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Extract 4: Getting Loaded (smuggling drugs)

Part of an edited series of excerpts from my memoir


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It’s impossible to have too much cannabis. That’s part of its seductive appeal. You might not even think that it’s addictive, but the harder it gets to find the best, the more you stockpile, as the humblest Amsterdam day-tripper learns within hours. And once you get into the grip of a serious habit, you need enough of a stash to stay properly high.

When I started smoking dope, I wasn’t bothered where it came from. This was handy as a teenager in north East England. Who knew what poisons lurked in tenner deals? If they left you leaden-headed, well, who cared? But the hash I found in India was different. The more I smoked, the more awake I felt. I was sure I could have done anything I chose. I just chose to do nothing.

‘Yes, YES!’ the local peddler would shout, wobbling a porn-star moustache above his doorstep. ‘You coming sitting smoking, yes!’

The shop was stocked with cobwebs and grime. More desirable wares were cached in a rusty fridge, and guarded by an opium-addled wraith. ‘How much?’ he’d leer at anyone summoned to see him. ‘One kilo? Very good!’ In time, you could haggle him down to an ounce of scraps. It cost ten bucks.

I longed for the ‘intense clear high’ of Himalayan charas. But it wasn’t to be found in Belgrade. The closest I’d got was buying €300 worth of formula. Three lugs on a joint and I’d had to stub it out. It left an aftertaste of bin-liners, with similarly asphyxiating side effects. Something oily had been added to make it go further. My partner said he’d help me get my money back, but his grudging tone deterred me. I’d inspected the piece before parting with the average monthly wage, so crying about it now served little purpose.

Instead, I’d need to source the pukka product.

The obvious place to go was Amsterdam, but carting drugs through Schiphol sounded risky. The airport crawled with dogs and armed police, and on arrival you’d surely be scrutinized, even in Serbia. I’d rather try out somewhere lower key. And where could sound less threatening than Switzerland?

To my surprise when I’d been stationed there for Reuters, the Swiss seemed almost as tolerant as the Dutch. Bags of weed were sold in shops as ‘potpourri’, and smuggled hash was easily bought in bulk. The difficult bit, of course, was how to import it.

It was a hippie who explained the best technique. ‘Of course, the gay guys have it easier,’ he’d winked. Anatomically, a hundred grams was feasible. It merely had to be molded into a bullet. Fifty might be comfier to start with. Wrapped in cling film and condoms, that would barely be the size of a couple of film canisters. ‘All you need is Vaseline,’ I’d been advised. ‘And first you smoke a joint and take a shit. Really it’s no big deal. Dress well, keep calm and smile when you walk through the customs.’

So I bought a ticket to Zurich, told the Times I’d scheduled an interview in the transit lounge, and flew off on expenses to pack my backside.

My departure from the dealer’s place was frantic. On a commuter tram to the station, I got straight to work with a bundle of plastic wrap. Shielding my lap with a newspaper, I swaddled each lump and wrapped them into a block, smoothing off the contours with more layers. Each successive sheet increased my pulse. I didn’t want to skimp on the cling film. It was hard to say which smell concerned me more, and I didn’t fancy chancing it with either. When I’d finished, my thousand-franc butt plug looked frighteningly wide.

In a toilet on the train to the airport, I double-bagged the bundle in condoms. The next bit wasn’t easy, but once the tip was in, the rest slid up. I realized this could work the other way. The lubricant was squelching hard already, and the pellet inside my crack felt like a stone. It was much too late to fret about that now.

‘I’m a foreign correspondent,’ I thought, my head full of sunshine. Everything went fine until the gate, where I discovered my mistake. I’d brought a wash bag, to look less conspicuous. Unfortunately, I forgot to check the contents.

A man in uniform was pointing to a cubicle. ‘Please step this way,’ he said.

My heart stopped on the spot.

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