“Well, let’s walk,” said George. We got out of the limo, all wearing our colorful clothes, smiles, bells or beads and feeling the psychedelic effects of the acid. The smile on my face felt hollow. I had an ominous feeling as our beautifully dressed entourage, a sight that would have stuck out in any crowd, wandered down the street, Pattie and George leading the way. I felt as though everything I’d held dear during my time in San Francisco was about to be put to the test. Would it be the same for Pattie, George, and their friends now as it had been for me when I came here in the spring? I didn’t think so. I felt wholly responsible for their presence and lagged a few steps behind, observing the reaction from the surrounding hippies.
We had walked fairly anonymously amongst the crowd for all of a few seconds, and then as one person after another recognized George in his denim jacket, red, black and white swirling colored pants, beads and heart-shaped sunglasses, they began following us. My sense of dread was well founded as the word got around and crowds behind us grew. I could hear snippets of conversation spoken in wonder, George Harrison, George Harrison’s here, one of the Beatles. At first, they kept a respectable distance, stopping as we walked into a few of the shops. I heard one girl say, as she looked at Pattie with her long blond hair, her calf-length purple suede sandals, mini-dress, and a long row of beads and dark glasses, “They’re the best dressed hippies I’ve ever seen.”
Someone gave George a crown of flowers that he put on his head at a slightly tilted angle, all smiles and obviously still enjoying the walk. ‘Where are we going?’ he asked Neil at some point. Neil guided them towards the Panhandle, known as Hippie Hill. George sat down on a grassy slope, surrounded by masses of adoring fans who were obviously thrilled at having a Beatle in their midst. A guy with a guitar appeared and pleaded with George to play it.
“It’s your guitar,” George said with a smile. “You play it.”
Although he looked reluctant to play in front of a Beatle, George persuaded him and so he did, which was probably the bravest thing he ever did!! Everyone seemed to be having a good time. I watched from a distance, slowly unwinding and relieved to see George laughing and answering questions. Then the guitar player stopped singing. “Please play us a few chords,” he said, handing George the guitar again. The crowd joined in, “Sing us a song; play us some chords.”
I looked at George, knowing what state of mind we were all in and wondered how he was going to pull this one off. He placed his fingers on the frets and while strumming the strings with his other hand, he said, “This chord is G, this is C, and this is E.” He gave back the guitar, stood up, and began walking towards the street. The crowds were stunned into silence!
We headed for the limo. The walk back seemed to take forever, as the crowd got thicker. One voice from the back kept repeating, “Hey George, let me lay some acid on you, let me lay some grass,” the voice got louder and more insistent. I could feel waves of fear emanating from Pattie and George. “I’m cool, man,” George replied, and quickened his pace. “You’re our leader,” someone else yelled. “You have to lead yourself,” George shouted back.
The last few steps, once the limo was in sight, seemed like an eternity. Neil and Derek snapped into protective mode, something they were not unused to, while they urgently ushered us along like mother hens. The atmosphere in the crowd had quickly changed from adulation to anger and I could see and feel the fear mounting in our little troop as the crowds pressed against us and we walked faster towards the car. Their ‘hero’ hadn’t delivered sufficiently as a fellow member of “Love, Peace, and good Vibes,” and he hadn’t accepted the grass that they so willingly wanted to “lay” on him. This was not what I had envisioned all those months ago; I had wanted their walk along Haight-Ashbury to be peaceful and inspiring, but here we were, virtually running away from a situation that looked as though it could easily get out of control.
With the engine running and the door open we dived into the cool back seats of the limo. As fists banged on the roof and smiling, tearful or angry faces pushed up against the darkened windows, the driver moved slowly through the crowd and on towards the airport.
I looked at everyone leaning back in their seats, staring ahead as if in a trance or eyes temporarily closed with a sigh of relief. I wanted to tell them, “It didn’t used to be like this.” I wanted to say, “it was different before and they wouldn’t have done what they did today.” But instead I just closed my eyes, thankful for the blast of air-conditioning against my body, leaned back, and joined the silence.
It’s funny how dreams can sometimes be a message from the unconscious. While staying in San Francisco earlier this year I dreamed I was standing in a large room in someone’s house. I happened to glance through the window at some children playing in the garden, but then noticed standing on the grass staring right at me, was a large mean-looking black bull. His eyes glistened, he was all muscle and his skin was taut. I froze until a gentle knock on the door brought me back to my senses. I opened the door just wide enough to see three or four children in the hall, a little way behind them stood the bull. I bustled them into the room and quickly closed the door. I was terrified. Two seconds later an almighty noise as the bull smashed the door down. Without thinking I grabbed him by the horns, flipped him over and with my foot against his face pulled at one of his horns until it became limp, then did the same on the other side until he was completely disarmed, lying in a heap on the floor. When I awoke, and after trying to work out what this vivid dream meant, I saw on my phone an email from United Airlines saying my flight to Los Angeles later that evening could be cancelled or severely delayed due to stormy weather. I’m not a great flyer and so immediately went into panic mode. I began frantically finding other ways to get back to Los Angeles, including hiring a car, finding a train and checking on coaches. Fear driven obsession took over as I desperately tried to find another way to reach LA, anything other than flying in a storm. Then my dream came back to me. I realised what it was trying to tell me. The bull represented my fear. In the dream I had taken control of this fear with courage. I had literally taken the bull by the horns. I smiled to myself, put the phone down and knew I would be taking that flight, cancelled or delayed.
The last time I saw my mum was the day before she died in September. I was with my brother and together we sang Amazing Grace to the skeletal figure lying motionless underneath the blankets. Her beautiful face was now unrecognizable, but we believed she could still hear. And so, just like all the other days, we told her how much we all loved her, we named each of her five children followed by her thirteen grandchildren. When my brother had gone through that same long list the day before she muttered something almost inaudible. He put his ear to her mouth and in the faintest of whispers he heard her say, “I feel so lucky.”
Standing outside her room on that last day, I spoke to one of the carers about the different situations she’d witnessed since working at this residential home. Stories that made me believe that often people choose when they are ready to leave. Stories of people waiting for their loved ones to arrive from across the world before going, or another person, a woman who was dying of cancer and every day her husband would sit beside her bed, telling her she would get better until one day he came and said, it’s okay darling, you can go now. She died that night. “Sometimes,” this carer continued, “just opening the window shows the person you’re ready to release them.”
Just before leaving our mother’s bedside, I looked into her face, the face I no longer knew, and said, “Mum, I’m off to Norfolk tomorrow, I’ve opened the window so you can fly.”
That was the last I saw of her, she died the following day, not while my brother and his wife were with her, she waited for them to leave before the angels wrapped their arms around her and carried her away.
I feel as though I’m pregnant. I find myself searching for places that will be suitable for the newcomer once it arrives, places that will inspire and encourage it to grow. The other day I walked down to our new library to see what space there was and if it was peaceful and quiet, I’ve started clearing out cupboards and culling books from the bookshelves. I haven’t quite reached the point of getting down on my hands and knees and scrubbing the kitchen floor, an old wives tale that promises to speed up delivery, but I would if I was told that’s what it takes!
I’m in the frustrating and uncomfortable land of waiting, waiting, thinking of different things I can do to distract myself, putting photographs up on Instagram, reading posts, cooking elaborate meals, writing blogs, visiting friends and when I’m not doing that I’m preparing for the arrival. It feels as if underneath all these activities, underneath all this positive thinking, I’m silently residing in nowhere land.
But this is obviously not a baby I’m talking about, it’s part and parcel of the creative process. What I hope will one day become a book is now in proposal form having been sent by my literary agent to different publishers. I try not to think about it, I know it’s a waiting game but that’s how it is I tell myself throughout each day, you have to accept it’s part and parcel of the process. I have one of the best agents and have complete faith that she will find a publisher, and I have an editor, someone who at times is more supportive of me than I am of myself. I couldn’t ask for a better team, and yet, however wonderful they are, my book will be published in its own time and that time will be the right time. It is one of life’s major lessons on Letting Go; to do your best in whatever endeavour you choose to embark on and then to let it fly. It reminds me of Stings lyrics, the ultimate of letting go, “If you love someone set them free.” I read an insightful quote from Ekhart Tolle, a reminder of how to get centered and accept this situation as it is, “Let go of thought, become still and alert, and don’t try to understand or explain.” Basically it is what it is, I tell myself over and over as I pull myself up from my bootstraps, there are times in life when one inhabits the land of not knowing and the only option is to be still and accept that’s where you are.
It’s starting already!! The buzz is getting louder and the date is getting closer. The 50th anniversary of our trip to India is gaining momentum. February 15th 1968 is now set in stone, the day the Beatles arrived at Maharishi’s Ashram in Rishikesh.
For this momentous occasion, ‘The Beatles Story’ in Liverpool, home to the worlds largest exhibition of, what used to be called, The Mop Tops, are hosting a two-year exhibit called, ‘The Beatles in India.’ This exhibition will be launched on the 15th February 2018 to co-inside with this significant anniversary.
My sister, Pattie, and I were recently interviewed for a video that will be showing throughout the exhibition, and have been asked to attend the launch along with photographer Paul Saltzman. Both Pattie and Paul will have their photographs of that time exhibited as part of the memorabilia, which, amongst other things, will include a sitar belonging to George Harrison’s mentor, Ravi Shankar.
There is still so much interest in The Beatles, so many people of different ages from all over the world will travel year after year to Liverpool to get a glimpse of anything to do with their Beatle heroes.
I don’t know of any other band that had such an impact and continues to do so from generation to generation. Did it have anything to do with that particular time they came on the scene? It was not so long after the war and us teenagers were in need of something new and vibrant, something that spoke to us, and that we could call our own. The Beatles looked friendly and loveable, the boy-next-door sort of image, and when they sang their harmonies together made us all want to sing along, shake our heads at the high-pitched “oooh’s” and play our air guitars.
The ‘Rolling Stones,’ who appeared on the scene about the same time were quite different, they looked like naughty boys, not the sort any mother would want their daughter to go near, their music was raw, more Blues influenced.
What was it about The Beatles that made such an impact on everyone, that kept on going throughout the years, even after they had disbanded? From the eyes of a rather shy 18 – 20-year-old, being in the presence of The Beatles, even though they were funny, quick-witted and friendly, was at times quite intimidating. They were so tight, so connected, as if an invisible membrane was wrapped around them, their own world within a world.
I was invited to talk to a room full of people last Wednesday evening at the Gibson Guitar Headquarters in London. Author and leading music journalist, Lesley-Ann Jones, interviewed me about my time at the Ashram and what was it like being there with the Beatles.
It was such a joy for me and so inspiring to sit on the roof of our bungalow at the Ashram, to feel the morning sun on our faces or have henna painted on our hands as my sister, Cynthia Lennon and I listened to the sound of John, George and Paul playing their guitars. With my eyes closed, as if in a trance, the birds singing and the sun getting warmer I remember listening to them talking to each other as they tried out new songs.
Being in India for those two months was extraordinary, and I feel very grateful to have had that experience. I had no idea at the time, because one doesn’t, that the innocent and gentle time we spent there would one day go down in history, and would become such a significant occasion that fifty years later it would still be celebrated.