The story begins with this bloke called ‘Ubi’, who, with his friend, Sid Rawle, ‘organised’ (I have to put that within inverted commas because there was very little organisation) the first Windsor Free Festival in 1972.
Although I had only just turned seventeen, both Ubi and Sid had been corresponding with me for some time, because of my interest in alternative politics, pirate radio, and publications such as International Times and Oz. They sent me lots of leaflets and tracts, which I later discovered were printed via the photocopiers of the Civil Service for whom Ubi worked during the day. He was an evening anarchist.
These one page leaflets seemed extraordinarily exotic to me, often printed on pink paper, and containing bizarre stories of UFOs, London squats, and police activity in Notting Hill.
They always had this odd address at the top of the badly typewritten pamphlets, “BM – Circle” with a Holborn postcode.
It all felt like a million miles away from suburban Middlesex.
When Ubi sent me one of his short, unusual letters, accompanied by a page of scrawled information about the free festival he was putting together in Windsor, it only took a few moments of persuasion to encourage three of my friends to agree to come along to this oasis of anarchy, about ten miles from our home town.
We travelled in an incredibly decrepit ex-Post Office van, which had been rather randomly painted with yellow gloss, but miraculously it had a ‘state of the art’ cassette player. As we only had one cassette (Creedence Clearwater Revival), choice of music was rather limited.
I remember the van had no seats in the back, and have a vivid memory of arriving at Home Park in Windsor, and tumbling out of the back doors with a lurching sense of nausea, having spent twenty minutes rolling about in the back of the van. I remember Datchet, in particular, had very windy, bumpy roads.
The light was already fading, and we headed towards where we could hear the noise. As we got closer to the source, we realised that the noise was actually the generator mixed in with the sound of (I think) the Pink Fairies. There was almost no lighting around the area, apart from that provided by some sensible hippies who had brought candles.
In my memory, each band that clambered on to the rudimentary stage blurred into each other. The generator broke down approximately every ten minutes. As night fell, people succumbed to the effects of alcohol and ‘substances’, and there was a sense of confusion, only lightened by the continual shouts for ‘Wally’, who never seemed to be found.
(There is a whole story waiting to be written on the ‘Wally’ phenomenon of the early 1970s).
I was a bit scared.
The music became incidental. People were walking around in a rather random way. Some people lit bonfires and were breaking branches from trees to use as fuel.
Nobody was in charge; there was no source of information, no toilets, no water, no food, and no shelter.
The four of us decided to camp amidst the trees of Home Park; that is, camp in the sense of lying down on the damp grass and trying to sleep under the stars. We had no tent or sleeping bags. I had my aspiring-to-be-a-hippy greatcoat, but quickly discovered there wasn’t that much great about it when it came to keeping out the late summer chill in Berkshire.
We couldn’t sleep. It was cold and damp. People were acting oddly, stumbling around like so many extras, under fire, in a Vietnam War movie. I had never experienced anything like this before.
I don’t remember which of us finally had the courage to suggest we might head back to the sanctuary of the van, and return homewards, but I do recall that there was no need for discussion. I was up and ready to go in a second.
How we found the van I have no idea, but I was really grateful to be rolling around in the back as we cornered and bumped our way back through Datchet.
It must have been about four o’clock in the morning when I returned home. I sat in a boiling hot bath for about an hour, just to try and regain the feeling in my frozen arms and legs.
Next weekend, I will be back in Home Park again. Years go by, and our lives take twists and turns. I am no longer a part-time hippy with waist length hair and patchouli oil behind my ears.
I’ll be attending the Royal Windsor Horse Show, but as I sip my coffee, and watch the show jumping, I might just close my eyes for a moment, and concentrate really hard. Just in case I can hear if anyone is still shouting out for Wally. I hope and pray I don’t hear the distant sound of Hawkwind and the spluttering of a generator. I’d be scared all over again.