Sunday, 26 July 2015


Something a little different from my usual stuff. It’s been said that if you can remember the 1960s you weren’t there and this is a hazy, collective impression from four and a half decades ago that’s a moment in time from 3 years living in a seedy basement flat in Notting Hill, which was an unplanned hospice for a transient flow of musicians, artists, writers, freaks, bohemians, pedlars of mind-expanding substances and ideas, and weary pilgrims on the hippie trail from California to Kathmandu, most of whom are now more phantoms than memories.

Reflections: Notting Hill, 1969.

Years away in those wild days and time was not an issue
when an eternity of hopefulness stretched onwards
and memories were not yet cruel captors.
Then we had no past to speak of and the future was of dubious concern.
In the high, wild days of that brief halcyon,
we were freer than we knew or ever would be all our lives;
our hearts blissfully unencumbered
and our minds
were seldom mindful of the later rotten preconceptions,
preferring, then, to trust our new-born liberties
to Leary-induced reflections
on the holy scriptures preached by Hendrix, Kerouac and Baudelaire.
Always drunk – that’s it!
Drunk on our own exuberance, impertinence and arrogant imaginings,
drinking in the seedy, sweating nights of Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove,
where couplings were short and inconclusive,
in artless striving between unremembered thighs,
but lovely, too, in light of retrospective mornings
as cracks of heavy sun broke through the basement railings
into rooms of tossed, disordered minds
where scents of Lebanon hung warm and sweet to our naked senses
and patchouli-infused clothing lay strewn across the floor.

Lost nights began in faded hostelries on cracking leatherette banquettes,
our Cuban heels protruding out of Lord John flares,
as heavy, dimpled glasses left wet rings on time-rubbed Cuban wood
and our laughing, hair-framed faces leered, distorted, from the tarnished brass
and, fragmented as our thoughts and conversations,
reflected in between etched letterings of India Pale Ales.
The words were loose and easy as we drank, and rolled like handmade cigarettes,
expressively between the fingers and the mouth.
How’s Jonah doing?
He’s been screwed since that last trip on acid scored in Finchley Road.
He’s done too much, his mind’s completely blown.
Another round here?
Might as well. The Elgin will be packed by now.
And get some skins for later. I’ve none left.
The green ones, man, and score ten No.6. I’ll pay.
Have you read The Dharma Bums? It’s pretty cool.
I found a Penguin copy in the bin, John must have chucked it there.
Probably because the last few pages are torn out.
So now I’m curious to know what happened after Desolation Peak.
Anyway, I’m reading Malcolm Lowry now. He got wasted even more than us.

And around the smoke-saturated room,
faces scored with age stared into solitary drinks,
pulling on nicotine-stained tabs, sucked, like life, until the bitter end.
Was this a cloudy crystal ball that showed us as we would become:
impotent, dim-memoried and grim,
without the consolation of a firm, round breast under a sleeping hand?
A glimpse, in fact, of the end of everything we’d gain through life,
sitting on the other side of destiny and seeing our incipient selves
across a bar in Notting Hill?

It's gentrified now and flats cost in excess of £1 million, but in the 60s Clanricarde Gardens was a run-down cul-de-sac inhabited by an eclectic mix of eccentrics, part of the wonderful urban village that was Notting Hill.


Charlotte Peters Rock said...

That is brilliant!

Pete Thompson said...

Thanks, Charlotte - an old man's musings!

lewiecaw said...

Thanks, Pete. Brought it all back. The very year I'd so often walk up a rainy Ladbroke Grove to somebody's pad, always clutching my coveted copy of Astral Weeks to roll joints on as it played, and played. Still have it - although, in another sense, I've completely lost it.