For much of 1970 and 71, I lived on the island of Ibiza, now noted for it’s ‘raves’ and ‘house’ parties. I was on my first set of ‘world travels’ having left my putative career as a primary school teacher in inner London. I needed to break out of the school- university- school- path in order to broaden my horizons, to explore myself.
So as determined by the rides I hitched I went where my pig was headed, across France and into Spain. I learned much on Ibiza: about hallucinogenics, the skill of leather making (bags, belts and sandals a speciality) how to win darts competitions, and the problems of running a ‘free school’.
The free school on Ibiza had been set up by a scion of the Johnny Walker whisky family, and I took over for a term while he was back in the UK. When he returned, he dispensed with my services, but told me of the free school movement in London and specifically of one being set up in Kentish Town, where there was a vibrant squatting community, and coincidentally the part of London where I’d been a school teacher.
I won the island’s darts competition and with the prize money settled my bar tab and paid for my ferry ticket back to the mainland and within a week or so arrived in Kentish Town and became a ‘hippy squatter‘, as the less enlightened media called us. I soon discovered that there was a vibrant community. There were musicians – members of Ducks Deluxe were in the house next door; activists – Sid Rawle was prominent in the initial stages of the Free School which, as I wrote here, soon transmogrified into a clearing station for refugees from the turmoil in Northern Ireland; and Dr. Robin Farquharson, by then in the depths of his bipolar disorder.
It was to be a month or two before I got to meet Hoppy and Sue Hall, his live-in partner. I knew of him, but not that he’d been a prominent figure in the 60s ‘counter culture’. University, grafting away as a newbie teacher, and then Ibiza meant that the scene had largely passed me by. But no matter, if I’d only been three years younger or older, I’d have been naive or set in my ways. But in 1971 I was alive to alternatives; I’d read Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich, and had a copy of The Whole Earth Catalog: Access To Tools (now online) Both books presented the philosophy of non-conformity, of a do-it-yourself, self-help creative approach to life, of exploration.
And that’s where Hoppy came into my life, or I briefly entered his. On the first occasion, I recall, a group of us were sat on cushions in a comfy room in his squatted town house on the other side of the road from where I had started out. He was demonstrating the video set up he used; the camera was attached with an umbilical cord to a ‘portapak’ of batteries which someone had to carry behind him as he filmed. For my ‘go’, I shot everyone’s feet.
It was through Hoppy that I was invited to become involved in the management of The Institute for Research in Art and Technology (IRAT) (aka New Arts Lab) which was founded in 1969 as a breakaway from the original Arts Lab. Hoppy had his video workshop there, but my main interest was in the printing workshop run by John Collins (no relation). I was to make use of community print workshops for the next dozen years. The patron of IRAT was Lord Harlech, a prominent public figure who had been British ambassador to the United States during the JFK administration.
Among his many positions was his chairmanship of the Pilgrim Trust, a charitable trust which focuses on “projects working to preserve historically significant buildings, artefacts or documents” and projects which address certain “social welfare needs“. My last position in London before I set out on my final set of world travels which lead me to Indonesia was as co-ordinator of an out-of-school community charity in south London.
The Pilgrim Trust funded my salary for three years, and the charity is flourishing now, some 30 years later. (So much so that one project I initiated is used as the focus of a political campaign video earlier this year.)
Although I didn’t know Hoppy well, I am one of so many who have been touched and energised by him. He died on 30th January this year, but his influential status as a catalyst for social change will continue to reverberate down the ages, and I am extremely grateful for that.
“Wow”, as he used to say.