In 1971, I was living in a road in North London that doesn’t exist now and remember spending a huge part of my student grant on two pairs of hand-made red leather boots, one for each of my children, then aged 4 and 5, and a pair of sky-blue clogs for myself, believing that, if nothing else, you had to take care of your feet. My neighbours referred to me as ‘that hippy’ but they were wrong. Hippies travelled, and lay under the stars in distant lands, smoking dope. I had no money for travel and, in any case, dope didn’t agree with me. Instead, while the children slept, I read or painted miniature Rothkoesque watercolours and wallpapered my rooms with squares of coloured sugar paper so that we seemed to be living inside a huge quilt.
There was an anarchist bookshop on the corner with a printing press in the back room. The bookshop guys ran a food co-op and everyone in the road belonged. Those who could drive took it in turns to go to Covent Garden once a week, and those who couldn’t took it in turns to weigh out and bag up the produce, but one night the police, who’d been watching the bookshop from a café on the other side of the road, pounced. It turned out that the books were stolen from a warehouse on the North Circular Road. Just hours before the raid, the owner of the bookshop had left his passport hidden under my mattress and fled to Blackburn. I carried on reading, only now selecting books from the library on the High Road.
Then a parcel arrived from San Francisco. It contained a paperback with a strange title – Trout Fishing in America – plus a brief note from my brother: ‘Thought you might like this.’ My brother was a hippy. He’d written to me once, describing a trip from New York to San Francisco riding on top of a van, clinging on all the way, stoned and without luggage. I looked at the photo on the cover of the book and it was as if my brother had stepped down off the van roof and into my hallway, a tall man in b
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