Friday, 8 July 2011

Thank God I never got along with marijuana

I think I was saved from any remote danger of ever becoming a hippy by the simple fact that I don’t respond well to marijuana. The first time I tried it was at home with a friend sometime in our teens, and it had literally no effect on either of us whatsoever.

We puffed and puffed like billy-oh, listening to hippy music all the while, taking the experiment very seriously. My friend eventually grew so bored he popped what was left of the little green cube in his mouth and swallowed it. Not a sausage. Interestingly, another friend, a regular partaker who had “scored” the relevant “shit” for us, had been wrecked after the first few puffs and had wandered off home in a mental fog.

The next time I tried it was on a school trip in Boston a year later, and I will admit to laughing hysterically and falling off my seat at one point – but that might have been due to the quality of the performers. Third time, in the company of two fairly well-known members of a newly-formed British rock band at the home of a classical music critic in Wimbledon, I got very snippy with their irritatingly soft-spoken American manager (he made the mistake of using the phrase “all that old rock ‘n’ roll shit” to describe the music I loved) and threw up afterwards -  unfortunately, not over him. 

A long hiatus followed and a middle class couple rolled a joint at a small dinner party and I had a few puffs, and promptly turned very aggressive (an effect alcohol only had on me a handful of times – invariably when I was already in a bad mood). 

I’m told today’s versions of the drug are much stronger than they were back then – but I suspect they’d only make me sicker and angrier than the original.

Even if marijuana had provided me with a Nirvanic high, I’m not sure I’d have donned a kaftan and beads and started calling everyone “man” and exclaiming “far out!” and going “phew!” to denote that something was, like, “heavy”. For a start, most of the bad boys I knew who experimented with drugs were basically testosterone-fuelled, beer-drinking rugby players who were unlikely to adopt peace and love as their credo. My other friends were, like me,  cynical, small “c” conservative types who didn’t see much point in ending up wrecked in a gutter with a syringe sticking out their arm. While we enjoyed a lot of the music, we found the whole hippyshtick – the language, the clothes, the political posturing – quite ludicrous.

I only ever once toyed with the notion of identifying myself with the counter-culture. It was in 1971 on the day the defendants in the Oz trial were found guilty. I was in Soho, visiting One-Stop Records to buy an expensive imported copy of the J. Geils Band‘s first LP (a glorious hunk of hard-as-nails, no-nonsense, white-boy Chicago Blues). As I exited the shop, I saw a billboard announcing the verdict. For a few minutes I indulged in a fantasy of feeling aggrieved – maybe the pigs really were out to get us; this was an establishment vendetta against our generation; The Man was determined to crush all opposition to The Machine. Man the barricades!

It felt good, all that self-righteous anger at being a member of an oppressed minority who wanted nothing more than to tell the truth and have fun and…

Then I saw a group of hippies shuffling along the Dean Street pavement towards me, shoulders hunched, pigeon-toed, electric hair hanging down, talking in that, like, really quiet, monotonous way that was supposed to indicate that (a) you were high on substances and (b) like, really at peace with yourself, yeah? And I thought – I am not one of you! The OzSchoolkids Issue was a vile piece of conscienceless pornography produced by silly, sniggering sixth-formers, their defence lawyer  John Mortimer was a smug liberal git, and, for God’s sake, I was a Conservative! And then I remembered a friend who’d been lost to the dark side, and it was all I could do not to duff them all up, the ridiculous twats.

I won’t give my friend’s name, just in case he’s now the Chairman of a Fortune 500 company – but he was the only chum who I remember totally succumbing to the lure of hippydom. He was a martyr to acne, socially awkward, extremely aggressive, and very clever – he was Oxford-bound to read Classics. The school’s admittedly small skinhead contingent (Direct Grant entrants) had it in for him, and he had taken up body-building to turn himself from a bespectacled swot into a physical force to be reckoned with. He was a staunch Chelsea supporter, travelling to away matches as a member of the hooligan tendency. And he was an even stauncher supporter of Enoch Powell, and very keen on the National Front (he may have joined – can’t remember). For some inexplicable reason, we became friends: maybe because he was just so bloody odd

Sadly, my chum couldn’t get on with his ex-docker father, now living in a large modern house in Leatherhead (red brick with a classical portico). Fisticuffs ensued, plus a really cack-handed suicide attempt involving aspirin (!). My friend spent the summer holidays living on his own in a flat in Surbiton before returning to school as a boarder. He was eventually expelled for attending a Chelsea match which he had been expressly forbidden to go to: one assumes it was a deliberate act of self-destruction.

A few months later, he turned up at our house. His hair was long and greasy and he was wearing a filth-caked kaftan. He was living in a squat, and had, in effect, become a card-carrying hippy. The chap who would have knocked one’s block off a few months earlier in support of his dementedly racist views was now hunched and mumbling and talking about scoring acid and having sex with “chicks” and about needing “some bread, man”. When I mentioned Chelsea, he just shrugged.

My mum fed him and gave him some money, he had an extremely necessary bath, and then wandered off into the night, having turned down the offer of a bed. He couldn’t remember the address of his squat. He’d be in touch.

I never saw him again, but, years after the event, my mother told he’d once phoned her at her flat in Paddington while I was at university, trying to track me down. She invited him over and the food-bath-cash-refusing-a-bed routine was repeated. He was evidently in a shocking state - dirty, dishevelled,  confused, incoherent - and wouldn’t take any sensible advice or let her call anyone. My mother said it was obvious he’d be dead within weeks, if not days.

I hope he survived and sorted himself out. But I know damn well he didn’t.

If anyone tells you there’s a lot to be said for the hippy ethos, punch them.


  1. Actually, Scott I am pretty sure your friend, whom I also liked but found a little weird, did sort himself out. if you type in his name followed by British Council a vaguely recognisable face appears. I recall finding something on the web which he had posted which referred to his having come through some hard times.

    In case you are feeling uncool, I have never even tried a cigarette, let alone exotic substances. I think it was seeing what happened to those who did that put me off.
    Saturday, July 9, 2011 - 01:35 PM

  2. Good God - you could be right! Looks like he got to Oxford in the end, after a twenty year hiatus. If it is him, I couldn't be more delighted! Yes, he was weird, but he was never boring. I may have to remove a few details from the blog, as certain aspectss of his early life might not go down to well with a lefty organisation. I never bothered looking because I was so sure he hadn't made it. I was feeling a bit down today, but you've really bucked me up.
    Thank you!
    Saturday, July 9, 2011 - 02:39 PM

  3. Good. We all need cheering up. When I spotted his comments about his life, which I think he has now blocked, he seemed to have come through. I am pretty sure it is the same person.

    It was not obvious to me at the time we were at school just how awful his life must have been. He was a genuinely talented boy. I recall him picking up some one's guitar and having an instinctive, quick technique, untutored, that made me jealous. and as you say, he was academically gifted.

    I wonder how many of us have surfed through the waves past the more gifted ones washed up on the beach, to get back to the Beach Boys.
    Saturday, July 9, 2011 - 10:45 PM

  4. I always found it hilarious that the oh so serious musicians whose manager was such an arse saw their band name hijacked by a camp little tattooed chap who had a big hit with a cover of an old Northern Soul classic. Not very progressive maan!
    Sunday, July 10, 2011 - 07:41 PM

  5. To me, nowadays, solvency + survival = success. I'm not sure gifts are much help in life, compared to determination and luck.

    As for that band - what were they called? Two names stuck together, that's all I What was the name of the tattooed chap? And what was the band they were originally with? I've forgotten all that stuff.
    Wednesday, July 13, 2011 - 06:24 PM

  6. Mark-Almond? Like the name name of that Soft Cell "singer"?
    Wednesday, July 13, 2011 - 06:29 PM

  7. Spot on. Johnny Mark and Johnny Almond, formerly of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, version 47. One was a flautist and the other wasn't, as I recall.
    Wednesday, July 13, 2011 - 07:27 PM

  8. Hi Scott,

    I think I may be the guy you were talking about! I noticed your blog a few months back and actually left a couple of comments somewhere. I definitely got through the hippy phase, even if rather belately. It's easy to have regrets, but I prefer to be philosophical, because I feel I developed into a much better human being as a result of experiencing so much adversity. If I had just followed the normal channels who knows how would have ended up? I may never have discovered the things I really value now.

    But thinking back to my KCS years, what really strikes me now is the complete lack of any kind of pastoral care. I was clearly in need of some kind of support or help, but all my main teachers, like Andy Lang or Tingay (I can't remember his first name) completely shunned me. Johnny Badcock was the only teacher who actually tried to talk to me in a personal way. Of course, none of that Enoch Powell or NF stuff represented my true views. No-one at 15 sprouts that kind of stuff unless he's being influenced by someone. In fact, I was just parroting what my father was indoctrinating me with. I wasn't a thinking being at that stage of my life! That's why I always admired yourself and some of the others in your circle, like Richard Stoate, who all seemed to have really clear ideas of their own and were be able to articulate them so clearly.

    I did finally graduate from Oxford, but I was already 40, and at that no-one really wants to know. Either that, or I was just looking in the wrong places. Anyway, now I work for the BC as an English teacher. It's a humble career, but does nevertheless have some huge advantages, for example, the possibility of living abroad, notably both Japan and Thailand. So I'm not complaining.

    Interesting comment about the guitar. Thanks. I stopped playing for a while, but recently started getting back into it. I've got a few videos up on YouTube. Promise not to laugh! Lol

    I make bi-annual trips to UK to visit my parents. We must get together for a drink next time!
    Thursday, July 14, 2011 - 11:10 AM

  9. Life these days throws up few genuine surprises but this is one. I'm delighted all is well with you Tropical Bob.
    By the way, next time you're back, the Shed has gone. It's probably a box/executive massage parlour or museum for the heroes of the Soviet Union. I recall once seeing you disappear under a mob of Chelsea oiks surging towards the pitch and then emerge, glasses askew, with an enormous grin on your face. Keep up the guitar.
    Thursday, July 14, 2011 - 11:21 PM

  10. Hi Bob,nice to hear you're in the land of the living.Just to be was Geoff Tingay,and Babcock.
    Ex KCS-Mark Almond loved a game of darts at The King of Denmark and would often play with 'Spence' of The Spencer Davis Group,Bill Mann,music critic of The Times,actors both in work(O.Reed) and out of work,and assorted
    'characters' and under-age school boys.
    Saturday, July 16, 2011 - 05:25 AM

  11. Hi Ex-KCS, Thanks for your remarks. I'm trying to work out who you must be, because there aren't that many people I went into Shed with. Nick Jones? Was it against Man City (1-0)? Anyway, hope you're doing well. I'm glad you've all had such successful careers. Don't tell Scott, but actually I prefer watching CNN to the BBC. Blasphemy! Lol
    Saturday, July 16, 2011 - 10:33 AM

  12. I'm also really delighted to discover you're still with us, TropicalRob. I must admit I was perplexed as to who you were when you posted some comments a while back – I might have worked it out if I hadn't been so convinced you were brown bread!

    Apologies if my post about you contained too much personal information – you must have felt like Mark Twain when he read his own obituary in a newspaper. Like him, reports of your death have greatly exaggerated (mainly by me, I'll admit).

    There are two friends from schooldays I lost touch with afterwards whose company I've really missed – and you've both posted comments on this blog, which, in itself, has made it worth starting up. The other is Ex-KCS, who isn't anyone you mentioned – a wryly witty, not to say viciously satirical, soft-spoken musical gentleman (in the non-gay sense, I hasten to add) who was a prominent member of the Frank Miles set. (By the way, Ex-KCS, I only know one person who regularly goes to Premiership football matches – he's an American banker, so your insight re the the modern football fan appears to be accurate.) Most of my friends to this day are from Kings (or Wimbledon College or the Ursuline Convent) – which may mean I'm a pathetic emotional retard, or it could just mean that there were a lot of excellent people around in our teens. Bit of both, I suspect.

    Adam Strange – I'm pretty sure it was Lance Tingay (and Geoff Taylor?).

    From what I hear of schools these days, they've gone too far the other way when it comes to pastoral care. The general tenor of Kings was captured for me one day when I was standing in a corridor looking a bit crestfallen, having been initially rejected by Cambridge following an interview. A teacher asked me what was wrong and I told him. He shrugged and sneered “Boo-hoo!”. The place was all heart.

    I don't know if you know, but Richard Stoate died 18 years ago of no known cause – just didn't wake up one morning. Most of us lost touch with him soon after university.

    It'd be great to see you again, TropicalRob – please email me at and let me know when you're next over. Delighted to hear you're in touch with your parents.

    And now I'm off to hunt down your stuff on YouTube. Having posted some of my own stuff on this blog, I'm in no position to laugh at anyone else's productions!

    Really lookijng forward to hearing from you. (I warn you – I'm still a great admirer of Enoch Powell – but I really don't care if you prefer CNN to the BBC: I prefer Fox News myself.)
    Saturday, July 16, 2011 - 03:54 PM

  13. Great to hear from you, Scott!! It must be about 40 years! I suppose we're all about 58 now. Definitely looking forward to meeting up again. I'll probably next be over sometime in December. I'll send you an email.

    Really sad to hear about Richard Stoate, he definitely had a very fine intellect. Also sorry to hear that your mother passed away too. She was a really fine woman. I was always impressed by her good heart. She seemed to genuinely care and want to help. Both my parents are now in their late 80s.

    I forgot to mention, my YouTube is under the name "equatorworld". My voice isn't a lot of cop, but I think I have a few moments with the guitar, like my solo at the end of my Yardbirds "For Your Love" cover. Remember them? They degenerated later, but that particular number was a real classic. I also do a Rod Stewart cover, "Reason to Believe". I was reading your stuff about great British rock voices. Yes, there does seem to be a dearth of them now. Eric Burdon was a real pioneer of the full throaty voice. "House of the Rising Sun" was my favourite. Roger Daltrey was also pretty preogressive for his time. Another one was Roger Chapman, who sang with a 60s and 70s band called Family. I didn't particularly like their music, but he certainly had quite a voice. I think he drank a bottle of whiskey every time he performed! I'm also on Facebook, by the way, and my email address is

    Of course, when I say CNN, I mean CNN International, the Hong Kong based variant. I'm not quite sure what their political position is, maybe slightly left, because they got behind Obama in the election. But, whatever, some of their reporting and presentation is just tops.

    In the 80s I lived in Denmark for a few years, and that probably did have an affect of pushing me in a leftward direction, as even right wing parties there are left wing by UK standards! I remember paying 51% tax on my salary, but still having a high standard of living. But I think things have changed quite a bit now in Scandinavia. It'd be interesting to revisit

    Ex-KCS, I can't work out who you are! Lol. Send me an email. I only remember Stew Holton, Ian Baillie and occasionally Malpass as possible Shed dwellers. I last went to a match at Stamford Bridge in 1998, when Vialli was managing them. The ground's lost a lot of its character, as have so many others around the country. But they're all much safer and a lot more comfortable now, which can't be a bad thing!
    Saturday, July 16, 2011 - 08:42 PM

  14. As regards KCS - It was Grahame Tingay. Geoff was an invented name the pupils gave him. And it was John Badcock.
    Andy Lang was still teaching there in 2003. Maybe someone knows what happened to Tony Bosworth - the 4th of the classics teachers.
    KCS 1965-1972

  15. Dragoman:Yes I wonder too.Tony Bosworth was given a bit of a rough ride by the less academic,which was a great pity as he was a very kind and gentle man and deserved better.