Ironside, Robin - Street violinist at Victoria Station
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Robin Ironside, painter and writer, 1912-1965 by Virginia Ironside
“Robin was always interested in drugs,” said a doctor contemporary of his, Patrick Trevor-Roper. “He was obsessed with mental distortion, he had a marvellous free-flowing conversation with his bright, inquisitive mind and his rapid conversation. He was interested in psychopathies and mental deviations and quirks and schizophrenia. Do you remember that picture he painted, Depressed People Waiting for a Lift? For long periods he was on heavy doses of amphetamines like Benzedrine – I wasn’t sure how much his bird-like mind was due to the amphetamines or its true nature.
I tried to rail at him against it but it was impossible, he knew all the answers, he was always ready with them. He would say that they gave him enhanced perception, suited his psyche and that he took them for positive reasons rather because of a negative dependence.
He certainly always had very dilated pupils, which might have been result of the amphetamines of course.
One day he asked me to have an evening with him taking mescaline and LSD. I think it was Gerald Heard – you know, that strange esoteric philosopher – who’d sparked the idea off with a letter to Raymond Mortimer, who was editing the New Statesman at the time. He implied that when he’d taken it, he’d seen God, although he was of course a convinced atheist – this was long before Aldous [Huxley] had written his book, of course.
I got, without any difficulty, some mescaline from the hospital where I worked saying it was for medical research and Raymond and I took some. We didn’t know how much to take or anything. I had a medical student handy in case things went wrong. We took far too much, knocking it back and I was very ill, with a temperature of 107. Then Raymond wrote an article about it for The Times and I think that was how Robin became interested and said: ‘I must have it’ so he and I took some and this time I got it from the hospital again, I can’t remember how, but we knew the right dose, roughly, anyway.
Robin gave me dinner at the Jardin des Gourmets and as I dropped him off at Pimlico we parted and said what a pity it seemed to have no effect at all, and I said I was awfully sorry. But as he later told me, as soon as he had shut the door to his flat and was on his own (because this is how the drug works – the presence of other people often inhibits its effect) he was astonished at the myriads of colours he could see and he said he saw the most wonderful textures in the folds of the curtains and the most beautiful colours and walked round Victoria Station and found it exciting, picaresque and romantic – in a funny way an altogether a compelling experience.
He also had the utmost difficulty in preventing himself from clutching passers-by in order to point out the ineffable beauty of St George’s Hospital at Hyde Park Corner at night. He said it looked like a gigantic quinquireme floating in the sky with every window lit up in a different colour.
Then he said: ‘Let’s have some more.’ I think it was LSD this time. It was about six months later. We had supper and then went to some louche queer bar down the Fulham Road and all our friends later told us how oddly we were behaving because we were totally absorbed in ourselves, and we then went home together thinking how boring other people were and how exciting our own world was.
But when he was alone he told me later it had a greater effect on him and he was tempted to take a taxi down to the Thames and every few moments he stopped the taxi and had a good look at the river, excited by its colours. “On the fourth occasion, when he stood transfixed by the wonder of it all, leaning for some time over the parapet, the taxi still ticking away by the kerb, he heard the driver calling out: ‘Don’t do it, guv. Go home to bed. It’s not worth it. Life’s too good. Things always seem better in the morning.’ And Robin had the greatest difficulty in explaining to this kind man that he wasn’t considering committing suicide.”
When I was older I remember Robin telling me how, when he was under the influence of mescaline, he became fascinated by a vegetable that lay on his kitchen table. Obsessed with the object’s beautiful colours and shapes he had drawn a meticulous picture of it at four in the morning, before he went to sleep, to capture the memory of its radiance. When he woke up he found he had executed a perfect and immaculate drawing – of a cabbage.