Chapter Eighteen

Morocco

 

On our return to London, I found Neride and her young son, Nelson, was waiting for me. She had decided to spend the summer with us in Europe and so we rented a house in Golders Green, London. The team was growing and so we needed more accommodation. We turned the house into a small cottage industry. Everyone was eagerly involved in creating something or other. Cassy was selling my goods like crazy. One day he showed me the newest and hottest line – Goulamine Trade Beads – antique mosaic glass beads which he was buying from various places in Africa. The prices however were increasing as the quantity that he could get hold of was diminishing. He told me that he would buy whatever quantity that I could get hold of.

I made a few enquiries and found out that the beads were the old trading currency of Africa. They were originally made in Venice and shipped out to Africa hundreds of years before and were exchanged for gold. They were a more portable commodity than gold and were readily accepted. I also found out that the town of Goulamine, situated in the Sahara Desert, was the place where most of the stocks of beads were kept buried in the desert sands. However as most of the camel trains were wiped out during tribal feuds, the beads were just waiting to be re-discovered. The Hippy movement was growing fast and I was told that in Haight Ashbury, in San Francisco, California, the hippies were reverting back to using these beads as currency. All I had to do was discover a bead bank beneath the Sahara Desert sands and I was made.

I caught a plane to Marrakech, Morocco and my enquiries there told me that the beads were available in quantities in Goulamine but it was illegal to export them from Morocco unless they were part of a made-up piece of jewellery. The government had brought out this new law to control the export of antiquities and to gain more tax from the jewellery makers.

During my enquiries, I was led to a desert nomad Berber called ‘Acid’, so called because of his liking for the same-named drug. We soon became the greatest of friends after sharing a couple of tabs of ‘California Sunshine’. He said that he would lead me to the beads but that we had to pay cash to the village leaders to be allowed to move them. We would also need a jeep to transport them across the desert and a vehicle to drive them concealed out of Morocco. I decided to buy 30 kilos from him there in Marrakech and I would sell them in London. All being well, I would be returning to Morocco by road in my Volkswagen van.

I loaded the 30 kilos into my knapsack and pretending I had no more than my bedroll and a few personal items, I caught a plane back to London with no problem. I didn’t bother to declare them in London either as the airport was so busy with all the holidaymakers. It was a piece of cake.

Cassy wanted to buy the lot and give me a handsome profit but I decided to only sell him 20 kilos. I mounted the other 10 kilos onto leather thongs and sold them on the streets. It was true; they were the biggest-selling line since the hippy bells. They had become the I.D. tag of the dope smoker. I sold out in a week. Charly and I set off in the van and trailer through Spain (where we left the trailer) and then off to Casablanca on the ferry. Acid was waiting.

Charly and I bought Moroccan Djellabas. These are a traditional long, loose-fitting outer robe with full sleeves worn including a baggy hood called a "cob" that comes to a point at the back. We were now just three more Arab-looking gentlemen. We set off on the two-day drive into the desert. On arrival at Tan-Tan, a desert town with a small population, Acid presented us to the headman and even though he only spoke Arabic, Acid’s interpretations were the key to clinching the deal. That night we ate olive oil on bread accompanied by Scotch whisky and followed by the communal pipes [or sebsi] of kif. We agreed to pay the headman £3 for every kilo of beads that we found and in return he would lend us his jeep, two armed guards and guarantee us protection until we arrived in Marrakech.

That night we slept in his house and the next morning we set off in two jeeps, the two rifle-bearers following on closely behind in their own jeep. Our trip took us to the foot of some snow-capped mountains. During the day the heat from the sun was intense but the night was freezing cold. The igloo tent was our home for the following 10 days. Our food mostly came from tins. Acid knew where to dig but it was hard work. We took turns between the three of us.

Whilst we were digging, we found many fossils of Trilobites. These were the first boned sea creatures and it proved to me that the Sahara was once an open sea. The beads were spread over the whole area about 3 feet deep. Usually we would find about 10 kilos at a time and in the ten days that we dug, we unearthed 150 kilos.

We loaded up the two jeeps and returned to Tan-Tan. The headman was pleased to receive the news that he had just earned £2,100. I agreed to give him half then and the remainder I paid to him when we were safely in Marrakech. On arrival we loaded the beads into the VW van and I paid Acid what he asked - £700 and then we set off.

The beads were distributed evenly under the false floor of the van. Entering Spain was no problem; I sat in the back as usual making nail jewellery and distributing my work to those nosy customs men. We collected the trailer and then continued our journey back to England. We used the same procedure at customs and then made it home high and dry. We had succeeded once again.

Cassy sold the beads slowly to keep the price up and we became known as the bead kings. Hippies visiting England would buy a couple of kilos at a time and thread them onto a cord. They would then wear them round their necks as they passed through the US customs on their way home. Each kilo gave 60 large beads which they could then sell individually for up to $10 each. Considering that they only paid a fraction of that, they made more profit than selling dope with hardly any risk.

The summer drew on as we worked the small festivals and the streets to fill in. Everything was selling but the signs were beginning to show. 1971 was the last year of festivals as we knew and enjoyed them. Complaints were being made in their thousands to the government. The police were gaining more strength from the disorder. Street trading was also becoming more difficult; the fines of £200 for first offenders were being upheld. It was becoming apparent that we would not enjoy our work if we stayed to face the approaching police control.

One more big festival to go before the season closed. We loaded the caravan with 100 rolls of polythene sheeting and I employed another old friend of mine, Bob from Blackpool. So now including Neride and Nelson there were seven of us. We arrived at the festival grounds two days in advance of the opening so I had no trouble getting the caravan containing 4 pitches with stock plus the plastic sheeting. I parked the trailer well out of sight at the back of the first-aid tent and then we drove the VW van back out of the main arena to the campsite where we set up the igloo and a couple of pitches.

The opening day arrived; the boys were inside the arena with the pitches and Neride and I were working the entrance on the outside. We had it totally covered like the professional festival pirates that we had become. In fact I was so confident that I decided to drop an acid tab. The effect was working, the sun was shining and I was with a very special person. I was making my jewellery and enjoying being watched by the queues of young people. Everybody seemed happy. A bus load of police arrived and began to unload right in front of me. At first I felt paranoia, the acid gave me a jolt but the police women were so friendly they all bought a horse shoe nail pendant and necklace from me as I told them stories about my goods. The puzzle rings, I told them as I pulled them apart and put them back again, were originally used by Turkish sheikhs as chastity controllers. They would give different models to their various wives and if the wife wanted to be unfaithful, she would remove the ring. If she didn’t take it off, the lover would know that she belonged to the sheikh and if he went with her knowing that and was discovered, he would have his ‘Mickey’ cut off!

If the woman removed the ring, it would break apart and she, not being able to put it back together again, would be discovered of unfaithfulness and would be punished by death. I enjoyed telling stories about my goods but telling stories to groups of police whilst selling them jewellery and tripping on acid at the same time gave me the greatest high that I can recall.

On the last day of the festival it rained. By now all my workers had begun to call me ‘Raincloud’ because I always got it when I was ready to profit from it. I used to make raindances to impress the boys of my psychic powers. I was just lucky. We put the jewellery away and started slashing the plastic. By 4 o’clock we had sold out. Once again we had made a fortune as the plastic sheeting sold as fast as it could be cut at 35p a piece. We made over £5000 profit in just a few hours. We packed up and left but it was obvious that the rain would continue, however we didn’t care, we were now heading for Brazil and the sun.

Back in London we stopped at a pub known to be one of the ‘in’ places. I was surprised to meet Allan Williams again, my old partner in the clubs. He was in London to visit his publisher. He was happy to present me with, as he put it, the first book red hot off the press. It was entitled “The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away”. Alan was very happy and I invited him to my leaving party the following week.

In the meantime I had a lot to do. We sold the caravan, the taxi and most of the old stock. Charly decided to stay and do his obligatory military service in Las Palmas. He kept the van and some of the pitching boards then we divided what was left of the stock. I arranged for my stuff to be shipped to Brazil but I kept 10 kilos of beads plus 2000 puzzle rings for my metal man outfit.

The farewell party was nice. All the London characters, Alan, Paddy, John, Jimmy, Eddie, Tony and Cassy were there plus many others. The next day I packed my bags and said my goodbyes. It was especially hard to leave Charly but we arranged to meet again in Brazil after he had finished his military service.