It was early June 1987. Dewi was driving home from his morning cleaning job on a caravan site near Aberporth when he first saw Jimmy, hitching a lift on the south-bound A487 at the Blaenannerch crossroads. He must have been about 30, lithe and sturdy with a heavy rucksack on his back. His unkempt hair, scruffy clothes, open handsome face and freewheeling air instantly appealed to Dewi and without thinking he pulled the van over in a lay-by a little further down the road. He wound down the passenger-side window and looked in the rear-view mirror as the grinning hitch-hiker jogged towards the van.
“Where are you going?” Dewi asked, “I can take you about five miles past Cardigan on this road, but then I turn off and head home over the Preselis, if that’s any good to you.”
Jimmy didn’t attempt to conceal his delight. Dewi’s big blue-green eyes, crew-cut fair hair, sharp features, wiry little torso and strong Welsh accent made him irresistible.
“That’s great thank you! I’m aiming for Haverfordwest, so if I get out when you turn off I’m 10 miles closer”
“Jump in!” They both knew straight away that they were attracted to each other.
Conversation flowed effortlessly. Dewi deliberately drove more slowly than he normally would, just to extend their time together.
“Where is that accent of yours from?”
“Oh, you wouldn’t have heard of it, nobody has,” chuckled Jimmy.
“Try me, I’ve got a geography A-level you know!” said Dewi with self-mocking irony.
“Does Tunstall ring any bells?”
“Oh yes, one of Arnold Bennett’s Five Towns in the potteries, English midlands!” said Dewi, triumphantly.
“I’m impressed, nobody’s heard of Tunstall,” said Jimmy, looking sideways at Dewi’s intelligent forehead and aquiline nose.
“So where have you been and what’s in Haverfordwest?” Dewi probed further.
“I’ve been hiking and camping in north Wales and now I’m trying to get to the A40 trunk road to thumb a lift east and eventually get to a port where I can take a ship to mainland Europe.”
“Fantastic! And then?”
“I don’t really know, find work picking fruit or something, follow the sun, follow my nose, I’m a wanderer, man…” Jimmy examined Dewi’s profile closely for any reaction.
“Sounds great,” Dewi flashed a glance at Jimmy, “I wish I could join you…”
Jimmy didn’t respond, but spread his right leg a fraction wider so it briefly brushed against Dewi’s left leg. Dewi reacted by re-establishing the leg contact and then maintaining it.
“Fancy a smoke?” said Jimmy as they left Cardigan behind, “I’ve got some top-notch gear.”
“Hey, now you’re talking!” said Dewi enthusiastically. He thought quickly then added “I turn off in a couple of miles. Why don’t you come back to my place? It’s not far. I’ve got some weed at home too. We can have a smoke and a laugh, you can have a shower and a bite to eat if you want and then I’ll take you down to the A40 at Narberth. It’s 10 miles further east than Haverfordwest.”
Jimmy’s responded with glee: “Definitely, man, that sounds brilliant!”
Dewi, smiling widely, started driving at his normal speed. After going through Eglwyswrw, he left the main road and took the narrow green lane up into Mynydd Preseli through beautiful, sun-dappled countryside. Jimmy skinned up dextrously on his lap and Dewi then stopped at a passing place high in the hills so they could smoke the joint, stretch their legs and soak up the gorgeous panorama. They were on Foel Eryr, the summit of the Preseli Hills. Above them skylarks sang arias and buzzards patrolled the thermals, and below them lay the ancient landscape, dotted with bronze age cairns, rocky outcrops, dry stone walls, patchworks of fields and faraway woods stretching into the blue west and the distant Celtic Sea. With the sun behind them, visibility was so perfect they could even see a tiny light aircraft beetling up and down the Pembrokeshire coast. They turned to look at each other face-to-face for the first time. If there is any such thing as love at first sight, this was it.
Words were not necessary. At last Dewi broke the silence. “Wow, this is fantastic hash. What is it?” he asked, handing the joint back to Jimmy.
“Nepalese Temple Balls,” said Jimmy proudly. “Open your mouth, I’ll give you a blow-back.” Dewi obeyed without question. Jimmy took a deep toke, pulled Dewi closer, locked their mouths together and exhaled the smoke deep into Dewi’s lungs. Dewi relished the taste, took the joint back from Jimmy and reciprocated the blow-back. They had bonded.
Back in the van, they descended from the Preselis and Dewi turned left onto the road to Rosebush and Maenclochog. “Nearly there. I live in Maenclochog. It was originally a farm outbuilding, bit of a ruin, I bought it for next to nothing five years ago. I’ve been doing it up bit by bit, re-pointing and repairing the walls, replacing the corrugated iron roof with slates, making it habitable really.”
“Wow, this is amazing, man,” said Jimmy as they skirted the gloomy conifer forests and gigantic quarries of Rosebush. At Maenclochog, Dewi stopped briefly at a shop to get milk, bread, fruit juice, tobacco and cigarette papers and then on the other side of the village turned left down a rutted track and parked at a gate.
“That’s why I’ve got this old van – it can cope with these roads. Here we are. By the way, I don’t even know your name! I’m Dewi.”
“Hi Dewi,” said Jimmy, lifting his rucksack out of the van, “good to meet you! I’m John.”
“See what I mean, it’s very basic. Just this room, a kitchen, a bedroom and a bathroom, all on one floor. It was once a lambing shed. That’s why I named it Tŷ’r Oen, The Lamb House. The walls are all stone, so it’s solid. There’s a lot of work to do yet, but I’m getting there. I’m going to put the kettle on, make yourself at home John. Is instant coffee ok? I don’t have any tea, I meant to pick up a few things in Cardigan after work earlier but, er, got distracted! Have a shower if you want, the water doesn’t get very hot, but it’s bearable. You’re welcome to use the towels and soap.”
Jimmy took up the invitation, cleaned himself up thoroughly, changed into a fresh t-shirt and jeans, and joined Dewi at the big square table in the living room where his coffee awaited. Seeing Jimmy without his bulky anoraks, misshapen jumpers, dirty hiking gear and heavy boots, and pared down to his essence, Dewi almost gasped at his unselfconscious male beauty. He resembled a Greek God, his bone structure chiselled yet tender, his muscles defined yet proportionate, developed by manual labour not body-building.
Jimmy took a package out of his rucksack and showed Dewi the Nepalese hashish before rolling another joint. It was quite a task. Dewi watched admiringly as Jimmy handled the sticky black resin with the proficiency of a seasoned stoner and produced an immaculately constructed tapering baton.
“What work is it that you do so early in the morning?” asked Jimmy, now super-relaxed, as he handed the joint to Dewi for him to spark up. He felt he had known Dewi all his life – but it had hardly been an hour.
Dewi explained about the caravan site with a fluency Jimmy found entertaining and informative before ending his stoned spiel with “I fucking hate everything about it; the ugly eyesore, the arrogant English bastard who owns it, the ignorant holidaymakers, having to clean up after them when they’ve fucked off, but I need the money at the moment. I’m going to quit by the end of this summer”.
Jimmy hung on every word throughout Dewi’s passionate rant, hypnotised by those luminous eyes. Dewi, aware he had been dominating the conversation, was just about to ask what work Jimmy had done but something stopped him. He’ll tell me about himself in his own time, he thought, before saying “Let me show you the garden. I’m trying to make a wildlife haven and grow my own fruit and veg. I’m aiming to be self-sufficient.”
The garden was an exquisite paradise bursting with vegetables of all kinds in raised beds surrounding a lush lawn dotted with young fruit trees and bushes, all backing onto a fenced-off forestry plantation falling away to the east. “The work you’ve put in!” said Jimmy in awe, noticing compost heaps, rockeries and herbs galore, “You are amazing, Dewi!”
“I’m a free spirit, like you John. I stand on my own two feet and I reject the rat race. I’m a natural man not a phoney constructed by Hollywood and TV ads. I’m going to plough my own furrow, come what may. The bastards are never going to grind me down.” Dewi’s manifesto mirrored Jimmy’s so precisely all he could do was give him a big hug there in his brave green oasis in the middle of nowhere.
Back in the house, they had another coffee at the kitchen table while Jimmy rolled a joint then cleared his throat and began to speak. “You’ve been open with me and shown me hospitality and generosity. Now I want to be open with you. I haven’t told you the truth about me but now I must. I have to trust someone totally before I can tell them my story, and I just know I can trust you Dewi.” Jimmy paused, took a long toke, handed the joint to Dewi and continued. “I told you a lie. A white lie, but still a lie. My name’s not John, it’s Jimmy. James on my birth certificate, but everyone’s always called me Jimmy.” He looked at Dewi to gauge his reaction.
Dewi said nothing but smiled and nodded as if to encourage Jimmy to continue. “When I was 23, six years ago now, I joined the British Army. I had nothing going for me in Stoke-on-Trent, drinking too much, going from dead-end job to dead-end job, a disastrous marriage to a completely incompatible woman. I was lured by all the recruitment propaganda – see the world, keep the peace, learn new skills, camaraderie and so on. Of course it was all bullshit, and I slowly discovered the truth by reading more than I ever did at school, by talking to Irish republicans during stints over there, by making friends who had new attitudes and ideas in Germany and just by observing the authoritarianism, the bigotry, the dumb obedience and the ridiculous rituals at first hand. As a squaddie at the very bottom of the pecking order with still four more years to serve I found it more and more impossible to take orders and, to cut a long story short, last year I went AWOL. I planned it carefully, I was based in a barracks in Colchester with the Staffordshire Regiment at the time and one fine day I did a runner. I headed west to Wales and they haven’t seen me since. I’ve survived so far, but if the military police hunt me down – and they will definitely be trying – I’m looking at a few years in prison for desertion. I’m on the run, man. I live on my wits, I live in harmony with nature, I’m not going to no jail. That’s why I have to be cautious with strangers. And then I met you…”
Dewi was silent for a few moments before he placed his hands on Jimmy’s shoulders and, with absolute sincerity and resolve, said “Stay here with me, they’ll never find you here.” Jimmy’s heart leapt in his chest, but he didn’t reply.
Through the afternoon they talked and talked. Dewi told Jimmy about his dream of becoming a full-time poet, how he writes most days and how he had performed readings at local halls and pubs and eisteddfodau. He read out one of his English-language poems, about the birds of the Preseli Mountains, and Jimmy applauded with authentic enthusiasm. Jimmy asked Dewi if it was ok if he cooked a meal, telling him laughingly that the most useful things the Army had taught him was how to wank and how to cook. Dewi, who rarely made anything more complicated than vegetable soup, was only too pleased to let him and within an hour Jimmy had rustled up a delicious vegetable bake in a cheese sauce using vegetables picked fresh from the garden.
Afterwards they sat in the garden smoking, watching the sun go down and finding out how much they had in common. Both were estranged from what families they had. Dewi, raised in Carmarthen by a frail, sensitive mother and a cruel, cold father had got out as soon as he could at age 18. After his mother died of cancer when he was 23 he hadn’t seen his father for the last 10 years and had no intention of ever seeing him again. In Tunstall, Jimmy’s father was a violent chronic alcoholic who died after hitting his head in a fall when Jimmy was eight, while his mother was a neurotic mess addicted to tranquillisers and living in squalor who Jimmy hadn’t seen since he left home at age 16. Neither had siblings, but Dewi was close to both his maternal grandparents in Carmarthenshire, who had inculcated his love of nature and poetry, while Jimmy had an uncle and cousins in Stoke who he knew would help him if he asked – but he never asked, because that would make them party to his desertion and liable for arrest themselves.
“I’ve got an idea, if you fancy it Dewi,” said Jimmy as night descended, “how about dropping some acid?”
“You’ve got acid? Jimmy boy, I do not need asking twice. The answer’s yes!”
Around 10pm Jimmy and Dewi each swallowed a Grade A pale-blue microdot. As they waited for the acid to kick in, Dewi lit candles and set up a supply of fruit juices while Jimmy sorted out the music and rolled joints. They didn’t have long to wait before the lysergic waves began to overwhelm them like an incoming tide.
Some hours passed before they could start to grow accustomed to the sheer power of the LSD, handle the extraordinary sensory overload and process the bombardment of incredible new perceptions. Then, without speaking, they stripped off and had vigorously animalistic yet profoundly intimate sex quite unlike either of them had ever had before or would ever have again. The concept of separate bodies with boundaries and beginnings and ends was rendered obsolete. Time stretched into infinity until it ceased to exist.
They went out into the garden. It was a mild, humid midsummer night. The moon was below the horizon and it was pitch-dark. Still bollock-naked, they laid down on the damp, sweet-smelling grass and stared up at the twinkling sky. Squeaking bats and fluttering moths skittered to and fro above them. They felt the planet rotating beneath them, orbiting on solar winds and sailing through the spectacular celestial firmament of countless billions points of light. A stunning phantasmagoria of shooting stars, meteor showers, interplanetary dust, space debris, satellites and polychromatic galactic explosions revolved overhead, acutely detailed and lucid to their heightened vision.
Jimmy was the first to re-direct his consciousness. “Let’s go back inside and have a smoke,” he whispered, “we don’t want to get cold.”
They entwined themselves on the couch and Jimmy lit a joint, inhaled deeply and gave Pete a mouth-to-mouth blow-back deep into his lungs.
Pete took a few big tokes and then reciprocated Jimmy’s blow-back. With throbbing erections again, they shifted into the 69 position and sucked each other off with attentive lust for another timeless phase of ecstasy until ejaculating at precisely the same moment. Neither moved away from the position until every last drop of semen was ingested. Then, shifting to face-to-face and staring into each other’s eyes, they locked their mouths and tongues together as aeons of time drifted on.
Eventually, when Dewi noticed dawn breaking, he got up and went to the kitchen.
“Wow man, I just got an acid shudder,” he called out as he poured a glass of water.
Jimmy joined him. “This acid just keeps on coming. There’s a long way to go yet. Look at this.” He raised a finger and moved it rapidly right to left and back again. A thousand after-images of the finger, as in a flickering peephole cinema on a seaside pier, danced in front of Dewi’s eyes.
Jimmy got down on his knees on the kitchen floor and started sucking Dewi again. “I love your cock, man, it’s my kind of cock, man,” he murmured, “you’re my kind of bloke.”
“You’re my kind of bloke too,” said Dewi, “men like us are guardians of the masculine impulse. To have sex in woods, fields and dark alleys is to pay homage to the dream of male freedom. The unknown stranger is a wandering pagan god. As in pre-history, the penis is the altar at which we kneel in worship…”
Jimmy, understanding exactly what Dewi meant, kneeled in worship and teased and tantalised Dewi’s cock masterfully until it exploded with spunk again. Jimmy drank every last drop with relish, then turned him round and lubricated his arsehole with spit until it quivered in anticipation. Jimmy stood up and smoothly slid his long cock into Dewi’s gripping bum and slow-fucked him over the kitchen table. Rays of early morning sunlight were apparent through the kitchen window as Jimmy pumped spurt after spurt of spunk deep inside a groaning Dewi.
Back in the living room, Jimmy lit another joint. Dewi sat upright on a chair, revelling in acidic consciousness. To him, the air was thick with every microbe, every speck of dust, every microscopic bacteria and every miniscule spore normally invisible to the human eye. Jimmy noticed his goggle-eyed expression of amazement and came over to join him. He straddled Pete’s lap and gave him another deep blow-back. Once more Dewi’s cock suffused with blood and oozed pre-cum. Jimmy lifted himself up, lowered his arse carefully onto Dewi’s penis and let it naturally penetrate him. He had never been fucked before, but he was so completely relaxed he was able to ride Dewi’s cock like a bucking bronco, both of them involuntarily spunking over and over again without even knowing they were as they kissed and licked every inch of each other’s face.
Suddenly, the phone rang. “Don’t answer it,” said Dewi immediately, “it’s probably work, wondering where I am. They can fucking wait.” They untangled themselves and stood up, and again another tsunami of LSD sensations swept through their minds.
After a while, Jimmy, seeing Dewi was flat-out with his eyes shut on the sofa, re-lit the joint, slipped on his jeans, t-shirt and boots and went out into the garden. Everything looked so hyper-real and yet so unreal. He explored the garden, breathing in the mind-blowing scents of sage and lavender, rosemary and lovage until reaching the rear fence. There he noticed a stile giving access to a path into the woods. He climbed over it and disappeared into the blackness and the heady aroma of pine needles. To his surprise the path abruptly reached a shallow cutting along which a single-track railway line descended to enter a tunnel a little to the west. Momentarily, he thought it odd that he hadn’t heard any trains since being here, but soon realised this was a long-abandoned railway. Ever adventurous, Jimmy couldn’t resist looking inside the tunnel. He scrambled down the bank and followed the track into the tunnel. The arched portal at the far end beckoned him onwards. Rubble and miscellaneous debris crunched under Jimmy’s feet as he proceeded. The mossy tunnel echoed with dripping water and mysterious rustlings and Jimmy was just about to turn round and get back to Dewi when, to his complete shock, there was a loud click and without warning a powerful searchlight was shining directly into his face from the other end of the tunnel. A gloating, cruel, terrifying growl bellowed at him “Got you Private Piper! We knew we would. Did you really think you’d out-run the Redcaps you queer cunt?”
Dewi had come round from a magical acid trance and was sitting at the living room table in his pants, intensely examining the grain of the wood. “What’s the time Jimmy, do you know?” he called out vaguely. There was no answer so he got up and checked the clock in the bedroom. “Fucking hell,” he said, going into the kitchen, “according to that clock it’s half past fucking two! We’ve been tripping for 16 hours!” But Jimmy wasn’t there. Thinking he must be in the garden, Dewi put on his jeans, shirt and shoes and went outside. But Jimmy wasn’t there either. Dewi went through the gate and down the track and looked up and down the main road, but there was still no sign of him. Back in the house he checked everywhere again, to no avail. Dewi started to get worried. He scoured the garden yet again and this time noticed boot prints on the stile. He’s in the woods, thought Dewi, relieved. He climbed the stile and followed the footpaths, calling Jimmy’s name as he went. On reaching the old Narberth Road & Maenclochog Railway, closed since 1949, he went down into the cutting, looked to the east round the track-bed’s curve then to the west into the tunnel as far as the portal, but Jimmy was nowhere to be seen. Dewi returned to the house hoping he’d find Jimmy sitting at the table rolling a joint and grinning, but he wasn’t. Exhausted, distraught and panicky, the residual surges of ebbing LSD waves were now nightmarish for Dewi. He drank a glass of orange juice, took deep breaths, composed himself and tried to figure out what might have happened.
The Military Police have got him! It came to Dewi in a flash; he didn’t know how, but it was the only possible answer. Moving quickly he hid incriminating evidence: the Nepalese hash, smoking paraphernalia, Jimmy’s dirty clothes in the bathroom – all were stuffed into his rucksack and, standing on a chair Dewi slotted it into a cavity under the roof behind a small hatch that he made when the house was re-roofed. Then he washed, dried and put away plates, cutlery and coffee cups, tidied up generally, wiped down surfaces, and opened all windows to remove any smells. It was three in the afternoon. He phoned the caravan site.
“Hi Nia, Dewi here. Just to let you know I had terrible food poisoning yesterday and was sick all night. That’s why I couldn’t get to work or even answer the phone when you rang.”
“Dewi, I’m sorry but Mr Baldwin doesn’t want you to come back. He says you’ve missed work once too often. Any outstanding wages will be sent to you, I’m just working them out now. Oh, and we didn’t phone you, Mr Baldwin said not to bother,” said Nia, Baldwin’s secretary, in her usual bland, flat tone.
“Righto Nia, I’m fine with that, take care, bye.” Dewi hung up. He knew what he had to do next: wait for the knock on the door.
They took Jimmy in a jeep to MOD Aberporth, the RAF missile and test site where the Military Police maintained an office. For what seemed an eternity, he waited alone in a small locked room worrying about Dewi and how to contact him, before at last two Redcaps entered. He knew how to handle them: tell them nothing, admit nothing, don’t fall for their lies and manipulations.
It was the old ‘good-cop, bad-cop’ strategy. The civilised one explained that there had been anecdotal reports of possible sightings of Jimmy in Snowdonia and the Cambrian Mountains earlier in the year, so all the MOD premises in Wales had his photograph pinned to notice-boards and were on the look out for him. When he was unmistakeably spotted thumbing a lift right outside the Aberporth facility, they couldn’t believe their luck and how dumb he was. They were about to pick him up when he got in a van. Using Aberporth’s aircraft and runway facilities, they followed the van all the way to Maenclochog in a high-altitude light aircraft. Then it was only a matter of arranging his arrest with minimal fuss and attention.
The aggressive one took over. “Did you fuck the arse of that scrawny AIDS-riddled Welsh poof, then? He was harbouring you, wasn’t he? We’ll have him.”
Jimmy felt he had to say something. “I don’t know anyone around here. If you mean the guy who gave me a lift, he thought I was just a hiker. He didn’t even know my name. He took me as far as his place and gave me a cuppa and I was looking at the old railway before hitching down to the A40 when you nabbed me.”
“You’re quick to defend him, Piper. That tells me everything I need to know,”
His heart was pounding but Jimmy knew he must remain calm. “You’re barking up the wrong tree, sir. Now can you get on with this and charge me.”
The Redcaps left the room. Jimmy knew they would be watching him through a one-way mirror, so could not show his distress and anxiety. He also knew that the Redcaps almost never got involved with civilians and had no evidence against Dewi anyway. He told himself to stop worrying; Dewi would be alright if he denied knowing anything. They would meet again.
That night Jimmy was transported over 300 miles to Colchester. Apart from the odd metallic zing through his bones, the acid had worn off. He slept sporadically, dreaming of Dewi, throughout the awful journey.
There was no knock on Dewi’s door. Instead an MOD official questioned him over the phone a few days later. “We tried to contact you the other day Mr Price to warn you that James Piper was a deserter, but there was no answer. Can you assure me that the two of you were strangers and you knew nothing of his crime?”
“Absolutely,” replied Dewi, “I didn’t know anything about him. He told me his name was John. To me he was just a tourist travelling around Wales.” The official was satisfied, Dewi was off the hook. But now he yearned to know what had happened to Jimmy. He missed him so much.
Weeks passed. Weeks turned to months. Dewi got a part-time job helping at his grandfather’s tree-surgery business in Carmarthen. He brought Jimmy’s rucksack down from the cavity under the roof and went to sleep every night with his unwashed sweaty t-shirt on his pillow. He couldn’t get Jimmy out of his mind.
Then, out of the blue, just before Christmas, an envelope addressed “Dewi, Tŷ’r Oen, Maenclochog, Pembs, Wales” dropped on his doormat. Dewi knew it was from Jimmy before he opened it. It was a Christmas card. Inside Jimmy had written:
Dewi, I’m praying this gets to you and you’re fit and well. I’m presuming you know what happened to me. They told me at Colchester you had been interviewed. Well, I’m out of prison! I got 6 months and a dishonourable discharge for desertion. Did the first month in the Colchester glasshouse then the rest in Brixton, London. I got out yesterday and was given temporary housing in a hostel in Ealing for prison-leavers. I can stay here two weeks. They wouldn’t tell me your surname in Colchester, and I didn’t like to push it, so can’t discover your phone number. If you phone my cousin Daphne in Stoke (number given) you can leave your number with her and then I can contact you properly. That’s if you haven’t forgotten me after all this time! I miss you very much. Love and best wishes, Jimmy.
Dewi never phoned Daphne. He became seriously ill on Christmas Day and was rushed to Glangwili Hospital in Carmarthen. He was put on an intensive care ward and then on life support in an isolation room. He died of an AIDS-related illness in January 1988.
In the summer, Jimmy turned up at Tŷ’r Oen searching for Dewi. The house was empty and there was a ‘For Sale’ sign outside. Jimmy walked up to Maenclochog village and asked after Dewi in the shop where he had bought provisions a year previously.
“Oh my dear, it was so sad,” said Mrs Payne, the sweet old lady behind the counter, “he died in hospital last winter. Lovely boy he was, such a talented poet, so good with plants…” She saw the tears roll down Jimmy’s face. “Was it you?” she asked.
“Was what me?”
“Somebody infected him with HIV last year. My niece is a nurse at the clinic in Withybush and she told me he was very scrupulous about testing for the virus and had tested negative only last June. Then he contracted it from someone….” Jimmy had turned and walked out of the shop before she could complete the sentence.