I went to this hippy fair in my home town not too far from here the other day. I had been there before a couple of times and had quite enjoyed it: my daughters liked very much the food and the jewellery from tents and stalls; I liked drinking cool ales on grass; there was a stall selling random artefacts from beyond Europe – I bought an old Indian framed colour print of Krishna up a tree having purloined the clothing of the naked gopi girls as they bathed; I liked the local bands – some of them, anyway.
Among the roaming youth, the dreadlocked white boys and the beaded and hennaed full-skirted women of many ages, I noted that there were groups of older men and women perhaps in their forties, some with greying hair, who stood chatting here and there and looked not like hippies not like the Peace Convoy of yesteryear but certainly road hardened yet easeful as well some with sports coats and some with jodhpurs not posh not horsey, certainly of no fixed abode, the bearing of long established circus family maybe but also quite regal. The men with bands of cloth at the neck, tied round and round with a knot, the women not always full-skirted but a few tattooes and riding boots. These clothes were not costumes, they looked like their wearers’ daywear of choice and the wearers looked as though the outdoors was comfortably their indoors. This place, I thought, was salubrious for them. I think they had vehicles to live in at the end of the day but I couldn’t say for sure.
You should not on the whole try to repeat things. It was a very hot day the other day and on the way through my home town to the common by the river there were great streams of people heading in, from every street converging. It wasn’t that the average age had dropped a few years to the mid teens, or that the beer wasn’t up to snuff – I had a hazy and rewarding pale ale, the current supplanter of the darker beers – but a kind of traipsey feel had taken hold. There were stalls with beads and rings and flowing tie-dye garments and a great many of these; there were stalls with food and many many of these; the bands were shy boys and girls whose systems had little sound. It seemed that within these categories there was little variety and among these islets of equivalence one could only make undistracted passage because not one had a distinct allure that would make marks or leave traces. I know I’m hardly the target patron here but fairs are supposed to be sites of adventure and excess not just traipse’n’trinket opportunities.
The fair as stockade is a welcome notion though, and as they pile into the fenced-off common the thousands of cheerful young attendees seem likely to find the makings of a Saturday asylum. It struck me, however, that the homogenising of the High Street had got there before them, flooding the field with a wealth of barely distinguishable choices. As safe place or benign enclosure it was continuous with the city around it insofar as both offer an overabundance of goods but actually generate a non-celebratory agitation. You can get lots of stuff but it’s not what you came for. Maybe you didn’t know what you came for but although the idea of the fair is deeply embedded its spirit here is elusive, submerged in a torpor of busyness and business.
I looked for the serene older travellers but they weren’t to be seen. My sighting of them a few years ago had prompted romantic daydreams of an offgrid life but now they had moved on. I wonder where they went and what they do there.