I find a degree of sympathy for Bill Clinton as he struggled during his 1992 presidential campaign to suppress rumours of having smoked pot. Except for me the challenge was not inhaling pot — but opium…. It happened like this…

Upon my return to Laos in 1971 I lodged for a time with a generous Canadian family who occupied a large house in the centre of Vientiane. Outhouses had been renovated and a pair of us single fellows – the other was from Thailand – occupied two of these upstairs rooms.

The arrangement worked just fine for me and I was glad to have the opportunity for joining in the life of the family and playing with their four younger children.

The day began with breakfast which was always a challenge as I became accustomed to new foodstuffs while experiencing the drama of eating in the company of small children who provided constant lively entertainment – and education!

As an early bird I normally had no trouble getting started at the beginning of the day. But it soon became apparent that I was struggling. In fact I often felt quite whoozy in the mornings – as soon as I woke up. Strange! The children made fun of me when I came down to breakfast…

I also realised that there was a strange smell in my room. It was a distinctive sweet, sickly smell. Some mornings it was stronger than others… I became curious.

At one end of my room opposite the door was a window with iron bars and mosquito screen. The window did not afford a view because it was backed up against another building. But as I looked down through the bars to the floor below I could make out just enough to see men sitting around a small flame with their pipes.

Opium addicts! It was their smoke that was wafting upwards into my bedroom – and I was getting their leftovers!

My Canadian friends had a good laugh when I told them. I also told my Lao friend who was a policeman and he came round to check out my story. Opium dens were illegal so he soon got onto the case – and the opium smell went away.

Vientiane was a constant source of interesting stories – like the friend who couldn’t figure out why her hotel room had a strong smell of cats – only to learn that the previous occupant had kept a tiger…! But that’s another story!