When I was Young – Viewed from a distance.
When I was a young boy of fifteen, in 1965, it became apparent to me that I was being channelled into a groove. Everything conspired. My parents and school, the structure of society, all applied pressure. Society had a place for me. I could live a happy life. All that was required was that I knuckle down, work hard, pass my exams, avoid the pitfalls, go to university and I would have a glittering career, make lots of money, live well and live happily ever after.
It was all mapped out.
At the age of fifteen I looked ahead to a set of O Levels, followed by A Levels, a place at medical school, a good job, comfortable life, wife and kids. It was safe.
It was what my parents wanted for me. They came from humble backgrounds and had bettered themselves. They saw education as the passport to a better life. They wanted me to have an easier life than them. They were right.
But I had been reading Kerouac. I had been reading Ginsberg. I had been listening to Dylan and Woody Guthrie. At the age of fifteen I knew I had a decision to make.
Did I want a quiet, comfortable life? Or did I want a life of adventure?
Kerouac had opened up a world of madness, road trips, adventure, crazy driving, sex and drugs and Jazz. It was outside of society.
It made me look at the society I was part of. Did I really want to spend my life accruing money, cars, houses and suits? Did I like the look of the society I was living in? It’s greed, acquisitiveness, inequalities, aggression, racism, violence, hypocritical religion and plastic meaninglessness.
At fifteen I decided that I did not like the values of the society I was part of. I did not like its hypocrisy – god, queen and country. I did not like its smugness, arrogance and old boys’ network; its class divisions, xenophobia, narrowmindedness and boring suburbia. I thought that the pursuit of money was a meaningless exercise.
At fifteen I had it sussed.
By seventeen I was going to loud rock concerts. I had discovered Roy Harper, Captain Beefheart and a mind expanding universe. I was hanging out with the outsiders. I was searching for something more meaningful and honest. I had discovered girls, alcohol and fun.
I wanted crazy!!
I made a decision.
My studies went by the board. Friends, girls, parties, music and mad talking, talking, talking – trying to make sense of life. Zen, travel, sex and excitement.
I was always in trouble at school – my hair, my clothes, my attitude – but I was popular with the girls and had a good group of friends. My parents despaired. They thought I was throwing away my future. I was young, obstinate and headstrong. I did just enough to get by. I didn’t listen.
I knew the lifestyle I wanted and it wasn’t playing that conformity game. I had my motorbike and my freedom. I was poor but rich in experience.
There are many pitfalls and I saw a number of my friends drop into them – addiction, madness, suicide, pregnancy, prison, accidents. Life isn’t easy. For many it is tragic.
I had a little rude awakening at the age of twenty-five when it became apparent that I needed to make a living, but I managed to find a niche in teaching that did not compromise my ideals too much and enabled me to pursue my creativity.
I look back now from the age of seventy-two. That fifteen-year-old did not really find the answers to all the mysteries he was so enthralled with at that age. He gave up Zen. But he did discover literature, art, dance, music and wine. He did some chemical exploration. He avoided becoming a casualty. He did have a life of adventure, creativity, excitement, friendship and love as well as a career that was fulfilling and valid. He did not have to sacrifice his ideals. He did find the compromise that worked and now lives comfortably with his memories while looking ahead to more adventure and creativity.
Life’s what you decide to make it.