When I finished writing this chapter of ‘A Hero For High Times’, I knew I was in trouble, because it came to just over 30 000 words. And it was just one chapter. So this meant the book was going to be about twice as long as I’d originally told my editor it was going to be. When I finished the whole first draft, it was so long I thought of changing the title to ‘War and Peace, Man.’
It’s still going to be a long book, a little shy of 450 pages, but I’ve had to do a few hard edits. These 30k words are going to have to come down to about 20k. Which means one or two side adventures will have to go. This is sad, because they are good adventures. So I’ve decided to post it here, so that anyone who is interested can see the unshorn version.
For years I’ve borne in mind John Braine’s point about how books are made from first drafts. So this isn’t an extract from the book. It’s the piece of writing from which I’m carving the real Chapter Seven.
If Allah had meant it to hit me, it would have hit me
I am alone, except for Peggy the dog, in a wooden cabin up on stilts on the west bank of the rising River Severn, a few miles north of Tewkesbury. Storm Imogen is tearing up the Bristol Channel, funnelled through the broad flat valley of the Severn by the Cotswolds on the east bank, and on the west by the high ground of the Forest of Dean and the Malvern Hills. It has been raining for days; both here and, more importantly, in the mountains of Mid Wales, which drain into the Severn. The water is rising fast. This morning I chatted to a boat owner with a big old gin palace of a boat moored a hundred metres or so down river from the cabin. He told me that on Saturday morning, the river was only a couple of feet above its summer average; by Sunday morning it had risen six feet, and it’s rising still. All I can see from the cabin’s picture window is the fast moving river turned from bottle green to cappuccino by flood. Whole tree trunks sweeping down the centre of the channel, and a picnic table, one of those A-frame ones with bench seating, gliding down the river as though it were a potential prize on the Generation game.
Now night has come, and it is hard to see how high the river has risen. I stand out on the decking in the teeth of the gale, and shine my torch over the waters. It has risen a lot. I realise I am now on an island.
I am alone on an island, with an idiot dog, in a place I don’t know, in a cabin that creaks under the strictures of winter storms, and with dark water rising all around me.
It’s a fair analogy for life, really.
I lived for a couple of years at the turn of the millennium in an old Mum and Dad caravan, parked up next to a quilt of allotments in the centre of Lancaster, just me, a bed, a woodburner, my writing stool, an ancient desktop computer, and an ex-battery hen called Ginger, who had the run of the place and who liked to come and sit on the bed in the mornings while I was writing. I loved living in my caravan a lot.
After that, I moved to London to live in a squat. London was a bit hectic for a Mid-Wales hippy like m’self. At night, as goods trains from the adjacent railway shook the old house, and the crack den next door said a noisy goodnight to its punters, I lay trying to sleep. I did what the sleep experts suggest, and imagined myself in My Happy Place. Which was my old caravan, woodburner red hot, rain only a few millimetres from my head. It had gone from being where I lived, to being My Happy Place, about which Younger Readers will know. Over the years, My Happy Place has evolved. Now it’s like something from the Cabin porn websites; still with the stove, and the ancient desktop computer, and Peggy the Dog instead of Ginger the Hen, but now with minimalist retro styling, electric blankets, and a reliable source of mains water. Something very like this actual cabin.
In short, Young Readers, I am actually living in My Happy Place. It is better even than you might imagine.
There is no internet in the cabin, and I find I don’t miss it. All I have for company apart from Peggy is the radio; which I still call the wireless if I’m wanting to assert my seniority. And listening to the news, it sounds like the whole world is at war. Refugees seek safety in a beleaguered Europe, a Europe stuck in the headlights of oncoming events. Bombs in Turkey, millions of refugees escaping the horror of Syria, Kurds attacking Daesh, Turks attacking Kurds, Russian bombing, UK France US bombing, Libya burning, Africa convulsed by war and drought and famine, Iraq and Iran closed, and Afghanistan and Pakistan wild with hatred, like hornets stirred up by the big sticks of Russia and the US. Bad bad times. Bob’s journeys to Afghanistan, to some extent blazing what became known as the Hippy Trail, are now impossible.
It was never an easy trip, the Hippy Trail; but it has been closed for a long time. While it’s odd to meet a hippy of Bob’s generation who didn’t at least try to get overland to India, none of my contemporaries even had a go. The Russian invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian Revolution, both in 1979, and the Iran/Iraq War of 1980 to 1988 pretty much closed the overland route. And it gets worse year by year. Now the traffic is the other way, except the intrepid travellers to the west make the whole journey in mortal danger, rather than in a spirit of adventure.
There were three trips to Afghanistan. This next part concerns the first two trips. Afghanistan is Bob’s great caper, the central adventure of his life, the one he had dreamed of since he read Kipling and Rider Haggard as a boy. He gets to meet ‘the wily Patun’, and to feel like a player in The Great Game. So far as possible, I’ll use his words to tell this story. His adventure, not mine. I would always have stayed at home, even when the hippy trail was safe, (safe in Bob terms at least,) smoking spliff, looking after the women folk, knocking about in recording studios, and reading books. Though tonight, home feels a bit edgy; the cabin rocks and the water rises as Imogen shrieks up the river. It is time to pull the chair closer to the stove, poke up the fire and to listen to stories.
”My first trip East was when I had gone with Liz in a really old Volkswagen Beetle I’d bought to do a bit of a tour of Europe in, and we’d gone down to spend some time on the Italian Riviera, then down to Naples just to have a look at it, then across the country, got on the ferry to Greece, and then drove across Greece. Autumn 1966.
There was snow in Greece, which surprised me, so we were in this little Beetle which had basically stopped because it can’t go on because of the snow. Local truck comes along – up in the mountains near Trikala – a lorry with snow chains on, and it’s got a bunch of geezers in the back wearing tutus, those little ballerina skirts and those white woolly tights. I didn’t realise until I seen these geezers with the tights “ah, that’s how they keep warm” but they were the real deal – they weren’t going to any party, they were working blokes going home from work. Anyway, they manage to convey to me that there’s a guy in the village they’re heading for that can make snow chains. OK, because we can’t go on without them. And they tie a long fucking rope on to us from their truck and they tow us (and I don’t know if you’ve ever been towed on a long rope on snow covered mountains – there are times when two wheels of the vehicle are not on anything solid, they are over the edge, you are sliding like a fucking curling stone) – anyway, we gets to this village, sure enough, true to the guy’s word there’s a metal worker there who’s well equipped to make snow chains, he’s got a big roll of chain, we leave the car, go down to the bar and have a drink. We get into the bar, and its ram packed, because the place is covered in snow so people can’t be working out in the fields or anything, I expect most of the geezers in the village are in this bar, and it turns out their main drink is local brandy which I worked out was an old thruppence a glass, which isn’t a lot of money, or to us it wasn’t a lot of money. We’re buying drinks for the room, comes to half a quid, sort of thing. There’s been a few of these brandies necked down – and they drink them through a little boiled sweet, you put the sweet in your gob and drink the brandy over the sweet, a very pleasant convivial thing. All very hospitable. Until. An old boy steps in front of me and addresses me in German. And I tell him, in what little German I have, that I don’t actually speak German (that’s about all the German I have, apart from Achtung Spitfire and such). He was quite surprised and he backs off – he’s seen the Volkswagen, so natural association I suppose. He says “what are you then?” and I said “English.” And it was as if a stranger had come into your house and shit on the table. It was that extreme – this old boy who’d asked us in German, takes a step back, snorts, clears all his fucking passages and spits on me – he puts his snot on me leg. I mean, it’s one thing spitting on the ground, but to flob on someone…. and no one else was saying “hey, that’s a bit out of order” and from the vibe, they were all fucking for him, and I said to Liz “Don’t actually run, but we should get out of here quick and get back towards the motor.” So we got out of there quick, and they all started following us down the street, and I just had a bit of an instinct that if we could get to the blacksmith shop where the motor was, then the natural laws of, not hospitality exactly, but we’re this guy’s customers, would keep us safe. It was a bit edgy but it was better than staying out on the street which was the only other option. Because if we stayed out on the street they were going to have us. And fortunately the geezer was just finishing the fucking job, he vibes what the situation is, he doesn’t like it obviously, but we pay him and fuck off.
This certainly didn’t tally with the Commando comics I had read, about how we went to Greece and we killed the Nazis and the people all loved us, Tommy we love you, sort of thing. No. They were treating us like royalty because they thought we were German, but when they thought we were English they fucking hated us. And I should imagine they had very good reasons for it. I never found out what, because what might have been a problem for that valley, the next valley might have been nothing at all. But them people in that village hated the English, and loved the Germans. And I have heard that that’s not uncommon throughout Greece. So the comics, they didn’t get it quite right, I think. And then we continued on the road, and got to Istanbul without any further mishap, and it was the coldest place I’d ever been in my fucking life, much to my surprise.
There wasn’t much snow in Istanbul but it was like English winter, damp cold. It was so cold that Liz just blacked out in the street with hypothermia. She had clothes on and everything but it was just so cold. Quite embarrassing when your woman just collapses in the street, people think too much hashish, or pissed – but it was cold.
So, winter 1966, November I guess, ‘cos we were trying to escape the weather, was my first time in Istanbul. I liked it – I like Turkey, it’s an interesting country. It’s beautiful, it’s very varied, you can have Boy’s Own adventures there at the drop of a hat, even when you don’t particularly want one. On that first trip to Istanbul there was the Topkapi lion cage incident, have I not told you about that? You won’t believe this. I’m walking with my girl in Istanbul. It’s all hills, but we’re on this hill overlooking the Golden Horn, the bit of water goes through the middle of the town. And it’s going down on one side towards the water, maybe a quarter of a mile away. And on the other side of the road that we’re walking round (and although it’s in the middle of the town there are no shops or people around, an odd little situation) but a big and ancient wall on the other side, a bit of a bank and a big wall, which we don’t know what it is but we don’t care, we’re just out to enjoy the night. A gate in this wall, just a small pedestrian gate, and next to it a little sentry box. An army uniformed mush comes out of this sentry box with an Al Capone type tommy gun which he points at us. I don’t speak a word of Turkish and this time, and he’s equally handicapped with his lack of English. But when someone points a .45 calibre sub-machine gun at you, you tend to concentrate on finding out what they want. When we get up to the sentry box there’s a plain-clothes man in there who’s got a shooter in his hand, an automatic pistol, and he’s also gesturing, but also with a gun pointing at us. There are now two guns pointing at us and they look quite serious, don’t look like they’re having a laugh. The plain-clothes guy’s got a key and he unlocks this wooden door in this big wall, and they push us through the door. And I’m not making a big fuss or struggling, because it’s only going to make it worse, you don’t speak a word of their language and they don’t speak a word of yours, and they’ve got guns pointed at you and obviously they’re earnest about whatever it is. And as we’re going through the wooded grounds of this place, we can see 70 yards away there’s huge massive buildings, ancient type buildings, mosque-y type shapes. This bloke’s blowing a referee’s whistle. And you realise that behind almost every bush there’s a soldier with an Al Capone type gun, those machine guns with round magazines – a very common gun over there, for the city armies – they must have got a good deal or something. Anyway we get to the building, we go into this office-type building where there are a few more plain-clothes people, we still don’t know what this building is. They talk to each other, then some guy says in English “would you like some tea?” or something like that. “Yeah” – anything rather than being shot sounds good. Some geezer makes a phone call, chats away in Turkish for a bit, then hands me the phone. And a voice on the other end of the phone says “There is murder. It is you.”
Click. Hang up.
Now that is not a very good message to get…. are you supposed to be the murderer or the victim-to-be? None of it is reassuring. Liz asks “what was that?”, and I said ‘not loads to tell you…’ because there didn’t seem much point. So the tea comes, nobody speaks English, and the geezer who speaks a word or two has fucked off. Anyway, we have the tea, and then the plain-clothes guy who brought us in off the street, and another plain-clothes guy who seems to be his mate, grab hold of us and take us out, walk us round from this office-y building to another door. And it’s quite a big room. It’s an odd room, actually, because it’s got a chest-high division down the middle of it. And on the side of the division that’s not occupied by us, is occupied by three lions. It’s a fucking lion cage we’re in. And I don’t mind a bit of surreal, but this is pushing the boundaries. There’s an army uniform guy with a machine gun, and the two guys who’ve both got automatic pistols, and they push us over towards the barrier in this place, then the two civilian clothes guys start to sexually grab me and the girl. And it becomes clear that they’re going to fucking rape us and feed us to the lions to save a few quid on the fucking lions’ feed. Well, I ain’t going to just lay back and enjoy it – this is all a micro-second thought train – so I shove the geezer off me, and go for the geezer who’s grabbing hold of my girl, expecting to get a shot in the back from one of the other guys who’s behind me with guns, but fuck it, I’d rather be shot in the back than raped, and then shot in the back. And just at that moment when I’m grabbing hold of the geezer who’s on the girl, the door we’ve come in opens, and some civilian-dressed geezer comes in who’s obviously in authority above the clowns who are trying to fuck about with us – he comes in and gives them a bollocking, and he doesn’t seem very happy with us either, he was pretty unpleasant with us. But he’s presumably just saved our lives so I wouldn’t hold that against him. He was obviously the captain of the watch and he’d just heard what was going on, probably from the bloke who spoke a bit of English, and came to put a stop on it. Anyway, he took us out a gate on the other side of the grounds from the side we’d entered it in, and boom, I realised where we were, and I said to Liz, “Oh, fuck me, this is the Topkapi Palace we’ve just come out of” because we knew where it was from the other side, but we were coming at it from a part of the town we didn’t know, and it happened to be the other side of the grounds of this Topkapi Palace garden. So we were, I think, nearly fed to the fucking lions in the Topkapi Palace.
And the next day, or a day or two after that, I was in the British Embassy checking for mail, and I mentioned it to the assistant whoever it was, and asked “Do you ever lose any tourists around here?” and gave him a quick précis of what I’ve just told you, and he said “well, if you do insist on coming to countries like this, it’s your own fault”, sort of thing. I wasn’t expecting anything more, but he asked “Have you any other questions?” So I said “Yes, is the tap water drinkable here?” He did not fucking know. He didn’t know whether the tap water in the town he’d presumably been living in for years was drinkable. That is poor, isn’t it?
It’s a great adventure though, nearly being fed to the lions – we knew how to have a good time in those days. I’d rather have a holiday like that than one where we lay on the beach and got drunk in the bar and lay on the beach and got drunk in the bar, and so on. A couple of times I’ve been in places where people do exactly that, and I generally find myself in the scrapyards there, because it ain’t got anything to do with me. I’ve got nothing against having a drink, I like a drink, but I don’t want to get drunk, ill drunk, every night with a lot of rowdy fucking chavs, getting drunk and being obnoxious to the locals – I’d rather stick pins in my own arm. I would.
‘You’ve always got to watch your step a bit in Istanbul. It gets more modern, and people have got laptops and televisions and that, but there’s still going to be a lot of people who are poor, and contemptuous of the law, and need or want to make something off you. Whether it’s just the satisfaction of giving you a fucking beating. Apart from England, Turkey’s far and away the place where I’ve been gratuitously assaulted the most, not for anything I’d done but just because I happened to be there. Once in Istanbul I just pulled some American bird the day before, and we were still going out together sort of thing, and we were in a café in some pretty rough part of town – but then most of Istanbul is a pretty rough sort of town. I’d long ago learned that there was absolutely no difference in the quality of food in the most expensive and the poorest of caffs – it’s the same food, and it’s all good, the only difference is the price. We’d had a meal in this caff, which I knew to be a good caff because I’d been there before, but there was a bit of a leery crew in there – they had a girl, presumably Turkish, who kept coming and sitting on my lap and squirming about. I mean, I like a girl sitting on my lap and squirming about under normal circumstances, but not when it’s with a bunch of Muslims who are very uptight about that sort of stuff, and they’re egging her on so there’s obviously bits going on that you haven’t quite got the full picture of, and you really don’t want to be having any part of it. Anyway, we had the meal, pay up and split, a couple of hundred yards down the road, suddenly we’re surrounded by this crew that had been in the caff, and they’ve got fucking knives out, and they dragged the girl I’m with away, obviously not wanting to shower her with anything other than their semen, I should think, and they looked quite happy to carve me up if I put up any protest, which I was in fact doing. Protesting. Which could have gone bad, but it seems to happen a lot in Turkey, that just at that moment when it seems really serious, blood’s going to be spilt and probably mine, a fucking car pulls up, doors fly open, bunch of young middle-class type blokes jump out and these assailants back off, and these geezers say “Come on, quick, get in, we’ve got to go” So it sounds better than staying here and being raped and beaten – so we just get away from that immediate area, and they say “You were very lucky, we were in the caff when we saw you leaving then we saw that lot leaving and we heard something of their conversation, and it didn’t look like it was going to be good news for you, so we thought we’d do something about it” – ordinary, decent guys.
But one thing – it did buck up my judgement of the caff, I’d eaten there before and I thought the food is good and the cheapest food I’d found, and these guys were middle-class, they’d got a car which is rare, and they were eating there, from choice, they could have eaten anywhere in the city or around it, but they chose to eat there.
So, when we got back from that trip, I wanted more. I knew Tom Harney from the early beatnik days, hanging round the Duke of York and places like that, he was a face on the scene. And he got into driving out to Afghanistan and bringing back a few kilos of hash, selling it for seven quid an ounce. He had paid three and a half quid a pound for it, so the profit margin was pretty good. But the risks involved, you’ve got to cross more than half a dozen borders, some of them with severe rules against drug smuggling; you’re looking at life in nick if you get caught. So for a few hundred quid, and the effort in driving six thousand miles each way, the majority of it over dirt roads after the first fifteen hundred miles, and some of them bad dirt roads, it didn’t seem worth it. And all sorts of other problems too, people, women who chuck their kids in front of you, that sort of thing. But Tom had come back wearing this sheepskin coat with embroidery on it, and I thought “we could sell these”, because the hippy thing was just beginning to blossom. And so I thought “let’s go out to Afghanistan and buy a load of these coats”, because I had money. So Liz and I steered some finance towards this project. There was this exchange control act, you were only allowed to take than fifty quid out of the country. And when you’re setting out to Afghanistan it’s not feasible to say “I’ve only got fifty quid, mate” – so we had to form a company, and get special permission from the Bank of England to take money out of the country, and all that. I knew both Duncan and Tom were going to do hash as well, but I didn’t want anything to do with that because I had a criminal record and they didn’t, sort of thing, which was fair enough because obviously I would have got pulled out of any line at the airports and looked at quite closely.
Anyway, we put together a trip, and formed a company to get the money out of the country, called David Rowberry and Company, because we were going to the Bank of England asking to take money out of the country. You couldn’t just send money out to a bank in Afghanistan, you had to take it with you. Travellers’ cheques, that sort of thing. It wasn’t a vast amount, but it was money you could have bought several houses in this area with I suppose – about 3 grand. I bought a good condition Volkswagen van, and Tom had a long wheel base Safari Land Rover. We stopped in Munich, ‘cos we had a German contact there, and we bought a Volkswagen saloon car, not a Beetle, but a Volkswagen estate car, a Variant, the S version, so quite swift compared to the Land Rover and the van. We bought that, not because we needed another motor, but because Tom had arranged to do a deal with a bloke called Abi Bulla in Quetta, who was sort of the flash boy head of the local mafia.
So we’re leaving Munich, we’ve got this little convoy.
Tom and Jenny in the Land Rover, Duncan Lawrie in the VW Variant, and myself in my VW van. We’d come through Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria. Got to Istanbul, and by chance we met a bloke there named Vic, who had been a Newmarket jockey, who I used to know from living rough on the streets of London days. Anyway, we met this bloke Vic, in Istanbul, and he was heading in the same direction, and he had a driving licence, so it seemed a good idea to have another driver along, so he became part of the trip. We had to wait around in Turkey, one of us hadn’t got a visa or something. Then the trip went on. Somewhere in Turkey we picked up a Belgian junkie who just wanted a ride and was willing to pay a bit, but we got fed up with him because he was shooting up opium, boiling up opium into a liquid and injecting it. Stupid fucking thing to do – just eat it, you know? We just got fed up with him, going on dirt roads, trying to cook up opium in a spoon, we wouldn’t stop for him to cook up. So I said “Give me your opium”, I took it all and put it all in the windscreen washer bottle of this motor, pulled off the pipe that supplies the nozzle, put his needle on, said “When you want some, push this fucking button.” He wasn’t a very happy bunny – it was a bit of a rough thing of me to do, really.
We actually went down to the south coast of Turkey and played around there for a while before heading on. Almost the entire coast, several hundred miles, and nobody there. Locals, but maybe one other lot of foreigners there, camping on a beach – no tourists. Beautiful beaches. Scorpions on the beach though, fucking millions of them.
We’ve just driven along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, gone past Adana and Gaziantep, which is just above the Syrian border, and it’s got very hostile, everyone we meet, in this caff particularly, the entire clientèle were standing around us while we were eating, and they started to nudge us and knee us and elbow us and it was a very bad vibe. And we got out of there, got into our vehicles, and they all piled out and got into a vehicle of theirs, and started to chase us up the road. And it was only when I fired a couple of shots – not particularly at them, but just to let them know that I was armed – that they gave up chasing us. And everywhere we stopped for the next few days, we were having to stand armed guard, gun in hand, by the motors, because the kids was trying to puncture our tyres, and it was really quite heavy. It was only when we got to Tehran that we found out that we had been just a few miles north of the Syrian border when the Six-Day War was on.’ (Author’s Note; i.e., sometime between June 5th and June 10th, 1967.)
‘Anyway, crossing into Iran was a worry, because of my .45 revolver. I’d met an old mate called Ian Rock, who was sometime manager of the Gyre and Gimble, who had just come back from India and he told me about this way you could legally go and buy a gun and ammunition in England, and take it out of the country. Not only that, but they provide you with this wonderful piece of paper, which was not very big, but by Christ, everything you could possibly do to a bit of paper to make it look impressive, had been done to that bit of paper – embossings, perforations, water markings, lions and unicorns and crowns all over it. And it’s complete bollocks. I suspect it only was produced for British agents, so they can carry a gun with some impressive piece of paper to back it up, because it’s got the name and number of the gun on it. Supplied by the Board of Trade this piece of paper was, and all you had to do was go into a gun shop, say “Could I look at your pistols?” and make your selection. I chose – because I knew they’d be cheap as chips and I knew they was good – a British Army .45, which this gun dealer had a great deal of. I bought one of the last stock of British Army pistols designed to be fired from a horse. £5 for the gun, £5 for the ammo, a big box of ammo. All I had to do was supply the gunsmith with the name of a destination – a destination address. I just made one up. I mean I was going to Afghanistan, what have they got, a street directory of Afghanistan? No. So you can make up any name you want to invent, hotel, but more specifically a point and date of departure. So I asked “How does this get to their end?”, thinking it would be fucking posted or something. And the gun dealer said, “Well, I can appoint a special messenger”. And then I realised that he meant he could appoint me as his special messenger, which he did. So on the appointed day I arrive at the gun shop, pick up the gun, just in its holster, and the ammunition, take it down to Dover and introduce myself at Customs as the special envoy for Future Supply Company, Cleveland Street, and I’m delivering this gun to you to be collected by Mr David Rowberry and delivered to Afghanistan. And just for my own amusement, knowing I could keep a straight face because I had prepared for it, I stepped back, and stepped forward again, and said “I am David Rowberry,” and they’re like, what? You’re a fucking hippy. But I had this bit of paper, and so there I was, I had this shooter.
But going into Iran, they were obviously going to find it, because I had put the gun in my case, because I didn’t want to go through Customs with this gun in my belt. As the Iranian customs guy was going towards the case, I said “there’s a gun in that case”, to defuse it a bit, and when they found the gun in the case, they said “oh no, you can’t take that into Iran”, and I said “it’s all right, I’ve got this paper”, and of course they can’t read a fucking word of it, but it’s just the embodiments, and the lions, the unicorns and all this, and it was my name and the same name on the passport, so they say “OK, you can take it into the country, but we’ve got to put a seal on it so it can be taken off when you get to the other side of the country. So they wound a bit of wire round the trigger in the pull position, put a lead Customs seal on it. And this is the sort of strange person I am. The fact that before I was out of the Customs compound I had pulled off that fucking lead seal, loaded up the gun and fired it out the window. While still in the fucking Customs compound. Now I think I must’ve been mental.
But anyway, on the trip going through the border when I loaded and fired the pistol, a couple of days after that we’d gone through past Tehran and then we headed up the Caspian coast and down into Mashhad, and from there into Herat in Afghanistan. That road between Mashhad and Herat is a mountainous road, it’s at night, we’re in convoy on the back vehicle on the Volkswagen van, Land Rover’s in front and the VW Variant’s in the middle. And the Variant has got Vic the jockey driving it and the Belgian junkie who was still with us. I’m driving half a mile behind them, because there’s a huge amount of dust. And suddenly I see the lights of the Variant go in strange directions, their headlights and their tail lights and then the headlights again, they’re revolving in more than one plane, so I knew this ain’t good. The dust is getting really big time. So we stop. And what there is, is a mountain dirt road. Fortunately there was not much of a drop on one side, and it was actually very pleasant when daylight came. And they’d put heaps of fucking stones to repair the road, and it’s all the same colour stuff, with no signs whatsoever. Nothing. And there was a row of these heaps of small stones. Vic’s hit the first of these, then bounced off and hit the second, bounced and battered all along these fucking road stones. By the time we get there the Variant is unbelievably fucked up, every side, front, back, rear, top, everything is fucked. One of the wheels is broken right off, so it’s obviously not going to be driving anywhere. And they’d picked up a fucking Iranian soldier, earlier on in the day, and he could pick up a car while you changed a wheel, because you get a lot of punctures out there and he’d done that twice – he’d picked up the fucking car and held it while you changed the wheel. Which indicates that he’s a strong bloke, and a bit of an idiot too because we had a jack…. But anyway, he’s still with us.
Now those 3 people who was in the motor, they’re a little battered, a bit of blood, but nothing remotely serious, a bit shocked and knocked about, but fine, all still alive. So I thought what I’d better do was belt down the road and catch up with Tom and Jenny in the Land Rover to let them know what the situation is. Which I do, they’ve gone quite a way, but I find them at the first caff for hundreds of miles and they’re having a meal, so I say I’m going to get back now, there’s no light for hundreds of miles. So I get back and this Iranian soldier has got them, particularly Duncan, up against the wall stripping him of everything he’s got. Because he’s saying “you were all smoking hash”, which is really big time against the law there, and he’s a soldier, he’s in uniform. So he said “give me everything you’ve got or I’ll grass you up.” And this is all going on as I arrive there, and just because I arrive he ain’t backing off, he’s still going for it, presumably going to turn on me. And I’ve got the .45 in the back of my jeans, so I was “right, although you’re a foot shorter than me I’ve seen you lift up a car, you’re obviously very strong, and a pretty bold fellow by the look of it.” But I had a .45 fucking revolver, which does make a lot of difference psychologically – I wouldn’t have pulled it on him, unless there was no other option, but it does give you a lot of confidence. He doesn’t even know I’ve got it, but I know I’ve got it. You can go into a face-out with someone with far more enthusiasm and confidence than if you hadn’t got a .45. Anyway, so I just come into him like “I’m crazier than you are”, and he just gives it up then, because he can see I’m serious and I’m going to get cross with him. But then I just want to get rid of the fucker, because we can’t go anywhere….
We just don’t want him around. In fact I had more sense than to try to get him to give up everything he had just stripped off Duncan – I got him to give some stuff back but I let him keep a lot, a watch and a bit of cash, so he’s not totally fucked off. There’s very few cars on the road, but whatever came by would obviously stop. I’m just trying to stuff this soldier in it, get the fuck out of here. Because most cars there were government people anyway; but I just wanted to get him gone. And about the third car that came along, they took him off. Then we had to get the car from there to the nearest Customs which was about 150 miles away, up on one of the Caspian Sea ports, and we had to tow it. Because we had to get it written off whoever’s passport it was on, otherwise they might think you’d sold it, car smuggling and that, which would cost hugely more than the £3000 I had for coats. The import duty on a vehicle was six times the new price. So I’ve only got a £200 car, but in their eyes it’s a several thousand pounds car, so you’ve got to pay – well, you really didn’t want to be lumbered with that. If you turn up at your port of exit from the country without the car that is written in your passport, well, you’re fucked. You’ve either got to give them huge amounts of money, or Go to Jail Now. The only way you can get the car written off your passport is to get the car to the Customs place so they’ve got the car. So that’s what we had to do – we had to tow it. Dirt mountain roads, on three wheels… with no windscreen as well, and this is dust country.
I was steering it. One of life’s interesting situations. I had a scarf round my face and all that. But we got back to this Customs place, got the car taken off Duncan’s passport, and headed back for Herat.
This was before the hippy trail had really got going It was really in full steam the time I was out there the same time as Taffy, the third trip. It was before the common people had got on to it, if you see what I mean. When we went the first time, it was semi-professional adventurer types.
So when you turn up at a café in the middle of fucking Iran, you come as a bit of a shock. They were all much of a muchness, breeze block or mud built buildings, those caffs. The last meal we had in Iran that trip was sort of amusing. It is all desert, and there was this one caff, the whole thing is about as big as your kitchen, completely isolated, seemingly the only building for literally hundreds of miles. Or the only one you can see, anyway. And it was just there as a kind of truck-stop caff. Across Iran there is a standard meal, just one meal, you don’t see any variant on it – a big heap of white rice, and at the bottom of it a piece of chicken, or goat or lamb, but not a huge amount of it. And flat bread to eat with it. We stopped in this caff, there was no menu, they’d got two pots, one was the rice, one was meat. And there are 5 or 6 of us in our little group. We’re all pretty amazed at how much meat we’ve got, four times more meat then we’ve had in any of the other caffs. So much, in fact, that we start getting a bit anatomical on it – we’ve got enough bones to start figuring out a skeleton, and think “what is this, then?” The only reason we investigated it is that there was so much of it – if there’d been a quarter of the amount we wouldn’t have thought about it. And we noticed as soon as we started to investigate it a bit, the patron was suddenly no longer in sight, and there wasn’t anywhere to go outside – leaving the bacha, the boy, looking decidedly apprehensive. So it’s a fucking dog, isn’t it, and they are Muslims, for whom a dog is really unclean, they wouldn’t touch them let alone fucking eat them. Anyway, so we arranged the bones out on the table, thinking “that’s not a rabbit, it’s a dog…” So we call the boy over who immediately throws himself to the ground, screaming for mercy. Then when he realised we aren’t going to start shooting him and beating him, that sort of thing, he confesses that yes, a dog was killed the day before on the road, and the lorry’s run over a dog, and they were hoping some infidels would come along that they could fuck over. We didn’t pay. Other people would have killed the people, burned the place down, I mean a fucking Muslim country, eating dog, that’s, well, not good.
Very soon after that, we went through a village that the week before, there had been some Swedish guy’s head on a post outside the village. He’d upset them. He’d run over some kid and hadn’t stopped. I don’t know how they actually caught him, but they did, and displayed their displeasure. Not because he’d run the kid over, some people might have been quite happy about that, a good source of revenue. Literally men will chuck kids under the front of your motor. There can be a desert road, a village off in the distance, a woman standing by the side of the road. You’re driving along, you automatically think she’s waiting for a lift or something. You’re not going to stop, because she’s a woman and she wouldn’t get in with you, there’s someone she knows coming along or whatever. No, she’s waiting there to throw her fucking kid under your fucking wheels, because it’s a source of revenue. Luckily someone had marked my card about this, and this is where a .45 revolver really comes in fucking handy. You see them when you’re still a hundred yards away, you put the .45 at the window and fire it – you don’t shoot it at them, just Bang! – don’t try that sort of thing with me, lady – and they back away from the road with their kid.
We passed through the town of Mashhad and I bought a load of turquoise there, because that’s where it comes from, they’ve got a load of it just nearby there. The trip across Iran – and the fact we’d lost a vehicle and a lot of time – was not a great deal of pleasure, because it was an unfriendly country, where every time you stop you get secret policemen blatantly watching you, they’re not trying to hide, they’re just there, following you around, everywhere you go. So you’re just glad to be out. They leave the cars of foreigners who have crashed and died, they leave them like warnings beside the road, and one of these motors the brother of a mate of ours was in, and we would stop to pay a bit of homage by the vehicle and some locals came along and started mocking and laughing, I was very nearly tempted to get out the fucking shooter and let them have it, sort of thing… but I restrained that impulse.
So I’m worrying about getting to Afghanistan and just before the border, we come across a bunch of tents with all these nomads, and I think, “that looks interesting”, and of ethnological interest. So I go over and say “How are you?” and they say “Have you got a gun?” And I say, yes, and show it to them, and after that we’re welcome, and they make us tea. In my experience, in that part of the world, if someone asks you if you’ve got a gun, it’s always best to say yes, yes I have. Then everyone’s happy, because we know where we stand.
Anyway, crossing the border into Afghanistan, near Herat, which is pretty much the first place you come to, there’s an immediate sense of relief – we’ve got to Afghanistan, and it just lightens up hugely. We do the customs thing, no hassle at all. While we’re still within the Customs compound (Tom and Jenny had done the road before, so they knew it, were expecting it) there was this tiny little tea-house, you literally couldn’t stand up in it, no furniture at all, everyone sitting on the floor, and the main centre of entertainment was this big hubble-bubble pipe, full of hash. Our little crew goes in there, which makes it pretty crowded with all the local types in there. But they see us as a source of entertainment and a bit of revenue, so we’re welcome. But Jenny, Tom’s girlfriend, who’s a young, blonde, beautiful, dressed respectfully, scarf on her head, but obviously blonde and foreign and exotic; they’re astonished when she stands up when it’s her turn on the pipe. Now this Jenny could smoke like you cannot believe – the Afghans thought she would keel over and they could have their wicked way with her. I had one toke on this pipe and that was enough for me, I thought if I have another one I won’t be able to crawl let alone fucking walk, but Jenny, she fucking smoked them all under the table, because they got into the macho thing of “well, if she can have another one, I can have another one” and she smoked them all under the table, so that was a pretty good entrance into the country.
The little tea house – I’ve never seen anywhere that sells food in Afghanistan that will have a hubble-bubble going. Illicit tea houses is where they have the pipes. I know it sounds contradictory to say an “illicit tea house” in the Customs compound, but obviously the Customs knew they were there and presumably half the customers were Customs officers. The Afghans – most of them don’t smoke. And the ones that don’t, are contemptuous of it. It’s a low-class thing.
Coming from the West there’s no road going north unless you’ve got a camel, or a really good 4-wheel drive, and are prepared to build the road as you go along, so you come in at Herat and make for Kandahar, because that’s where the road goes. There is a road that goes across the middle, but it’s easier to do on horse than to drive. You can drive across it, people have done, but it’s seriously problematical – it ain’t really a road, it’s a track that’s sometimes working, sometimes not. So there was only the road that went down, on the bit the Russians built from Herat to Kandahar. The Russians also built the bit from Kandahar to Kabul. And there’s the road that goes over the Hindu Kush mountains from Kabul to the north of the country, and the road that goes down to Pakistan through the Khyber Pass. Those are basically the only roads in the country that you’d call a usable road. So you’ve got to go to Kandahar unless you’re prepared to spend weeks and weeks driving across the country and having to be dragged out by teams of horses.
Between Herat and Kandahar, there was a certain place that Tom and Jenny knew about because they’d been there before, what they called the Russian Hotel, literally in the middle of nowhere. Between Herat and Kandahar there’s absolutely nothing on the road except for this hotel. And it’s enormous, with a swimming pool, kitchens to cater for thousands, it was obviously ready for when the Russian Army came, they’d already got a huge field kitchen. This was many years before the invasion, but it was already set up. You couldn’t sleep in the hotel, and although the kitchen was four times the size of your house, when we asked for any food they got a bit shifty, so we said we’d have eggs and tea. The geezer leaps over the wall, out of the building altogether, and I was interested to see where he was going. And in the corner, about twenty feet below us, was this tiny little home-made rough shack, where the geezer with a little dung fire was cracking some eggs into a frying pan and cooking our food. One of the few regrets I’ve had in my life was that I bought a box of matches from this geezer, because I was interested to go and have a look as I went round there. And I regret that I did not keep the box of matches he gave me and the change, from a tuppenny piece or something. The matches were handmade. The box, the matches themselves, the block-printed label, was from the Pashtun Match Company, and I kick myself afterwards because I thought “they’ve got to be worth a fortune to matchbox collectors”. The matches were hand made, each one hand dipped. The matchbox itself – I knew at the time it would be worth a lot to a matchbox collector, because I was the only person in the world who’d got one. And the change he gave me, was a huge heap of coins – for my tuppence – a pile of coins, none of them I’d ever seen, and it revealed there was such a thing as pulis, a whole division of the currency I was completely unaware of. It was like in the old days, I’d have been aware of the pounds and shillings but this was like being unaware of the existence of the pence. And coins, and some of them were nearly fucking hand-minted – probably what Genghis Khan would have had. I looked at them and wondered “what the fuck’s a puli?” – a puli is a hundredth of an Afghani, and in them days you were getting 340 Afghanis to a quid. So a puli is a hundredth of a 340th of a quid.
(Author’s note; although an Afghani is still officially divided into 100 puli, there are currently no puli coins in circulation)
‘So we get to Kabul, and Tom has taken the Land Rover out there to sell, not to drive around. And he’s got to keep square with the geezer down in Quetta that he’s promised this Volkswagen Variant to, that we’d written off in Iran. So we put a Land Rover for Sale advert in the caff where the Ministry of the Interior had put up a noticeboard for English-reading Afghans and travellers. Next day a couple of local geezers, looking nothing special come in, “you’ve got a Land Rover for sale? – can we go out in it?” Tom goes out with them, puts it through its paces, they’re satisfied with it, and say “We’ll be back tomorrow to finish the deal, with some money”. And these two geezers fuck off, and the hotel manager comes over and says “Do you know who that is? That’s the Crown Prince of the country, the King’s oldest son”. True to his word, next day he comes back with this big bag of money he’s taken out of his Dad’s bank. Not his Dad’s bank account. His Dad’s bank.
The Afghan money was real shit quality. He’d gone down and taken all the returned reject notes, basically ripped them off, helped himself, and there wasn’t a note among them (and there were a LOT of notes) that wasn’t sellotaped together, pinned together, all in several bits. But even if we would have preferred nice clean notes, money is money, and we were planning to spend it there anyway. He brought his sitar along with him as well, so he spent a couple of hours sitting with us, smoking, drinking, and playing his fucking sitar with us; the Crown Prince of the country, and a bunch of hippies. There was Jenny, and a couple of other tasty young women, which probably influenced his keenness, but he just turned up with his mate again, mate/minder sort of thing, and sat with us.
So Tom’s capital is now liquid – he was going to be doing his own scene with Pakistani geezers. And I had dosh to buy the coats with – Tom bought some coats, but I think he owed this Pakistani geezer Abi Bulla some money.
I went down with Tom to Quetta, Pakistan – the capital of Baluchistan, in fact. Due south of Kandahar, and not far from the border either. Abi Bulla turns up in this horse-drawn vehicle; it’s a horse and cart, basically. But it’s a small, almost square, flat-bed, no seats or anything, but very tasty carpets and cushions on it, very nice quality, with a little brass rail (it’s what inspired the little rail on the side of my pick-up), beautifully done – just a little layer all the way around the front and the two sides, not the back, because his feet overhang the back. And the horse is immaculate, beautiful, a racehorse, with an impeccable harness on it. And Abi Bulla just lounging on it. Cool beyond belief, that was Abi Bulla. I imagine somewhere he had motors, too, for the rougher terrain, but just for cruising round the town that was his chosen transport.
In Quetta I saw this building – apparently it’s not still there – this building that gobsmacked me, in the garden of what used to be the residence of the British High Commissioner, who was obviously mad as a March fucking hare, or his wife was. There’s this beautiful Georgian house, and in the garden…. you know the nursery rhyme “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe”? Well, imagine that boot twenty foot tall with a fucking old woman and a load of kids living in it. I kid you not, painted red boot, black soles, eyelets all picked out and everything. Fucking lunatics had built it – well, had it built, “build me that and find a woman and a load of kids to live in it” and that’s exactly what was going on.
On that whole trip I was amazed by what the food was like. The food in Turkey’s great – every caff you go in you get good food, by any standards. Iran I would describe as pretty fucking abysmal, the same food every time (except for when you get dog) – a big heap of rice, flat bread, a little tiny bit of meat and a tiny bit of gravy. Afghanistan was much better, good kebab shops about for a kick-off. There are various local dishes – because Afghanistan has quite a number of different ethnic types, so in Kabul there are restaurants for all these different groups. There are the Turkic types from the north, like the Uzbekis and the Tajiks and the Kazakhs, sort of thing, they have people in Northern Afghanistan, they overlap the border on both sides. So they’ve all got their restaurants, which are different from the Afghans. They all like kebabs, which is absolutely fine by me because I love kebabs. But there are ravioli-type foods, and all sorts of odd things; beautiful braised mutton, with rosemary, very good – you can eat the local good food, lots of fruit and stuff. The local bread was not the best flat bread in the world. Probably very healthy, vegan-y, vegetarian types would love it, because it’s flat bread, but really really flat. Flat and hard. Iranian flat bread is definitely made out of white flour and has big bubbles in it, much softer – doesn’t taste of much but pleasant to eat. The Afghani stuff is much more hardcore wholesome. But there was a caravan that was supplied by a Russian bakery, and they sold this Russian bread which normally you would have been disgusted with, but compared to the Afghan bread… But the yoghurt of course, big time good yoghurt place, really good.
On the road out we were just sleeping in the vehicles, because it was the only way you could keep them secure. But once we got to Kabul, we looked around the town and there was a place called the Nur Hotel which was a beautiful, old, all-wooden place with really lovely gardens, right in the middle of town, and there was just an arch entrance, like a coaching inn entrance, with a big fucking gate and all that. I don’t think there was any sign up or anything for it, but it was a really exquisite place, aesthetically spot on, and cheap as chips. It was probably was owned by Nuristanis. Nuristan is a place on the far east of the country, more or less half way between the north and south, where a strong legend has it that Alexander the Great’s army got that far, but got wintered in there, got stuck, because when it snows you can’t move on horseback, especially if you’re having to fight your fucking way back. And by the time spring came, they thought “it’s great here – we’re 6000 miles from home on foot, through hot, horrible, hostile countries where we’ve got less than 50% chance of surviving the trip, because we know how many we lost on the way out here, so the chance of getting back is very slim, and what do we want to go back for? My wife is by now shagging somebody else, and she’ll be a toothless old bag anyway, here we’ve got beautiful fair-skinned people, beautiful countryside, good hash, prime hash which they would have worked out by then, so they thought fuck it, let’s stay here. And did. And a huge amount of them have got ginger hair. I’d heard there was a story about this, but when you see the look of the people and their handiwork and that. But Nuristan’s the only place I’ve ever seen anyone carrying a bow with a flint-tipped arrow, that was his weapon. Often you’d still see a bloke going around with a matchlock, where his mate might have had an AK47, but he’d know this gun, on a long range, was much more accurate than an AK47, even if it didn’t go Brrr Brrr Brrr…
It was exclusively Westerners in the Nur Hotel. The only people who weren’t Westerners were the staff, there was only a manager and a gardener. When we got there, there were a few freaks there, not more than a dozen; but it wasn’t rammed or anything, it was exquisite, it really was lovely. And while we were staying there, some traffic cop started to admonish me about parking somewhere he didn’t like. I pushed him against the side of the van and told him to fuck off, literally, and he did – end of story, didn’t go any further. I was saying, “I’m tougher than you, mate”. Arrogant I know, and stupid and rude, but…. when you’ve got the chance to push a copper about, you take it – well, I did, anyway.
So, settled in, you have a wander round the town, spend a day or so getting to know the layout of the town – which was very small, really. There were only half a dozen clothes dealers in Kabul, and most of their stock we didn’t consider up to scratch, we just wanted the best, sort of thing. So you just do a deal, you know the ballpark area of things, and you’d haggle, you’d buy the best of what they’d got and say we want some more like this, not like that, like this. We’d make it clear that we wanted the good quality stuff and not the ropier end of the market. And when they turn up, you haggle again over the price, and buy them. And other stuff you see in the bazaar that you reckon you can turn a profit over, which wasn’t hard to do in Afghanistan then. Almost anything that was made locally, you couldn’t go wrong, it was absurd. I saw an electric cooking ring for sale, handmade. They took a bit of soapstone, soft stone type of material, and just stuck a nail in and kept scribing round to make a spiral scrape, make a scrape about a centimetre deep, took some high-tensile steel wire, wrapped it round and round and round about a million times, till they get this long spirally bit of wire, they lay that in the spiral they scraped in the bit of stone, get some really crude galvanised metal, some bits of wire hammered over to make an arrangement for it, plug it into the wall and cook your dinner on it. I was pretty impressed by it; though I didn’t bring any back here, an awkward thing to carry.
The variety of normally thrown-away objects that people would make their homes from, hammered-flat tin cans, just pierced, then wired together, hundreds of them, someone obviously had a source in the embassy dustbins to get tin cans; flatten them out and make your house from them, literally… And you’re talking about a place where the winters are much worse than here, people don’t realise that, they’re serious winters, they’re Arctic… big, big snow, every year, quite a lot of months of every year as well. Summers are very hot but the winters are really cold.
It’s because the winters are so cold that the coats are so good, and three grand bought a fuck of a lot of good coats. We shipped a lot by rail over Russia, destined for England. But I had the van stacked and they had to be baled up to leave the country, because it wasn’t just a couple of touristy souvenir coats, it was a lot of coats. They had to be baled up, with sacking sewn round, bundles of a cubic metre, and you had to have it marked where the destination address was, it had to be stencilled on the sack to get it out of the country. I planned to take them to Sweden initially, and then take what remained over from that to take to London. I had a mate in Sweden go round and line it up. So there was that much room below the roof just enough to sleep, ‘cos the Volkswagen van was stacked to within 18 inches of the roof with coats, fucking hundreds of them. So I drove back with them to Stockholm. They smelt very badly of piss, because they use piss to tan the hides. And they smelt of me, by the end, I guess.
Everybody else was doing their own trip. Vic, he was making his own trip anyway, it was just coincidental he was handy – well, I say handy, he cost us the fucking motor, but he was just heading the same way. Duncan had done some deal with this American girl who’d turned up out there who had a brand new Volvo 122S, and Duncan (I never bothered to ask him how he extracted the motor from the girl) had arranged to meet her in London after he’s driven the Volvo back to England with a load of hash in it. Which succeeded, and the American girl was around for a little bit and then she wasn’t and Duncan had the car, so I never bothered to query the ins and outs of the deal. So Duncan did that. Tom and Jenny, I honestly don’t remember whether I left them in Kabul or whether they had gone on somewhere else.
I drove ten days between Kabul and Stockholm. 7000 miles and most of that on very bad roads. That’s fucking going, mate, I tell you. And a lot of Customs as well. Who are a bit slow when you’ve got a load of stuff in the back as well.
I did have a passenger on the eastern side of Iran, which was very fortunate. I can’t remember who it was, but I didn’t leave Kabul with him so I maybe picked him up in Herat or wherever. But crossing that Iran desert again, the track rod end came off; it connects the wheel to the steering wheel. One of these just broke, so it meant that the wheel on one side wasn’t connected to the steering wheel, which is not ideal for driving along the public road. So I tied it together with rope the best I could, which was partially successful, it kept you within a 45 degree angle of the direction you were going. You want a bit better than that really, so I had this mush drive (fortunately there’s no traffic out there, you meet a couple of motors a day maybe) and I was hanging out the door to keep it balanced. And the AA aren’t coming, but robbers might. And no-one’s going to come along and help – you could maybe find someone who would give you a lift into town so you could arrange something else, but when you got back out to your vehicle it wouldn’t be there, or not much of it would be there, it would be stripped or completely gone. So you’ve got to do what you can to keep going. What else would you do, just sit beside the road and bleat? Anyway it worked, dunno how far it was, about 150 miles or something, a long way, got to this little town and there was a geezer there who had a hand-painted sign with VW on it, amongst the other stuff, a tiny little one-man garage. He saw the problem, rummaged round his kit and finds a track rod end off a Jeep, which he can weld on to the rods there and it will be roughly in the right direction – I said fine, go ahead. About half an hour later we were back on the road again, and that bodge repair lasted – I sold the vehicle later on in England with it still on there.
Most of the coats and stuff was going by train through Russia to England. The reason I wanted to get the lot I had with me to another market, was so we didn’t have two shipments turning up at the same time. Sweden, Scandinavia, seemed like a good market for the sheepskin coats, especially as the hippy thing was just coming in there. I had an English mate married to a Swedish girl who lived half way up Sweden. They knew where Stockholm was at, and what the shops were, so I had them just check out what the potential market, just to save time. And he had a nice place to stay, and all that. So I got them to Stockholm, where people bought the coats.
When it got really funny was catching the ferry from Denmark to Sweden, going across the Skagerrak. Some customs fellow had given me this thing I’d never seen before, the red and green card thing “nothing to declare, something to declare”, that one. I’d never come across this before and I was a looking for the third way, but it turned out the third way was saying nothing. Well there I am, I’ve got fucking over half a ton of sheepskin coats sewn up in bales with “Transit to Sweden” written on them, so it ain’t hard to see, because there’s no partition between the back and the front, so they ain’t hidden in any way, they’re very obviously there. So I go for theatre again, drove off the boat without doing this card, and the Customs guy is all “Where’s your card, have you anything to declare?” and he’s looking over my shoulder seeing these fucking sacks, you can see his eyes fucking widening. I’d got this big .45 revolver and I showed it him, and he says “You can’t bring that in.” “Oh, really?” “You must surrender it here and we’ll give it back to you when you leave the country.” “Oh well, if that’s what you want to do,” so this takes a few minutes to sort out, ain’t a problem, “It’ll be here when I leave the country?” “Oh yes, just produce this paper and we’ll give you your gun back”, and the guy says. “OK”, they settle that, and they’re done, he waves me through, and just as he’s finishing his wave you can see in his eyes he’s suddenly remembered these fucking loads of bales in the back of the motor, and I can see him remembering it, and I don’t let him know that I’ve seen his expression change, and he doesn’t push it, he lets it go and I just drive out of there. Without my gun, but full of Afghan coats.
It was funny, but getting the gun back was a hoot and a half. I had a huge amount of krone and I thought for the laugh I’d get the gun back. I was going to have to surrender it at the port – probably Harwich – anyway, but I went for the hoot. I was a bit late getting to the boat, and Liz had come out to meet me in Germany so we could do the last bit of the journey together. And Liz and the car was on the boat, and the Customs guy is “Oh fuck! We’ve taken the gun into our office in town, and the boat’s here and just about to go. We can do it!” And they get into this Customs car, police-type car, and they go off, squealing tyres, blaring siren… less than 10 minutes later it’s come back squealing into the fucking Customs, the boat is already moving, and the drawbridge is going up, and the guy gets out of the motor which he’s squealed to a halt, I’m already running for the boat, he’s up to it, he’s with it and he fucking throws me the gun – a big gun – which I catch and stick into my waistband and just manage to jump on to the drawbridge of the boat, which is moving out. I only just make it and clamber on, in full view of hundreds of people, open-mouthed at this…. and no fucker from the boat came up and said “excuse me, I couldn’t help notice that you’re carrying a fucking great shooter”. How things have changed. I’m going to play this for laughs all the way. I get up to the exchange place, where you exchange money, and I have a great toilet-roll sized bunch of krone, “can I change this into sterling please” – fuck me, how things have changed. Everyone on the boat sees this bloke has an enormous great shooter, and doesn’t look like a cop or anything.
The whole roof of the van was covered in Afghan tin trunks, they were made to measure, to go up on this roof rack. Just galvanised metal, basic square trunks with padlocks on. The whole roof of the van was covered in them. We’d just come from fucking Afghanistan, with a gun, and they did not fucking search the van in Harwich. They did not even open the boxes on the roof, can you imagine that? I was pretty amazed – but that was the way of it, they didn’t look. Maybe they hadn’t begun to suss the drugs connection. I handed in the gun, and that was it. It didn’t have many bullets in it when I gave it back. In a .45 the bullets are almost half an inch, big and heavy. The Turkish road signs, you’re driving along and you’d hit the road sign, and it wouldn’t actually go through the sign, it would flatten it – it would bend the post to be flat with the ground. Very satisfying.
We made a lot of profit, far more than the three grand Liz put in. From the three grand came everything, three hundred quid for the motor, the purchases and all the living expenses – yeah, we’d have made loads of profit. We’d have made more than that from the sheepskin coats in Sweden, and then there were the coats that went to London, and other incidental stuff. That was what changed Karma Sigma into Forbidden Fruit. Because those were the first Afghan coats in London. I never did any books, or offered any tax returns, or anything – nothing. I wasn’t even claiming it, but if it had come to it, I would have claimed residency abroad, because for a while I was out of the UK more than I was in it, so there was some validity in that. I wasn’t remotely interested in business. I liked the thing of buying stuff, and selling stuff, but basically people who are trying to take some of it off you and make life as complicated as fucking possible, whichever way you go. I try getting on with my life and ignoring them.
And when I get back, I realised I wanted to live in the country – simple as that. I’m a country boy, born in the country, raised in the country, I like living in the country – almost all the travels I’ve done abroad, in the States, in Canada, the States and Mexico, I was definitely living out in the sticks. In Afghanistan, Kabul was good initially, but once we’d got our contacts all set up and established I moved out into the mountains, the sticks, up in the hills. That’s what I do, always have done. That’s why I put an advert in the Exchange & Mart, “Wanted, rent or buy, secluded property within 100 miles of London”. Got a fucking sack of replies to that. Very few of them were for more than £1000 to buy. And at that time I could have bought all of them. But I just wasn’t interested in buying. The reason we bought the 5-storey house in London was because it was in a handy area, Hampstead not far away, Belsize village, which is a pleasant enough place, good shops and all that, and the West End was just straight down from Swiss Cottage – you could do it on a bike but I had an XK-120, so why would I want to do that? And there were no parking problems, and it was great; but I just wanted to be in the country. I wanted to go out on a motorbike, on a dirt bike, carrying a shotgun, and in Wiltshire there was space enough to do that, if you didn’t mind trespassing on Army land, which I had always enjoyed.
But it was soon obvious that by then Liz and I was over. I said so, and I said I was going back to Afghanistan. And Liz had said OK, but before you go I want to have your kids – and I wasn’t wanting to go now that moment, so I said OK, and somehow she became pregnant that very same day, and I said I’ll be around while you have the kid and for a little bit after that (I’m a decent bloke at heart), but then I was going back to Afghanistan.
A trip that was a very different kettle of fish.
When our daughter was born, somehow then Liz arranged with her mum to look after the baby while me, Liz, and this girl called Meryl White whom I was shagging at the time, a lovely, sexpot woman, all went off in this really ancient decrepit Volkswagen van I’d got, because I wanted to do a trip without anyone else’s finance. The last trip was financed 100%, by Liz, no doubt about it. I really liked everything about the trip, it ticked all my boxes, but I wanted to do it again under my own steam. So went out in this really ancient VW bus, me, and Liz, and Meryl White.
And my brother Sandy had sort of taken himself along as well. Which didn’t help his feeling of jealousy and animosity towards me, the fact that – and he was a good-looking bloke, no doubt about it, – but there’s me with two tasty birds and I’m shagging them both. I’d feel not happy about it if the situation was reversed. Anyway, it’s time to head East, because I’m planning to go East and then out to Afghanistan but without Liz and Meryl – Meryl’s got some art school place in Istanbul, I don’t remember the detail, but she’s staying in Istanbul to do art. And after Istanbul, Liz was going back home to the babe. I’d figured out that taking this van further East ain’t going to be good because it’s pretty fucked, and I hadn’t got any money, and I knew that public transport was really really cheap. So why did I have Liz and Sandy with me while I was still heading East?
I can’t remember. But I did. And we were heading East along the southern Mediterranean coast of Turkey again. I’m obviously heading for the Iraqi border. Anyway, we get to Cizre…. oh, that’s right, I’m going to Baghdad. And I could see on some maps there was a bridge into Iraq, and on other maps there wasn’t a bridge into Iraq. So I think maybe I was planning to take Liz down to Baghdad and then she flies back, I don’t really remember, but I know I was going to Baghdad and then into Iran so I must have been taking Sandy and Liz along. Meryl by now had split back to Istanbul.
We had a serious fight in a place along the Turkish coast, due to my bad decisions, I suppose. We were in the middle of the Mediterranean road heading for Alanya, and then onto Adana. It’s a mountainy road, mountains come all the way down to the coast, and it’s a dirt road, so dusty as fuck. There’s a lorry with Alanya plates on it, it’s going 35 miles an hour, putting up huge amounts of dust, and I just wanted to pass, there are plenty of places, but each time I tried to pass it would pull over, and bearing in mind that the road is a sheer drop to the beach a hundred yards below, you don’t want to fall down, and the other side it’s a cliff, mountains. So trying to overtake him inside and outside, same result, he’d just try to push me off and into the wall, being a complete cunt. And then my first bad judgement was, I should have just stopped and made a cup of tea and had a spliff beside the road. But I didn’t, because I was with my brother, and we were both getting pretty pissed off with this geezer, and to exacerbate it, it was getting dark, and he had a big fuck-off spotlight, an ordinary car headlight but on the back of the motor, the back of the chassis, which he switches on. So not only have we got this dust at 35 miles an hour, we’ve got this blinding fucking light. Now, anyone with a brain in their head would have stopped and had a cup of tea. But I didn’t have a brain in my head. We gets to the edge of Alanya, and I’ve made my little plan, I give a pair of pliers to Liz while we’re still driving and I say “Right, me and Sandy’ll go around this geezer before he gets out of his cab, and just give him a load of verbal,” -we don’t want to get into a physical fight with him because every Turk don’t mind wading in with weapons, but we wanted to have a go back at this geezer. I told Liz “Go round the back of his vehicle, because everyone will be concentrating at the front where we are, and with these pliers not only cut the wires but cut sections of wire out so he can’t just join them together. Give us a sign when you’ve done that and we’ll fuck off”. I don’t know if Liz actually did cut the wires, but the bloke hasn’t got out of his cab, and he sees we’re a couple of big blokes, and he knows he deserves it and don’t want to face the consequences. But he understands the situation, I understand the situation, so it’s cool. He’s not going to get out of his cab unless we try to drag him out, which I’m not going to try and do. And I know enough Turkish abusive language by this time to be calling him the son of a cocksucking donkey or whatever, and he’s giving it back, and you can see in his eyes he didn’t want to get out of his cab. But what I hadn’t taken into account was the factor that the telegraph-pole setting-up crew, which was working at this teahouse where we had stopped, might become overly interested in what’s going on. This is really brought to my attention quite sharply, when my brother suddenly pitches forward; he does this because the geezer’s come up behind him with a large fucking rock and bashed him on the back of the head with it. Which really gives my anger a bit of focus, so I go for this geezer – this is very fortunate, because the chair which would have hit me on the head, which I hitherto hadn’t noticed, hits me on the back. So, distracted by this, I withdraw the chair from the fellow’s hands who was previously holding it, and I’m about to hit him with it, when I see that no, a better use for this chair is to use it to stop this fucking shovel which is coming quickly towards my head, edge on. And quite honestly, after that moment I don’t remember precisely what happened, because it was very busy. There were a lot of geezers, most of them armed with these long-handled pointy shovels that they use in some places, shovels that are pointed at the bottom and a long handle rather than a cross-piece handle – anyway, most of these geezers have got them, those that haven’t have got something in their hands they’re trying to hit us with, I honestly lost count of the exact blows, but there were plenty of blows going all round. I had things in my hand I was hitting them with, they had things in their hands they were hitting me with, me and my brother. Fortunately I’d left the motor of the Volkswagen running because I thought we might want to make a quick getaway. I see that Liz is in the van, so I shout to Sandy, “Come on, get into the van”. I get in on the driver’s side and put it into gear, and Sandy comes in also on the driver’s side, but not in any way so he can drive, it’s not like I can just slip over because he’s got his limbs going all ways to try to fight off these five million Turks trying to kill us. And anyway, it’s in first gear, my foot’s got Sandy’s foot on top of it and the throttle pedal underneath it, so the pedal is on the metal fully, the engine is screaming, but we’ve got to go off, and I look forward and I’m rather alarmed to see that a bunch of these road crew guys have picked up a telegraph pole and are running battering-ram style straight at the front of the fucking van. So I think I’ve only got one option here, and I take my foot off the clutch. The engine is still screaming flat out and I know if I don’t stop it from screaming, and I can’t get my brother off my foot, and I’m also having a bit of trouble with people trying to get through the other window, so I take my foot of the clutch, the motor is going full scream, leaps forward, and this alarms the guys who’ve come with the battering ram towards the front, so they let go of the battering ram but it’s still hovering in the air. And I duck down and it comes through the windscreen, through the partition behind me, and stays there with probably a third of it in and the other two-thirds out the front still. And because it’s on my back, I can’t see, and Sandy’s still on top of me as well, so I’m trying to drive screaming flat out in first gear, twenty foot of battering ram out the front, and Sandy is trying to get up so I can see where the fuck we’re going – and we’re just about to hit a building, with policemen sitting outside, it’s obviously the fucking police station and we stop inches away, we crash through the garden, through the fence, and we’re in the partially destroyed garden of the police station, the battering ram almost touching the fucking wall. We get out, we’re all covered in fucking blood, and the cops start laying into us with rubber truncheons. It wasn’t the best of days.
But the best I can swing out of that, after we’d been patched up a bit, is get a new windscreen –it was a split-screen sort of Volkswagen so there was only one pane gone, the driver’s side one. So I said to some English-speaking geezer – a Turk, but like an educated Turk, who’d turned up, he had some touristy shop in the town, “I should tell you that I’m writing a journal of my travels in Turkey that’s going to be published in an English newspaper, your town ain’t going to come out of it too good” – which was a complete lie in fact, but it might not have been.
Well, I wanted my windscreen fixed, and I wanted that town to fucking pay for it. A bunch of bastards, as far as I could see. And I did get a windscreen out of it – not a proper Volkswagen one, a home-made one, but it fitted the hole and it was fucking laminated glass so, I settled for that.
If the beating’s happened, it’s happened, and it maybe hurts a bit and you’ve had a bit of a shock but you’ve still got all your limbs and all your eyes… and the fact that you might have been shot, well, you don’t get any bruises from that, do you. All that sort of stuff is the reason I like going to those sort of places, because that sort of stuff was generally on the menu. Does that sound odd to you? But I’m the person who would go to a military firing range and get between the shooters and the fucking targets.
So we move on to Cizre. So we get there, a little way beyond, actually, and sure enough there is the bridge, so I thought great – I had a visa for Iraq. I guess the others were going to turn back – why the fuck were they there? But there was a blockade across the bridge – I said I wanted to cross it and they said no, if you try we will shoot you, and if we don’t shoot you the Iraqis on the other side will certainly shoot you if you try to cross that bridge. So it’s getting dark, time to bed down for the night, so we bedded down near this bridge, and a soldier walks by and slips a note through the partly-open window. It’s in Turkish, so I look at it and decipher it, and it says “They are going to kill you.” The note is clear. So I think I’ll move on. Oh, and this place, this fucking Cizre; I tell you what else happened in Cizre. When you buy petrol in them sort of countries, you fill the tank, because it might be hundreds of miles before you can get any more. All the petrol sold in Turkey, it’s a government monopoly, it’s a standard price all over Turkey. So I fill it up, however many litres, and the geezer asks for quite a lot more than I know to be the correct price. So he says, whatever it is, and I say no, I do it in the dust on the side of the motor, this many litres and I know how much it is a litre, and he says “TOURIST” – cocks a fucking gun and points it at my head – “Tourist”, it’s probably the only word of English he knows, “you’re a tourist, so you’ve got to be ripped off, all right? Don’t you understand?” And all the local kids are there, fucking loads of them, saying “Go on, shoot him” – egging him on to shoot me for daring to query the price of petrol. But you got to laugh, there’s no point in getting upset about it – it made me laugh then, I thought it was a really funny situation. Unless I’d grabbed hold of the geezer or something, he wasn’t going to shoot me – whether he’d have shot me if I’d just paid the official rate, I dunno, but I didn’t want to put it to the test for a couple of quid.
It’s after we’ve been beaten up, threatened with murder, and robbed at the petrol station, I turned to Liz and said “Look, this isn’t going well, this trip, we’re all stitched up and bloodied and damaged and the motor isn’t going too well and I’ve got to get across the border some place else”, and we’re driving along and I said “I ain’t sure whether to keep going east or go back to Istanbul”. I said, ‘I need a sign. And as I said “I need a sign”, there is a thwack on the windscreen. Everything is covered in dust, it’s a really dusty road. And on the windscreen there is a perfect imprint of a bat. So I didn’t know what that meant in Turkish, but I knew it would mean something, because it’s very much a language where “bat” will mean something. So I got out the Turkish-English dictionary, and looked up the word “bat”, what it meant in Turkish. And it did mean something in Turkish – it meant “West”. I kid you not, it meant West. And I’d just fucking asked that question, and bang, smack on the windscreen. And when you consider how many times you’ve seen bats bump into things….They fucking don’t, do they. Well, that fucker did. And we weren’t far away from a road that turned west, and as soon as I turned that steering wheel west, the whole atmosphere just whoah, lightened up…. So although I don’t give a fuck about all that cosmic stuff, I certainly recognise there is more to this plane than we know about.
I drive back to Istanbul, where I bump into a geezer in a Mini Cooper S, whom I’ve met on the first trip, I met him somewhere along the line, I think he was just coming back from that trip, the Mini Cooper S loaded up with hash. Anyway, I said look, I want Liz to take this motor to London, back to England, but it’s a bit shitty, do you mind driving in convoy with her? And that was the arrangement, so I got on a bus or whatever – yes, I did, I got on a bus.
And had a fucking whiteout – you ever had a whiteout? I was on the bus, yeah, but outside it was snowing hard and there was snow all over, and I had a whiteout. I suddenly became – well, I had the sensation that my body was moving simultaneously in all directions, which is a bit of an odd one to get your head round I know, but that’s what it felt like. I couldn’t see anything but white. I was on a bus, it was light, I mean it was daytime, and I couldn’t see my hand, all I could see was white. So that was a bit odd. But I wasn’t worried about it, it wasn’t at all worrying, because I knew it would pass. I mean, I know some people use the term meaning something completely different. Anyway, I’ve had a whiteout, the proper meaning of it, what Arctic explorers get, they can’t see anything, as though the brain-eye thing has seized up or something.
So now, I’m on a Turkish bus on my own, heading for Iraq. Then I’m going to Baghdad. That was quite droll. It’s fucking Ramadan – you know about Ramadan. Crossing Turkey on the northern route, the only route the buses would go through, then going south along the Iranian-Turkish border, to get to where Turkey ends and Iraq begins. So I get to that border crossing, and yeah, I’ve got a visa, and the Border Guard says, “No, geezer, your visa ran out yesterday” – unbeknownst to me. And I’ve already said what a twat idiot I’ve been on occasions and yes, I’ve done another one of them. So I just picked up my bag, there wasn’t any transport available, and I started walking towards Baghdad, several hundred miles away. Despite the Customs and police and that saying no, I can’t enter the country. So I’d gone a few hundred yards and a Jeep pulled up beside me with two of geezers in it, one an officer type and the other definitely not an officer type, but he has got a twin-barrelled 50 calibre machine gun pointed at me, you know, an anti-aircraft fucking gun, and he takes great delight in cocking it in front of me. I can see it’s loaded, can see its bullets, and the geezer says – very politely – “Either get in the jeep and come back with us, or we will shoot you here.” We get back to the border, there’s no public transport going any direction, and I managed to sleep under a bit of canvas while soldiers are hitting me with rifle butts. Not that they’re trying to do me any serious damage, just like they’re trying to be aggravating, you know the sort of thing. And I managed to go to sleep while all that was going on, which I was quite pleased about, a bit of a triumph..
Anyway, I was at the Iraqi border, and I haven’t been shot, I’ve had a few little prods with butts while I’m trying to kip under this canvas, which I’ve succeeded in doing, and next day there’s a bus comes along that’s going back to the nearest town, which will have an embassy or whatever they call it to issue a new Iraqi visa. And it’s fucking Ramadan, which is a pain in the arse if you smoke. Because they count smoking as “things in the mouth” sort of thing – you can’t even give your mate a blow job. So I go to – can’t remember the name of the town now, but it will be on the map – get a visa and get a lift in the back of a big pickup. And a bunch of local guys, and they’ve got bags of lemons. All these guys are mates, they all know each other. And one of them chucks me a lemon and says “Eat it”. I say “no thanks” – trying to keep it polite, but I don’t want to eat a lemon. And the guy comes on a bit fucking heavy, insisting “Eat the lemon”. And I really don’t like eating lemons, and I think “I ain’t going to eat a lemon just because you want me to”, sort of thing. But they’re all getting a bit “Eat the fucking lemon”, sort of thing, so I think “Hmm, looks like I’ve got to eat the lemon”, because what’s the point of getting into a fight with half a dozen geezers who are probably armed, and might just kill you and throw you out of the truck, end of story, nobody knows you’re on the fucking truck, so I was just like “Oh, OK, I’ll eat the fucking lemon’ – not happily, but I opened the lemon up, I’d probably got a knife or something, and WHAT! It’s a sweet lemon – I’ve never had a sweet lemon before. And they’re all cracking up, they know they’re sweet lemons, mosambi they call ’em in India. Really nice to eat, actually, and they were just having a laugh because they knew they were sweet lemons, and they knew that most people in the world don’t want to eat a lemon, particularly if a gang of menacing blokes is telling them to. So we had a laugh, and we were great mates for the rest of the trip.
I spent quite a few months in Baghdad. What was odd, I went to the British embassy the first day I was there, to see if there was any mail for me, because various people send mail to the British embassy in Baghdad; and to see if there was any local information I could get my hands on – not that I had much hope of getting any useful information from the British embassy, but I had to go there to check my mail anyway. I got my mail, then said to the bloke who I was chatting to, head of security there, did he know any decent cheap hotels in the town? He said “I don’t know, but you can stay at my place”, and I thought “you must think I’m somebody else, but yes, I’ll stay at your place, head of security at the British embassy, see what happens…” And I stayed there for a while, but they soon realised they had made a mistake, and things got a bit chilly. But not before – it must have been the Queen’s birthday, because I went to a British embassy party. They’re fucking weird, they’re on a different planet, you cannot believe them, but then again, it’s very rare that I meet ultra straight people. I was thinking “these are the people who get into governments and run things – they’re fucking morons, I mean, really dumb people.”
Anyway, so I’m out of there, in a cheap hotel, getting a lot of being followed by the police, all the time. I phoned up a carpet dealer I was dealing with to see if they had any of the carpets I was going to be buying, if they’d come in from the village yet, and arranged to meet. And I’m going out of the hotel, and my “spy” sort of thing, the guy who’s following me about, it was so uncool, he said “Are you going to whatever the name of the place I’d arranged to meet this carpet dealer was?” He hadn’t even got the fucking sense to hide anything, he just reveals that he’s going to the place, with the name, so I said “Yes, I think we should share the taxi and pay half each” – and he did, he went along with it, I thought if he’s going to be there with me anyway, I might as well put him in an embarrassing situation but no, it didn’t bother him. Anyway, he pays half the taxi fare, because he gets it, gets that I’m on to him, and his bosses will be pleased, because his expenses are low, aren’t they?
Well, several things happened in Baghdad. I was walking along the main street in Baghdad, broad daylight, nice day. I’m walking behind a couple of uniformed cops, you know, pistols in their holsters, rubber truncheons in their hands. I’m twice the length of the van behind them, not far behind them, close enough to hear what they’re saying. Coming towards us is this young Japanese student, backpacker type, a boy scout except he hadn’t got badges, but everything else: khaki shorts with creases, socks with turn-ups on, all that sort of stuff – obviously clean-cut, middle-class, Japanese fella, having a world travel before he does whatever he’s going to do. And he’s walking towards the cops and myself. And I heard one cop say to the other, “Chinny” – Chinese – and without any preamble, they just weighed into this geezer with their rubber truncheons. Not a fucking word said to him; and they are serious things to be hit with, he’s straight away on the ground, bleeding away, and they keep on beating away at him. And something I did, or didn’t do – what I did, I’m deeply ashamed of, I walked round them. Instead of stopping them, saying “no Chinny, Japonny” – well, he might not have been Japonny, but it was very unlikely he was anything else but Japanese. But if I touch one of these cops, and I was going to have to touch them to get their attention as they were very intent on beating this geezer, I’d have probably got shot. But I still feel bad that I didn’t intervene in that.
Another thing, what I thought was amusing, well, not at all amusing, but very indicative of what it’s like there. I was walking across the Al-Jumhouriya Bridge, one of the main bridges over the Tigris (or the Euphrates, I don’t know which to be quite honest, because they both run either side of Baghdad) and a field gun goes off. Because I lived in Aldershot, I know what a field gun sounds like, because I used to hear a lot of them. And I hit the deck. In the middle of a large, very busy, bridge. I’m looking round expecting everyone else to dive for cover, but they’re all laughing their tits off at me lying, literally, in the gutter. One geezer actually fell off the side of a bus – they hang off the side of the buses – he was laughing so much. It was signifying that the sun had gone down and they could eat. Ramadan, remember. I didn’t know that they did it there, I thought it was some coup going off, if you hear a field gun going off in the middle of a fucking town. When you think, not very long ago, the last king, they disembowelled him and dragged him while he was still alive behind a jeep, through the town. His family with him.
And they hung people while I was there. I saw the trial, on the telly. I was with an Arab bloke there, who was interpreting for me, and the trial started with the judge saying “You are accused of being a spy and a traitor against the People’s Republic of Iraq. You are guilty and we are going to hang you.” This is the judge opening the trial. Guess what happens to the geezer. You’ve got a sharp mind…. Yes. In the public square. Where the populace are at liberty to go and revile the body while it’s hanging there – jab at it with little knives and spit at it and hit it with sticks and that. In the evening, the body is taken down, with its companions, slung in the back of a pickup, and taken down to Basra and strung up in the morning so the people of Basra can have a go. A cruel place. You know how in Muslim countries there will be a little kid, a little goat, or sheep, outside a shop of a well-to-do merchant, and during the day it will be cosseted and petted, given little bits of food, all ready for the feast at the end of Ramadan. But there, you see kids, and they all seem to have these tiny little bladed knives (it’s probably against the law to have a big knife) and you see them with these tiny knives sticking out of them – vile. It’s probably going to have its throat cut in a day or two anyway, why spend its last day with a little fucking knife stuck in it. Cruel, cruel, nasty little….
But. I did have experiences there. In the bazaar, and all the carpet buying’s going good, I’m getting these embroidered type of carpets, rather than woven, chain-stitch embroidery, peculiar to that one village – so that’s all going OK. And I’m in the bazaar, walking through, and I kept noticing these stalls in the bazaar, and they were all the same in that they were extremely austere – no furniture in them, no goods on display, very little of anything in there at all other than a small charcoal brazier, a box containing whatever it contains (it turned out to be silver tools and metals) and a picture on the wall of some geezer with a green turban on. And it gave me a psychic shock sort of thing, because all the other stalls are a riot of colour, all gaudy, smelly, how the bazaar is, but these were completely the opposite. So when I saw about the fourth one of these stalls, and the guy who was working had a blowpipe- a jewellery technique where you blow down a tapering copper pipe on to charcoal and you heat up the work, and the geezer’s doing this. A technique I’d seen before, in Afghanistan, but I wanted to talk to this geezer about “who the fuck are you lot, then” because I knew they were obviously linked, but I didn’t know what it was – probably something to do with the green turbaned geezer. And it was one of those things where neither of us had a word of the other’s language, zero lingual communication, but I asked him “who are you geezers?” and he told me they were followers of the school of John the Baptist, the Mandaeans. And he then went on to say that that particular sect that he, and the others I’d noticed around the place, they all had to be silver-workers and they had to work and live near running water. Doesn’t sound too bad, live and work near running water, could be a lot worse. And I did my first bit of silver-work there, in fact, at that stall. He said “Do you want to have a go?” which was a simple piece of work, joining rings, so I did. I had never any intention of doing it again, but it turned out I did. I still do. But that was where I started, with these followers of John the Baptist.
Anyway, soon after that, we were sending off the carpets, back to London. I’m sending off a shipment of a load of carpets, from the airport, and it’s a nice day, it’s midwinter in Baghdad but as far as English people are concerned it’s a beautiful day. It’s not very far, and I hadn’t had much exercise walking round the town, so I thought I might as well walk from the airport to the town, it’s a nice day. But between the town and the airport there’s an army barracks beside the road. Between the buildings and the road someone was learning to drive an old Churchill tank (I knew a Churchill tank because I was raised in Aldershot – an old English tank). And when a tank is being driven just a few yards away from you from by someone who obviously doesn’t know how to drive it too well, you tend to look at it, keep it in your range of vision, which is what I did. But I had no camera with me, or slowed down, just want to get past the thing without it running me over. So I get to the first caff on the edge of town, go in there, order up chicken and rice, which I’m just finishing when a mush comes in with a pistol in his hand and demands my passport. Which I take out of my pocket and hand to him, and he immediately puts it in his pocket without opening it. And I think “that is not a good sign.” He grabs hold of me, and the restaurateur jumps in front of him and says “don’t take him yet, he hasn’t paid”. So he takes me out, he has an old Merc outside, he puts me in the back, there’s another guy inside, a local guy, with a pistol in his hand which he keeps on me. And we drive to a series of police stations, get various mild rough handlings, nobody speaks any English so I don’t know what the fuck’s going on, not much I can do about it, I’m in their hands, sort of thing. And the last of the police stations we go into, we go into a compound, the police car-park sort of bit, and there’s a banner over the gate that says in Arabic and English (well, I don’t know what the Arabic said, but I know what the English bit said), it said “We hang all spies and traitors”. So by this time I get the idea they’re bringing me in for being a spy, aren’t they, even though the only person I was spying for was myself, sort of thing, it’s a hard thing to talk your way out of, if they say “we think you’re a spy”. Anyway, when we eventually get to the people who can speak English – and it’s fucking Saddam Hussein, isn’t it?
Didn’t work it out, not at the time – he was just another Arab, a lot more suave, the others were just thugs, the sort who could get away with sticking their penknives into the little goats sort of thing. No, it wasn’t until fairly recently, about five years ago I think, I was looking through a magazine article about the life of Saddam Hussein, and there he was, in his younger days, when he was just the head torturer at wherever, and it was the fucking geezer who was on the other side of the desk. Pretty impressed by it, I must say. He was a lot suaver – I sussed him for being gay, I don’t know if he had any reputation for that, but I would have said he was gay, just the body language. Or maybe my gaydar ain’t so hot.
He wanted me to interpret a letter from some English guy who’d been pulled in for being a spy in Kirkuk. A place up in the north of Iraq, in the Kurdish area. And he was in prison, writing a letter, ostensibly to his wife, saying pretty ordinary, mundane things, particularly the sentence “Don’t forget to pay the gas bill.” These Iraqis, Saddam Hussein and his mate, were saying “What does this really mean?” – how the fuck do I know, sort of thing…. Anyway, I think they gave up on me, I think they sussed that I wasn’t really a spy, just there buying carpets and having a bit of an ethnological nose about the place, not the ancient culture, but the culture of today.
The Iraqis were not very good examples of Arabs. I mean the only thing I saw that was good about the place, was the guys I was dealing with, with the carpets, who were polite and fine enough, but apart from the aforementioned silver-worker followers of John the Baptist, they all seemed pretty shit really. When I was just on the public bus going down to Kuwait, about a dozen times we were being pulled over by jeeps and geezers with the aforementioned 50 calibre twin-barrelled fucking machine guns, who just pulled up beside you – they’re not firing them, but you know, it wouldn’t take much for them to be firing them.
In Baghdad, both sides of the road, there were millions of broken bottles. Kuwait is like Saudi – alcohol no. Baghdad, although Muslim, has quite a thriving alcohol market – all fucking vile. I had a few samples, fuck me, the worst booze anywhere. The only bottle of booze I’ve ever poured down the sink – Iraqi arak was foul beyond belief. But the road towards Kuwait has a solid embankment, both sides of the road, and because rich Iraq Kuwaitis are fucking rich, there’s car wheels with punctured tyres. They don’t bother to put the punctured tyre in the boot, they just leave it there, put on the spare and just leave the punctured tyre beside the road, and buy another one. Then you get into Kuwait and it’s weird….
I know it’s a strange reason to go anywhere, but I’d heard on the grapevine that you got twenty quid in Kuwait for a shot of your blood. Well, twenty quid out there, in them days, could get you a fucking long way. When you consider that on the return of that trip I got from Quetta to London on twenty pence, you can appreciate twenty quid is quite a lot of money. And to have a look at Kuwait, which is just down the road, cost hardly anything to get from Baghdad to Kuwait. So I got to Kuwait, asked a taxi driver where’s a cheap hotel, and he showed me, and I went in there and said “the cheapest bed you’ve got please”, and the guy says “it’s right on the top, on the roof” and I said “fine, sounds good”. I get up on to the roof, and it’s got the walls that high, with just a home-made shelter on the proper roof. Made of palm leaves, and it’s full of beds, dozens and dozens, it’s quite a big area. And every person in there, apart from me, is a really purply-black Sudanese geezer. It was all them, and it was just getting dark when I got there, and I could only see teeth, teeth and eyes, fucking hell… They’re all obviously the same, low-caste, doing shit work in the place, and I thought “They could just eat me….” But they were fine, though it was a bit strange. Anyway, I didn’t want to hang about there long, because it was a strange place.
And I sold my blood. They were a bit excited to get my blood, as I have a rare blood. I was excited to get the equivalent of twenty quid. I went into a little local supermarket, purely to see what sort of stuff they sold in a Kuwaiti supermarket, I’m looking around, not particularly looking to buy anything, even though I now had twenty quid. There were a couple of customers in there, and one of them sees this pentagram I had round my neck at the time, a 5-point star. One of them, obviously a pretty dumb fucker, mistakes it for a 6-point star, a Star of David, which it wasn’t. But he immediately pulls out a long shiv, shouts “Yehud” – Jew – and starts going for me with this blade. So I realised it wasn’t the time to start arguing the toss about how many points this star has got, and fucking legged it out of there.
I was impressed by the money-changers’ street in Kuwait. It was extraordinary. A row of small shops, and all the windows are full of the high denomination notes from the major currency countries, piles of thousand-dollar bills sort of thing, held in place by piles of ten-kilo gold ingots, they’re not very big, but heavy. Inside these shops, they’ve got nothing about smoking in the shop, they’ve got quite ordinary looking ashtrays, the only thing unusual about them, they’re standing on a pile of ingots laid two by two by two, that high, probably about a quarter of a ton of fucking gold holding up the ashtrays. And it wasn’t just one shop, they were all like that, ostentation beyond belief. And it didn’t seem like a lot of security, either. I did think about it quite seriously but I thought “To get away with this you’re going to need a helicopter and a fucking submarine”.
When I was coming back out of Kuwait to Iran, I wanted to avoid Baghdad because of all the Saddam Hussein fucking shit. I could see you could get a water crossing rather than going up to Baghdad and going round by land. Anyway, there was just a lovely little slipper stern launch, like the ones that go round with the Boat Race, like a 1930s one, which seemed was acting like a bus going into Iran, which was just the English Channel width away. So I paid my fare to go across to Iran on that. And that was one of those situations where half your fellow passengers, including one of the crew ( there were only two crew, one of them Turkish) would kill you – rob you, kill you, and dump you over the side. Some of them were speaking Farsi, which I had a bit of, though I’ve still got virtually no Arabic at all, but from the tone and the few words I could understand, the other half of the boat was succeeding in arguing against my death. You feel a bit of a twat sitting there while they’re arguing about whether to kill you. They’d dump you in the Persian Gulf and that would be end of story – they’re not going to get off the boat and say “We’ve just murdered an Englishman and dumped him in the sea.’ Anyway, that never happened, but it was touch and go, I reckon.
I landed in the Marsh Arab territory, the Iranian side, where they had the smartest fucking customised trucks I’ve ever seen – not a speck of paint on them, just delicately fretted wood, beautiful, no windows, no glass, no doors, just a sort of roof, and all the woodwork surround was exquisitely fretted, beautifully done, and all the paint just windblasted off.
I’d made the mistake of buying something in a chemist caravan in Baghdad, which had the longest word I’d ever seen in my life and Opium, on the label of this jar. So I thought “Oh, that’s got to be for upset tummy.” So I thought “I’ll have two of them,” and I necked them. And I didn’t shit for about two weeks .
From that bit of the Persian coast, going across Iran, I got a lift virtually the whole way across in this petrol tanker, all through the oil fields, all these big burn-off gas flares going, and we stopped at every caff on the road, because it was about 150 miles between each one. And I noticed that the driver didn’t seem to be having much in the way of meals, but he’d nip into a back room. And after he’d done this a couple of times I thought “there’s something going on” because I knew he wasn’t eating anything, he came out of the back room and the truck went away again. So before the third stop, he said, a bit bashfully, “do you know opium?” So the next caff we both go straight in the back room and hey, wow, great, just up my street, they’ve got these nifty little, well, not little, quite big, opium pipes, like a coconut shell but smaller, and a nicely made stick, and a little hole, just one tiny little hole, no cup or anything, a tiny hole on one side. And the boy comes along, and he smears a great wodge of opium next to this hole, and then he’ll stand there with a brazier with little bits of charcoal in, and a big pair tweezers which will hold a bit of charcoal very near to the opium, while you toke away and you get a big hit. And you can if you like chase the dragon with morphine, which was particularly what the driver was into, so we chased the dragon all across Iran, both of us.
This time, I was going to Quetta in Pakistan before heading up into Afghanistan. I don’t remember crossing the border. I must have come into Pakistan via Zahedan, I have no recollection of getting from Zahedan to Quetta, which is probably due to the fucking opium. Quetta’s, just below the Afghan border. It’s opposite Kandahar – loads of miles in between, but Kandahar is north of Quetta. And so I’m in Quetta – waiting to have a shit basically, I told you about the pills I took, half a basketful. I got to know Quetta, which was fortunate because on the same trip on the way back I had to spend quite a while in Quetta. And I got to know it. I had adventures in Quetta. I’d bought a sling, a kind of David and Goliath type sling, and went out of town, taught myself how to use a sling, and it was a surprise. Sling’s ain’t like catapults, where you fire a marble-sized stone; with slings, you fling a fucking tangerine-sized stone. Makes a lot of difference. And getting it to go in the direction you want is the trick, too. I was lobbing the stones around the place, no-one around, and suddenly there was someone around. I’d launched this big stone, as far as I could, and this old boy, really ancient old hajii, white beard, white turban, he just appeared. I looked to see where he’d come from and there was a very small ravine, I suppose he’d just been walking along that rather than on the top, a natural survival thing. So he’d just come out of that, and there was my stone, as far as he can see coming straight down on his fucking head. Fortunately it didn’t, it missed him by just a couple of feet, landed in the dust beside him, he jumped, naturally very alarmed. But he sees me with the sling and being very apologetic and grovelling like fuck, and he’s fine. The Muslims are like that. I had that a few times. One with, not this trip we’re talking about now, but one with Monica driving this little van we’d brought out there, the spare wheel must have come off the roof, or the vehicle, I forget which, but the first we knew about it was we saw this wheel overtaking us, like they do in Keystone Kops films. It was on our side of the road; all the roads in Afghanistan had an open sewer ditch between the road and the pavement, but with concrete slabs quite frequently for people to cross. Anyway, this fucking wheel goes over one of these little bridges, and it’s bowling down the pavement on the other side of the road, at the same sort of speed we’re doing, 35 or 40 miles an hour, and it was quite a big wheel, for a small van, because in those days little van wheels were quite big. And there’s this old boy, again, could have been the same guy with the stone, he looked the same, hajii, white turban, long beard, very sun-faded clothes, and a stick, moving along very slowly – and this wheel is heading absolutely straight for him, there’s no way he can move out of the way of it. And he just goes up. He went up. The last second, he just went up. With no apparent effort – he just went up. And the wheel went underneath him, then hit a wall and tumbled over, sort of thing. Anyway, we stop, and see he’s all right, and he says “If Allah had meant it to hit me, it would have hit me” – which is a marked attitude difference to ways it would have been here. For a start, somebody this guy’s age, no way would they have got out of the fucking way, they would have just frozen, and had both their fucking legs broke.
Anyway, that was another trip. In Quetta, I had a shit, anyway. And ate some sheep’s eyes at about the same time, though I don’t think they had too much to do with it. It’s funny, you had to – well, I had to – steel yourself, eating sheep’s eyes. One interesting thing that happened there, I got to know some local geezers, one of them saw that I had a Penguin copy of the Koran, because I was making it my business to read the Koran so I understood clearer where they were coming from, and you can use it in your own defence, sort of thing. So I’d read it by this time. Anyway, a couple of days after this local geezer had seen that I had this Penguin copy of the Koran, which I treated in a way that wouldn’t cause offence, because you knew it would be a big problem. Anyway, a couple of mushes burst into my hotel room, local blokes, and I’d met them both before, they were mates of this other geezer, and say “We hear you’ve got a copy of the Koran.” “Yeah, here it is” – it was in a respectful place, the most respectful place you could find in a small, cheap hotel, so they couldn’t find a problem with that. But they wanted to take it – I asked “Why, what’s happened?” and they said “Because you’re an unbeliever.” So I said “Yes, I’m an unbeliever, I’m also reading the Koran”. And they were up for a fight, they were up for just taking it, but they could see I wasn’t going to have that, and it really would be a fight, it would be a problem. So I said “Well, look, that’s what I paid for the book,” which was quite a lot of money by local standards, and I said “If you want this book when I have read it, you’ve got to give me that much money for it.” And they fucking did – it was about, I don’t know, probably about £3.50, which was a lot more then than it is now. And they gave me the dosh, which was fine, because I’d read it, and any income was good.
Anyway, I then crossed over to Kandahar on a bus. So I’m in Afghanistan, travelling in through Kandahar, there was absolutely zero about, got to Kabul and winter was setting in. I went straight to the Nur Hotel, and that for some reason wasn’t happening, I don’t know what, it had become something else. Anyway, I found another hotel, completely lacking in all the olde-worlde type charms of the Nur Hotel, but along the river. Called the Shah Fuladi Hotel, along the banks of the Kabul river. Forget about verdant rivers and all that, it wasn’t like that – there wasn’t much water in it, and far more turds than water, because it was the local public loo. People would go down there, they’d have a shit, scoop up a bit of water and wash their arse – any time you could see half a dozen people down there having a shit. That’s what I call a room with a view.
The most entertaining thing happening there was the relationships with some of the other members of the hotel, because we were pretty snowed in. This Canadian bloke and I – he was a wicked bugger too, I got on all right with him, we were just cooking up mischief, laughs, devilish little tricks. We actually sold some English girl, a sort of rosy-cheeked Essex girl, I could never work out what she was doing, I thought maybe she was some type of cop, because she just wasn’t the type of person who would be – you either got some hippy adventurers, academic adventurers, or government agents – that was it really. But some of them were going on the dopey side of things, and some of them on the ethnological side of things, and this girl didn’t fit. And she was there too long to be a mule; not so much initially, but certainly the third time we were coming through, there were a lot of young women out there, and they were obviously just mules, neither hippy types nor academic types, just drug mules, and they were only around for a few days. Anyway, so we sold this Ros, this English girl, to a Sufi from the town of Girishk who was staying in the same hotel.
Well, we didn’t take the money obviously, but it was nice to get to know a Sufi from this town in the south of Afghanistan, in Helmand, actually, and he was there on some village business, a pretty high man in the village – well, he was staying at the same hotel as Westerners, and even though it was a cheap hotel he could have found a lot cheaper hotel that was just Afghans. He expressed his admiration for this Ros who was a very hefty piece, right up an Afghan’s street, fair hair, big tits, and we said “Would you like to buy her? We’ll set up a deal,” and it kept us entertained for several weeks, that did. And there was an earthquake while we were staying in the hotel at that time, I was in a room with a bunch of other toker types, we were having a smoke, and suddenly everything starts slightly rattling. I’d never been in an earthquake before but I knew immediately what it was, and I said “It’s an earthquake, I’m getting out of here.” And no-one else had got into the corridor yet, so I just start loping down the corridor, and a bloke who came out after me said “Don’t panic,” and I said “I’m not panicking, I’m running!” I got into the street, but it wasn’t much of an earthquake.
I was skint, I had no money, I had no capital. That was part of the reason for the trip, because the first trip I had done, I had plenty of someone else’s money. And I wanted to go out to the same place again with no money – though I would have been glad to have some money– but I was just making myself busy round the town, getting bits of dosh. I had a good eye for little items in the stalls, loads and loads of tat stalls, junk stalls, all the junk was really tasty stuff, it was all local stuff, not manufactured, some of it made hundreds of years ago, and I had a pretty good eye and could buy items for like ten pence, that I could sell later on, soon after that, for fifty pence, to some American chick or someone who was looking for stuff. And connecting people up to small amounts of dope, I wasn’t interested at that time in connecting people to bigger amounts of dope, it was just that I needed day to day money. You could live well on 50p a day there, hotel, taxis, restaurants – that’s all covered in the 50p. And there’d be a few pence left over to buy some little bit of whatever in the town.
And then the weather improved, it got springier. And people I knew started turning up from Europe.
Like a bloke called Dave Lindahl particularly – became quite a successful antiques, carpet dealer, but he ended up letting me down. Anyway, he’s there, and ostensibly an old mate. He was my contact in Sweden when I went back from the first trip, he was married to a Swedish girl and living in Sweden, and had lined up some sales, and blah di blah. So he’d done me some good, but I don’t think it outweighs the not-so-good that happens next, though we made it up. Because I moved from the hotel and was staying in a house, a spare room in a house where he was staying, with a whole bunch of people. It was quite a big house, compared to all the one-storey houses in the local area. And in a sort of compound. And one of the geezers there is a German mercenary who had just come up from Angola, his dad was in the same house that we were in, so he had driven his jeep, with machine guns dismounted sort of thing, from Angola to Afghanistan. And we see him take the engine out one day, we can’t believe him, he’s got one foot on either wing, he’s got the bonnet right off, it’s an American type jeep, he’s loosened the engine and I think “he’s fucking lifted the engine out of there.” He was sweet as a nut, a really affable geezer, but he was a mercenary.
The first time I punched an Afghan was by that house, I was on the roof. There was a door into an orchard that wasn’t part of the house, but there was a door from one to the other, their compound into this orchard, presumably at one time it would have been part of the same property but they must have rented the house without the orchard. So I go into the orchard where the ladder, presumably used for picking the apple trees, leaning against the side of our house, and I go up on the roof there just to have a little quiet sunbathe. It must have been early Spring, so not terrifically hot. Anyway, the ladder moves that I’d come up on. I look down there and there’s an Afghan bloke, a young fellow, who’s taken the ladder away. It’s not a big deal, it would be hard to climb up the wall but not a problem to jump down from it. So I say “what are you doing?” and to show his displeasure about me having used his ladder to go up on the roof, he picks up this fucking enormous rock, and there’s a dog that lives in the house, a little dog. He heaves it hard at this little dog’s ribs, did for the dog. Cunt. So I just leapt off the roof, jumped straight off it, and before I got to the ground I hit him, punched him as hard as I could in the face. So he’s got all the weight, and the momentum, and all that, and he goes fucking really down quick. So I left him down and went back through the door – if he was armed, it was going to take him a few seconds to recover from that, and I don’t particularly want to be in his sight when he recovers, if he’s got a blade or a shooter…. And he’ll probably have the sense not to come through that door. It’s the only time I hit an Afghan.
See, a dog is an unclean animal, and a dog that’s hanging around with unbelievers is doubly unclean. One day in Kabul, I see this American girl sitting on the banks of the river, the wharf, along both sides of it, where you could sit or display a carpet along. And she’s in a more populated part of the bazaar where the river’s not used so much as a shitter. And she’s got this dog, a city dog, a wild dog basically, and she’s hugging it and kissing it, and I know she hasn’t been in town long and I go up to her and say “You really shouldn’t be doing that, the animals aren’t like they are back home, they’ve got a lot of diseases.” And she was really rude to me, “fuck off and mind your own business” sort of thing, really unpleasant. She was dead two days later. The next day she got seriously ill, she went to the American Embassy, they put her on the next plane to the States, she died on it. Something had basically eaten her liver.
So you had to be careful what you ate. All along the streets in the middle of town there’s handcarts with fresh vegetables on them, salads and fruit, they all look nice and moist and crisp and fresh. Behind the geezer, or next to him, there’s the ditch cum sewer, but it’s open, like all the sewers in Afghanistan. And all these geezers have got an old tin can by them. They dip it in, and they sprinkle it over the vegetables, the salads, the lettuce particularly. But one survives.
And my fortunes were doing this and that – gathering together the bags, see that bag you’re sitting on, a sack in fact – I got a couple of them, and when they’re in good condition they’ve got a very neat sort of fastening with loops that interlock with each other, you can thread one through the last one through the last one, like the fronts of old tents. They are incredibly robust and it’s good to have a bag you can buy for a couple of quid and sell for 30 or 40 quid when you’ve emptied it. So I had a couple of bags stuffed with a variety of things I’d got for a good price and which I knew were good quality and that I could sell, like a couple of proper nomads’ dresses and all sorts of other stuff. And somehow I’d got hold of a VW van, bought it or whatever, I don’t know, done something to get this really old VW van. But it needed a small amount of work on it that had to be done in a garage, it needed parts and that, but I had to get out of the country before it could be done, because of my visa. You don’t want to turn up at a border with a visa that’s run out. So I arranged with this David Lindahl, because he had asked me to take this antique stuff, he’d got loads of antiques and tasty stuff accumulated, he wanted me to take them back to London, he’d pay all the fuel and I’d get a bung on top, and then pay for the repairs on the van. So it’s all good, suits me, that gets me and me stuff back. Of course I told him what would happen if he attempted to put any drugs in it, I would give him up straight away if I’d seen what happened, and when I eventually got my hands on him I would fucking do him. So I said “Right, the best thing is if I fuck off over to Quetta”, which I knew because I’d had the time on the way up, “you come down, meet me at Quetta; I’ll take over from there and you go back to Kabul”. And he said OK. So I left Kabul with a tenner, had a very hairy time getting from Afghanistan to Pakistan, because you’re going through quite an area of no-man’s-land. And the bus, because the Afghans had fucked me about at the Afghan border leaving Afghanistan, I had to miss the bus that I’d got there on, that went on and left me there being fucked about. So the next vehicle to come by was a lorry, and this was several hours later, there’s no vehicle flow. “Are you going to Pakistan?” – “yeah”. I presumed they’d be going to Quetta. NO. They were going to some place in the middle of no-man’s land, the middle of nowhere. And then the guys there start having those “now shall we kill him?” sort of conversations, which I know enough of the language by this time to get the gist of. So I’m thinking “Fucking hell….” Fortunately there’s one older and wiser one who says “You can’t expect to kill him and get away with it. They may know he’s left Afghanistan and if he doesn’t turn up in Quetta, and they know what lorry he got on, the border people will know whose lorry that was and everything…” So I’m thinking “I don’t want to be here….” and I see these three lads, 12, 13 year olds, they’ve got these monstrous old British Army sit-up-and-beg type bikes, with giant fucking racks over the front wheel and over the back wheel, for carrying stuff – smuggling vehicles, basically. So I made them an offer, whatever note I had in my pocket, “Ill give you this to take me to Pakistan now, on your bikes”. I had these two bags so there was enough to make it work, me on one of the bikes, the two bags on the other bike. None of the geezers noticed, they were nearly coming to blows about whether they should or shouldn’t kill me, they weren’t actually paying much attention to what I was doing. So I slipped into Pakistan on these old bikes with these kids. And then, when we got safely away into Pakistan, I had the note. And these kids all look appalled. Then it became obvious. “OK, whichever one of you fights best gets the note” – what could I do, I hadn’t got any change, fight away if that’s the way you want to do it – so I leave all three of them rolling around on the ground fighting, and got into Quetta.
Where I was for far longer than I was expecting to be.
Because of the outward trip I was a little bit known in the town sort of thing. It’s a very small town, I had a few geezers, contacts, connections. It’s going all right, but a few days rolled into a few weeks, and there are no phones to speak of. And fuck me, they had a – don’t know what you call it. A financial crisis. The government announced one morning that all bank notes above a middling amount, it would be like our government saying that all twenties and fifties are no longer valid, that’s what the government did. And this is a country that don’t trust the banks, and any money they’ve got, they keep in a roll of cash. And of course if you keep money in a roll of cash you always go for the highest denomination bills you can get your hands on, to make the roll appear smaller. So obviously there were hundreds of people on the streets, who had rolls of cash which the day before would have been a fortune, and were suddenly worth nothing at all. They protested and shouted and stamped, and the army in great numbers were there with 6-foot poles, as thick as scaffold poles, the end 9, 10 inches shod in steel pipe, anyone who tried to break into the bank were getting wasted with these fucking things. So it was quite exciting.
At the same time, I learned how to sell apricots in all the local dialects. One of my mates in the town, he owned a cheap hotel, and it was an old traditional style, perimeter wall with all the rooms inside the wall and a lovely garden in the middle. All the traditional buildings, they try to make it as much like the description of Heaven in the Koran. Most of the space in the walls is open space. Anyway, this particular open space had half a dozen apricot trees. And this mush was complaining that nomad types kept sneaking in, because there’s no security on the place, there’s a big open entrance where you could drive a cart through if you wanted to, people just slip in there, grab as many apricots as they could, they’d all got scarf-y shawl-y type things, just fill up your shawl and go off and do whatever with them. And he was getting pissed off with this, and I said “Well, I tell you what, how about I gather up the apricots that are ready,” and I knew he had a handcart because it was just there, “and I use your cart and I’ll set up a pitch on the street just outside your place and sell apricots.” I mean, it was apricot season, so obviously there are many, many, many apricot sellers on the street. So I sort of listened to them, and I studied people’s clothes a bit. Because there are quite a lot of tribes in that area, there are the Pathans and the Baluchi, and the Sindhs, and then there’s the Burusho, loads of different tribes. And if you’re just sitting on the street and looking, you can see “Oh, right, that lot, they all have some little detail”. They’re all wearing the baggy white trousers, long shirt, generally white but sometimes powder blue or oatmeal, and a waistcoat, a local made waistcoat, and various headgears, and sandals. And you can tell by the style of the sandal, “all right, he’s from that area,” a particular type of embroidery on the sandals. So I’d learn just a few sentences in all these languages and I developed a multi-lingual way to say “Apricots, they are cold, they are sweet, they are tender, I haven’t got many left…” It was good, even though there were a million other apricot sellers. And from it developed a really interesting little side business: stamps.
Some sort of educated kids came up to me – male obviously, aged 14, 15 – “Do you have any stamps?” “Yeah, I’ve kept all my letters, and they’re in envelopes, they’ve got stamps, but they’re just ordinary”. But to me what is an ordinary stamp, obviously is an exciting foreigner stamp to these guys, so I became a bit of a stamp dealer as well.
‘I did go to a Volkswagen garage – well, a garage that had a hand-painted sign saying Volkswagen, nothing to do with Mr Volkswagen in Munich, except they were happy to work on Volkswagens. I’d worked on Volkswagens, quite simple motors, and I knew having an English mechanic would be a good thing for a garage. And they seemed happy to employ me. But when it was “what’s the wage?” it was something like 10p a day, and I thought “I’m not working for fucking 10p a day, doesn’t matter how hungry I am, I’ll find something else”. Not that I mind working on motors, but it’s pretty uncomfortable, dirty sort of work, and I turned it down.
The other real pain in the arse thing, they had closed the border to tourists. To travellers. They closed the borders at the same time as this dosh thing, so there weren’t any hippies coming through. I was the only hippy in town. I was the only foreign person in town, let alone hippies; I didn’t see any other foreigners. What I did see was the inside of the government opium shop, saw that a couple of times, “come in and buy your government opium”, but rather more amazing than that, they have these quite blatant tea houses. They’re tea houses but their main business is hash. They’re not there to sell hippies hash to take away, they’re there to sell the punters who come in 5, 10p’s worth of excellent hash. Five quarter-inch cubes, two bob. You’d put it in a water pipe which belongs the house, they would come by with a bowl and charcoal and some tweezers and you’d put the charcoal into a hole in your pipe…. a bit too much for me to be honest, I couldn’t smoke that much. Anyway, I was in one of these places, and this Malung, turned up, who are quasi-holy beggars. You don’t want to fuck with a Malung because it won’t do you any favours with the other people around. Not that I ever had any desire to fuck with a Malung, but some people think that because they’re poor beggars they can be rude and horrible to them, which doesn’t do you any favours. And they all dress in rags, complete rags. Anyway, this geezer comes in and he sits next to me, and fuck me, he buys a big handful, a couple of ounces of hash. They get out the biggest pipe – they obviously know him, the people there – he fills this up, a heap of really good hash, and the boy’s there with the charcoal, puts several lumps of red charcoal on, he’s puffing away at the water pipe, and gets it going. Once it’s going, he takes the stem with the business bit out of the fucking water pipe, sucks it like a fucking orange and when he stops sucking a cloud of sparks three foot high leap into the fucking air. And he does this repeatedly. A couple of ounces of hash in a minute and a half. And he sits down and he gesticulates “here, what do you think of this?” and he starts unravelling one of the rags that’s around his waist, puts his hand in, says “What do you think of that?” and he’s caught a scorpion in it, like a fucking crayfish, and I think “fuck off….”
That reminded me of something else, one of the few regrets I have from all that trip. This geezer turns up at the apricot stall. I’m fairly near the edge of town, and he’s coming in from out of town. If you’d seen him in a film, you’d think “he’s a bit over the top, this geezer.” He is not a Malung, but something else, obviously a wild man, because Malungs have these special bowls and stuff, but no, he’s another type. Same fucking rags and all that, but he’s got these big wide leather things round his wrists, with stud-y things on them, he wears them all the time sort of thing. He’s got, not a stick, it’s a fucking club – you know the clubs that are skinny at one end, then wide, they’ve got nails in them – he’s got one of these. And he got a raggy old turban on, and his face is big scars all the way down, a triple row of fucking scars right down his face. His eye’s OK, but he was lucky. And it’s a pretty safe bet that what made those scars was the eagle on his shoulder. He’s got a fucking full-sized eagle on his shoulder. And then you look at his face, and you think “it was probably that eagle’s mum that did that.” And he comes up to me and says in whatever, Pashtun, Farsi maybe, I don’t know, “you come with me.” And I didn’t. He wanted me to go out to whatever hill, whatever cave he lived in, probably wanted to bugger me around and slit my throat. Well, that was the opinion of the guy in the hotel I knew, whose apricots I was selling, he knew the geezer, he said for sure that’s what he would have done, fucked you senseless then killed you. But it would have been an adventure.
Anyway, so I didn’t go with him. In fact the mental excuse I gave myself for not checking it out – was that this really sick young English geezer called Boris had turned up, he was staying in the same hotel, and I was looking after him because he was pretty sick. Then I had learned from someone in London that the geezer who was meant to be turning up with my van was in London with all this stuff. And I’d been there several months by this time, just making enough to live on as I went. So I thought “right, I’ve got two bob, and nothing in the pipeline”, even the apricot season had finished, and it’s time to start heading home.
And I was with this Boris. So we gets on the steam train to Zahedan in Iran from Quetta. And this train was so slow, which was very fortunate because I had very bad shits, and I had to keep getting off the train, having a shit and getting back on the train again. Walk to the front of the train, by the time I got there I’d need another shit, get off and repeat that all through whatever mountains those are. I tell you where I got the shits from, I remember it well. The train, it stopped to take on water. And they’re bringing tea round, and water. And you can see the water – it’s water out of the fucking engine, rusty water, really rusty water. And it’s one of the most dumb things I’ve ever done in my life, but I said to the geezer “Isn’t there any better water than this?” And he looked a bit shifty, but went off and came back with this clear water. I swigged at it, and then I saw these mosquito larvae swimming about in it, and I thought “what have I done?” – I’ve just drunk some highly contaminated fucking water. They were giving you water from the engine, the second-hand boiler water. Because it had been boiled, and was therefore safe to drink, if a bit rusty. I got the really bad shits after that.
But it was lovely countryside and it gave me a chance to observe the Pakistani border Customs, their searching crew, which was a sight to behold. They were all nomad women, you could tell by their style, their jewellery, and the way they were, just their manner – they weren’t shrinking violet types, like other Pakistani women who hide their face, they’re much more bold-faced. And they’re going through – mainly just the locals’ kit, (well, everyone else but me and Boris was local) but they’re going through their kit, their clothing, their bedding, because everyone carries their bedding with them, bedroll sort of thing. These girls were going through them, because they know the nomads are all smugglers anyway. Anyway, it was interesting to see them. Get to the Persian side of the border, and the Customs there are convinced I’m a – oh, by the way, I bought some tea, because I’d very little capital to play with, very very little, but I’d learned that tea doubled up every border you went across. I bought a couple of kilos of tea; you go from Pakistan to Iran and that tea’s worth twice what you paid for it. If you sell one kilo in Iran, then sell the next kilo in Turkey, that’s four times the price. It doesn’t double up from its initial price, it doubles up from the last country. You should buy it in India, but it was hardly worth me going a thousand miles for a penny off the tea. So you buy it in Pakistan it’s one, go to Iran it’s two, go to Turkey it’s four. Anyway, so, going into Iran, again the Customs are very suspicious of me, don’t like the cut of my jib, haul me off, and it’s the rail head I seem to remember there, the train stops and you get a bus going into Zahedan, the nearby city.
Anyway, I’m pulled off at the border, they are convinced I’m some sort of smuggler or no good, and they want to give me a miserable time, they’re convinced I’m a hash smuggler, diligently looking through all my stuff and blah di blah di blah. And I tell Boris to go on and maybe I’ll meet him on the other side. I’ve still got a couple of bags of stuff, which they’re going through very closely. I did have about an ounce, just a personal smoke but they didn’t find it because I’d been very meticulous in hiding it. But I’m still fucking ill. And I get whatever bus or lift into the city the next day, or towards the city, just dropped off by a thing called a serai. Before you get into any town or village, every road going into it there’s an area which is just like a sort of parking lot, traditionally obviously for the camel trains, but now used by camel trains and lorries. Called a serai. Caravanserai. The same in Afghanistan. They’re called that same thing in Turkish as well, because there’s popular Turkish football teams called Aksarai and Galatasarai. There’s an area in Istanbul called the Galata and there’s the Galata Bridge, and the Galata Sarai. Anyway, I’ve just got to this sarai, and I’m walking the last bit into the town, and there’s this English geezer Boris walking out, coming to find me as it turned out. So we reunite, but we’ve got to get out of the town because we’ve got no money for hotel beds or that sort of thing. It must have been quite early in the day, because we decide just to head out, roughly in the direction of Tehran but that’s a long way away, several hundred miles. And the first place we’ve got to go through is called the Kirman Desert – you can imagine what that’s like. A fucking desert, is what. So we’re hitch-hiking beside the road, we’ve got nothing, no water, no food, there’s no shade there, I can’t remember why we stopped at that particular place, we’d probably got a lift there, somebody going along this invisible track to some village in the mountains so he dropped us there. So very little traffic, no cars, just lorries, the occasional bus, but we weren’t going to flag down a bus because we had no fare. But all the lorries were probably going to Kerman – that’s the next town – they’d say “how much?” and we’d say “we have no money” –“fuck you”, sort of thing, and they’d drive off. But one of those guys didn’t say fuck you and drive off, he said “climb in the back”. Now the lorries out there have enormously built-up sides, the sides are 8, 10 foot built up above the bed so they’re very, very high. So to climb in the back you’ve got to climb up the side of a fucking lorry, with big bags, which wasn’t easy when you’re ill and all that. We get to the top of the side of the lorry and look down, it’s a long way down, it would be like being on the top of this van looking down at the ground, about the same, a long way. But it’s all covered with straw – great, so we just drop our bags and roll off, no hanging on to the side and lowering yourself down. Underneath this straw there’s these fucking hot overripe melons, the sundew-type melons, not the red melons, the yellow ones. So we’ve got all this shit all over us, this melon pulp. But we’re both hungry and thirsty, so rather ill-advisedly we just grabbed a handful of this stuff and just necked it. Well, when you’ve got the shits, that’s about the worst thing you can fucking do. Anyway. So we get our lift to the first town, Kerman and then to Yazd. Yazd I already knew was the centre of Zoroastrianism. And right in the middle of Yazd, there was this most wonderful place. There’s a town square, circle sort of thing, with this impressive building picked out with pastel shaded neon lights, but beautifully – it’s almost an Art Deco style the guys arranged with all these neon lights. It really is tasteful, and it is beautiful. And when you’ve just come in from several days in the desert and you’re feeling ill – “Oh, look at it.” We head towards it and as you get near you can see “Oh, it’s an ice-cream parlour”. Walked into the place because we just wanted to look at it. I look at the price list on the wall and I knew we had just exactly enough money in our pockets for an ice cream. So I say to the guy “one ice cream please.” By this time my Farsi was fluent enough to ask for that, I knew the word for “one” and the word for “ice cream”. Anyway, he starts doling out two ice creams and I say “no”, and he just hands us these two ice creams. Oh, I could have hugged him, except I was just a filthy unbeliever, and I don’t know how the Zoroastrians square it with the surrounding rabid Muslim types, but he was obviously a top man in the town, probably the mayor, but he knew we weren’t trying to blag anything, I suspect he knew the money we were buying the ice cream with was it. I thought “I’d rather spend the money on an ice cream” – it was sort of “Ice Cold in Alex”, if you’ve seen that. So me and Boris ate our ice creams in Yazd. And I’ve had a great deal of love for the Zoroastrian religion ever since.
I did have stuff to sell along the way, which is how I subsisted in Tehran, because by the time I got to Tehran it was late at night, and I didn’t want to go stumbling into the first hotel I came across, because I didn’t have the strength for it. So I found a park in the middle of town and lay down, head on my bag, coat over me, and had a pretty disturbed night’s sleep as the local toe-rags were trying to nick my bags from under my head and I was able to fight them off without actually waking up, because you want to hang on to sleep. A pretty shitty night, really.
Boris had immediately fucked off, because as soon as we got to Tehran he went to the British embassy to be repatriated, and that was the last I saw of him. In the morning I found myself a cheap hotel, and bought myself some yoghurt and local bread, which I figured would probably be the best sort of diet I could have – I was shitting like snot and blood, nothing brown coming out, just transparent mucus with lumps of blood in it, not good. And it wasn’t fucking helped by this English couple, I think they might have been staying at the same hotel. One of them was some sort of journalist and she had got an invite to the opening of a posh Iranian club, restaurant, and they had enough clout to get me in on their ticket. It’s a pretty smart place and I’m dressed in rags sort of thing… anyway, we’re in this smart Irani restaurant and looking up at the ceiling thinking “that’s the most amazing star-effect ceiling I’ve ever seen in my life” – and then a plane flew over, there was no roof to this really, really lavish plush restaurant, really good carpets on the floor, lots of them, fancy tables, the only restaurant I’d ever been in Iran with cotton tablecloths, a really fancy posh place. And on the table in every restaurant in Iran is this carafe with a Duralex glass inverted on the top of it. I think I could do with a drink of water, pour myself a glass – oh, it’s vodka. Which is really what your stomach which is already fucked up needs, a big mouthful of pretty raw vodka. You wouldn’t be able to buy vodka in Tehran now.
The colour of much of Iran is as you’d imagine, it’s sort of brown and stones and desert,
though there are walled gardens and this and that. But we did see some other wonderful things, these ancient – to call them wells is a great disservice to them. Strange fucking windmills, like I’ve never seen before, I couldn’t even draw them, but huge. They were bringing water up from this system of tunnels. You see these mounds, lines of mounds, a hundred yards apart, like a molehill, but in the middle there’d be an open shaft that goes down. Apparently they’re these ancient fucking waterways. These geezers would dig down and down and down and down until they got to water; and then dig along the flow of the water, hundreds of miles these are, and really deep, you can’t imagine; and no pit props or nothing, just buckets and ropes and whatever type of pick and shovel they had, it all happened hundreds of years ago, they were ancient, these things.
I can tell you exactly when I was in Tehran – or I can tell you exactly when I left it, because I’d sold a rug or two and got just about well enough to travel, and I got a bus from Tehran to Istanbul, and while I was still in Iran, just before I left Tehran, men landed on the moon. So it’s a very easy time to date, that. Because I was on a bus which wasn’t a local bus, but a magic bus type of thing, almost exclusively Australians on it, and I was really fucking ill, and quite honestly I wasn’t too impressed by men getting to the moon anyway, it seemed to me if you throw enough fucking money at it you can do it. Try getting to Quetta and back on nothing, mate.
So I’m coming back to Istanbul, still really unwell, but at least Istanbul is familiar. But I was unwell, I was fucking unwell for ages; when I came back to England, I couldn’t drink anything, I couldn’t even drink half a pint of bitter for over a year. So yeah, I get to Istanbul. I’m in Istanbul but I’m skint. So I’ve got to acquire money enough to get me back to Blighty. So I have to do some fucking dodgy things to get it. I could still be in prison, literally, for some of the things.
The most exciting little thing that happened was I met some Yanks, part of the Laguna Brotherhood they claimed, from Laguna Beach and all that sort of middle-classy mafiosi sort of thing, and they wanted to buy some hash, and I said “I don’t think Istanbul’s a good place to buy bulk”, because they wanted bulk. But there was a little crew I knew, and I took them down there, they were just lining up to buy a small amount at first to see how it went. We were up in this ancient, local-type, charming building. Suddenly there’s a fucking crashing noise downstairs, and “POLICE POLICE”. By this time the money and the hash is on the table, and the couple of guys we’re dealing with, Turks, shout “police, quick” and leg it out through a window. And somehow I just thought no, that happened too slick, the window was already open, it was just too synchronised. And I couldn’t hear boots thumping up the stairs either. So I thought “I’m going to stand my ground here.” And I did. No police came up the stairs and after a while the geezers that had fled out the window came back looking sheepish. Which was slightly amusing. They’re trying to get you to run and leave the money and the hash there, so when you get there half an hour later “oh, all that money and hash has gone, the police must have taken it”. It’s a pretty simple trick that could work…
So I’m with these same two Yanks, who had a virtually brand-new VW camper van. These guys I quite quickly came to loathe, with contempt and loathing, because they earned it. The sort of Yanks who drive at the locals as if they’re not there, as if they’re less than cattle – “they’ve got to get out of my way because I’m a Yank”, and driving at ridiculously fast speeds through the bazaar. I just wanted to fucking hit them. I suggested to them that if they wanted bulk amounts of hash they’d be better to go to the horse’s mouth, which was an area beyond Gaziantep, which is the roughest part of Turkey. It’s beyond the Mediterranean, east of the Mediterranean in Turkey, that’s where all the hash comes from – some of it’s grown in the Bekaa Valley and on the other side of the border, the Syrian side – anyway, that’s the place where all the Turkish hash comes from. So I said best to go down there and get it from the guys who are growing it, or their agents, rather than trying to find it in Istanbul. There is a lot of demand in Istanbul; but once you get to the source, then…. anyway, so we gets to Gaziantep, to be met by soldiers sitting behind machine guns all over the place, all over the streets, heavily armed, in full battle gear. So I go to a teahouse I’d been to before, and ask what’s happening. “Oh, some soldier shot some local kid who was the son of a local tribal leader, a high-ranking family, and there was a bit of trouble on the streets yesterday, and now it’s total lock down”. Right; not a good time to go and buy hash, because no-one can fucking move or anything. So I ask “what hash have you got?” and he brings out some pretty good pollen, unpressed. And he says “that’s what we’ve got.” So I tell the Yanks “look, you see the situation out there, no one can move, and this geezer’s got this bag of pollen, that’s what there is.” And the Yanks say “No, we want” – I can’t remember the amount, but a lot more than was in that bag. “We want that.” I tell them, “They ain’t got it – and unless you’re prepared to stay here till all this military have fucked off, which probably won’t be for several weeks, we’re fucked.” They were ignorant fucking bastards – “No, we want 10k.” So I tell the guy they want ten kilos (or whatever the amount was). And they wanted it pressed, which was fair enough. So he goes away for a few hours, comes back with this pressed hash. And it was obvious to me they’d just used whatever hash they had, and mixed it with flour, and pressed it. “Right, you’ve got the number of kilos” – that was it really, and I wanted to batter these people by this time, but I was basically living off them.
But the thing that was – don’t know about dodgier, but badder – I bumped into a taxi driver in the town, this was after I got back from that trip to Gaziantep. I didn’t make a lot out of that as it was obviously an unsatisfactory trip all round. I bumped into a taxi driver and he said “look, I’ve got a mate who gets hold of travellers’ cheques that the staff rip off from the big posh hotels. Can you take these travellers’ cheques into one of the gold shops – of which there are many – and buy gold bracelets to the value of these travellers’ cheques?” “OK, I’ll give it a shot”. I did it a few times, but it was OH FUCKING SHIT scary. Anyway, it got me enough money, but I was showing them my passport, that’s why it was nerve-wracking. Which obviously didn’t tie in with the name on the travellers’ cheque, for one thing, but that was the nearest I had to something to wave at them. Then it’s time to leave Istanbul, I’ve just about got enough money to get out of town, and I meet up with some American-born, Arab-descent geezer who was in a similar boat, and we start making our way north. Somehow get as far as Bulgaria, get all through Bulgaria OK somehow, I don’t know how, then we get to over in Yugoslavia somewhere, and we’re stuck at this motorway service station. It’s not like an English motorway service station, it’s much more casual and scruffy and it’s smaller too. We’re there for several days and no-one will give us a lift – there’s any amount of foreigners, Westerners, hippy types stop by, because anywhere you can get petrol you stop and fill up. So there’s loads of traffic and we’re going around saying “Hey, man, can you give us a lift to the town, blah di blah,” and “oh no man, my clutch is going” – there was always some reason they couldn’t give us a lift, we were obviously skint and scruffy and all that. And how we got out of there, that was good. We’d been living for several days off unripe sweetcorn and unripe damsons. Then this guy pulls up in an old Volkswagen – well, it wasn’t a particularly old Volkswagen, it had just never been serviced. And it splattered to extinction just a couple of hundred yards up the road. So Oran, the guy I was with, the Yank, he legs it up there, I fix their motor, and then the cunt tries to drive off. So I grab the drivers hair, ‘cos he’s a filthy long-haired hippy, and I ain’t going to let go of it, and he knows that, so he gives us a lift up to the town. Then we get to Vienna where there’s the Volkswagen van I left England in there, cos Liz had got that far. And somehow we get into Germany from Austria, I don’t know how we managed to do that but we did. And then into Holland.
We get to Amsterdam and I sell one of the Afghan nomad dresses I’ve got with me for a decent amount of dosh, so I’ve got a bit of money in my pocket. But it’s the year when Amsterdam is the place where every pot smoker in the world wants to fucking be. And even if you was prepared to pay a thousand pounds you couldn’t find a bed. Every bed in the town was fucking full. There were hundreds of people sleeping in the parks, hundreds more sleeping in shop doorways, which I was one of. We’d had a good night out, been to a club where we had good music and I bought some hash, the first time I’d ever come across that in a club with, a whole ring of geezers with scales. Shouting out what they’d got. It’s Amsterdam, isn’t it, spice capital of the world.
So an ounce, a half-ounce or whatever, I had in my pocket, and I’m bedded down in some shop doorway, and I’m woken up by the police. They’d decided to have a swoop on the town and pull in every fucker who’s sleeping on the streets and in the parks, and there are fucking hundreds of us. And the geezer next to me in the processing line, he’s got three thousand dollars in travellers’ cheques on him, he’s got a return ticket from wherever in the States to Brussels and back again to the States, and loads of cash as well as the $3000 in travellers’ cheques, and he’s saying to me “I can’t believe this, I’m being fucking busted for vagrancy.” Because he couldn’t find a bed and had to sleep rough.
So they come to process me and it didn’t take them long before they said, “Right, you’re being deported” -there weren’t any options – “you’re being deported for vagrancy. Now you live in England, so we must prepay your ferry fare, how are you going to pay for this?” And I just happened to have a chequebook with me, a David Rowberry & Company chequebook. So, just having a laugh, I said “Oh, all right if I pay by cheque then?” – thinking how absurd, taking a cheque from someone you’re doing for vagrancy – “Oh yes, that will be fine” – fucking hell, OK. And the only bad cheques I’ve ever written in my life were to Dutch police and to British Rail when I got to Harwich, to get to London.
And if you recall I started that trip with Liz and Meryl. So Meryl lives in Battersea at the time, the last time I saw her she was starting this term at art school in Istanbul, but time had elapsed, I knew she’d be back in London, or probably. So I think “I’ll swing round to Meryl’s place, get at least a bed for the night and a try to have a wash up and regroup”. Walked into Meryl’s place, there she is in bed with fucking Liz. And I could not handle it, I could not handle it, man, I just turned around and walked away. I could not handle it.’