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EEL PIE DHARMA - a memoir / haibun -  © 1990 Chris Faiers

Chapter 21 - Tripping To Cambridge

After watching the freak-outs around me, I decided to stay clear from the group acid trips.  One of the Eel Piers had found out about a conference on communes being held on the Cambridge University campus, and so one spring morning about thirty of us piled into the back of a van and headed north.

"Canadian Chris, here's your tab of acid from the group trip yesterday," and a tab of brown acid was thrust into my hand.  It wasn't possible to politely refuse, as I was going to the conference as part of the Eel Pie Community, and acid had become such an integral part of Eel Pie.  I felt obligated to take the trip, but not wanting to hallucinate too much, I offered to share my tab, and Tank was only too happy to swallow half.

It was pleasant enough, sprawled on blankets and sleeping bags in the back of the van.  I hoped I hadn't taken enough acid to get freaked-out, and at least I had another tripper to evaluate my trip by.  We drove throught the rolling countryside of Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire, stopping once to pick up a hitchhiker.

The hitchhiker was in a time warp of his own - he was an aging Teddy Boy, wearing drainpipe trousers, winklepicker boots and his hair coiffed back à la Elvis.  He was amazed by the menagerie of hippies surrounding him, and he looked relieved when he jumped off in his village.

The acid came on, not strong enough to cause full-blown hallucinations, but strong enough to cause the boundaries of my vision to waver, and to cause a mild degree of confusion and just a tinge of paranoia.

We finally arrived in Cambridge in late afternoon, and unloaded on a side street.  We crossed a footbridge, where the clacking ducks made me uneasy.

Crazed quaking
iridescent ducks
tripping in Cambridge

Soon we reached the dormitory where the conference was being held.  We were ushered into a large meeting room without any chairs, so we all squatted on the floor, just like back at Eel Pie.  No one seemed to be in charge, and the only others present were an older couple wearing black capes.  I had missed a lot of the group dynamics by being a loner, and several of the Eel Pie women began moaning nonsense lyrics, which I recognised as backing sounds from psychedelic records such as Pink Floyd's "Ummagumma".

They were joined in their wailing by all the Eel Piers, and I found the experience discomfitting..  The older couple just sat and listened to the eerie sounds.  I sat uncomfortably through five or ten minutes of this, realizing that the others felt very at ease in the weird atmosphere.  The room was darkened, with candles flickering.  Then things got really strange.  The couple got out horned goat masks and put them on.  Masks were being passed around to everybody, and the atmosphere took on the aura of a black mass.

It was a complete contrast to the relaxed atmosphere I had experienced in the Buddhist chapel during morning meditations.  It was time for me to leave, and I bumbled from the room.

I spent the evening in the sitting room of the dormitory, trying to focus my eyes enough to read.  Through the closed doors came the moans of the Eel Piers.  Another Eel Pier had also left, Blonde Chris, and he said, "Too weird for me, man, what a confusing bummer."  I agreed.  My days as an Eel Pier were coming to an end.  What had begun as an experiment in group living and sharing was ending in the lowest common denominator, a form of group depression and psychedelic conformity, culminating in this grotesque moaning ritual.

Roomful of masks
ritual moaning
Eel Pie commune

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revised 8 March 2017