Hare Krishna, Love and Peace Man…In London, the 1970s

I’m not sure why we had gone to London that day, it was Miss Harlow’s A Level art group, me and Rick Thorpe and 15 or 20 girls on a bus, or was it a train, the memory grows thin and faded, like trying to view way into the distance on a misty day, looking behind you to see where you’ve been but you can only pick out tree skeletons, the memory of how we got there or why we were there has all but gone now, but we went.

It was obviously for art study for Miss Harlow wasn’t the sort of teacher who would organise such an excursion for a fun day out, part of the A level art course was a separate module on “The History of Art” and I have yet to find a single subject that has bored me quite so much these past forty years as those mind numbing forty minute slide presentations on Dutch/Flemish Renaissance artists featuring heavily on a painting of a woman sitting at her dressing mirror while a man in a very stupid looking hat stands behind, watching, I got sent out of one lesson by asking why he was wearing such a stupid looking hat indoors – well she asked for questions and I thought it was a reasonable one.

The Harlow could not teach art while-so-ever she had a hole in her arse, not to Rick Thorpe and me anyway, our all boys Grammar School had been merged with the all girls Grammar School next door only two years earlier and the Harlow was an ageing old bat who clearly had only ever taught girls in her whole career and who clearly didn’t want Rick Thorpe and I in her class, which suited us perfectly because both of us were there filling in time, he waiting until he was 18 and he could join the police and me, well, I was just wasting a year of my life seeing just how little work a person could do in a sixth form and not be spotted as the charlatan I was.

So she’d organised a trip to The National Gallery in London and if Rick Thorpe and I thought it would be a fine way to spend a day out of school then we were wrong for we were shepherded by the Harlow to within an inch of our lives from the minute we got off the bus (or train, whatever), a prize winning sheepdog could not have snapped at our heels all day long as well as the Harlow did that day.

Yes, in answer to our worst nightmare The National Gallery had a fine collection of Dutch/Flemish Renaissance art and the Harlow knew the history of all of it, but not in an interesting way, she had no amusing anecdotes to tell of the artists (of which there must at least be some), she offered no respite to the hard facts of each painting, when it was painted, by whom, in which style, for whom, and what the artist did next…

Awful, awful morning trudging from one shite painting to another, take me to a gallery now and I will feel exactly the same, the history of art doesn’t start until the late 1800s as far as I’m concerned, everything that went before could be razored out of its frame and used for paper airplanes, I don’t care for it, its the Harlows fault.

Just as an aside I took my youngest daughter to the Scottish National Gallery a couple of years ago to show her the quite impressive collection of Impressionist paintings they have there, I wanted her to stand in front of an unguarded, simply framed Van Gogh which is probably worth millions but you can stand as close as you wish to it with no ropes or barriers or f’kin Miss Harlow clone telling you not to – thats how great art should be presented – we dashed past all the other pre-1800′s crap straight to the two small Impressionist galleries, she was impressed.

But we shook off the Harlow sometime after lunch Rick Thorpe and I did and we found ourselves wandering down Oxford Street caught up in a throng of busy workers, shoppers, hordes of tourists, wave upon wave of red London Transport buses, we were looking for record shops for records were the only thing that interested us at the time when suddenly we heard drum beats.

Following the rhythmic bass we trailed it for several hundred yards until we finally caught up with a couple of dozen shaven headed young men dressed in swathes of orange cloths which draped around their bodies like a Roman toga – we’d found the Hare Krishna followers.

Encouraged by the whole “love and peace man” movement of the late 60s it had become trendy to run away from home, shave your head, dress in orange toga’s and walk barefoot upon the streets of London in the early 1970′s flogging useless tat in a group of similar clad young people, raising money for some middle man who probably didn’t shave his head or dress in orange toga’s or give a shit about Hare Krishna at all but instead pocketed the money and praised the Lord of Hare Krishna for giving him this quite excellent money making project.

We were entrapped by one such youth, he’d be the same age as us, was English, had a shaved head with a pigtail at the back and the ubiquitous orange toga and when you looked in his eyes you could see that someone had switched the lights off inside his head, he was either very high on something or very brainwashed, or very both and he was holding an LP.

Sit down kids and listen to what an LP was, we keep telling you what an LP was, why I explained what an LP was just a few weeks ago – think of an LP as one of your CD’s but much bigger, like the size of your head, no don’t be frightened, its true, we had CD’s the size of your head and you could play both sides of them in a special CD Player called a “Record Player”, and because you could break and scratch them really easy they came in cardboard sleeves upon which were painted some of the finest artwork to come out of the 1970s of which we will discuss later.

So the Hare Krishna kid had an LP under his arm and he stopped me and Rick Thorpe in Oxford Street and wished us Love and Peace Man, showed us the universal hand signal for Love and Peace Man it being a V sign turned palm facing towards the recipient so as not to be confused with the V sign turned back of hand facing the recipient which meant something completely different, you know I sort of miss those times, the times when a complete stranger could give you an uncomplicated hand signal in the street and wish you Love and Peace Man and you could do the same straight back at him, as we did, “Love and Peace Man, Hare Krisna” we both chanted and he was pleased.

“Buy a fucking LP off me will you man”
“Eh ?”
“I’m fucking starving and my feet are fucking freezing in these fucking sandals and I can’t go back to the squat until I’ve sold all of these fucking LP’s”

Well it wasn’t quite the sort of language we were expecting from a devotee of Hare Krishna but we asked what the LP was anyway, and he showed us.

And on the LP sleeve was a photograph of around two hundred shaven headed orange toga clad Hare Krishna devotees arranged in school photograph stylee and in the middle, in the place where normally the school teacher would sit if it was a school photograph was George Harrison, and suddenly me and Rick Thorpe were interested.

“Thats George Harrison isn’t it ?”
“Yes”
“Wow”
“I’m on there too”
“No”
“Yes”
“No”
“Yes, look there” and he pointed to a bald head that could have been anyone with a bald head
“Thats you?”
“Yes”
“You were with George Harrison ?”
“Yes, in India”
“You were in India with George Harrison ?”
“Yes, look are you going to buy this fucking LP off me ?”
“What George Harrison tracks are on it ?”
“There aren’t any George Harrison tracks on it, its just George Harrison on the sleeve”
“Does he sing on any of it ?”
“No-one sings on it, its full of shit chanting, Hare Krishna, that sort of stuff”
“So theres no George Harrison on any of it apart from the sleeve ?”
“NO, are you going to buy it off me, its a quid”
“Fuck off”
“Love and Peace Man”

And he ran off up Oxford Street to join the back of his group of Hare Krishna kids who were now skipping down the middle of the road playing their drums and finger cymbals and stopping the traffic on the busiest shopping street in the UK.

And the thought of having to go back to the National Gallery to find the Harlow again almost made me and Rick Thorpe join him.

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