Saturday Morning: No Time!
I had something of a dilemma. I had limited time to do several things –bind a set of “Herself Long Ago” books; calligraph the labels on the slipcase (“speed calligraphy” is a contradiction in terms); pack them up and get to the local Post Office before the Saturday 1.00 pm closing. Oh yes, and fix a punctured bike tube so I COULD make it in time!
No time to go up to the kitchen and fix myself a breakfast.
That was the day I invented The Walking-Around Breakfast –you know, walk around the garden and in a minute pick and eat a few really ripe Cherry Tomatoes, several leaves of basil, arrugula, mustard-india, dandelion, purslaine, Thai Basil, and –very important– a few spikes of Wild Chives (now in their second year of cultivation).
In one minute I had collected and eaten one of the best and healthiest breakfasts known to man.
Yes, I did bring it all together, and make it in time.
The bike is an essential ingredient; vital to my finely tuned “list of things to do.”
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Many of you –but by no means all– know that I have no car; have never owned a car; in fact, can’t drive –though, if pushed, I’m sure I could do a reasonable, and possibly even effective, imitation.
I would be drawing on my one actual experience of driving, which happened when I was 12 years of age. This was when my father in some desperation handed me the wheel while he struggled to tie his collar stud.
The two of us were on a trout-fishing weekend at Ballyslateen (near Golden in County Tipperary in Ireland) and we were driving in his Baby Ford to Mass on Sunday morning at Kilmoyler Church.
Remember collar studs? (They had actually disappeared –washed away by the dripdry nylon shirt– when I entered my Adult Men’s Wear years, some years later.)
He was holding the wheel with one hand and trying to tie the stud with the other. And we were on the verge of being late for Mass.
“Here”, he says to me –indicating that I should steer from the front passenger seat while he wrestled.
I grabbed the wheel with considerable trepidation: the general urgency of the situation, and the speed were intimidating enough, and the skewed perspective of the passenger seat didn’t make it any easier. One additional factor added greatly to my discomfort –on each side of the very narrow and somewhat elevated boreen (road), the ground sloped away in a sort of gully.
My few brief seconds of dubious navigation were so unsettling to my Dad that he grabbed the wheel back from me.
That was it –six seconds of actual driving time, sixty years ago.
When I moved to London in my early twenties –my Dad had died in the meantime– I eventually came to consider questions of personal locomotion. My Dad had, as a young man, owned a motorbike, and had talked enough about it to me, that getting one seemed an obvious choice for me.
I bought a Zundapp, a Bella. It was a motorbike that looked like a scooter. It was a great machine. I did quite a bit of travelling with it –around London and its environs, and to Ireland, and to “The Continent” –which is how we referred to mainland Europe.
My London friends of the time, and I, were very “style conscious”. One way or another it showed in everything we did.
Some of them had more money than me; some of them bought very stylish automobiles (I can’t remember the names now, but they were definitely… Cars of Distinction, CArs of Discernment.
In time I applied myself to the serious question of getting my own car. Over some months of narrowing it all down –and psyching myself up– I came to a decision: I wanted a Citroen! (the famous French car).
Not just any Citroen, I wanted the famous Citroen Traction Avant –car of choice of the French Police, the French Resistance (–and, I read lately, even the Nazi SS in France.) Citroen stopped making that car in 1957; only second-hand vehicles were available in the early sixties.
But the Citroen TA was in my terms the only car to have! It was revolutionary in design and manufacture, and had a such a unique look to it that it has been used in countless movies –and every French movie you ever saw, especially those French gangster movies with their stock-footage of the French Police storming out of those cobbled, gated driveways.
To overcome some prejudice against the car –some people apparently thought that the construction was not strong enough– it was said that Citroen developed their famous “drive it off a cliff” policy in which the manufacturers actually….drove it off a cliff. (Presumably they devised a way of getting the car to go over a cliff without having to sacrifice the driver. One assumes.)
A friend of mine at the time, John Reynolds, even wrote a book about the fabulous Citroen TA (some years later.) We were such fans.
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Writing about this phase in my life invokes life in London in the early sixties –the excitment of the times, with all of its innovation and creativity. I remember it with fondness –my wide circle of friends: there was an ever present sense of a connective network that ranged far and wide, to whatever was going on.
There was that great sense of….what was the word, Energy! I think we invented Energy; started it off in its….energetic direction.
Essentially we were before sex-drugs-rock and roll; we had a somewhat different ethic –possibly more serious, though “enjoying life” and “having fun” were absolutely essential ingredients. We were serious about life and art and the arts and literature, and about the culture.
It would have been surprising for any of our wide group to be a real “raver”. Compulsiveness in any of its many forms tended to make us suspect the compulsive. In the end, the “raver” was a limited soul; the “raver” did not have anything to offer that we valued….
“Ban the Bomb” was one of the best known movements in London in the early sixties. We supported the idea; some friends went on marches.
The Profumo Affair was our local London defining political Pre-Watergate event: the effervescent young “charms” of Christine Keeler had compromised both Prime Minister McMillan’s Cabinet Minister John Profumo AND a Soviet agent.
We were opposed to the Vietnam War, but new friends from the US brought a grittier sense of what that war actually meant.
Life was fun; life was fulfilling; my wide connections were –it seemed– an endless source of interest.
But life also evolves, and one way or another we expect growth of ourselves.
One could observe this evolution in one’s friends, and reflect. My work –I had been trained, first in Industrial Chemistry, and later as a Systems Analyst– did not seem to impinge in any significant way on these evolutions. It provided income and a certain level of challenge. But to take the path that many of my friends were considering, or already involved in, though it had its attractions, seemed to also involve some compromises that in truth I was not ready to make.
At this point, the most significant alternative path that was available to me, I encountered through a close friend. He was involved with a small group of people in what was at that stage not easy to define, but would in a short space of time, become an intentional community.
I knew some of the people. I considered some of them to be of substance in their aspirations; I considered the ideas and concepts to be substantial. There seemed, however, on the negative side, to be something of a “group-think” aspect to a lot of what I was seeing that did not appeal to me.
But –overall– there was enough there that was of considerable interest to me at that stage of my life, and even though there were considerable risks involved, the seriousness and extent of my investigation and reflections were, in a sense, a confirmation that I had already decided inside my own self to involve myself in the community. I was –if you like– the last to find out.
That was, I believe, June 1966. One significant chapter in my life was closing. And another one was opening, and perhaps I will be delving into that in future blogs.
Most important of all, my decision to join the community would in time also open up for me the path from my up-to-that chosen profession of Systems Analyst, with its limited satisfactions, to what –over time– I have become –a writer and a publisher, attempting to make sense of where I, and all of us, have come from, and where I/we are headed.
[A different kind of systems analysis, perhaps.]
[A footnote: Yes. I did join my community –a fateful step indeed, that opened up a completely new chapter (many chapters) in my life; confronted me with some powerful ideas, some of them quite serious ideas; demonstrated the power and possibility of an organized group of people, as distinct from being one unconnected individual moving through time; provided a platform for much adventure and fun and travel and exploration, leading to connections, over a decade or so, with a large number of people –some weird, some wonderful, some memorable; all somehow representing in one way or another the passing parade of life, as time passed, for me, from the sixties to the seventies.
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it. Enviable even, in many respects –many people have told me.
But don’t get too carried away.
I discovered, too, that the individual in a community comes under severe pressures to forego individuality. One of the most important of these was the pressure to NOT speak one’s mind; to NOT voice objections; to NOT question.
Odd, at the very least, for a group which itself was founded on, indeed premised on speaking its mind, and raising questions and voicing objections about the society at large from which it formed itself.
I came to realize –much later on– that through it all (that decade of my involvement) I was, underneath it all, supported in a much more powerful way, by the sense of self that my parents, my siblings, my extended family, my education and upbringing had nurtured in me, and the positive environment that it had provided me for growth so early on.
Those were some of my reflections as I ate my walk-around breakfast, and wrote about them later on.
Writing of course has its own kind of reflection. We want to get things right. The mot juste! The hash and rehash of words written down, until they reflect an emerging sense of truth, of –that’s how it was.
Or that’s the best I can do. At least, for the moment.
I am of course interested to hear how you have approached these issues in your own time.
I have mentioned a new long narrative poem, “The Piano”, that I am working on. One of its great pleasures has been this process that it has engaged me in –the process of…getting it right.
(My watercolorist sister –my closest sibling– sits on my shoulder; two younger brothers will be more impartial judges; my oldest brother, who has never said one word to me about my writing –his take …will be interesting.”)
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I never did get that Citroen….
Wonderful as that Frenchy car was, somehow it was not a car but Curiosity that turned out to be a more significant source of “Traction Avant” in my time….