Friday, 7 January 2011


HOWARD Marks has gone to the pub.
I know this because I’ve arrived at his end-of-terrace childhood home in Kenfig Hill when my phone goes.
The 62-year-old former drug smuggler has left a message: “It’s Howard. I expected you about 40 minutes ago, probably going out now. To a pub. Call me and I’ll tell you where it is.”
Who can blame him? I’m very late. I’ve managed to get appallingly lost in nearby Bridgend – hardly a metropolis – and he’s upped and left. I am an idiot.
Thankfully, The Prince of Wales – the boozer in question – is a doddle to find.
I pull up in my humble work Corsa next to a red open-top Lotus Seven two-seater. Patrick McGoohan drove one in cult ’60s telly show The Prisoner.
It must be Howard’s.
It’s what I’d drive if I was a former international marijuana baron.
I hurry into the pub, only to be called back by a voice thicker than gravel-dappled chocolate.
“I’m over here.”
Of course he’s over there.
There’s a smoking ban in force. As if Howard Marks, a man synonymous with smoking, is going to be sat inside.
He probably doesn’t even trust air you can’t see.
I mutter an apology for being late, citing something about wrong junctions and missed signposts.
Howard, dressed in a creased black jacket, a white shirt and jeans cut off at the bottom, grins good-naturedly. His hair is grey and tousled. His eyes are startlingly blue.
He looks like Keith Richards and sounds like Richard Burton.
He’s cooler than most of the kids too.
His nickname, Mr Nice, comes from one of the 43 aliases he adopted through the 1980s – Donald Nice – but could equally apply to the fact that he is, well, really nice. Really, really nice.
He introduces me to his pals – both called Dave – before they leave to let us talk.
I’ve met Howard once before but he chats like we’re long-lost friends.
But then if I’d spent seven years in the USA’s notorious Terre Haute maximum-security prison side by side with the that nation’s most dangerous I’d have learnt a little respect too.
He got out in 1995 and published his best-selling autobiography, called Mr Nice, in 1996.
If I was worried he might have tired of chatting about drugs I needn’t have been:
“I smoked my first joint at 19,” he drawls. “Someone had been to Morocco and came back with some. I had heard about it and was interested in smoking some.
“The first step toward dealing would’ve been enjoying getting stoned and therefore smoking a lot.
“Also I was massively frustrated with the law against it. It seemed to me very stupid, and there was a climate where we thought we were addressing important issues for the first time – like race and sex equality and the Vietnam War. Smoking marijuana was a part of all that.
“I started to deal because I couldn’t afford to smoke what I wanted. Back then we thought it would be legal soon anyway.
“So I started to deal. Which means having more than you can smoke.
“Everyone who deals starts dealing in that way and gradually circles increase.
“If you keep at it you become a bigger and bigger dealer.
“Then you meet smugglers because they need to know bigger dealers.
“Then you start smuggling.”
This is not strictly true.
I’ve met people who have sold marijuana before.
The last one I knew lived in a small house in Coventry behind a mostly-locked door.
He’d still be there now, had he not been evicted because he was too addled to be bothered to pay the rent. Not a high achiever.
Smoking hash isn’t something one normally associates with motivation.
But Howard Marks was different.
He ended up flying the world under a wealth of different names, armed with dozens of different passports – snapshots from which adorn the cover of the Super Furry Animals’ debut album Fuzzy Logic – making contacts in the CIA, the IRA, MI6 and the Mafia.
Most dope smokers don’t shift 30-ton consignments from Pakistan and Thailand to America and Canada in the gear of touring rock bands.
Most don’t have millions of pounds passing through their hands and homes around the world. Most don’t end up far from home in US prisons.
Fewer come out the other side.
And though he’s not the only career criminal to launch himself into the spotlight, he’s the only one to have done it with such charm, wit and aplomb.
Who, other than wannabe hardmen, really warms to thugs like former Kray associate Frankie Fraser or strongarms like Dave Courtney?
“It seemed an acceptable way of carrying on,” Howard continues.
“It definitely didn’t seem wrong.
“I was smuggling from 1966 to 1988 – 22 years – with a couple of years in prison.
“My family knew I was smoking when I got busted but they didn’t know I was smuggling.
“My father was really disappointed I got caught.”
Howard’s less comfortable chatting about his personal life.
He has a girlfriend but doesn’t want her getting in trouble so won’t reveal her name, only that she’s a teacher with dark hair and that he’s been seeing her for eight years.
I note the overlap between that relationship starting and his marriage break-up in 2003, which culminated in divorce last year.
He, not unreasonably, points out that not many marriages survive long terms of imprisonment.
A dad of “four or five” he reveals he recently met his oldest daughter, named Tina.
“She offered DNA tests but there’s not really much point. She contacted me by e-mail. I was surprised because I didn’t know and wondered why I hadn’t known. I was pleased and we’ve become friends.
“She has definitely been the cheapest kid.
“Her mother finally told me after telling her that her father was someone else.
“This pub’s got a talking wall, do you want to come and see?”
“It’s haunted. Shall we see if the landlord will show us?”
Not exactly a seamless way to change the subject but, hell, let’s hear what the wall has to say.
Howard shuffles towards the bar and landlord Gareth Maund takes us up the stone stairs to a room once used as a courthouse.
Howard is clearly fascinated as Gareth recounts chapter and verse about the bar.
And doubtless he’s happy to be out of his interrogator’s hands.
Then Howard announces he’s going downstairs. He’s giving me the slip!
As soon as I can I follow, but the interview is becoming increasingly difficult. The Daves – who are nice too – have rejoined the table.
We chat for another 20 minutes or so but Howard has to leave.
He wanders toward the red Lotus Seven.
I half-expect him to pull a leather helmet and a pair of goggles from the glove-box before roaring off down the highway onto another ganja-fuelled adventure.
But he gets into the black Volkswagen Golf parked in the next space and drives away.
What a Nice man!

First published, er, I forget when.


TEN years ago, dreadlocked protesters made national headlines when they buried themselves underground to stop a motorway being built.
They failed and the multi-million pound Newbury bypass went ahead.
The TV cameras and press photographers left long ago, but the message these eco-warriors were sending has finally reached the mainstream political agenda.
These protesters, once considered radicals, forced green politics to the surface. And one man was responsible for giving the movement a human face – Daniel Hooper, a middle class Buckinghamshire boy better known as Swampy.
Now 32 and a dad of three, he was the last man to emerge from the tunnels in Fairmile, South Devon.
While sections of the press adored him, in 1996 others considered him an eco-terrorist. Some dismissed him as a hippy, as people were spotted sporting ‘Sod off, Swampy’ t-shirts.
In March 1997 Conservative ministerJohn Watts was more vicious, declaring he would quite like to see him “buried in concrete” because of the damage he was doing to the party’s transport policy.
It’s a different story now.
Swampy’s politics have been harnessed – some say hijacked – by all the mainstream parties.
New Labour was this week praised by former US president Bill Clinton for putting the environment on the worldwide agenda.
Tory leader David Cameron famously cycles to work (even if he is followed by a man in a Lexus holding his briefcase).
And Cameron’s party has changed its logo to a scribbled tree.
Supermarkets sell organic food and local authorities want their taxpayers to recycle anything and everything.
Some have even bugged bins to see how much people are sending to landfill.
The posh papers have turned writing about saving the planet into an industry and even The Sun has produced a guide to greener living.
Stars have jumped on the bandwagon too. U2 singer Bono has set up an ethical clothing line while Cameron Diaz has gone one step further, making her whole home green by running it entirely off solar panels and wind generators.
It seems barely a day goes by without terrifying tales of the planet’s imminent destruction being revealed.
But Swampy has disappeared from public view.
Once he was happy to write a column for the Sunday Mirror and make appearances on panel shows like Have I Got News for You.
Asked by the press in 1996 why he stayed in a tunnel for a week because of a road, he answered: “If I’d written a letter to my MP, would you all be here now? I think not.”
Now the campaigner has gone underground again – though not literally this time.
Wales on Sunday heard he was living in a little known spot called Tipi Valley, near Cwmdu, Carmarthenshire.
Located miles from the nearest town, the scruffy camp can only be found by car and a large helping of persistence. The route is a maze of narrow lanes boundaried by six and seven-foot hedges. Passing cars can be tricky so, as I reverse to let a blue Volkswagen Passat by, I wind down the window to ask directions.
The other car door opens and a smiling face tells me I am just metres from Tipi Valley. The man asks who I’m looking for.
“Daniel Hooper,” I say.
Looking slightly less smiley, the man, who has a child with him, asks who I am.
I tell him. He doesn’t think Daniel will talk, he’s had trouble with the media.
Well, if you will bury yourself in a tunnel for a week people are going to notice.
I thought that was the point.
I say I’ll try my luck anyway and have a chat to whoever is about. He says goodbye and I drive around the corner through a rusty old gate bearing a handpainted ‘shut gate’ sign.
Abandoned looking cars are scattered amongst the woodland of the site.
Chickens peck at the floor. Washing hangs to dry near polythene covered structures.
I park on an empty patch of ground and check my phone for messages. No signal.
A man knocks on my window and asks if I can move my car a bit further down because I’m in the only spot where he can turn his van.
I do and we begin chatting.
Veni – it’s just Veni – is a 33-year-old from Holland who has lived on the site for three years with his wife Syamala, 30, and their children Ceshi, six, Muddy, four, and Dharma, three.
There are about 125 people on the 160-acre site, 50 of them children.
“We have not got electricity but some people have a solar panel to run a light or a radio,” he says.
“It is all possible if you want it, but if you don’t you can keep it simple.
“We collect wood for fires to keep ourselves warm – which I suppose is like our TV – but we still have to go to town for some supplies.
“There is lots of space and land here for the children to run around without cars to run them down. It’s just magic really.”
As for the ideas of their community being stolen by politicians? Veni finds it “hard to be interested in politics”.
Brig Oubridge, 55, has been on the site for 27 years. He runs Europe’s biggest eco festival, the Big Green Gathering, in Cheddar every year.
As a member of the Green Party for the last 30 years, he is adamant the big parties were doing nowhere near enough to save the planet.
He said: “It is a bit late for the mainstream parties to have suddenly woken up to it.
“And what they are proposing is too little too late.
“They are starting to talk about putting taxes on fossil fuels.
“We have to reduce our consumption and take radical measures to do that. That could mean people having to restrict the amount they use their cars.
“It would be a start if we told people they could not have more than £10 of fuel a week.”
When I enquire of Swampy’s whereabouts, others on the site are less happy to chat. Journalists are the enemy.
One man, who didn’t want to be named, said Swampy just wants to “live life and grow his veg”.
Another politely assures me it’s nothing personal but asks if I will leave.
Sensing the disapproval of his friends, Veni is starting to look like he wishes he hadn’t spoken to me.
He suggests there is no point writing a story as he walks me back up the hill towards the gate.
As we chat I spot the man from the Passat who told me the way to Tipi Village.
He’s running down the hill, pushing a wheelbarrow and carrying a child on his back.
Before I can venture a “Hello”, Veni says: “Dan, this man is here to see you.”
“Not interested,” he yells tearing past me.
It clicks.
Add a few years. Cut a few dreadlocks.
It’s Swampy.
And like that he was gone.

First published in 2006.

Sunday, 14 November 2010


Vicious bag of battling bones,
Chattering, chiding, rattling moans,
Demented mind of belittling means,
Skinny arse, in skinny jeans.

Kindly eyes, cold and dead,
Gentle heart, made of lead,
Soft smile, spitting bile.
Lovely girl. A little vile.

‘Love you!’ Loved a drink.
Laughing, joking, kicking up stink.
Taxi home, suck and fuck,
Oh, Virginia! Lady Muck.


THE camera pans over London, THAT music plays and Surralun starts guffing on about tough economic times and that.
It’s The Apprentice (9pm, Wednesday, BBC1).
It’s that time of week where the usual pageant of wide boys and wannabe WAGS pitch for a job on a shopping channel.
I mean in the high-flying world of business working with self-made millionaire, sandpaper face and Nookie Bear lookalike, Alan Sugar.
This week 22 year old idiot Laura Moore thought she was was the best woman to lead her team, Apollo.
Despite having no actual experience at the task in hand - designing a brand new beach product.
This didn’t stop her bleating that she “needs to know that everybody thinks I’m the best person with my skill set.”
Ah yes, neediness. The character trait of every great leader.
If Hitler had been a little more needy we might have avoided the entire Second World War.
Not that I’m saying Hitler was a great leader. Clearly he was a Very Bad Man.
But he knew how to make a decision.
Laura can’t even get Apollo to listen to her.
“As project manager I should have the right of speech,” she whined like a spoilt capitalist baby about to throw its toy money from it’s pram.
Well you did, dumbo!
It’s just that everyone else employed their right to ignore you.
Frankly your lucky they didn’t kick you to death just to make the bleating stop.
I’ve not even touched on the products yet.
The boys, unironically called Synergy, invented a towel.
But one you could wrap drinks in to keep them cold.
They decided they would name their fridge-towel the Cüüli.
Being morons they didn’t realise you could just put your towel in a cool bag. Rather than putting your cool drinks in a towel.
Neither did they realise coolie - how the name of their towel was pronounced - is racist slang for an Asian person.
And when I last looked Asia had a population of almost four billion. Quite a big marketplace.
“You’ve got a take a risk!” said the tit who came up with the name, as he unwittingly risked the wrath of half the planet.
Meanwhile the bimbos on the other side could come up with nothing better than a book holder.
You know to hold a book.
On a beach.
A bit bit like a hand would.
But not as good as a hand.
Though constructing a hand with all those fiddly bones would probably be simpler than putting together a Book-eeze.
I could have convinced Bambi to take up deer hunting in the time it took Apollo to put the thing - little more than a mismatched bag of tent poles - up.
Obviously it didn’t work.
And they sold... none. NONE!
Hahahaaaa! Pathetic.
It was all I could do not to make my thumb and forefinger into an L shape, hold it to my forehead and shout Looooooooooossssssseeeeeeeeerrrrrrr!
Smallpox played a more positive role in society than this bunch of f***wits.
I’m amazed their eyes weren’t sucked into their skulls by the very vacuum behind them.
I can’t wait ‘til next week!

CAROL Jackson looked even sourer on EastEnders (BBC1, most of the time) than usual, but at least now she had a decent reason.
Her son was dead.
Planet soap was left reeling after Billie Jackson carked it in his sleep after a birthday night on the pop.
He made a remarkably tidy corpse. None of the traditional blood or vomit one might associate with the tragedy of drink related death.
Instead he was rather neat in blue polo shirt and jeans. The worst you could say was he made the sofa look untidy.
I look more like death for at least the first four hours I’m in the office on any given day of the week.
“I just want to blow up the whole world!” a mourning Carol confided to Max.
Easy CJ. Careless talk costs lives.
You’ll have the BBC’s drama terror squad after you.
Before you know it you’ll be the Jean Charles de Menezes of Albert Square, wrongly gunned down in a hail of bullets inside Walford East Station.
All this anger was before poor Carol found the video of her beloved boy revealing he wanted her to “do us a big favour - fall over and die.”
Billie’s half sister Bian-caaaaa was in a bad way too.
On the surface it just looked like she was on form as she threatened to kill Ric-kaaaaay with a spanner.
Britain’s fave ginger had heard he’d snogged saucy Kim Fox, see.
Or as she dubbed her, “the gobby bird with false knockers and the wandering eye.”
She was hurting, obviously.
After all it was her who’d found her bruv stiff on the couch.
“Bil-leeeee,” she cooed before twigging he’d read his last lines.
Not that I’m entirely ruling out a Lazarus style return to the show.
I would have played dead if I’d had Bianca leaning over me purring my name.
Though unlike Billie I probably would have been sick.
But this paled into insignificance next to Kim Fox’s bonkers earring.
A gold heart so blingtastically massive it could only have been put there to stop her huge lopsided bob toppling her head and fatally snapping her neck.
An EastEnders’ double death would have been a perilous thing.
The producers dared not risk it in a Britain still coming to terms with the awfulness of having a*** faced David Cameron as Prime Minister.
It could just have sent the nation into a tailspin of depression normally reserved for the parents of X Factor contestants.

Monday, 6 September 2010


It's a week late but fuck it. This one goes out to cat bin lady.

I’m going to bin my cat.
The little thing’s a little twat.
She shits in the house
And I want to kick her.
But I’ll make her shit in the fucking litter.

Sunday, 23 May 2010


A HORSE walked into a restaurant. The barman showed him to his stable.