A joint, bifta, "J", reefer. A marijuana cigarette.
I remember my first. It was huge, at four or five inches long and seemingly an inch wide at the end. Chris had spent many minutes constructing it, making a crazy patchwork of rolling papers in an elaborate ceremony, before filling it with tobacco and the liberal amounts of stuff from a glistening bud of what he called 'skunk'. We all watched the master make this monster joint, all the while commenting on its enormity. He completed it with a flourish, then passed it round for us to admire. "Now that is a spliff!" he said.

A spliff at its simplest is a hand-rolled marijuana cigarette. At its most complex, it's closer to the fabled Camberwell Carrot, manufactured from twelve rolling papers, and is less a joint than an exercise in paper engineering. It generally contains a good deal of tobacco as well as the other stuff. The word is, I believe, of West Indian origin, but this particular spliff was made in Nottingham.

Chris, the architect of this piece of reefer madness, was a high-functioning slob, who dressed immaculately but lived in a bedsit room of terrifying messiness. You could criticise him endlessly, call him names and insult him, but mess with his hair and you'd have a scrap on your hands. He was the midnight toker embodiment of Steve Miller's 'Joker', excepting his grooming. And his spliffs were out of this world.

Of course, I never smoked them. I never enjoyed the sensation of the stretching of time, hated the walking-home paranoia and the way my brain processed sensation. What few wits I have, I like to be clear and unfettered by artificial means. But watching other getting loaded, now that was funny. I could do that all night, and often did on those occasions when our gaming would stretch out into the wee hours.

Chris would always make two or three of them during the preparation for a game of AD&D, a Wednesday night geekfest that I'd somehow joined during the mid-90s. Dungeons and Dragons was the usual stuff, with occasional forays into other role-playing games. I never quite took the game all that seriously, and was amused by those who did. If you've ever played, you've met these people; the rules lawyer, the model-maker, the detail geek. Me, I wanted to just stay in character, see what was around the next corner, and have good out-of-character interactions with my mates. The actual process of gaming was tedious. All those dice rolls, all that THAC0 stuff, the recording of stats and treasure and whatnot. The fun bit was the interaction, the decision-making, the verbal action.

Of course, as the night wore on, and the others were getting more stoned, things could go two ways; lost in a weed-induced fugue, or intent on enjoying the minutest details to the full. Some players would get so laid-back that they'd lose time altogether - calling for character action could get quite involved, as the player tried to remember where his character was, which character he was playing to begin with, and just exactly what the fuck the party were doing anyway. Others would get more deeply involved in the world, asking questions about everything from what, say, a particular door looked like to asking if there were any wee flowers on the roadside. The time would come when the two straight players would call it quits because nothing got done half an hour after the third spliff was done.

I never got into the weed myself, but by Gum, I'm grateful that it was around. The rules lawyer would gradually stop being picky and the model-maker would stop caressing his pieces and both would actually become part of the game. But slowly and inevitably the game always deteriorated into chaos. The Dungeon Master, who was the other unloaded soul (he learned very early that running the game whilst stoned as a Bad Idea), would finish his notes, put down his pencil, and together we'd listen to the doper-talk and leave when the first one of them dozed off.

At my green card interview, the INS chappie asked me whether I'd ever used controlled substances. "No, Sir!" was my reply, and then he looked at me and asked "Did you inhale?" I could only laugh and recall that spliff.

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