Three years ago we were given a bag of skunk, Catriona and I, provenance Glasgow. It was one gigantic dried bud wrapped in polythene. Cannabis in any shape or form usually renders me paranoid, especially if I smoke it in company and there is conversation. I’ve come to hate it. The delusion is always the same: I become unconvinced by my persona, which seems to have been chosen at random from a number of equally eligible candidates, and now feels like a flimsy, hackneyed mask. If the paranoia intensifies, I fall under the further illusion that everyone in the room’s personas except mine are as ingrained as oak rings, and that the ludicrousness of my papier-mâché one is transparent to all.
The last time I smoked cannabis was three years ago. We had been out to dinner and had arrived home lit up. I put on some ska and we danced around the living room. Then I said, what about a joint of that Glasgow stuff we were given? Overriding Catriona’s reservations I skinned up, but cautiously, lacing the tobacco with a tiny amount. I took a drag, Catriona took a drag, I took a drag. We passed it between us while doing the twist. Catriona took a drag. Then she said she didn’t want any more and that she had to sit down for a bit. She lowered herself to the marble floor and sat down for a moment, then she lay down on her side in the foetal position.
Feeling full of beans, I continued to dance and took another couple of drags — the joint was down to about halfway — before I too felt the need to sit, which became a compulsion before I could reach a chair. I sat, then lay down on the cold floor about six feet away from Catriona, with my back to her, and before very long I realised I was completely paralysed. I couldn’t move any part of my body (except with great determination my eyelids), nor could I raise my cheek even a millimetre off the floor. Nor could I speak. And we lay like that, facing away from each other, unable to move a muscle, for several hours. And the extraordinary thing was that in spite of the physical paralysis, I wasn’t stoned or paranoid in the least. Yes, I thought we were going to die. Yes, I wondered how it would look to whoever found us and how it would be reported in the Var Matin. But my mind was sober and clear. After what felt like a very long time, I heard Catriona say weakly, ‘Can you get me a bucket?’ And after a huge effort to work my vocal chords, I heard myself answer her with, ‘I would, but I can’t move.’
It was getting light when Catriona regained enough power and control over her body to crawl very slowly across the floor, down the hall, and into the bedroom, then climb up on to the bed. I heard her go and marvelled at her determination. She estimated afterwards that it took her an hour to get from the living room floor to the bed. It was full daylight before I began to haul myself along the same route an inch at a time. When we woke side by side in bed at noon we were thankful and amazed that we were alive. And the recollection of the dramatic effect of such a tiny amount convinced us to not touch skunk, not with a barge pole, ever again.
The polythene-wrapped green-yellow bud stayed in the back of a drawer for three years and came to light again during the move to the cave house. The other evening we’d had a few and I foolishly said to Catriona that surely that horrible old Strontium 90 skunk must have lost a good deal of it’s potency after three years in the back of a drawer. So I laid a few specks on the tobacco, rolled it up, stuck a roll of cardboard in the end and lit up.
What happened this time under the influence was less dramatic but equally extraordinary. My limbs were unaffected, there was no paranoia, but scenes from my past bubbled into my consciousness with cinematic clarity. In one of these, I was back at SOAS, in the student union bar, seated at a table with George Napier, fellow student, best friend, and a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Great Britain. Also there was my politics tutor, Dr Tom Young, and one of his PhD students who was a passionate socialist. We were a kind of informal, beer drinking, politics debating society. And the terrible thing was that I saw myself in a golden, even heroic light and was so proud of myself that I boasted of it, garrulously, to Catriona. Simply appalling. The diabolical bud now rests at the bottom of the communal village poubelle.