It has been said: “If you remember the 60s then you weren’t there.”
Those of us who grew up in that swinging decade are looked on as survivors of a period when speed and weed and even acid flooded the clubs and the streets not just in London but out in the sticks as well.
Apparently that scene never really reached Rhyl in North Wales.
There may have been a few who got hold of a bit of Waccy Baccy, Mary Jane, weed or whatever term you cared to use for cannabis, but pills would not hit the North Wales coast for a few years yet.
London was the real centre of the drug scene and, except for the few members of the 60s music scene who knew how to get hold of LSD, heroin or other serious drugs which had been around in America for a lot longer, very few people got involved and even then it was mainly amphetamines, which at that time were quite commonly prescribed for “tired housewives” who felt they didn’t have the energy to keep their houses neat and tidy for when “hubby” came home.
Through over-prescription or theft amphetamines were becoming available on the streets of major cities, especially London, during the 60s and there would be talk of: Bennies, Bombers, Blue Mollies, Purple Hearts and a myriad other names. It was a time when cash-rich youngsters in London wanted to make the best use of the 60 hours that made up their weekends from Friday night to Monday morning. They felt a pill would perk them up.
Personally I found the thrill of being alive at that time, with the help of a little alcohol, was more than enough to keep you going as you left the dance hall to head off for an all-night party.
In the mid-60s thieves intending to make an extra buck or two would switch from late night raids on offices, for the petty cash, to breaking into chemist shops in the hope of getting their hands on amphetamines. After all you could get 6d a tablet on the streets – that’s less than 3p in modern money.
The price went up in 1964 after new laws came in regarding possession – a purple heart would now cost you 9d, less than 8p.
My father’s shop in Rhyl was broken into one night.
The thief, who was known to the local police although they couldn’t pinch him for this escapade, had gained entry through the fanlight over the front door of the shop – even though we had always believed that the ratchet on this fanlight was rusted and immoveable.
The screech that it made in being forced would have echoed down the street but the family, who were all asleep, did not hear a sound. I felt the most guilty about not hearing it because my bedroom was right over the shop and my bed was positioned right abovethe door and the fanlight.
The cheeky thief (actually my view of him went well beyond cheeky) was out of luck in the shop as, like most chemists, my father kept all the dangerous drugs in a locked, steel-lined cabinet that even Houdini couldn’t have got into without the keys. He did find his way into our kitchen, however, and found a 35mm camera, (my pride and joy) and my mother’s fur coat which had just come back from the cleaners and she had forgotten to take it upstairs.
At least he did not get access to the main part of the house. The kitchen and back passage were separated from the hallway, lounge and stairs by a heavy oak door which was always locked and bolted, as was the door from the shop into the main hall.
As a chemist’s son I was approached more than once by people asking me if I could get my hands on anything. Apparently there was an over-the-counter cough mixture which was supposed to give you a high. I didn’t oblige, however.
I did once play a trick on someone who had kept asking me if I could get hold of purple hearts. The tablet itself was triangular not heart-shaped and were more blue than purple.
I did get a pack of Devon Violet Cachous and cut a few into a triangular shape and smoothed them down. Next time I saw the would-be druggie I asked him if he had ever tried purple hearts. It turned out he hadn’t, so I suggested he try one to see if he could cope and I gave him a cachou and told him I was giving it not selling it.
Next time I saw him he said he wouldn’t be trying them again as he had felt “very odd” after taking the tablet and thought it had an “odd taste”. It appears he had convinced himself he was taking a drug and therefore he felt what he believed were the effects. You’d have to eat a lot of cachous to get a high.
After that I made it clear to anyone who asked that I was a chemist’s son and not a drug dealer. I didn’t campaign against drugs but I didn’t promote them either.
Nowadays the scene has changed in North Wales and the courts quite often have a plethora of drug cases which go far beyond a bit of weed. The reputation of Rhyl is certainly not of the best when it comes to drugs but that doesn’t mean other North Wales towns can sit back playing innocent.
Check out the North Wales news feeds and you’ll see what I mean.
Innocent as Rhyl may have been in the 60s and 70s I didn’t suddenly find myself in a den of iniquity when I moved south to Basildon.
Nowadays the somewhat older new town has a similar reputation to most large conurbations. In May this year the Basildon, Canvey and Southend Echo was reporting the fact that Basildon was at the centre of a major drugs problem with police reporting a 40% increase in drugs possession and drug-selling in the town centre.
Yet when I was there in the early 70s the biggest drugs story I reported on was of four young people found in a flat with one joint and only two of them actually ended up in court. Apparently they had been trying it for the first time and one of the young people said she had one puff and and decided to smoke her own ordinary cigarette instead.
When you look at the current drug scene the idea that the whole of Britain was a druggies’ paradise in the 60s and 70s seems laughable.
Personally I’m quite happy with the drugs my doctor prescribes to help with my diabetes and thyroid problems.
I loved growing up in the 50s and 60s – life was so much more innocent.