… It all started at a party with friends …
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I reckon it was in about 1972 at a party with friends….Well to be honest they weren’t what you might call friends per se, as in – ‘known them for years and would lend them my air bed and trust them with the pump that actually works’ kind of friends. I suppose you would call them acquaintances but then in those days and at that time I certainly didn’t use scrotty words like acquaintances – O no!
This part of my story really began a couple of years before, when I first chose to ‘drop out’.
My closest friend Steve, when reminiscing about that time, claims I was the only person he knew who ever really did ‘drop out‘, when I left a perfectly good, well paid and safe job with a future in the centre of London, as I had back in 1969 when I did my personal ‘Kerouac’ and went ~ ‘On the road’, figuratively speaking as it turned out.
I was actually nagged and encouraged back into bit-job work by my mother bless her. Firstly, I worked as a warehouse porter and van delivery man for John Perring the furniture retailer, before attaining a porters post at the ‘mecca’ of hippy jobs of that day when I joined a band of similarly disenfranchised social outcasts helping our fellow-man whilst earning a few pennies at the local ‘Cottage Hospital’ in Sutton in Surrey. Here we toted fresh laundry to the wards and collected the dirty, including the infamous ‘red bags’, took patients to X-Ray, built and dismantled beds, collected and delivered meals in what became affectionately known as ‘the hot-locks’ and among many other duties, occasionally visited the mortuary which was always sad but also necessary.
There is no doubt the ‘drop out’ tag, like most expressions, colloquialisms and developed clichés, sort of loses its meaning in the telling and the re-telling but by personal choice I sure had fallen through the employment net and off the career ladder as the sixties became the seventies and I continued on my personal pathway of self discovery. Nowadays, young people are encouraged to travel the world and sow their wild oats but my mother’s, war-years generation work ethic put paid to any ideas in that direction, although I did go as far as receiving registration forms to join a kibbutz in Israel and also I gained an acceptance at Croydon’s O’so trendy Art School on the proviso that I gained a Maths GCE. A late night ‘happening’ with mates involving a bottle of ‘Green Goblin’ and a block of ‘Lebanese black’ meant we turned up 20 minutes late for the exam and because we couldn’t face entering the exam hall we went to the pub and bang went that particular creative opportunity! … With hindsight, a real shame! …
I had read most of the popular books of that generation from writers like – Tolkien, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, books like On The Road, Worlds in Collision by Velikovsky, The Politics of Experience by R.D. Laing along with books and pamphlets by the drug guru Timothy Leary, etc etc as I smoked dope, dropped acid and consumed other illegal substances – barbiturates, amphetamines, uppers and downers, once even cannibalising a nasal spray with a friend and diluting it in coca cola (we had heard this could give a pretty decent buzz). All this, as I earnestly sought to find my personal ‘path’ and discover what I really believed in and what I didn’t.
My new reclusive self will always be thankful for the input of my seriously good friend Steve, who at the time did his best to keep me socially active with invitations to parties, gigs and events that I was always happy to attend. I suppose I became a bit of a Barney Rubble sidekick for my mate as I travelled in tandem alongside his girlfriend and I suppose, provided him with some necessary male company. Not that I was ever worried about where I went or didn’t go to be honest, or who I spoke to at such events having always been a bit of a ‘party animal’ and a pretty gregarious kind of fellow. Indeed I reckon I could write an anthology of amusing stories and anecdotes collected from chance meetings with fascinating people I have met at parties through the years. Might even try it sometime and if I do this tale would have to feature in it.
The process of intellectual thought at that time in my life had maintained a pretty steady stream since leaving the ‘material world’ of day by day exchange at my ‘proper job’ working as an apprentice artists agent in offices adjacent to Leicester Square. I was now concerned purely and simply with the task of unlearning and dealing with the ‘clutter’ of transposed opinion that we all inherit and imbibe, much akin to the effects of secondary smoking that we now understand can adversely effect our health and dependencies.
We assume so much of what we believe from those who care for us and raise us and from the culture we grow up in, much like a cerebral strain of photosynthesis, which of course allows plants and organisms to gain and convert strength and life from the sun’s energy and translate it into body matter. I now wanted to re-think everything and understand why, how and what I was going to allow into my body, whether animal, vegetable, mineral, psychological, intellectual, scientific, political or religious.
For this reason I ate a simple diet, read only discerning literature, questioned everything, accepted nothing and kept an ‘open mind’ on all major subjects. One way I helped myself to reevaluate things was with various self-styled or self appropriated buzz words or sayings. ‘Honest to God’ was one such phrase I had adopted as I sought to re-define a personal belief system that was based on a simple, straightforward truthfulness to every question that I considered deserved my attention but the third word of that particular mantra offered me an immediate dilemma of analysis.
If my honesty was to be directed to a universal deity then I had to be confident that :-
a) there was one
and .. b) that a person of that importance would probably have a name rather than just ‘God’ and consequently this name, I concluded, I should know.
My current system of beliefs had no problem in accepting the first premise ~ a) … that there is indeed a deity responsible for the wonders of nature and the whole business of creation and reproduction etc. I believed I had enough evidence in my own short life experience to support the notion that there is indeed, someone ‘out there’, that you can talk to them (pray) and that they do in fact aid you in answering the many prayers that I had already proffered at times of personal distress and danger. You might say I already had the ‘gift of faith’ but I have no wish to make that sound grandiose or exclusive.
A very personal and miracle encounter involving a tiny, red mite or arachnida had recently brought me down to earth from my fairly ‘trippy’ existence and given me a real ‘faith’ boost. I hope you can tell reader that I am being real ‘honest to God’ although you may well be convinced I am just more of a kook than I sounded when we started out on this essay together.
The fact is, that although happy with premise a) i.e. – I believed in ‘a god’, I had stalled, when determining the name my God should go under …. premise b)!
I was raised a Christian but I had no particular certainty that Jesus, or Mohammed, Alla or Buddha, Jah or Jehovah, or indeed any human name for God was in fact God’s real name or the name of God’s agent, God’s son or daughter. Indeed, I had no certainty that any of these deities happened to possess God’s actual personal name at all! You can see dear reader, I had thrown myself into the very deepest end of the theological questions pool and so far I was just about keeping afloat!
R.D. Laings classic ‘Politics of Experience’ had hit me hard whilst reading, with the phrase ~ “I cannot be sure of anything I have not personally experienced”. This had become my latest, adopted and treasured maxim. Whilst the many warm feelings in my ‘centre’ when praying as a very sickly child, often ill and with parents who argued a lot, warranted enough ‘personal experience’ to tick the ‘Yes, I know there is a God box’, I had forgotten to ask whilst praying, who the God I was speaking to actually was, or what was their name? It would have been a good question to ask God I suppose.
I eventually concluded that a God worth his or her salt is not going to be too worried about names anyway and maybe all these names of God were just expressions from different cultures and countries for the very same person. Traditional names for the same Guy, the same Girl. I mean how many Almighty Gods can there be in one Universe? A bit like – mommy and daddy – have different names the world over… It seemed to me, at that time, that a universal deity is going to be ‘above’ getting in a sweat over the different names people called him or her anyway.
This certain naive theology, I still sort of subscribe to by the way. People generally have a hard time recognising that a supreme all-seeing, all-knowing, omnipotent and creative intelligence really should not have so much trouble discerning what is true love, affection and devotion from what is pseudo, disrespectful, insincere, sassy or irreverent … and so, I considered my God could be, should be, called by any name you like as long as it was respectful and sincere!
I therefore reverently decided I would choose a new name for God and that Gods name should be something honest and true. A name that the common people could relate to, not an Eastern name, not a religious name at all, a good British name like Ron!
Now Ron, was an ex-docker who was a fellow porter at the Cottage Hospital where I worked, among all of us hippies. A guy with a greased, short back and sides haircut and a nice, clean, full set of false teeth which gave him the warmest, friendliest smile. Ron had a lovely, rippling chuckle of a laugh and 101 stories of when he worked in London’s Dockland until an industrial accident forced him to retire. Ron and his wife had then moved out of Millwall in East London and they came to live in Sutton in the Surrey ‘sticks’ and started working with us and boy was he a ‘salt of the earth’ character. A straight up ‘union’ guy, who mixed with us freaks and anyone and did a full and decent days work. Ron was a perfect character, respected and loved by all and he had the perfect name for my kind of God.
These were the thoughts buzzing in my head the day I journeyed to meet up with Genevieve, my arranged date for the evening, along with Steve and Sue his girlfriend, they had been invited to a party in North London.
The party was typical of many university type, hippy-style events of the day which in turn was actually much like most gatherings of youngish people the world over, since time immemorial. In other words, to begin with everyone was a little self-aware and nervous of standing out from the crowd. Enter yours truly and a couple of spliffs and a barley wine or two later and Genevieve and I had soon got into a few of the ‘deeper’ issues of life and circumstance that people often did in those insecure but revolutionary days.
Genevieve wore a black, velvet, ankle-length coat and had the richest, fullest, thick, black, curly and shiny hair which hung down over her shoulders. She had soft, pale flesh with rosy cheeks to match the softest, lilting Irish brogue and we were hitting it off pretty good, sat on a rug, on polished floorboards, in the middle of a scantily furnished, darkened room while people milled around us getting to know one another.
“So Steve, what do you make of God?.. What do you think about God?.. Do you believe there is a God or anything?” Her soft, Irish voice made the questions natural and sincere. Only in those days did people ask questions like that on a first date and I suppose the Irish have always seemed, more than most, to be consumed with questions about God, guilt and conscience, forgiveness and eternity .
“Well, yes Genevieve, yes I do believe in God” I replied “but I’ve decided to call my God, Ron!”. I now expostulated on my reasons for this seemingly random and possibly blasphemous utterance. Those reasons were after all as fresh and ripe in me as June strawberries on a sunny day. How could I have known that this fair, Irish maiden would be the siren chosen to divine and release the wellspring of feeling and thought from this, young, yet wizened sailor, afloat on life’s turbulent waters, yet himself so recently cast, shipwrecked from the high seas of personal search and discovery.
Well, you might say, she lapped it up and had my intention been to ‘lay’ the charming Genevieve then I most surely must have had 3/5 of my leg over by the end of the 1st chapter of the Gospel According to Ron or as by now the ‘crack’ and my racing, creative imagination had already re-defined it as ~ ‘Ronism’.
“You see isms are not what it’s all about for me Genevieve. Why do people argue and fight about who God is rather than just accepting there is a God and then we could all just try and get on with each other? And so I call my God, Ron and my religion therefore is RON-ISM because … well why shouldn’t it be”.
Genevieve looked amazed and a little in awe as my improvised discourse eventually dampened down! Had her simple question birthed a new theology, maybe a theocracy, possibly yet another religion and she like a new Mary, she had been there at its birth looking beautiful and just a little flushed?
I considered my next ‘article of faith’, my next ‘statement of belief’ as it now dawned on me that indeed Genevieve was no longer alone with me as we sat together, for new disciples had been joining us unnoticed since I began my discourse and now like us they too were sitting cross-legged or standing around us in a circle upon the woven rug, upon the hard wood floor, in the middle of the darkened room. There must have been, at least, a round dozen, maybe more, following the thoughts of yours truly, announcing to the world, my concept of Ronism and they were drinking in enthusiastically every single word.
Had I just had a moment of ‘epiphany’ or realisation? Had we together, in the middle of that room, shared a transcendent energy, we dozen or so disciples? As my inspired rant reached its conclusion, I almost waited for the heavenly choir, an incandescent light but all I could hear was the final verse and chorus of the Who singing ‘Wont Get Fooled Again’!
Since that day in 1969, I have had ample time to reflect on how readily was that generation to be led, maybe to be inspired … How naive, I suppose we were, how vulnerable and how easily duped our cynical selves would probably say and yet the desire for truth and honesty should never be despised or ridiculed! … There is a certain humour in the story that I hope I have caught, as well as a certain irony. Had I been looking to take advantage of the lovely Genevieve which I wasn’t. If I had wanted to ‘score’ with her or any of the gathered apostles of my inspired new creed, I may indeed have started that day a new cult, a new religion and called it – RONISM!
I, suddenly that day, for a brief hour or two, became the ‘guru’ spreading ‘the light’. It gave me a shake I can tell you and it gave me an insight into how easily things like that could get started in those impressionable days when people met someone who appeared to have all ‘the answers’.
It kind of makes me laugh to remember the day I took centre stage with my impromptu speech and theory on God ~ unstripped and unplugged! Within 14 months I had given up any dependency on drugs and I had found a true faith identity but that story is for another day!
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