Sunday, 5 September 2010

A Psychedelic Oyster

Last Tuesday I took advantage of the fine weather to do some gardening for an elderly lady in St Martin who I help out from time to time. I found her in her garden in an upset state and she told me that her grandson had been taken to hospital suffering the consequences of a designer drug that he had bought on the Internet. She thought that it was called 'Monkey Passion' and that it was advertised as a window cleaner and not for human consumption. Apparently the poor lad was crawling around on all fours like a beast, snarling at her, and trying to bite the curtains. Then he would giggle uncontrollably or yelp like a rabid dog. It scared the life out of her to see him like that, especially when the ambulance came and he was taken away in restraints. She hasn't been to see him yet but has heard from his parents that he is apparently completely well, calm, and cannot remember a thing that happened to him. However, she is worried that he has permanent brain damage.

I reassured her that this would not be the case and told her about a curious incident that occurred to some friends of mine when we went on a fishing trip to the Minquiers back in the late 1950s, probably 1959, which I remember as an exceedingly hot year. We all sailed in one boat and arrived at Maitresse Ile around 11 a.m., just after high tide I think. We moored up and pottered around, doing a bit of rod fishing, waiting for the tide to go down. At low tide, Bertie Durand, Micky Montain, and Ed Gilliat were looking for ormers. They found a few, plus a few oysters and around 6 p.m. we lit a fire and had a feast.

Some of the lads had brought a few beers and some wine and we sat around talking nonsense for a couple of hours when we noticed that a couple of our party were behaving strangely. Bertie Durand had climbed up onto a rock, wedged his backside into a crevice and was grinning like a monkey, making faces and spitting down on us. We all started laughing at this, thinking he'd had one too many, when another one started running around and around the island like a bird, flapping his wings and trying to take his clothes off.

A couple of us went off to chase him in case he hurt himself, or worse, and by the time we'd managed to pursuade him to get back to the camp fire, Micky Montain was taken the same way, sitting crouched before the fire, his head on one side, drooling like an idiot, and speaking in tongues, or what he thought was a sensible language but what to us sounded like Mongolian.

Fortunately, one of our party was a doctor in the UK who was on holiday in Jersey and staying with his cousin in Faldouet. He immediately suspected poisoning of some kind and suggested that we try to get them back on board the boat and to a hospital. Because the tide was against us we decided to continue to St Malo instead of returning to Jersey and we arrived there after midnight. During the journey, the behaviour of our three companions had become so extreme and bizarre, we thought that they were a danger to themselves and the rest of us so we took the unpleasant decision to lash them up with rope and secure them to the samson post. It was a horrible sight to see them there, alternately laughing, crying and gibbering like baboons.

To cut a long story short, we radioed ahead for an ambulance and all three were taken to the hospital in Dinan. By good luck there was a doctor there who had trained in Guadeloupe and when we told him what had happened he immediately diagnosed poisoning by a certain oyster known to be hallucinogenic. He called it 'Spondylus' and said it was very rare in our waters but common in South America. His theory was that the exceptionally warm waters had carried the eggs across the Atlantic. When we asked him if our friends would fully recover, he gave a typically Gallic shrug and laughed it off, saying, 'It's no worse than drinking several bottles of wine too many.'

And so it turned out. The next morning, the men who had eaten the oysters could remember nothing of what had happened to them and were surprised to find themselves in the hospital. They thought that we had played some fantastic joke on them and it was only when the doctor himself came back with a medical encyclopaedia that mentioned other known cases were they prepared to believe us.

On the way back to Jersey we gave them a bit of a ribbing about what had happened and although they never truly believed us when we described their antics, they took it in good heart. However, we all vowed never to tell another soul what had happened, not just because of the embarrassment it would cause them but because in those days everyone would think you were doolally and a bit suspect in the head. We all kept to our word about this and the only reason I say it now is because, sadly, they are all dead and I am the last one left. They are gone like snow on the water.

Also, I know my friend reads this stupid blog, and I want her to know that in some cases the mind is fragile and cannot stand a shock, but in others - when it is inebriated or poisoned with a drug - the brain is very plastic: anything can happen to it and it springs back into shape. Anything you do then may as well have never happened because the brain is in such a chaotic state it is unable to commit its sensations to memory - not only that but the time leading up to and following the intoxication can also be completely obliterated in the memory.

This is just my own theory on the matter but I had it confirmed to me by the men involved, who I questioned many times over the years about what they remembered of that day. Two of them remembered nothing - not even being in hospital, and the third simply had a vague memory of being on top of a rock and bouncing around like a monkey, leering at the sky. When I asked him how he felt, he said he felt happy, as far as he could remember. I've heard that American Indians and others eat substances like that in order to get the same effects. I can't think why because it looked hellish to me, especially as I'm someone who never likes to lose control of my thoughts and have been known to stop drinking after six or seven pints, for that very reason.

While I was finishing off weeding her garden, I cleared a load of bindweed only to find it was smothering a Datura plant, which is also known as the 'Devil's Trumpet'. It's also poisonous and has psychedelic effects so I decided to rip it up without telling her in case her grandson heard about it and decided to try that as well. In the days I used to go to church, I remember a preacher who said,

"The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children."

I didn't know what it meant then, but I think I do now. We should all try to help each other, and especially help the weak and the little children.


TonyTheProf said...

It may be the pond cleaner: "Of the lethal substances available, NRG-1, which is sold online as a "pond cleaner", is causing the most concern."

Anonymous said...

What a strange story the poisoning part I can understand it is possible, but why then after the Doctor advises to get your friends to a hospital as soon as possible do you decide to bypass Jersey and travel all the way to St Malo? you say you arrived at the reef at 11am on the high tide therefore when you left the reef say 7pm the tide had turned and was on the way up and so you could have come into Jersey,you say on arrival at St Malo you went to Dinan Hospital, why? when there is a hospital at St Malo.

Dave Sanscerveau said...

I wasn't the captain, but if my memory serves me right, it was something to do with direction of the tide which was pushing us away from Jersey.

When we got to St Malo, there was an ambulance waiting there because we had radioed ahead. I think they took him to Dinan because it was a case of suspected poisoning and in those days there was a poisoning centre at Dinan but not at St Malo. Well that is what they told us.