Whisper, Memory
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I was fifteen in 1967 in the ‘summer of love’, a scholarship boy at Winchester College. There were 70 of us; the number was fixed when the school was founded in 1382. We were between thirteen and eighteen years old and wore white shirts and black ties, grey trousers and black shoes, black waistcoats and black gowns with puffed sleeves. The gowns were supposed to come about six inches below our knees, but we grew faster than we changed our gowns. Some of us dared to wear dark coloured ties instead of the required black, and sometimes risked lighter shades. We lived and worked in the fourteenth-century buildings. That summer I wore a string of small spherical bells under my waistcoat.

I have a very poor autobiographical memory—as poor as Montaigne I like to think—and almost no visual memory. If I remember events at all, I usually remember only that they happened; I don’t remember them happening. In almost all cases I have only propositional or linguistic memory. In some cases, however, I have a sense of the emotional tone.
I first took drugs, smoking hashish—hash, shit, Afghani black, Leb- anese red, Lebanese gold—not long after the beginning of the spring term, in January 1967, shortly before my fifteenth birthday. We were in Jazz Room, a damp scruffy store-room above the bicycle sheds where the College rock group The Earth practised (Simon Halliday vocals and keyboards, Francis Duncan vocals and lead guitar, Chris Browne, vocals and bass guitar, Simon Ledward drums). Simon Halliday was there, and Tim Gluckman, I don’t remember who else—perhaps Andrew Topsfield, Chris Browne. All were senior to me by one or two years.

I felt sick (I didn’t smoke cigarettes), and went down the dirty bare wooden stairs to be alone by the door. I wanted the swirling and nausea to stop. I feared it might go on beyond the time when I had to be present—and appear normal—at supper in Hall. I can’t remember whether I vomited. I don’t think so. I wanted very much to belong to this group, and thought I’d be dropped. I was the youngest and didn’t smoke cigarettes. I was very apprehensive because I didn’t know what hashish would do to me. None of us knew much about it at the time.

I had to be taught to smoke cigarettes, so that I wouldn’t feel ill simply on account of smoking. Simon and I went to Two Years’ Time, a narrow hidden outdoor space between the south side of Chapel and the wall of Cloisters, down at the end by the oil tank that fed the chapel’s central heating. I remember the difficulty of learning to smoke. I don’t remem- ber getting the hang of it, but I did.

Simon left in December 1967 and I took his place in The Earth on keyboards. There was a decrepit piano in Jazz Room, and we had a small electric organ that had been built by a boy in the school and that we had to retune regularly. We played ‘Dear Mr Fantasy’, ‘Don’t want you no more’, ‘We’re going wrong’, ‘New Minglewood Blues’, and some of our own songs.

It was exciting to belong to a movement—‘flower power’. It seemed plain that its ideals, peace and love, were correct. It was cool to be ‘un- derground’. One could feel magnanimous towards the straight world (in the 1960s ‘straight’ meant not turned on; ‘turned on’ meant you’d taken drugs and knew what was what).

At home I worked a fat tube of vermilion paint into some old suede shoes. They were spectacular, but I was too shy to go out in them more than once or twice. I finger-painted a wardrobe in bright wiggly colours. It’s still in my mother’s house. I cut down an old silky dressing gown patterned with horse heads to jacket length (a bit like Syd Barrett’s —or Roger Waters’s—coat on the cover of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn). I rarely wore it. One night I went into town in make-up and a long skirt. I wrote a poem that seemed to me to exhaust all being. I remember only the first line ‘I have seen—in a duck’.

When we returned to school in April 1967 my friend Darrell Nightingale and I refused to continue to train in the Combined Cadet Force on the grounds that military activities were against our principles. This was true and agreeably provocative, because membership was compulsory.

Our protest was taken seriously. A series of meetings followed, lead- ing to the headmaster’s office. We were told that our objections might have been acceptable if we had come from families with known pacifist principles. It would have made a difference if we’d declared our convic- tions at the start of the year. These arguments seemed to us worthless— one could acquire a genuine conviction at any time, and it certainly didn’t depend on one’s family.

In the headmaster’s office the choice was simple. Give in or leave. Perhaps this is why Darrell left—I don’t think so, but I can’t remember. There were certain concessions. We didn’t have to learn to shoot. I didn’t have to take part in the final passing out parade; I was confined to a room instead and set to write an essay—I don’t know if the topic was speci- fied. Perhaps I was asked to defend my pacifist principles. I know that I learnt a very large number of Sanskrit words for religious matters—sam- adhi, bhakti, atman, brahman, brahmacharga, mithyajnanam, moksha, sat-chit-ananda, samsara, pratyagatman—and filled my essay with them without offering glosses.

I remember the International Times—getting hold of a copy at school in December 1966 with a bumping heart. I was upset by a later issue be- cause it seemed to be betraying the ideals of the movement I felt myself to be part of. I remember a headline about LSD— ‘Acid burned a hole in my genes’— that disturbed me.

On 25 June 1967 a group of us were allowed to stay up to watch the Beatles’ live performance of ‘All You Need Is Love’ on our housemaster’s television. Not long after that my friend Stephen Metcalf and a couple of others then printed hundreds of copies of ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE in big red capital letters on white A5 sheets of paper. That evening we inserted a copy into every hymn book in the Chapel, to be discovered the next day at compulsory morning service. This caused considerable anger among the authorities, and we were surprised. We knew the sentiment to be profoundly admirable and took it also (not that it mattered to us) to be impeccably Christian.

Before 1967 we all called each other by our surnames at school (for some reason I was an exception—everyone always called me ‘Galen’). Then somebody pinned up a list on the notice-board which gave the first name of every boy. First names caught on.

In each of the five large rooms—chambers—in which we lived by day, the junior boys (‘jun men’) had to carry out a list of chores. Now there was a new rota in my chamber, Second Chamber, the most revolution- ary of the five. Everyone did their part, including the head prefect of the chamber.

In August 1967, during the school holidays, the mother of one of the Winchester boys read some letters to her son from my best friend Simon Halliday and me. We talked of having smoked hashish and boasted of plans to take LSD. We mentioned others who were involved.

She reported us to the school. The school’s eleven housemasters met in emergency session. Some boys had already been expelled from Rugby, another well-known school, for taking drugs, earlier that summer. I think that was the first case. I remember that my portly housemaster Martin Scott (‘Pot’) visited my parents in Oxford. Andrew Topsfield (two years senior to me) filmed him walking up the front garden path.

I’m told that the vote went 6-5. Only one boy was expelled—Tim Gluckman, who had recently come to Winchester from Manchester; he’d been the British Under 14 Chess Champion in 1964. The rest of us were on ‘last warning’—any further misdemeanour and we’d be ex- pelled, ‘firked’ in the language of the school. This seems a remarkably tolerant decision in those times, when the fear of drugs was great.

In the spring holiday of 1968, when I was just 16, I tried LSD a few times. I returned to school for the summer term when I was still coming down from a trip, leaving my girlfriend behind. I felt desolate, heroic, I was le ténébreux, le veuf, l’inconsolé (I knew Nerval’s sonnet ‘El Desdi- chado’ by heart), a spiritual traveller equipped with grave new knowl- edge that cut me off from my fellow scholars. I had had sex (made love, in the language of the times) for the first time during the school holidays, suitably stoned and idealistic. I’d read that if one made love on LSD one could become attached to one’s partner indissolubly, for life. I wanted to achieve this.

I didn’t go to compulsory chapel that evening, but straight to bed. My transgression was noted and I was called to the housemaster’s study. I must have gone in my pyjamas and a dressing gown that was comical- ly small, bought for me when I was 13. I don’t know what happened, but he was a kind man who treasured those evening services, at which I sometimes played the organ. I remember shifting into a disguised ver- sion of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ in the voluntary at the end of the ser- vice—1967 or 1968.

I had many strictly orthodox experiences. I read Kerouac’s On The Road and couldn’t sleep for two days. Darrell left me three records when he was expelled—Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan, and Farewell Angelina by Joan Baez. These changed my life. At home in the holidays I had my mattress on the floor, listened to the Cream’s single ‘I Feel Free’, yearned for love, and read Proust inattentive- ly. My family had no television and I’d given up newspapers. I don’t think I heard about the May 68 événements in Paris until about 1972.

In 1967 everything was groovy and the hippies or flower chil- dren—I’ll call them the Sirians, because the existing names are trouble- some—radiated joy and gentleness when they were out and about. By spring 1968 it was different. You had to look as fucked up as possible on the street, especially when passing other Sirians. This was how it was in the UK. There was still a solidarity vibration when you passed, a trans- mission of mutual recognition, suitably trussed by British reserve, but the shared knowledge was different: the straight world was irredeemable and hostile; the Sirians, although indomitable, were being beaten back. The answer to Jimi Hendrix’s question ‘Are you experienced?’, as you passed other Sirians, was affirmative—you and they were experienced, you and they knew. The knowledge, however, was heavy. Not heavy in the then current Sirian sense (amazing), just hard to bear. One was strained, one had to endure with nobility, rather like Aragorn at his lowest point. One carried the burden of the iniquity of society. And then, perhaps, one morning, one found that one was oneself partly ignoble.

I had adopted the ideals of the 1960s with passion. They gave life an epic quality—evidently desirable. I can’t describe what I felt well because I have no direct memory of the past, no memory from the inside, but I know my feeling was bound up with the dream of having a girlfriend. I was perfectly idealistic about love and (a fortiori, from my perspective) sex. I knew nothing about the bravado coarseness of boys that some as- sume to be universal.
There was a library room where one could read the papers. In one of them I found the daily provocative picture of a woman (I’d only ever seen The Times at home) and decided never to look at such pictures again. I knew about queer schoolmasters, but I thought incest was something in the Bible. I had no idea that sexual abuse existed in families; I was well into my twenties before I found out. I was sixteen, sleeping on a beach in Italy, when the idea of oral sex crossed my mind. As far as I knew I was the first person who had ever thought of it.

A footnote I deleted from the page proofs of my first philosophy book records something of this idealism: those who are ‘young and inex- perienced and in love … often have difficulty in treating the body of the person they love as fully or truly part of the other person, however suc- cessful their sexual relations are in other respects. The other person is, really, just a mind. That’s what one is in love with (though one’s thought is likely to be fundamentally muddled on this point). The physical nature and physical desirability of the one who is loved are somehow extrinsic to him or her—perhaps worryingly so, for nakedness can embarrass, and merely physical desire can seem like a betrayal of attentiveness, or bad faith. (With age we may become much better at treating the other person as a psychophysical whole.) For one who feels like this, it is not nearly so easy to make love by bodily sexual intercourse as it is to make love by talk and (mind-expressing) facial expressiveness. Making love by kissing is also easier because one kisses the mind-expressing face, the place where the mind manages to be embodied, as it were. And so making love by physical sexual intercourse is often something that has to be learned’.
I was sixteen when I left school in December 1968. I was obliged to leave on the evening of the day I took my final university entrance exam, about ten days before the end of term. This was to prevent me from being caught doing something for which I would have to be expelled. Or perhaps it was to prevent me from getting others into trouble.

During my last two years we went regularly to the town pubs where none of our schoolmasters would be found. We usually climbed out of one of the bathroom windows after evening Chapel at 9, down the pow- erful metal drainpipes, across a little bridge, over a wall. There was some danger in it. I remember The King’s Arms, First In Last Out, above all The Willow Tree, which had Howling Wolf singing ‘Smokestack Light- ning’ on the juke box and a good bar-football table. I have a sense of the excitement we felt breaking the rules, the bond of the risk we took walk- ing up to town in our donkey jackets, No 6 in our pockets, 3s/6d for 20. We walked in along The Weirs, a stretch of the River Itchen, a broad clean shallow fast-running chalk stream, in the comparative safety of the night in winter, or in the sweet evening, or in inescapable daylight in summer.

I remember the romance of the town, the river weaving with green streamers of weed. We often returned the way we came, up the drainpipes. But sometimes, it seems to me, we returned through the main gate, when the friendly porter was on duty. We also had a number of valuable keys. Darrell had asked the head prefect for the key to some closed off room or cupboard. He’d been given a large box of keys, many ancient, and told to identify the one that fitted. He and I tried the keys everywhere, and kept the key into the old cloisters, which were locked at night, and also a key to a little door at the back of the cloisters—which left us with only one easy gate to climb. When I left the school I handed on the keys to the boy who seemed most fit to continue the tradition of disobedience.

* * *

I don’t know how I got back from Isfahan to Tehran in July 1969. It must have been on the bus. It must have been then that I heard over and over again on the bus radio the words ‘Apo-lo yazdah’. I don’t know when I learnt that this was Apollo 11, and that they were discussing the moon landing, but it must have been July 20. I remember the feeling of safety in the bus—relinquishing all responsibility for a while before being back in the world alone. I had very little money. All my friends seemed to have emergency dollars.
I now know that the preceding paragraph is wrong. The friend I met up with in Isfahan tells me (consulting his travel notebook) that we were living in a black tent with a Qashqai family on July 20, about 150 miles south of Isfahan. ‘On the 23rd you and I were back in Isfahan, Hotel Kuhrang. At lunchtime on the 24th you took a Mihan Tour bus back to Tehran, and home. My memory is of excited young men hailing us in the street at Isfahan, shouting Ap-o-llo! repeatedly. I didn’t understand at first, then we remembered the expected moon landing.’

When I set off home from Tehran on my own I walked west through the city for some hours, trying to find a place where I could start hitch- hiking, a place at which my general westward destination would be clear. I seem to remember red double-decker buses. I had a prepared phrase: heech pul nadaram—I have no money. I got no lift that day. I slept on a bench outside a little eating house, in the thinning suburbs, which I asso- ciate with a dry feta-like cheese.

The next day I got a lift. They asked me whether I was German. I did not know then why they reacted coldly to the information that I was English. I had become used to it being a good thing to be English—better than to be German. They, however, would have liked me to be German, for reasons I now understand.

I don’t know how far they took me. I have no memory of how I got to the Iran-Turkey border. From time to time the Iranian soldiers on duty at the border would saunter from one end of the wall to the other. Their Turkish counterparts would match their movement, marching with in- tense ceremonial rigidity. Over the border, in the Turkish compound, I met two cheerful Australian hitchhikers; they were riding in a long open Bulgarian lorry that was returning empty from Tehran (my memory is that it had carried butter, but this seems implausible). The trailer was perhaps 35 feet long, wooden floor, sides about three feet high, and I joined them on the understanding that I would give the drivers a little money when we arrived in Istanbul. The Australians were several years older than me, and I felt young (I was 17) and incompetent in their company. In the morning they shook DDT into their hair from a talcum powder bottle.

It was an amazing lift—from the Iranian border to Istanbul. I think I slept three nights in the back of the lorry, or perhaps it was two nights and three days travelling. I remember hearing the call to prayer in the middle of Turkey in the middle of the night. It was said to be very unwise to carry drugs across Turkey, because one risked being arrested, and (if a man) buggered in jail.

It seems to me that we didn’t travel on a metalled road until we were about 100 miles east of Ankara—I remember the transition onto the smooth macadam. Before that the road was hard earth and stones and constant jolting. You had to sit braced, holding on. Sometimes the whole trailer jerked sideways. It was easy to put up with, feeling the special pleasure of the hitchhiker at each mile travelled.

* * *

We wanted to make spiritual progress. We sampled religions like sand- martins over water—Hindu, Christian mystic, Sufi Muslim, more en- duringly, Tibetan Buddhist. We read Gurdjieff and Gary Snyder. Some- times we tried to go deeper. Simon Halliday and I went to Cambridge in 1969 to read Oriental Sciences—Islamic Studies. We were keen on The Sufis and The Way of the Sufi by Idries Shah, and A Sufi Saint of the Twen- tieth Century, by Martin Lings.

We discussed these matters for hours. We feared the renunciation of the world that we believed to be required. We knew we had to do it, but it appeared heart-sinking. After a long session of talk we felt unclean and slightly nauseated, stained. Emily Dickinson had trouble with people who ‘talk of Hallowed things, aloud—and embarrass my Dog’, and our problems were the same as her dog’s.

We got some things right; we struggled to the realisation that one had to come to like oneself, and that this was very hard. We were extremely serious. When I arrived in Cambridge in October 1969 I had given up all drugs, coffee, tea, alcohol, and books—other than those required for work. I thought that there was no significant difference between reading books and heroin. Both were forms of avoidance of reality.

A term later I had moved on. I smoked dope daily throughout the term with a group of friends. The four of us galumphed down Trinity Street at 3 a.m., hunched over in single file, loudly whispering ‘Elephants on the Dawn Patrol’. I stopped smoking abruptly in the final week of that term because Green Street seemed suddenly to flip upside down, and then into another dimension.

In 1972 or 1973 we spent some days in retreat at Samye Ling, a Ti- betan Buddhist centre in Eskdalemuir in the lowlands of Scotland. On April Fool’s Day they served a handsome inedible salad of fallen leaves. Every night we roared off to a pub several miles away in a Mini with Ted the Head (he helped to look after the grounds), and drank whisky with pints of beer as chasers. At 6 in the morning there was puja, a long hour of meditation.
My friends and I played the guitar. I had a two week tryout as a bass player with a band, Henry Cow. We were orthodox in our passion for music. Simon and I played together in King’s Cellar, performing his songs—‘Chasing Sparrows’, ‘City of Light’, ‘Diamond Eyes’, ‘After Dark’—and blues classics. Bob Dylan was central, John Coltrane, and the Pink Floyd. When Simon and I arrived in Cambridge in 1969 we walked around town at night imagining we might meet Syd Barrett. I sold things I treasured in order to buy ‘Cheap Thrills’ by Big Brother and The Holding Company, was overwhelmed by Janis Joplin’s version of ‘Summertime’ (only ‘Dido’s Lament’ in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas matched this). We listened to Billie Holiday, Sonny Boy Williamson (II), John Lee Hooker, Mississippi John Hurt, Otis Rush (‘I can’t quit you baby’), Bessie Smith, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, B B King, Howling Wolf, Etta James, John Mayall, Cream, The Incredible String Band, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Jefferson Airplane, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Thelonious Monk, Velvet Undergound, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell. I was puzzled by people who liked Captain Beefheart. I thought—wrongly no doubt—that it was an affectation. Frank Zappa, however, was fine. LP covers, like Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left, were for rolling joints. You lent records and lost them and acquired others in the same process. At one time I was fixed on Ustad Abdul Halim Jaffar Khan’s sitar, and then (pretentiously at first) Berg’s Lyric Suite. This is when I began to think that modern classical music is music’s own mu- sic—the music that music itself secretly likes best. In 1971 I won the R A Nicholson Prize for Islamic Studies, bought a reel-to-reel tape re- corder, and recorded hundreds of hours of music on cheap tape at the slowest speed.

I remember ‘Fire’, screamed by Arthur Brown of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, eddying wildly across the town from the ‘King’s Banana’ (the low-cost King’s College version of a May Ball) in 1973. I’d already left and was in bed with my girlfriend. We had entirely melted, losing our body boundaries under the influence of mescalin.

The autumn before we filled her blue Mini with fallen beech leaves from the woods on Gog Magog Hills. They were clean and dry and came up to our shoulders when we drove.


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