“When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars…” Yes. 43 years late, I caught up with that symbol of the 1960’s counter-culture “Hair”. Sandra and I had come in to town to catch up with performance poet Francesca Beard whom I had first met in Namibia, when organising the Windhoek end of her British Council programme last year. I suggested we meet in the same pub I’d enjoyed earlier in the week, The Lyric in Great Windmill Street after which we strolled round the corner to the wonderful, gilded pile that is the Gielgud Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue.
A matinée performance, it was crowded out with tourists, middle-aged ladies in town for the afternoon and a surprisingly large number of teen-aged girls in school uniform. Now, I am not easily surprised by many things but I raised my eyebrow at the idea that a musical lining up and shooting down all the sacred cows of the 1960’s is an appropriate show for impressionable, pubescent girls from “nice” homes in the leafy suburbs. Don’t forget that Hair is a celebration of fornication, drug taking, inter-racial sex and chock full of four-letter words, references to masturbation, oral sex, anal sex with on-stage simulated sex and nudity. Then again, the teen girls of the 2000’s are different from the spotty youths of my school taken to see the very dry Mrs. Warren’s Profession [she was a prostitute] by Shaw at the Old Vic in 1969.
Needless to say, I loved the show. I still mourn the passing of bell-bottoms, flowery shirts, smock tops, afghan coats and afro hair styles and this show had it all. There wasn’t really a plot – boy gets his draft card, all his friend burn theirs, he doesn’t, he goes to Vietnam and dies… It’s all about the music, the style, the attitudes which it catches with precision including the selfishness of youth, nihilism and the overwhelming innocence of a generation that thought Peace and Love could change the world. I was that bit too young to be a hippy and when I got to 18, everyone was turning to political protest, cutting their hair and wearing black. I hated punk music and felt [and still feel] that something important was lost when God Save The Queen got to number 1 in the charts.
We were wrenched back to 2010 later that afternoon. My brother John and Judith his wife were meeting us in Leicester Square before a meal in Chinatown and I had said “let’s meet outside the Odeon”. However, that box-office teen-Vampire phenomenon Twilight – Eclipse was to be premiered that very evening and the square was awash with screaming teen girls awaiting the arrival of heart-throb Edward Cullen [Robert Pattinson] and teen-babe Bella Swan [Kristen Stewart]. We got caught up in the crowds and were delayed by the stretch limos. It was fun but we were happy to disappear around the corner and into Gerrard Street for some excellent Chinese food.
Bell-bottoms may have gone and Vampires taken the place of hippies in the public imagination but the food in Chinatown is still excellent. We were ushered to a table upstairs in the Golden Dragon and treated to course after course of high-octane, fattening food that thanks to MSG, I can still feel on the tip of my tongue two-days later. I spilled seaweed on the table, overfilled my pancake rolls with duck meat, couldn’t finish the deep-fried pork [although I tried] and scoffed enough special fried rice to sink a good-sized junk! I rolled out several hours later [or so it seemed], a stone heavier and satisfied in a way that only Chinese food can make you feel. Aaah!
So, another satisfactory day. There are only a few more to go before Sandra and I head off to Southampton to jump a freighter around the Med for the next leg of our journey to Azerbaijan…