Caught in the zeitgeist’s vapour trail

I am just old enough to have been pervaded with and forever infected by hippiedom – with that far out philosophy, with those general interests, with that taste for eccentric, narrow-hipped, wild-haired men – but not quite old enough to have really been a part of it. Also, not American. That would have helped. There were so many cool things hippies could do that I, somehow, couldn’t. The zeitgeist caught me, briefly, in its vapour trail as it swept on and on, and out of sight.

Out of sight, man…

Of course it’s possible that I would have been a hippie-equivalent wherever I happened to tumble into the time continuum this time around. A (nasty-ish, female) someone told me once that other people thought of me as Nice, But A Bit of A Drippy Hippie.

O wad some Power the Giftie gie us / To see oursels as ithers see us!

Thanks, but no thanks, Giftie.

However, recently they seem to have been coming back in full force, those thwarted far out hippie dreams, and I have happened across a really good book – sad in places, funny in others – called The Hippie Handbook* by Chelsea Cain. Chelsea grew up in a hippie commune centred around an old white farmhouse in Iowa, meaning she is now ideally qualified to remind us of lost hippie skills and the whole atmosphere of those far off days.

I actually bought the book to learn how to tie-dye a new white sheet and turn it into a long skirt – not a good idea as it turns out because new white sheets are full of starchy stuff that won’t take the dye. But along the way discovered a whole lot of other bits and pieces I either never learned or have long since forgotten:

  • How to Anthropomorphize Inanimate Objects
  • How to Amble
  • How to Howl at the Moon
  • How to Milk a Goat
  • How to Build a Compost Pile
  • How to Do a Sun Salutation
  • How and When to Flash a Peace Sign

and much, much more. It’s a slight book – I finished reading it in a few hours – but it was so much fun.

You see I had this plan, maybe to somehow make enough stuff of some sort to take a stall at the monthly Artisan Market on the mainland. Could I pass as an Artisan? Probably not, but maybe… Not having a car any longer would be something of a problem. Would have to be a mountain of small things I could fit into Mum’s old shopping trolley…

As I write this I am conscious of sounding increasing like that gormless Neil from The Young Ones:

Look at all that washing UP!

So, now I could not only tie-dye a tee shirt – or a sock – or something – but I could milk a goat if I had one, or macramé a belt! I’m going to have a go at a macramé belt straight away! Would they go down well at the Artisan Market, do you think? Possibly not, but I’m going to macramé some anyway. Macramé – the new…whatever. Maybe I should try it out with garden string first, just in case…

* In the course of writing this I discovered that there is also a WikiHow entry for How To Be a Hippie, so I have linked it. Who does those dreadful drawings, I wonder?

By the way I have also discovered the BBCs original knitting pattern for Dr Who’s scarf! I used to wear something very similar over a long black winter coat in my almost-hippie days. Maybe I’ll make one of those as well…

It’s frothy, man

I have sometimes been mildly offended by people (mostly people I have had to work with in offices) who have insisted on calling me a hippie or “not really with it” to explain what they see as my vague, addle-witted nature. This always makes me think of Neil (Nigel Planer) in UK sitcom The Young Ones, who would drift in off his mattress sometime in the afternoon, long-haired, fully dressed and bewildered, gaze at the mess in the kitchen sink and exclaim “Look at all that washing up!” – but wouldn’t usually do any of it.

As far as I am concerned, when I seem to be away with the fairies I’m concentrating on a more interesting and more valuable different set of things, and I rather dislike having my concentration broken. I also dislike the kind of person who smiles in an indulgent sort of way whilst describing some other person as “marching to the beat of a different drummer”. What makes them so damn sure their drummer is the right one? What makes them think we all have to march, for that matter, or need a drum-beat to march to?

I’m really snippy today. Can you tell?

What set it off – apart from the necessity to get up early and detour to the Civic Amenities Centre, or tip, to get rid of an entire wheelie-bin full of black sacks which the Civic Amenities Operatives will not include in their Kerbside Collection, in advance of my regular Sunday visit to my mother – what set it off was my Junior School reports. Mum had fished them out from somewhere, for all three of us, and instructed me to read them (even though I didn’t want to) while she made us a cuppa. As expected, my youngest sister’s were glowing – in fact even more depressingly glowing than I’d anticipated. I didn’t get round to reading my middle sister’s because I got side-tracked by mine – or rather two of mine. The rest seem to be missing. Story of my life – it’s as if someone’s edited my life – badly – taking out all the interesting, achieving, wonderful-type bits and shuffling the rest around so that they make no sense at all.

I would guess by the name of the teacher that I must have been about eight when – apart from giving me C minus in everything (apparently that was Satisfactory) they made comments like “The quality of her work varies wildly from week to week”, “She can produce good work when it is planned, but otherwise prefers to dream” and – most insulting of all – “Overall achievement this year – surprisingly, B – but this in no way reflects the actual quality of her work”. Surprisingly, B. I suppose those teachers are all dead by now. Somehow this makes it worse. No possibility of even an imaginary, retrospective revenge.

I never got to read those reports at the time. We were required to take them home unopened and hand them to Mummy or Daddy, which I duly did, and as far as I remember they never commented on them. But no wonder, then, that in later life they would appear surprised if I managed to do anything even half well.

‘You do at least seem to be able to get jobs. Maybe you have a knack for interviews…

‘Goodness, these rock buns are quite edible… ‘

‘You know this story’s really quite good…what a pity you couldn’t do it for a living.’ My mother, who now has difficulty with her words, recently put this a different way: ‘What a shame about your writing. You were Lost.’ That one made me sad.

Only last week I had to phone somebody on behalf of my mother. When I put the phone down she said ‘You’re quite good on the phone, aren’t you? ‘ I’ve lived all these years, spending twelve or more of them as a Legal Secretary and another four as a market research interviewer in a call-centre, for it to be genuinely surprising that I can cope with a telephone call to a stranger.

I suspect I was bored at Junior School, mostly. In between being stressed, frightened, overwhelmed and all the other stuff. I remember making a model igloo out of papier mâché, with an Eskimo (it was the right word then, I know it isn’t now) outside, because I was told to. Cotton wool for snow. Why? I remember learning a bit about the Romans who went around in togas and sandals and stuff, and made all the roads straight so that their armies could march efficiently on them. I remember spending lesson after lesson listening to bits of Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé on the radio, with the music before me, and a man with a BBC accent talking a lot in between. There was a bit with a sleigh ride. Jingly bells and all.

I remember being quite proficient at forward-rolls and bunny-hops, and being filmed doing them. We had a New Zealander for a form teacher and – though he spent most of every lesson typing, loudly, on a portable typewriter – he was a sports specialist and his PE lessons were something to write home about. So the Ministry of Education, or whatever it called itself in those days, sent a film crew to record our advanced forward-rolling. I remember being good at English (though still only ever getting a C minus) but never being able to get my hand up fast enough, or being noticed when I did. Unfortunately I sat next to Andrew Porter (not his real name) the only one who was better than me at English, who had lightning reflexes and a fiercely competitive nature. I remember being almost given the slipper (boys got the cane) for rolling down a hill instead of drawing a distant view of a cottage for Art.

I remember maths lessons with the Headmaster, and how the New Zealand form teacher deliberately sat on the desk in front of me, which probably wouldn’t be allowed nowadays, so that all I could see was his slacks-clad bottom and a bit of tweed jacket. He was shielding me on purpose, since the Headmaster seemed to have some sort of obsession with me as a duff pupil in maths. Once this old horror caught me in the corridor (no antipodean bum to shelter me on that occasion), lifted me by my blouse-collar into the wash-basin area outside the toilets, and enquired Nine Fives? I didn’t know what nine fives were. Nine fives are forty-five. Repeat after me. Nine fives are forty-five. Now, what are five nines? I didn’t know because, obviously, that was a completely different sum. I was not so much stupid as uninspired by maths and terrified of him. As a twenty-eight year old I taught myself from a textbook, entered myself for Maths ‘O’ Level and and got a grade B.

‘Overall achievement this year – surprisingly, B – but this in no way reflects the actual quality…’.

I stayed up late last night – at 2 a.m. the clocks were due to go back one hour from Daylight Saving to Whatever They Are In The Winter. I had already changed all the clocks at 7:30 pm just to get it over with, and was mentally adding one hour to coincide with the TV, which was of course still on Daylight Saving at this point. It threw me all out, somehow, so I ended up watching a programme about the British Psychedelia scene in the sixties and seventies. Now, although I was around in the sixties and seventies, I didn’t really notice all this going on. I mean, it all seemed a bit of a shambles, really. Just the way it was. It wasn’t till I watched this programme that I began to see it was all connected in one way or another. During the sixties and seventies I was very dull and well-behaved and didn’t take a single acid – tab, or whatever they were called – but I was interested in all these raddled old rock stars’ descriptions of their psychedelic meanderings. Why, I thought, that’s my normal. What I find difficult is the way things aren’t like that. I mean, you drive along a country road and things stay green, and nothing leaps out at you.

(Although something did leap out at me once – a soldier with a gun – hopefully not loaded – on a training exercise. I’m not sure which of us was the more surprised.)

And when I go out and come home again, I am always disconcerted to find that everything is exactly where I left it and furthermore that the cat-wizard hasn’t been round and removed all those empty Whiskas bowls and filled them with fresh food, cleaned out the dirt-boxes, refreshed their water dishes and, while he is at it, opened the mail, adjusted the central heating, done that bit of washing up… Every morning when I wake up I am puzzled for a moment. Am I really still here? But why is it all the same? I kind of expect the scenes to have changed overnight – someone to have put another slide in the projector or moved me on to another universe. Am I still here? Am I still her? What’s going on?

But I have digressed, in my vague and addle-witted way, from my intended subject. Indeed, I now see that I have not even touched upon my original subject, so you can have no idea what it was.

But that’s good – it’s all good, man, because what I thought was material for one, smallish post – if I’m lucky – actually seems to be streeeeetching itself into two posts. Streeetching itself into an infinity of posts… who knows? Maybe this blog is in fact one long post, and sooner or later its gestalt, its overall meaning and cosmic significance… will become clear. To you, to me; also to any little green aliens or Purple Spotted People-Eaters who may happen to be reading.

  •  I said Mr Purple People Eater, what’s your line?
  • He said eating purple people, and it sure is fine
  • But that’s not the reason that I came to land
  • I wanna get a job in a rock ‘n roll band…
  • Sheb Wooley, 1958
  • The whole is other than the sum of the parts
  • Kurt Koffka (Gestalt psychologist)


  • Cresta ad: It’s Frothy Man