Tripping in the rain

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The Independent Culture
IT WAS a wet January evening in 1980. Light- headed with anxiety, I walked through the rain, across the muddy lawn, down the snail- crunching path, towards . . . what? I had no idea what. I thought: I might jump out of a high window, or try to stop a car with my bare hands, or . . . anything. You never knew. That was the point.

Geoffrey answered the door; I walked straight in, deferring the question for as long as possible. I was terrified. I stood in the

kitchen, staring at things - brand names,

fatty smears, the rubber buffers on the fridge

door, anything.

I said: 'Did you . . ?'

'Yeh.' He smiled; I smiled back, weakly. 'It's in the fridge. You're supposed to keep it in the fridge.'

'I . . . never knew that. What's it in?'

He opened the fridge door and took out a saucer. Then he took a small strip of blotting- paper from the saucer and held it up; it was printed with a repeat-pattern of the Superman logo, a shield with a figure 'S' inside it.

Geoffrey filled a mug with water, tore the strip of blotting paper in half, and put one half into his mouth. Then, while he looked at me, I put the other half in my mouth. Then I swallowed it; it felt like nothing. Now, I thought, when people asked me if I'd 'dropped acid,' I could give them a casual nod; the act of swallowing felt like a sudden promotion.

In 1980, the golden days of LSD were over - nobody, apart from a few nutters, still thought that acid was going to make the world a better place. No, in our Doctor Martens and long overcoats, we just thought it might give us access to strangeness, something the young always crave. And there was, in my mind, a tiny vestige of the old notion that acid would teach me something, although I wasn't sure what. At the very least, I thought, it would give me the experience of spending some time as a twisted, deranged person. Great, I thought. On balance, it seemed worth it.

I'd already had a couple of acid experiences, although these had been strictly second-hand. Once, 'babysitting' a tripping friend, he'd grabbed me, shocked, and said: 'Jesus, don't look, don't look] They're . . . all around us.'

I looked up. 'No]' he whispered, covering his face with his arms. He said: 'I can't stand it] They . . .'

'Who?'

'People with beards. We're surrounded by people with beards.'

It was true: there were, I counted, four bearded men in the bar. My friend staggered over to one of them, ran his hand over the man's beard, and said: 'What is this? What are you doing?' Acid, I knew, had its bad points, its terrible points. And this made us think, of course, that the rewards were therefore equally rich.

But how much good can it possibly do you? Last week, acid-fanciers celebrated the 50th anniversary of the drug in Hyde Park. One man called it 'probably the most beneficial invention of human ingenuity'. It works by blocking the 5HT-2 receptors in the brain's cerebral cortex, so your brain functions like traffic during a security alert - you get jams, pile-ups, and sudden, inspired short-cuts; you get to see bits of the town you never knew existed. Cats on LSD become frightened of mice; fish swim sideways.

The drug creeps up on you. Two minutes after I took it, I felt nothing. Ten minutes after I took it, I felt nothing.

You can't tell the exact moment when the drug starts to take hold. Of course you can't - your mind, the thing you use to discern these things, is the thing that's buggered up. You wonder: will I retain some meta-

consciousness with which I can look down on all this? The answer is: yes, but only in fits and starts. With hallucinogenic drugs, the abnormal seems normal, so you do stupid things, and then, suddenly, the abnormal seems . . . abnormal. Better still, occasionally the normal seems abnormal, which, in a way, it is. That's what acid-heads call a 'moment of insight'.

Geoffrey said: 'Do you think this stuff

is genuine?'

I thought for a while, racked my brains for an answer. Then . . . a sudden flash] An inspired short-cut] I said: 'Would we be crawling along in this ditch if it wasn't?' And . . . it was true, we were . . . yes] We were in some kind of ditch, and it was raining, and we were completely soaked, and neither of us had noticed, up until this point, that anything out of the ordinary was happening. We were in a wet trench by the side of a field, crawling along, and suddenly, this knowledge - yes] I understand] - took us over completely; we couldn't move for laughter. This, the fact that I was in a ditch and I fully understood the situation, seemed to be the best, clearest, most brilliant insight I'd ever had.

I was - covered in water] I was . . . wet] And this was because of the water . . . I was functioning on a new level, a level of total philosophical understanding of my situation. I lay in the water, poking my fingers into the mud, marvelling at the texture of the mud.

Later, much later, I woke up in my own bed - surprisingly, since I'd spent some time breaking into someone else's house in the mistaken belief that it was my own. But I escaped, in order to do some other things. I forgot it was the night, and woke several people up. I took all the knives out of Geoffrey's kitchen and threw them down a drain. I spent two hours staring at clocks and watches, suspecting that time moved at different speeds. I tried to get to grips with Geoffrey's idea that Elvis Costello wrote his songs backwards.

I'd learned a lot. I'd learned that . . . that what? That water was . . . what was it? What could I remember? That water was . . . very wet. I'd learned that mud was very . . . muddy. That if you scramble your mind, the world is a different place. And that, while hallucinating might be no hindrance to getting a degree in philosophy, it wasn't exactly a short-cut. I'd still have to read all those books.-

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