A green and white bus that had been converted to a camper rolled slowly northward on the M5 motorway this afternoon. The side and rear windows were hung with cream-coloured curtains. The number plate was an “N” registration – “N” the first time around. The bus was forty-five years old.
The bus resembled the many that would have gathered in our home area at the time of the summer solstice. It was unmistakably a hippy vehicle.
The hippies who gathered in June each year were like exotic beasts to the people of conservative, traditional Somerset. They had ways of life which seemed strange to our old-fashioned farming community. They drove battered old vans. They had long hair and brightly coloured clothes. Some grew and smoked cannabis, a lot of the time without much attention from the police. They were altogether different from the people we knew.
Some had come to Glastonbury because they believed that Glastonbury Tor, the hill outside of the town, was the centre of the Earth. Given the fact that I could see Glastonbury Tor from my bedroom window, I found it hard to believe it was the centre of anything. Some believed there were “ley lines”, lines of some sort of power or force; these lines went around the world and supposedly met at Glastonbury.
Some of the hippies believed odd things. Some believed there was power in crystals and pyramids. Some believed the future could be foretold; some believed you could tell a person’s future by reading Tarot cards; some believed in astrology, that our lives were controlled by the stars.
The people who gathered around Glastonbury included some who believed in what my mother called “black magic”; trying to call up the spirits of the dead; trying to use the powers of darkness. They seemed to have believed strongly in the black and sinister powers. One man who got a house in High Ham is said to have moved because someone painted a pentagram, a five pointed star, a symbol of black magic, on the door of his house.
To be fair, most of them were innocent and harmless. They said they believed in love and peace (except, presumably, with those on whose doors they painted pentagrams) and seemed to think they could find it in our little corner of the country. For a while, there was a hippy encampment at Street Hill, six miles from our village. Family groups lived in tepees. The women seemed to be responsible for most of the work while the men talked. Where they found money for food and petrol and the stuff of everyday life was never clear. Maybe they claimed National Assistance payments (or whatever universal credit was called at the time). Maybe they came from wealthy families; what they did not do was to work.
Passing the van, I wondered where they proposed to camp. In lockdown, where could they go?