Even when the tide is at its lowest, the beach at Hastings is mostly pebbles. And these pebbles are an awkward size. If they were larger or smaller, both of which they are in patches, well then, you could walk comfortably there bare footed. But the patches are few and change with the tide, so if you do choose to walk there you need some kind of footwear.


I discussed this universal predicament with my old friend Oliver. He came to stay with me for the last week of August; and being a college lecturer, he had only a few days afterwards to recover from his ensuing ordeal.

To help make the most of his visit, I foolishly told him that going to the eastern end of the town, past the old fish market, and then beyond the harbour, climbing down - or if the tide is right out walking around the end of the breakwater - and onto the beach beneath where the cliffs start, he would find himself in a beautiful wild area.

beach 1

Here there is no sign of mankind's presence, I said, it is just as if people had never existed. For several miles there are all sizes and sorts of rocks; some are loose, or would be if they weren't so massive, and some are great fixed slabs that slope with the underlying strata and slant gently away under the sand. Most of the rocks higher up the beach are fallen cliff; many are big and smooth and sometimes slippery, or further out have razor-sharp encrustations - so watch out! There are areas of pebbles and sand too. But the fixed rocks, further out still, are most alluring of all because scattered among them are innumerable little pools which, if you leap over them, might flicker and splash with darting fish startled by your shadow. And if you pause in this landscape, and stare into one of the pools, you might see a crab or a starfish or a sea anemone, or something too strange to describe.

This kind of natural terrain is not for the faint-hearted though, I said, it is not always as placid and innocuous as it might appear on a clear calm day like today - humankind owes many a creative touch to such places.

beach 2

All this and other things besides I mentioned to Oliver who listened attentively and seemed only the more intrigued and enchanted the more danger and mystery I exposed. And then off he went. For several hours I thought no more about him.

Soon it was five-o'clock in the afternoon, and since he'd left at 11 in the morning, I began to wonder. I decided to go out to see if I could find him. The tide would be in by now, and although it's only a half-hour walk to the next access point, if he had gone along beneath the cliffs, he could have got stranded, cut off by the incoming tide.

When I arrived, the wind had got up and the sea was crashing against the big rocks at the base of the cliff.

beach 3

It would take real agility at the best of times to navigate along there, and then you'd probably slip and injure yourself; as it was, I'd have certainly got drenched. So I took the steps up onto the cliffs and followed the path to the far side of Ecclesbourne Glen. From a seat up there you can look down over the lowest part of the glen and to a section of beach where the sea reaches only at flood tides. This is where people sometimes get trapped. For several minutes I gazed, but could see no-one.

The whole of this usually dry beach is not visible from there, so I walked down into the glen and took a narrow undulating track that leads to the lowest edge.

stepsThere is a vertical drop here of four-or-five metres to the beach, which can now be viewed in entirety; but without climbing gear it is impossible to negotiate upwards.

When I peered over in the shade of the burgeoning cliff as evening fell, there was Oliver, sitting on the pebbles in the last few minutes of sunshine. With his legs crossed like Buddha, the waves crashing several metres in front of him, he stared tranquilly, obliviously - so it appeared - at the horizon, as though merging with and absorbing the primordial solitude.

beach 4

'Oli?' I called, musing on the fact that he was trapped.

After a delay, he turned and looked up, then smiled and waved for me to join him. I glanced at my watch. If I went down, I calculated, I'd be there for at least an hour, maybe two. It wasn't an easy drop either, and looked unsafe - in the decade I'd lived at Hastings I had never risked this route, though the pebbles looked small enough to cushion a considered fall. Also, I noticed, creeping in from the south-west, was the front of a vast dark layer of cloud, sending ahead of it a keen scent of rain.

I paused for several minutes weighing the merits; then, sniffing speculatively, I thought, 'What of it?' and, holding the ledge, slid over until hanging by my fingertips. The fall seemed huge, but the pebbles gave nicely.

Oliver said, as I sat legs outstretched on the beach beside him, 'You're damn lucky living so close to such a spot. Listen… nothing but the sound of waves and gulls.'

'I know,' I said, 'I wouldn't mind my ashes scattered here.'

He looked at me strangely, then laughed. 'Only you could come out with something like that.'

'The sounds are pretty much the same on the main beach.' I said, 'And my place is at least half an hour away.'

'Well,' he said, 'that's close. Last night in bed I could hear the sea, and fell asleep to it. Ah, the view from your spare bedroom...'

'I know.' I said, 'All these things and more are why I decided to live here in the first place. It's not Utopia though. I'm still stuck with life's usual obligations and encumbrances.'

'Aren't we all?' He said, wrinkling his forehead, 'And, as you say, you're not exactly on top of the sea.'

'I wouldn't want to be too close.' I said, 'However soothing in small doses, the continual noise could get irritating.'

Oliver nodded. 'It varies, though. And the clean salty smell evokes memories of first encounters. So fresh and exhilarating.' He took some deep breaths.

'We're lucky there's no pollution today.' I said, 'It's not always like this.'

After a few more breaths he said, 'Utopia is more in the mind than in the world.'

Now I looked at him strangely. 'What's your version, then?'

He shrugged, 'Complete peace of mind. Total contentment. The most agreeable circumstances you can imagine.' He waved his arm across in front of him as a larger than usual wave broke, its spray reaching us on the wind, 'This, for instance… Soak it in…'

'I just did,' I said, shifting back and adding contentiously, 'And agreeable to whom? That's crucial.'

The sun had now vanished behind the cliff and a steady damp wind blew from the sea.

'No, really.' He replied, turning to me, 'Isn't this the most peaceful, the most uplifting place you can imagine? Don't you feel great here? Don't you feel serene, composed, rested… yet bursting with life? Blank your mind. Just be. Discard your thoughts. Only look and listen. Just tune in, as Timothy Leary would say. Dig the moment…'

So we sat there quietly awhile, gazing at the misty horizon with the big curling waves rising then crashing into swirling patches of foam which fragmented and dissolved into little rents of lace that stretched and weaved around the rocks as the water receded, but not quite disappearing before another huge breaker crashed over, spraying droplets and leaving a new surface of white that instantly split again into diminishing silky filaments. And I watched the gulls lurching with such strange elegance between the churning jumble of crests and dips, in and out of the slopping and sploshing… Then I realised I was thinking in overtime, so I went back to concentrating - or rather, resting the attention - on that mysterious far horizon, trying to see beyond the haze into the great terrestrial void in which everything on Earth exists (according to Oliver's philosophical reckoning). And, true enough, after several minutes I began to detect a definite sense of renewed vitality.

'Are you getting anywhere?' he said, suddenly - at least it seemed suddenly because I was gone, "over the hills and far away" as the song goes, or "over the waves…"

'I was miles away.' I said, noticing it had begun to drizzle. I looked up and pulled a face; 'But I do feel good,' I continued, 'like the time when I ate 30 magic mushrooms, freshly picked, from a field somewhere in Oxfordshire one rainy late-summer afternoon a couple of decades ago.'

'Really!' He said, looking surprised, 'But forget the rain. Wouldn't you agree this is close to Utopia?'

'It's not bad.' I replied, still invigorated from my brief excursion into the mysterious beyond, 'But…' I was going to say: it didn't quite rate with Utopia.

'But nothing.' He snapped, 'You must agree, it's fabulous?'

'But…' this time he didn't interrupt, 'But we're stuck here.' I went on shortly, the drizzle becoming suddenly thick, 'And we're definitely going to get soaked. No question. What do you say we try climbing along the rocks to the harbour?'

'I suppose we could.' He said, squinting westward at the rain - which is what, essentially, it had become.

So we got up and went west along to where the stones ended, and where the sea swirled and seethed with an aggressive vigour between the rocks, which looked slippery and perilous and forbidding. I moved first and climbed over a great jagged boulder covered in green algae. By some fluke it was not slippery. Oliver followed less confidently. To some extent I was used to this, though it wasn't something I made a habit of. And I preferred this beach with the tide full out so I could sprint along the sand, weaving around and leaping the randomly protruding rocks.

For half-an-hour we struggled, and we made some headway. By now, the rain was heavier and driving in stair-rods. It had been the same story all week: sunny days, rainy nights. We discussed whether to shelter under an overhang, but decided to press on; whatever we did, we couldn't get wetter, and we were three-quarters to the harbour now anyway. Then a great roar like thunder sounded above us. It seemed to shake the very rocks we stood on and completely drowned the roar of the sea. My first reaction was to freeze. Then came the crashing and splashing, with bits of rock raining down. Obviously, a chunk of cliff had fallen away, and more was still smashing its way down, splintering and disintegrating as it collided with boulders and scree just ahead of us, fragments flying, particles of sand and earth showering about us like hail. Despite the rain, a thick cloud of dust floated in the air where the cliff had broken away. For a few disquieting seconds, more sturdy remnants bounced and shattered close by, but they seemed to fall dead and only fine particles reached us.

'A minute later,' shouted Oliver, gazing up at the great cloud of dust, 'and we'd have been crushed.'

'We haven't lost the chance,' I said, my back against the cliff.

'Do we return, continue, or what?' He asked, joining me.

'What do you think?' I replied.

He shrugged and we moved under a shallow overhang. The big sandstone buttresses which jutted out precariously at the top of this weather-worn cliff had become heavy with rain, and were beginning to crumble. Lower strata, such as where we were, consisted of hard flint-rock embedded in calcified celite, and between several layers of this were thin seams of what appeared to be coal. I'd examined the cliff previously, but not being a geologist had no real claim to know how sound it was, though it appeared a lot safer than sandstone.

'I suggest we stay here.' I said, 'Till we can continue away from the cliff.'

Oliver nodded and sat on a rock, rain water dripping down his face like tears and making tracks in the red-brown dust on his cheeks. I smiled at him. 'So this is Utopia, eh?'

The idea cheered us well, and we laughed. 'But don't you feel terrific right now?' he began, glancing ardently around in the twilight, his eyes aflare, 'Doesn't the danger zap your brain, take you out of yourself, grip you and shake you and drag you into a new consciousness?'

Gesturing enthusiastically, he leapt from the rock he was on, stretched out his arms and waving at the sea, cried 'Look! Look at the power. Look how alive it is. Can you feel the energy? Doesn't it speak to you?' He jumped forward onto another boulder, turned to me and shouted in a weird high-pitched rhetoric, 'Listen! Listen with your soul. Hear the Earth speak. Hear the primordial truth…'

I stood there bemused, watching as though at the performance of a Shakespearean play, and under the tense apprehension that another shower of sandstone might come hurtling down any moment. 'Come back here.' I shouted, 'Come back.'

'What glory!' he cried, ignoring me and stepping unsteadily onto another rock closer to the sea, 'What magnificence! Isn't this sensational, mind-blowing…?'

'Come back,' I shouted again as loud as I could, 'Are you bonkers?'

'What?' he barked, turning, and grinning wildly, 'Bonkers? Never been more sane.' He beckoned me to join him, 'You come here. Come and feel the vibes. Danger! Danger!' he yelled, spreading his arms again and staring up at the cliff, 'People have no idea! Without danger, without some impending peril… without the imminence of death… life is futile, absurd, meaningless.' He dropped his head to face me, 'Do you want to spend your entire existence in a cocoon?' he bellowed across the churning foam 'Mute and gagged and senseless like a plastic dummy?'

Apparently blind to the hazards he was exposed to, he turned to face the sea again and suddenly overbalanced. He managed to grasp an adjacent boulder before toppling completely, but was now standing at a peculiar angle and lower, somehow wedged between rocks. The sea danced ominously around him, below his knees one second, above his waist the next. He coughed violently, as if he'd taken a mouthful of water, then forced himself upright and proclaimed at the top of his voice, 'Only when you venture to the very edge… only when you stare into the throat of the abyss…' he coughed again, the wash and spray from another wave obscuring him briefly; then gasping, dripping, he rose again and bawled in a deranged bluster, which I could barely hear, 'Only then can you know what it means to be ALIVE.' The last word boomed clearly as though carried on the wind. All the while he was struggling fiercely to free his foot which had evidently now become firmly wedged.

Waist deep in the heaving foam, which rose now to his shoulders with the swell, throwing him into an unsteady leaning position, he began to sink deeper still. I had already begun to scuttle on hands and feet towards him, and while watching him struggle had clambered over several big rocks. Even now he seemed unaware of the risk, as if it was a game, and facing the open sea, he continued shouting. Though essentially inaudible, I thought at one point I heard 'Help me!' But nor, so it appeared, could he hear my protests.

I was almost there, when he reached down as if in an attempt to detach himself. Then a huge wave swallowed him and he vanished for several seconds. 'Here!' I yelled as his head reappeared, leaping onto the adjacent rock and thrusting out my arm, 'Here! Take my hand.'

He turned to face me, his eyes filled with anguish and horror, and made an unsuccessful lunge, trying again to pull his leg clear; but another wave swept over him - and half over me - forcing him to attend to keeping upright. While the water dispersed I was able this time to grab his hand, which reached out blindly - and held the rock beside me with the other. Then heaving with every scrap of force my sinews could bear, I cried, 'Twist! Let me take the weight. Wriggle and twist!' Another breaker crashed over him, and partly over me. 'Try pushing down first,' I yelled. Obviously, this was exactly what he was trying to avoid, because it meant descending lower into the water.

But he did as I suggested, his face looking even more distraught and panic stricken than before. I was only worried about being showered with chunks of compressed sandstone. The sea, like the wind, was warm, and the tide, I knew, had turned by now, and would be on its way out. So there was no hazard from that - though Oliver probably thought otherwise.

Suddenly, somehow, he was free and swung into me, and together we smashed into the rock I was holding. His face changed instantly into something resembling a Cheshire cat, a stupefied version. I guess my face did the same, and I yanked him across towards the cliff and back over several boulders to our former little shelter in the cliff face.
'Maniac!'  I snarled, shaking off the water which streamed down my face. 'You're lucky you didn't break something, and we're both lucky we didn't get bombarded.'

At first he just continued grinning idiotically, and I really wondered if he'd lost his senses. 'I'm s s stunned.' He stammered, glaring at nothing, 'S s s stunned.'

'I'm not surprised, going out there like that.' I complained, 'Reckless. Bloody reckless.'

The rain had eased, but still occasionally gusted with fine drizzle. I moved a step out from the cliff and wincing, looked up. High overhangs threatened, east and west. It looked more hazardous where we'd passed, while protrusions to the east, though smaller could still spell disaster. I looked at Oliver. He sat quietly on a lump of rock against the base of the cliff, apparently staring at the ground. I scanned the rocks and sea. The gulls had moved on, and the tide was beginning to recede.

I slumped down beside him and, lulled by the rhythmic pounding of the waves, soon lapsed into a waking dream. When eventually I looked up, it was almost dark, and feeling confident for moving on, I got up and announced, 'What do you think? Shall we continue?' Oliver had been silent all this time, just continually staring down, so it seemed.

'Ready to chance another attempt at the harbour?' I said louder. Very slowly, he nodded, but otherwise remained still. So I grabbed his arm to help him up, and pulled him into position for climbing the next boulder. His hands clasped where I placed them, but he made no effort. 'Come on.' I protested, 'What's the problem?'

He didn't move, but shook his head. 'Do you want to rest more?' I said in a tone of incredulity. He nodded, then slid lethargically back to his former position on the shelf in the cliff. His face was blank, and his stare unfocussed. 'Are you OK?' I asked, 'Will you be alright to carry on soon?'

Again, without looking at me, he merely nodded slowly, but made no attempt to get up. It was as if his brain was working but his body refused to respond. 'Are you hurt?' I said. No answer. 'How about your foot?' I persisted. He just shook his head disinterestedly.


The rain had stopped and the wind had moderated, and I looked out across the rocks at the sea, which had now retreated several metres. The mist had cleared and the waves had subsided too, and looking west I could easily see the harbour now only a few hundred metres away. The distant horizon had become a long stretch of deep orange now, fading to yellow above, sprinkled tastefully, I thought, with soft veins of nimbus; and then above the yellow only dark broken cloud that stretched all the way to us and beyond where a bright moon and several stars were now showing. With no more rock-falls, I thought, we could safely make a move, and be at the harbour in fifteen or twenty minutes.

I turned back to Oliver. His breathing was heavy and irregular, and in spite of the twilight he looked pale and ghost-like against the rocks. What was wrong with him? I tried to get him up again, but he only slid down again listlessly. 'Stay here.' I said, firmly, 'Don't move an inch. I'm going to get help.'

I thought: I'll call the coastguard, they'll know what to do. Then I clambered over the rocks towards the sea and turned west, climbing and crawling and scrabbling half blind across the chaos of rocks. Keeping alert for any warning rumbles of rock-falls, I proceeded on all fours, taking exceptional care not to slip. I did not trouble as I usually would to avoid pools or mysterious slimy deposits.

Ten minutes later, now bathed in moonlight, which came and went in snatches, I walked easily across the pebbles on the section of beach adjoining the easternmost harbour wall. High up on the wall a beaten-up old dormobile spluttered to the edge of the upper beach and stopped. The doors flew open and about a dozen over-dressed figures spilled out, leaping around and flailing their arms like pixilated imps. They gathered around the back of the dormobile in a little swarm, then a blast of junky bongo music echoed over the beach. By the time I'd climbed up there, the music had been turned down slightly, and someone called out: 'Hey Phil?'

It was Jeff Parker. I hadn't seen Jeff Parker in ages - more due to my idleness than his. He was never one to visit, but always the perfect host he lived in a tall Victorian terrace up in Arthur Rd where in a neat little back garden on a steep bank he'd created a version of paradise. Nothing twee or tacky, yet solid with big exotic plants amidst patios and fishponds, which at different levels fed into one another via makeshift waterfalls and ducts. This mini oasis formed a fine setting for surreal experiences, mediation, or simply flopping-out on balmy evenings like now with other semi-somnolent junkies - a crate of Beaujolais, a block of resin and maybe an ornate bong for company. As well as a capable artist, Jeff was renowned within certain circles for retailing consciousness-altering substances, and was a trusty contact for anything from cannabis to Lsd, from crack coke and opium to heroin, and their various formulations and derivatives.

'Jeff, you old space artist!' I cried, 'What's all this?' As if I didn't know.

'Just a little rendezvous.' He said, 'Here.' And he handed me his joint.

I shook my head, 'Thanks,' I said, 'But I'm in a predicament. I have to find the coastguard.'

'Now?' he squawked, 'You must be jokin'. We'll have to abandon our soiree.'

'Well,' I said, 'the fact is a friend of mine is stuck in the rocks about ten minutes along the beach.'

'You look knackered.' he said,

'I feel it.' I said. 'It's been quite a trauma.'

He put his hand in his pocket and withdrew a small bag of white powder. 'You've turned up just right,' He said, pulling the bag open and holding it out. 'Try this.'

I stared. 'What is it?'

He held it closer, 'Just try it.' He said.

So I wet my finger, dipped it in the powder and licked it off. 'Tastes like chalk.' I said, 'How much am I supposed to have?'

'You've had enough.' He replied, then added, 'Has he broke something, this friend of yours?'

'He's physically OK, as far as I can tell.' I said, 'We were almost hit by a rockslide and he got his foot trapped under water when the tide was in. I think it scared him out of his wits. Seems in shock now and kind of half-paralysed. Just stares ahead and won't speak.'

'Give him an equal slug.' he said, handing me the bag, 'That should sort him. Ten minutes. Works miracles. Say it's magic sherbet. We'll still be here when you get back if you fancy something more interesting.'

'You sure it'll work?' I said, holding up the bag.

'If you're not back in half-an-hour we'll come lookin', OK?'

I nodded, not entirely convinced, 'Thanks, Jeff.' I said, 'I really appreciate this.' And wearily I set off back down to the lower beach and along towards the rocks again, feeling pretty-well zapped but determined to bring poor deluded wacky Oliver back to civilisation, and maybe an impromptu dope party too.

By the time I'd crossed the beach to the rocks, my senses had sharpened, and within minutes a distinct surge of something akin to adrenalin filled me with energy. But not just energy. My whole brain kicked in too, alert and keen and even enjoying the challenge of traversing the spooky difficult rock-strewn ground that lay ahead. Again I was conscious of the necessity for caution - the slightest misjudgement could mean a sprained ankle or broken leg - supremely conscious now, as of everything. Even the moonlight was vividly bright. And with the wind dropped, the sea almost quiet and the waves gentle and slow, in no time, it seemed, I'd clambered over the rocks and along several stretches of shingle near the water's edge, and arrived back at the base of the cliff where I'd left Oliver.

But where was he? My mind could hardly have been clearer. I knew precisely where I was. Slowly and thoroughly I scrutinised my surroundings. Nothing. I shouted a long drawn out and exceedingly loud: 'O-L-I-V-E-R!' Still nothing. Wondering, I sat and waited. I positioned myself so that the reflecting moonlight formed as much background to my outlook as possible. With meticulous vigilance I watched all around for several minutes. Then out near the water's edge to the east, I noticed something move. If this was Oliver, then why ignore my call - which he must have heard - and why go in the opposite direction to the harbour? While also attentive to the rest of the beach, I concentrated my gaze there. Then something large, off to the west and close to the cliff, rose up above the rocks. It must have been about 50-metres away, and was like a black statue silhouetted against the grey cliff. It remained static. It is well known that peripheral vision is more sensitive - perhaps because the less-used edges of the retina come into play, and I thought I saw several curious black forms moving randomly in the shadowy gloom under the cliff, but couldn't be certain. Only one of these movements could be Oliver, I reasoned. Or was I hallucinating? I kept my eyes on these locations by staring centrally between them. Then, another lump of black moved on the beach, this time big and clear. Puzzled, I made my way out towards the sea.

Then plain as day two people were walking towards me, both naked, and I realised what I'd been seeing. About half-a-mile further east was the popular naturist beach; being so far from the harbour, and with no definite boundary, naturists often used the Ecclesbourne Glen area too. I knew this, but at night? So anyhow, where was Oliver? I shouted again. No response. Returning to the cliff-face where I had left him, I started searching once more along the base of the cliff. Due to the ongoing possibility of rock-falls, I felt very uneasy - this was the most dangerous place to be. Suddenly my foot landed on something soft which let out a groan and briefly scared me rigid - until I realised it was Oliver.

'Grief!' I cried, 'Is that you?'

'Ohhhh.' It said.

It was Oliver all right, and I gave a big sigh. Curled in the foetal position, he had looked like just another rock. He must have gone to sleep, I thought. I sat him up and tried to communicate. He merely groaned, but shook his head when I asked if he was hurt. I wet my finger and stuck it well into Jeff's little bag of powder, then gently put it in his mouth, 'Taste this, Oli.' I said, 'It's magic sherbet. You'll love it.' He tasted and licked his lips, then swallowed and pulled a face. I contemplated trying a bit more, but decided to wait and see. It worked fine for me, and I wondered what would happen if more was taken.

Next I tried to lift him so we could get away from the cliff. Somehow, with one arm round my neck, I managed to stagger with him between rocks and to the shingle where we slumped down and rested. It was a fine evening now, the moon brilliant and the sea glistening like tinsel. Some way away, yet all around, there seemed to be people walking about naked, dozens of them. It was quite astonishing. And now and then the friendly bongo music drifted comfortingly across the beach on a chance breeze.

Then Oliver spoke for the first time, 'Shall we go back to the harbour?' He said, struggling to his feet.

I leapt up. 'At last!' I cried, 'You had me really worried. How do you feel?'

He shrugged, 'Not too bad… A bit shaken… Tired.'

We began walking along the shingle.

About fifteen minutes later we climbed up onto the harbour wall, and Jeff came over to welcome us. I held his bag of powder out, and he waved his hand, 'Keep it.' He said, 'You never know.' Then after I'd introduced Oliver, he offered us a small tablet each.

Oliver stroked his chin. 'Do think it's a good idea?' he asked, 'Whatever it is, it'll be a first time for me.'

'A mild form of Lsd.' Jeff said, 'Maybe not. Take a drag on this instead.' And he gave Oliver his joint, which Oliver sucked hard, and a moment later sank down to sit on the pebbles. Soon he was laughing and shaking his head. 'I'm stoned,' he murmured joyfully, 'Stoned.' And he went on chuckling to himself while I chatted with Jeff about our tribulations on the beach.

'And there we were,' I declared, 'discussing Utopia. Little did we know we'd end up brushing the very doors of death.'

'We do it every day,' he said, with a sigh, 'though not so manifestly. As for Utopia, that's merely a propaganda image politicians use to gain our support, while their true purpose is serving the interests of some elite.'

'I dare say.' I replied, 'But it strikes me that this evening's turned out to be something of a celebration, so far as I'm concerned at least. For a start, I'd expected nothing, then I was concerned for Oli, next when I found him I thought everything was going fine, then I got a glimpse of the dreaded Grim Reaper, as I said, and finally here we are doping ourselves to the eyebrows and getting high on speed, partying… celebrating life!'

'Shortly,' he said, nodding and grinning, 'you can round off the day at my place.' And as he said this several people in multicoloured gowns began ostentatiously ushering everyone into the dormobile.

'Booze time!' someone called out, 'Clime aboard for destination booze-time!'

This took several minutes. The remaining throng climbed in, with me and Oliver squeezing in behind. Then, Jeff at the wheel, we trundled over the pebble-strewn concrete to the road and soon, after an uncertain struggle up the hill, the dormobile juddered to a stop outside Jeff's. Once again, the passengers, now high and flying, flounced madly out and wheeled down the curving metal steps that led to Jeff's paradise garden. Spreading out and around, they all seemed to find some little niche or corner or open area in which to repose, drink, commune, smoke, grope or whatever else might please their notion of a good time, while Jeff produced a crate of wine, and two big glass bongs, and someone else presented a tray of glasses and cups.

'Where's the fish?' someone cried, peering over into one of the ponds.

'None left.' I heard Jeff reply, 'the cats ate them.'

Several people laughed and a girl said, 'Oh, the poor dear fish. That's awful. You should put nets over.'

A big dull-green floodlight came on and bathed us all in light like at a pantomime; then it changed slowly to blue. This was accompanied by soft surreal music: glissandovibes and rusty hinges interspersed with long and dominant bottle-blowing sounds, which seemed perfect for the setting. Soon a little fire was burning on the main patio outside Jeff's lounge, and an old black kettle steamed and whistled like an old fashioned steam train.

'Anyone for tea?' shouted a baritone voice.

'Not your kind.' Another voice replied to a burst of laughter.

'Coffee then?' said the baritone.

'With schnapps? I'll have two.' Said someone else.

'This more resembles Utopia.' I said to Jeff.

He nodded. 'Maybe. But if the politicians had their way we'd all of us here be locked up.'

'I hadn't thought of that.' I said. 'They're a duff breed, that's for sure.'

'Whatever they tell you, the opposite is true.' He said, 'You just have to realise it. See how they prevaricate and quibble when confronted. Utopia? You can stuff it!'

'I see your point.' I said, after a moment, 'But that wasn't quite what I meant by Utopia. At least, here we are, living it up, at no expense to anybody else, not causing the least harm to anyone…'

'Here.' He interrupted, passing me a glass and raising a bottle whose colour followed that of the floodlight. 'Grab a dose of this. Then forget yourself.'

It was schnapps, a truly gorgeous one, better than I'd tasted before. Though perhaps it was the surroundings and other embellishments, not to mention consumables and the company, which were mainly responsible for that.

About two hours later, I found Oliver reclining with his head on a woman's lap while she stroked his hair. She was a lot older than him, and his expression looked confused and anxious, until he saw me. Then it brightened, and he struggled to move and get up.

'I guess we'd better head back,' I said, 'unless you want to stay.'

'Stoned.' He mumbled, still struggling to get up, 'Bloody stoned.' He turned to the woman, 'Sorry, Deirdre love, but I have to go.' And with my giggling help he lurched unsteadily to his feet.

Soon we were slouching arm in arm down the hill together, holding one another up.

'Deirdre love!' I laughed, 'You're a fine glutton for getting trapped?'

'Don't rub it in.' he sighed, 'But thanks for saving me - both times.'

And so we waddled on, I suffering from schnapps, and him from cannabis. But both boosted from a dash of speed, we managed to dredge the energy needed to get up another hill to my place and crash into our respective beds where a fabulous night's sleep was the only possible conclusion.