Demob suits, kipper ties and other class-A drugs

'Yes, I inhaled. I admit it. I also exhaled pretty smartly and coughed horribly till the tears came'
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The Independent Online

I was at a party in London about a month ago and found myself in a discussion about the best way to combat boredom. There was a well-known comedian in the group, who said, "Well, I suppose we're talking about after you've tried all the usual antidotes like sex and cocaine and drink..."

I was at a party in London about a month ago and found myself in a discussion about the best way to combat boredom. There was a well-known comedian in the group, who said, "Well, I suppose we're talking about after you've tried all the usual antidotes like sex and cocaine and drink..."

"I wouldn't know," I said. "I've never tried cocaine."

"You've never tried cocaine?!" he said, caught off guard.

"No," I said. "I don't think I've even been offered it."

"Never tried cocaine?" he said, going off into a sort of doubting coma. "You've never, ever...?"

I met him once or twice later in the evening and whenever he saw me, a look of profound shock came into his eyes, and I could see him mouthing the question again. But it was true. At the risk of shocking innocent readers to whom cocaine is mundane, I have to admit that I have never to my knowledge taken any, and I think on the whole I'm glad of it.

The reason for my never having taken any heroin or cocaine or any of those things is a rather odd one. It is because I felt it was a bit old-fashioned. I am of the generation that was growing up when the 1960s arrived, and I was a jazz fanatic, so I was familiar not only with the work of the great jazz musicians but also with their drug-ridden history. There were plenty of great men already dead of drug addiction - Charlie Parker, Fats Navarro and so on - and plenty of others about to die, which didn't seem too romantic to me.

When I was a kid, Chet Baker was one of my trumpet heroes. By the time I had grown up, he had vanished, and I didn't know where to, until I came across a magazine article about his drug problems, called (I can still remember the wonderful title 40 years later) "Ten Thousand Hell Holes In My Arm". He had once looked wonderful and now he looked wretched. No wonder I felt no urge to try hard drugs. They were killing all my favourite musicians.

Soft drugs were another matter. I was quite willing to give cannabis a go, and the first time I was offered a joint, I tried it. I inhaled it. I admit it. Yes, I inhaled. I also exhaled pretty smartly and coughed horribly. And I felt nothing. On the one or two subsequent occasions on which I tried it I also inhaled again and I also coughed till the tears came, but I never felt anything approaching getting high. It was clear that pot and I were not going to get along together, so I gave up without ever having properly started.

The only time I tried again was when I was in Goa, some time in the 1970s, and I was offered some stuff to smoke by a local resident.

"It would be wasted on me," I said. "I get nothing from it."

He smiled smugly.

"This is different," He said. "This is the very best Nepalese hash, the finest. It cannot fail. I insist you try."

To cut a long story short, he prepared it and got me smoking, and I inhaled and coughed like mad and never felt a thing. (It wasn't the smoke that bothered me; I smoked a lot of strong cigarettes in those days.) He looked so crestfallen that I have never tried again. Well, if I couldn't get anything from the best Nepalese hash, where could I go next?

To hard drugs, I suppose is the answer. People hint darkly that getting a high from soft drugs leads on to hard drugs, but I wonder if anyone turns to hard drugs because, like me, they don't get a damned thing out of soft drugs. Well, it's too late for me now, and in any case I still, luckily, regard all these grim white powders as a plague of the 1940s and 1950s, and would no more dream of taking heroin or cocaine than I would contemplate wearing demob suits or kipper ties.

And it must be such hard work being committed to drugs. I once asked a well-known British jazz musician if the pressures to take drugs in his business were heavy on him.

"Awful," he said. "When I first came into the business, everyone was smoking pot, so I did, too, and I found to my amazement I couldn't get anything from it at all. But I persevered and after about five years I found I was starting to enjoy it."

Five years! If I am ever tempted to smoke a joint again, I must remember his wise, weary words.

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