PAGE SIX; FEATURE
LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL PART TWO
JUST A TRICK OF THE LIGHT
If this page has a theme song (and, you may notice that some
pages in this issue do) it must be The Green, Green Grass of
Home. But that is just the editor remembering his roots. In
part two of our review of how smoking habits have changed in
the UK, we meet a couple of growers and get very stoned
indeed. But, first, the historical crap . . . .
The counter assistant stood with his mouth open so I repeated my request. Thirty-two Growlux 80 watt tubes, please, I said. He came alive. Thirty-two? he said. Thirty-two, I repeated. He hesitated for a moment and then said, Ill just see if we have got that many in stock. As he made his way between the blue-lit aquaria full of shiny fishes I was glad I was the only customer. I felt like I had just ordered the Bumper Book of Disgusting Pornography (with free reusable blow-up doll). Conspicuous, you know? Eventually, the assistant came back clutching a bundle of neon tubes in thin card containers. He placed them on the counter and disappeared again into the stockroom. When the thirty-two sheaths were piled on the counter we messed around for ten minutes with brown tape trying to contain the wayward eight foot long tubes. After a lot of sticking and cutting, I paid and hoisted my not inconspicuous bundle onto my shoulder. As I turned the assistant piped up with the question I had hoped no one would ask: What are you going to use that many lights for? he said. I run a fish farm, I replied glibly.. And that was it.
.. Except. Later and for ever he would remember the guy who came in and bought the shop out of Growlux 80 watts.
.. If the brief bolt of bright light that had been the summers of 66 and 67 had done nothing else, it had left some of us with an abiding interest in the growth, processing and consumption (particularly the consumption) of a certain weed. It is difficult now, 30 odd years on, to piece together exactly how it happened but in just a few years cannabis had come from being an also ran in the great intoxicants race to rank right up there among the leaders. If the alternative culture had been jump started by the appearance of acid, it had sustained itself on marijuana. It was the psychedelic snack that kept us going between the twice weekly acid banquets. For those of us who had some acquaintance with the GanjaMa, the glory days had arrived.
.. It was inevitable that the first definable drug culture in the UK -- the pill-popping, mohair suited, back-combed and scooter riding Mods -- would, in part, gravitate towards the Mother of All Intoxicants. Fashion rules and all that. Fashion and a new found hedonism, as taught by Keith Richards. As the post-Mod relics cast around for a new fashion statement to make, the emerging hippy culture gave them just what they wanted. And along with the beads, bells, kaftans and primary colours came the substances that had been their inspiration. In a blink of an eye, cannabis emerged from the shady backstreet beatnik sub-culture in which it had been condemned to be merely an accoutrement on the way to becoming a smack addict and hit the high street. Big time.
.. For those of us who had been subsisting on a diet of the rather ordinary hash brought into the country not by devotees but by merchant seamen whose interest was in a quick profit not quality, the sun began to shine. The over-pressed slabs of Moroccan and under-pressed bricks of Leb were still around but they were suddenly supplemented by a wide variety of aromatic, hand-rolled, high quality Blacks from India. I can still remember the first time I smoked Nepalese temple ball and can almost re-experience the amazing knee-wobbling, eyeball-popping, time-stopping high. Such experiences made us all reassess this substance that we had hitherto thought to be so slight.
.. When the GanjaMa grabs you by the pleasure zones, she grabs you hard (squeeze those zones, Mama). Just a few puffs of a joint and you can be transported to a new dimension where this reality sparkles and shines, shimmers, shakes and slip slides into a dream world where a rolling inner vision leads you towards a wider understanding of the nature of yourself, your life and existence in general. To each of us the GanjaMa grants the power of thought.
.. And it was everywhere. As the culture slowly found the switches that lit it up, the devotees danced around the Mother. A vacuum, particularly a cultural vacuum rarely exists for long, and there was soon a flood of information to satisfy those who had read and re-read the botanical entries in the encyclopaedias. For many of us the silliness of A Childs Garden of Grass denoted a frivolity upgrade that was as necessary as it was revolutionary. But respectability was soon to follow with the publication of The Book of Grass, edited by George Andrews and Hollands own Simon Vinkenoog. At the same time, just to make the information come alive, grass made its debut in the UK. It was all imported, thin and weedy, sometimes rank smelling, sometimes rich and rummy, often packed with seeds, but it was grass. And those of us who had become experienced in the cannabis arena recognised that here was a different beast.
.. There are those who will tell you -- even today in Amsterdam -- that hashish offers the pinnacle of the smoking experience. It is, they say, a purer, cleaner and higher smoke. And maybe they are right. But, as we all know, hashish is made from the resin glands alone and contains none of that awful plant matter or any of those dreadful secondary chemicals. As Robert Cornell Clarke says in his definitive examination of hashish (Hashish by Robert Cornell Clarke, Red Eye Press, 1998, ISBN: 0-929349-05-9) the resin contains the main psychoactive ingredient . . . . THC. Get that? The main psychoactive ingredient. You mean there are other psychoactive ingredients? So what happens to them? Well, man, they are just not there in the hash, they are in the bin.
.. Although quantity for quantity hash is far stronger than the grass from which it was made, there are many subtleties to the high that are absent in hashish. While many might regard these subtleties as undesirable they make for a richer and more varied high. But, as with all these things, that is a totally subjective view. For, as we all know, it is different for all of us.
.. In those far off days, the arrival on the scene of grass had a profound effect. Suddenly we could -- just about -- recognise this substance as coming from a plant. And plants -- theyre everywhere.
.. As the threatening clouds of repression gathered around the alternative culture many of us scaredy cats, fearing for our freedom and seeking to limit our personal knowledge of sodomy, backed away from the society we had helped to create. As our dealers got busted, scouring the town for someone with something to buy became less of a pleasure and more of a hassle. For those of us who had drunk at the well of plenitude, this was not what we needed.
.. Disenfranchised and abandoned in a desert by the substance we loved to love, some of us fought off the fingers of respectability that were plucking at our lapels and set about doing it for ourselves.
.. The revolution that had been in the air over those crucial summers had produced some interesting if -- in retrospect -- somewhat short-lived effects. Freedom had been in the air and - before it had been deftly netted, stuffed into a cardboard box and pushed to the back of the cupboard - had briefly sprinkled the world with the fairy dust of change.
.. Remember head shops? Yes, there was a time when the cannabis smoking society was seen as a market for straight(ish) businesses as well as for the other kind. In the echoing aftermath of the media-created Swinging London myth that had swung its way across the Atlantic and helped to create, in part, the sense of freedom around which the hippy culture assembled, the infrastructure had been constructed. The legendary Carnaby Street -- which before it had become legendary had been just another seedy street in the heart of Londons seedy Soho area -- still housed the boutiques that were its claim to fame but now they served provincials from Norwich, Essex and Brighton up in the smoke on shopping trips. The people that had helped Carnaby Street rise from its own gutters and had made it the international goal of the tasteless and styleless masses had long since moved on. As the Beautiful People colonised Chelsea and Notting Hill they took with them what seemed liked a travelling street party. Drab, grey, boring shopping streets full of greengrocers and ironmongers were transformed, it seemed overnight, into eastern bazaars hung with festive silk scarves and lit with the reflective light of a million mirror sequins. The headshops had arrived.
.. In this overspill of freedom, information about cannabis flooded into the UK. And along with anthologies, the picture books and the simple prayers of adoration, came more substantial information.
.. In the US, as if in a dream, one state after another followed Alaskas lead in decriminalising the Assassin of Youth. But it was just that -- a dream. Before you could say Ronald Reagan, things started to revert to the bad old ways. As decriminalisation crumbled, however, we did not give up hope. Certainly not in dear old Blighty, anyway. The British had not indulged in the post-hippy era freefall. In the UK cannabis was a prohibited substance and its control (which is about the nicest word I can use for it) was never relaxed. Quite the reverse. As the UKs summer of love turned into an autumn of discontent, the UK went into a spasm of repression.
.. But by then we had the growbooks and we were thinking botanical. More than thinking. Almost all of us had put away seeds from what we had felt at the time was a particularly good grass. Indeed, with most commercial grass made up of at least 50% seeds, we had them coming out of our ears. (Dokker DeAth writes: It is a bad thing to keep your seeds in your ears or any other bodily orifice. Seeds in the ears can severely impair your hearing. Although unlikely to germinate, should a seed do so, you are also likely to find Mr Plod standing on your sideburns.) We had all, everyone of us, lamented the waste as we had flushed a half ounce of oily, bulging, ripe and ready seeds down the lavatory (ah, sweet paranoia). With such a surfeit of seeds it was not surprising that some got planted. Seeds casually tossed out of the window of Paul MacCartneys Ayrshire farmhouse grew into a bustable garden. Nice try, Paul. Elsewhere embarrassing plantations were appearing in family gardens. In those innocent days the general public had no idea what a marijuana plant looked like so the worst that could happen was that your father would pull up the Green Goddess for the weed that it was. Although most of the plants produced from that cornucopia of seeds fell foul of the bonfires, it did not take much cunning to stop that happening. The more ambitious went out into the fields to scatter their largesse of consciousness upon the ground in secret places they would never find again. And the more organised just planted whole fields and prayed. On window sills and in window boxes, on patios and in greenhouses, cannabis plants large and small demonstrated their wonder ful easy growing ways.
.. Of course, hardly any of these crops produced grass worth smoking. In 1968 in a garden in Brighton, a seaside town long since regarded as the UKs drug mecca, I planted five seeds from some Indian grass that had blown us all away. Fortunately, it was a good summer and the garden was a sun trap. When the plants reached about eight feet and had my neighbour asking what they were, I decided that it was time to top them. Three weeks later I did it again. And twice more before, towards the end of September, I pulled them. By that time they were as wide as they were high. As I piled them up by the house, my neighbour leaned over the garden wall and said: Before you throw your ferns away, could I have a cutting? I smiled sweetly and told her they only grew from seed and that I would see if I could find any seeds on the plants. I never did.
.. The five plants produced almost five kilos of leaf with nary a flower in sight, and, yes, I not only sold it all but got rave reviews. And, I have to say, that those leaves were remarkable. They produced a knee-trembling high that few of us had experienced before with an imported product let alone a home produced one. As we sat around rolling joints of the chlorophyll-rich, minty leaves, feeling like Robert Crumb cartoons, we did not even have the knowledge to lament the fact that the plants had never flowered. We were just overjoyed that we had got a result, any result.
.. As I have said before, they were innocent days. I mean we knew that the female plant was more favoured than the male but that was about it. This was before we had even heard the word sensimilla.' It is hard to peel away the layers of knowledge and experience and to remember how it was then. I can remember, in 1974, buying the High Times Book of Recreational Drugs and seeing pictures of sensimilla buds but that is about as far as it went. The import of the information missed me completely. But I was not alone.It missed everybody else as well.
.. If you read the first part of this tale (in issue one), you will know that it took 25 or so years and the discovery of Amsterdam to change the face of smoking in Great Britain. Thick or what? So many of us had indoor gardens but it was not because, as we all know, environmental control is the key to growing great grass. We had indoor gardens because being discreet is the key to staying out of prison. And, honestly, we did the best we could. When we read about how to flower the plants, we did adjust the photo-period. And we did produce flowers just like those in the botanical illustrations on which we based our assessment of our growing endeavours -- thin, weedy, insubstantial cotton puffs of white spiky flowers. And the grass was so variable. I never produced flowering grass from an indoor garden that came any where near the leaf I had produced outdoors. But I was still regarded as a successful grower.
.. It was, however, not easy in those far off days before grow-shops. At this stage in the growth of grass-growing technology, there was almost none. High Intensity lamps were not, at this time, even a twinkle in the eyes of the electrical companies. It was ordinary neon tubes, mixed to kind of get the right light balance, or, for those on the cutting edge, Growlux. We had read that light intensity was an issue so we made up frames and packed those tubes --10 to 15 watts of light to the foot -- in. But the light was never strong enough to produce great or even good grass. And, of course, the great, globular, power-packed super strains that have been developed in Holland were just not around.
.. And just tracking down Growlux tubes in the UK was a major initiative test.
.. It was compromise all the way. It was impossible to find fertilisers with the right mix of nutrients. The UK didnt have the range of branded fertilisers that seemed to be available in the States and certainly did not have mixtures customised to suit particular plants, unless you happen to be a tomato or rose grower. Standing in the ironmongers or, if you were really lucky, the local seed merchant (this was long before the appearance of garden centres) gazing at the sparse branded fertiliser shelf you were hardly spoilt for choice. With a maximum of maybe five branded fertilisers from which to choose, the best almost always turned out to be Miracle-Gro with a 20, 20, 20 NPK rating. It was okay for growing nice large bushy plants, if you didnt over-fertilise them, but when it came to flowering . . . .We tried everything to come up with a high PK fertiliser that worked, even down to concocting our own potentially lethal brews. Nothing worked. Maybe someone somewhere got it right but there was no communication, sharing of knowledge, collectively, amongst those early growers.
.. Eventually, for me, and others, it just got to be too much bother for too little gain. Slowly one by one we gave up guerrilla gardening for jobs, babies, mortgages and all the other stuff you have to try before you find out you dont like it. There was always imported dope around. Well, not always, there were many notorious droughts. But mostly . . . .
.. It is always the young who lead the way and we had to wait almost three decades for our children to show us what we should have realised long before. A whole generation discovered Amsterdam and came back with tales of home-produced super grass so potent it was truly psychedelic. For those of us who had finally had to conclude that the bulging buds pictured in the books were just another myth, it was a revelation. Once they started the tales came thick and fast. As if the coffeeshops were not enough to make the English tourists stand back in awe, tales came back of growshops where you could not only buy specialised supplies and seeds but clones ready to go into pots.
.. Almost overnight the UK dope scene changed. It was at this point that many long-term smokers rediscovered the joy of smoking. And found a worthwhile reason for growing. For even the slowest of us could work out that if Amsterdammers could do it so could we.
.. History happens whether you observe it or not. The wheels of change roll (very slowly) ever on. And in the years between the hippy era and the discovery of Amsterdam the whole fabric of England had changed.An enthusiastic sweep of American commercialisation had long since started to wipe the face of Britain clear of.the small shops that had made it possible for the diminutive French despot, Napoleon, to describe England as a nation of shopkeepers. The self-service stores had become super-markets and the super-markets had become super-stores and the super- stores had become warehouses. The garden centre had arrived. But not the specialised range of fertilisers. However, hope was at hand. For, we discovered, England, too, had its grow shops.
.. I can remember the first time I saw the Sunlight Systems ad in Viz magazine. Grow your own pot, it said. Outragous.
.. Personally I couldnt believe they could get away with it. But they did. Here, indeed, was a bit of history that had happened without my noticing. With the grow shops, the seeds and the inspiration of Amsterdam in place, everything was ready for a creation of the UK skunk growing industry.
.. Kevin and Sasha live in a flat in a Victorian villa on a pleasant leafy street in South London. Kevin (48) is a self-employed graphic designer who works from home. His common law wife, Sasha (42) was made redundant two years ago and she is also at home. They live a quiet, respectable, sedate life amongst the Hooray Henrys and Cashmired Camillas, keeping to themselves, avoiding the occupants of the other flats in their building and they are comfortable.
.. Their flat is a nicely decorated, immaculately tidy and extremely tasteful mix of Victoriana, art nouveau with just a dash of deco. It is quiet, peaceful and sweet smelling. Very sweet smelling. But, then, they are fairly obsessive about the smells. As, quite rightly, they should be. For, in their cellar, they have over 300 marijuana plants in various states of growth from newly planted clones to full budded, dripping and very smelly Mamas just about ready to crop.
.. Although our friends say they can smell the grass as they stand outside the street door, we arent particularly worried, says Kevin as he draws on a king-size spliff that sends up clouds of bluish smoke that threaten for a moment to overwhelm the sticks of Nag Champa burning on a coffeetable. We figure that if we come up with enough smells from this flat no one who doesnt know what we are doing is ever going to be able to distinguish the smell of the skunk.
.. And he may be right. For two years they have been growing commercially in a converted coalhole under their next door neighbours flat. It took Kevin over a year to clear the coal-hole of 80 years of accumulated debris and, of course, coal, and to paint and renovate it. In the process he built a dividing wall, installed a neon lit shelving system for clones, installed an industrial extractor fan and wired the whole lot up to a central control board that would look okay on the Starship Enterprise (but probably only in a utility cupboard).
.. Like so many people growing in the UK, Kevin was inspired to start his enterprise through his experiences in Amsterdam. Like many growers he buys his seeds from the city of dreams because he can -- with a bit of searching -- smoke grass that was actually grown from the seeds he intends buying. At the moment he is growing Shiva Skunk from seeds he bought at Sensi Seed Bank. It is a fairly easy plant to grow, said Kevin.
.. "We started out growing the Northern Lights No 5/Haze from Sensi Seed Bank because it has such a fantastic high but it is a twelve week plant and we had real problems with it. At that stage we hadnt started to use specialist fertilisers but were still relying on the local garden centre. Proper grass fertilisers were not easy to come by and although we tracked down some mixtures with the right kind of NPK ratings they werent for cannabis. When you are working with highly chemical concentrates it is easy to over fertilise, particularly if the plant has a long flowering period. And, if you are growing in pots as we do, it is hard to put it right.
.. The Shiva Skunk plants were a success right from the beginnng, Kevin continues. Even when we were using the concentrates they produced a fair crop. But once the specialised fertilisers started to come in from Holland they really took off.
.. Unlike many growers Kevin runs his system so that he crops a group of fifteen plants every week. That means that each week he has a new set of clones to prepare to replace the ones moved on into the main veg/flowering cycle. It is quite hard work, Kevin says, reflectively, but well worth it. Although I am only producing about 150 grams a week that is nearly eight kilos a year.
.. He feels that his enterprise is a success. The grass gives us a comfortable living that allows us to be where we want to be. It is a bit restricting because we hand water and when we go away, say to Amsterdam, we have to get in a babysitter but even that is not difficult.
.. It is an accolade to the cannabis plants' versatility that Kevin and Sasha have achieved such a success. For their set up could hardly be seen as high-tech. There is no pH adjustment to growing medium or water, no EC meters to test the potency of nutrient mixtures. Although care is taken to try to get the temperature/humidity/air balance right within the two growing chambers, the balance teeters on the brink of too much too often. But they do try. When summer heatwaves raised the temperatures in the chambers to more than tropical level, an expensive portable air conditioning unit was installed that had the right effect.
.. Punster Kevin believes he is part of one of the UKs largest growth industries. Almost everyone I know has a garden or plants somewhere. There seems to be a major revival happening. Of course, it is because growing skunk is so worthwhile. And because there are so many growshops. That has made life so much easier.
.. A visionary with a sense of humour, Kevin clearly gets a lot of pleasure from his extra-curricular activities as well as most of his income. He has put his graphic design skills to use in the marketing of his grass with a brand name and a label. Sold under the Hazy Dayz brand name, the grass is loosely packed into half and one ounce blocks using an upended chocolate box and lots of thick cling film. The box is lined with the cling film with plenty around the edges and a label of the right size is placed face down. The grass is piled on top and gently pressed into shape. When it is a nice solid but not compressed block, the excess cling film is wrapped around. Turn the box over and out slides a nice neat block of buds with a very pretty label. Kevin says he was just having a bit of fun. He only packs part of the crop in this way but, he says, there is always a lot of demand for the special packs and they seem to go out at a slightly higher price.
.. Like most growers, Kevin does not sell his grass directly to punters or in small quantities. The whole of his crop goes out through one contact on a regular basis. Although it is important to have a relaxed attitude if you are a grass grower, it is also important that it is not too relaxed. It is easy, you know, to get paranoid when you are involved in business like this. You have to not be paranoid and watch the details. Not too many visitors and no unusual ones. Watch the smells. Watch the noise. Watch the electricity bill.
.. Although Brixton -- traditionally one of the places to pick up in London -- is only a couple of minutes away by car, Kevin and Sasha live in a predomin-antly straight area and they aim to fit in. We can play the straight game as well as anyone, says Sasha.
.. Although in many ways they are not typical of growers (whatever that is,) they do have something in common with everyone who grows grass -- they want to produce the highest quality possible. There is still a lot to learn, he says, and all the information is in Amsterdam. The guys in the growshops there, they are experts who really know what they are talking about. There may be exceptions but I have found that almost every growshop had lots to tell me. In some you had to be sure to ask the right questions but in others the information just came. It is talking to people in growshops that made me realise just how important things like pH are. I shall be getting a pH meter and an EC meter next time I am in Amsterdam.
.. Kevin and Sasha see themselves as a new breed of grower. We clearly are not criminals, says Kevin. We believe we provide a service that creates better people. Smoking dope is about increased consciousness and people function out of consciousness. It goes without saying that if you have more consciousness you are probably doing it better.
.. It is a philosophy with which Coffeehouse Culture can only agree.
.. We are providing a service that should be provided by other institutions within the state. I mean, clearly smoking is a major stepping stone to the development of spirituality. And isnt spirituality the major concern of all religions. So why arent they handing out bags of grass?
.. It is clear, he concludes, that grass is not so much a fairly harmless substance as one that is distinctly positive. It opens people up to themselves and makes them think. How can anyone suggest that is a bad thing? It is ludicrous that grass should be illegal. It is so obviously a mistake that has an extremely serious impact on individuals and the world. That is why it is important for those who know the truth to speak out. And that is why we should all cherish Amsterdam
.. A stoned silence descends on the room, now thick with blue smoke. Somewhere in the distance, an angelic choir is singing the Hallelujah Chorus. Or is it just a trick of the light?