Wednesday, 26 January 2011
Confessions of a Failed Hippy
Every Christmas sees Oxford Town Hall host a Green Fair, an affair which is part joy, part ordeal, but always compulsive to me. Seeing the stalls on whale, planet and human saving in the smaller halls manned by those gaunt earnest atheist and Quaker faces I know so well, I feel at home and yet also a stranger.
Growing up, this was my world and yet here I am now estranged from it. I want to support all this goodness and worthiness and be a better Pedestrian or Agricprop yet feel suspicious as to how accurate and impartial the information on planetary abuses is provided by each stall, though why I should feel suspicious of small concerns who stand to make little or no money out of their views opposing the activities of (usually) global corporations making pots of the stuff perturbs me. Why should the stallholders' agenda be any more sinister? If they had no agenda, perhaps they wouldn't be there, wouldn't care. But are they there because they truly care about these things or because they need a cause?
Are there so many Atheists and Humanists into Veganism because they do not believe in God/the afterlife and therefore seek to live as long as possible through enhanced nutrition? Why are they almost messianic about wishing to convert others? Why have I never been able to contemplate dating one, despite sharing so many concerns about health, animal and planetary welfare?
Disturbing thoughts swirl around my head. Like women's rights meaning there's an unspoken edict you have to believe in the whole package including abortion-on-demand, there is an overriding sense that an alternative or 'thinking' person has to buy into the whole ideological package if they are not to compromise their moral integrity - you can't simply eat the lentils and let the Whales die or be a car owner who happens to cycle a bit. It's all or nothing. A total inner climate change.
One minute I am overwhelmed by a wave of goodness and the tie dye-clad beatniks of East Oxford out in force and the next I find myself a tad breathless and queasy. In the main hall, my impulse is to buy the rough-hewn handicrafts because I'm supporting something good, but the design snob side of my brain quickly cuts in with a 'No, those misshapen bowls are overpriced, poorly made and of no use to man or beast!', refusing to let me buy anything which is not (in William Morris's words) both 'useful and beautiful.'
I feel like a strange hybrid trapped between two worlds, the ideological and the conventional. It was a lifelong ambition to be normal and break away from the hair shirt childhood of constant ridicule where chocolate was a once-a-year Easter treat and Vegan parents sent rambling angst-ridden letters to Vegan Views asking what should they do about their son or daughter's school egg and spoon race, as REAL eggs were being proposed and the school would not countenance substitutes, but now I'm in my childhood dream position of being able to eat marshmallows (and even eggs) for breakfast, lunch and dinner, they've somehow lost their appeal.
Then again my parents were a strange mix of 50s conservatism and hippyish ideals, particularly the veganism and atheism, but minus the drugs and sleeping around, and even in my father's case - the kaftan or flares - he's always worn a suit all his life, rain, shine, and holiday alike. My mother went to India to find herself in the mid-60s and wore a Shalwar Kameez to marry my father before promptly packing all hint of exoticism in a studded blanket box.
I espy 'Spinning Jenny' on the corner stall sporting unbleached cotton harem pants and hand-beaded top selling her expensive Indian rugs for which she makes half a dozen trips a year to India, and spends the rest of her weekends driving around the country in a transit to hold stalls at various Green Fairs where her unfettered twin daughters run amok in their more-practical tumble wear patchwork outfits.
I smile in my evilly-dyed normal clothes, wondering how I would come out in an audit of who actually lived the lowest carbon-impact life, taking into account that I was raised a Vegan from birth, am child-free. inhabit low-impact housing, wear my clothes until irrepairable, seldom fly and didn't drive until 33.
Ultimately though, perhaps the moral unrest the yearly Green Fair wreaks on my soul has a simpler explanation, guilt. I could do MORE to save my fellow citizens and planet, as oppose to just finding more excuses not to, I could try harder not to betray my roots, I could try harder to like Fairtrade chocolate.
And at least idealism is more fashionable and comfortable now.
The smugness would surely be worth it.