‘Ah, what I’d give for a psychedelic revival!’
‘Hah! Now that’s a thought. But that could never work out. Not again. People aren’t so naïve. Not the young people. “We won’t get fooled again!”’
‘So the music mattered?’
‘It still does. A hell of a lot. Our children identify themselves with their music just as much as we did.’
‘That’s true. It’s funny how r’n’b psychedelia had a bigger political impact than something like punk rock, which was overtly that way.’
‘So what’s going on? Why haven’t those freedoms been built on?’
‘Well personal freedoms certainly have been. Thinking of sexual gender issues and the like. But you’re right, not a lot else. Not social issues.’
‘Yeah. Financially screwed again.’
The van they were using to travel down to south Brittany was a replacement for the one Arty had written off in a freak accident some months earlier. On that occasion he was passing Bristol on the M5 when he suddenly felt sick and dizzy but was unable to pull over because the hard shoulder had been opened to accommodate the high volume of traffic. Next thing he knew somebody was tapping on his window to wake him up. His lap and the whole dashboard was covered in yellow vomit. He felt nothing, saw he was parked by the side of the motorway, opened the electric window, and was asked if he was all right. He told them he was fine and wondered why they were asking. More concerned-looking men were also standing around. Somebody told him that he had been involved in an accident and he ought to get out of the car. Looking back as he did so, he noticed a van had been parked about fifty metres distant and a man was waving traffic along. Then he saw how the front wing of his vehicle had been dented and the front wheel tucked in at a crazy angle. The other side was worse, with the wing entirely crumpled and the wheel dragged back to the middle of the chassis. Arty was wholly nonplussed, until another man explained how he had seen the vehicle wander over two lanes of over-taking traffic before colliding with the central metal barrier and then drift across all five lanes of fast-moving lorries and cars before grinding to a halt against the barrier, where they were all now standing out in the cold November air. Arty had no explanation. Knew nothing. That he was safe and un-injured had been a miracle – even conscious he could not have performed such a manouevre; not even an experienced F1 driver could have done so!
So now they had another Doblo, which Arty had located in south London. In the rear was the sleeping and eating set-up he had managed to rescue from the previous vehicle, and they were setting up the bedding before heading into Poole town centre for a fish and chip supper. Tonight they would sleep in the ferry terminal carpark.
‘There was the ‘Lost Generation’ and the ‘Beat Generation’; ‘Generation X’, ‘the Millennials/Generation Y’. And us, the Baby Boomers.’
‘Well, technically we’re the ‘Baby Boomers’. But I’d say we’re the ‘Free Generation’, those born at the tail-end, during the mid- to late-fifties.
‘We’re free from debt; or should, or could be. Certainly serious debt. Houses were affordable. Just. In the UK. Credit cards were an issue. But that was more personality disorder than necessity. Sexually liberated. Non-racist – or at least PC. Anti-war and repression. Pro-charity. All freedoms. We fought for all those freedoms. Freedom to wear what you like, look what you like, think what you like. We fought against all those oppressions, and more or less won them.’
‘Kind of. The old fuddy-duddies have fought back.’
‘A lot of our generation have become those old fuddy-duddies.’
‘But Trump and UKIP. Putin in Russia. We can’t go into all those oppressors across the world. But you know what I mean.’
‘There’s always reaction.’
‘Yeah, but this reaction could prove disastrous. Back to Cold War rhetoric. Israel versus Iran. Sunnis and Shias. Islamists. It’s gone right back. Maybe worse than before.’
Next morning they were up and about by seven o’clock and first in the queue to board the ferry, the Barfleur, taking them to Cherbourg on the Normandy coast. About an hour’s drive down, near the town of Coutances, Tazz was expecting their arrival in a tiny hamlet close by the sea. The crossing was un-exciting and Arty drove off the ferry and hit the N9 south.
‘It only just occurred to me,’ said Robin, ‘not only is it the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love, but it was only ten years after that that punk came along.’
‘Making it the fortieth anniversary of the Summer of Hate, as some called it.’
‘Topsy-turvy old world.’
‘You’ve reminded me of a dream I had, in the van last night, in the car park. Everything was as you said, upside-down: events, people, objects, dates. So my nan was un-smiling, something happened in November 2014 that couldn’t have happened, a telephone was attached to the underside of a table rather than placed on top, and so on. All awry. And it made me think about the comprehensibility of the world. Of how it is. You know the myth of Er, as Plato tells it?’
‘The one that explains reincarnation. How people coming back to earth choose their next life, depending on how they have experienced life previously, and then pass through the Lethe river, where they drink and forget what they’ve chosen.’
‘Well, suppose they chose the wrong life.’
‘Is that possible?’
‘Not according to the myth. But suppose it was – or something went wrong. I just wondered, suppose I had chosen the wrong life. Where would that leave me now? I mean, I’ve often wondered why I chose this one. There’s loads I can’t explain. My parents, for instance, I don’t really see how they have helped me progress at all. If anything, they seemed to have hindered me.’
‘Maybe that’s how it works: you learn by overcoming obstacles. That’s how you find out for yourself.’
‘You know, I hadn’t thought of that.’
‘You know the old Russian tale, the old folkloric story, about how a man unable to withstand his suffering asks God for another cross to bear, and he’s guided to a yard where there are hundreds of crosses lying around, and he’s told to choose one, and each one he tries to lift is too heavy, until he finally finds one he can pick up – only to realise that this was the very cross he had asked God to take from him in the first place.’
‘Lovely. Well, it got me to thinking, if you cannot pick the wrong life, then there is perfect order in the cosmos; that God is perfect, and only our lack of understanding hinders our knowledge of perfection. The world is not upside-down, or topsy-turvy as we imagine – only our comprehension is awry.’
They continued rolling on down the dead straight French road, trees and water drainage pools on either side.
‘Isn’t that the tractor tyre you asked me to look out for?’
‘You got it. Next right.’
They took a single-track road through fields and woodland until reaching a hamlet where a fork in the road led them down to a shingle drive and converted barn; where Tazz was sitting in the Normandy sunshine, a hat covering his head, reading a book and drinking coffee. Robin hadn’t seen the bass-guitarist of Zeitgeist since the time they had all spent together at Redondo Pier and on the beach in LA during a series of gigs they had undertaken eighteen months or so previously (see ANSWER). The two men hugged and more coffee was procured.
‘Text and Drugs and Rock’N’Roll. It’s kind of like someone’s PhD about the connection between the Beats and rock culture. It’s kind of interesting. Kind of like from Kerouac to Bono, or whatever.’
‘I was about to ask Arty what his bands were – what were the bands that influenced him. I know he liked Floyd.’
‘Early Floyd,’ Arty corrected him. ‘Nothing after Dark Side.’
‘Well go on, then,’ said Tazz. ‘The man’s waiting.’
‘Okay. In temporal order. The albums. Slade ‘Slade Alive’ – stomping rock. T.Rex ‘Electric Warrior’ – popular cosmic poetry, however fey. Alice Cooper ‘School’s Out – I took this literally, and stopped going to school; also, I liked the panties inner-sleeve, since I was just getting inside my girlfriends’ panties around then. The Planet Gong ‘Camembert Electrique’ – French, cool, spaced-out and silly. Hawkwind ‘Space Ritual’ – cosmic sounds, lyrics and imagery, listened to this every Sunday for months on end, while on acid, helped me forget about school and straights generally. Todd Rundgren ‘Initiation’ – genuine insights from Theosophical teachings alongside far-out, cosmic, funky songs. The Stooges, ‘The Stooges’, ‘Funhouse’, ‘Raw Power’ – attitude. Ramones ‘Ramones’, ‘Leave Home’, ‘Rocket to Russia’ – life is supposed to be fun. That is the sacred twelve. And apochryphally, Led Zeppelin ‘Led Zeppelin’, ‘II’and ‘III’ – affected my sensibility, but already seemed old and faded, so that I never bothered with the unnamed fourth album and simply pinched ‘Houses of the Holy’ from Boots.’
‘And you, Tazz?’
‘All Mahavishnu. And then all the stuff Arty’s mentioned. You?’
‘Oh, Grateful Dead, Neil Young – old school.’
‘Well, I liked them all, too. Still do, of course.’
A car approached up the shingle drive and stopped in front of them. A woman of about forty and obviously pregnant stepped out and let out a greeting. Tazz introduced his partner, Jeanne, and announced that now they were married and about to have a child he intended taking out French citizenship.
‘So Arty is becoming Polish and you’re becoming French.’
‘Viva les Republiques!’
‘Matt’s becoming German – after living on and off there all these years.’
‘And Gee is becoming American, apparently. He’s marrying Annette. Or he can take out Irish citizenship by way of a documented grandmother.’
‘Is this all because of Brexit?’
‘Pretty much. The mood in the country has got ugly. Our only hope is that Corbyn gets in. Either way, we’re all still changing our nationality – or, rather, taking out dual nationality. It goes to show the ridiculousness of clinging on to old national identities in a global world. You can be what you want. Be who you are. It’s all a nonsense, this fixed national identity.’
A loose arrangement was made for them all to meet up during the sous les pommiers festival – in which Tazz was participating – on their way back from meeting Gee, and the two men climbed back in the Doblo. Picking up the N3 again, they continued south.
‘Ah, I just love this travelling feeling!’
‘What are you making of France?’
‘Early days. Great roads.’
‘They’re like America. Straight. Fast. Empty.’
‘You don’t mind driving on the right?’
Rain began to fall off and on, between the sunshine. Signs appeared through the road mist: Granville, Avaranches, Fougeres…
‘Are we going to visit the forest of Broceliande before or after meeting Gee?’
‘What would you rather do? We’ve got a few days.’
‘Why not go there first?’
‘Okay. Hold on.’
Arty took the old hi-top off the main road and veered towards the west. They turned off at a good-sized aire and camped the night. Next morning, after coffee, they continued in the same direction and before too long found themselves climbing through a landscape of stunted trees.
‘This must be the start of the forest.’
‘Reminds me of Dartmoor. A bit barren.’
‘It sounded so romantic and mystical, with its associations to King Arthur.’
‘Compared to Washington State, surely anything in Europe seems a bit tame?’
‘Well it’s not so vast here, of course. But there’s so much history, which countervails it.’
To their disappointment, a lot of the woodland was roped off and clearly not accessible to the general public. It got worse when they entered the small community at Paimpont and saw all the mystical tat for sale in the few shop windows, not to mention the tourist office: faery statues, amulets and crystals, images of sword-wielding, big-breasted, women wearing tiaras and males looking like thunder gods.
‘Is this it?’ asked a crest-fallen Robin.
‘I didn’t really know what to expect,’ said Arty. ‘But I guess we should have guessed. This is what usually passes for mysticism, in the public mind.’
‘We’re not staying, I hope.’
‘No worries. A quick walk round the lake, to stretch our legs, and we’ll head off.’
Away from the forest of Broceliande the sky became clearer. The heat grew and, lacking air-con, they rolled down the windows and let the outside air rush inside to cool them. The town of Josselin provided them with an excuse to stop and they ambled through its medieval centre. On the outside of town, they pulled into a Intermarche and stocked up with tins of food and bottles of Breton cider for the next part of the trip. Redon was signed soon after and they discovered a campsite just a couple of miles from the town. Arty sent a text message and they planned to meet Gee the following day, in the town centre.
He looked in pretty good shape when they got together and strolled around the quay. He had come from a practice session and carried the guitar purchased in Tuscon during their trip in the van through Arizona.
‘We’re playing all Gaelic music,’ he explained. ‘A couple of Irish songs and a couple of Breton. Should be fun.’
Their friend had sought and experienced mystical enlightenment, although he could in no way be regarded as following any religion. On the contrary, he had always been anti established religion. Arty could remember him saying how he would like to see everyone give up their belief in a religious faith since it causes delusional, muddled thinking and deep-rooted divisions between otherwise sane and ordinary people.
‘Actually,’ he had said, ‘no one religious can be regarded as sane. Just as anyone who gives their thinking ability up to the views of an authority figure can’t be trusted.’
It had seemed to Arty that Gee was pointed towards his experiments by his analysis that normally people limit their understanding of the world by trusting only in these authority figures and what their own five senses tell them. He had wanted to prove that such limited knowledge could be transcended. And Arty had been trying to follow his example. He had found that when you look up the meaning of mysticism or spiritualism you generally find definitions as they relate to established traditions – Vedic, Buddhist, Christian, Islamic – and all the cultural baggage accompanying them.
‘But, come on,’ said Gee as they located a bench to sit on, ‘this is 2017, and in the twenty-first century we want to allow access to the ultimate meaning promised within those traditions on our own present-day terms. So that mysticality for us means the freedom to discover the greatest possible knowledge available to all human beings, without being bogged down by previous ideologies or fuzzy modern-day thinking. In which case there can be no recourse to crystals, fairies or Hallmark-style sayings – like the ones you found in the forest of Broceliande – and certainly, no gurus. What you achieve is what you put in. Complete, entire and utter knowledge of the whole universe is in your own hands, right this second. There are no hidden mysteries or arcane knowledge to block the way. You can access wisdom such that nothing else is required or indeed can be known. Most so-called esoteric teachings are pure hokum anyway, and that which isn’t was locked up in symbolism to protect its purveyors from religious intolerance. Pure, undiluted knowledge is up for grabs. In reality, persistence and normal common-sense are the only qualities required to unearth a full and comprehensive understanding of all being.’
Both Robin and Arty agreed with these ideas fundamentally and vowed to keep them in mind as they embarked further on their own spiritual journeys. That evening they attended the show and Robin was surprised at how the music really seemed to re-affiliate him with his Celtic past, making him want to take another trip through Ireland as soon as possible. For now, they could afford to stay a couple more days in Brittany before heading back north to see Tazz at the Coutances jazz festival, and then making their way back on the ferry to Poole and the UK.