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Posts Tagged ‘sixties’


It’s mid-December. A seven year old boy in crew cut and tiny shorts sits cross-legged on the cold wooden floor of the school assembly hall, singing, or rather miming, along to:

Little Jesus, sweetly sleep, do not stir

We will lend a coat of fur

We will rock you, rock you, rock you

We will rock you, rock you, rock you

See the fur to keep you warm

Snugly round your tiny form

Fast forward to 2am on Christmas morning. A short, portly figure creeps into the child’s room, cursing through Watney Red Barrel breath that he really should have delivered on his year old promise to oil the door hinges.

He places the bulging paper sack at the end of the bed, applauding himself for fooling his son once for what might just be the last time, that he is a certain someone else.

Seven hours later, his excitement at receiving the microscope and Beano Annual spent, the child bounds into four inches of new-fallen snow in the back yard. Turning swiftly at the fake Santa’s voice, he is hit full square between the eyes with a gently rolled but deadly fastball. Tears follow as readily as the squeals of delight that had greeted the contents of the sack.

But there is neither time for crying nor testing the capacity of the new chemistry set to blow up the house. The traditional whistle stop tour around the houses of friends and neighbours beckons. The breathalyser, legal drink drive limit and compulsory seat belt legislation have all yet to be introduced, and few drivers think of the potentially dire consequences of having a “drink for Christmas” at every one. It is fortunate, therefore, that Mrs Santa takes the wheel. 

And then the main event. Three tables of varying design, height, width and degree of wobbliness are wedged together, and an equally motley assortment of chairs are looted from every available room to complete the scene. Fifteen places are set for a party that spans three generations.

The grandfather, prior to the ceremonial carving of the turkey, leads the toast to his wife and their four daughters-in-law for the preparation of the feast. Secretly, he prays that there will be enough of the bird leftover to lie with his beloved piccalilli in the sandwiches he will take to work at the Royal Navy dockyard.

Even the normally taciturn budgerigar averts its permanent gaze through net curtains onto the street outside to join in the festivities by trilling along to Ella, Dean and Bing on the radio in the opposite corner.

As the remnants of the Christmas and mincemeat puddings are laid away, the cooks, their work done, turn their attention to Billy Smart’s Circus on the small black and white television.

The men are consigned to the kitchen to discharge their traditional washing up duties and the children squabble over who gets the next ride on the new sledge in the snowy back yard. Postprandial slumbers are the order of the next two hours before, prompted by the junior members of the party, it is time for “tree presents”.

Television plays only a peripheral role in Christmases of this era, losing out by mid evening to a family singalong. The favourite uncle, worse for wear from a cocktail of cheap fizz, Party Seven beer and Bols advocaat, leads the traditional rendition of the Music Man who “comes from down your way”. The children wrestle their weariness as they “pi-a-pi-a-pi-a-no” and “umpa-umpa-umpapa” to their heart’s content, their giggling intensified by the bandleader flicking his loose front tooth up and down with his tongue as they sing. 

Boxing Day is barely two hours old when the ladies ascend the stairs to sleep, but only after they have, after customary mock protests, prepared Irish coffees for their increasingly inebriated husbands. Their departure lends licence to the grandfathers, fathers, uncles, brothers, sons, male cousins and grandsons to fight for every available inch of floor space in the lounge. A ritual as old as the monarch’s Christmas message or brussel sprouts is about to be played out  – the annual “world farting contest”, the title of champion having been proudly borne for nearly a decade by the child’s youngest and supremely flatulent uncle. 

But as the boy drifts into a long overdue sleep, his only thoughts are of the seasonal event that is second only to opening of that sack nearly twenty four hours earlier – the Boxing Day football match.

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Nearly half a century after a procession along the same street proclaimed its demise, I can confirm that reports of the death of the hippie have been greatly exaggerated, at least if events at yesterday’s 36th annual Haight Ashbury Street Fair were anything to go by.

Baby boomers in tie-dye mingled contentedly with Mission families, young Goths and not a few bewildered tourists to create a relaxed, celebratory atmosphere along half a dozen blocks crammed with stalls selling the usual hippie fare – clothing, bags and jewelry, peace badges, organic juice and vegetarian burritos. Music from every era since the Haight’s “heady” days of the sixties spilled out from retail and residential properties alike.

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The street was closed to traffic from Masonic to Stanyan to make way for stages from which a succession of bands played throughout the afternoon.

Our day had begun with a J Church MUNI ride to the intersection with Duboce, from where we cut through the doggie paradise that is Duboce Park before taking the short hike up from the Lower Haight.

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Fortified with ferocious coffees from the People’s Café adjacent to the Masonic stage, we ambled up and down the street for the next few hours, stopping at either end to enjoy the non-stop live music.

Cannabis and BBQ fumes combined to assail the senses, though we managed to resist the giant Polish sausages, grilled chicken and corn that screamed “eat me” every few yards. We finally succumbed, however, to the deep fried Eastern European Jewish inspired potato and spinach knishs – classic, delicious street food.

For refreshment, we escaped to the chilled haven that is Café Cole for apple and carrot and orange juices. And later in the afternoon we dove into Happy Donuts for a coffee and apple turnover – well, it was one of the few places where we could get a seat!   

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I began this piece by declaring that the hippie was still alive and there was plenty of evidence on show that the fashion and values of its “Haightday”, endured.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACredit for the wholly unthreatening atmosphere must go in part to the not inconsiderable but, nonetheless, unobtrusive police and festival security presence. The SFPD even manned its own stall at which were sold baseball caps and other merchandise. The only occasion we observed them being called into action was when they calmly confiscated a bottle of beer masquerading as a brown paper bag.

The absence of alcohol contributed to the lack of aggression. There were, inevitably, some characters under the influence of drugs – after all, this was probably, notwithstanding the security operation, the best day of the year for panhandling – but they posed no threat to others’ enjoyment. And yes, I was asked at one point whether I needed any “good dope or LSD”! 

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The bands were uniformly excellent and enthusiastically received. Baby and the Luvies (above), winners of the Battle of the Bands competition that had predated the fair, rocked the Stanyan stage, but it was, understandably, the headline act, San Francisco based Pamela Parker (below) and her band who really got the crowd going.

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The only disappointing aspect of the day was the weather. Sunny intervals had been forecast for the afternoon, but the entire event took place under grey skies and in a fine mizzle. But it did nothing to lessen people’s spirits.

It seems any day we are in San Francisco, we are touched by the Giants, even when we had not intended to be. Resolving to warm up with a hot chocolate on our return to the apartment we stopped at the Squat and Gobble on Fillmore just as Sergio Romo was closing out a 6-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix to win the series.

Icing on the funnel cake!

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