“Are your friends hippies?”
This was generally the next question that I would be asked when explaining my summer plans. I’ve known Kate and Tom since school and in nearly two decades of knowing them, I have seen neither of them behave in such a way that fitted with the stereotyped, almost pantomime, view of ‘a hippie’ which immediately sprang to mind. I explained this to my colleagues.
“I don’t know,” they would protest, “driving all that way in a 2CV doesn’t seem normal!”
Here I would have to concede; driving all that way in a 2CV probably doesn’t fit with the established ideology of ‘normal’. To be quite honest, none of my friends particularly fit snugly in to the narrow mould of normality. I’ve found that the most interesting and entertaining people in this world never do.
After leaving the ‘crack den’, we continued on our way to the next campsite. The road wound its way up and down hillsides and through variously priced tolls. Up ahead, we watched as a large, white cloud gently erupted over the horizon, spreading out across the previously unblemished, blue sky. As we approached, we discussed what this cloudy behemoth may be and eventually settled on our conclusion that it was due to an industrial site of one sort or another, a by-product of a vast cooling process. We continued forward. We had to, we were on a motorway.
Gradually, the brilliant white of the cloud started to appear smudged and grey. Instinctively, we began to take deep breaths, checking to see if the distinctive scent of smoke was in the air. Nothing. We consoled ourselves with the logic that if it was dangerous, the motorway would have been closed. However, as we looked around, we realised that very few cars were in sight and the ones that were on the road were heading in the opposite direction.
Then we hit the smoke and the world went orange. Not the jolly, golden-orange of a sunset but a dirty, rust haze. The previously dazzling sun now appeared apocalyptically small, smothered in dark clouds. Rounding a bend in the road, we were greeted with a wall of fire. A large portion of forest on the right-hand side of the motorway was engulfed in flames. The fire roared at us, even over the struggle of our laden 2CV battling the steep incline of the route. Hypnotised by the sheer scale of the forest-fire, we continued down the road, staring out of the windows as though we were travelling through a macabre amusement park, dedicated to natural disasters. Aeroplanes raced through the sky above us, investigating the extent of the damage. Then, as suddenly as we had discovered the cause of the smoke, we rounded another bend in the road and the scene was gone. The sky returned to its familiar blue with only the occasional cloud and the view through the wing mirror indicating that anything had ever been amiss.
Finally, we reached our destination for the night. A small campsite high up in the Portuguese hills with views of the forests on the opposite side of the valley but far enough away that we were safe should the fire spread this way (or so the campsite owner assured us). We parked up under the welcome shade of orange, pear and olive trees and set up our tent, stopping now and then to have conversations with passers-by who wanted to know more about the car and what we were doing. One Portuguese couple in particular seemed to take much joy from our plans to attend the World Meeting, asking about the car and our drive from Britain down to Portugal in the little 2CV. They seemed quite friendly and free-spirited, appearing to live more permanently in a caravan up in the far corner of the campsite.
Once the tent was up, Tom set about slicing potatoes into a saucepan for dinner, Kate collected her washing into a bucket and I entertained the baby by singing half-remembered folk songs (the ones about jilted lovers are her favourites). The Portuguese couple passed by again,
“Oh, its beautiful!” The lady smiled. I smiled back because I wasn’t completely sure what she was referring too. “We feel that spirit with you. The fascination is familiar with us too. We have the same spirits, us and you.” I smiled again, she smiled back and walked on by. Once they had gone, I turned to Kate and Tom,
“I think the hippies think we’re hippies.”
“We’re not hippies,” Kate protested, “hippies have flowery skirts and . . . oh.” We looked at ourselves. I stood wearing a long flowery skirt whilst singing folk ballads to a half-naked baby, Kate sat with her multi-coloured, pastel-shaded hair blowing loose and free in the evening breeze and Tom stroked his long, wild beard with one hand and held a half-cut potato in the other. We were definitely not the established ideology of ‘normal’ but then again, the most interesting people never are.