Fiona [b. 1969] Ph.D. candidate, Sociology; journalist for the musical press
resides in London; born and raised in the Cotswolds region of the U.K.
I have a very good friend from Edinburgh named Lachlan. We used to do a lot of drugs together when I lived in Scotland. He’s the sort of guy you can tell anything to, a real soul mate. One summer he came to visit me when I was staying in Brighton. One night, we went up clubbing in London at a place where LTJ Bukem was the resident deejay. We took loads of proper Pink Champagne (speed), and arrived back in Brighton at five in the morning. We sat on the beach for a bit and went to sleep for a few hours before getting up in the afternoon and going to a pub.
Lachlan is a bit odd. He's got mad-colored hair, and it seems like weird people attach themselves to him wherever he goes. We were sitting outside the pub and a man came up to us. He could tell we were on a comedown and said, "I’ve got something that will make you feel better.” He had stacks of Ganesha blotter acid, imprinted with the elephant-headed Hindu god. Even though it was the last thing you need when you've been up all night clubbing, we bought some.
Lachlan had seen a television program about some gypsies living in a forest nearby and wanted to go and find them. So we drove over to the forest and took the acid and started walking through the trees until we came to a big chalk hill and sat down. It was boiling hot. This was the scorching summer we had a few years ago.
Lachlan started going on that he felt he didn’t know me that well, that I held things back from him. He said that I was closed towards people. He kept chatting on and asking me questions. Half the time I wasn’t really concentrating, so I kept saying, “What? Sorry, what did you say?,” which got on his nerves. It was as if I was in a bubble and he couldn’t get through it. I tried to tell him that I didn’t keep things from him, that perhaps he knew all there was to know about me. Perhaps he just wished that there was more to me than what he knew. “No, you really hold stuff back from me,” he maintained. I had an image of myself with barriers built up around me, which made me quite paranoid.
There were some hares playing on a grassy bank nearby. I mentioned there was a lot of symbolism about hares, and he said, "Yeah, what is it about girls and hares?" This started a long discussion about Celtic mythology. Then we noted some rowan trees around us, which also have mythic significance. I think they’re supposed to balance energy.
Thinking out loud, I said I wished I had a horse so I could jump over the fences and gallop up the hills. "What is it about girls and horses?" Lachlan asked, and just as he did, everything seemed to slip into place in my mind. The feelings of isolation intensified and took on a vivid context, as I started reliving a slice of my early childhood, as though I was back in my body as a seven-year-old.
I had really bad tonsillitis when I was little, which made me virtually deaf for about a year. I’d forgotten all about it. (I rang my mother later to confirm the veracity of the memory, and she said that during that time I couldn't hear her call me from five feet away). I was a very serious little girl, always reading and letting my imagination run off. I couldn't make out what the other children were saying, so I didn’t play with them. I flashed back to the feeling of being shunned by my classmates -- and my grandmother telling me it wasn’t polite to say “What?”, that I should say “Pardon” instead.
I was horse mad when I was young, eventually buying a wild pony from the mountains in Wales and taming him in a day. When I was ill, I watched a children’s television series based on the book The Moon Stallion about a blind girl that befriends a beautiful white stallion. The story is set in the Vale of the White Horse, the area in Wiltshire around the Uffington White Horse, a chalk figure of mysterious origin, which was carved out of the hill during the Middle Ages by the Saxons or the Celts. Some believe it relates to the cult of the Celt horse goddess, Epona, and part of a massive system of zodiac-related markings that can be seen from the sky. The area is riddled with legends, and the moon stallion story takes place at the time of the Beltane Festival, a pagan spring celebration.
Unlike the ploughboys and horse whisperers who trained the horses, the blind girl didn’t need a talisman or magic words to control the wild stallion. She had a natural gift with horses and could almost read their minds. I related to her because of her affinity with the animals, and because she was an oddball and excluded, as I’d been when I was deaf. As I was pouring all of this stuff out to Lachlan, I was bawling my eyes out. He just stared at me, unable to take it all in. “How can you forget that you were deaf?” he kept asking.
By this time it felt like hours had passed and it was time to move on. As I stood up, I looked across the valley, and saw that there was a horse carved out of the hill almost directly opposite us, about a mile away. We'd been sitting there for hours and somehow hadn't noticed it. I couldn't work out if it was real or a product of my equine-inspired reverie. Under my acid gaze, it was rearing up and pawing the ground impatiently, making sure I took notice. Lachlan thought I must have subconsciously clocked it and that’s why I got on to the topic of horses. I wanted to walk across the valley and see it up close, but it was late in the day and we had to get back.
It had grown quite dark by now. Part of the area was owned by the Forestry Commission, which had planted it with a dark evergreen forest that you can't find your way out of. We kept getting lost. It was like a child's worst nightmare. Still in the regressed state of my childhood flashback, now I was really scared.
There were crows cawing and other noises, and it was pitch black. I had to hang onto Lachlan, the scared little girl clinging to the big brave man. Eventually we found some steps and stumbled down them. It was very eerie descending into the valley. The air felt cold and damp. At the bottom, we emerged from the trees to find ourselves in the same place we’d been about two hours before. We’d just walked a complete circle. It was like Hansel and Gretel losing their way in the woods, only we hadn’t left a breadcrumb trail behind us.
Normally I'm pretty much in control when I do drugs, like the mother checking to make sure that everyone is having a good time. But now I felt completely out of control. We’d done just what you weren’t supposed to do on acid: You don’t wander round a massive woodland at night. I was afraid we might be eaten by wolves or bears. We walked a couple of miles until we found a wall, which we followed along. Then we heard the sounds of traffic, so we knew we were near a road. Finally we found where we’d started from, and made it back to the car.
A few days later, I went back to the spot and saw that there was indeed a chalk horse in the valley, which has since become a very special place to me. The horse, about fifty meters tall, is on the road that leads to the Long Man of Wilmington, another chalk figure at the head of the Cuckmere Valley in Sussex.
I learned so many things about myself on that trip -- not related to the wider world, but all about me and why I am how I am. I can't believe I'd actually forgotten those parts of me that the acid conjured up.