Sometimes we make mistakes. I thought Ardal O’Hanlon would be a better evening’s entertainment than Howard Marks at the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival last night and booked my ticket accordingly. However, the way things worked out, I called in to see the first half hour of the self-appointed Mr. Nice, just to see the cut of his jib.

Well, when it was time to head for the date with Fr. Dougal, I found it hard to leave the Black Box. The man I expected to be a boorish self-publicist was hugely entertaining.

For those in the audience who might not have known who Howard Marks was – I doubt if anyone fitted that description – the man himself played a short video from a news programme in America looking, at his criminal past as he faced a long stretch in the slammer for narcotics offences.

Hello! Magazine don’t do news programmes but if they did, this is what they would look like.

Even the cops seemed to be fond of the man who at one stage was said to have controlled 10% of the world’s hashish trade. Marks told his audience of mostly fans that the stuff he dealt in was of the finest quality – unlike the stuff being pedalled today – earning him a round of applause from the aficionados of the weed in the audience.

After graduating with a degree in nuclear physics and post grad qualifications in philosophy, Howard became one of the world’s biggest drug dealers in the 1970s, was on the run for seven years – “the happiest time of my life – and e ended up in a Texas jail.

After a lifetime involved in illegal drugs, providing and consuming, and seven years in the slammer, it only took a millisecond for Marks to be rehabilitated. The miraculous recovery was brought about by a cheque for £100,000 from a publisher keen to cash in on the Welshman’s new-found celebrity.

“If we give you a cheque for £100,000 do you promise to write the book within a year, Howard?”

“Yessss, I promise,” was the inevitable reply.

The Welshman does a nice line in self-deprecation, with career moves from getting a degree in nuclear physics at Oxford University to the life of a drug baron, from jail to becoming a best-selling author and now he has finally ended up as a standup comedian.

Well, he’s more of a raconteur actually and the message he sends out are worth listening to.

One of Mark’s jobs was to judge the quality of the ten strongest cannibis joints in a competition run in Amsterdam.

They paid for his flight, gave him a hotel for a week and told him to smoke the lot for the seven days and come up with a winner!

He tells of Switzerland a country where buying, selling and consuming drugs is illegal, but to grow it isn’t! So he and his mates went to the country and grew “forests of skunk” and there was nothing the police could do about it. And because you had to physically put the marijuana into your body, by smoking it or by other means I won’t go into – you could lie in this forest of weed and get high by just smelling the stuff!

Damn! It was time to go. When I got round to the Marquee, Ardal had already started and was coincidentally talking about Switzerland. Now Ardal O’Hanlon is a very funny man and the audience loved him and there were many laugh out loud moments. But all he did was tell jokes. Marks had lived the life and was, to my mind, on a totally different level.

So next time, I’ll go for the outlaw instead.

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