The faculty are very understanding. They’ve seen it all before: it’s 1977, and they teach philosophy. They don’t criticise, or delve, or suggest counselling (there isn’t any), but just say ‘oh dear, well never mind then,’ in slightly more elevated language and tell me that I can simply resit the exam at the start of the next year and carry on regardless. So I am excused to stay on for the summer and hold the share house we have lucked into, while the others are doing those summer things, to prepare for this resit, which I already know will never happen.
In the Christmas holidays I visit Ari at home. Just as I’m leaving Ari thrusts a small something wrapped in tissue at me. I open it on the train. Two matchbox sized sheets of silver, hinged at one corner, thin sheets of bone between them: an Edwardian dance card, on which is written in pencil Lovers come and lovers go / but friends are hard to find / Yes I can count all mine / on one finger.
It makes me smile, and something else, something tectonic, happens in my chest. I know I’m not supposed to mention it, so I never do.
One night in someone’s room I open the gatefold sleeve of Blonde on Blonde and take hours to roll a preposterous joint that goes all the way across both discs. Someone takes a photo of me unsuccessfully attempting to smoke it. When The Big Bust happens, the policeman searching his room points at this photo, stuck to the wall and says “Who’s this? We’d very much like to speak to him.” Someone dummies up, but I am as pleased as punch when he tells me this story because, theatrics aside, I have nothing to fear from any such encounter.
I move in to the share house for the summer. It’s in Newtown: all long Edwardian terraces with bay windows and low brick walls, rundownish, multiracial, studenty, and raffish. The woman in the house next door stands in the window waiting for custom, looking like she is at the bus stop. We take no notice, and when I discover ‘Sweet Jane‘ one day and play it over and over, and over and over and over again she knocks on the door and says very nicely could I keep it down as she is trying to get the kids to sleep.
I know I’m going home in autumn, but also that I’d rather be here. I say to myself that I am dropping out because I need to be back home with Ann. Also spending summer in the house is Crackle, who was caught up in The Big Bust, and has to stay down and do youth work as part of her probation. I go sometimes with her to the adventure playground, where the youth look at me sideways, if at all. In the rundown New Farm House we show each other some modest affection and are thrown out: dirty hippies.
At the very fag end of the year we drive across to Stonehenge for the free festival. I have been here before only elsewhere, much younger, when it was all adventure, and this feels like a half baked rehash of being 15. So I sit, aloof, leaning against the car, transistor pressed to ear, listening to Australia and England at Lord’s on Test Match Special, John Arlott’s descriptive, lyrical burr cutting through thuds from the stage. In the evening some people send up a homemade hot air balloon, which catches alight. It’s hardly anything, but it makes an impression, strangely enough.
There’s a crinkly alternative veneer, and if x has been up to London and brought back a bag of y there’s extra excitement, especially if a passing policeman gives x a dirty look and he has to throw the bag of y in a hedge and go back for it at two o’clock in the morning. But we are actually more interested in which pub serves Marston’s Pedigree, or Eldridge Pope’s Thomas Hardy’s Ale, or, our especial delight, Gale’s Horndean Special Bitter. One night a landlady tears me off a strip for swearing and I can almost taste the soap.
Ari and I hitch up to town for John Cale. Halfway there we are in a shop buying sweets when I realise I’ve forgotten the tickets. I hitch back and she hitches on. Then I get the train up and the tube to Chalk Farm. There’s a dense crowd outside the Roundhouse: I look around and there she is, waving. John Cale comes on wearing a rugby shirt and an ice-hockey goalie’s mask. He has a bit of a gut, he radiates something ugly. This isn’t the night he decapitates a chicken onstage, but he might as well have done.
Crackle’s parents come down for her meeting with the probation officer. I go with them and wait outside in their car. Her mum just looks intensely worried and keeps glancing at me and half smiling, in supplication, as if I’m of some use: while her dad, like all dads, just leans back and squints at me, as if he is looking at me through a large spyglass that he is holding the wrong way round. “I don’t know how long we’ll be,’ he says, ‘You can have the radio on but not for too long or you’ll drain the battery.’
In July we go to the Cambridge Folk Festival. Crackle is there, and someone and someone, and x, who’s from Cambridge and will steal books from Heffers to order, or in this instance some of the festival p.a. He has a wolfish grin and is faintly alarming. Ann comes too, on her Honda 70, and meets us there. It’s all a bit awkward, and memories of last year make it more so, until the Albion Country Band lead the dance in a big open sided tent, the smell of crushed grass taking us all back in time, smiling, whirling.