Reality bites

Out There
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The Independent Culture
Sim is 25. For the past nine years he has lived on the road, following the festival trail round Europe. One day in Spain he found his girlfriend, Becky, in a coma. When she was taken to hospital she asked to be tested for HIV

Becky was 20 when she tested HIV positive. Sim tested negative. Unlike Becky, he'd never injected. He'd always used condoms, a habit he puts down to advice from his mother, a gynaecological nurse.

They stayed on site another month, but stopped doing parties: nobody felt like dancing. Sim started doing drugs again, and went off with some friends for a week in Frankfurt, leaving Becky and the truck behind. It was nothing unusual, he says; they were both always very independent.

"It was late when I got back and Becky's lights weren't on, meaning she must be asleep. As I went to step into the truck, I noticed a musty smell. Then my mate Paul called me. He walked up and said, "I've got to tell you something." We stepped inside the truck and there she was, lying on the bed. Paul said, 'She's dead. The note's on the kettle.'

"I thought he was having a laugh. I looked at the note. It said, 'Dear Sim, Can't take no more. Love, Becky.' There was a single kiss. That's when I realised it was true. She always used to leave loads of kisses, even if she was only going to the shops to get some milk." Becky had OD'd.

"I couldn't cry. It was weird because I felt like I had to, but I couldn't. I sat down on the sofa and smoked a bit of smack and fell asleep. The next day this old couple on the site called the police. I talked to her father on the phone and he screamed, 'You did this, it was you.' I wanted to explain it face to face, but he wouldn't see me."

Sim took the ferry to Ibiza and did 14 nights non-stop with the sound system, running on adrenaline and drugs. By now, his habit was about pounds 160 a day - half a gram each of smack and coke, half an ounce of hash and a gram or two of speed - bought with profits from dealing hash, and the parties.

By chance, he met Mark and Paula, headed for Tibet. They needed another driver; Sim wanted to be anywhere but in his truck. So they set off together across Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey, where they bought nine ounces of hash for pounds 100 and sat in the sun getting stoned for two months.

They drove up through Afghanistan: Sim hadn't known there was a war on, and didn't care anyway. "Every morning it was like, get up, do a line of whiz, line of coke, have an E, do your hash, and then I could start driving. Later in the evening I'd chase some smack, get that big protective barrier around me. Like a big marshmallow. And then I'd do a bit more just to sleep. Mark and Paula weren't into it, they were hash-heads. By then, I was doing all the driving. I was happy to: with the stereo going, I didn't have to think too much. And it felt normal, that's the funny thing."

Six months after leaving Spain they drove into the Himalayan foothills with no visas, and crept over the Tibetan border. Sim found himself wandering through "a dirty little shanty town that had been built by kids" - Tibetan refugees. "I was out of my head. I didn't really know where I was. There were mountains all around and everyone wearing orange. In the centre of the village was this Buddhist temple that was more like a wooden shack."

He'd been there two days when Garret introduced himself. Although he is English, Garret hadn't been out of Tibet since his parents had moved to Lhasa when he was six. "He looked at me and said, 'You are out of your head. Just look at you, man. How much drugs have you got?' I said, 'Fuck off. What's it got to do with you?' And he said, 'I'm worried about you, that's all. You're trying to kill yourself.' And that broke my defences: I started crying. He was only 26, but he was like a wise old man, humble, but with this energy, this power."

Garret was part of the temple set-up. "But he never preached Buddhism, he just talked to me. He was completely cut off from the West, so he asked about everything - schools, transport, food, clothes, even television. Imagine me trying to describe television. I'd never watched it.

"He took my drugs off me, made me look at myself. He was the first person I could really talk to about Becky. I thought it was all my fault, that I was this dreadful person who'd made her go to Spain and let her die. And he said, 'Don't be such a prat. She went because she wanted to. You didn't make her inject drugs. You didn't kill her.'" Garret put Sim on a brown rice diet and nursed him back to health.

Six months later Sim woke up and thought, "Spain". He took a bus to Kathmandu and flew back to his home. It had taken him five years of saving and careful trading to buy his truck, but he sold it for the first offer, came back to England and bought a 36-foot bus.

Then he lost that, too, when the police confiscated it. So now he walks. He doesn't like the Tube; it's creepy, the way it's so quiet. People seem frightened, he says, but they won't talk to each other.