Chapter 12. The Pilton Pop Festival.
Rain, rain, rain, rattling on the roof of the van, falling in waves, washing down the hillside in muddy streams, gathering in pools: relentless, driving rain, hissing and shifting and blustering about. Rain.
And then mud. Streams of mud. Rivers of mud. Oceans of dark, slimy, greasy, sticky mud. Mud up to your ankles when you walked. Mud splashing your trouser legs and up over your coat. Mud on the toilet seats in the awful festival toilets, looking like shit. Mud to stand up in and mud to sit down in. Mud.
That was Pilton that year. Rain. And then mud.
The reason we were on the litter-pickers field is that Des was organising the stage there. It was high up on the hillside, overlooking the site. I liked the idea of being on the litter-pickers field. The litter-pickers are the working class of the Pilton Festival. They’re there to work, picking up litter. Mind you, they don’t get paid very much. They have to buy their tickets. And then, when the Festival is over, if they’ve done all of their shifts to their supervisor’s satisfaction, they get their ticket money back. That’s all they get, the chance to come to the Pilton Festival and then work for nothing. It seemed like a raw deal to me.
They also get fed. Unfortunately for them, the food franchise has gone out to a couple of vegans. So that’s what they get to eat: vegan slop. Bowls of vegetables in a runny sauce. The same thing every day. Working hard all day, in the pouring rain, for a bowl of vegetables. But the organisers were well-organised. They’d put out a couple of franchises for vegetarian burger stalls. Not that the burgers were free: the litter-pickers had to pay for them. And being hungry (and unable to face any more bowls of unpeeled potatoes in various bland sauces), they were flocking to them. One of the vegetarian burger stalls was run by the organisers themselves (or by their children, rather). And this was the cause of my first wobbly at the Pilton Festival.
It was getting late into the first day, and we hadn’t eaten all day. We’d delivered all of that food and all of that equipment for them – including their poxy vacuum cleaner – but no one was offering to feed us. I was hungry. All I’d had to eat in the last two days was a flimsy slice of Pizza. Des didn’t seem to be worried about it. He was in his “go with the flow” festival phase. “Something will turn up,” he grumbled. I was too hungry to wait. Instead I offered to buy Des and Angelina some food. So Des was right. Something did turn up. I did.
I went to the vegetarian burger stall run by the organiser’s children and ordered burger and chips three times. The burgers were £1.50 each, £2 with salad. So I ordered three burgers with salad, and stood back to watch. It was appalling. There were a bunch of kids in there, aged between about eight and fourteen, running around amid all that hot fat and cooking equipment, and they had no idea what they were doing. Not one of them could cook. There were flames leaping and fat sizzling, and a bunch of kids squabbling, and people queuing up waiting, and I was starving and Angelina was starving, and the kids – who knew Angelina – were taunting her. “Nyer, nyer, nyer Angelina,” they were saying in that sing-song way that kids use to effect derision. I was steadily losing my temper, not just with the kids: with the adults who’d put them here. And we were just waiting and waiting while this was going on.
But eventually the food came.
“You said salad, didn’t you?” the kid asked.
“Yes,” I said.
And he put one slice of cucumber and a bit of lettuce into the bun with the burger. One slice of cucumber.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Salad,” the kid said.
“Salad? Salad? One slice of cucumber for 50p. You call that salad?”
“I’m sorry,” he said, “it’s what I was told to do.”
I stormed back to the van.
“I’m fed up,” I said. “I’m pissed off. One slice of cucumber for 50p. And the chips are inedible. And it took fifteen minutes to get served. And none of them know what they’re doing. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t fire in there. It’s fucking dangerous. I hate festivals, I really do.”
Later Susanna was talking to the organiser of the litter-picker’s field. He was moaning on about how hard the work was, how unrewarding.
“So why do you do it?” she asked.
“Three words,” he said, enunciating them very carefully: “Twenty. Three. Thousand.”
The first Pilton Festival took place on the 19th September 1970, after the young Michael Eavis had visited the Bath Blues festival earlier in the Summer. He was suitably impressed. He decided he wanted one of his own.
Perhaps the only mystery is how a person like Michael Eavis came to be at the Bath Blues Festival in the first place. He was a church-goer, a Methodist. He was also a dairy farmer, working the land that had been worked by his family since 1894. I imagine that his background had been severe; or strict, at least. I imagine that he would have been a cautious man – cautious and practical – being from hardy, hard-working Yeoman stock. So how come he was at this festival? That’s easy. He hopped the fence.
Well no: he didn’t really hop the fence. But the fences had come down, and he walked in for free. I only wanted to say that because it became a feature of my stay at Pilton this year, watching the countless hordes hopping over the fences. It was nice to think that – though he didn’t actually hop the fence himself – Michael Eavis had actually blagged his way into his first festival.
He was 35 years old.
Anyway, he came away from this festival in love with the whole thing. The light and colour of the scene must have impressed him, probably because it did contrast so severely with his own background. He’d never seen hippies before. He’d never seen clothes like that before. Here we have a bunch of people having fun. A bunch of people ideologically opposed to the very work-ethic he’d been brought up to worship, dressed in flowing robes, with patchwork clothes and dangly hair-do’s. Many of them would have been dancing. Some of them, indeed, may have been dancing naked. Dancing naked was the thing to do if you were a hippie. On top of which, he loved the music. Actually he’d always loved the music. He played Radio One to his cows, and had made a record himself many years before: a 75, which he refuses to let anyone hear. But it crossed his mind that here might be a way of making money, to supplement the income from the farm. So he set out to recreate some of the ingredients on his own land. He booked the Kinks to headline the show, in September that year. In the end they backed out, and Marc Bolan and T. Rex played instead.
The show was not a great success. Only 2,500 people turned up. And Jimi Hendrix had just died, so there was a kind of gloom over the event, an atmosphere of mourning. But Eavis provided free milk, and the proceedings must have gone smoothly enough for him to think that it wasn’t such an unmitigated disaster. He must have thought that since he was to host a similar event the following year. And that subsequent event has since become a legend.
According to the official programme of the 1997 festival, it was called the Glastonbury Fayre, and held over the solstice period in June 1971. I said it was a similar event. It was similar in that bands played and hippies attended. But in every other way it was entirely dissimilar. It was one of the earliest free festivals.
This second festival was Andrew Kerr’s idea. Kerr had been the personal assistant of Randolph Churchill from 1959 until his death in 1968. After that he became a free-spirit, a hippie. I met him. He came to visit me in my van. He’s a dapper little chap, not much younger than my Dad, but a Universe away in terms of his attitudes. Very sprightly, very sparkly, very alive.
He isn’t “little” really. He’s 5′ 10″. I only said that because he reminds me of my Dad, and my Dad is little. And also because “dapper little chap” as a phrase suits him. Anyway, it sounds better than “a dapper medium-sized chap”.
We met up so that he could correct some of the errors which have accumulated around the event over the years. There’s been a number of official histories written. Not one of the writers took the trouble to consult with Andrew Kerr.
The first thing he told me was that the spelling was wrong. All the books I consulted spelled it the same way: as “Glastonbury Fayre”.
“It was Fair,” he said to me: “F-A-I-R. Glastonbury Fair.”
He’d gone to the Isle of Wight festival in 1970, he told me, and had been appalled at the rank commercialism of the event. It was in his Rover driving back that it had occurred to him that he wanted to create a festival of his own. The car was full of people, and he started telling them of his idea. He said, “well it’s definitely not going to be like the other festivals. We’ve got to have a festival that’s not a hype, that is a celebration of life and gives respect to the environment.”
He’d come by what he described as “a little money”. I expect it was quite a large sum of money by my standards, but a little money by the standards of those circles he moved around in. He’d been reading the New Testament. “Give all that you have and follow me,” it said. So he decided to do that. He decided to give his money away in the form of a free festival.
“Something was kind of inside me over this period,” he says to me now, “and I will definitely not say that it was to do with drugs.”
So, together with Arabella Churchill (Randolph’s daughter) and a number of other people, he formed Solstice Capers Ltd., in order to execute his fantasy. That’s when the festival was planned to take place: Summer Solstice the following year.
Well I was interested in this. I was interested in how the cult of the Solstice began. I mean, it’s such a commonplace now. Almost a whole generation have grown up to recognise its significance. It has become something of a tradition. But back then, when Andrew Kerr was planning his event, there was no such tradition. I was hoping for some mystical revelation, of the kind that Ubi Dwyer had had, before the Windsor Free, or Wally Hope before Stonehenge. But actually he’d read it in a book. It was The View Over Atlantis by John Michell, a very influential book amongst the hippies at the time. But it was definitely revelations he was looking for.
And his first thought, in fact, had been to hold it at Stonehenge, on a round stage. It was only later, in the wake of Michael Eavis’ mini-festival, that he considered Pilton and opted for the pyramid.
Jimi Hendrix was asked to play. “I’ll be there,” he said. But, of course, he never lived to fulfil that promise. However, the World Premiere of Rainbow Bridge, Hendrix’ film, took place at the festival. So perhaps he was there in other ways.
By now someone had suggested that Kerr approach Michael Eavis, and an appointment was made. The day before, however, Kerr climbed Glastonbury Tor, along with the usual car load of people. They spent the night there. Someone offered him an oatcake. That was Bill Harkin, later to design the pyramid stage. He stayed up all night – “the excitement of the occasion prevented me from sleeping” – and in the morning he went over to visit Eavis.
There was no rainbow, note. This is one of the myths that he wanted me to clear up. He did not see a rainbow over Worthy Farm from Glastonbury Tor, as previous histories have stated it. The rainbow came later.
So, arriving in PiltonVillage, and parking up, he met Michael Eavis for the first time.
His first impression was that Eavis’s face was shining. “Open, genuine, blazing, out-going”: these were the adjectives he used to describe the young Michael Eavis that day.
Kerr told the farmer of his plan, and offered to pay for the use of the land. “We don’t have much money, but we’ll pay what we can,” he said.
And Eavis didn’t even think about it. He just said yes.
“It was the most blessed thing in my life,” says Kerr now. “The chance to live out a dream, a really crazy dream.”
I met Michael Eavis too, a little before I met Andrew Kerr. It was Michael Eavis who gave me Kerr’s address. I interviewed him at Worthy Farm, in his office: the same office from which he runs the festival every year. It’s tiny, not much bigger than your average toilet, and packed with files, as well as a desk and two chairs, a computer, telephones, notice boards, all crammed in there, like a pile of junk stuffed precariously into a cupboard. It seemed extraordinary to think that, year after year, that huge event has emerged from this tiny space.
What puzzled me was why Eavis had gone along with Kerr’s idea. He wasn’t exactly going to make his fortune. He was a straight-laced Somerset farmer, and a Christian to boot. He didn’t even drink or smoke cigarettes, let alone go along with the excesses of the hippies who came along with Andrew Kerr to invade his farmhouse that year.
“That’s a good question,” Eavis said. “I’m puzzled about this as well. But I had an affinity with the hippies. I mean, I can always talk to hippies, anywhere I go. Maybe it’s that I get more of a dialogue with these people than I do with a lot of other people. But it was all very romantic at the time. It was a very romantic thing to be doing, all lovey-dovey, and I was in love.”
Des told me a good story. He said he was driving around the back lanes near Pilton one year, just after the festival, when he came across Michael Eavis, carrying a plastic bag, and scouring around the hedgerows.
“What are you up to, Michael?” he asked.
And Michael showed him what was in the bag. It was human excrement. Apparently one of the local farmers had told him that he would object to the festival unless Michael did this: unless he went round the hedgerows himself to collect the shit. He was not allowed to get contractors in to do the work. He had to do it himself. And such was his dedication to the festival that he had actually agreed. Maybe it was the same spirit that had urged him to accept Andrew Kerr’s proposal all those years before.
Anyway, whatever the reason, Worthy farm soon became the stomping ground for the counter-cultural elite of the time. Kerr sold up his house on the Thames at Chiswick and moved into the farmhouse. And it was while he was entering the farm gates that first time that he saw the rainbow spanning the house.
All sorts of people were coming and going during the nine months leading up to the festival. Hawkwind practised in the barn, as did the Pink Fairies. The cast of Hair turned up. Members of the Grateful Dead. Friends of John Lennon. Some thieves and plenty of phonies. Even a guru or two. Some of them had peculiar aliases, like Zee and Toad. It was the Beautiful People, hair and floral dresses wafting in the breeze, odorous with patchouli oil. Headbands and sandals. Flappy flares. Waistcoats. Scarves. Frilly shirts. The smell of hemp and garlic. I’m certain they would have indulged in late-night philosophical conversations under the influence of some high-grade stimulants. Eavis was just tending his herd, letting them get on with it. But there they were, in all their full-blown hippie splendour, talking heaven down from the stars, the Lords and Ladies of the revolution.
What the local people thought about this hippie invasion in the months preceding the festival is not on record. The police were fairly sanguine about it, however. Kerr had to speak to them to make arrangements about traffic flow and access and the rest, and a number of officers came to see him at the farmhouse. In order to get to Kerr’s room they had to pass through Bill Harkin’s room, which was full of people sitting on the floor blowing chillums. So they tip-toed gingerly through that, like it was an obstacle course. As Kerr stood up from his desk to greet them he glanced out of the window. He was confronted with the sight of a naked female draped against the wheel of a cart which was parked in the middle of the lawn outside. And there, in front of her, “with a lazy-lob on” (it’s a naval term), dancing and wobbling his buttocks about, completely naked, performing what looked like some sort of magical-sex rite, was the High Priest. Yes, the High Priest; the same High Priest we’ve met before. He was obviously practising to be a High Priest even then. Kerr was embarrassed. He didn’t know what to do. The policemen just leaned over to get a better view through the window, and spluttered with laughter. After that they had to pick their way back through the chillum obstacle course in Bill Harkin’s room again. No one had moved an inch.
Later they said, “we know they’re all smoking pot. But we’re not interested in you lot. It’s the big boys we’re after.” They were West Country policemen. A different breed in those days.
The actual festival, the following year, was a high-camp hippie to-do. Kerr had planned it “in the medieval tradition, with music, dance, poetry, theatre, lights and the opportunity for spontaneous entertainment.” When he introduced the bands to the audience he said:
“Glastonbury is a place far too beautiful for yet another rock festival. If the festival has a specific intention it is to create an increase of awareness in the power of the Universe, a heightening of consciousness and a recognition of our place in the function of this our tired and molested planet. We have spent too long telling the Universe to shut up, we must search for the humility to listen. The Earth is groaning for contact with our ears and eyes. Universal awareness touches gently at our shoulders. We are creators being created and we must prove our worth.”
Bill Harkin designed the Pyramid stage, one tenth the size of the Great Pyramid itself. It was built out of scaffolding covered with expanded metal and plastic sheeting, and placed on a blind spring, near the so-called Michael-line which joins Glastonbury to Stonehenge, in a natural amphitheatre. Kerr dowsed the spot himself. It was certainly a spectacular structure. Officially the festival ran from the 20th to the 24th of June, but what with early arrivals, and late departures, actually managed to stretch out for over a week. The acts were Hawkwind, Traffic, Melanie, Fairport Convention and David Bowie. The Grateful Dead were supposed to have turned up, but never did. 12,000-15,000 people attended.
So far, so good. A fairly typical rock festival at the time. But it was also a celebration of this peculiar new culture. And that’s where things seemed to get a little crazy.
I used the expression “high-camp” to describe it earlier. That’s because I’ve seen the photographs. There’s something theatrical about the whole event. People are decidedly in costume. The usual things: flowery robes and Afghan coats and bangles and beads and dodgy-looking hair-do’s. But there’s an air of play-acting about the scenes that are presented to you, a feeling of “look at me”. One oft-used photograph shows a bunch of people worshipping the rising Solstice Sun. Their hands are all raised in the air, and one or two are kneeling. Is it ecstasy? Or just amateur dramatics? I’d had the same feeling on that traffic island at the solstice this year. A bunch of people play-acting for the media.
Well why not? By 1971 the media were all-powerful, as they are now. Why not play them at their own game by adopting costumes – or no clothing at all – and posing in order to set your own agenda?
The photographer was a freelance at the time, working for various West Country publications. He’s virtually made a living out of re-cycling Festival memorabilia ever since. He just happened to turn up at the festival. His name is Brian Walker. There’s another photograph of his which appears regularly, and which he has re-sold many times. The magazines always pick the same sets of photographs it seems. It’s of three men in a naked embrace, with a Gay Liberation Front poster beside them. “Right On!” the poster says. But the picture editors usually crop the picture. In the full version there’s a heterosexual couple looking at them. And their eyes are a picture: a mixture of surprise and distaste. You forget that so much of this was actually very new at the time.
One day Kerr was talking to the men from the Milk Marketing Board. They were running a milk stall on site. Suddenly someone called Gyp turned the corner. He was this classically beautiful man, with a profusion of hair, shrouded in a cape, with a top hat and high boots. Kerr considered him a nuisance and was hoping he wouldn’t come over to talk. But he did.
“Hi,” he said. “Do you like my clothes? But they are wonderful.”
At which point he raised the cape above his head to reveal that he was only wearing the boots and a shirt underneath.
“Go away Gyp,” said Kerr.
But it broke the ice with the Milk Marketing Board men. They were cackling with laughter. They couldn’t contain themselves.
That night Gyp went into the village and picked someone’s prize Gladioli. Then he rang on the door.
“Look,” he said, when the woman answered it, “I’ve brought you these beautiful flowers.”
So there was some suspicion amongst the villagers, naturally. Most of them had no idea what to make of it at all. One farm manager accused the hippies of trampling crops, damaging hedges and turning a field into an open lavatory. People were kept awake by the noise, and complained to the local vicar. The vicar’s wife said, “but what can he do about controlling pop music which continues into the early hours?” Eavis tried to impose a 12 o’clock curfew, but the hippies always managed to stretch things out. On one occasion he could clearly be seen through the back-lit plastic sheeting chasing the stage manager about, trying to get the music turned off. And the police warned the festival-goers not to walk around naked in public places. Chief Inspector Lewis Clark said, “if people were trying to get into a place with no clothes on we would send them back because it could annoy the residents.” And then he added, darkly, “there are laws concerning nude persons in a public place.”
The Sun’s account is the best. “LOVE IN THE MUD ORGY” says the headline. And then it goes on to describe a 20 year old girl making love to a series of men in a mud pool:
“A police spokesman said, ‘It was an amazing sight. Our men saw this girl making love in the mud with one man, then several others joined in.
‘About a thousand people stood by and watched.
‘We’re not interested in that sort of thing – they weren’t annoying anyone or causing any offence as far as we know.’
Later, ‘Magic Michael’, a 24 year old hippie from a Welsh commune, danced naked on stage for an hour to the accompaniment of bongo drums and frenzied squeals.”
Which begs the question, really, of why the Police didn’t arrest “Magic Michael”?
So, here I am, more than a quarter of a century later, enjoying – if that’s the word – the legacy of that first free festival. And I’ve got a hand-painted “Worthy Farm” sign from that era in my van, and a map of Glastonbury on my wall. It must mean something.
I’d told Des that I hated festivals. This is true. I can’t see the point, really, of leaving the cities to come into the countryside, only to camp out in another, rudimentary, dirty, uncomfortable city like the Pilton Pop Festival.
But I was trapped here, so I had to make the best of it. I’m only telling you this so you know what privations I went through in order to deliver you this little entertainment. An artist must suffer for his work.
And I did suffer. I suffered all that rain and all that mud. I suffered plates of vegan slop. I suffered listening to Des and Dicken’s interminable arguments.
“Dylan, concentrate will you. You’re not playing it right.”
“The name’s Dicken, Des, Dicken. Dickendickendickendicken. Dicken!”
And then I suffered sleepless nights because of all those people coming over the wall. It was a concrete wall this year, about nine feet high. I didn’t mind them coming over the wall, myself, as long as they did it quietly. It was the security guards chasing and screaming abuse at them that got to me. “I can see you there. Fuck off. Fuck off. Get back. D’ya hear me? Fuck off. If you come over, I’ll phone through, and someone will pick you up.”
The following day I was talking about it to a friend, when someone overheard me.
“Fucking security guards,” I was saying, “keeping me awake. I’d rather people got in for nothing than to have to put up with all that ranting.”
“Well I think they’re doing a good job,” this other person said. “It’s the blaggers that are ruining it for all the rest.”
“What do you expect?” I said. “Most people can’t afford the ticket prices.”
“Then they should stay away.”
“But the fact is, they’re not going to stay away, are they? They’ll come whether you want them to or not. It’s inevitable. If they like the bands, but they haven’t got the money, then they’ll hop the fence. I even think that Eavis caters for them. He expects them to come.”
“Then they should work, like me. I’m a litter-picker supervisor. I’ve done it every year since the festival began.”
“For what? For your ticket-money back? Most people aren’t that stupid. Anyway, maybe they haven’t got the money up-front to pay for the ticket in the first place.”
“Then they should come before the wall goes up and find some work to do. It only goes up a month before the festival starts.”
“So what you’re saying is that you expect people to come a month in advance in order to sit around in a field, waiting for a couple of days worth of festival. And that’s all right, but hopping the wall isn’t. You’re off your trolley,” I said. “And anyway,” I added, triumphantly, “Michael Eavis blagged his way into his first festival. Did you know that?”
I later heard that the main injuries at the festival that year were spinal injuries, some very serious, from landing badly after leaping the wall. One woman I know broke her spine. The other complaint was trench-foot.
Well I had some adventures there, and I’m not complaining. Occasionally I’d even venture out from the litter-picker’s field. This was usually so I could get some proper food inside me. I went over to the sacred field, to visit the Druids a couple of times. The first time Ellie was there, but by the second she’d disappeared. Ellie had been in my van on the solstice, the day of the ceremony on the traffic island. “Where’s Ellie?” I asked.
“She’s not here.”
Susanna and Denny told me that the High Priest had banished her from the field. He’d dragged her out by her hair, calling her a harlot, a whore, they said. This was the first time I became aware that all was not Love and Peace in the hippie camp. I happen to like Ellie.
Susanna told me a story. There were look-out posts all along the top of the wall, manned by security guards. They were like metal cages. Suddenly one of the cages began to collapse, and the security guard was falling. People clapped and cheered.
“He broke his leg,” said Susanna. “So the last thing he heard before he broke his leg was a lot of people clapping and cheering. I wonder what he made of that?”
But most of the time was spent in my van in the litter-picker’s field, avoiding the rain. Lots of people spent lots of time in my van, avoiding the rain. It became the resource centre for all the musicians. They were practising in there. And in the evenings it became the pub. We’d buy beers from the marquee and bring them back to the van to drink. It’s always been an ambition of mine, to own a pub. And now here I was, in a pub with wheels.
Des was having trouble setting up the stage in the marquee. A stage was supposed to be arriving, but it never turned up. So I lent him my Afghan carpet – which I carry for just such an occasion – and that became the stage instead. People had to take their boots off to step on the carpet. That was my only proviso. All the musicians played in their socks, which made them feel very homely, very laid back. It’s a surprise that they weren’t playing Country-and-Western all the time, so laid back were they. So, in this muddy marquee, in this muddy field, in this muddy festival, in this muddy county, in this muddy country, in this muddy June, there was one little patch that never got muddy at all: my Afghan carpet.
There was a musician friend of Des’s called Don. He was this big, gangly, hunched man with a lined face, grey hair, and a little Krishna bob at the back of his head. It turned out he was, in fact, a Krishna devotee, and loosely attached to Kula Shaker, who were the hit band that year. It was Kula Shaker who played in Neil Young’s place. I liked Don. He was funny. He liked to play Monkees songs. And he called Des “Wing Commander”, and saluted him when he gave out orders. But he had a partner, a dour, sullen, sour-faced woman. She was one of those people who can bully you quietly. She doesn’t have to say anything. You can sense her disapproval, like waves in an ocean of toxic waste, washing over you. And she could genuinely psyche you out. She genuinely psyched me out.
I was talking about this woman with a friend of mine, many months after.
“What was her name again?” I asked.
“Er… J.. J…J.. something. Joy was it?”
“No. Misery more like.”
So we’ll call her Misery.
One day I was doing a reading. It was all part of the entertainment. I was going to read a story I’d written years ago, called Off The Grails, about the first time I’d met the High Priest. Misery saw the title.
“Do you believe that I have the Holy Grail,” she said.
“Hmmm,” I said, non-committally, “have you?”
“Yes. Do you believe the Holy Grail could be a stone?”
I hadn’t considered this. “No.” But I showed her the last line of the story. “In my story it says that the Holy Grail is a cup of tea.”
She huffed angrily and stared. I’d said the wrong thing.
“Look,” I added, “maybe the Holy Grail is having a sense of humour, don’t you think?”
But she just huffed again and ground her teeth. After that she never took her eyes off me.
I got up on stage (well, onto my Afghan carpet) and started reading the story. I’ve read it a few times, and it usually raises a few laughs. But Misery was staring at me. I could feel the cold points of her eyes needling into me. So much for the Krishna ideal. I got to one of the lines which usually raises a laugh. Nothing. Not a murmur. Not a titter. Not even a smile. It was awful. And Misery just stared and stared. It was like there was only me and her in the room, and those steely eyes, psyching me out. I read out the next joke, and got the same response.
“It doesn’t seem to be going down too well,” I said.
I said, “well if no one’s going to laugh, I might as well read out a miserable story.” Which I did. It didn’t raise any laughs either. But then again, it wasn’t meant to.
Later Don said, “you did well there, to keep going. You know she was psyching you out, don’t you?”
“Was she?” I said. “I hadn’t noticed.”
And then, on the Thursday, I was sitting in my van late at night drinking a beer, and watching all the brake-lights winking on and off in a huge snake leading up to one of the gates. It went on for hours. The cars were shuffling forward slowly, and then stopping again, with the brake lights going on and off. And there were all these lights twinkling in the valley, and across the hillsides. Fires burning. Trader’s lights along the main drag. Torches and headlights moving about. I was impressed. From a distance it all looked so beautiful. Like a constellation of stars in the deep night. And I imagined Michael Eavis sitting there in the farmhouse watching the same scene. Did I ask myself what he went to all this trouble for? I realised then that he would have been thinking, “I did this. This is mine.”
So the days were spent wandering between my van and the marquee, picking up a few beers now and then, and receiving visitors.
One day someone came to call on Des. She was an attractive young woman with hennaed hair and a kind-looking face. There was one rule in the van, too.
“Take your shoes off before you get in,” I called.
She got in and embraced Des, and Des introduced me. Then this man got on board. He was the most astounding sight. He didn’t have any shoes on, so he couldn’t take any shoes off. He was dressed like an Indian Sadhu, with a raggedy yellow robe wrapped over his shoulders. A cadaverously thin man, with tiny round glasses, and long, grey, dread locked hair: he was the very picture of an Indian saint.
“Goodness,” I thought, “I’ve got Mahatma Gandhi on board.”
“This is Swami Barmy,” the woman said. It was some such Indian-sounding name, even though he was clearly a Westerner.
And then he grinned.
“Grin” is simply not a big enough word. There’s no word in the English language to describe the sheer extent of his grin. He beamed. He broadcast. He projected that grin, like an anti-aircraft spotlight into the night sky. It stretched from ear to ear. It threatened to split his face in two. It showed all his teeth like a row of tombstones. He grinned at Des and he grinned at me. He grinned so widely and so persistently that I was forced to count his teeth. What else could I do? It was all I could see. Grin, grin, grin. It was most disconcerting. And then he sat down cross legged on the bench seat and, still grinning, began to rub his feet. He was rubbing the mud off. He rubbed the mud into little balls which he collected in his hand. And once he’d rubbed it all off, he threw it out of the door.
He said a few things, always with that grin on his face. I couldn’t tell where his accent came from. It was a cross between mid-Atlantic and Indian. I thought he might have been an American. So I asked him where he was from.
“Basildon,” he said.
I almost cracked up.
“So you’re a hippie then?” I asked, stifling my laughter.
“Last of the pure spirit,” he said, grinning some more. “Went to India in ’73. Never came back.”
I went to find him later. He was part of the Rainbow Gathering, a circle of hippies meeting in various parts of the World to pray and meditate and visualise for World Peace. They were going to Greece next, he told me. I thought I might try and follow them, as part of this project. But no matter where I looked I could never find him again. Obviously he’d raised his vibrational level and ascended into a higher dimension. Either that, or he’d given me the wrong directions.
I have to say that I took an instant and total dislike to the man, though I’m sure he didn’t deserve it. His grin got on my nerves. He seemed to be wearing his bliss like a badge. His clothes got on my nerves. I was thinking, “oh, it’s enlightenment as a fashion statement, is it?” His Indian accent got on my nerves. “It’s Basil from Basildon pretending to be a guru,” I thought.
But I never could explain why, exactly, I disliked him so much. Actually he’d been totally inoffensive. Polite even. He’d taken the trouble not to dirty my floor with his feet. It’s true, there were peculiar moments. At one point I’d been trying to talk to him outside, trying to get directions for the Rainbow Gathering circle. And he’d bent himself back as I was talking, almost bending himself double so that his hands touched the floor behind him. It was odd. But he was harmless enough.
It took me months to realise why I disliked him. In fact, I only realised today, as I sat down to write this. He was me as I had wanted to be. He had fulfilled exactly the dreams I’d had. He’d gone to India and stayed. He was the happy hippie I might have been. It wasn’t him I disliked, at all, it was me. The hippie me.
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