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This isn’t the kind of joint where we grow cannabis

Posted on August 27, 2000

I received an email from Roger at Thames Water, who having read this column, has deduced my approximate location and would like to offer me unlimited free tanker-loads of “a valuable organic fertiliser and soil conditioner” called Terra Liquid.

Was I born yesterday? I was not. I know a little of what happens after the loo is flushed and I can deduce what is on offer here. Naturally, I telephone him immediately.

“Is it pongy?” I demand. He pauses and acknowledges that perhaps Terra Liquid is not perfumed to everyone’s taste. “Excellent,” I replied, “deliver some at once.”

I have just the field for some Terra Liquid. Coincidentally, it is the one enveloping the property of my neighbour who took it upon herself to stir up opposition to my planning application for the hay barn. The field could use a little fertilising. I instruct Roger to spray it liberally, taking care to aim plenty at the hedges.

Roger stops me short. Regretfully, the Terra Liquid is governed by killjoy regulations that require the stuff to be drilled into the soil, rather than sprayed on top, thus mitigating the olfactory assault. My neighbour, it appears, might not even notice. Cancel the Terra Liquid.

Happily, Roger has another idea. Have I, he inquired, ever thought of growing hemp? That’s hemp as in cannabis. I’d rather thought this was illegal, although it sounds like quite a good cash crop. It seems that Thames Water wants to put me into the wacky tobacco business.

Roger, however, explains that despite its reputation, hemp offers farmers like me numerous benefits as an industrial crop. There is a growing demand for the stuff (this I think I already knew) and not only for attitude adjustment but for use in animal bedding, paper manufacture and rope making. Furthermore, it can be grown satisfactorily even on the sort of poor quality soil that I have in abundance.

All that is required — other than the seeds, which I presume can be picked up on a weekend jaunt to Amsterdam — is to plough in a few hundred tons of another material Roger has in abundance — top quality sewage sludge. Thames will organise the entire thing — getting the licences, cutting the crop, taking it away. All I have to do is cash the cheque. It is, so to speak, a joint venture.

Bring forth your sludge, I declare, looking forward to cultivating my prairie of cannabis. I am doing some rapid calculations. Reckoning the crop to be worth, say, £50 an ounce, and the yield at, say, one ton an acre, I am looking at a gross yield of £1,792,000 an acre. With around 20 acres of the stuff, even after deducting expenses — a bit of a bung to the Surrey constabulary to look the other way — I reckon to be quids in.

Once again, Roger disappoints. Even well-fertilised, he says, the variety of hemp Thames Water has on offer is not going to get anyone high. “You would need to roll a joint the size of a telephone pole,” he says. And where would you get a big enough Rizla paper?

Nevertheless, after deducting expenses, Roger reckons the crop could be worth £250 an acre. This still sounds rather better than making hay, which pays about 10p an acre. Other farmers may moan about the rural economy going to pot, but that’s because they do not have a new best friend named Roger to help them grow the stuff. Where there’s muck, there’s grass.

I am distracted from my hallucinations of enormous wealth by the appearance of Mrs Miller, who has taken a week off work. Horrifyingly, I am required to accompany her to London on a shopping expedition.

I am not good at travel. I have an argument with a taxi driver at Guildford station, another one in the ticket office with a man who accused me of misunderstanding the queue protocol and a third, on arrival, with Habitat. The train is foully overcrowded so I sit in first class and defy an inspector to actually make his way through the dense humanity in the corridor to catch me.

Returning, I discover the buffet car no longer exists, and if you want a drink you must go to the goods van, where a functionary is stationed with a trolley. Commuters submit to this Third World service as if it is perfectly normal. If they had any gumption they’d call my pal Roger, order a tanker of Terra Liquid and hose it directly into the executive offices of Southwest Trains.

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