It was just six months after the Summer of Love and I was on the cusp of awakening as a teenager. So what happened to my chance to become a hippy?
My family moved house in 1969 when I was turning 13. Not just a street or two away but 100 plus miles. My parents called it an adventure; I called it cruel. What about my friends, why did I have to leave my home turf?
Because of the distance and the complications of the English conveyancing system, meaning moving out of one house and into another in one day was more than a challenge, we were to be treated to a night in a local hotel – the Angel Inn in Lymington. This was, is, an old coaching inn with archway to the coach-yard off the High Street and small pokey rooms. It also had a restaurant, of some small repute back then and we were to dine there.
My first meal out, ever. I mean it’s not like we had lunch out. Even if we went to the pub, the Archaeologist and I sat in the garden or the car while Mum and Dad went inside. Ok, that’s not quite true. My uncle Les – something of the family black sheep back then and consequently something of a glamorous lure to this inhibited twelve year old – took the Archaeologist and me to the fun park, Dreamland I think, at Margate, in a sidecar, a year or two before this. He treated us to lunch in a Wimpey Bar. This was the rather sad precursor to MacDonald’s. When my grandmother heard where Les had taken us, she was mortified – not because Wimpey was inherently dangerous or likely to poison us (though that might in fact have been true) but because my snob of a mother wouldn’t want her darlings to be exposed to anything so lacking in class as a Wimpey – I mean they sold chip sandwiches, for heaven’s sake.
So here I am on the threshold of teenager-ship – as hippies roamed wild and free twenty miles south on the Isle of Wight shedding clothes and inhibitions and ingesting anything with a super-complex chemical structure – about to be inducted into the mysterious world of adulthood. Avant-garde? Daring? Alternative? Hardly. We are in the epicentre of the G&T encrusted, old boyish, polished brass, prudish, Tory heartlands where the teenager has yet to be invented: a case of neither seen, nor heard.
I’m a child dressed as an adult; a sort of generational cross-dressing as I pretend to be something I’m not, something I want to be but can’t access. I want to come out as an adult but am fearful of the ridicule.
There’s a code of behaviour here that I don’t understand. ‘Behave’ was a reasonably constant parental requirement back then but how? I’m dressed as a twenty-something in tweedy jacket and cast off tie but what do I do?
We are shown to our seats by a black uniformed waiter and given a menu. It gives me something to do with my hands, at least. Maybe there is a special, a question or two from my parents. Dad has a beer and the rest of us soft drinks – Mum can’t drink alcohol. A treat is bottled Britvic pineapple juice, the nearest I get to sophistication. The Archaeologist, always the contrarian, insists on ginger beer and sulks if they don’t have it. I envy his outward confidence to do it his way. Me, I conform in the same way others breathe. I’m the hassle free one, terrified of making a scene, being noticed. I prefer to be watching and absorbing how others conduct themselves.
The menu is explained. A starter choice of Prawns Marie Rose or melon with a glacé cherry. I don’t know what melon tastes like but I love a cherry and chose that. I will regret the melon later. For the main course I chose a steak because Dad does. I have no clue what I’m getting never having seen a steak before. How do I want it cooked? In my head I answer ‘In a pan, please.’ Mum answers for me; I expect it is well done. Do I want a knob of garlic butter with it? The Archaeologist gags to my right; even the smell of garlic will cause such a fuss and lead to a stand off with Dad of Kennedy-Khrushchev proportions so I’m encouraged to avoid escalation and have it plain. It comes with chips – at last something familiar. Peas too. Good though tricky to eat as we’ve been taught you must use the back of the fork and not scoop them up – someone tell me why?
Guests at other tables actually talk. We sit silent, allowing Dad to conduct a monologue to fill the gaps between being served. Pudding, apparently called dessert but having nothing to do with sand, arrives in the guise of ice cream. A post meal coffee and Silk Cut for dad – cue Olympic class whining from the Archaeologist about the dangers of smoking – he was always ahead of his time and just as irritating as all the rest who’ve been similarly prescient. We go and sit in the lounge. Dad has an Irish coffee and we marvel at the cream floated on the top.
Freed from starchy white table clothes and be-penguined flunkies we all relax and joke. Dad, having drunk a bit too much begins to tell when he was propositioned in a Manchester hotel and rang mum from his room phone for help, but Mum shushes him before we can have the concept of ‘being propositioned’ explained.
We’ve ‘behaved’ apparently so all’s right with the world.
Meanwhile, across the water Bob Dylan plays a set that will go into history. I don’t know this for ten years and a little part of my dies when I realise how close I was to genius. Still I learnt what a steak knife was so that’s a compensation of sorts.