Chapter 2: The Contractors-Out
'John', a 15 year old Londoner, had left school three months before giving the interview that follows:
I never clicked with school. I mean I suppose you can consider me intelligent in quite a few ways, I mean with my writing, but I never clicked at school, I never had done. It was an absolute frustration—I mean I must have been suspended about five times, which isn't expulsion, it's suspension. You know, I mean things like uniform, and the way you talk and the way you disagree violently with the lessons, the system, the way they talk to you, not as adults but as kids, the whole thing, um .... They thought ... well ... I was simply, you know, a bit of a long-haired moron and the rest of it. I was one of those people who just did not want to be taught and we just ... me and quite a few other kids'd go away and laugh at them and if they took you into their office and caned you, we'd still walk away and laugh, until with me in the end they didn't even cane me.
John's father, a professional musician, had to pay a £30 fine because he and a group of friends had plugged a tape recorder into the amplifying system in a central London tube station and played pop music over the loudspeaker at 3 in the morning:
Now my Dad doesn't want to know any more apparently I've shown the family up, the whole thing, I'm a disgrace, talk badly, you know because they sort of ... well let's face it they're snobs, I mean I can put them in that category, I don't like to but .... Well you know I thought: 'Cut yourself off from them—right, mix with the people you ought to mix with, the people you're happy with,' and that's how I've ended up now.
John went on to describe the circumstances leading to my giving him a lift on the Great North Road:
Now my Dad, he's um, he's like . . . quite a few people are like this: he simply can't accept that maybe you've had a bit of bother. He simply feels I'm holding out on him and he was saying something about going to my bedroom and selling my record player. I thought: 'Christ, I'm your son, you can't do that, you know ...' and mutter, mutter, mutter ... something about what I've turned out to be and how I've let him down again and again and again and off he went. So, oh dear! That record player means a lot to me, I'd better watch out. So we came back at 4 in the morning and shifted the whole thing. So either way there's nothing in my house for me now, and the piano was moved out this morning through arrangement between my Mum and me. So I drift towards the house, my thoughts have nothing to centre on, no place to centre on, so I wondered: 'Right, now what?' then suddenly just like that I thought; 'I'm going up North.' So I went home got some extra clothing from my cupboard upstairs, quick as possible nipped out again, no one was in anyway, —I've still got the key, and that was it. Off I went, I was certainly cold, not exactly happy, but I sung (sic)... and that's how you found me, you know. I had pretty mixed feelings.
Like some of the people in the last chapter John was in conflict with his parents but unlike most of them he was halfway to contracting out of his community of origin. At the time of the interview he had got away from school and was in the process of breaking more and more with his father, to the extent of clearing his cherished possessions out of the house. He had three ways of living when away from home:
When I met him he was thumbing North, it didn't matter where. All he wanted was to get away from London and the home situation.
Except for hermits and the insane it is impossible to permanently contract out of one community without joining or forming another. The sort of community a rebel like John is attracted to is likely to be in conflict with the society at large, either directly in breaking the law, or through its attitudes and assumptions. Groups like London tube dossers, drug addicts, beats, flower people, skinheads etc.... are sometimes referred to as 'sub-cultures'. This is an intensely biased term, since the prefix 'sub', even if not intended to when originally used this way, has strong pejorative overtones. In fact these groups are made up for the most part of people who are in some way reacting against aspects of the dominant culture. Not being happy with the side implications of the adjective reactive in phrases like 'reactive community', or 'reactive culture', I shall use the term 'anti community' to describe, for instance, the Picadilly drug addicts. Anti here is short for 'antidrastic', simply a Creek forebear of the Latin adjective 'reactive'. The implication is that these communities spring from their members' perception or intuition of things wrong with the dominant community.
To return to John: he dossed a lot in the underground and ran into a crowd he liked there. Sometimes he would go and spend the night in the houses they did. He loved the freedom and escape from accountability he found in his new anti-community:
You might turn up at some house you don't know, and there's a girl living there and you mention something about Steve and she says: 'Yea, come in,' and you sleep in a corner there on the floor. I mean it might be a bit of a small brothel, whatever it is, you know, it might be a hang-out for addicts, or whatever it is, or whatever it is, you just take it for what it is and it's terrifically easy going and free and we like it that way, because there's absolutely no judgement at all. I mean if they ask you what you've done, you tell them, if you don't want to tell them you don't: right, that's it. They take you for what you are at that moment, and it's terrifically free, I really got on in that place.
The anti-community contrasts dramatically with the dominant one, the basic unit of which, for John, is his family:
I could stay at my parents" place, it is terribly depressing, in fact it's got terribly psychological, I feel I can't even sleep there now. Yes, you see it's that bad .... There's just that constant sort of thing in the air and the bitterness. And so if I went there now, mmm:
Though John can't stand either his authoritarian school where young adults are treated as 'kids', or his suffocating family, he isn't acceptant of the values of the tube dossing, drug taking society he has gravitated into. He likes their freedom but is shocked by some of the consequences:
Steve's house is in a filthy mess; I mean if you stub a fag out on the carpet, there's no raised eyebrows. It's like that. The place is just one hell of a mess now. It's got to the stage where you'd have to pull it down to fix it up, because there's holes in the walls upstairs .... There's Steve's sister, Teresa. She's a bit of a fool, you know. She's um, you know, as filthy as they come—there's one bastard living in the corner there, and ... well I mean they're all, they swear like hell at their mother and she might swear back and it's accepted, it's incredible.
John seems to be a person who has contracted out of his community of origin but has not been fully able to contract into the anti-community he has stumbled on. His decision to get a permanent job in a tape recorder shop suggests that he is likely to have in a way contracted back into the dominant community. One of the litmus tests for deciding whether a person has contracted out of the ordinary community is his attitude to regular work.
John is an example of a person in a halfway house between the rebellious teenagers of the last chapter and the total contractors out. The pressures are too strong for him to carry on his liberation struggle within the setting of the home, so he cuts out. Hitch-hiking away from the home area is one of the forms of flight and revolt he adopts. But the 'Steve' anti-community he joins for a time is one into which he cannot fully melt—in many ways it shocks him. So in the long run John's 'contracting out' is likely to have been simply a necessary episode between leaving school and taking a permanent job.
The drug addict 'George' is quite a different case. He has broken completely with his family, not having seen his father for 3 years and his mother only once in this period. Unlike John, he does not half-hanker to go home—the only other person from his family he sees from time to time is his sister. This is how he describes the break:
For 3 years he's been a member of the drug-taking anti-community, on mainly heroin and methadrine. For him hitch-hiking is not part of symbolic escape from home—the real escape is a matter of long established fact—it is much more a way of ensuring mobility with almost no money, it is an essential part of the mechanics of this anti-community's life:
Mostly it's been hitch-hiking round London. Suppose I went, say, to Barnet and I got stuck, I'd hitch-hike it back. But it's hard hitching through London. I used to go down to Crawley a lot hitch-hiking, down the A.23, sort of to get to Croydon .... I've got friends down there, get a lot of junkies down there, mostly because there's a big drugs scene down there, same as Welwyn Garden City.
George was an active, integrated member of the drug anti-community in that he frequently pushed heroin, as well as obtaining supplies for his own personal use. He seems to have felt safest in certain 'drug territories' in central London where he could live within the drug scene, without his membership of an anti-community bringing him into direct conflict with the community at large. It is clear from his interview that he is happiest in places like St Martin's-in-the-Fields and in certain clubs and coffee bars round Piccadilly and Trafalgar Square. In the summer he sometimes goes South or West but his anti-community stands out much more in small seaside places like Torquay than in London, so there is more risk of clashes with the dominant society, especially as represented by the police. One can sense how comparatively exposed George feels when he leaves the London scene:
It is in places like Torquay that drug-takers and long haired people who find it hard to fit into the patterns of the dominant society are welded into real anti-communities by the hostility of the local host communities, which particularly in the West Country tend to be conservative particles of the dominant society. Methodist Devon and Cornwall already resent the tidal wave of tourists who are their living, the only alternative to total economic stagnation, so it is not surprising that they vent their bile on the long-haired. The hippies become the scapegoats for pent-up resentment against the economically necessary tourist invasion.
When someone like George goes to the West Country, hitch-hiking is one of the only forms of voluntary interaction he has with members of the dominant community. The raised thumb is a request by the contractor-out for cooperation from the community he has contracted out of. This rouses the wrath of 'ordinary citizens'. So this Aston Martin driver, interviewed on the Exeter by-pass and asked whether he would pick up hitch-hikers:
I certainly would not stop for them. I don't want those smelly, lousy, hermaphrodite beatniks in my car.
A French social worker gives more articulate expression to a parallel line of thought:
In as far as I respect the hitch-hiker he should respect me, the driver, and I wonder to what extent there is contempt for me on his part. There seem to be a number of young people who take advantage of the bourgeois as a matter of principle, well ... of the property owner, if you prefer, of the person who has a place in.the materialist system and who has accepted the society we live in. There is a whole group of people, call them beatniks if you like, though the term is vague, for whom it is a matter of principle to reject the society we live in but who at the same time take advantage of it.
The contempt and hostility of West Country people for the hippies coagulate them into a clear and visible anti-community. Take a place like St Ives in Cornwall: the police do them for smoking pot, though drunken trippers are left in peace unless they try and drive a car; shop-keepers and cafe owners put up notices: 'No Beatniks here', with alI the overtones of: 'We like doggies but ...', 'Whites only'. In the mid sixties the local council appealed to the townspeople not to employ, accommodate or associate in any way with this 'undesirable element' (August 1963). There was talk of putting coping along the top of the harbour wall to deny it to sun-loving beatniks, of hiring an ex-policeman with an alsation to make sure they didn't sleep out on the beaches at night, and even of raising a vigilante group from the local rugby team. St Ives' welcome to long haired people throughout the sixties has been such that they inevitably coalesce into a psychologically self-defensive group. They have to.
While St Ives has a mainly Southern tourist trade, Newquay, further up the coast, caters more for Northern people and most of the hotel owners are from the North. This town has taken a much more violent line than St Ives, where worse was proposed than actually done. In the mid-sixties the Newquay council made it impossible for anybody to sleep rough by organizing night dog patrols all along the front and cliff tops. The result was to drive long haired drug takers into the already overcrowded servants' quarters of hotels where their friends were working. The hotels have to turn a blind eye because they desperately need any staff they can get in season. When the hippies are faced with a community like Newquay that terrorises them with alsatians simply because they want to lie on the beach at night rather than in the day time like other people, it is hardly surprising that they jell into a quite definite anticommunity.
One of the things that probably most riles the puritan mind is that the long haired seem to live without labour. They lounge around alI day like Aesop's grass-hopper, instead of earning the 'right to leisure' by hard work. Local people wonder suspiciously how they manage to get enough food to stay alive, for even though the beatnik needs no money in summer for shelter or travel, he does need a bit for drugs and food. The four main ways of guaranteeing minimum subsistence are:
West Country people are quite right in thinking that hippies are opposed to a certain idea of work. According to Mr Polkinghorne, probation officer for the area round Torquay in 1969, a lot of the boys who get in trouble tell him they have come down from the North of England: because I didn't want to go into the mill. He feels that they came South because of dreary home surroundings and because of the legend of easy drugs, easy sex and a mild climate. Beatniks interviewed by an Exeter Express and Echo reporter in 1965 said they didn't mind living rough:
'We enjoy it. I was an apprentice painter in Derby but these paint fumes burn up your chest, and who wants to work for somebody else anyway?
The report goes on: This was a common outlook among the dozen or so beatniks I met: 'We can work for £12 a week and be making a profit of £60 a week for the boss. Why bother when we can get by like this?' said 18 year old Mick Goodwin from Stockport.
Taken all in all it is not surprising that West Country people with dour Methodist roots and traditions should dislike long-haired young people who take the sun instead of working, who take pot instead of alcohol, who sleep on beaches instead of in cramped boarding house beds, who travel by 'begging' instead of paying their fares, and who, in a small number of cases, can be triumphantly convicted of robbing doorsteps of the odd bottle of milk. Hostility in the socially backward South West is no great surprise to the investigator, but it is striking that the vast majority of the items in my file on contractors-out are either derisory or condemnatory. Most of the people writing about contractors-out take absolutely for granted that the values of the dominant society are unquestionably right and that those who feel differently are sick, wicked or odd. It seems to rarely occur to anybody that if a young person gets to the psychological point of contracting out of his society there must ù be violent pressures on him to have driven him into it. It is not an easy or happy development, but in certain situations it may be a sanity saving one. I would say that this was probably so in the case of 'John', discussed at the beginning of the chapter. He was almost certainly right to rebel against the authoritarianism of his school, the irrelevance of much of the subject matter taught and the attitudes of many of the teachers. He was almost certainly right to react against the closeness of his home. Many people don't manage to actively react against psychologically intolerable situations and this inability is overcrowding our mental hospitals. If children are brought up in the Dickensian slums of the Northern cotton towns is it unhealthy that they should want to avoid going into the mill?
The existence of an anti-culture like the hippies or of a quite different one like the skinheads ought to provoke people to wonder about the values of the dominant society that these groups call into question. The emergence of anti-communities is perhaps an indication that certain things are wrong with the dominant community. The problem is not solved by making the hippy cut his hair and the skinhead grow his.
Possibly the most complete form of contracting-out is to leave not only one's home and occupation but one's country as well. The people who decide to hitch off abroad indefinitely soon find themselves absorbed into an international anti-community which is continuously on the move but which has focal points in places like Tangiers, Paris, Rome, Istanbul, Kabul, Katmandu and until summer 1970 the caves of Crete. A glance at press cuttings documenting international reaction to the long haired gives some idea of the hippy anti-community's transcontinental scale:
The huge, fluid anti-community moving ceaselessly over Europe and Asia depends for its amazing mobility almost entirely on thumbing lifts. The size of the hippy hitch-hiking migration along the classic route of the sixties between Europe and Afghanistan and then on to Nepal is hard to estimate with any accuracy. The Observer (24 September 1967) hazarded this informed guess:
Figures provided by the immigration departments through which they pass suggest that the number moving between Europe and India and back at any one time is not less than 10,000.
In 1970 the Times Athens correspondent, Mario Modiano, reckoned that the hippy population of the Cretan caves fluctuated between a low-season figure of about 150 and rose to a high of 1,000 in the summer.
In the caves of Matala the hippies seem to have achieved the ultimate in setting up an anti-community. They lived apart from the host community, relying on it simply for the purchase of a simple diet. They neither molested nor were molested. A sign on the beach at Matala read:
Stranger, you who come here, forget Vietnam and Biafra and love man and nature.
In the cliff caves of Southern Crete, the hippies established a successfully functioning, unharassed social unit of their own an anti-community similar in some ways to the sort of anti-community a monastery is. It is the human warmth and comradeship of places like Matala (now no longer thanks to the Greek church authorities and the colonels) that make the roamings of the international hippy bearable. Stays and stop-overs in places like this, in the heart of his own community, away from the incomprehension and hostility of the outside, allow the hippy to refuel emotionally and then move on.
One of the most incredible documents to come into my hands is the Paris Prefecture of Police report on beatniks published in the Interpol journal (Revue de Crime et de Police Internationale) in the November 1968 issue. One might have hoped for a serious and unbiased examination of the phenomenon of the Seine-bank hippies and beatniks, but the writer of the piece mixes his statistical evidence with paragraphs like this:
The real beatnik—at least in Paris—is distinguished by dirt, sloppiness, laziness and a liking for the tramp's life. Red wine flows freely, they search each other for fleas, couples make love unashamedly. Even if only a few indulge in such behaviour, the spectacle they make of themselves is still intolerable.
This kind of writing on the contractors-out is of great interest. The author's ludicrous hostility of tone shows the extent to which these young people's contracting-out of his society worries him. If alI they are doing is drinking red wine and picking mutual fleas why should we get so hot under the collar about it? In fact the police writer's descent from objectivity of presentation into subjective abuse betrays his anxiety.
All the same the obstrusion of the author's own state of mind does not rob the statistics collected by the Paris Police of a certain qualified interest. Of the 1,000 'beatniks' questioned in June, July and August 1966 in central Paris, 818 were men and 182 (18.2%) were.girls. Just under half were foreigners, 491. 33 nationalities were represented, with the Northern Europeans in the numerical lead:
'Nomadism' is one of the features of the beat anti-community which most struck the Paris police investigators:
Travelling, especially by hitch-hiking, is one of the main attractions of this type of life. The beatniks on the banks of the Seine are always passing through, on their way from Amsterdam to Rome and elsewhere. There was even a plan for large numbers to meet in Istanbul on 15 August 1967. During the summer they travel throughout Europe.
One of the things the police wanted to find out was why young people joined the anti-community. These were the answers they got:
Some of the verbatim replies they got were:
No one offered me a job I liked.
The police were curious to know how beatniks got enough money to live—these were percentage answers:
12% live with their parents.
Clearly these results must be read with some disbelief as the 1,000 respondents were questioned at police stations by uniformed police officers or by people from the juvenile crime squad under conditions of temporary arrest—a bizarre interview situation. This explains why no mention is made by respondents of income from sales of drugs, and prostitution is not touched on. Only 2% speak of begging. These 3 activities, especially drug trading, would certainly figure in less abnormally collected information.
In the course of interviewing contractors-out I hit on one man who has been on the road on and off since 1964 and who expresses the feel and thought processes of the international anti-community so well I want to let him speak in a piece, without the interruption of analytical comment.
Brought up by his grandparents in Leicester, he used to go on huge bicycle trips in early teenage. He first hitched at 14, while still at school. He left the dominant community at 16 and had been in the beat anti-community for the 6 years previous to the interview. He was 22 at that time. 2 of the 6 years had been spent in a Greek prison on a hashish smuggling conviction:
Next he went to Copenhagen:
Well it was a very freaky time, things were coming ... things were coming to a head after being subterranean for so long, you know ... people, blues, jazz, happenings, poetry, it was all reaching the surface, now, '65. Remember the epidemic of '66, '67, you know, Sergeant Pepper scene, you know, flower children in Hyde Park. I mean '64, this was happening in the smaller groups and it just got ... circle became stronger and more intense and burst open and then flooded around and created more ... larger circle until it finally exploded and this was going on in Copenhagen. It was my really first contact with poetry and jazz sessions, introduction to poetry and jazz that really turned me on. Poetry was just an imaginative thought to me, never really realised. So when this happened to me I changed a lot of outlooks ....
He married Maria:
He's tried street painting in Copenhagen but the police stopped that. Then he got a labouring job, but still needed a visa:
As winter approached he and Maria went South West to Istanbul:
We stayed in Istanbul about two weeks. We blew our brains out, you know, we smoked hash every night, um, we managed to make it down to the hospital to get our immunisation shots, smallpox and cholera, we managed somehow to make it to the consulate to get our visas for Iran and somehow through a remarkable escapade we managed to get out of Istanbul, which is so hard to do, as I know.
Interviewer: Why, because you wa... you want to stay?
Maria and he went as far as Afghanistan but turned back with dysentery. The return to Istanbul brought the end to their marriage. He left her, went to Greece, and was jailed for being in possession of pot. At the time of the interview he was about to set off on a trip to Australia.
The above extracts from the interview with the Leicester contractor-out show clearly how the international beat-hippy anti-community flows this way and that over the map of capitalist Europe and Asia, coagulating into definite, tangible scenes in various crossroad cities.
One senses from Robert's words how vital these focal points of the anticommunity are. The contractor-out can fully be himself once he reaches a haven like the net in Vienna or the cafe scene in Copenhagen. While hitch-hiking the beatnik or hippy is an alien, he is a member of an anti-community entering the world of the dominant community. Drivers may often treat him kindly but they perceive him as an alien, and over a long period this in itself is wearying, like being Gulliver on exhibition in the land of the giants.
The hippy anti-community emerges as a pretty structured society. It has its own uniform, hair style, vocabulary, travel habits, cultural orientation and practical philosophy. Its attitude to life, as seen through Robert, is a quietist-hedonistic one. He perceives the dominant society as having an upside-down set of values but his reaction is to withdraw and live his own scene quite independently—he shows no signs of wanting to convert anyone else to his way of thinking. He refuses permanent work, a permanent place to live, when travelling he refuses to pay fares and usually to pay for hotels. But all these are negative refusals, not active, positive, confrontational refusals—they do not interfere with the day to day business of the dominant community.
It is the quietism of the hippies that confuses and angers the conformist members of the dominant culture. They know how to react to left wing protesters, student demonstrators and people actively intent on transforming society: throw the book at them, use vice-chancellors, police and judges to repress them on every front. You can imprison a man who actively protests, but what can you do with a man who, turning his back, forms his own new community? Robert feels that the frontier authorities in many of the countries along the road to India would like to stem the flow of beats and somehow contain them—he says this attitude is hitting people who are still creating, you know, their own movements, by themselves without paying; they're going from A to B without paying, you know, they're hitch-hiking. It's a kind of capitalism in a way wanting to make them go by trains and buses.
The impotent, pent-up rage of the Danish immigration official at shoulder length hair is typical of society's reaction to the hippies' implicit calling in question of the dominant cultural values. Robert's reaction to him was simply to move on and remain unconstricted. He talks of settled work being a narrow tunnel, he compares the breadth of Istanbul to the restriction of Leicester, he insists on the right to move, to meet and to be free. He spent 2 years in a Greek jail for his right to smoke pot if he wants to. He and the whole of his scene stand very close to Walt Whitman when he writes in Song of the Open Road:
From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines,