This is in essence a true story and I hope that, in slightly different form, it will form one of the chapters in “Twenty Five”, a biography of a man growing up on the wrong side of the law in the Sixties and Seventies. License has been taken with the time line, memory being what it is, some names have been changed and some of the things that happen within the body of the story have been slightly fictionalised to compensate for any gaps. The facts remain broadly the same.
These stories aren’t meant to glamourise the life of Colin Cross, in the main the things that happened to him during this period of his life had consequences that weren’t to his benefit. What I have tried to do is impart some of the flavour of the time and to also offer an insight into a lifestyle that few readers will have experienced.
At the start of the summer of 1973 I was a bit down on my luck. I’d won bail pending my appeal against a conviction for possessing hash with intent to supply but in the six weeks that I had been in Canterbury prison things in Deal had radically changed.
I’d left prison with hardly a penny to my name and nothing to raise a stake. On my way up the greasy pole that was early 70’s dope dealing I had started out as a “mule”. Taking ounces on credit from a couple of local dealers and cutting them into £1 deals. This precarious but financially rewarding “business” had often made me £40 to £50 profit in a weekend. From that point a loose partnership had been formed. I had still done most of the scut work but was increasingly trusted to take the train up to London to see a guy called Andy Cunliffe, he lived in one of those old flats just off Old Street and had been a “face” on the London dope scene since the late 1950’s . Andy generally had a decent stash of dope to sell from or, if not, he always knew someone who had. That’s how I met Frank and Ken in Chalk Farm, but that’s a different story. I’d been arrested in a cafe, one of my companions had dumped a bag of nine one pound deals on the floor under the table where we were sat and a detective had said he’d seen me do it. He hadn’t and we would later prove that to the appeal court, but again that’s another story in itself.
Six weeks was a long time in the early 70’s “hippy” world, the two dealers who I had been partners with were both now on remand in Brixton Prison for attacking a guy who had tried to rip them off. Unluckily for them, as they were administering a nasty beating the Drug Squad had decided to raid the guys flat. Affray and possession of a large quantity of hash and speed meant they were looking at serious custodial time.
Andy had, at the same time, dropped everything and decided to move to Southern Africa in pursuit of what he saw as a new life. London was getting, to use the parlance,” heavy”. More and more “real” criminals, attracted by the easy money to be had from the massive dope, acid and speed markets were moving into what had up until now been a quite laid back experience. Consequently the chance of getting robbed or set up in a sting was becoming increasingly likely, especially for those dealing in weight.
Andy had, early in 1973, taken delivery of a large consignment of herbal cannabis (weed) said to have been grown in Malawi. The dope was rumoured to have come into the UK via the Rhodesian Embassy with the help of Alec Smith, the son of the Rhodesian Prime Minister. Whether true or not, what was certain was that there was a lot of it and the quality was excellent. Andy, believing it to be the finest dope of it’s kind that he had ever tried decided the only way he could guarantee a supply was to move to where it was grown. Some years later I heard that Andy had worked for a number of years as a manager for a mining company in the Southern African highlands, had married an African woman and retired before eventually passing away a very contented and stoned man.
The Farrier Street squat had been a great find. Ranelagh Road, a three story squat with lots of rooms, was coming to an end, the owners were becoming more forceful in their demands for the return of the property and the police were now turning up on a regular basis, harassing people and bringing everyone down. It hadn’t helped that the Dive Bar, situated in the cellar of a large hotel was in the next road. Closing time meant lots of people arriving for an impromptu party three or four nights a week, something that didn’t go down very well with some of the other neighbours.
Tom, a good friend at the time, who had been living down the coast in Folkstone but had just split up from his French wife was the first to recognise the potential of Farrier Street and carefully carried out a recce. Cash was raised, new locks installed and the damaged window repaired. Possession (nine tenths of the law) was taken late one evening. Ranelagh Road was abandoned and Tom and I were pretty confident that we’d found a place to live for up to six months, if previous experience was anything to go by.
Within days of word getting out that there was a partially furnished house with easy but secure access available every room had been taken. Joe and Andy, who had both been in one of the Ranelagh Road flats moved in with their girlfriends, taking up two of the three bedrooms. Big Mal Ayres and his latest “chick” took the third bedroom. This wasn’t considered an ideal situation, Mal was another volatile character, but he had filled the void left in the dope trade following the arrest of my erstwhile partners, which made it easier to accept.
Tom and I were sharing the large downstairs front room, the mattresses we used for sleeping, when folded, doubled up as seating and there were cushions and bean bags for guests to utilise. The rest of the rooms, a large kitchen diner and a bathroom formed the communal areas. The walls were decorated with posters and album sleeves and there was a decent enough music system in our room. Me and Debbie (Andy’s girlfriend) did most of the cooking. Vegetable stews created from the proceeds of allotment raids supplemented by rice and pasta dishes being the order of most days.
Life took on the routine that had existed in previous squats. People got up whenever they felt like it, visitors who had come to score but then stayed over went home or, more often than not, continued to stay until their dope or their cash ran out. Those of us that were living there spent our time smoking dope, listening to music and making cash from dealing. Mal had been buying his weight from a contact in Dover but I convinced him that the risks of allowing me to travel to London to score for him were outweighed by the quality of the gear I could score and the lower price I could pay. I changed employer and accepted the risk of being the man with the pound deals. I was earning again and the lure of the pub was also part of the lifestyle but I had to be careful, the Kent drug squad weren’t happy that I was out and I knew that if they got the chance to catch me in possession they’d take it. I loved it though, in my mind I suppose I believed I was something of a benevolent character, challenging silly laws and supplying what people wanted. This type of mindset wasn’t peculiar back then and I doubt it is now.
Smoking dope, drinking, sleeping, eating, smoking more dope, dropping the occasional tab of acid, doing speed, drinking, sleeping, smoking dope and, very occasionally, getting off with a female of the species and indulging in an hour, a day or even a couple of days of drink and drug fuelled debauchery was my life. We’d wash up when the pots were dirty and tidy up when the mess got too much, every week or so we do a big “bag wash” and then continue in our routine. Friday and Saturday nights usually ended up with 20 or 30 people at the squat having a party. Couples paired off, people rolled spliffs, sometimes competing with how many skins we could use to make a “super joint” or maybe one in the shape of a cross, three spliffs, coming off a central cardboard filter (a roach) preferably each one containing a different type of hash or weed.
So it was on one particular Saturday night, we’d been to the Dive Bar and come back to the squat. I’d sort of got off with a girl that I’d had my eye on for a long time. We’d kissed and fumbled but, in the end, whether because we were both too out of it or because she didn’t really fancy me beyond knowing I was good for some gear, that’s as far as it went. People were crashed out in various places and that’s how it was when we eventually woke up on the Sunday about mid-morning. The sun was out and it looked like being a beautiful day. A quick nip down the street for a couple of loaves of bread and to steal some milk from a doorstep provided an impromptu breakfast, a couple of spliffs set us up for the day to come. The girl I was with, one of three good looking young women that all shared the same initials, seemed to offer some hope that things might progress. I had a bath and we (Tom, Andy, Debbie, Sally Smith and a couple of others) headed for the beach to smoke some more dope before heading to one of the quieter local pubs, The Three Compasses, for a couple of drinks.
In part two of this story we find out just how easy it is to do something you come to regret and just how grave the potential consequences are.
To be Continued.
© Coloniescross 2018