When I popped into Lowe’s recently to buy a wood grain colored power strip it was the arrival of summer so I had to walk through an indoor labyrinth of lawn mowers, barbeques, patio furniture, pressure washers, and fire pits. The fire pit trend seems to be getting more extensive; there were fire pits of all kinds. And I thought to myself everything old is new again; the fantastic conversation pit from the 1960s has just been moved outdoors. I moved aimlessly, lost in the fire pit maze, until I was stopped by a cluster of stones and rocks; but these were not traditional hardscaping rocks. They rocks were labeled Stone Solar Spot Lights, also known as Solar Rock Lights. I sunk into one of the wicker patio conversation set chairs and was soon thinking about some of the stones and rocks I had come across.
After Jeff Ferris and I had been in London for a few months and were settled into a Tooting Bec terrace with four other English lads we made a deep and thoughtful decision; maybe it was the excessive pints of bitter one Friday night that caused our determination to hitchhike around England. In the seventies hitchhiking was an accepted, safe, viable means of traveling, especially in England and Europe. Motorists and truck drivers were in harmony with the concept of people standing on the side of the road with their thumb in the air hitching a ride. Spring was on the cusp and we were both to start jobs as life guards in two different London suburban swimming pools just before the start of summer; and so we both had a few idle weeks to fill. We had no plan or itinerary. We would just hitchhike. No Australian searching for inspiration and idealism would not honor a drunkenly made decision; especially to four English house mates. And so Jeff and I set off.
I think we decided that Brighton, about 50 miles south of London, would be our first stop. We knew of Brighton because in the seventies the town wore two badges; one was a tacky seaside town for Londoners to spend their summer seaside vacation in a deck chair on a stone and pebble beach and then promenade the Brighton Pier. The second badge was the beach clashes between the mods and rockers in the sixties known as the Battle of Brighton. The melee’s became the inspiration for the Who’s second rock opera album Quadrophenia; the story of a young working-class mod named Jimmy who enjoys drugs, beach fights and romance, and his searching for self-worth and importance.
We had forgotten the lesson learned in Genoa about two males with knapsacks trying to hitch a ride and Jeff and I waited together, with our arms outstretched and thumbs upright for hours, for the lift that never came. We thought long and hard for a tactic that would get us to Brighton: and with a cleverness that surprised us both we opted to split up and meet at the Brighton Youth Hostel. That night Jeff and I reunited at the hostel. I have sparse memories about Jeff and I hitchhiking together around England; alone on the road but reconnecting at night in a different Youth Hostel. I forget the few towns and cities we stopped at and the streets we wandered. I think it was around the end of the first week of hitchhiking together when Jeff decided he was going to circle back to London. I took the fork in the road and announced that I was going to hitchhike from the Southern most tip of Great Britain to the Northern tip: Land’s End to John O’Groats, an eight hundred plus mile journey. I didn’t plan out the journey but just accepted that where ever the ride that stopped for me was going, then that’s where I was going.
I don’t recall if finding Stonehenge was on my way to Land’s End or just where my thumb took me on the journey to John O’ Groats. My Stonehenge didn’t have a path snaking through the Salisbury Plain from the tourist ticket office and parking area to the fenced off stones. I just walked up to the stones and touched them; you could wander through the stones and run your hand across and around them, sprawl on the rough grass and look up as they became silhouetted against the sky; shadows forming as the sun and clouds disappeared behind the megaliths. There wasn’t a visitor center to view a Stonehenge video or buy a guidebook so it didn’t matter that I didn’t know what it was all about, it was better that I didn’t; maybe it wasn’t about the stones but more about the mystique that belonged to them. I put a small pebble picked from the rough grass into my pocket.
As autumn blossomed, Jeff and I made another deep and thoughtful decision; maybe it was the excessive pints of bitter on another Friday night that caused us to proclaim: we will drive our Ford Angelia van across Europe and the Middle East to India. During the day we meandered along European highways, lane ways, winding narrow roads, roundabouts, villages, towns, and cities. Under the cover of darkness we would park the Angelia in village squares, side streets, or any out of the way place we could find and then clamber into our sleeping in the back. It was a cold and misty early morning, and we were parked in the plaza of a small village in the northern mountains of Greece, when Jeff and I were woken by the roar of truck engines, the crashing of doors and the clatter of boots on cobblestones. It was a house search. It was the Regime of the Colonels; anyone could be arrested without warrant at any time and brought before a military court to be tried. We drove to Athens that day. The Plaka, in the shadow of the Acropolis, is the oldest section of Athens.
In the seventies the streets were lined with small pastry shops, old men playing backgammon, nightclubs, and street vendors selling the best ever pita wrapped souvlaki. Motor bikes, delivery trucks and cars zipped and sped through the entanglement. The government eventually outlawed amplified music and the smashing of plates in restaurants in the Plaka to get rid of the undesirables. My Acropolis didn’t have three subway stops, pedestrian friendly avenues lined with cafes and restaurants providing an easy walk to a ticket kiosk, or an Acropolis museum. We walked the twisted hilly narrow streets of the Plaka to wander freely and sit alone among the stones; sometimes using one as a back rest to watch Athens stretching out endlessly below. On other days I sat inside the curved outside pillars of the Parthenon and mused over the irony of Greece; the birthplace of democracy and the Olympics: And now a country under military rule, a dictatorship of repression, torture, and grief. In the middle of scrambling down a walkway to leave the Acropolis I bent down and picked up and pocketed a small stone. You can still wander the Acropolis; the admission price is 20 euro.
Even though martial law had been declared in Ankara and Istanbul and eleven major provinces of Turkey after the 1971 military coup the hippie trail between Europe and South Asia still started in Istanbul. The streets surrounding the Blue Mosque were the parking garages for Magic buses, Volkswagen vans, and other painted up cars and vans; we parked the Angelia in the shadow of the Mosque.
We left Istanbul with two passengers to share the cost of petrol; an Englishman and American. Jeff and I knew the seriousness of possessing drugs in Turkey and were assured that our new passengers had complied with our no drugs in the Angelia rule. Several hours from Istanbul we were waved to a stop at a night time police road block; they found no drugs. Five minutes after the search the Englishman pulled out a swollen joint for us to celebrate them finding no drugs. We jettisoned the Englishman. The American was driving and negotiating a narrow, dirt and rocky road, clinging to the mountains of northern Turkey. There was one rock to many for the Angelia and the sump was cracked and began leaking oil; we made the brilliant decided to plug the leak by stuffing grass into the oil fill cap. It worked: so we stuffed more, and then some more. The engine seized, leaving us in a desolate mountain range pondering what to do. On entering Turkey a vehicle was stamped in the driver’s passport. This was done to stop you from selling the car for a bunch of money and then leaving the country. In the seventies Turkey was a country of 1950 cars and horses pulling carts. The Angelia was stamped in Jeff’s passport. Hours later a truck came by and with made up sign language, charades, and broken English we thought the driver would explain our predicament to the commander of the army base in the nearby village. The commander arrived in an army jeep. He certainly understood our conundrum and he would do us a favor if we gave him the Angelia; he would null and void the entry in Jeff’s passport and give us a lift to the village.
We never saw the local buses so we did as the locals do; negotiate rides with truck drivers who were heading to another town after dropping off a load of goods. We bounced on truck flatbeds and the beds of empty dump trucks through small towns and villages until we reached the Turkish Iranian border. We were stoned in just about every small town we passed through. When the truck slowed down to pass through the town and we were caught sight of, children would pick up rocks and stones and run after the truck throwing them until the truck sped up. I picked up one of the rocks from the truck bed and slipped it into my pocket.
It was forty plus year after I was strolling the Salisbury Plains when I dreamily watched Australia’s outback landscape unfold along the Stuart and Lasseter Highways. It’s about a six hour drive from Alice Springs to Uluru; also known as Ayers Rock. Uluru is the largest monolith in the world and is a sacred site of the regions Aboriginal people and owners. It has remained one of the world’s most mysterious religious sites ever since the beginning of the creation period. The Anangu people traditionally have a responsibility to teach and safeguard visitors to their land; they ask as visitors to their land that you respect their wishes, culture and law by not climbing Uluru. Many tourists climb the rock. I chose to walk around the rock and as I did paintings and the remains of ancient rites and ceremonies became visible in the rock’s folds and caverns. At sunset Uluru glows with blue and purple hues.
The Anangu believe that by simply touching the rocks they can communicate with dreamtime and receive blessings from their ancestors. I didn’t pick up anything from the surrounding scrub lands; believed to be the home of the Anangu’s ancestors. I touched Uluru and thought about the dreaming, the time before time, the time outside time, the time of creation, when the ancestral beings roamed the land.
I stretched out a little further on the wicker patio conversation chair and started to wonder; if you put a solar rock light in your pocket would the battery recharge.