The mundane and the magic

One of my favourite places in London is 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. A stone’s throw from my place of birth, it is resplendent with neo-classical architecture, Greek and Roman bronzes, mosaics, amphorae, curious relics, fragments of sculpture and irresistible antiquarian treasures. Those in the know will realise I am referring to the Soane Museum.

Walking in is like walking out of your life and re-entering the lives of others. I visit often, and always alone. With each visit the genius loci grows friendlier and more eager to communicate its gratitude to those who work tirelessly to conserve the house and honour Sir John Soane’s memory. One day in early spring this year, I wore a custom-made dress that was made for my friend Hannah’s wedding. It was a gown that touched the ground with a heavy brocade of cobalt blue and the grace of a bygone era. No, I don’t dress like that every day, but I felt playful on that particular morning. I may have scared some of the visitors. Because nestled betwixt a Roman urn and a pillar of imposing origin, I heard hushed voices in the dusky light filtering through the stained glass windows.

How nice, they brought in actors to liven up the place. Must be new.
Don’t be silly… Where?
I saw a lady in blue earlier, under the Dome.
By the sarcophagus? Ah. I saw something too.
Well if she wasn’t staff then what the devil was she?
A visitor, Norm.
She looked pale
So do you dear.
She wore a Victorian gown. There one minute, gone the next!
Yes, there was an air about her. But this is a strange place. Come along now.

I can’t help but wonder if I have unintentionally sown the seeds of a new urban legend, that of the lady in blue who haunts the Soane Museum with her otherworldly air and subtle repudiation of the laws of physics. I do hope the couple went home that day thinking they saw a ghost and told all their friends, who in turn told all of their friends. How delicious. Yesterday afternoon I visited my old ‘haunt’ again and felt oddly claustrophobic. True, it is difficult to exhale there without fogging the toe of a Grecian god or tripping over another visitor, but still. I had several plans this weekend; some of which came to naught due to a stealthy brew of misapprehension and human error. One of them was to attend a lecture on Handel, who is in no danger of replacing Amadeus as my favourite composer but whom I am growing increasingly fond of. They cancelled the lecture at the last moment.

And so, I find myself at a loose end. Drinking tea, listening to Handel, and contemplating the mundane and the magic and how to navigate the disparity between the two.

I used to be a teenage hippie. My intimate friends will know how funny this is in light of my current style and outlook on life, but it’s true. I raised the 1960s to such a soaring pedestal that nothing could reach it and hope to intercede, especially common sense. Now that I am older and able to deromanticise the spills and thrills of fickle adolescence, I can see the 1960s for what they are: a mythology, not unlike the deeds and sagas imprinted onto any artefact at the Soane (above). It was a time of great feats and even greater contradictions; where good and evil harvests were sown from the seeds of previous years. Perhaps more than any other decade in the 20th century, the 1960s evoke a treasure trove of sights and sounds all rising to a powerful crescendo of societal transformation, the waves of which are still rippling and reverberating in our minds some 50 years later. When considering the multitude of influences the decade has had on modern life, our cultural references and the way in which we view the world, the impact of the 1960s is brought home with utmost clarity—especially when we reflect on the often volatile forces at play.

Let’s do that for a moment. On one hand the decade is evocative of free love, legendary music festivals, ground-breaking fashion and the emancipation of the younger generation from the shackles of conservatism in the West, but the 1960s were also beset with violent revolutions, wars, assassinations, natural disasters, mass hysteria, substance abuse and suicide.  In fact, suicide rates for both men and women increased considerably in the 1960s. While the decade saw the birth of the free love movement, preaching sexual freedom, brotherhood and solidarity to the masses, some would argue that, ironically, it was this tie-dyed tapestry that suffocated and ultimately killed off romanticism; a process that began perhaps when the true horrors of WWII were made public and gradually filtered into the public domain. American author and political activist Abbie Hoffman has argued that while the 1960s brought positive changes, exciting new prospects and an energetic ‘we can do anything!’ attitude to the progeny of a post-war, jilted generation, there was much darkness and hypocrisy among the hippies. According to Hoffman, this ‘dark side’ of the 1960s is often overlooked and masked by the myth and a cloud of heavy incense smoke.

The myth, Hoffman reflected retrospectively, “was the flower children’s fault. Spoiled, selfish brats made the sixties”. A cutting statement. But what were the 1960s like for the simple folk who experienced life beyond the circus and the myth? What changes were manifested in their daily lives, if any, and how did all the noise and ‘revolutions on television’ affect their view of the world? Ten years ago, I simply couldn’t care less about these questions. 

Today I am blighted with questions of this ilk and a sobering self-determination to lift the cloud of patchouli and reveal the muted greys of reality. So here’s to deromanticising a myth and discovering something much better. To revisiting your true self in the face of spin and serendipity, and to reestablishing the magic in the mundane.

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12 comments

  1. I used to be a teenage hippie.” …to…

    It was a gown that touched the ground with a heavy brocade of cobalt blue and the grace of a bygone era. No, I don’t dress like that every day, but I felt playful on that particular morning.” …and…

    …listening to Handel, [while Amadeus is away!] and contemplating the mundane and the magic and how to navigate the disparity between the two.” …to…

    I feast on Rock-n-Roll and Cowboys. What’s not to understand? I too seek and find the kaliedoscope of marrows!!! 😀

    I have the asylum admission-papers and escape-reports to prove it too!

    Loved this post my hippie Lady.

  2. Sir John’s House, marvellous. The last time I went there, I was lucky to find it almost devoid of others, for a while at least. I felt as If I had crept into someone’s strangely cluttered home while they were out. It has an unusual intimacy. The arrival of a flamboyantly dressed David Hockney, and entourage, ruined that mood unfortunately.

    As for the 60’s, you know me and that decade. I will give you a personal tour soon, from the perspective of a non-hippy, distinctly un-Califorinian teenage Londoner. Sublime stuff, sorry to come so late to the feast. XX

  3. I liked Sir John Soane’s house too, but I visited long ago and haven’t been back since – shame on me! I remember wondering at the eclectic spirit and at the same time the single-mindedness of the man. And also how hard the women of his house must have worked to keep the dust away from the mass of objects. I’ll look for the ghost of the lady in blue next time I go! 🙂 xx

  4. LHW

    Well, I’ve always had a very level headed image of the sixties. Great music, fashion, arts and “vibe” (mostly on the European side, less the American for me – as you know..) but also political assassinations and the Nam war. Never bought into the hippie “image” – again, the fashion, the music, even some aspects (to a point) of sharing in love in harmony -sure, but it’s obvious people will be people. Some are manipulative and evil (Manson need I say more?) some just take advantage of other’s innocence and on a good trip, hey everything is colourful and beautiful and you fall in love with traffic cones – so? In short – I always loved it for the powerful energy the sounds and visions of the time arouse in me and for the ideals of peace and love which should most definitely be embraced individually, but could never really work as a philosophy for a whole generation.

    Last year, when all the new awakenings and cries for social justice started picking up speed, I was telling people that these seem like dark times. A time when everything heads towards chaos, the old world fighting fiercely (but hopelessly) against the coming of a new world. Like the previous eras of world wars and revolution. But then pointed out that that’s only cause it’s “our” ass on the line. The -west- is waking up from its slumber to find vast changes need to be made, but not everyone’s in the same boat – are they? My example at the time was “the 60’s” how everyone remembers them as a time of peace and love, a time of magical creations and beauty and culture – though, racial discrimination, wars, chauvinism, deadly cults, “JFK blown away what else do I have to say”… Fact is, in the long run people remember the counter culture of the US and the Joie de vivre of Europeans, but for the people living in those days life wasn’t good. Especially not in the US when you could be shipped off to Nam just for turning the legal age. And not for women. And not for “blacks”. Looking back burning bras and “having a dream” seems so liberating and innovative and glamorous, but for the people living it, though I’m sure fun at times, it was after all a struggle. A day to day fight to get their human rights recognised… In conclusion, maybe someday we’ll all look back on these times and laugh ( ;

    • D’arcy

      Agree with every word, and what an insightful analogy to last year’s riots. I think it’s easier when you are younger to be enamoured with the spin without delving too deeply into detail. I am glad you were spared the disillusionment that I grappled with so acutely. I was a very innocent teenager. But here’s to navigating the fab and the foolish and to always staying young at heart!

  5. Die Todesrune

    Great to read another personal blog that sheds light on the muted greys of YOUR reality. Only they are anything but grey. Greetings from the cloven syncretist of the north, and remember: Maðr er moldar auki; mikil er græip á hauki.

  6. inwantofmanschnitzel

    This is a topic very much on my mind of late, so thank you for the flavour you have added to my own cerebral cauldron! I will most definitely be looking for seances at the Soane Museum in the near future. The “blue lady” may be lurking.

    Romantification/deromantification, enchantment/disenchantment/reenchantment. I don’t think there is any more pertinent a topic in this mind and soul numbing age.

    • D’arcy

      My bathycolpian babe (yes it’s a real word), I lurk in the deepest recesses of your mind. There is no need to visit the Soane to evoke my presence in your midst. 😉

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