I’ve done music journalism (a lot, two books’ worth to be precise), sports journalism (a little, with ICW), so why not try my hand at a little travel writing, yeah, just like my favourite chef Anthony Bourdain.
People often ask where my accent’s from, and I’ve been accused of being everything from Australian to Eastern European, to South African to American and all the lands in between. In Scotland they think I’m Irish, in Ireland they think I’m English, and in England they think I’m Scottish, I can’t win. Very few people can define my accent and the reason for that is it’s a mongrel accent. A mixture of a great many places, Durham, London, Nottingham, Spain, Ayrshire and Glasgow, but the very first accent to be thrown into the mix was Dutch (or Nederlands to use its proper name).
While the rest of my siblings stayed with my dad, I went off with my nomadic mother and toured the world, or at least the world of Britain and Holland. I started school in Holland, in Papendrecht (near Rotterdam), and I was fluent in their language before I was fluent even in my own. We stayed there a year or so, and it forms my earliest childhood memories. Tragically, when we were back in the UK, nobody ever spoke Dutch to me again, not even my mum, and so over the years, I forgot it, and it is now gone.
At eleven years old, I started my love affair with weed when I tried a bucket one weekend with some older boys, that didn’t go well, but I’ll save that story for another time. It did however, spark my interest in drugs, or at least cannabis, to begin with.
I didn’t do anything harder than weed or alcohol until I was 18 and tried my first E, but by 16 I was addicted to pot, that is to say, I was a stoner, a habitual toker, a bonghead and a dope fiend, and probably will be until the day it kills me. Some people are genetically designed to receive THC, some aren’t, obviously I was one of the ones that was. Read an interesting article about it here; http://herb.co/2017/06/02/cannabis-dna-2/
Unfortunately, we live in a country with antiquated laws, such as the criminalisation of cannabis. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of nights I’ve spent in a cell for having grass on me, hundreds of nights, ranging in amounts from a bit for a joint, to a quarter of an ounce. Being forced to spend a night imprisoned for having a plant is a ridiculous concept.
Have you ever spent the night in a cell? It’s hell. Four walls, a cold stone floor for a bed, a scratchy horrible blanket to cover yourself with, and no pillow. A lack of clean water, food that even I refuse to eat, and I’ll eat anything, your only friend in life is a toilet, which you can’t even flush… Oh yeah, and you get to listen to junkies having withdrawals and screaming constantly all night long “Tuuuuuuurnkeeeeeeey!!! Tuuuuuuurnkeeeeeeeeey!!!”
Sometimes you can spend an entire weekend in a police cell if you get arrested on a Friday, and that’s before the humiliation of being bundled in with a load of criminals and herded to court on the Monday. Compared to a weekend in the cells, real jail is Butlins, the cells at the police station are designed as a deterrent, and a harsh one at that.
All because some arsehole named Harry J Anslinger (the architect of the war on drugs and the no.1 enemy of cannabis) outlawed it for all the wrong reasons back in the 20’s http://www.cbsnews.com/news/harry-anslinger-the-man-behind-the-marijuana-ban/
But now, the world is changing, it’s a good time to be a drug user, drugs are being decriminalised all over the planet, at a rapid rate, left right and centre. But unfortunately, not in Scotland yet, there is however, a Valhalla for pot-smokers, just over the water… I used to live there…
It’s taken me a while to get around to it, but visiting Amsterdam is a pilgrimage every weed-smoker should undertake at least once in their life. Maybe I left it so long because I knew if I went I’d never come back, and I almost didn’t…
Anyone who I know that smokes a lot of weed and has been to the ‘Dam, they all say the same thing to me; ‘You think you can smoke the strongest stuff cos’ you’re used to the weed in the UK, but you get to Amsterdam and the first joint will knock you on your arse’. Maybe so, but that’s what I want, to be knocked on my arse. I’ve smoked dope 24/7 for 22 years now, I’m so immune to it I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be stoned, joints are my cigarettes, no matter where I am, that’s what I’m smoking. I want to be stoned again, the way I used to be able to get stoned when I was eleven!
Anyway, they were wrong, very wrong. The flight was at 6am, which meant leaving the house at 4am, which meant doing an all-nighter, as my average bedtime is about 4am. After a flight that is the length of a cup of coffee and a sandwich I touched down in the holy land.
We didn’t even go to the hotel, we went straight to the first coffee shop we came across, far from being knocked on my arse, we then spent the next twelve hours going from coffee shop to coffee shop and smoking several different strains of grass and solid, all with no sleep.
The first thing I bought in my first ever coffee shop, was some hash. Because good weed is ubiquitous in Scotland, but good hash is hard to come by. I sat down with my few grams of Nepal and even though it was totally legal I still felt kinda’ weird rolling it and sparking it, and a little edgy, as if somehow it just wasn’t real.
I was mildly culture-shocked the first few days. To be around police officers and not have to worry they’re going to arrest me. To not have to take a mental evaluation of everything on me every time I walk past one, was a very foreign concept to me, one that took me a day to climatize to.
But it wasn’t long before I felt right at home. I was even more delighted to discover that there were bars that sold weed and alcohol at the same place. Well, not technically, technically you bought the drugs next door and you bought your drink from the bar and sat outside with both. But you could roll a joint with the green you bought next door on top of the bar while you waited for a drink, and that was an amazing feeling for a dope-junkie/alcoholic such as myself. An establishment that serves alcohol and encourages the smoking of marijuana too, I mean I’ve died, right? This is heaven. And it was called Hunter’s too, like my favourite writer.
One of the ironic things about Amsterdam is it is not a good city for psychedelic drugs. You can legally purchase hallucinogens, magic mushrooms, philosopher’s truffles etc. but it would not be a good idea to take them in the city centre.
It’s difficult enough walking through that city stoned, never mind tripping. Apart from all the random architecture and people jumping out at you everywhere, the traffic is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Every step is a dice with death from a tram, bus, car, or bike. Especially the bikes, there are more bikes in the ‘Dam than I could ever have possibly imagined. The 850,000 residents of just the city alone own 847,000 bicycles between them! Between twelve and fifteen thousand bicycles a year are fished out of the canals too.
Another reason it’s not a good idea to trip in the city centre, is it is very easy to get lost in. Despite its relatively small size, Amsterdam is a confusing myriad network of alleyways, busy roads, criss-crossing canals and cycle paths. So, if you are going to do trips there, buy them in the city centre, but then take yourself somewhere peaceful like a park, or somewhere on the outskirts. Otherwise it’ll be you they fish out of the canal when you get knocked down by a tram, or bowled over by one of those reckless cyclists that are careening everywhere regularly.
Our hotel shared its name with our favourite Scottish ska band, Esperanza, and it was a rare smoking hotel, you could smoke on the top floor, which meant our weed consumption wasn’t limited to the coffee shops, we were smoking everywhere all the time.
The hotel was quite far out the city centre, and despite my usually impeccable sense of navigation (forged from a circumforaneous childhood), we got lost a great many times trying to return to Esperanza after a day in the coffee shops. It’s very easy to walk round frustratingly in circles for hour after hour. Smoking joints along the way only conspired with the maze-like darkening streets to keep us lost for even longer. My girlfriend’s pedometer watch told us when we left Holland that we had clocked up 75 miles, over 4 days walking, around a city that’s only 84.7 square miles in size, and most those miles clocked were from being lost!
It’s not just the weed that makes Amsterdam great, it’s a lot of things. The people are nice and friendly and happy to engage in English if you can’t speak Dutch (unlike the French). And the city itself is beautiful. An eye-pleasing place to behold, with its extravagant and varied canal houses, its charming gabled facades and deep sense of antiquity. Plus everything from windmills and drawbridges, to renaissance-style buildings, as well as baroque and modernism. A phantasmagoria of architectural treasures all higgle-piggled together, sometimes I felt like I was in Ankh-Morpork.
The food too is incredible, I’ve never walked past pastry shops that smelled so enticing in my entire life. Every random bit of Dutch cuisine I put in my mouth was a delight to the senses, from stroopwafels to krokets, and from rookworst to bitterballen, every bite was an orgasm of the senses. You go into a supermarket and buy the cheapest ham there and it’s as good as some of the best butcher’s ham in Britain. And the breads, wow, they have that European flare for good food heavily ingrained in their society. I also got to relive a bit of my childhood by eating my favourite thing from then, vla (a type of Dutch custard), for the first time in over 25 years. One of the few things I don’t like is raw cheese, so I couldn’t comment on the cheese, but it was piled up in huge stacks of wheels everywhere, and I’m sure it’s delicious, if you’re into eating fermented dairy products…
Drinks are a little expensive and the country is cider-dry with it being almost impossible to obtain, but with 777 varieties of cannabis who the fuck needs cider!? The whole place is very relaxed. There’s barely a raised voice in the street, compared to say walking down Sauchiehall Street on a Saturday night in Glasgow, which can be akin to going on an urban safari of crazed wild animals.
On the second day we smoked some Utopia (who took Utopia? We took Utopia) got on a double-decker train, that’s right a double-decker train, and headed to my childhood home of Papendrecht. We saw my first school, some very old friends and my old block of flats, which in my memory was like 12 stories high, but which in actual fact is only about 4. The size difference between my childhood memories as a five-year-old and the reality, was a little disorientating.
I also had weird sensations from my olfactory senses, which were picking up smells they had recorded but had not identified for the last 27 years, like that particular smell of piss that still haunts the close where I lived, and the specific type of substrate they use in the play parks, these scents were invoking sharp crystalline childhood flashbacks. We also re-visited Kinderdijk where I played as a child, famous for its windmills and clogs, and which is an idyllic area of natural beauty.
As for Mary Jane, It goes without saying I’ve never been so high in my life, we smoked more varieties of ganja in one day than I probably have in the last ten years combined. On the last day, we had a lot of random bits of stuff leftover, and obviously we couldn’t take it with us, so I rolled it all up into a handful of blunts (that’s a joint that contains pure weed no tobacco) and we smoked them one after another all the way to the airport. We ate a space cake too, before we got on the plane, but it had no further effect on us as it wasn’t possible to get any higher I think.
When the stone eventually wore off many hours later and we were back in Glasgow, it was heart-breaking, we had spent four days in paradise, but had had to return, with a heavy bump back to reality, and to mediocre illegal weed and nights in cells instead of coffee shops.
Everybody should visit Holland at least once in their life, and you don’t have to be a drug-user to appreciate it, but it helps. For me, it was literally paradise on Earth, and I’m already booked to go back in September. I fully intend to move back there too, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but definitely as soon as is possible. Amsterdam is the kind of place I could die happy. In the meantime, I better crack on with re-learning Dutch for my return, and until then…
Zie je in de pogokring!