I like drug dealers. I also like drugs; obviously there’s a link between the two. I realise they only want me for my money, but my experiences with them over the last 7 or 8 years have been (almost) unanimously positive. That’s not to say I haven’t had scary experiences in Holloway flats with handsy gay dealers and their menstruating Alsatians, but guys I’ve used with any form of regularity I’ve found myself getting on with. Sure they’d be out of there if I wasn’t stuffing tens and twenties in their hands every few weeks, but they always seem to be so nice. Plus they have drugs. Here’s my favourite three.
He calls me ‘Jamesy’ when I call him. That’s an automatic winner- he’s got a salesman’s knack for making the slow-Joes feel special. He sends generic texts at Christmas: “just wanted to say happy Xmas and wishing you proper amounts of happiness in the new year. Look after yourself and be safe. 3 g’s for £140, until NYE.” This is more than enough for me to think what a really nice man he actually is, but then he’ll follow it up with “I’ve got a special Xmas present for you Jamesy, next time you make an order.” Obviously this gets me so flushed with excitement and pride in being a chosen one that I’ll call him the next available weekend evening, stamping my feet and tweaking my nipples at the prospect at my special gift, which invariably turns out to be 0.2 of the coke he’s had under his bed for 3 years in a tin marked ‘THIS IS EASY’.
That’s not to say I haven’t had scary experiences in Holloway flats with handsy gay dealers and their menstruating Alsatians...
Of course, the strength of the Clarence myth is based largely around the fact that you hardly ever see him. You call Clarence- who I imagine to be sitting on a leather swivel chair in front of a projector screen showing the new series of Dallas, wearing a crown at a jaunty angle with I’M THE DADDY embossed in it in imitation sapphires- and he has a minion (a cousin who I am never sure is an actual cousin and am too afraid to ask), drop off the gear to wherever you are. Every now and again, when the call comes to say he’s outside he’ll drop the bomb: “I’ve got a bit of a treat for you Jamesy. I’m doing the drops tonight.” Cue whoops and huzzahs from yours truly as I skip out to his car.
“Jamesy” He shouts as I get in, holding out a big bear hand. He looks a bit like Cee-Lo Green. “It’s been too long man. I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too Clarence, you’re looking good. ”
And so it goes. We pay each other compliments, he invariably asks where I’m going that night and makes some terminally unfulfilled promises about coming to meet me later. We both pretend to try and blur over the actual transaction; as money and drugs change owners we chit-chat about mutual friends or favourite films. After all, we’re here sitting in this car-park at two in the morning because we’re proper pals, not because I’m buying ropey coke off him, right?
Carlos is the softest-spoken man I’ve ever met, and my default fallback dealer. If no-one else is holding, or it's 10 in the morning and people are talking about second or third winds, Carlos is your man. His drugs are atrocious. They’re so bad, you invariably think twice about calling him. I often don’t. The only saving grace is the low quality of his product is mirrored by the low prices.
He’s also a lovely man, and will talk to you no matter what the occasion- last time I rang him was his nephew’s birthday and he was only too happy to step outside and take the time to explain why he couldn’t come for a few hours. The last time I met him, he brought his missus along- it turned out they had just had a kid. Along with the wrap of MD, he also passed me his phone with a picture of his newborn on. It was pretty cute. He then took a picture of me (I was in a Halloween outfit), said it was his favourite thing in the world and told me he’d send it to me. He didn’t but who wouldn’t be charmed by such niceties?
If he can’t come he might get his mate Ryan to. Like most of them, Ryan is very nice generally, but Ryan also has tattoos of tears and guns on his face, and apparently got out of prison a couple of years ago (I don’t want to know what for). I once met Ryan at 11am on New Year’s Day in the middle of an estate in Bethnal Green. He met me, said “Jimi, your nose is pissing blood” and handed me three grams of Charlie.
I don’t smoke weed anymore, but when I did Ash was my go-to guy for three years. A tiny little Indian chap from Croydon with expensive taste in alloy wheels, he was as reliable as a bank-robbers bank balance.
When we met up we’d have the same inane chit-chat, where had we been that day and that shit. Ash normally said he had been in the ‘studio’ but never really expanded. He was always listening to some awful drum n’ bass when I got in so I always just assumed he was doing something along those lines.
One time he turned up, and after he’d chucked me the baggy and dropped the studio line I asked him what he was doing all that time. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat and looked at his reflection in the rear-view mirror. “I, er, I don’t really like to talk about it,” he said and started tapping on his steering wheel.
Ash normally said he had been in the ‘studio’ but never really expanded. He was always listening to some awful drum n’ bass
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s, erm, I dunno” he looked across at me, “it’s just not what most people I know are into.”
My mind flashed up an image of Ash hanging upside down from a chip-up bar, blowing bubbles and wearing a nappy.
“You know,” he looked across at me sheepishly, “I don’t really talk about it that much Jimi.”
“Go on, what is it? I assumed you were just making stuff like you play in the car.”
“Erm, well, it’s just. Okay.” He turned the drum n’ bass off, and turned round square at me. “I’m going to be honest with you Jimi. I don’t mind drum n’ bass, but my heart lies with jazz.”
It turns out Ash is a jazz trumpet-player, and his hero is Chet Baker. He has a little band that he makes secret jazz records in his own studio at home, but he is too embarrassed and shy to tell most people about it. The drum n’bass he plays is, he says, a “cover,” because he doesn’t want his customers thinking he’s soft. I tell him I don’t believe him and he opens up his glovebox to show me a compartment of Pacific Jazz CDs.
“You’ll keep this to yourself, yeah?” He asks, nervously.
I lie and say I will, but from then on our in-car conversation took on an entirely different context and he’d babble on unashamedly about the tune he’d been playing that night, or play me some new free-jazz ramble he’d ripped from the darkest corners of the web. I’m glad I won his trust (largely because he started giving me bigger cuts), and I was vaguely interested, but I actually regretted it after a while, such was the lengths of time I had to sit in his little Mazda. He never once asked me what I thought, which was probably a good thing: I fucking hate jazz.
This is published over on Jimi's blog, which you can find here