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Around The Sun: Go North Young Man

Steve Harrison heads north to Sonoma, California.

But the game never ends, when your whole life depends on the turn of a friendly card – Alan Parsons Project.

Certainly one thing was very clear to me. I had to get out of L.A. and find a different perspective on life. Years earlier I’d met a crazy Californian girl called Joanna Dowd at a party in Spain. She was a very pretty lady, very sweet, but completely mad. Every day she consulted the I Ching and based her decisions on the results of a toss of three magical coins.

We had practiced a few horizontal tango lessons together and she’d followed me all over southern Spain. One day she packed her bags. The coins say head north, she said. We exchanged address. Then she was gone.

A year later she looked me up in England. The coins said find a northern man. Like I said, she was a complete fruitcake.
Anyway, I rang her. She was very excited to hear from me. She talked at a million miles an hour, suggesting that I should take a flight from Burbank airport to San Francisco, and she would pick me up at the airport. I said my goodbyes to the barber and his wife, and soon I was with Joanna, driving over the Golden Gate Bridge, north into Marin County.

We drove out through the fabulous countryside while Kate Wolf sang “The Golden Rolling Hills of California”. I had arrived back in her life just as the coins had announced a visitor from the past, a love still smoldering. Joanna was engaged to be married, due to leave for Boston in a couple of days. She urgently needed someone to look after her cottage for a couple of weeks.

She talked excitedly all the way to Sonoma. It really was good to see her. She still was very pretty, and as nutty as ever. She gave me a few instructions about what to do while she was away and introduced me to a few of her neighbours and friends. One of them loaned me his car. Then she was gone. I was alone in an old beautiful small cottage off the beaten track in Sonoma, a sleepy little town in the centre of wine growing country, an area where nothing much happens. Next door is Napa valley, famous for its wine, and also for the state hospital which houses the criminally insane. Joanna was a volunteer helper at the hospital. She had asked me to help out by doing one of her babysitting shifts there.

When my turn to babysit came along I found myself looking through a glass screen at a huge room which looked like a scene from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. I was warned not to turn my back on a certain guy because he thought he was a vampire and he liked to bite necks.

There were murderers, rapists, all kinds of evil people, and all of them were insane. A door was opened, and I found myself in among them. I had been told to keep my back to the wall, and to make steady eye contact with the patients. They came hovering around me. One announced that he was a mental midget, and I was a mental giant.

Joanna had told me they were like children, I was beginning to question her judgment. My job was to take them for a walk, to ensure that they got some exercise. Off we went. I should point out that I was not the only babysitter on duty. It all went remarkably smoothly. Many of them staggered along in a world of their own, shoulders hunched, heads down. We were like some kind of chain gang.

Two of them took a shine to me, the new boy. They talked nonstop, making no sense at all. We returned after an hour, and I was relieved when they were back in the large shared “cell’’.

They told me that one of the guys who had taken a shine to me was given to violent fits. He had injured a number of people by trying to tear their skin off.

I was asked if I would come in again to help out on the following day. Sorry, I told them, I will be busy. I have a lot to do.

Then it was that I called England and talked to Jacquie. Faithful as ever, she agreed to come and join me in California.

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