For a few years now, I’ve been working away at a book about my friend Bob Rowberry, and how his life maps on to the history of the British counter-culture.
For example, in his excellent book ‘Electric Eden’, Rob Young tells the story of Vashti Bunyan’s two year trek by horse-drawn caravan from Kent to Donovan’s sort-of-commune on Skye, with occasional breaks to record her extraordinary, but utterly overlooked and forgotten album, ‘Just Another Diamond Day’. Young writes of her thirty-odd year ‘disappearance’ (she was raising a family on a croft in Skye), and subsequent resurrection thanks to the good offices of the internet. Young opens his book with this story; it is, for him at least, symbolic of something important about the folk music scene of the late sixties, but also about sixties and seventies ideas about getting your head together in the country.
Meanwhile, within that two year period, my friend Bob and his mate Taffy drove a London bus converted to a living space by the British spy Greville Wynne from London to Donovan’s sort-of-commune on Skye in order to steal Donovan’s showman’s wagon, which they then took to the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, where they ran the back-stage area. A few years later, Taffy drove this same bus/stolen showman’s wagon combo from Amsterdam to the south of France, because he had won the all-important drug dealing franchise for the Rolling Stones recording of ‘Exile on Main Street.’
This afternoon, my step-daughter and wife were reading yesterday’s Guardian Magazine, where there was a QnA with Jerry Hall.
‘One of my big regrets at Arvon was never meeting Jerry Hall, ‘I said. ‘She used to come on courses sometimes, but I was never there when she did. Same with Donovan. He came a few times, but never when I was there.’
‘Jason Donovan?’ asked my 23 year old step-daughter.
My wife and I blanched.
‘Phew,’ I said. ‘I just felt a few nano-seconds closer to mortality there.’
‘Of course,’ said my step-daughter, ‘Jason Donovan was before my time too…’
…which felt like shifting a whole 10 seconds closer to the dank and silent tomb, quite frankly.
And odd though it may seem, this got me to thinking about poor old Nigel Farage and his statement last week that he’d been on a stopping train, and it wasn’t until he got to Grove Park
that he heard an English voice, and that this made him feel awkward.
When I first heard him say this, I felt nothing but contempt, but on reflection, in the light of my own time-shift towards the Great Ineffable, I now feel pity.
After the Donovan/Jason Donovan thing, I went outside for a fag, and I got to thinking about how my parents had watched their own teenage years dissolve into history, or mythology even. Leaving school at 15; my Old Man and my Uncle Tom cutting hay on the Sussex Downs watching low flying Heinkel’s track them with its gun turret, keeping wicket for the village cricket team, ITMA on the radio, dancing with my Mum to Ted Heath and his Orchestra; all incomprehensible to me. And my late teenage years, my early twenties, my dancing days: The Clash shooting pigeons from the roof, mild pro-Brighton football hooliganism, John Peel on the radio, friends stoned and dancing to Donna Summer and New Order; all that is gone too. I regret its passing as much as my parents did the passing of long shadows on the village green.
Things change, Mr Farage. The world we knew is always passing away. It’s alright. It’s how it’s supposed to be. Things change, whether for the better or not, who can say? Change isn’t just coming; it’s not just in the future. Lots of it has happened already, is happening at this moment. There’s nothing you can do, Mr Farage. London is a world city, and you hear the world’s languages there. You didn’t always. Once the rail carriage was full of men in bowler hats doing the crossword. Now it isn’t. Was that lots better? Did that make you feel more comfortable? Doesn’t matter if it did; it’s gone and never coming back
It’s good, you see. Change means life. If you could stop time, Mr Farage, then maybe you could live forever. Then, you might think, you’d be safe, immune from change. If my parents could stop time, there would be dried egg for tea and a beetle drive in the parish hall. If I could stop time, lots more young women would still know who Donovan is, and I could still buy hash brownies at a festival, instead of franchised fruit ciders. But the world would rot away. Banish change, and you banish life. We need to die, Mr Farage, and when we do, lots of our ideas will too.
Death will be interesting when it comes, I hope, one last big trip. In the Mahabharata, Yuddhistra says that the great miracle of human life is that we are surrounded by death, and yet we continue to live in the shadow of its inevitability. Accepting the inevitability of change, and therefore our own death, is the royal road to wisdom. At first, when I heard Mr Farage’s pathetic plea to be allowed to live forever in Tunbridge Wells circa 1949, as I said, I just felt anger. Then I thought, the resistance of people whose time is passing to inevitable change says nothing at all about political policy in regard to anything.
Now it’s the pity. Poor old Nigel. To get to 50, and to be so unwise, is to have accomplished nothing.