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» It's not me, it's the drugs talking

"Shepherding" is where you're the experienced tripper, and you've got one or more mates with you for whom it's all a new experience. The idea is, if they find it all a bit much, you'll be there to tell them they'll be alright.

So I was the shepherd when I took some uni mates for their first trip. We went down to Avebury in Wiltshire, camping. This is a gorgeous area of countryside, filled with stone-age sacred spaces. We drop our tabs in mid-afternoon and go for a wander.

The stone circle is very cool, of course, but there are too many people about. So we wander off to Silbury Hill, which is basically just a big ol' artificial hill. You're not supposed to climb up it, but we did. It's a great place -- you can get into the whole sacred space thing if you want to, but if you don't, you can just stand up there watching the weather roll across the plains and over you. We got lucky -- we had sun, then rain, then sun, then rain, then sun again. Lots of clouds and shafts of sunlight and so on, for all us tripped-out people to get amazed by.

After a few hours, once the rush has passed (but, as all you trippers know, there are still a few more hours of weirdness to go), we decide we've had enough of being out on a wet and windswept hilltop, and decide to head into Avebury proper. We head for the village's only pub, so we can get warm and dry and so those who want a pint or some food can get some.

One of the guys I'm shepherding is my best mate. He's been doing well so far, and had a great time. But in the pub, paranoia starts to set in. He thinks maybe a bit of food will calm him down; I advise against anything heavy; he orders some soup. Stilton soup. When it arrives, he's horrified by it. Says it smells of wet, dirty socks. I can't argue, because it does. So I suggest we go out for some fresh air. He says he can't, he's been leaning against this pillar too long and half his brain has now leached into it. I spend some time trying to convince him this isn't the case.

The gist of my argument is: come on, you know you're tripping, all the things that seem so weird now aren't really that weird after all, we aren't seeing things that aren't there any more, all is cool. So I say, what around you seems weirdest to you right now? Thinking, of course, I can explain how whatever it is is perfectly normal, and calm him down.

He doesn't have to think about this. He points at a fork lying on the floor of the pub. "What's that doing there?" he says. "What's it for?" I look, and it's just a fork. "Somebody's dropped it," I say, "there's nothing to it." "But it's right in the middle of the floor," he says, sounding a bit panicky. "That's no accident. It must mean something. They must want it to be on the floor."

I can handle this, I think. Just convince him that there's nothing going on, and I will calm him down, and I will be a good shepherd. I'll get him back into the good head space, and we'll all carry on having fun.

And at that moment the waitress passes by. She steps on the fork. She notices it. She frowns. She picks it up and looks at it. And then she steps to the side, and She Puts It Back Down On The Floor, and she walks off.

We look at each other. We look at the fork. We get the fear. And I am no longer a good shepherd, I too am a gibbering paranoid scared of forks and waitresses with mysterious ways.

We leave the pub in a hurry, wild-eyed and barging through people and leaving everyone else behind.
(Thu 22nd Dec 2005, 19:18, More)

» Winning

Phill Jupitus owes me a CD
Years ago, shortly after moving to sunny London, I was working in the post room of a medium-sized company. I wasn't really putting my liberal arts degree to good use, but the work kept me fit, and I met some good drinking buddies. After a time, I realised I could have a radio on in the post room without anybody minding. And thus I discovered GLR.

That's "Greater London Radio" to you. (It's never been the same since it became "BBC London Radio".) And it was a godsend. It had the sort of character and personality that I hadn't ever known in American radio stations. You know, presenters could actually choose their own music to play, that sort of thing. It was occasionally shambolic, but it was the BBC, after all, so it never got really amateurish. Great stuff.

One fine morning, a new presenter by the name of Phill Jupitus held a contest. Ring up and tell us a tourist jingle you've invented about your neighbourhood of London, he said, and if it's good enough we'll send you a CD.

Cool, thought I. That's exactly the kind of local content that makes GLR what it is. And the first winners started being read out on air, and they were funny! Can't remember them now, of course, but take my word for it. London wit, thought I.

I should try this, thought I. Spending an hour working up a good rhyme would beat the hell out of sorting memos into post boxes.

Then I realised -- all the winners I'd heard had involved nice, simple neighbourhood names, like Ealing or Clapham or Bow or Tooting -- names that you could find plenty of rhymes for.

I lived in Cricklewood.

Bollocks, thought I. I was stumped, and gave up quickly. Then it came to me, pretty much complete:

Are you in a pickle?
Would you like to settle down?
Come along to Crickle-
wood, a nicer part of town.

I rang in, and Phill's assistant liked my slogan, and they told me I'd won, and Phill read my little poem out on air.

Good thing that was reward enough, 'cause they never did send me the CD they'd promised.
(Fri 29th Apr 2011, 23:33, More)