“Any journey away from the room you’re sitting in will increase the potential for coming upon the unexpected and occasionally wonderful, but that’s not to equate travel with ultimate enlightenment or universal solutions….It helps, but that’s about all. I’ve learned that what I like about travel is that it doesn’t sort everything out. Actually it doesn’t sort anything out….It’s just that being in unfamiliar surroundings watching unfamiliar activity is something I find, on the whole, deeply refreshing.” — Michael Palin


My life is pretty strange. Lately, I started hanging out with a sixty year old stoner.

I took my lunch break yesterday on the eighteenth floor of a council housing flat overlooking Belgravia, London, having bought a mayo, tuna, and sweet corn baguette from the corner sandwich store. Its occupant is my friend’s dad, a very ill, gaunt hardcore drinker and smoker of pot, in his sixties. Growing up for my friend, with her dad a lush and a stoner, didn’t make life pleasant, but she’s now in her mid-thirties, and after going through plenty of self-development, has resolved her family issues. She visits her pop frequently, living a few blocks from him. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when she asked if I’d be interested in going up there with her.

Inside the haphazardly-decorated flat, it’s smoky. The television’s always on, and Dave, my friend’s father, sits in his easy chair. His friends all have rough east end London accents, and so does he. They are weathered-looking individuals with no pretensions and devil-may-care dress sense; I’m aware that I resemble a rare and exotic bird amidst the dulled sofa cushions, with my fuchsia lipstick and bright pink scarf. As out of place as I know I am, my life’s trained me to relax and feel comfortable among the unfamiliar. My friend’s father is gently nursing a beer. It’s three in the afternoon.

He gets up and brews me a cup of tea, and I compliment the drink with a roll of chocolate-covered rich tea biscuits. Then he rolls me a spliff, emphasising that it’s all mine. “We don’t share our spliffs here,” he said. It’s clear he’s had many years to perfect the ratio of tobacco to weed, and to understand the width of the roach end to length of Rizla paper. Quite frankly, I’ll puff anywhere, anytime, and one of the things I discovered about myself was that I pursue smoking out anywhere in my world travels. It feels good to get away with it and shock the system out of familiarity. So here I was, sunk into an untidy room, its occupants a good two decades older than I, Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde” album playing, with a muted British imperial war drama on the telly.

The spliff is really smooth, and the weed a gentle body high that plateaus evenly. I start laughing a lot more. I’ve always treated weed slightly differently to its usual use: instead of using it to disengage from life, I use it to enhance. Even to challenge my normal routine. For example, I knew that after this one spliff, I’d have to go give a ninety minute massage in a yoga studio ten minutes walking distance. Being in the presence of people I needed an introduction into was another. The curiousity of experiencing life in an altered state provides amusement to me, rather than paranoia.

That’s how my life has consistently been: being in a roomful of people with which I feel open and friendly towards, but knowing that mingling with them was not the norm. Hanging out with Dave and his mates is just another instance: scene one, take gazillion and one. I’m comfortable with feeling like an outsider, and the weed gave us a topic to chat about. I’ve hung out with typical stoners, but never an aged stoner old enough to be my father. There are worse ways to spend one’s lunch break, eh?

Erica, 34, London UK