Thirty-four years ago I stood in the dock of a magistrates' court and pleaded guilty to possessing a piece of hash smaller than my little fingernail.
Thirty-four years ago I stood in the dock of a magistrates' court and pleaded guilty to possessing a piece of hash smaller than my little fingernail. The magistrate fined me five pounds and I walked out on to the street with a criminal record, sick to the bottom of my stomach that my case would be picked up in the press and I'd lose my job on a national newspaper.
Worse still, I dreaded my parents and in-laws finding out. Hard to believe, isn't it? The news last week that David Blunkett plans to finally relax the drug laws to downgrade cannabis to a class C drug, meaning that the police will no longer routinely charge people with possession, is something I thoroughly welcome. After all, my experiences with the police were so grim that it was years before I could be anywhere near one. The amount of police time wasted persecuting people who smoke dope is scandalous. Possession of cannabis has just formed another means of harassing the young and black. Years later when I lived with a Jamaican for five years I was able to see on a weekly basis the routine silliness as he was stopped countless times, when his only crime was a series of outrageous haircuts. Hopefully, now the police will be able to get on with what we've wanted them to do for years, stop theft and catch vandals.
My own drug harassment story started with my wedding at the end of the summer of love in 1967. For some reason the combination of long hair, a decent education and an interest in rock music meant one thing to working-class undereducated policemen with a giant chip on their shoulders. You were drug fiends and a threat to society. Hence the now legendary series of drug busts featuring people such as art dealer Robert Fraser and Mick Jagger. I didn't smoke joints – because I didn't smoke – but most people I knew did; I'd eaten hash cookies a couple of times and taken acid on holiday in Formentera. To celebrate my wedding I thought it would be a thoroughly good idea to put a small amount of hash in one layer of our wedding cake. There was to be a drug-free layer for the posh lunch with the relatives, and then a more "buzzy" version for our friends at home in the evening, and a third, drug-free layer would be mailed to friends abroad. In the event, the dope didn't materialise and I made a normal fruit cake, following my Mrs Beeton recipe.
Our wedding went off perfectly. That evening we had a riotous party at our flat in west London and departed to Cornwall on honeymoon. A few days later I received a fraught phone call from our lodger; the local police had turned up, removed the remaining layer of cake, and taken an envelope, a wedding present containing six tabs of LSD. It had "drugs" helpfully written on it by its donor. Trembling, we contacted Release, who engaged a lawyer on our behalf, and he got the case dropped because it transpired that the police hadn't bothered with the little matter of a search warrant. I retrieved the remains of the wedding cake, which had holes bored through it in every direction by forensic scientists in their zealous search for illegal substances.
Six months later I was sitting at home when there was a knock at the door. It was the same team of detectives. This time they had a warrant and proceeded to rip my place apart, throwing everything on the floor, empyting cupboards, food packets and drawers of stationary. After about half an hour of this, there was a dramatic pause and one theatrically announced "what have we got here then?", producing a piece of hash so tiny I could hardly see it. They had planted it, make no mistake about that. There was no way we'd have drugs at home after our previous experiences. We were cautioned, then whisked off to the police station where we were stripped, kept in separate cells, fingerprinted, and not allowed to phone anyone for four hours. They impounded our car and stripped it down. We were charged with possession.
Our lawyer advised us to go for trial by jury and claim that we had been victimised, but I bottled out. Hence the fine. I simply couldn't risk my job. We heard later there had been much gloating down at the nick over their "result".
Drugs are something I've done and will do again. It's my choice. Friends who've been dying of cancer have used cannabis and worried about the consequences – now David Blunkett is graciously planning to make that easier. I should be grateful for his concessions, but I'm not.
Is it unfair to judge a theatrical experience by it's audience? Last Monday night the Vaudeville theatre was little more than half full, and at 54, I was one of the youngest people in the stalls. Fascinated by the rave reviews for Ray Cooney's Caught in the Net, I'd decided to indulge in an evening of deeply politically incorrect theatre. Farce is something I grew up on. Our family used to have an outing to the Whitehall theatre annually during the Fifties – it was probably one of the few times we all agreed about something. Brian Rix dominated the genre on the stage and on television for years. But did theatrical farce die when Joe Orton sent it up rotten with What the Butler Saw and Loot? Farce has been a vehicle used by some of the greatest playwrights, from Dario Fo to Georges Feydeau – but after half an hour of this tortuous enterprise I was beginning to think it doesn't translate to the internet age. Caught in the Net is the sequel to Run for Your Wife. John Smith is a taxi driver secretly married to two women at once, with a son by one and a daughter by the other. The kids chat each other up on the internet, and plan to meet for a coffee. Astonishingly they don't have mobile phones – the only teenagers in south London without them. Amazingly, their mothers tell them they've got to clear the date "with their dads". Some chance in real life!
Of course farce is not about reality, but a heightened version of it. The audience was in fits; I was surrounded by clacking false teeth and quivering blue rinses. Perhaps this is the world they wish they inhabited rather than the foul-mouthed one they actually do. The whole evening was saved by the appearances of Russ Abbott as the lodger and the peerless Eric Sykes as his senile dad. Eric Sykes is 78 and registered as blind, but he knows more about stagecraft than most people clogging up the West End. I used to wonder why the snobby National Theatre revived Pinter but nothing by Ray Cooney. Now I know why. British farce has reached its sell-by date.
Much has been written about the different rivalries within the Victoria and Albert Museum. I am assured that curatorial wars are a thing of the past. So I was surprised to see that next door to the rather light-weight new exhibition Radical Fashion, featuring the work of Japanese designers Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo and Junya Watanabe of Comme des Garcons and Issey Miyake, there was another exhibition entitled Out of Japan. This far more rewarding experience features the work of three photographers working in Japan between the 1860s and the present day. Exquisite studies by Felice Beato show women in traditional dress in the late 19th century. Next door, groups of schoolgirls were dutifully copying all the labels about Comme des Garcons into their exercise books. If ever there was a case for a museum trying to get people to see things differently, this is it. But the V&A is content to put on a fashion show that will boost its numbers without taking any of the visitors elsewhere in the museum. Fashion is about tradition and the past. Not just a lot of dummies in frocks looking like a window at Selfridges.Reuse content