A wild dreamer’s story of liv­ing the good life in the 70s

Martin Hesp pre­views a book that re­calls the days when parts of the ru­ral West Coun­try shared in the counter cul­ture rev­o­lu­tion

Western Daily Press (Saturday) - - Countryside -

THE coun­try­side might be the place where things hap­pen first – where the world’s food is grown, where fresh air comes from, where our wa­ter­courses are born – but in terms of so­cial trends it is the zone where to­day hap­pens to­mor­row, or even next year.

And when it comes to mas­sive so­cial up­heaval, we folk out in the sticks can be a good decade be­hind. When the world talks about for­ma­tive eras that changed just about ev­ery­thing – like the Swing­ing Six­ties – ru­ral his­to­ri­ans would be wise to ad­just the clock. That is what I was think­ing when the pub­lish­ers of a new novel called Wylde Dream­ers con­tacted me this week with a de­scrip­tion of the book which said: “In the sum­mer of 1972 a group of friends is in­vited to Som­er­set to help a pho­tog­ra­pher ren­o­vate a di­lap­i­dated cot­tage…

“Sex, drugs and mu­sic... they have a se­ri­ously good time. Over the next year, the group starts to see the farm as some­where they could stay for the rest of their lives – an es­cape from con­ven­tional life. But af­ter 18 months, the ru­ral idyll col­lapses.”

I, like many read­ers, re­mem­ber the West Coun­try of the 1970s. Sex, drugs and rock-n-roll might have been preva­lent in San Fran­cisco in the mid 60s – and the mini-skirted world may have been alive and knee-boot kick­ing in Lon­don hotspots like Carn­aby Street – but noth­ing much out of the or­di­nary stirred its semi-naked limbs west of Bris­tol un­til the last cen­tury was at least 70 years into its 100.

And then lit­tle out­crops of long hair, ex­otic cig­a­rette smoke and non­con­for­mity be­gan to spring up here and there – es­pe­cially, it seems, in the hills of West Som­er­set. I know, be­cause I wit­nessed those out­crops light­ing the aro­matic touch-pa­per which would change old-fash­ioned ru­ral ways for­ever. In­deed – like a lamb to the slaugh­ter – I be­came in­vei­gled in their not al­to­gether in­no­cent ex­cite­ment.

The fab­u­lous tech­ni­color lure was just too bright for a coun­try boy bored half to death by his vil­lage life to ig­nore. And also, it turns out, too al­lur­ing for an Amer­i­can girl called Pamela Holmes, who wrote this new novel. So you can imag­ine that the blurb talk­ing about a book set in a kind of hippy com­mune lo­cated some­where in the Bren­don Hills caught my at­ten­tion. Be­cause I lived in such a place for a cou­ple of happy years – and a good many peo­ple lucky enough to still be alive to­day will re­mem­ber its out­landish par­ties.

Hip­pies, is what the lo­cals called us – and I

sup­pose we were, re­ject­ing the idea of

get­ting a job PAMELA HOLMES

Then, as my eye trav­elled down the pub­lisher’s email, I saw a black and white pho­to­graph taken of the au­thor back in the day – and I re­alised that I knew her. She didn’t live in the same won­drous place as me, but at an ec­cen­tric farm not too many miles dis­tant. The mo­ment I saw the photo, I could re­mem­ber the beau­ti­ful Amer­i­can girl who never used to wear any make-up and who used to smile a lot…

So we made contact and this week this is what Pamela told me about her new book. “It was in the 1970s when I first saw the Som­er­set hills from the back of my boyfriend’s BSA 650cc mo­tor­bike. Or would have, if my head had not been buried into his damp, smelly Afghan coat in my at­tempt to es­cape the piti­less rain.

“The next day was dif­fer­ent. The clouds had lifted, and as we climbed Lype Hill, the land fell away be­hind us to re­veal a patch­work of colour­ful fields. The hedges looked like fat green ser­pents squir­relling into the val­leys. I could see the Bris­tol Chan­nel in the dis­tance. I was hooked.

“I lived there for al­most three years. A group of peo­ple fresh from school and univer­sity set­tled in a house in an iso­lated val­ley be­low the Bren­don Hills. Work­ing for food and board, we aimed to grow much of what we ate and to brew ev­ery­thing we drank.

“Hip­pies, is what the lo­cals called us – and I sup­pose we were, in that we re­jected what our par­ents thought we ought to be do­ing (get­ting jobs). Put an­other way, we were hav­ing fun and Som­er­set was the best place to do that.”

Pamela, who now lives in Lon­don with her hus­band and two boys, added: “The char­ac­ters in my book are fic­ti­tious but, of course, I draw on per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences in Wyld Dream­ers. A young woman starts a veg­etable gar­den, some­thing she has never done be­fore. Her mother has died and she finds it com­fort­ing to dig the soil and tend the plants.

“It was like this for me, I re­alised some years later. My mother died a few years be­fore I moved to Som­er­set. Some­thing about wit­ness­ing the cy­cle of na­ture, watch­ing things ger­mi­nate, grow, ma­ture and die, that helped me to re­cover.

“I still grow veg­eta­bles on an al­lot­ment by the rail­way track near where I live in Lon­don.

“Pick­ing the beans is a good an­ti­dote to a day on the com­puter. Lon­don parks and canals are a source of joy. But a A piece of my heart re­mains on the Bren­don Hills.”

I look for­ward to read­ing Wyld Dream­ers (pub­lished by Ur­bane Pub­li­ca­tions, priced £8.99) and meet­ing her again when she gives a talk at Mine­head’s Tou­can Whole­foods to­day from 10.30am.

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