CHAPTER 1 - 1970
Life as I know it is definitely starting to be a bit of a drag, due to the fact that I’ve been awake now for 3 days and nights on Desolation Hill.I am finished, kaput. Thank God it’s the last day, that’s all I can say.
I yawn for the umpteenth time and watch in a kind of stupor as the fences are torn down. Ruth jumps up excitedly and decides that she wants to try and get nearer the stage. I watch her treading unconcerned over zombie-like bodies lying comatose and frying in the heat of the late August afternoon, and try to summon up enough strength to follow her. But by then, hungrier and more tired than I have ever been, I am faced with the certainty that all I really want to do is to go home. Bands have started to merge one into the other, but I know I’ll have to face a ribbing from Ruth if I set off without first having tried to get nearer the stage if only to feast one weary eye on the hunk of masculinity that is Paul Rogers while there is still some good daylight left.
I force my body to move, performing a quick recce around what has transformed in three days from arable farmland into a nuclear fallout zone contained in some kind of human landfill site. I cannot see Ruth, but I stumble on regardless. Somewhere out there my friend has become lost in a sea of 500,000 faces; just another flower-bedecked hippie indistinguishable from the masses.
Far away on the horizon I can see a speck holding a microphone stand up above his head; Paul Rogers is holding the crowd in the palm of his hand, and I am missing it. Behind him on the low stage, long hair flying in the sultry air, Paul Kossoff, six string shredder extraordinaire, is ripping into the solo for ‘All Right Now.’
I cannot make my legs walk another step. I yawn. Infuriatingly I still seem to be on Desolation Hill as far as I can make out. Sighing with fatigue, I slump down on the grass where I stand, close my eyes, and listen to the hubbub around me. My long hair feels like a heavy blanket on my back; I desperately want something to eat, I need a bath, and I ache for my mum to be fussing around me like she does when I am sick.
“Hey babe, have some of this.”
I am startled by a voice very close to my ear. I open my eyes again and look to my left to see what only can be described as a bronzed, blond Adonis, with long fair curls stretching down over his shoulders. He is stripped to the waist apart from a small rucksack on his back, and wears frayed pale-blue Levi shorts and a pair of well-worn ‘Jesus creeper’ sandals.He squats down beside me and holds out a lighted spliff.
“It’ll take away the pain.”
I consider myself to be in extremis, soon to be engulfed in the Grim Reaper’s arms. There is no way out except death. I take a huge drag and retch as the sweet fumes of cannabis grab the back of my throat.
“Thanks.” I cough. “I think.”
“Woh!” Adonis laughs into the sun. “Easy! You’re not used to it, I can tell.”
“Is it that obvious?”I want my head to stop spinning. “I’ve come to the end of my rope. A spliff won’t do any harm now.”I take another drag.
“I think I’ll take it back actually.”Adonis prises the joint from my fingers. “Are you hungry?”
“Starving.” I nod, with eyes trying to close. “All I’ve got left is my hovercraft ticket back to Southsea.”
“And you can’t eat that.” Adonis attacks the spliff with expertise, puffing out a cloud of aromatic smoke. “I’ll see what I’ve got left in my rucksack.”
Keeping the spliff between the index and middle finger of his left hand, with one poetic swoop of his right shoulder he dislodges the rucksack’s straps, opens it up and looks inside, bringing out a slightly dented but still crisp-looking Golden Delicious apple and handing it to me.
“My mum’s always on at me to eat more roughage.”
Laughing, I feast my eyes on the apple, which in my famished state seems to have taken on the proportions of a gargantuan banquet.
“If you’re sure.” I cannot help but take it. “I’ve eaten nothing since yesterday.Somebody stole what was left of my food. It’s too far to walk to try and buy some, and anyway, I’ve no money left.”
“It’s every man for himself, here.” Adonis nods. “What’s your name?”
“Clare.”I bite into pure nectar. “Clare Ronson.How about you?”
“Hi Clare, I’m Ross Tyler.”Adonis holds out his hand. “I hitchhiked from Ryde on Friday with a mate from college, who was last seen yesterday trying to find somewhere private to take a crap.”
Juice from the apple runs down my chin and I wipe it away with my left hand, shake Ross’s hand with the other, and smile up at him.
“You’re a lifesaver, Ross. I came here with a friend as well, but maybe she met up with your mate. I haven’t seen her for a few hours now.”
“Looks like it’s us two against the world then.”Ross slings the rucksack back over his shoulder. “I’m on my way up the hill; going to hitchhike back to Ryde and get a chance on the hovercraft before this lot set off. Coming?”
I’ve had enough. My knight in Jesus creepers has materialised and is standing right in front of me. Not one for wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, and fortified by the sweet fruit, I nod and get to my feet.
“Yes; I want to go home.”
Paul Rogers is giving it all he’s got. Taking one last look at the stage and wondering if we would ever see the like of it again, I grab my saviour’s outstretched hand and we begin to thread our way between the bodies and mounds of detritus, back up Desolation Hill and over Afton Down, eventually descending onto the Military Road.Crowds of young people have the same idea, and we all saunter along amiably in the late afternoon heat, in no rush to get off the Island, and unaware that we are part of history in the making.In front of us are two girls holding hands; one is naked except for a pair of pink knickers, and the other is bare from the waist down.
“Looks like those two have fared worse than you.”Ross smirks.
I am stoned on cannabis fumes, lack of sleep, hunger, and a definite animal attraction for my new-found friend. It matters to me not one jot that female flesh usually kept under wraps is now exposed to the stares of all and sundry. Presently the girls slope off and join many other festival-goers, washing off the dirt from Desolation Hill in the choppy waters of Freshwater Bay. I smile at Ross as we trudge along Military Road, copying him and raising my thumb some time later as crowds begin to thin out and the odd car can be seen driving past us on the way to maybe Brook Green or further on into Niton or Newport.
“Who in their right mind is going to give us a lift?” I panic while wondering just how much further I can walk. “Look at the state of us. How many miles is it to Ryde from here? Can’t we wait for a bus?”
“About twenty.”Comes the cheerful reply. “I’m skint, the same as you.It’s hitching or Shanks’s pony.”
My affable, blond Adonis is prepared to traipse into the night to reach his destination. It’s all I can do to keep up with his long, loping strides. The buzz from the apple wears off around Compton Bay, and I want to cry.
“Cheer up, babe.”
Ross winks and puts his arm around me. The effect is galvanising and instantly spurs me on. I gaze up into his pale blue eyes, and his nearness causes a pleasant throbbing sensation in my groin. I have never seen such beauty in a man before.I am certain I haven’t seen him at Uni.
“Which University are you at?” I find myself looking down in the direction of his groin as we walk.
“Not Uni; Portsmouth Art College.” Ross holds his fist up and jerks his thumb at passing cars. “How about you?”
“The Uni; not far from there though. Reading English; I want to be a teacher. Do you think you’ll be a famous painter then?”
“Don’t know.” Ross shrugs and fondles the hair at the back of my neck. “But I’m having a ball finding out.”
It’s not until we walk past Compton Bay and head towards Brook Green that a van stops next to us. Ross is still pointing his thumb in the vague direction of Newport, but I have long ago given up, and am just concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. I hear Ross speak to the driver who is on his way to Bembridge, and to my great delight he beckons us into the cab and agrees to drop us off along the seafront at Ryde. The van has three seats at the front. I let Ross go in first, who chats amiably to the driver most of the way I think. Me, I put my head on Ross’s shoulder and am asleep before the van has even pulled away.