Actually, I'm not, but when I started teaching in an inner-London primary school in '67, I did get to experience some of the counter-culture.
My first contact was at a party in a penthouse suite of the London offices of a construction company in Baker St. where I was intrigued by a 'hippy' dancing with his shadow on the wall. Shortly after, as I went to fetch another beer from the kitchen I was offered a toke on a joint, a roll up of tobacco and marijuana. At first hesitant, I demurred, but then I accepted after considering a couple of factors: one, my grandfather had enjoyed it whilst on service in the Middle East during the first World War, and two, my reading about the 'evil weed' was clear on one thing: this is not an addictive narcotic.
But it certainly is a tool for changing one's outlook on life, basically by freeing up inhibitions – and I had many – and releasing one's imagination.
Continuing my quest for self-knowledge, once I'd proved to my satisfaction that I could teach, I set off on my first set of worldly travels and ended up in Ibiza, which I didn't then know was the setting of the German film More which "deals with heroin addiction on the island of Ibiza."
Not that that interested me. As my funds ran out, I scraped a living working in a leather workshop – where I made the belt buckle I use to this day. I rented a small finca (rural dwelling) and occasionally dabbled in the uppers (Boostade), downers (Dormadina) and in-betweeners readily available from any apotique. I also got to meet some of the other expats living a much richer life of sybaritism.
They included Howard Marks, aka Mr. Nice, who was building a drug smuggling empire which, at its peak during the mid 1980s had eighty-nine phone lines, and twenty five companies trading throughout the world, and he had had forty-three aliases.
At the time I met him, in '72, his finca was on a hillside with a magnificent view over the surrounding terraces and fields. One Saturday he held a party for his neighbours which I felt grateful to be invited to. In his fromt yard a large fire had been built which his landlord was using to cook up a magnificent paella (fried rice/nasi goreng) for the guests. There was also a large quantity of wine, but it was one bottle in particular which I was most interested in and the landlord was most definitely not allowed to imbibe from.
I was given to understand that Mr. Nice had taken delivery of a large quantity of Orange Sunshine LSD (acid), a hallucinogenic drug, and that a wine bottle of two had been 'doctored' with tabs which had broken in transit. Suffice to say that the party was wonderful and my abiding memory of it is sitting alone on a terrace watching the sun rise over the sea and gazing around me: there were dozens of us scattered around the hillside, each of us alone luxuriating in the morning glow.
Apparently Orange Sunshine was produced by Timothy Leary's Brotherhood of Eternal Love, but until today, I thought that it was a product of the (in)famous Augustus 'Owsley' Stanley (aka The Bear), who died four days ago on March 13th. This Rolling Stone interview with him gives extensive information on the man who "did more to alter the consciousness of the generation that came of age in the 1960s. Long before the Summer of Love drew thousands of hippies to Haight-Ashbury, Owsley was already an authentic underground folk hero, revered throughout the counterculture for making the purest form of LSD ever to hit the street."
Having spent a term as head of the Ibiza Free School, I returned to the UK at the end of 1972, obstensibly to head up a 'free school' in Kentish Town, at the behest of a scion of the Johnnie Walker whisky family. It was Johnnie junior who suggested that I should squat in Kentish Town.
And this was where I first met Sid Rawle who was squatting in a recently vacated vicarage in Gospel Oak. I've just sadly discovered that he died last year garnering an obituary in the Guardian which makes minimal reference to his influence in the London squatting scene.
It was at Sid's suggestion that we moved from the shop premises that were to be our free school premises to a large empty house in Adamson Rd. in Hamptead. And it was Sid who brought us so many homeless families, many of them refugees from the 'troubles' in Northern Ireland that we ended up squatting another four houses and formed the Hampstead Occupiers Group as a front for our activities.
It was a high-energy but low to non-existent income existence for a few months, and we rapidly learned the laws of trespass, then not a criminal matter, and how to enter buildings without 'breaking' in, which would have seen us arrested.
After we were (illegally) evicted from Adamson Rd. by the police, we moved south of the river to Charrington Street in Somers Town, behind Kings Cross station. (Further snippets of my time there can be found here.)
There was a notable morning in 1974 when all but one of the c.60 squatted houses were raided by the Bomb Squad. (The occupant of the sole house without a sledge-hammered front door was most upset to have been left out.) The police were supposedly looking for SAM missiles with which we were supposed to bring down jumbo jets bound for Heathrow airport, a laughable notion as most of us were busy leading 'normal' lives. For example, the raid made me late for work at a special school in Islington.
That was a time when there was much anger with the Conservative government of Ted Heath; coal miners were on strike and trade unionists traveling by bus to a demonstration or picket line were stopped by the police on a motorway and not allowed to travel on for several hours.
Given that the Bomb Squad had managed to net such heinous criminals among us as a guy who hadn't paid some parking fines, we were concerned at the heavy-handed approach being displayed by the authorities. So it was at Sid's suggestion that the Ad-hoc London Civil Right's Ctte. was formed and was given police permission for a protest march – to New Scotland Yard, the police H.Q.
We made a banner and, as a focal point, made a 'bomb' out of chicken wire and papier-mâché that we painted black and mounted on a dexion trolley which we could march behind. We had an escort of a few, a dozen or so, uniformed policemen. The first theatrical moment occurred when we were about to leave Trafalgar Square but decided to circumnavigate it once more.before heading for Victoria St.
Before we reached New Scotland Yard, our 'bomb' was confiscated and the police attempted to put it in the back of their van. To our great amusement, it was too big for them to be able to close the rear doors, so our last sight of it was something like this.
Once at the Yard, we were escorted to the back door and six of us, with Sid at the front, of course, entered the lobby whilst everyone else stayed outside and sat down in the road for a gossip session. A portly sergeant came down the stairs and approached us; behind him came an inspector and remained on the bottom step. The pair reminded me of a ventriloquist and his dummy, partly because it was the inspector who asked for our petition and please would we give it to the sergeant.
We said that they already had it; they took our names when they'd raided us and, please, don't do it again.
He was a bit of a ranter was Sid, and dressed in a cloak and obviously not a member of 'straight' society so he was not universally loved. Maybe that's why the media labelled him as the "King of the Hippies". Considering that he didn't smoke or drink or, to my knowledge, indulge in any form of illicit drug use, they certainly failed to understand that he was, by anyone's lights, an honest man, with steadfast views about Man's connection with the land and what he felt was 'right'.
I last met Sid in 1983 or 4 at the proposed cruise missile site at the disused US airbase at Molesworth in Cambridgeshire, where he had set up the Rainbow Village.
Sid retired from the fray to the Forest of Dean, where he continued his work through numerous smaller camps and festivals. His heart attack occurred as he sat in a chair by the campfire at the end of his annual SuperSpirit summer camp.
I'm sure he died content.