29 July 2017

I have spent a lot of time recently selecting the illustrations to go with the re-issue of my In The Sixties book which is coming out at the end of Sepember. It is being re-issued by Rocket 88, friends of mine who used to be packagers, and who I did Hippie; The British Invasion; Peace and several other books with. I made no attempt to re-write the book even though it was tempting. I did add one 3,000 word section: one of the stories I’d left out that several people were surprised not to find when it was first published. It is about going to see Cliff Richard with Paul McCartney and Peter Asher, going backstage and witnessing the uneasy relationship between the fifties star and the new usurpers (this was in 1965). It was fun choosing the pictures, and working with my friend Carla Borel who did most of the re-sizing for me. For example, here’s a picture from The Daily Mirror of Hoppy’s wedding. I was best man, I’m in background between the two lovebirds.

Hoppy's Wedding Daily Mirror 29 June,1968

Hoppy’s Wedding Daily Mirror 29 June,1968.

We made the cover a reference to Antonioni’s Blow Up poster, one of Mal Peachy’s brilliant ideas, so it’s all very sixties. That’s Sue Miles in the front, taken from a photograph by Ettore Sottsass in Milan in 1967.

www.inthesixties.com

In The Sixties cover

In The Sixties cover

At the same time, the same publishers are issuing British Underground Papers, the catalogue of the exhibition that James Birch and I have been working on that will be shown at James’s gallery beginning 28 September and running until 4 November. A22 Gallery. 22 Laystall Street. London EC1R 4PA. The show included sets of International Times, Oz, Ink, cOZmic comics, Nasty Tales, Gandalf’s Garden, Friends and Frendz, and the catalogue reproduces the front cover of every issue of every paper, so that’s been taking up quite a bit of time as well. There will be single issues for sale as well as posters and other sixties stuff. The painter Liam Ryan has been working hard getting the gallery ready. Here’s a picture of them discussing Liam’s fees:

Liam & James discuss fees

Liam & James discuss fees

 

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June 20, 2017

June saw two events to celebrate Richard Neville, co-founder of Australian Oz magazine (1963), and London Oz (in 1967). Richard died on 4th September 2016 and a number of his friends including Richard Adams and Tony Elliott put on an event at the Victoria & Albert Museum to celebrate his life. Louise Ferrier and Jim Anderson came over from Sydney for the event. There were speeches, but you can’t expect several hundred people, most of whom had not seen each other in decades, to keep quiet so as a formal event it was a bit of a disaster; as a celebrate of Richard it was a great success. The affair was opened by Tristram Hunt, the V&A’s new director. It’s extraordinary to think that he was born in 1974, the year after Oz went out of business. As is usual at these events I saw people I had not seen since the sixties, and a whole lot of familiar looking people whose name I could not recall. I’m sure we all had the same experience. And of course, conspicuous by their absence were those friends from the underground press who are no longer with us: Hoppy (John Hopkins), Felix Dennis, Mickey Farren; it’s a long list. There were drinks afterwards across the street at the Rembrandt Hotel. Here’s a snap of the three Jameses (or Jims, if you will): Anderson, Moores, Birch at the bar.

The Three Jameses-Anderson,Moores,Birch.

The Three Jameses-Anderson,Moores,Birch.

The next day, 18 June, Tony Elliott and Janey hosted a garden lunch party at their house in Primrose Hill to enable people to spend more time together. I talked until I almost lost my voice. All the usual suspects were there, and more. Here you have Richard Adams’s hat, Michael Horovitz, Louise Ferrier, Marion Hills, Jim Anderson and Jeff Dexter.

Tony & Janey's party.pg

Tony & Janey’s party.

 

 

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July 10, 2017

On 27 June I went to the private view of Natalie du Pasquier’s show at Pace. She is a French artist who has lived and worked in Milan for decades. In keeping with her origins as a founder member, with Ettore Sottsass and George Dowden of the Memphis Group, her work shows her to be a terrific colourist and a master of that dodgy area between painting and sculpture. She built a separate room in the centre of the gallery which contained paintings of paintings, but even there the colours were so intense that it was hard to see what was three dimensional and what was flat. This is a sculpture, for instance, on a real plinth against a red wall:

Natalie's show at Pace

Natalie’s show at Pace

 

There was an after pv dinner in Soho and here we are, avoiding the London rain.

Natalie du Pasquier at Pace, Burlington Gardens

Natalie du Pasquier at Pace, Burlington Gardens.

 

I went straight from there to Bergamo for the literary festival. I was interviewed onstage in the open arcade beneath the medieval town hall, the Palazzo della Ragione with Bergamo’s amazing cathedral to the left and Piazza Vecchia to the right. This was where most of the events took place, open to the public for free, with a huge video screen behind the stage, and free wine for the audience! (and speakers). There was a translator whispering in my right ear, so that I could understand the questions. Here’s a view from the stage, as the audience were getting seated.

11-My audience in Bergamo getting seated-July 2

My audience in Bergamo getting seated, July 2.

Afterwards one of my Italian publishers, Sergio Bestente, took a group of us, including the writer and musician Vittorio Bongiorno to dinner at a rooftop restaurant. When the cathedral bells struck 10:00pm, all the lights went out and we were left with just candles. After a few minutes, they came back on again. We thought maybe it was a power cut but the waitress explained that 10:00 used to be the curfew, when everyone was supposed to blow out their candles and go to sleep. This tradition is still referenced in the present day. We had tried to get into the huge communal restaurant, owned by its staff, but it was booked solid so we could only manage a drink there.

M,Sergio,Catherine,Vittorio Bongiorno.

M,Sergio,Catherine,Vittorio Bongiorno.

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June 10, 2017

At the end of May we went to Liverpool to see the Tonight At Noon exhibition organised by Catherine Marcangeli to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Mersey Sound by Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten. This poetry anthology became a best seller and took poetry out of the academies and into the street, if only for a little while. The exhibition was held at the Liverpool Central Library and, for me – someone who ran a bookshop in the mid-sixties – it was wonderful to see the magazines and ephemera from the period, including many manuscripts and photographs, now lovingly displayed in vitrines. Catherine did a superb job: it really was like time travel. If only Liverpool Council had come up with the money for a catalogue, as originally promised. Running simultaneously, just across the road in St. George’s Hall, was another exhibition organised by Catherine, this time of the visual artwork of Adrian Henri and again, including a number of little known pieces.

While up North we visited Antony Gormley’s wonderful ‘Another Place’ in Crosby: one hundred slightly over life-size (unless he is bigger than I thought) cast-iron statues spread out across three kilometers of the Mersey shore and also, even more dramatically, a kilometer out into the sea. Not to be missed if you are in the area.

One of 100 Gormleys + Miles.

One of 100 Gormleys + Miles.

Gormley with another in the distance.

Gormley with another in the distance.

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20 April 2017

After spending some time in SW France and a few days in Paris, Rosemary and I went on our travels. I rarely go anywhere that is not related to work; usually book festivals; but this was pure pleasure. I had always wanted to see the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, and looking at the way Turkey was going, we decided that it might be a case of now or never. The building encompasses the whole history of western architecture from Roman until the present. It has influenced countless other structures and it is almost a miracle that it is still standing. From 537AD until 1453 this giant Roman basilica was an Eastern Orthodox cathedral. With the arrival of Mehmed the Conqueror it was converted into a mosque, but most of the Christian mosaics were plastered over rather than being destroyed. In 1935, under Atatürk, it was converted into a museum. It is one of the most magnificent buildings I have ever visited; up there with the Alhambra and Borobudur.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

I am not particularly keen on Ottoman architecture except for the mosaics but we had to see the Topkapi Palace, home of the Ottoman sultans. The palace museum was crowded with pilgrims, there to see Muhammed’s mantle, his bowl, his swords, one of his teeth, some whiskers from his beard and, my favourite, his footprint, left on a rock. However, unlike the other relics, this one is probably not genuine. It was extraordinary to see some of the pilgrims: there was a large group of nuns from Indonesia who had come there after a visit to Mecca. They looked cold in the inclement weather.

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace

The Hagia Sophia is late Roman, and Istanbul is filled with Roman remains, not the least the four and half kilometers of surviving walls and guard towers. We stayed at the Hotel Fehmi Bey, a modest affair a few doors down the street from the Hippodrome and its three surviving statues. (we were there in March low season, when it was only £23 a night including breakfast. Fehmibey.com) On the other side of the Hippodrome was the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, you could not get closer to the main tourist sites. The most extraordinary thing about the hotel was that in the centre of the window looking onto the street was a Burroughs Adding Machine, the very one invented by William S. Burroughs grandfather. For me that was a good omen. I liked the place even before I went inside. It turns out the hotel’s owner is a collector of obsolete office equipment but it was the Burroughs Adding machine that achieved pride of place.

Burroughs Adding Machine in window

Burroughs Adding Machine in window

It is very expensive to get insurance for the old traditional wooden buildings of Istanbul and many of them are falling down for lack of care. There does still appear to be some restoration going on which is good, even if it is only being done to attract tourists.

Some buildings need a bit of work

Some buildings need a bit of work

All over the old section of Istanbul you are aware that beneath your feet are the remains of palaces and wonderful Roman buildings. The largest mosaic in the world is there, in situ, in the Mosaic museum. We went twice, the work is so beautiful. But most of the time you are just aware that the uneven topography is caused by un-excavated ruins. The Roman remains include a number of huge cisterns, the largest of which re-uses several huge medusa heads as column bases. They were of no further use as Gods when the Roman Empire became Christian but made solid foundations for columns in this huge, underground reservoir.

The Roman Cistern

The Roman Cistern

Medusa head

Medusa head

Medusa head

Medusa head

I loved Istanbul which is suffering tremendously from the lack of tourists. Now that Erdogan has assumed almost dictatorial powers I am concerned for the future there: for intellectuals, publishers, news reporters, editors and academics, all of whom are seen as the enemy of the reactionary right. For the same reasons I am also concerned for our future in Britain under Brexit, America’s under Trump, and the appalling thought that Le Pen might gain power in France. These are bad times.

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16 April 2017

I have neglected the blog in recent months; apologies to any of my regular readers for not keeping up. I have been travelling a lot, including a publicity trip to Milan in February, where Il Saggiatore have published Call Me Burroughs in Italian. They had previously published In The Seventies and do a beautiful job on production. I am in venerable company: their list includes Sartre, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, and Genet. I was there for a small Allen Ginsberg Festival where I was interviewed on-stage. The publishers had even made a 15 minute short film on Ginsberg for the Italian audience. They publish his Selected Poems as well as other later books. I had a pleasant lunch with the publisher, and owner of the company Luca Formenton, who has a wonderfully enlightened approach to publishing: not looking for instant chart topping best sellers, but believing that there is a big enough audience in Italy for a catalogue of intelligent books, which he always keeps in print. The ‘tail’ as it is known in publishing. The company is doing well and he is clearly liked by his staff. So different than with some publishers I have known.

One extraordinary thing happened at the festival, which was held in an old factory converted into an enormous arts space. Someone tapped me on the shoulder and it was George Sowden, a friend from art school days whom I had not seen for 50 years. He left Britain in 1970 to work with Ettore Sottsass and was one of the founders, with Ettore, of the Memphis Group of designers in 1981. He has lived in Milano ever since and is still at work (sowdendesign.com). He invited me back to his place for dinner and we tried to quickly catch up on half a century’s news. It was great to see him again and to meet his wife, the artist Nathalie Du Pasquier in their loft which was conveniently near my hotel.

The Duomo always looks like its about to take off

The Duomo always looks like its about to take off

Unfortunately the weather in Milan was not that great, but I did manage to see a few sights. I had to walk down the via Manzoni to reach the Duomo, and so I passed the apartment block where Sue Miles and I stayed with Ettore Sottsass and his wife, Fernanda Pivano, back in 1967. Ettore had two flats, one above the other. In the one below he kept nothing but design research, housed in cabinets and plan chests. Everywhere you went with Ettore he would collect the beer mats, book matches, and, I remember one lobster dinner with him in New York, when he folded up his paper bib, which he had been careful not to stain, and filed it in his briefcase. He was in New York to judge a lampshade competition. At the via Manzoni he and Nanda did not cook. Anything you wanted, even a cup of coffee, was sent out for and a waiter, in a long white apron to his ankles, would come across the street from the Grand Hotel across the street. ‘Don’t look at the menu’ said Nanda, ‘Just order anything you feel like eating.’ Nanda was Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs’ Italian translator, which is how I knew her.

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January 08, 2017

Well that didn’t last long did it? When Henry Luce, in a February 1941 Life editorial called for ‘an American Century’, saying the US should ‘exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit,’ he clearly expected American leadership, however unwillingly received by the rest of the world, to last until the middle of the 21st century. But with Trump, it has already gone. No-one will ever take the United States seriously again. American moral superiority was always a deeply suspect idea to begin with, but it’s over. It lasted about 75 years; a blink of the eye compared to, say, Egypt’s 3,000 years before the Romans, or the Romans’ own roughly 1,000 years. What, I wonder, will America be known for, if at all? My guess would be for the Moon landings and for Hiroshima and Nagasaki: the first – and I surely hope, the only – use of nuclear weapons against civilian targets.

To live in Trump’s America must be like living in German occupied France. Everyone who collaborates in any way with Trump or his administration faces future ostracism, particularly in the arts and music communities and probably within the better academic institutions as well. Good. There should never be any acceptance of his ideas as being in any way legitimate. My hope is that it will cause a groundswell of rebellion and dissent, similar to that of the sixties youth movement against the Vietnam war. In fact, as well as popular opposition, I fully expect a new generation of Weathermen to emerge. Interesting times are here again!

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December 10, 2016

More travels: a week after we got back from Cairo, I flew to Chicago where I was to give a talk at Harper College on November 17. I’d done one some years ago and they apparently liked it enough to invite me back. You leave London at midday and get there at about 3:30pm, but the six-hour time difference is becoming a real problem for me. I went a day early so that I had a full day recovery before the day of the event, which involved a talk to Kurt Hemmer’s Beat Generation class at lunchtime and a public on-stage interview at 5:00pm. It’s a community college, so the interview with Kurt was open to the public for free. Considering it started when most people are at work we had a good crowd. I talked a lot about the Zapple label, the Beatles’ experimental label, as the American edition of my book has just come out from Abrams. (Peter Owen in the UK) I was the label manager so I could tell what little there is to tell about this short-lived, idealistic project. The students asked good questions, as did the public later in the day.

The Zapple Diaries

The Zapple Diaries

Name In Lights

Name In Lights

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On my recovery day I visited with Diana Ashdown, someone I had not seen in almost sixty years. We grew up on the same small country lane outside Cirencester, in Gloucestershire, our houses separated by fields. She was then Diana Ward and lived in the old watermill near the end of the lane. Her sons had somehow located me, maybe through LinkedIn though I hardly ever use it, and contacted me to see if I was the same person that their mother knew back in the fifties. She moved to the States in the early seventies but I lost touch with her much earlier on, before I went to art college in 1959. It was a strange experience to meet someone with whom you have so much in common – the water meadows, her parents’ old mill, the other children in the neighbourhood; lots of gossip about them – and yet who has had a whole life that you know nothing about. It was great to meet up with her again.

David Ashdown

David Ashdown

Kurt and Erin

Kurt and Erin

Kurt was in a state of shock at Trump’s victory, as virtually everyone I knew was. His only consolation was that Hillary had received more actual votes, but everyone I spoke with was deeply worried. I spent most of my free time with Kurt, a Beat Generation scholar, and his wife Erin and we did manage to talk about a few things other than Trump. But it was an odd time to be there.

After three nights it was on to Kansas City where local musician James Thomlison picked me up and drove me to Lawrence, about an hour from KC, stopping en route at the wine store. I was staying in Bill Burroughs’ old house, in his old bedroom in fact. The house was in better shape than when I was last there and Tom King, who lives there, has made remarkable progress with the garden. The task here was to complete my catalogue of the last part of the William Burroughs Archive. I did five weeks work on it back in 2014 but there were things not found, and things to add. It is a 12-minute walk from Bill’s old house to the ‘Burroughs Compound’ where the office used to be, and where James Grauerholz, executor of the Burroughs Estate, lives, along with various other associates in various other houses including Tom Peschio who helped me out with the archive boxes. The walk crosses Burroughs Creek, previously called something prosaic like Atchison & Topeka Railroad Creek number 3. After not inconsiderable struggle and opposition, the town of Lawrence dedicated a public footpath to their most famous resident to follow the small trickle of water across town. The part where it borders Burroughs’ old property is not in fact on the route of the path, but it is great to see, nonetheless

James and TP

James and TP

Burroughs Creek

Burroughs Creek

James G was better and healthier looking than I’ve seen him in years and we got a lot of work done, as well as a lot of gossiping and social talk. A lot of Bill Burroughs’ old friends came over for a Thanksgiving drink, including poet Jim McCrary and Susan Ashline who I always like to see when I’m out there. I like his new book of poems and stories, This Is Here, which includes amusing notes made during his time working at William Burroughs Communications. Most evenings ended with just me and Tom King nattering about music and travel over a bottle. The most social event of all, of course, was Thanksgiving. I assisted Tom (who used to be a restaurateur, and who is also a food journalist) who did everything except the turkey. The turkey was a 21 lb. bird that came with its own little pop-up red button to indicate when it was cooked. It took about 5 and half hours and we let it sit for an hour after that. I had a lot of fun and the next day, we had the same meal over again. I did one side dish. I thought I would introduce Americans to English bread sauce and I must report that it was much commented upon with requests for seconds.

21lb Turkey

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November 15, 2016

On 2nd of November Rosemary and I flew to Cairo to stay with Tom Hardwick, the son of old friends of ours from Bristol, who is an Egyptologist. Only the previous month he had been inspecting one of the Tutankhamen shrines with the team preparing a conservation programme for them. There are four, originally one inside the other, into which Tut’s sarcophaguses, also one inside the other, were originally placed. Of course they were never intended to be opened and the whole row of artifacts gives us a strange exploded view of his final coffer.

Tut's Shrine

Tut’s Shrine

Cairo is one of the intense cities I have ever been in: the noise is constant and horrendous; the pavements are so crowded with rubbish, parked cars, lumps of masonry or just exploded smashed paving stones, that everyone walks in the street, avoiding the traffic with a casual insouciance. It takes some getting used to and we never mastered the art of crossing main roads. There are very long sections with no traffic lights and people, including large family groups with toddlers, simply launch themselves into the traffic, taking it one lane at a time. It’s a bit like trusting that a space will appear when you join an LA Freeway. It goes against every urge for self-preservation. The vehicles themselves are decrepit, sand-blasted wrecks with bits missing and the evidence of side-on and full-frontal collisions everywhere. This is because if there is a space in the traffic, the Cairene driver will shoot into it, even if it means he is facing the wrong way at a junction. Arguments are frequent but real fights are rare. The traffic proceeds using a system of toots, bleeps, honks, and full-strength horn-playing, a secret language analogous to the clicks and peeps of bats, as it endlessly shifts position on a four-lane highway being treated as a five-line highway. People do make way for the terrifying Egyptian truck – the one thing they get out of the way of. In the midst of all this is the occasional horse or mule driven cart and, once you get out of the centre, human-pulled carts, camels and two-horse teams.

We were staying in Zamelec, the island in the Nile that is part of Giza rather than Cairo, and the home to many of the embassies. All along the street the pavements are further blocked by guard huts manned by machine-gun toting young conscripts, relaxing behind portable bulletproof shields on wheels. One person we met reported seeing a group of them at night, curled up together in their hut, asleep like a litter of kittens, still clutching their machine guns.

Tom kindly laid on a cocktail party for the night after we arrived and we heard all the gossip from the diplomatic corps and the archeological missions. We met members of the Russian mission almost every night we were there: there are a very limited number of restaurants and bars favoured by the ex-pat community.

We took the pyramid groups in chronological order, beginning with the Step-pyramid at Saqara, followed by the Bent-pyramid, the red pyramid and the Giza group. The first two sites are about an hour away in the desert and had virtually no tourists, just a dozen or so, and the “guides” and souvenir sellers have given up and found something else to do. Tourism is a disaster area.

Step Pyramid

Step Pyramid

Bent Pyramid

Bent Pyramid

Proper shape at last

Proper shape at last

Giza Group

Giza Group

Great Pyramid

Great Pyramid

The Great Pyramid group is on the outskirts of Cairo, and has virtually been engulfed by the city. It is swarming with souvenir sellers and “guides” who pester you so much that despite the pyramids being such a magnificent spectacle, it is virtually impossible to stand and contemplate them because so many people are grabbing at you, trying to get your attention, and this includes the tourist police. Most tourists arrive in a couch with an official guide so with tourism down by about 90%, the few individual explorers that do manage to get there are sitting ducks. There is proper airport security to enter the site, but the local villagers have always had the privilege of fleecing the tourists and the authorities appear disinclined or incapable of keeping them out.

At the red pyramid we had our own armed guard, following us a discrete distance – there were no other tourists at all – then someone else arrived. It was a black guy from London who had clearly assessed the situation and immediately knew how to deal with it. He ran up to the guard and said, “Yo brother, I’ve come from London to see the pyramids!” The next time I turned around, he was taking a selfie of himself with the guard who was all smiles.

The Egyptian Museum is one of the great sights on Earth. The range of Pharonic antiquities is astonishing. I am used to using the Egyptian galleries of the British Museum as a short cut when ever I go to Museum Street or Holborn, and am familiar with their haul of booty, but the quality and quantity in Cairo is breathtaking. As it should be. The Tut material is the jewel in the brown, of course, with his chariots, his golden beds, his fans and pots, his childhood toys and children’s throne. The sheer quantity of gold objects is overwhelming: the ancient Egyptians liked a big of bling and so of it is over the top. There were tourists there but it was easy enough to wait a minute or two in order to be the only one contemplating some magnificent object from 3500 BC.

As an ex-art student myself, I particularly liked the galleries of art school sketches, drawn or painted on flat fragments of marble or rock (papyrus was too expensive for practice whereas rock is free). The work had a freshness and individuality to it that is often missing from the low-reliefs and painted panels except in the most important pieces where you can see the hand of an anonymous master, or masters.

Stone Sketchbook

Stone Sketchbook

Rough Sketch

Rough Sketch

Tom left us for a while to join his friends and colleagues inside one of the Tut shrines. Of course we saw the great gold mask from his mummy, and the funerary jewelry, but to me the actual sarcophagi were more extraordinary – they fit inside each other – and the throne, which opens the exhibition, which has the original leopard-skin seat reproduced in ebony and ivory so that it will last forever.

Throne

Throne

Then of course there is medieval and Islamic Cairo!

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October 14, 2016

Less than a week after Cheltenham, I attended the Manchester Literary Festival where Iain Sinclair and I were in conversation, chaired by Doug Field, on the subject of the origins of the London sixties counter-culture, with a particular focus on the work of Jeff Nuttall. It was held in the extraordinary Victorian Gothic cathedral-like John Rylands Library and had mounted an exhibition of manuscripts and publications of Jeff’s there, including a hilarious letter by Jeff to poet Harry Fainlight and a few issues of his My Own Mag, the first cut-up magazine to be, itself, damaged and cut-up [holes in the page, burned edges, and one issue cut into eight and stapled to a backing page so you could read all the pages in cut-up form. It was important because William Burroughs was a regular contributor and ran a three-column newspaper-style text in many of the issues. In the end, Iain and I sort of agreed that Jeff was more of a precursor of the underground scene than an actual member of it: for a start Jeff hated rock ‘n’ roll, couldn’t see the rebellious or revolutionary value in it. His music was the trad jazz of twenties New Orleans and he sometimes honked away on a battered cornet to prove it. He also was opposed to drugs. He liked to sup his pint in a public bar surrounded by drinkers in flat caps. As he put it, ‘I’m for physiodelics not psychedelics’ and he hated the advocates of LSD and marijuana. The conversation was stimulating, as it always is when talking to Iain and we had a full house. Next day I saw my sister Jen for lunch who took me to Canal Street, the wonderful gay neighbourhood that I had not previously visited.

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