Now you’re going to laugh at me. But when I heard that song coming over the radio in Mum’s kitchen in 1967 – can it really have been that long ago – I was transfixed. That was what I wanted. That was what I had to have. I had to be in San Francisco. I had to be lean and flower-clad. I had to have a long skirt and dusty sandals, and beads. And bells. According to Scott McKenzie, people were in motion, all across the nation. They were on their way to San Francisco, and that became my Garden of Eden. Even now, listening to that song, I cry. Not always, mind you. Sometimes I just think – that was a bit cheesy. And now it’s so dated. Whoever talks of love-ins now? Whoever would trouble to prance around in a field waving daisies, or paint flowers on a mini?
Would I really have dropped acid, ripped off my cheesecloth shirt and swayed around to psychedelic music? No. I was never a hippie. I was schoolgirl. By the time I became a student, hippies had faded like the flowers they wore in their hair. They were a joke. And have remained one. Who wants to be called an ageing hippie?
The Beatles were the height of my musical experience. I wouldn’t have known the name of one underground group. I wore my school uniform most of the time. My hair was cut in a practical helmet shape, at my Mum’s insistence. I had spots and no social skills. I was aware that San Francisco was somewhere in America but not where in America. I had never flown in an aeroplane. I had no money for the fare. A train trip to Devon to visit my aunt and uncle was the furthest I had ever been on my own, and that totally stressed me out. I was too young. I was afraid. But yet I yearned for San Francisco, which I envisaged as 0ne big field of flowers. Maybe a tent or two. A few dusty sidewalks with tangle-bearded, blissed-out people lolloping about on them.
Prior to that I had thought London was the answer. London was where I would go, as soon as I was able. I might be a misfit in suburbia but in London I would find People Like Me. It took me many, many years to realise that People Like Me are relatively few and far between, and scattered randomly throughout the country and across the globe. There would have been no comforting concentration of kindred spirits in the capital city.
Recently, I was reading about the end of life. I know – bit of a jump. Sorry. I read this fascinating thing – that when they ‘begin their dying’ old people often talk of going on a journey. They might ask whether their flight is booked, or request railway schedules or tide-tables. They might ask when the taxi is coming to collect them, or say they are soon going on holiday, or planning to meet up with a (long dead) loved one. Strangely, the planned journey is always to some other place on this earth – no flying up to meet the angels. This made me sad, but then I thought – how wonderful that there is that defence mechanism, so that they aren’t consumed with fear. And who knows, maybe it’s true in some mystical, metaphysical way: a kind of psychic metaphor.
And that lead me to think about that other journey – the one young people feel compelled to make. It’s just as much of a draw – the journey outward into the world – as that journey homeward, back to the source, becomes. I longed for San Francisco but did nothing about it. Bolder souls go on gap years or back-pack to remote parts of the world in search of something. I suspect they never find the actual something: the journey is the something, that going out, that longing for a Lost Eden.
On the news recently was a young British woman who took her toddler to Syria, but returned a few months later. She is now serving a six year jail sentence and her child, presumably, will see very little of her. And then I wondered whether this longing for the Earthly Paradise, or Eden, might not be the explanation for so many young people being drawn to join terrorist armies. Maybe Syria – or some equivalent war zone – has become their Lost Eden. They yearn for it with a young person’s passion, although the reality bears no more resemblance to Eden than San Francisco would have done, had I had the nerve or the means to go there. We can all have dream places, and we can long for them so much that we go off in search of them. Maybe we are not so different after all.
We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.