Opium being harvested. Photo: Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images
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Suzanne Moore: As I munched on the opium, I pondered the benefits of a drugs-based economy

Jean-Claude had certainly not been in love with me when I was conscious.

When I set off for India I knew only two things: what I had read in Midnight’s Children and that Indians were mad for whisky. I wasn’t sure if the second thing was racist.

Suffice to say that I spent the first two nights in a fleapit in Delhi, terrified by men knocking on my door all night long. “Johnnie Walker,” they hissed. “Give it, madam.” I’d bought some in Abu Dhabi but I was too scared to open the door and sell it to them.

But I got into it when I realised that you could finance a trip to Nepal by bringing back whisky.

The bit no one ever told you was how everyone got stuck in Kathmandu. After a few months in India, Kathmandu was a paradise. Brownies. Lemon meringue pie. Burgers. The hippies had turned the locals on, not only to shooting up heroin, but the munchies. The economy was seemingly based on drugs and patisserie, although once you ventured further afield the medieval poverty of the villages was truly scary. We would scuttle back, usually sick and craving sweet things.

It seemed to be the ideal place then to start eating opium. I was sharing a room with Jean-Claude, a French guy whom I’d become mates with on the road, but was having a peculiar affair with Daba. He was a beautiful Tibetan ex-monk. I was entranced by his long, black hair and er ... spirituality.

Except, like all eldest sons, Daba had no choice about being a monk and there is little spiritual about Tibetan Buddhism as it is practised. Having left the monastery, he now belonged nowhere.

Daba seduced me as we drank out of an ancient silver samovar.

“What kind of tea is this?” I said, as it hit the back of my throat. He drank this all day.

It took a while for me to realise that Daba was a lost alcoholic. But lots of things took a while to dawn on me as I munched my sticky little balls of opium. I carried on drinking “tea” with Daba, trying to see if me and Jean-Claude could get a cheaper room, and waiting to feel something.

Some days later, I was woken up by being slapped round the face by Jean-Claude.

“I thought you were dead.”

He was in a right state. I’d slept for 72 hours. No dreams. Nothing.

This was a bit alarming, I could see that. Not as alarming as what he said next.

“I love you but you cannot live like this. I want to save you. I want you to understand Jesus.”

Jean-Claude had certainly not been in love with me when I was conscious.

That was the wake-up call all right. I was on the next coach out of Kathmandu, with a completely pissed Daba, propped up by a weeping Jean-Claude, waving me off.

It could have been worse. I had an entire suitcase full of Johnnie Walker. 

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 13 March 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Israel's Next War

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.