INTERESTING TIMES 13: THE ROAD TO EXCESS

By Andrew Maben

Maben GirlI surely did not notice as Ourobouros touched tongue-tip to tail. Looking back at this moment it has, however, often seemed so: that this was the moment I chose to dive into the descending spiral…

But for now I was merely momentarily stunned. As I entered, Sophie appeared and showed me into the sitting room, where a teapot, cups, milk, sugar, stood on a tray upon a low table. I sank into a soft sofa. Sally withdrew.

Any hopes I might have had of winning Sophie’s affections fell to ground as she spoke of her boyfriend Pete – singer in an obscure band, songwriter for a supergroup. So I spoke a little of my recent journeys, drank two cups of tea, shared a joint, and with mutual promises to meet again soon, I took my leave…

“If you remember the Sixties, then you weren’t there” – a tired cliche by now, perhaps, but my rather sporadic recollections of 1969 do rather bear out the adage. Besotted and clueless, more or less permanently high, as I look back it’s as though watching fireworks on a foggy night, vague and indistinct for the most part, interspersed with brilliant clear flashes, so what follows will be somewhat fragmentary… I think we can agree that I was in some kind of state of shock, and let’s not forget I was smoking hash pretty much all day everyday, and tripping at any opportunity. In any event all my notions of romance and mysticism somehow coalesced into the brittle limpidity of a crystal world. I felt as if enmeshed, enlaced in a latticework woven of love and circumstance by fate. Though I had surely yearned for Sally, I had not thought to seek her out, nor expected our paths would ever cross again. To say I took for granted fate’s hand in this meeting understates my visceral certainty that we were bound together in bonds beyond ourselves. Is it telling that I have no clear sense at all of where I went, of where I slept, that night, that week?

There were two girls who lived in a bedsit on Kensington Park Road and allowed me to spend a while crashing on the sofa. They had office jobs by day, played Al Stewart a lot in the evening…

Somewhat desperate I decided to visit Bob, who had moved to Taunton. It was odd to visit this town that had occupied such a large place in my childhood. Bemusedly walking familiar streets, so much smaller now than in memory. A fun-fair in the park. And Bob not exactly overjoyed to see me, though who could blame him, I suppose…

Back in London I went to visit Sophie, though I was rather obviously looking for Sally, still nursing the addled notion that it was fate that had brought me back into her orbit… But Sally had moved. After what I hoped would pass as a polite interval I set out to find her new abode, just off the Portobello Road. It turned out to be a first floor flat on Colville Terrace.

The flat consisted of a large sitting room, a tiny bedroom and a minuscule kitchenette, with a bathroom on the stairs. Basically a crash pad slum. Sally occupied the bedroom with her new boyfriend, Jack, a junkie speed-freak. There were several mattresses in the sitting room, most of which were occupied. When I asked if it would be OK to “crash for a few nights”, I was told to make myself at home on the sofa. Somehow I had failed to take notice of what was surely an omen of some kind: the house was number 13. No, I was far more taken with the graffiti on the large blank wall across the street:

THE ROAD OF EXCESS

LEADS TO THE PALACE OF WISDOM

Naturally I took this, not as a warning, but as an exhortation, and set to with a will…

Hash was ubiquitous, Strawberry Fields acid was abundant, but pills figured most heavily on the Colville menu. Various amphetamines: dexedrine, black bombers, french blues; and to unwind there were valium and barbiturates. What did I care? Apparently at home “everyone knew” that I was a junkie. They’d made a pariah of me over a scrap of hash? Well, then I’d show them…

Everybody was dealing something, at least some of the time. Pam and some others had huge prescriptions for various pills and often had some hash as well. Jack was on physeptone and usually sold some of his daily script. I usually had hash or acid…

At first I turned to various odd jobs to earn a little extra money. I found work for a while as a mover. It’s not a lot of fun pushing a piano up four narrow flights of stairs. Spent some time distributing flyers door to door and felt no great shame at dumping stacks and going for a cuppa before reporting back. Then a few weeks as a cleaner. That was usually light work – some flats seemed to me close to immaculate when I arrived, with perhaps a few dishes to wash, light dusting. Often I’d be invited to help myself from the fridge, and invited or no often I would. And then there was the virago who required me to scrub all her walls one morning, followed my every move, harangued with withering scorn for my half-hearted efforts… Nothing very satisfying, and Leary’s pied-piper call lured me still. And so I became an itinerant dealer. With a pocketful of acid, sometimes perhaps a little hash, I’d make my way to the outskirts of the city and stick out my thumb…

In Bristol with a cold, visiting the suspension bridge, tripping while on Contac (not recommended), then on to Exeter. Sitting outside the milk-bar mum used to take us to. Some hippies stroll by, smile.

“Hey, you want to score some acid?”

They reacted as if I were the advance guard of some liberating army. Joyous greetings. An invitation to stay. A big run down house everyone tripping. A girl whom, as usual, I was too shy, or stupid, or something, to approach. An earnest face looking into my eyes, announcing that I must be a wizard… And eventually I crawled into bed. Alone. The next morning, my wares exhausted, it was back to London.

Oxford was another promising market. Pouring rain, sheltering in a high street doorway, I was joined by a pretty Swedish blonde. The rain showed no sign of letting up and we fell into conversation. She invited me to spend a couple of nights on her sofa – not her bed (somehow the “sexual revolution” seems to have managed to give me a rather wide berth – much to my chagrin). We spent one lovely day tripping around the city, college courtyards, the banks of Isis. As we sat beneath a tree she told me of the recent death of her boyfriend. He had signed on as crew on a freighter crossing the Atlantic and had apparently decided one night to abandon life. No trace of his body was ever found, though the vessel spent many fruitless hours searching…

Each return to London found me becoming more deeply embroiled in the Colville community. If “community” is the word for that fractious, disparate group, united only in rivalry, and a common taste for drugs.

It was a leisurely existence. After a morning joint it would be off to Mick’s caff for breakfast, usually eggs, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms sometimes, toast and tea. There’d usually be someone or other that I knew, either other Colville inhabitants and visitors, or others I had met here or through random street encounters, and it was here I ran into Ros again, who now lived close by. There did at least seem to be a larger sense of community among the freaks of Notting Hill, almost familial.

Days were filled with aimless strolls on neighbourhood streets, Hyde Park, Holland Park. Sharing glazed glances of recognition, smiles, joints, random conversation…

“You’re like a hedgehog – all spiky on the outside, soft and warm inside…” I am?

“She really fancied you.” She was a lovely black girl, big eyes, big afro, long legs…

“You think so?” I’d certainly fancied her, but hadn’t noticed the least sign of reciprocation…

“Yeah! You know who that was?”

“No.”

“She’s from Hair.”

Oh well…

A new band, Led Zeppelin, played at the Roundhouse, but I wasn’t much interested. It was going to be good year for concerts, but the club scene had gone downhill, UFO was just a fond memory, Middle Earth had run out of steam… John Peel organised a series of shows at the Lyceum Ballroom that he called Midnight Court. I don’t remember much about it beyond hanging out in the remarkably ornate and comfy ladies loo smoking joints. The club itself had none of the old atmosphere of freedom and abandon. Perhaps it was something to do with so many people doing speed…

At the flat there was plenty of time to read, and I consumed theGormenghast trilogy and Lord of the Rings. I picked up a slim volume called Labyrinths, but couldn’t come to grips with its odd fragments. Other reading: International TimesOZStrange Tales with Nick Furyand Dr. Strange, the amazing artwork of Jim Steranko and Jack Kirby; and of course ZAP Comix where I first fell in love with the work of Robert Williams… Music played constantly. I scribbled amphetamine-fuelled intricacies in my sketchbook. A steady flow of customers, looking for a hit or two of acid, a quid deal of hash, some dexies… If people were offering the same wares, then they’d take turns. As often as not there’d be varieties of acid – tabs, blotter – and Lebanese, Afghan, Pakistani, Nepalese hash. Some would hover at the door, grab their score and split, others would sit around, sometimes for hours. Some we knew, if only from a chance encounter, some just appeared, referred apparently by random strangers…

A redheaded San Francisco nymphette who might have just escaped from one of R Crumb’s panels invited me to come home with her to smoke. She chattered away as we walked down Lancaster Road and found our way to her place. She rolled a fat joint, told me about her friend Janis, how I was just the kind of boy Janis liked, she ought to introduce us… As the strong black hash took hold, her prattle became hypnotic, I drifted into a deep slumber…

“You think you can bring your boys back here to fuck? I can have any of them any time I want. I’ll fuck every one of them!”

Gosh. I kept my eyes closed. I wanted no part of this bizarre mother-daughter sexual rivalry. I might have wished that I had sat up and offered to fuck both of them, but I simply waited until their voices subsided to a more conversational tone and made some excuse to leave.

But there was more talk of Janis Joplin back at the flat. Someone had appeared claiming to want to score some smack for her, and a couple of people were arguing as to who would get to go. I wanted no part of that either. The next night I was at the Albert Hall for her concert, watching from the highest balcony…

Sally and Jack had what nowadays we call a dysfunctional relationship. The noise of their battles, his shouts, her cries, came undiminished through the thin wall. Why didn’t I intervene? Why didn’t anyone? Someone told me that during the winter a boy Sally had broken up with had hanged himself after she dumped him. Perhaps she was punishing herself. Who knows?

I remember tripping one night. I’d been amusing myself face dancing – letting the music induce whatever movements it might – somewhat to someone’s amusement. A little later Sally bent to peer into my eyes.

“What’s wrong, Andrew?” Well, damn, I didn’t think anything much was wrong, I was just off somewhere in my head. But I spent the next few hours trying to find out what was wrong…

And it must have been around this time that she devastated me by saying, “Andrew, you’re the nicest boy I ever knew, but I could never think of you that way.” At some level I think I decided that if nice wasn’t what was required I’d try not to be. Not the healthiest of decisions, as it meant that I would spend many years embattled with myself – what I think of as my natural inclination to kindness and generosity at war with my efforts to be as much of a bastard as I could manage. This took place against the backdrop of my growing disillusionment, not to say disgust, with the evidence all around of the disintegration of the ideals of the Summer of Love.

Soon after the Joplin show, I escaped the turmoil of Colville Terrace and moved in with Ros. She gave me a little room in her top-floor flat on Sutherland Place. She made skirts sewn from 1930s era scarves, which she sold at Kensington Market. She was up early most days, off to a round of street markets to pick up her raw materials. A close, relaxed platonic friendship grew and flourished.

She had some kind of “in” at the Royal Albert Hall. As well as the Joplin concert, she’d taken me to the Alchemical Wedding back in December. We’d been hanging around backstage, rather aimlessly. As John and Yoko made their way to the stage to climb into their bag, he trod on my toe. “Ooh. Sorry, mate.” Later that night the two of them sat at the next table at Seed macrobiotic restaurant. Some mutual embarrassment – perhaps heightened by what several people had remarked on as my supposed physical resemblance to Lennon…

So it must have been as her guest that I went to see the Mothers of Invention, a band that I’ve never really been hugely impressed by. As usual we were at the uppermost tier. We were speeding, laughing and commenting on various friends and acquaintances down below. “SHHHHHHH!!!!” from an earnest looking uni student type. First time anyone ever hushed me at a rock show. I took it as a grim foreboding for the future of music.

The next day Blind Faith played their inaugural free concert in Hyde Park. Ros and I walked over to the park together. Tripping, of course. A pleasant enough gathering, though the band was a bit ragged…

A guy called Roger had shown up at Colville Terrace, dark, bearded, with a gentle gravity, graceful movements, an almost hesitant languor, extravagant sartorial tastes. Somehow or other we formed a friendship and decided to go into partnership. I moved back to number thirteen.

A few people who lived or visited have lasted among my memories. There was Paul, a burly film editor who was often gone for long editing sessions. It seems that he spent so much time at the studio it wasn’t worth getting a flat of his own, and the easily accessible amphetamines certainly must have helped with the long hours. Pam was still there, a bit taciturn, thin, flighty. She had some kind of connection with people like Jenny Fabian, whose place she took me to one afternoon. Jenny would soon have her fifteen minutes of notoriety, but that day she spoke off-handedly enough of Groupie. And then there was Erica, an almost stolid English rose, who once described herself as a milkmaid, even-tempered and even-keeled she provided a sea-anchor of sanity amid the maelstrom… And Danny, a speed freak of whom I remember almost nothing at all… Dexedrine.

I can’t say for sure if Venus lived at the flat or was a visitor – he would sometimes stay for days, sometimes be gone for days. With his big nose and swarthy skin, his waywardly fey way of talking, he was a kind of piratical Donovan. Inevitably at some point he’d break off a conversation, sometimes mid-sentence, with his stock phrase: “I’m going for a loon”. And off he would go, to return after perhaps an hour, perhaps a day or more, with tales of things he’d seen, people he’d met… It was Venus who introduced me to Desmond, whose flat was decorated entirely with stuff he had found on the street, including an impressive stereo and an unexpectedly comfortable sofa that had a car windscreen as its back. Desmond hinted that he might have been immortalised by the Beatles. Who knows?

Heather was a model, an ethereal beauty with faraway blue eyes, astonishing golden Struwwelpeter hair, porcelain skin, a wraithlike figure, fragile, vulnerable. I was secretly smitten, but clueless as ever. So it goes…

I met Michèle one rainy afternoon sheltering in a doorway. She had a flat just down the street from Mick’s caff that she shared with Chris, her American boyfriend, and I used to spend quite a lot of time there. Chris had a regular supply of acid from San Francisco. It always struck me as mildly ironic that he had a sister who was nanny for one of Nixon’s daughters.

There was a young bobby who was trying to woo Michèle and dropped by from time to time. He had no objection to our smoking, in fact occasionally he’d bring a gift of confiscated hash, though he didn’t partake himself. But after Michèle hid his helmet just before he went on shift, much to his consternation, he didn’t seem to show up quite so often.

“Hey, Andrew, I’ve got some new acid. Would you try it out for me?” Chris asked me one afternoon. Purple microdots. Of course I was only too happy to oblige. I swallowed the pill, and as we waited for it to come on he played a couple of LPs he’d just got: Creedence Clearwater Revival. By the time the second album had finished playing, the acid was coming on. I could tell it was clean and very strong.

“Think I’ll go out for a walk.”

A short while later I was gazing raptly at the knick-knacks in a shop window on Portobello.

A couple stood beside me.

“Hi.”

“Hi,” I replied. There must have been something about my demeanour.

“Oh wow! Are you tripping?”

I nodded, smiled.

“Would you like to come up for tea?”

I nodded, smiled.

Turns out it was their shop. They opened the front door beside the shop, and up we went to the first-floor flat. A big, airy room, wooden floor, cushions scattered about, posters on the wall, a nice stereo, big speakers.

I sat among cushions facing the speakers. The girl appeared with a tea tray.

“Have you heard the new Hendrix?”

So I got to hear Electric Ladyland for the first time. Peaking on some fine acid, sipping tea, floating on my cushions, Jimi’s majestic music carrying me out of and into myself…

Roger came home one evening with a new girlfriend, Jan. Seems he’d found her in tears at Peta’s flat, and felt compelled to comfort her. Who could blame him? Jan was perfectly lovely. Well, who apart from Peta, who’d been Rog’s girlfriend up to this moment…

A few day’s later Rog somehow came into possession of a cheque book.

“Let’s go shopping!”

The three of us took a bus down to World’s End and headed down the Kings Road, buying clothes, records, that Roger would magnanimously pay for with his stolen cheques. Not a sign of suspicion. I remember Roger found himself a blue bullfighter’s suit of lights, and I got a salmon pink velvet coat and pink crushed velvet trousers. And we all found shirts, blouses, tops. And arms full of LPs.

Until we got to the Chelsea Drug Store. We were downstairs, flipping through the album racks. I happened to glance up. Looking down at us from the balcony above were three security guys. Uh oh! I signalled to the others – we were becoming adept at communicating with subtle facial gestures – and we made our way out of the shop. Just in time. A taxi happened to be right outside the door and we clambered in.

“Notting Hill, please.”

As we pulled away, a police car with siren and lights going pulled up and the two cops ran into the shop…

Sally and Jan hit it off, and the four of us started spending time together away from the flat. We’d go for walks in the afternoon, to the Mangrove to eat and hang out in the evening. When Easy Rider came out we went to Soho to see it.

“Look at Andrew being Captain America!”

We were walking through Piccadilly Circus after the film, and I was hanging back a bit, withdrawn. But not because I identified with or wanted to emulate Peter Fonda’s character. As usual we were all on acid. I was consumed by my infatuation with Sally, heart full of longing. A terrible sense of futility, of hopelessness, came over me. My personal dreams, my hopes for a better world, all seemed to be slipping further and further from reach. The gulf between the world as it is and the world as it could be, should be, seemed unbridgeable, happiness something not permitted to me… I joined the others, walked at Sally’s side, longing to take her hand, not daring to.

There was a rumour going about that was soon confirmed: the Stones were going to play a free concert in Hyde Park! We spent the days before trying to lay in a proper supply of drugs: we’d need speed so we could stay up all night, hash, acid of course.

On Thursday afternoon an American approached me on Portobello, wanting to buy an ounce of hash. I told him the price, that I needed the money in advance and that I’d meet him at Mick’s caff at eleven on Friday morning. You may be surprised that he readily agreed, but things were still relatively relaxed, trust not yet completely eroded.

The next morning, hash in my bag, I walked over to Mick’s, but as I got close I could see a police van parked in front, cops coming and going. I walked a couple of blocks up Portobello and round the block to approach the café from the other side. Nope. The cops were still there. What could I do? I had no way to contact the guy, so I took myself home, along with what now turned out to be my free ounce of hash.

We’d left it too late to score any speed. It seems that, predictably enough, half the population of London had had the same idea. What to do? I don’t know who proposed the idea, but we decided to use acid to keep us awake. Two tabs each at eleven o’clock, then one each hour until three, when we would head to the park. It sounds maybe a tad excessive, in retrospect, but it seemed a great idea at the time…

Ros was away somewhere, and had left me a key, so a little before eleven the four of us, Jan, Rog, Sally, me, headed over to her flat. At eleven we took our two hits, smoked a fat joint, and settled in. The girls made a pot of tea and I put some records on. The acid was coming on nicely when we took the midnight booster. The hours elapsed as we got higher and higher.

Sally’s at the window, looking out. “Look, a UFO!”

I get up and go to look. I can’t help but smile when I see it’s an aeroplane. “It’s an aeroplane.”

“Oh, Andrew. You’ve no sense of magic.”

Funny. I’ve always found an abundance of magic in the day to day. Isn’t that aeroplane miracle enough on its own account? I think there’s a poverty of imagination in the desire to ascribe spurious magical interpretations to things and events. I suppose I am a little taciturn. I like to ponder on stuff. Like, how is it that we are here? What exactly is “here”? How are we to deal with being here? It feels as though I’m hard-wired to ponder these imponderables. And, again, if these are imponderables, what is it about us that requires us, nevertheless, to ponder them. Back in Brighton, on that first trip, for a golden instant, I apprehended, or was apprehended by, or simply imagined… something. Mystics, scientists, poets, musicians, artists all may have brought us to the brink of this intuited something, this sense that might be described as of a consciousness beyond the reach of our own understanding, but attainable to and possessing understanding. Patterns within patterns within wheels…

“Time to go,” says Roger softly.

I return from my reverie. We collect our things, preen each in turn before the mirror, tiptoe one by one down the stairs.

“Don’t forget to lock the door,” whispered.

As we crossed Westbourne Grove and went down Chepstow Place we could see others on the street, all moving in the same direction, in groups, singly, in pairs. By the time we were on Bayswater Road this had become a stream.

When we reached the Cockpit we could make out a large, but as yet not very dense crowd. Roger pulled a big joint from his bag and lit it, and we began to pick our way to an open spot back a bit and towards the south of the stage. Someone tapped Roger’s arm.

“Hey man, can I get a light?”

Roger passed the joint, which served to light another, just as big. An auspicious welcome, we felt.

We spread out the blankets, the basket of provisions and lay down. The long hours of waiting remain only as a pleasant blur…

Inevitably there came a moment when I just had to piss. So off I went to join the long line outside the toilets by the Serpentine.

“Hey man.”

Oh fuck, it’s the American whose hash we’ve been smoking all night and day. He leans closer. I half expect him to grab my shirt front and drag me away. But he just lowers his voice and asks, “Do you have my hash?”

I tell him I threw it down a drain when I saw the police at Mick’s. “Sorry, man. Couldn’t be helped.” Perhaps he believed me. Anyway, he just shrugged, gave me a crooked smile and walked away.

The Stones really weren’t that great maybe, but it was still the most carefree day of my year.

Soon after the Stones concert, Chris went back to San Francisco. He and I arranged for him to send parcels for me to Michèle’s. After breakfast one Saturday I went over and found that a package had arrived. Not LSD, but tablets of mescaline that looked a bit like melon seeds. We did quite a good business that evening, so we decided to give ourselves an evening off the next day.

There had been a police van parked across the street most of the last few days, so as a precaution I’d stashed most of the mescaline on the roof. We just kept a bit of hash and a few tabs with us in case friends or special customers should come by. We had an overnight guest, Robert, who used to visit regularly from his farm-commune in Cornwall. Otherwise the flat was, by Colville standards, almost deserted, the three of us, Robert, Pam and a couple of friends, Danny. I think Jack and Sally were out.

Suddenly came a hammering at the door. It was a neighbour who burst in as soon as the door was opened, shouting at us to turn the music down. One of Pam’s friends calmly suggested that he fuck off, but she happened to be in the middle of shooting up some speed, which probably somewhat attenuated the moral force of her suggestion. He glared at her in silence for a moment, then spluttered, “I’m calling the police,” turned on his heel, walked out, slamming the door. We gave him no more thought and went back to our game of rummy.

Perhaps half an hour later, Robert was standing at the window, tripping on mescaline.

Casually he remarked over his shoulder, “I don’t know if anyone’s interested, but a bunch of cops just came up the front steps.”

Without stopping to think, I grabbed our little stash, ran out of the flat and upstairs. I opened a landing window and slipped the little packet behind the roof leading.

When I came back to the flat the music had stopped. I feigned surprise at the sight of a roomful of police, men and women.

“Where’d you come from, then?”

“Oh. I was using the loo.”

“Alright, sit down. Now, none of you move.”

Pam sat with a half ounce of black hash wrapped in silver paper, calmly taking bites as if it was simply a bar of chocolate. Not one of the cops noticed.

They proceeded to search the room, making a fine mess of what had hardly been a paragon of tidiness to begin with. They pulled off bedding and threw it to the floor, lifted mattresses, emptied drawers. At regular, and not infrequent, intervals they would come across little packets of pills wrapped in aluminium foil. Each time the cop who had made the discovery would hold his trophy aloft and triumphantly ask, “Alright, whose is this, then?”

To be answered by one or another, depending whether they were dex or bombers, “Oh, those are mine. Here’s my prescription.” After glancing at the script the disappointed cop would reluctantly hand his spoils back to the claimant.

“Alright then! So whose are these?” Oops. Two microdots I’d been saving, hadn’t managed to grab. He was looking right at me.

“Gosh, I don’t know. People come and go all the time. Could be anyone’s.”

They stamped around a bit longer, pulled up a few floorboards for good measure, but found nothing more.

“You lot stay here. Nobody move. We’ll be back.”

They all left the room, closing the door behind them, presumably to Jack and Sally’s room.

We sat quietly, occasionally making some whispered remark or other. Roger, Jan and I resumed our game.

“I have to go to the loo.” Twenty minutes or more had passed. “No, no,” we told her, “They told us not to go anywhere.” Grimacing she acquiesced.

Ten minutes later she stood. “I don’t care! I’m not pissing in my fucking knickers!” And off she went.

She returned with an incredulous expression. “There’s nobody here…”

“What do you mean?”

“They’ve gone, there’s no one next door.”

Robert was the first to react. “Maybe we should all leave, in case they do come back.”

Seemed like a fairly good idea, the mood of the evening had been rather spoiled anyhow…

Everyone grabbed some basics and got out of there. Jan, Roger, Robert and I found our way to a little hole in the wall Jamaican take out. We squeezed into the tiny space, luckily we were the only customers, and ordered. Mounted in the corner above the counter was an old TV, small with a grainy black and white screen, showing what looked like a barren landscape. It took a moment to grasp that this was the moon. We hung around for an hour or more and that was how we witnessed the “giant leap for mankind”…

“I think you might need a break after this. Why not come down to Cornwall and stay a while?” We leapt at this generous offer, went back to number thirteen to pack as a grey dawn was breaking. A last sweep through the flat turned up a couple of abandoned packets of speed that we pocketed. It would surely come in handy. We split up – Robert had a train ticket, Jan and Rog went together and I hitched alone. We were gone by mid-morning.

It was slow going for me, and even though I hitched through the night, helped by that serendipitous speed, I found myself at dawn the next day on the outskirts of Newquay. I held my breath as a police car drove by, slowed down as it approached, and then drove on. I breathed again. But the car stopped a hundred yards or so down the road, then after several minutes turned around and came back.

“Mornin’.”

“Good morning,” I managed.

“So what are you up to then?”

“I’m on my way to stay with some friends near Penzance.”

“Are you now? Well, I’d better just have a look and see what you’ve got in that bag.” He reached out to take it from me.

The mescaline was hidden in the bottom of a deodorant stick. I bunched a fist, ready to punch and run, as he unscrewed the top. He glanced at me. I don’t know quite what transpired in that brief moment but he turned his attention back to the deodorant, replaced the cap, put it back in the bag and returned the bag to me.

Looking me in the eye again. “Alright then. You be careful now.” He got back in his car and drove back into town…

I eventually got to Robert’s farmhouse that afternoon. Jan and Roger were already there. Everyone wanted some mescaline.

One poor fellow went and sat on the lawn to throw the I Ching as he waited for the trip to come on. He came back into the house, disconsolate, almost distraught. It seems the lines had predicted a bad trip for him. With a degree of accuracy, as it turned out, for he left an hour or two later to fetch some of the pot he’d been growing in the back field. He came back close to tears with two stripped stalks. The goats had beaten him to it… There was a litter of kittens, and some idiot took it upon himself to dose one of them. It was comical, but how cruel, to watch the antics of the poor bewildered little thing… As the evening drew on I looked up at the moon – strange to think that there were men up there…

It was wonderful to have these days of respite to enjoy, the country quiet, sunshine, bucolic strolls, but it couldn’t last forever… We decided that when we left Penzance Jan would go home to Basingstoke while Roger and I made our way back to London. Then I would try to get my £200 inheritance, on the pretext that I was going to start a screen-printing business, and we’d regroup in Brighton…

Roger and I stopped in Bristol to unload some more mescaline, but the visit was cut short when someone took it upon himself to try to fly off the porch of his house. When someone arrived with this news at the flat where we were staying, we decided to make ourselves scarce…

Back in London we found the Colville flat deserted, but found Paul, the film editor, at Mick’s. He told us that things had finally come to a head between Jack and Sally when he locked her in with him in that tiny room. She was tripping and he had pulled a knife, promised her she would never escape with her life. Apparently she managed to get out of the window onto the porch from where she jumped down, by some miracle without doing herself any injury, and had made her way to Victoria on foot and thence by train home to Seaford.

“Jack’s been trying to kill himself by shooting up air. No luck so far…”

The negotiations for my inheritance went far more smoothly than I’d feared, and a couple of weeks later I was installed in a flat in Brighton up the hill from the railway station. Jan and Roger joined me a day or two later, and Roger and I went back up to London to score a quarter pound of some nice black hash.

For a while things went rather well. We soon built up a clientele, and settled into a life of leisure. One irritant came from neighbours who would insist on banging on the walls to get us to turn the music down. We disabused them of that habit by cranking the volume for five minutes whenever they knocked and then returning it to its original level. I built an Airfix Apollo rocket kit in honour of the moon landing and set it on the mantelpiece. We’d get endless amusement when tripping by tossing paraffin on the fire, which nicely simulated blast-off. Until we came close to blowing ourselves up by leaving the paraffin can next to the fire – Roger managed to grab it in the nick of time before it would have been engulfed in flame…

Fortuitously Nicky showed up one day with a bag of a thousand french blues. “Think you can get rid of these?”

We came to an amicable arrangement and spent a crazy weekend distributing the pills all over Brighton. What I liked about blues was that they contained both amphetamine and barbiturate, as time wore on and you took more pills the speed would gradually have less and less effect while the barbs would build up, so after a couple of days running around you would just sink into a soft sleep…

Of course it couldn’t last. In London to buy more hash, we found the town was dry. As the days wore on we were getting close to the point where our living expenses would start to eat into our working capital. Then we got word of a connection out in Chiswick or Acton or somewhere. We arrived at the place, were invited in, offered tea and smoked a couple of nice joints. Then the wares were brought out.

“It’s not hash, this is fresh pollen from Morocco.”

We were so high already that we really had no way of assessing the “pollen’s” quality. But we were desperate to score so we could get back home and start making money again. Not very smart, it should have been a clue that they were only asking the price of a quarter pound for a whole kilo…

As soon as we got back we managed to sell an ounce or two, but within hours the customers were back, demanding refunds… It seems the “pollen” was really henna. We were in trouble. Broke, hungry. And cold. Damn it was cold. As we broke up a kitchen chair to throw on the fire, I promised myself I’d escape these dismal winters one day.

Jan could hardly have picked a worse time to tell Roger that she was pregnant. With what struck me as callous and casual indifference he sent her packing. As far as I could tell he never gave her another thought, and I have never managed to get back in touch.

So it was in a way fortunate that a day or two later we received a telegram from my brother Pete: “Busted. Expect visitors.”

By a rather extraordinary coincidence a Post Office Savings book had been mistakenly delivered that morning. There were a few quid in the account, so Roger went to the Post Office and managed to withdraw the lot. We packed a few clothes, stuffed the “pollen” in a basement drainpipe and took the next train to London. We had decided to make a run for France, so it made sense that we went to stay at Michèle’s.

Michèle had moved to Earls Court and she and her new flat-mate, Françoise, made us welcome. Very welcome. I was bowled over by Françoise, her long dark hair, miniskirt, thigh length boots… We had a supper of pasta and wine and settled back in the dim light to smoke and listen to music. Before very long, and rather to my embarrassment, Roger and Michèle were locked in an amorous embrace on the bed. Françoise and I were both sitting on the floor. I glanced at her nervously. To my astonishment, and of course delight, she reached out and took my hand, lay back and pulled me into her arms. I still sometimes dream of the feel of those boots and her creamy thighs against my naked flesh…

The next day we took the train and boarded the ferry to Calais. It was New Year’s Eve…

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