Whatever happened to Ed Victor?

Jenny Diski

  • Hippie Hippie Shake: The Dreams, the Trips, the Trials, the Love-ins, The Screw Ups … The Sixties by Richard Neville
    Bloomsbury, 376 pp, £18.99, May 1995, ISBN 0 7475 1554 9

‘Time! It’s passing. Oh, God. Time!’ mourned the legal adviser to Oz, transfixed by his wristwatch after his first and last joint. Who said nothing profound ever came of smoking the weed? Time was passing. It has passed. Twenty-five years after the dope, the hair, the music and the flowery rhetoric flowed free, those of us who were young enough to inhabit the land of spiked milk and honeyed hash fudge are in our forties and fifties. Which is only to be expected, although, of course, it was the last thing that anyone did, in fact, expect. There’s nothing more difficult to get a solid grip on (except perhaps the Anthropic Principle in quantum physics) than the passage of time between being young, and the discovery that, at best, you’re halfway through your allocation It feels as if an error has been made – a decade skipped by some careless calendar designer. Try and make sense of it: 25 years ago I was 23. All right, that’s not so difficult. Twenty-five years before that the date was 1945: the war had just ended, and I was two years short of being born. Twenty-five years from now it will be 2020 and I’ll be 73 (maybe). Which is ridiculous – these are altogether different sorts of 25 years, surely? Why didn’t anyone tell us about time passing, the way it accelerates, how it skitters along without so much as a pardon-me-do-you-know-you’re-in-the-way? It would be a simple enough statement: you get three lots of 25 years and then you die. It’s possible, of course, that someone might have mentioned it, but we had the music (‘The Times They Are a-Changing’; ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’; ‘My g-g-Generation’) turned up too high to hear.

It probably wouldn’t have made any difference. Unless you were listening to Cliff Richard or attending Billy Graham’s hallelujah meetings, the Sixties (not the decade, but that period from 1965 to 1972ish) were irresistible. They have been the good fortune and the curse of my generation (‘May you live through interesting times’): we thank our lucky stars that our time for being young was then and not the Eighties or Nineties, but found – or find – ourselves a little slow to get on with the getting on, hypnotised as we are by the brief period of excitement in our past.

Hippie Hippie Shake (what a title, for goodness sake) includes a multitude of photographs of Richard Neville in his twenties, but none of him in middle age; the writing, too, tells of his adventures then, even his hesitations, but there’s no sense of having moved on intellectually or emotionally, of the man reassessing the boy. The present is barely referred to beyond the fact that he lives back in Australia and has a wife and two children. Of course, what he’s up to and thinking now isn’t necessarily any of our business, and he may have actually intended to write a book that merely described the events that brought him to the dock of the Old Bailey rather than a thoroughgoing analysis of the period, but the time warped effect contributes to the slightness of the enterprise. A lot of grand thoughts were rolling around – counter-culture, revolution, alternative reality – but when all is said and done in Neville’s recollection, it appears it was little more than a hiatus, an overextended gap year between school and real life.

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