BIKE (Ibiza & Formentera, August 1967)
Uncertain whether the assistant considered me a daredevil or just plain batty, I wheeled the rental bike out of the shop and rode to the hostel to pick up my stuff. I was planning on spending the next couple of days on the island of Formentera, and a bike would be much more convenient than ambling about on foot.
I whizzed through the narrow streets at breakneck speed, indifferent to the short steep climbs, brutal descents, and the spattering of Spanish curses along the way. It was clear the local people were not used to seeing a fearless young tourist hurtle his bike over pedestrian walkways. When some refused to let Flash-Gordon-on-two-wheels pass, it took some spectacular breaking and skilful steering to avoid a couple of head-on collisions. With last month’s TV footage of Tom Simpson’s tragic death on the slopes of Mont Ventoux still fresh in mind, I slowed the Tour-de-Ibiza down until I reached the hostel where my rucksack lay waiting patiently next to the front desk.
A few handshakes and ‘adíosses’ later, I was back in the saddle. This time it was me doing the cursing. I had not expected the weight on my shoulders to unleash the rivers of sweat that were now gushing out of almost every pore of my body. I pedalled the last stretch to the ferry terminal as slowly as I could. Drenched and with the sun already burning my skin, I was glad to finally board the ship. A refreshing draught instantly cooled my overheated limbs, and I decided to stay put. When a rough-looking man told me I was blocking the way and to move on, I complied and secured my bike in the designated spot.
For such a small island, a surprisingly large number of people had booked the 30-minute trip to Formentera; the boat was buzzing with day-trippers, long-stayers and general sightseers. There were a couple of Americans, some locals, a few European tourists, and hippies. Lots of hippies. I didn’t really know what to think of them. Their music seemed OK and some so-called hippie artists I liked a lot. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, and a few others I’d been introduced to by my older brother. It was creative, exciting new stuff. I wasn’t too keen on the way they dressed, though. I couldn’t see myself wearing leather vests, tie dye shirts, grungy jeans, sandals, let alone the Peace Symbol, which was pretty much a hippie fashion essential.
Since most passengers had made a beeline for the shade over the lower deck, I had plenty of empty chairs to choose from. As the ferry left the dock and the wind picked up, I no longer noticed the sun’s rays on my skin.
It didn’t take long before people returned to the upper deck. Some went straight to the railings to watch Ibiza recede into the distance, others settled down on a chair. One rather exotic and bohemian-looking group came over to where I was sitting and plonked themselves down onto the hot metal floor in front of my chair. The cheerful, laid-back mood of the party mesmerised me. Most were in their early twenties and some were smoking what looked like giant cigarettes. One guy with long curly black hair and dark eyes stood out like there was a bulb above his head. When someone handed the charismatic man a guitar, the others eagerly gathered around.
For a while, he just sat there with the instrument resting in his lap, smoking and chatting in a soft, dreamy voice, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying. It must have been a fascinating story because everyone listened enthralled. He had the natural charisma of a bright young film star, and I imagined he was telling tales of his travels and the amazing people he had met along the way; how he’d gone boozing and gambling with Jack Kerouac in San Francisco, written poetry with Serge Gainsbourg in Paris or met Brigitte Bardot on the beaches of St. Tropez.
Slowly, my eyes drifted over to one of the three girls in the group. She was without doubt the prettiest of them all. With long blond hair wafting in the sea breeze, sparkling green eyes and Mona Lisa smile, she had a distant air as if she was on a different planet. Or a different ferry. Sailing from Ibiza to Nirvana.
Enjoying the view, I continued to gaze unnoticed for another couple of glorious minutes until, suddenly, I felt the pat of a hand on my shoulder.
“She’s way out of your league, man,” a voice whispered from behind. Taken by surprise, my heart skipped a few beats and, blushing, I turned to see a tall man in his mid-twenties looking down on me with a somewhat cruel, yet disarming smile.
“Hi, I’m Roger,” he said, holding two cans of lager in his left hand.
I was too startled to speak.
“And that’s Syd and a few of our friends,” he added, nodding at the guitarist.
Roger walked over to the guy he’d said was called Syd, handed him one of the beers, returned and dropped onto the empty chair beside me.
“Don’t mind if I sit here, do you?” he asked with a slightly posh British accent.
“No, not at all. I’m Matt,” I replied and shook his hand.
Roger had a long pale face with high cheekbones and piercing, grey-green eyes that were half-hidden by a mane of dark brown hair. Dressed in jeans and in an unbuttoned, long-sleeved black shirt, he didn’t look like your average British tourist.
“Are you guys hippies?” I asked, regretting the question almost the moment it left my mouth.
“Good God, no!” he replied, still grinning.
“Fuckin’ hate hippies. Lazy bunch of wankers if you ask me. My friends Syd, Rick, and I are musicians. We’re taking a break for a few days of to get ourselves some sunshine.”
Syd had started playing his guitar. Waterloo Sunset, if I was not mistaken. He was softly humming the words with some of the group singing along.
“Is she your girlfriend?,” I asked, pointing at the girl with the rippling blond hair. “Or Syd’s?”
Roger shook his head. “Nah, she’s one the girls we met in Ibiza. She’s a beauty, isn’t she? We call her the Queen of Spain. Premier league, if you know what I mean. No use in trying. I think she fancies Syd.”
“Does he fancy her back?”
“With Syd, you never can tell. He makes up his own rules and they change from day to day. Some girls are attracted by that, Matt, although most of them just find it confusing. I think our Spanish queen will need an armada, not just a ferry to conquer his heart.”
Syd switched from the Kinks to The Beatles, but after a few chords of Penny Lane got bored and changed to a song I didn’t know. Something about a cat and a witch. It sounded like a catchy tune. Then he looked bored again and stopped playing altogether. The group carried on talking. And smoking.
“I think I’ll join my friends, if you don’t mind,” Roger excused himself. “Nice meeting you, Matt,” he added, jumping up and dropping onto the floor right next to the Spanish royalty.
Even though I was sitting ten feet away from them, I suddenly felt I was crashing a private party. Besides, I was starting to notice the sun’s blistering effect on my skin. I got up, went inside, walked straight up to the bar, and ordered a beer. At home, I had two suspicious parents lurking around almost every domestic corner, so except for the odd party with buddies from school, my life up to this moment had mostly been alcohol-free. Here, on my first ever solo holiday adventure, drinking cervezas was exhilarating and it made me feel mature. Seventeen, but no questions asked.
Shortly after arriving at our destination, I walked back to the car deck to pick up my bike. I saw Roger and his friends waiting near the passenger exit.
“See ya!” I called over with a wave.
“Have fun, Matt,” Roger called back.
“Nice bike, man!” Syd added.
▪ ▪ ▪
Stretching eleven miles from one end to the other, Formentera is the smallest of the inhabited Balearic Islands and has no airport and only a few paved roads. To me, it looked like a piece of brownish rock sticking out of the azure sea. In Ibiza, some friendly natives had advised me to follow the road into Sant Ferran de Ses Roques where I would find a restaurant and bar called La Fonda Pepe, a hostel, a bakery and a few houses. Sant Ferran seemed like a good place to be for my two days of sight-seeing. Luckily, the hostel had a bed to spare for a reasonable rate. Check-in was swift and painless, so after dropping my gear, I went looking for the one thing left on my mind: another cold, refreshing beer.
It was late in the afternoon and, with the cool sea breeze gone, relaxing out on the terrace seemed the sensible thing to do. It was busy outside the café. People were standing around talking or sitting, reading a book or newspaper. One man on the corner was writing notes, looking quite intellectual and preoccupied. I found a table with a couple of free chairs, and sat down, unsure of what to do or what to expect next. Nobody paid any attention to me or my beer, as if I was already part of the regular clientele. The cheerful sound of Scott McKenzie’s San Francisco wafted out of the pub’s open windows, followed by The Spencer Davis Group’s I’m A Man. A perfect soundtrack to a perfect day.
“Hello, bicycle boy,” I heard a timid voice next to me say.
I looked up to see Syd from the ferry smiling down at me. These guys continued to surprise the hell out of me.
“Hey, hello!” I said and held out my hand. “I’m Matt.”
“Roger,” he replied quietly, “Roger Barrett. My friends call me Syd.”
“Cool place, isn’t it?” I said.
“Yeah,” Syd answered. “Good vibe. I like the music too.”
“Is Roger, your friend I met on the ferry here too?” I asked out of curiosity.
“No, he’s here visiting friends for the day. He’s going back to Ibiza tonight.”
There was something about this guy I found intriguing, although I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. His face was pale and he looked kind of tired, but from under his black curly hair his eyes sparkled with an enchanting mixture of mischief and mystery. No wonder the girls on the ferry were drawn to him.
“Roger said you play in a band together.”
“Yeah, we’re called The Pink Floyd. We’ve just finished touring the UK. It’s been pretty busy.”
“The Pink Floyd…,” I repeated, adding apologetically: “Doesn’t ring a bell, I’m afraid.”
“No worries, man. We’ve only had one single out so far. But I’m not really into all that. Bringing out singles or being famous doesn’t do much for me, I just want to write and play my songs.”
“What kind of music do you make, Syd?”
“We play songs for people to dance to. They don’t seem to dance much now, but that was the initial idea. We play loud and we mess around with electric guitars using all the volume and the effects we can get. Right now, we’re trying to develop this show using lots of lights…”
“Sounds interesting,” I replied. “Have you released any LP’s, yet?”
“Yes, in fact we have. Our first album was released just a few weeks ago. But hey man,” Syd said, abruptly standing up, “I’ve got to split. Come and look us up when we’re playing sometime. Bye-bye, bike boy.” And off he went.
A girl I’d not noticed before was standing on the street just a few yards from the terrace, smiling and waving wildly at him. I watched as he went to meet her. When they’d disappeared, I stood up and walked over to the man who was still writing away on the corner.
“Excuse me, I’m sorry to disturb you, but could I borrow your pen for a second?”
Without looking up or saying a word, he lifted his hand and offered me his pen. I picked up a beermat from an adjoining table and wrote three words on it: The Pink Floyd.
Back at the hostel, my sunburn and a massive thunderstorm kept me awake half the night. The next day I decided I should take it easy: a bit of sightseeing, a swim and, hopefully, a kip on the beach would be just fine. I asked the landlady for a large towel, wrapped it around my neck, filled an empty bottle with water and got on my bike.
I headed for the market at El Pilar de La Mola and followed the paths to the eastern tip of the island, in search of good sea views and a beach. The dusty roads wove through a barren moonscape, but I was enjoying my little touristic trip. And with almost no traffic to watch out for, my thoughts drifted back to my encounters with the two Rogers. Syd was obviously a dreamer: a charming, romantic, and creative poet-type. The other Roger was more of an outspoken and energetic go-getter; not someone you want to mess with. I wondered how their music sounded and what it would be like to play in a loud band. I smiled, realising I didn’t even know what instruments they played. Noisy electric guitars, most likely. The Pink Floyd… I reminded myself not to forget that beermat when I return home.
▪ ▪ ▪
Thanks to last night’s thunderstorm, the temperature was not as relentless as yesterday. I stretched out on the white sand and I closed my eyes. By the time I opened them again, a good hour had gone. After a quick swim to get the juices flowing, I was all geared up for some more sightseeing.
As I coasted towards the island’s small capital of Sant Francesc Xavier, there was plenty of time to take in the breathtaking scenery. I promised myself I would return to Formentera. Maybe I would buy a house here, write a book, take up painting or, who knows, even write some music of my own. To be a successful artist and live on a sunny island. Wouldn’t that be something.
I continued my reverie until, reaching the outskirts of the little town, I suddenly saw a familiar figure standing a hundred yards off to the side of the road. Hitting the brakes, I gaped in disbelief at the strangely disturbing scene. There, in front of two whitewashed windmills, was the unmistakable figure of Syd Barrett. Motionless, he was staring up at the rotating wooden sails. But that was not what bothered me. It was more about the way he was standing there, perfectly still with his arms stretched out to the sides. With his long dark hair and a white, long-sleeved linen t-shirt hanging loosely over his shorts, he looked like Jesus. Like a human cross in the desolate field of his promised island.
Something was definitely amiss. Not wanting to crash in on him, I got off my bike and wheeling it beside me, approached him on foot. I’d got to about ten yards from where he was standing when he abruptly lowered his arms and hugged them tightly to his body.
“Syd, it’s me, Matt. Are you alright?” I asked, with concern in my voice.
Barrett stared at me blankly but didn’t reply.
The sparkle in his eyes was gone. I wasn’t even sure he was seeing me at all.
“Is there anything I can do for you? Would you like some water?”
I took the bottle from the bike and was just starting to move forward to give it to him, when he suddenly turned around and walked away. I watched in disbelief as he strode with a firm step in the direction of the town where the setting sun was disappearing behind a row of white houses. I was too dumbfounded to do anything, nor did I realise I would never see The Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett, again.