One day I walked outside the cottage to pick up my weekly supply of tabloids when Kenneth popped in from nowhere, immaculate as ever, but uncharacteristically flushed. He said he was "up in arms about the bloody tap-testing!" Kenneth went on to explain that the encroaching soil invaders were in fact oil speculators from America searching for black gold under the village loam. I told Kenneth that allowing the oil scouts any leeway whatsoever would be a major mistake, resulting in hedgerow decimation by Ameri-sized equipment rigs and corporate disregard. I also confided to him that these same companies were poisoning everyone in the U.S. by encouraging consumers to use their toxic bug strips and other carcinogenic products. Kenneth was aghast. "That's nothing," I told him, "Who do you think makes all the Napalm and Agent Orange my country uses to dehuminate Southeast Asia?"
Now Kenneth was really upset, and asked me to write a letter saying as much to the editor of the regional weekly, the Bridport News, which I regrettably did.
On the day of publication, Wendy and I drove to Bridport to get the early edition. Quickly scanning the "Letters to" column I found my words noticeably absent, and tossed the rag into the backseat. As we, drove back to West Milton Wendy said, "I don't think you looked at the front page." She held up the bold headline, which loudly read: "AMERICAN ATTACKS OIL COMPANIES!"
The industrious editor had paraphrased my one page letter of warning into a full-blown article advising the local populace to brace themselves against the foreign invaders; and went on to condemn the oil companies (by name!) for indiscriminately poisoning Americans at home, and the careless decimation of most of Southeast Asia.
Back at the estate, Kenneth came right-the-way over, newsprint in hand, and gleefully spouted, "Well done, old chap! Right out of the old Tell-it-like-it-is School!" This was just the sort of notoriety we didn't need, and I certainly didn't fancy having any heart-to-hearts with the nameless and potentially hostile envoys of petrochemical doom. So, shortly before Guy Fawkes Day, Wendy and I decided to cool things off by taking a winter vacation to Amsterdam.
I took the blasphemous article, spliced in some unrelated text to create sardonic cut/ups like "X on pest ship gas-sunk never ending," and "periodic tables innocent-Napalm Death mask sundae," as my final copy for Earth Magazine in San Francisco (then on its last legs), before leaving West Milton on the pseudo-journalistic lam.
In London, I mailed off some fresh copy to TimeOut and left a stack of my "Works UnderGround" recordings on consignment at Compendium Bookstore with Nick Kimberley, the bohemian-friendly bookstore's underground whatever man.
My Letra-Set jacketed acetates were little 45rpm jobs that I made in rustic coin-operated booths located in some of the older tube stations around London. For 50p I could record three-minute snippets of my work against the muffled sound of London's Underground whoosh-clanging and swoosh-buckling away behind me. Nick was a terrific guy, and to the Word World's great loss, Compendium Books has finally closed up shop.
As we walked toward our bank in Piccadilly, a chauffeured Bentley pulled to the curb beside us. I glanced over as the rear door was opened by its liveried driver, and out stumbled a short man with brown shoulder-length hair. Oddly, he reminded me of L.A. record producer Phil Spector, and as he hit the pavement his heel must have caught the curb, because he spilled briefcase over tea kettle into my arms - the contents of his leather briefcase flew in all directions and the four of us scrambled around to save his papers from the Piccadilly wind. Then I recognized his voice. It was film director Roman Polanski, who, once reorganized, sputtered his thanks without making eye contact with anyone and then scurried up the street like a well-dressed ferret toward the Circus roundabout. Wendy and I finished up at the bank and headed for the Harwich ferry.
The night train rolled into Amsterdam's Central Station around midnight, and we should have checked the weather report, because we arrived following an ice storm. Everything in town was frozen or covered with six inches of fresh snow and in my haste I hadn't thought to bring along any hard weather gear. I had also neglected to arrange for any form of accommodation. "Now what?" asked Wendy, shivering, and a bit put off with my lack of foresight. She was quite ready for warmth with a stiff brandy back. To this day I have no idea where the following tidbit of knowledge came from, perhaps Divine Intervention - most probably my Digger acquaintance, Emmett Grogan. I didn't know a soul in Amsterdam but told Wendy not to worry, that I knew right where we were going - I just needed to "ask for directions."
I looked around the train station for my "guide," and found him dressed in stained outlaw leathers, leaning up against an empty news kiosk. As I approached, I could see him set his internal dials to "tourist hustle," but before he could initiate anything I said, "Excuse me, do you know where the Dutch boat with the American flag is?" He looked at me through a set of ponderous, probably junk-filled eyes and echoed my refrain, "..the Dutch boat with the American flag." "That's right," I said, "How do I get there?" Oddly enough, the nocturnal train-spotter knew exactly where it was, and gave me a set of detailed directions along with the owner's name, Kees Hoekert.
We trudged over the snow-covered ice toward our vague destination with the nearly frozen Wendy asking me a raft of perfectly relevant questions about our intended host, whom I, unbeknownst to Wendy, knew absolutely nothing about. Close to one o'clock in the morning we located the Stars & Stripes hanging off the stern of an odd-looking boat. The wide canal was dotted by sheets of ice and a fresh snow began to fall as I banged on Kees Hoekert's cabin door. A moment later a sleepy voice called out from below something that sounded like, "Hotferdommawhovasitnow?" "It's me, Hammond Guthrie, and my wife Wendy," I replied.
"Harmon Gutree? Who is Harmon Gutree and Vendy?" asked the confused Hoekert. Not knowing what I was talking about I said, "We've come from London and I was told you could find us a place to stay for the night." The cabin door opened a crack and Kees stuck his fuzzy head out into the increasing snow fall. "Who toll you dot?" he inquired. I answered truthfully, putting Wendy on red alert, by saying, "I have absolutely no idea who told me, if this isn't the case, my apologies for disturbing you." "No, no that's fine," Kees said, "Just a minute," and disappeared below.
Wendy looked at me as if confirming her suspicions. "You're making this entire thing up aren't you?" Before I could continue my blatant charade, Kees came from below and said, "Vollow me." He led us down the canal to a much smaller boat with lights on inside and knocked. The hatch door opened and out came a dense cloud of hash smoke and the face of a very stoned-looking young man. Kees had a few words with the man in Dutch before assuring "Vendy" and me that we could "stay the night with the other crazy people!" He then invited us to come by his boat for lunch the next day, and scuttled back to his warm bed, having dealt with the uninvited "Gutrees!"
Inside the frozen-into-the-canal boat we found four very stoned people playing a game of hashish-enhanced Monopoly in Swedish! Our bleary-eyed Dutch host invited us to play, and I said that we didn't speak Swedish. "Neither do we!" he replied, suggesting that Wendy and I could be "the shoe end the thimble," which for some reason broke everybody up.
Two hours of congenial warmth and many hash-heavy joints later Wendy and I passed "GO" for the last time before falling into Teutonic bankruptcy and a travel-weary coma.
The next day Kees woke us up at noon, announcing that lunch was ready. Wendy was beginning to believe that I really did know this older fuzzy-haired Dutchman after all, when we both stopped short at the gang plank of his now day-lit boat. Kees's canal boat was a floating marijuana garden and tea house called "The Lowland Weed Company!" I looked at Wendy and said, "Look, you were right, I don't know anything about this situation. Let's just go with the flow, eh?" "Fine," she said, "but tonight, we sleep in a hotel bed. No more incomprehensible Swedish Monopoly!"
Kees, who was ebulliently preparing our meal below, called us inside, where every square inch of space was adorned with exotic images and drawings of sadhu temple ball hieroglyphics amidst drying cannabis plants and gallon jars of pot seeds sitting proud on the shelves. He handed us steaming mugs of fresh coffee and motioned us to the sofa in front of his large desk overlooking the frozen canal. He then proceeded to roll large joints of what he called "binnenlander veed," meaning the local product.
"Vendy and Harmon Gutree, I welcome you to the Lowland Company!" As we smoked his potent "veed," Kees said that he dreamed of us during the night, and was shown via dream merchant that "Vendy" and I were "sincere creative people." Because of his dream, he said he would help us find proper lodgings after the meal, noticeably relieving "Vendy." As Kees served up three bowls of savory stew, he gave us Chapter 1 Verse 1 of The Lowland Weed Company Saga.
"High in lowland," he intoned, "vee Dutchmen are spice explorers! Ven ve tried to bring the spice back to the Netherlands from the Dutch West Indes, vee found that it would not stay dry during the long voyage home. Vee Dutchmen knew about the henep plant and the way it would absorb moisture, so, on subsequent journeys wee wrapped our spice kegs vith henep roots an stalks, vitch kept the spices dry. Dry is 'droog' in Dutch, this is the root for the English vord 'drug'. Vee have used henep plants in this way for centuries, and to serve as a vind break in our lowland fields; as rope fiber; and the seeds feed our birds. The laws surrounding the use of the henep plant," he concluded, "fall vithin the domain of the Dutch Opium Contract."
Kees pulled out a small blue book containing the Opium Trade proscriptions and pointed out the henep stipulations. He went on to say that the document did not specifically prohibit the sale the henep plant or the consumption of its tea. Kees understood this to mean that he could legally set up shop as an Henep Merchant who gave away marijuana tea aboard his canal boat. He began by writing letters to growers in Afghanistan, Nepal, South Africa, India and the Congo. Where he obtained these addresses was not explained, yet he did say they produced the contacts he needed to begin ordering kilos and kilos of pot seeds from all over the world -- so far, no problems.
Kees said he culled through the incoming gunny sacks, "looking for the perfect seeds" for immediate germination, potting, labeling, growing and final testing, before archiving the seeds and dried bud-filled branches with detailed journal notations regarding the growth patterns, etc., of each breed of seed. Kees accumulated a canal house of information and thousands upon thousands of pot seeds. He then lovingly and with increasing botanical skill sprouted the seeds in the confines of his boat.
When the time was somehow determined to be "perfect," Kees moved his cannabinoid nursery up on deck. Here, along with his start-up plants, he placed a large hand-painted sign with a huge marijuana leaf on it that read: "Lowland Weed Company/ Marhu Tee Huis / Plants 1 Guilder."
Ceremoniously hanging the announcement off the starboard side of the boat and directly facing the busy Wittenburgergracht traffic, Kees and his Lowland Weed Company were open for business. His enthusiastic walk-in trade picked up briskly as word-of-mouth spread through Amsterdam's numerous proto-Underground anti-Movements of the early 1960's.
After a week or two of this influx of seed enthusiasts, Kees had to deal with two very imposing facts. First of all, he had neglected to ask anyone in charge of such matters if what he was quietly doing in the privacy of his boat would be equally acceptable aboveboard. Secondly, and most importantly, his Lowland was docked quite near the district headquarters of the Amsterdam Police Department (the Politi), whose captain dispatched his emissaries to discuss the situation with Kees.
Kees informed the officers that he was completely within his rights by governmental decree as stipulated in section blah, blah, blah of the Opium Trade Act, which he theatrically began to wave under their noses.
The Politi beat a retreat to report back to their captain, and Kees attended to the business at hand. The next day, the captain and his troops stormed the Lowland Weed Company, dragging a manacled and protesting Kees Hoekert down the street for interrogation.
From the intrusive captain's skewed perspective, the floating eyesore was obviously a front for a major criminal organization in its infancy and was to be shut down immediately. This vision of stupidity was sadistically played out in his treatment of our protagonist Kees Hoekert, who was brutally thrown into an interrogation cell and tortured by having his thumbs bent toward his wrists. After suffering through a few hours of questioning and painful indignation, Kees was finally released and the captain undoubtedly thought he had heard the last of Mr. Hoekert.
Back on board the boat, Kees was attended to by his many friends who were appalled by his injuries and the source of their infliction.
When Kees was well enough but not yet fully healed, he and a certain "shamanic friend" went before the Chief Justice of the Amsterdam Court, where they told the horrific tale, offering the twisted thumbs of Hoekert as proof of the "official mayhem."
After reviewing the evidence and rereading the Opium Contract, the judge was sympathetic to Kees's cause and his victimization. The police captain was brought up on charges and Kees was allowed to proceed without further intervention from the Politi with his Lowland Weed Company.
This quizzical turn of the great wheel along with subsequent post-Provo activities by Kees and his cohorts would lead the way for the current leniency regarding the socially accepted use of "soft drugs" in the Netherlands.
Thus concluded the first of numerous trials by fire for the first legally sanctioned hemp dealer in the western world, Sir George Washington, and as of January, 2001 Kees Hoekert was aboard the Lowland Weed Company, culling "perfect" seeds for germination, floating on the same canal near the former politi-headquarters. His marijuana tea continues to be free and the potent binnenlander plants still sell for 1 guilder - now equal to about sixty cents.
Following lunch, Kees walked us over to the quasi-legal Brouwer Hotel on the Singelgracht near the 'Centrum' of town, and after "Vendy" and I checked into the family-run inn, the three us retired to our lovely antiquated room, whereupon Kees presented us with a large bag of binnenlander "veed" and warned us against the street trade, which at that time was rife with what Kees called "nephasheesh" - a noxious blend of brown shoe polish and camel dung clumped together with low-grade black-Pakistani hash.
Wendy and I set about exploring the city's multitude of frozen canals, cafes, museums, galleries and bookstores, and I was particularly taken with the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art. We spent the week idly roaming the open cafes, the Artis and Hortis (zoologic and botanical gardens), the Albert Cuypstraat market bazaar, and the warren of narrow streets comprising the Jordaan, the oldest section of Amsterdam - sampling the naturally-aged cheese, sweet butter, freshly baked bread, along with slices of raw herring and smoked eel.
We sipped the locally brewed beers (except Heineken!) and tall shots of young Dutch gin (jenever) served in original Brown Bar establishments. We walked in the lush Vondel Park, and into the only official soft-dope club at the time, het Paradiso, located in a vacant spire-topped church near the Leidseplein where, over time, millions of joints would be smoked by cannabis heads enjoying live sets from some of the world's most cutting-edge musicians.
Ogle-eyed, we visited the socially condoned Red Light districts and the amazing Tuchinski Theater on the Rembrantplein, where an original Art Deco atmosphere set the scene for talented acrobats, who swung magnificently from velvet ropes high above our seats during the interlude prior to the film.
A light snow continued to cover the slick cobblestones with a footpath veil of unending fantasy for Wendy and me as we explored the organized mass of bridge-connected islands (there are over 300 of them), mesmerized by the historic content. We watched at every turn, hoping that the puzzling 'Lieverje' (the Dutch prankster leprechaun) would come bounding out, and perhaps turn us away from reality to become Amsterdamers, as we tended to the fertile tulip fields of our perpetually stoned imaginations.
The week went by far too quickly, and while "Vendy" went out exploring on her own, I set out for the Lowland Weed Company and further conversation with Kees Hoekert.
On board the frozen tea house, Kees listened intently as I told him about my visit to the Netherlands with my father as a child in 1958, and how deeply I felt about the consistent warmth and depth of Dutch hospitality. It was an anomaly to be in a society filled with pleasantry and open-minded sociopolitical philosophies. I found it especially enriching to walk the Amsterdam streets, day or night without unwarranted apprehension, happy people who seemed to truly enjoy meeting strangers. Literally everyone in town seemed to have smiles on their faces, and I mentioned to Kees that I was somewhat reluctant to return to stodgy old England.
Kees encouraged me to consider relocating to Amsterdam, adding that he would help "Vendy" and me find a canal boat to rent. He also said that I could help him with the spring planting, and tea service for the tourists that would be arriving in droves for the summer months in "Magic Amsterdam." I told Kees our lease in Dorset would be up in February and that I would broach the idea to Wendy.
My new friend seemed truly taken with the idea of our return and said that he had again "dreamed" of my spirit. In the dream he was told that I had the potential of becoming an alter-Amsterdamer after I had met with a group of his close friends. This departing vision pleased me no end, and my decision to abandon England was subconsciously made in that moment. If his group of anonymous friends were anything at all like Kees, I wanted to meet with them as soon as possible!
With this possibility in mind, I departed the Lowland Weed Company with the beginnings of a fresh vision for Wendy and myself in the Netherlands, where all was below sea level and the cannabis factor was highly tolerated. We crossed the English Channel and returned home to the Allsop's estate just prior to Christmas.