked by the papal nuncio how he coped with the pressures of the job, is supposed to have replied that he retired to the country every weekend without fail, where everything seemed easier now he had plants that talked back to him. 'Why do you think we called it Highgrove?' he asked.
Just how little decriminalisation has changed anything became obvious when the Garrick Club decided by a clear majority not to admit women to the new smoking room.Reuse content