Magazine article The Spectator

Back to the Stoned Age

Magazine article The Spectator

Back to the Stoned Age

Article excerpt

WE were arrested at midnight by a patrol of the Shah's army.

`You crazy mens,' the lieutenant told us, `Afghans bandits. Bad peoples. They like to cut. . . ' and he drew his hand horizontally across his throat.

It was foolish to be sleeping in the open, a few miles from the Afghan border, even in 1971. But we were a young and naive threesome, barely 18, riding the hippie trail in a very old and unreliable Land Rover. We were aspiring hippies, of course, not real ones: we had only just left school and our hair was too short to be convincing. But we had some of the right gear, including a guitar hanging round my neck.

Released into bandit country the next morning, we felt the Iranian officer had been exaggerating. The Afghans may have looked like brigands, but their brigandage in our case was limited to filling up the Land Rover without returning the pump gauge to zero. In Herat, the first stop, we met a fur merchant who welcomed hippies in their own argot.

`Far out, man,' he said when we bought one of his karakul coats. Sheepskin waistcoats were de rigueur in the world we aspired to. I bought two for a pound each (inferior specimens then cost 20 in Kensington Market) but, alas, they had been poorly cured. When I got home, my mother hung them in the garden shed and later, after I had been dispatched to university, she discreetly burnt them.

We quickly discovered that a lump of hashish the size of a cricket ball cost less than a bottle of beer or a packet of cornflakes, We bought one and some pipes to smoke it in, and sat under a tree looking at the decorated minarets of this delightful and hospitable oasis. Nobody minded, not even the police, who walked up and down the pavement beside us.

Two days later we were in Kandahar the greenest and loveliest of Afghan cities - where a man in the bazaar offered to sew uncut heroin into my jeans. Then along the highway to Ghazni, and finally to Kabul, the goal of all true hippies. After Kabul the trail bifurcated; those (like us) in search of hashish in the mountains going east to Kathmandu, those preferring hashish by the seaside migrating southwards to Goa. But everyone went to the Afghan capital - and often returned.

We stayed near the fur market at the Najib Hotel, where for two shillings a night you could have a bed of sorts with bedbugs. According to my diary, it was the heroin centre of Afghanistan, but I do not remember anything of that. It was a peaceful place, built around a small orchard where guests spent the day sitting under the trees, fingering guitars and drinking lemon juice.

The evenings were more animated. As local vegetables had given almost everyone dysentery, we ate kebabs and drank coarse red wine. After supper, joints were rolled, the pipes came out and we all got stoned. Once in that condition I wrote a poem about meeting Alexander the Great in Valhalla. It was `far out': for an evening I thought I was Coleridge.

Lethargy under the fruit trees could be broken by visits to the Bala Hissar Fort or the Babur Shah Gardens, and once to the British ambassador, who let us have baths (not a feature of the Najib) and gave us a bottle of whisky. Some evenings we went to Sigis, a haunt run by an enormous German called Siegfried, where one could play chess and listen to so-called underground music. According to my diary, the place was inhabited by a `mass of freaks'.

Apart from dysentery, the only flaw in this idyll was celibacy. …

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