Transgressive Behaviour in the 60s


Like all teenagers, especially those growing up in the late 50s and early 60s there was a lot of stuffy tradition to overcome; authoritarian rules and restrictions that seemed pointless. So we were transgressive.  There things like smoking cigarettes, going to grown-up coffee bars like the Witches Cauldron, staying out late, partying hard, kissing attractive companions, drinking beer and all forms of alcohol, speaking colloquially including swear words. These are the activities that mark out adults from children, and we were in a hurry to assert our independence and grow up.   


And there was music too – loving Skiffle, Rock & Roll, Folk music, Protest music, Soul music such as Tamla Motown, Rhythm & Blues, Pop music, Jazz, and later Psychedelic Rock. The music that many ‘square’ parents dismissed as rubbish! And of course some of us were interested in classical music, including Baroque and Early music, as well as Classical period, Romantic and Modern music. I recall struggling to appreciate Webern and the 12 tone guys as well as electronic music and who could not but love Stravinsky?  

But we were more transgressive than this. There was also drinking until sick, drug taking, political protests sometimes ending in arrest, underage sex, running out of restaurants without paying, drug dealing, theft, shoplifting, vandalism, drug smuggling, car theft and other criminal activities. I’m not saying we all did all of these. Just that among the thousand or so young people we knew there was at least one person who did every one of these. Often it was quite a few more.  

I’ve recounted how some of the parties ended in house trashing vandalism. I never enjoyed that myself, I was too aware of the pain and consequences it would bring. But I had no qualms about stealing booze from the drinks cabinet, or pills from the bathroom cabinets and bedside tables.      

In the XYZ of drugs I have recounted the range of drugs we took. Most people smoked a bit of cannabis and took a few pills. A smaller number tried and got involved in harder drugs. Later came psychedelics like mescaline and LSD which offered more than just kicks – a full blown spiritual experience including mind opening and mind altering – teaching us lessons that some – like myself – carry with us forever.  

Some of the girls were underage when they joined the crowd but they had boyfriends too, even though technically this was illegal. Usually young boyfriends like themselves, but not always. But the emphasis was always on pairing up – trying to form stable relationships rather than just sex for its own sake. Of course you might need to test out quite a few partners in the search for the ‘one’.  

Then there was dealing. I used to deal hash and weed and a few pills when I could get them, at the Witches. I used to score hash at the Roaring Twenties club, I recounted elsewhere how Irish Tom first took me there and showed me how to score. It was £7 an ounce for black hash, probably from Pakistan, and this would sell for maybe £20, when broken down into one pound deals. I recall Jake telling us that it was the dockers’ strike around 1964 that drove the price up to £8 an ounce. Selling dope has several benefits. First you get your own drugs at least subsidised or more likely for free. Second you have dope to share with other people for a free smoke. Third, you make a profit, which could be sizable if you did not smoke it all away. Fourth, it made you popular and the centre of attention, a kind of faux celebrity. This is the most dangerous and seductive effect, because it distorts your sense of self. It makes you popular. You think lots of people love you and admire you, and want to be with you, when some really just want a free smoke, or the glamour of being near the centre of the cool action. Burroughs describes dealing as more addictive than the drugs themselves. I suppose I sold dope, on and off, from 1962 to 1969. I did not push it beyond my circle of friends and acquaintances, largely out of a sense of self-protection. It was a real no-no for a friend to come to score with a stranger, without first asking permission. But I also had a conscience, and did not want to get innocents into practices that could harm them.  

The first dope I ever smoked was some grass Roger brought back from Paris, when he stayed at the Beat Hotel summer 1960, just 15 years old. When I went in 1961 as a 16 year old I brought back about 15 ‘pound deals’ of hash to share, They were 3 francs 50 centimes each from Chez Ali in Rue del la Rocquette. This was at a time when there were 15 francs to the pound. Friends may have contributed to the costs when we shared the hashish, but I did not sell them. But when I brought back a kilo of grass from Morocco Summer 1962 I certainly did sell this.   

Tony and I hitchhiked from Paris to Gibraltar summer 1962. This itself was quite an adventure, as you can imagine. When we arrived in Tangier from the Ferry we went to a tea house and a mature Moroccan guy came and sat with us and asked if we wanted to try some kif. We enthusiastically said yes, and he a rolled a joint of pure grass for us. It was lovely, strong, light headed stuff and we sat there smiling. The grass fell out of the end of the finished butt and I surreptitiously tried to sweep it into my hand. The guy brushed it off the table and said firmly “Here in Tangier we don’t smoke kif twice!”  

We used to joke that they only smoked the kif to dilute the very strong tobacco they smoked it with, called perique. Aleister Crowley used to smoke perique soaked in rum, and he loved going to extremes. It is a dark, very strong variety of tobacco, and if you bought a little retail smoke bundle to self-chop it had about 3 stems of kif flowers and leaves tied together with a couple of much smaller dark leaves of cured perique. This was chopped finely and smoked in a long stemmed wooden pipe with a very small clay bowl.  


Moroccan Kif Pipes  

Luckily our first experience was just with the kif and not the tobacco mix which we tried later.  

Again, in Summer 1963 when I went back to Morocco with Tony. I bought 8 kilos of kif (grass) in the same seaside town of Larache. Going back to our room, Tony and I stripped it off the stems before packing it and we must have dumped 2 kilos of twigs. That was still 6 kilos we brought back to Paris. The journey back was a whole, other adventure story! I sold some there in Rue Hutchette (meeting Neil Winterbottom in the process) and sold 1 kilo to John Esam. But the bulk came back to England with me on the ferry.  

Summer 1964 I had a break from travelling with friends as I had just had my first cure that Spring. My friends went to Istanbul, Jordan, Lebanon and scored fine Lebanese hash in Baalbeck.  

It was probably in 1965 that I bought a pound of opium from a man who imported spices from the East to his store in Southall. Rather I bought 12 1/2 ounces because another guy took a 1/4 share, and the overall weight was generously 1/2 ounce over. Dave’s scales only went up to one pound, so when I cut off his 4 ounces we didn’t know it was fully 1/2 ounce over. It cost £70, my share 3/4 of that. This was just over £4 an ounce which was pretty damned cheap by anybody’s standards! I remember supplying a guy who supplied John Dunbar, Marianne Faithfull’s partner and manager. When the middle man was unavailable John came direct to me in Inglewood Road West Hampstead and was very suspicious of my price of £8 an ounce. He sniffed and tasted it, dubiously, because he was used to paying £16 an ounce.  

I gave a piece the size of an olive to my Persian friend Assad Raissi at Westminster college. He was a generous guy, always buying coffees and so on, so it was a way of reciprocating. He assured me he knew all about it, being a cool sort of guy. The next week I found he ate it all in one go and was sick the whole weekend. He hadn’t listened when I told him it was enough for about 6 goes!  

Summer 1965 seven of us travelled overland to Afghanistan and brought back about 6 kilos of hash between us. About 2 kilos were mine. (I also had 4 ounces of opium I smuggled back in my underpants when I flew in to Beirut from Kabul). We met Gabi in France and he concealed the stuff – Afghan discs of black hash – in a paint drum and took that back to the UK strapped to his motorbike. None of us felt we got our rightful shares back from Gabi as he was due to keep a sixth but ended up with more than any of the 4 of us involved got. It took me ages to work that out although I’m a mathematician, but I trusted him and couldn’t believe he would cheat us. In retrospect I don’t think he consciously cheated us, he just kept the discs on which our markings of ownership were indistinct. But he insisted on doing it in private. One friend mistakenly posted some back to the UK from Paris and was caught. He got off with a fine but also an inconvenient record. (I didn’t know it then, but my card was also marked as ‘suspicious’, through association with him, as we travelled back to Paris together.)  

I should make it clear that bringing some dope back from these exotic places was just a side benefit. We went for the adventure, new cultures, new art, worlds we had only dreamed of, different music, exotic food, wonderful peoples. We also saw poverty, disease and learned that not everybody lives like we did in Hampstead. But to be honest, we also went for the dope and the dope culture.  

Summer 1966 F and I travelled overland back to Afghanistan and I brought back about 5 kilos of hash. F didn’t bring any. There were some hairy adventures getting it back to Paris where I left it with a girlfriend of Richard Gates in her flat near the Arc de Triomphe. Mick Parsons brought it back for me hidden in a hollow wooden drawing board, Bill’s great idea. Mick stole more from me than Gabi, but I wasn’t that surprised. He was a bit like that!  

The last time I brought any dope back was Easter 1968. My girlfriend Maggi and I travelled to Istanbul and then on to Gazientep, where friends had established a connection. The prices had gone up and for £50 all we could get was 2.1 Kg of the best stuff. (The top guy said that Gabi always bought the no. 2 stuff, which was 15% cheaper.  We only wanted the best!) So we brought that back with us on the Orient Express to Paris. Far from glamorous, riding that train without a sleeper carriage over 3 days was squalid and exhausting. But we made it back. Back in England things went from bad from worse and we sunk into addiction and had to part Summer 1968 to my great sorrow (well, she dumped me!). Before then Maggi had a tin with 20 oz of our Turkish hash stolen by a guy called Max. Maggie and I went our separate ways and it took me a full year to straighten out. By Autumn 1969 I had given up all drugs, but when Max came back from Afghanistan with 100 kg of hash. Pete Rasini – the sweetheart – said to Max “Why don’t you replace the dope you took from Paul and Maggi? That would be a nice thing to do.” Max gave Maggi 1 pound, and although married to Tony, and 15 months on from our split, honourably she contacted me to give me my half. Selling that was the last dealing I ever did. Actually Maggi and I were good friends until her premature death.  

I guess I was lucky to get away with it, but I did give it all up before it got really hairy. In the Summer of 1969 I had my last mad fling – a drug binge with Alan Shoobridge in Tangier for three weeks. I made a sort of deal with a shop to buy 20 pairs of leather slippers with about 4 oz of hash sewn into the sole. But although I had given them half the money, I got a premonition that it would end badly, so I cancelled the deal. I took some dope to smoke there instead, for my money. Probably one of the best decisions I have made. People were getting caught bringing dope back. Paul de Mille had tried to bring a bunch of stuffed leather camel toys with kif in them back from Morocco, or posted them, I forget, and got busted, a year or two before. (I was in his address book so that was another ‘strike’ against me noted by the home office.) It was not a smart time to take risks, even though most people were getting through, especially as I was dressed like a hippie. Indeed I was a hippie!  

Because my name was in Paul’s address book I was listed as ‘suspicious’ in the Home Office files. I was also interviewed by customs and excise agents Mr Cutting and Mr Cooney, when my friend was done for posting the Afghan stuff in 1965. Lynn Ellis’s parents had also falsely reported me in 1964/5 for turning their daughter onto drugs. In fact when we hooked up she was on a methadone treatment and it was her giving me a bit now and then that helped opened the door to my eventual re-addiction. These three things were used against me by the police when they recommended turning down my citizenship application to the Home Office, in 1968. They were very decent about it and suggested I withdraw my application. But I refused to do, stupidly thinking it was an admission of guilt! Of course they were right, I was deeply involved in drugs, even if none of the circumstantial evidence proved it. But as the policeman said “just one of these reports could have been a mistake. But three reports – too much to be a coincidence!” As John Buchan wrote “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.”  (Goldfinger quotes this!). But in 1990 my next application went through smooth as silk, thank god!  Have you seen what they do to immigrants these days? Monstrous. But I was clean and respectable by then!  

When Mr Cutting and Mr Cooney interviewed me in my home, in the 1965 build up to my friend’s smuggling case, one of them took a disc of hash out of his case and addressed me. “It’s not the money value of this that gets me, it’s all the misery in a piece like this!” he said, waving the disc. I really had to battle to keep a straight face. I thought of all the laughter and joy in it!  

In the summer of 1969 when I went to Tangier I took a bottle with 120 trips of LSD in it, that Quentin Theobald had synthesised in his Hythe lab. I didn’t feel in the right state to take it myself, so I sold it among the hippies of Tangier. Quentin was of course caught later and ended up in the clink doing a seven stretch. In the 1970s when I was back into studying mathematical logic I sent him logic and philosophy books in jail. He passed his Logic ‘A’ level inside. After that we sort of lost touch, but I heard he was killed in Ibiza. A brilliant chemist and a lovely guy!  

Other friends went on to smuggle large quantities of hash in the 70s and Mick Parsons, Viv Schutzman, Bernie Osgood and Danny de Souza got jailed separately in Iran and Turkey. Mick also ended up in Russian Jail. He was swapped in a spy exchange deal as small change when the British Government got ‘businessman’ Greville Wynn back. Another friend I met in the 1970s at Sussex University, who knew some of the 1960s crowd as well, was Howard Marks. I sort of lost touch with him, and then for a while he was a huge smuggler of cannabis, loading rock groups’ equipment with tons of dope to transport it. He also did deals with the IRA to bring it in through Ireland, and even claimed to be working for the British secret services. As everybody knows he got caught after dodging the law for a while. He served 5 or 7 years and turned his USA jail-time for smuggling into a very successful writing career. They made a movie of his autobiography Mr. Nice with Rhys Ifans, who I bump into in Deya, Mallorca. There were others involved too who I will gloss over as, unlike some of those named above, they are still alive and well, and I hasten to add, fully reformed for over 30 years!  Check out the book ‘Recollections of a Racketeer’. Much of it is true!  

Me, I felt I was just a slightly overgrown juvenile delinquent, that grew up in time. These guys turned it into serious organised crime. And paid the price.  

Well that’s transgression!  And I never even got around to talking about intellectual transgression – reading banned books, banned works of literature (Joyce, Donleavy, Burroughs & the Beats, Nabokov, Durrell, Miller, etc), exciting theories (Marxism, Tibetan Buddhism, Freud & psychoanalysis, Janov, Reich, structuralism, post-structuralism, situationism), not to mention Dada, surrealism, modernism, pop-art, abstract expressionism, the list of boundary breaking movements goes on and on. 

The next really transgressive movement was Punk! By 1976 when Punk was overturning good taste in music, fashion, behaviour I was already a maths teacher at Hampstead Comprehensive School, Westbere Road, West Hampstead, with a masters degree in mathematical logic under my belt and on the way to a doctorate. (My dear friend Tony who I shared Moroccan and Afghan adventures with was also teaching science there!) I had to admire the raw energy and anger of Punk, alongside the cinema of Derek Jarman, the last really transgressive movement in popular music and culture, before it got assimilated into consumerism and capitalism, the way Elvis and Rock and Roll had. Now everybody wears ripped (distressed) jeans as the latest fashion (for 20 years!) that the Punks pioneered as a riposte to fashion, consumerism and bourgeois taste!  And I’m a senior 76 year old academic member of the establishment – but I remember how wild we were, and what bonds of friendship we forged through our escapades! Once rule breakers – now rule makers!

I could argue that transgression – stepping over forbidden boundaries – limitations on taste, behaviour, even ethics – is required for creativity. Thinking outside the box is necessary for forging new links, expanding knowledge, constructing new understandings. But then again, it night just sound like sophistry: self-justification for bad behaviour!

This is an extract from The Witches Cauldron website



Paul Ernest

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