My teens were a time of conflict. It was a time when I started becoming an individual. I was fast developing my own philosophy on life, thinking about the big issues and my place in the world, what I stood for and what I stood against. It was coupled with a strong urge to break free from the confines of my family.
I knew that my Mum and Dad loved me. There was never any doubt about that. They gave me unconditional love and care. They did not insist on great contributions to the housework or try to influence my views. I was very lazy. I had almost complete autonomy with my room. I lived in my own universe.
In 1965, inspired by the film ‘The Knack’ I painted my room white, including the mirror and all furniture. I put brackets on my walls so that I could display my albums. My parents weren’t particularly enamoured, particularly the mirror and furniture, but didn’t seem to mind too much. My mum even bought me a white bedspread to match. My life revolved around girls, friends, hair, clothes and music.
I had lots of freedom. At fifteen I was allowed to spend the summer hitchhiking around France with my sixteen year-old friend Foss. At sixteen they allowed me a motorbike, despite all their fears about me killing myself. At sixteen, I was allowed to go out to parties to the early morning and pubs to drink. My liberty was almost without limits.
While I was dabbling with morality and the wonders of the infinite, developing strong attitudes towards pacifism and animal welfare, they listened and didn’t argue too much. I was passionate and I think they were intrigued. They tolerated my girlfriends and turned a blind eye to the happenings in the privacy of my room. I was able to bring girls and friends in at will. The only frustration was my music, which I liked to play loud, was sometimes met with bellows of ‘Turn it down!!’ but even that was generally tolerated. My friends were made welcome and fed. My house became the focus for gatherings.
My conflict was with school and my appearance created a series of confrontations. I was constantly being sent home for infringements of the dress-code, hair and beard. It was a game I enjoyed playing.
My father saw education as the panacea to a perfect life. Education brought access to jobs. Jobs meant money. Money bought your life-style. Education was the answer. Education had been denied my father. He was bright but had been prevented from going to Grammar School because his family claimed that they could not afford the uniform and needed him to leave school and get a job.
Dad valued education and he wanted those opportunities for me. They sent me to a private primary school and scrimped and scraped to keep me there. The fact that they couldn’t afford a proper one and sent me to a Mickey Mouse establishment was by the way. They did what they thought was best.
So there I was, at the age of sixteen, with opportunities and freedom. Did I appreciate them? No. I enjoyed the social life, hanging round with friends and chatting up the girls. I was no trouble in class but only did the bare minimum to escape retribution. I was in conflict with the hierarchy at the school who viewed me as a rebellious nuisance. A view that was totally justified. I was standing up for my rights. For me Kerouac made more sense than any career.
My father took a more long-term view than me. My behaviour confounded him. As he saw it, I was actively damaging my future.
Having a good time was OK. He’d done his share of rebellion, smoking drinking and hanging out with the ladies. He could understand that. What he couldn’t understand was why I was growing my hair and wearing clothes that put me in conflict with school and ruined my education in the process. In his eyes I was busy burning the bridges that he’d have given anything to build. It did not make sense to him. He thought that my idealism was something I’d grow out of. The hair and clothes were fashion statements that would rapidly become redundant as next year’s business-manipulated whims created a new set of fashion. He did not see a cultural aspect to any of it. This wasn’t culture. This wasn’t philosophical. This was fashion. Fashion changed. We weren’t a new generation founding new values rejecting the ancient rat-race values he lived by. We were just doing what teenagers always did and pandering to current styles and attitudes.
In my mind I was not a young sixteen year-old kid, I was part of a unique new counter-culture. We rejected religion, politics and all the old world stood for. Nothing like this had ever happened before. We were forging new aesthetics, breaking away from the old traditions and attitudes. This was the modern world. We wanted rid of all that claustrophobic cultural baggage. A knife had come down and severed us from all the old ways. It wasn’t fashion. It was something much bigger than that. I was sixteen and I thought I knew it all.
I saw my Dad sitting there every evening, exhausted by his work, consumed by it, with no questioning of the system he was part of, and I knew I did not want to be part of that. I wanted to goof, and have fun, to discover every new way of looking at things. To him I was a crazy kid, sprouting hair from every orifice, looking like a rag-bag, doing crazy stuff and losing sight of the distant horizon – which was a good career. He knew that I was going to be working for forty years of my life and what I did now would determine what that career might be. I had the chance of an education. I was bright. I could go to university. I was blowing my future for things that ultimately did not matter.
For me, career was a dirty word.
“Get your hair cut!”
The fact that I was rejecting the life that he aspired to was an anathema to him. What did I think I was going to do with my life? I was accepted. They were proud of me. It was my behaviour that was being questioned.
But I was sixteen. I was an adult. I knew what I was doing. I knew where I was going. We were building a new world with new values. I was sure of it.
I wanted something simpler and more meaningful than the pursuit of wealth and comfort. This was probably because I had not experienced poverty, war and the drudgery of daily life with family responsibilities.
My Dad and I were from different sides of the spectrum. Life was simple for me and complicated for him. It was so obvious to him that I was deliberately messing up. He was certain that I would grow up to regret what I was doing.
Yet throughout it all, despite the arguments, I received their full backing. The house was beset with rows but my life-style remained untouched. I did what I wanted. There was a string of concerts and parties, the pub, girlfriends and friends. I don’t know if there was any way he could have insisted on anything else, short of throwing me out.
Despite myself, and my priorities, I scraped the necessary examination passes, and, although they weren’t good enough for the universities I’d assumed I would be going to, they were good enough to get to a polytechnic. I muddled through.
Once I’d left to go to college I was completely free. They had no jurisdiction over me. At eighteen years old, there was nothing to moderate or restrict me. The rows ceased. They accepted that I was going to do it my way – right or wrong. I had a home to come back to, they funded me and I got food parcels.
My relationship with my Dad became less fraught.
Happiness is freedom to do what you want!