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Dope In The Age of Innocence by Damien Enright (Liberties Press 2010)

Despite an expansive literature about beatniks and hippies there are still many gaps in the history of the counterculture. Damien Enright's account of his life in the first half of the sixties partially plugs one of those holes. Enright spent much of this period exploring inner space on the Balearic Islands of Ibiza and Formentera. Inbetween he worked for and scammed money in London. Then at the very end of 1964, the van in which he was transporting cannabis from Turkey to Formentera was stopped at the border. This was the largest dope bust in Spain up to that time. Enright got away but his companion Carlo Kominski was busted, the dope lost – and after endless travails and several 'dark nights of the soul' the weary narrator arrived safely back in London via Ibiza.

Enright's story will entertain anyone with an interest in the early years of the counterculture or who enjoys the true crime subgenre of drug books. Dope In The Age Of Innocence more than holds its own against titles such as Mr Nice by Howard Marks, and is a good counterbalance to works that distort the early history of beatnik and hippie drug dealing in order to big up their very unreliable narrators. Like true crime books in general, druggie autobiographies do not on the whole stand up to close scrutiny. That said, I still think it is worth working through books that touch upon the drug using and dealing circle around my mother Julia Callan-Thompson, even when they are as patently ridiculous as The Barry Ellis Story. Enright's autobiography is far better than Mr Nice or The Barry Ellis Story, and is particularly appealing to me because my mother has a cameo role in it. Here her name has been changed from Julie to Kathy, while one of her boyfriends of the early sixties whose real name is Geoff Thompson becomes 'Shy' Bernard Price. Enright has a fair amount of setting up to do before we first meet my mother (pages 76-77):

"I had an old Morris, and to help pay the gas I took aboard an English couple, a pale and high-foreheaded nerd called Bernard, and his girlfriend Scatty Kathy, who lived in a whole different world from his. How they came together, who knows. She worked nightclubs while he was doing a doctorate in philosophy at Cambridge. They weren't easy passengers. Kathy especially, who liked pills, but I was cock-a-hoop to be back on the road and when Kathy, a hard-nosed girl, started to argue about how much they'd agreed to pay me, I stopped the car abruptly and invited them to either pay up right then or get out and walk the last hundred kilometres to Barcelona. In Barcelona things warmed again and I decided to tell them about Ibiza – which I had planned not to do – and they couldn't wait to join me on the boat. That was how Bernard and Kathy found Ibiza. They got into smoking kief, and Bernard turned into a very different philosopher. Later, back in London we all became close friends."

Geoff Thompson AKA Bernard did not attend Cambridge; he was a public school boy studying philosophy at University College London. This detail may have been changed to further obscure Thompson's real identity, or it could just be an error. The same goes for the description of my mother and her boyfriend as an English couple; Thompson was English whereas my mum was Welsh with an Irish background on both sides of her family. These changes of detail illustrate the difficulty of using not just Enright's book but most drug memoirs as historical sources: names and other details are often changed and as a consequence, it can become impossible to check their accuracy against other documentary material.

To continue teasing apart Enright's first paragraph about my mother, my impression is she'd smoked dope by the end of the fifties. I'd be very surprised indeed if it was Enright who first turned her on to it in 1962 (this may not be what he intended to say or indeed is explicitly saying - but to me it seems to be the implication of this passage when it is read in the context of the whole book). Similarly, Enright's description of my mother as 'hard-nosed' is at least in part a result of her coming from a very different background to him – and is in my view a little unfair, if not necessarily wrong (since it is an impression not a 'fact'). Around the time of her first trip to Ibiza, two of my uncles (my mother's brothers) were in jail and she was providing members of the family with money to visit them hundreds of miles from their home as my grandfather (her father) was unable to do so having lost his job after being caught drunk on whisky he had stolen while at work as a stevedore on the Newport docks. Despite the fact that back then my mother was a teenager who'd left home just two years earlier, she was sending much needed dosh to our family in South Wales, whereas Enright's father had been providing him with dough to live on for periods of up to a year. I doubt my mother would have spoken to Damien about this, but it puts her actions in perspective. If she was 'hard-nosed' with people she perceived as privileged – such as the posh johns she met in hostess clubs – she was nonetheless extremely generous to her own family, and indeed acquaintances she knew to be hard up.

The contents of an email I received from Enright on January 19 2003, further illustrate the difficulties of relying on memory when writing an autobiography:

"I first met Geoff and Julie when they were introduced to me in Henekey's Pub in Portobello Rd. as wanting to go to Spain and being prepared to share gas expenses. I had an old car. I told them I was going to Ibiza. Nobody much knew about Ibiza in London in '62... but they liked what they heard and decided to come all the way. I remember nothing of the trip, except that we had an altercation somewhere on the Spanish border when I asked for some money. They wanted to pay less than agreed; from my point of view, they had got so far and were now trying to short change me; Julie was, I'm afraid, the main culprit…"

Whether Enright first told my mother about Ibiza in London or Barcelona is not a detail of any great significance – but it raises interesting questions. Since the book appears to have been written after Enright sent me this email in 2003, should I take what he said to me then as correct since it seems to be an earlier memory, or did working on his book lead him to revise a faulty recollection? In this instance we're dealing with a trivial issue but it does raise some curious questions for anyone interested in historical research. I should also stress that the email I'm quoting from is a long one and beyond some names having been changed (such as that of Enright's second wife and an American identified by the first name Mel in the book), most of the details in this 2003 message match those in Dope In The Age Of Innocence.

Enright ends one chapter by saying (page 75): "I offered to turn Mike on but he'd have none of it. Nobody we knew, except our Irish friend smoked dope. Dope hadn't yet arrived in London." While this no doubt appears correct from Enright's perspective - and possibly most of those from similar backgrounds to him - it isn't true when applied universally as appears to be happening here. To clarify, in his autobiography Enright describes himself as the son of a senior Irish civil servant, and as having begun but failed to complete medical training after being privately educated at a Dublin boarding school. Friends of my mother – such as Terry Taylor – had come into contact with dope culture as far back as the late-forties. Terry, like my mother, is working class. Cultural and linguistic innovations tend to come from the lower orders in any society, since they don't have a vested interest in the status quo. On the whole the writers who've chronicled the London counterculture have come from privileged backgrounds, and mostly they're completely blind to its working class roots in the British modern jazz scene. Likewise, it should go without saying that in the fifties and early sixties dope was far from unknown among immigrant communities in London.

Moving on, when describing the period from the end of 1962 into 1963, Enright recalls (pages 89-90):

"One day I spot a familiar figure boppin' down Portobello Road … It is Mel, whom I know from early days in Ibiza, a lanky American who lives for music… He knows nobody in London but has a shoebox of Ketama grass from the Rif Mountains of Morocco and a steady line in inner-consciousness rap. He wants to sell some of the grass to stake him out for a few months in England. I have no commercial connections but my friend Bernard knows some university people who'll buy dope.

"Evening after evening all that winter, we smoke and rap in Bernard's two-room pad off Westbourne Grove. Shy Bernard of the high-forehead, Kathy his night-club-hostess girl, ganglin' Mel, born in an Army camp in Missouri, Hanna and me, to the dark, velvet background of Mingus music, through the deep London evenings, we talk about everything under the skull, all the agonies, ecstasies, aspirations that we know. I arrive at Bernard's when I've finished teaching and Hanna meets me there after work. Occasional excursions are made into the Outside, into the great out-of-doors, sociological expeditions, a bus to Leicester Square to the movies, straight London observed through stoned eyes. We may stop into a pub for a pint afterwards, but we drink hardly at all.

"We talk about existentialism and how we act in the world, about the Theosophists, Guardjieff and Ouspensky, about The Dawn of Magic and Chariots of the Gods. We conclude that there are more things in heaven and earth than we have dreamt of in our philosophics – out the window with Descartes: look to the East. We read The Phenomenon of Man, Magister Ludic, The Tao Te Ching. We consider the possibility that other parts of the mind can be reached where there is another knowledge, where this charade can be seen from afar. But the workings of the stoned mind are also observed, examined and laughed at. Self-consciousness and paranoia are laughed at; they are the pot-head's disease, the price we pay…

"In the smoky, top-floor room with the bed on the floor at one end and windows looking down on the tops of the London plane trees, we'd sit around in the half-dark, with the jazz playing softly, and talk, with total openness about our loves and fears. Around eight o'clock, Kathy would disappear into the back room and shortly emerge in her finery and sit on the bed and do her eyes and put on her false eyelashes and get ready to go out to the clubs. We'd disperse soon afterwards, to meet next evening, and take up the theme again. Hanna, who trusted intuitions more than words, wasn't always as enthusiastic as I was about this scene."

The top floor flat was at 24 Bassett Road. This is off Ladbroke Grove rather than Westbourne Grove - Enright seems to slightly alter locations as well as names, presumably due to a deep fear of libel laws. I'd call the flat my mother's pad rather than Geoff/Bernard's – since it was she who found it and rented it towards the end of 1961, bringing a reluctant Geoff/Bernard with her from a single room in Islington. If the small group who gathered there in the winter of 1962/63 read The Dawn of Magic by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier this was presumably in the original French since the English translation did not appear until May 1963; it is possible they read it in translation the moment it was published, as Enright didn't leave London for the Balearic Islands until July 1963, but the period he identifies as being the one in which it was read is just prior to the appearance of its English translation. We can be certain Enright, my mother and their friends didn't read Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Däniken at this time, since the book wasn't published until 1968! My initial guess that Enright - like many of those who write autobiographies - wrongly figured there was no need to research his own life, is at least partially confirmed by an interview he gave to Brighid Hourican about his memoir:"I didn't have any notebooks from the period, and I didn't need them. I am so clear on the whole story, it's amazing." ('Fear and loathing in Ibiza', Irish Independent, 26 December 2010). Memory alone is unreliable and factual slips of the type Enright has made are inevitable without proper research and/or a conscientious editor.

After spending the summer in Ibiza and Formentera, where he met Bruno de Galzain (destined to be one of the two great loves of my mother's life – the other being Malcolm 'Grainger' Drake), Damien and Hanna returned to London with their small baby Aoife. This is where my mother Julie/Kathy re-enters the narrative (pages 99-100):

"Kathy told us that she could get Hanna a job working as a hostess in the clubs at night, when I'd be home and could look after Aoife. Hanna agreed. I wasn't sure – she was no good time girl like Kathy. However, she was brave: it was a chance to make us real money and so she went for an interview at an upmarket place on Piccadilly, passed and was given a chit for a weekly hair-do. She was told what to wear and issued with a dress allowance. When invited by a customer to his table, she would sit with him and get him to order bottles of champagne. Hostesses were instructed to refuse any other drink and the more champers the punter bought, the more bread the hostess made. Then, there were tips. They had to hustle for these because the wages weren't great: there was some sort of hostess fee….

"…The hostesses were allowed to give their phone numbers and they were often asked to 'parties' afterwards. The girls weren't obliged to fuck the clients, that was not a condition of employment, but some did – including Kathy herself, so Hanna gathered, when the deal was right. Hanna didn't – which must have been damn disappointing for the guys who'd spent the evening buying her bottles of champagne at who knows how much a pop…"

By April 1964 the Enright family had enough dough to return to Spain. Although my mother visited the Balearic Islands most summers during this period, she doesn't appear in Enright's accounts of his time in Ibiza and Formentera. However, what he says about the scene there does gel with various diary entries Julia/Kathy wrote about beatnik life there. An undated entry from my mother's diary:

Full moon in Sagittarius
I put an orange felt tip on yellow paper -
Feeling out trying one more time to catch
this fleeting high - consciousness, what's that?
the red in the shooter, pumping pushing to
get that so wanted high
Eating Canary figs
I think of you

Other visitors to Formentera during the sixties have told me that the counterculture clique there was very male dominated, which is why my mother breaks the name of the island up and slightly alters its spelling at the end of this occasional piece from her diary – because it is a 'land for men'! Enright's description of the drug scene at my mother's Bassett Road flat sounds about right too, and matches what I know of it from other sources. Having left Hanna and his daughter in Formentera, Enright returns to London in the late summer of 1964 to do traveller's cheque scams. He turns up in Bassett Road with two friends, Rick and Carlo, all needing a place to stay: (page 106-108):

"Bernard agreed to put us up for the night and asked if we'd brought any dope from Spain. To Rick's consternation, I produced a last small piece of my Moroccan, enough for two joints…. When I produced the serious lump of Turkish hash Mike had given me, smiles broke out all round. It was great dope… We smoked and talked about Formentera and mystic things and philosophies, the books we wanted to buy, and where to get them. I let Bernard tell the visitors where to find the bookshops."

"Kathy arrived and she and Rick and Carlo got to talking about methadrine, which was injectable speed, and various other such shit I knew nothing about. Americans tended to know more about injectabales; there'd been a junkie culture there for a long time. Neither Rick nor Carlo had ever been strung out and I thought their interest was a bit weird, given they had taken acid. What were they doing looking to score that shit? But maybe they were holidaying. Kathy said she was going to the clubs that night and would try to score some."

"I was into going back to Henekey's, but neither Rick, Carlo nor Bernard had eyes for that: they just wanted to sit and smoke some more of the Turkish…. Sunday evening, about six o'clock… Kathy came back from wherever she'd been the night before, bearing drugs in ampoules. Rick and Carlo set about fixing themselves up…. Carlo offered to fix me up and I agreed…. I felt the rush, the wave of warmth that spread through every atom in my body like a tide, the warm womb-like comfort and I smiled and said, in a distant voice, 'Wow, where can I get more of this shit?' I heard my friends laughing… peace and love was amongst us, like we were touched by the Holy Ghost."

Of course, and as Enright points out, coming down from speed isn't so smooth, but it was mellowed out with hash on this occasion. At other times my mother would smooth her come downs out from both speed and LSD with smack (and ended up addicted to heroin), but Enright doesn't appear to have witnessed this. Something he does describe is her throwing him the keys to the flat from her window on more than one occasion – when she does this on page 127 she's described as being dressed 'in foufou bedroom slippers and a kimono'. Enright and his friends bought and cashed traveller's cheques in London, but claimed to have lost them, and by this means repeatedly doubled their money - since they were able to cash the reissued cheques supplied to cover their 'losses', as well as the original cheques which they lied about losing. This is described as being easy to do in England where fewer identity checks were required. Enright wanted to pull the same scam in Europe but to do it he required someone else's disownable ID (page 115): "My plan was to approach Bernard and ask him to 'lose' his passport and not to report it missing until I'd used it for a day. I'd offer him a hundred quid and the price of a replacement. It was a good deal, no danger to him, and he agreed." My mother helped in other ways (page 120): "Kathy had told me about a new shop called Biba's in Abingdon Road where I could get something nice for Hanna." Meanwhile, the ongoing drug sessions at 24 Bassett Road were such a smash that (page 128):

"Rick and Carlo asked Kathy if she could get them some more heavy drugs. Carlo wanted to try heroin… I couldn't help Rick and Carlo score smack. They knew that Bernard was acquainted with Alex Trocchi, the guy who wrote Cain's Book about New York junkie life, and they asked him if he would hit on Trocchi on their behalf. I drove them all to Vicarage Gardens where Trocchi lived and while the others waited in the car, I went upstairs with Bernard: I'd read the book and wanted to catch a glimpse of the master. Poor Trocchi looked like death warmed up, with sores and grey skin: he was the physical refutation of any romantic view Carlo might be entertaining about heroin. Furthermore, he wouldn't come across with any drugs. I wasn't unhappy about that. If they'd got it, I'd have tried it…"

There are lots of texts about Trocchi and the counterculture which document the fact that from the mid-sixties until his death in 1984 he lived in Observatory Gardens - and not Vicarage Gardens. I'm sure Enright knows this too - he seems to change London street locations by choosing a nearby road that features the same second word. Thus according to Dope In The Age Of Innocence my mother lived off Westbourne Grove when she actually lived in Bassett Road off Ladbroke Grove. My guess is these changes were made to placate libel lawyers - but they have the unfortunate effect of seriously undermining the usefulness of the book to anyone trying to do historical research, even if they are heavily clued up about much of the material before they start.

Trocchi isn't the only relatively easily recognised name to crop up in Dope In The Age Of Innocence. There are Balearic Island cameos by such Dutch counterculture luminaries as Bart Hughes, Jan Cramer and even the latter's nemesis Simon Vinkenoog. The art forger Elmyr de Hory and his French-Egyptian dealer Fernand Legros also appear; Enright's descriptions of their movements and whereabouts don't quite match my memories of how these are detailed in Clifford Irving's Fake: The Story of Elmyr de Hory the Greatest Art Forger of Our Time (McGraw Hill, New York 1969). I won't make an issue of this or even properly crosscheck the material in question, since Irivng has been shown to be unreliable as a source elsewhere. When reading Dope In The Age Of Innocence, I realised I'd heard a number of variants on some of Enright's tales from other less reputable sources. Bruno de Galzain in particular appears to have adapted some of them to embroider his own life story. Enright definitely catches the mindset of my mother's circle, their obsession with drugs as a tool with which to explore inner space, and he is clearly a more reliable guide in such matters than the likes of de Galzin. Dope In The Age Of Innocence contains a really hilarious - and I'd guess accurate - sketch of de Galzain and his then girlfriend Desiree Schoonhoven, a woman whose place my mother was about to take in this French national's affections (page 148):

"Bruno and Desiree arrived with a bottle of farmhouse wine and passed it around. Bruno, waving the bottle, said something like, 'My friends, my ambition is to attain Nirvana and then snuff out like a mosquito in a pissoir. There he is and – zap! – there his isn't, floating on piss to the enormous sea…' His eyes widened, and he laughed at us. Desiree's arms and legs were so long and her clothes so tight, she looked like a stick-insect towering over Bruno."

While Bruno and Desiree appear here under their own names, as I've noted, others don't. As I say above, my guess is that Enright changed the personal details of those described as engaging in criminal activity – living or dead. In the case of Enright's second wife, the illegal activity amounts to no more than using recreational drugs and aiding him when he was a fugitive from Spanish 'justice'. As for Berndard Price AKA Geoff Thompson, there are clearly no libel issues because he is a convicted dope smuggler, as I detail in a footnote to a piece I wrote about psychedelic culture in London entitled Voices Green & Purple:

"While invoking Graham Plinston's 1970 bust in Lorrach as a key event in the Howard Marks story, both David Leigh in his authorized biography High Time: The Life & Times of Howard Marks (London: Unwin, 1985), and Howard Marks in his autobiography Mr Nice (London: Vintage, 1998) omit to mention that rather than being alone, Plinston was arrested and subsequently jailed alongside Geoff Thompson.

"In his autobiography, Howard Marks is two months out in his dating of the Lorrach bust. The fact that Marks and those drawing on his recollections get their facts wrong can be demonstrated easily enough by consulting press reports of the time. A Reuters news agency wire of 18 March 1970 led, for example, to coverage on page 5 of the London Times the following day headlined Britons Held On Drugs Charge. This report makes it clear that both Plinston and Geoff Thompson were in jail after the discovery of 'about 105lbs of hashish in their car', and that they had been arrested upon entering Germany 'from Switzerland on February 26.' The Times piece explicitly cites information contained within it as being provided by a British consulate spokesman in Stuttgart, and the authorities notified Thompson and Plinston's families of the arrests before speaking to the press about them."

"Therefore it is ridiculous of David Leigh to assert in his authorised Howard Marks biography High Time that in the spring of 1970 Mandy Plinston sent Marks to Frankfurt to investigate her dope smuggling partner's disappearance. As should already be clear, Mandy Plinston knew of the bust before Howard Marks; as did my mother Julia Callan-Thompson, my mother's boyfriend of the time Bruno de Galzain, Geoff Thompson's partner of the time Jane Ripley, Charlie Radcliffe, Alex Trocchi and many others immersed in the London counterculture. The claim made by Leigh and some later writers to the effect that Howard Marks learnt of the bust by looking through German newspapers in Frankfurt, and then relayed this 'discovery' back to the UK, is utterly spurious. Its reiteration demonstrates the rather dubious status of a number of texts that claim to provide inside information on the dope trade."

While I do think that Enright has got things wrong here and there, I view these as honest errors rather than the deliberate lies and evasions of those who set out to big up their role in the drug culture. Enright certainly isn't guilty of overplaying his role in dope smuggling- and the jury is still out on whether he is underplaying it. For both this reason, and many others, Dope In The Age of Innocence is a far more rewarding read than Mr Nice and its ilk. If you're interested in the underbelly of the counterculture, or the Balearic Island scene of the early sixties, this book will take you there. It has some flaws - and the pointless changing of many names and locations is really irritating - but it still beats most of the competition… Likewise it is one of the few books to contain explicit depictions of my mother, even if her name has been altered. And my mother being in the book is a definite plus as far as I'm concerned!

Dope in the Age of Innocence by Damien Enright (Liberties Press, Dublin) was published in Eire on 9 December 2010.

Ibiza in the Beatnik & Hippie Eras

Ladbroke Grove & 24 Bassett Road in the 1960s

Terry Taylor's cult 1961 London drug novel Baron's Court, All Change

Alex Trocchi's State of Revolt

London Psychedelic Culture in the 1960s

The Real Dharma Bums (Julia Callan-Thompson & Bruno de Galzain)

London Art Tripping (psychogeography of 50 years of bohemianism)



Light Journalism & Humour

Books & Writing

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dope in the age of innocence by damien enright cover
Cover of Dope In The Age Of Innocence by Damien Enright.

dope in the age of innocence by damien enright original unused cover
Unused design for the cover of Dope In The Age Of Innocence by Damien Enright.

photo portrait of damien enright
Damien Enright as he is today.

This is the Liberties Press capsule biography of Damien Enright: "After thirty-two years living in exotic overseas places, Damien Enright returned to Ireland in 1990. He has written a weekly environmental column in the Irish Examiner for almost twenty years. His book A Place Near Heaven: A Year in West Cork received widespread critical acclaim, as has his series of eight walking guides. He regularly contributes to Irish and overseas magazines, and has written and presented RTÉ heritage programmes, including the series Enright's Way."

Julia Callan-Thompson working as a hostess at Churchill's Club, London 1964
Julia Callan-Thompson aged 20, working as a hostess at Churchill's Club in London, 1964.