Out Now!

Saturday, 12 July 2008

too hot to be a Hippy

I was in a dark narrow room, a pension in Tangier, shared with a thin but muscular hippy. He was the real thing, or so it seemed to me. I’d met others in Marrakesh, who’d spent their fare home, but retained enough to get by where the living was cheap. I had sold my watch to afford the early morning ferry Algeciras. Somewhere in my pocket was a train-ticket to Bilbao, but insufficient money for the ferry from there to Britain. I understood then the attractions of staying in Marrakesh.

“I will wake you up in time for your boat.” I can’t remember his accent. It may have been German. He needn’t have bothered. An early morning sun and the wailing of a muezzin from an adjacent Minaret did the trick. I opened my eyes to see him (the hippy, not the muezzin) sitting in a yoga squat humming gently. “It is six o’clock,” he said, and held out his hand. Real life hippies needed paying, I realised, but I had no money.

I shrugged and rolled up my sleeping bag. He shrugged in return, and resumed his low humming.

On the quay-side I decided to tackle the problem of how to pay for the boat-fare to England. I had a canvas sack of presents: beads, small drums, stuffed camels, small ornaments. I spread them out on the ground and squatted like a hippy in trouble but too cool to care. The good news was I sold them quickly; the bad news was it hit me that I wasn’t a hippy. I wasn’t cool. I was hot and bothered, eager to get back home.

I wondered what made a real hippy: the supply teacher in Liverpool who had inherited his mother’s house, brewed wine under the stairs and did just enough work (including a nightshift in Minster Minerals) to get by? The retired couple who lived in a caravan on the cliffs of Algeciras? They were nut-brown, sinewy and thin. They lived off bread and honey and small pots of yoghurt, and spent much of their time staring in contentment across the straits of Gibraltar. But me…? I had a degree course, a rented house in Langland, King Crimson and endless games of ‘Sweaty Betty’ with Brian and John² Andy, Ian and Mick, and Sue. But first I had to get there.

I packed what remained of my presents, mostly stuffed camels – not a big seller – into my sleeping back and boarded the ferry, not realising there was a Spanish policeman on the other side with a peculiar interest in my anatomy.

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