Totnes or when the hippies won-a cautionary tale

totness market The hippies have taken over and I can’t afford a thing. The prices in the chain charity shops * are so ludicrous I feel like pushing an old lady volunteer over smartly in the back whilst screaming ‘Are you fucking insane? It’s a kid’s plastic drum with no stick! No wonder people still have cancer! ’ But I am English and thus look at a Primark dress tag in a slightly sarcastic way on the way out. That’ll learn ‘em.

Totnes is not in the Northwest. If it were, people would come on coaches to point and hark. And maybe throw rancid butter pies. It is in Southest Devon, near rubbish Plymouth but edging away discreetly and burning some Nag Champa to hide the smell. It has history, centuries of it but more recently as being a hippy colonized town, banning carrier bags, having its own currency and the rest. The first person I see when alighting out of the car at Morrisons (I could not find a Fair Trade car park and I like their cheese selection) is a dreadlocked man on a skateboard. When walking up the happily antiquated high street, my boyfriend hears someone say extremely earnestly to a child around six years old, ‘how is your chakra feeling today?’ As a professional Wiganer, he is delighted by this and falls to his knees in delight but as we are on a hill, nobody notices.

After going in the Riverford Organics deli and coming out with a whopping big Homity pie, a mustard and cheese pastry, some posh Italian something and a massive chocolate truffle for under a fiver, I decide I want to live here. I’m quite shallow. There is a cat sitting under a war memorial and there is well-priced pastry from a fancy organic shop I have read about in The Guardian. My wonderful life forged in the North can go to hell. I decide to keep this thought quiet for a bit.

And then there is suddenly shopping like my eBay saved searches. Cutesy old fashioned exterior shops selling within dresses with unicorns on, Spanish designer coats and Scandinavian babygros. Three shops in a row sell Moomins handbags. I love Moomins handbags! I run to find the boyfriend and baby who in the general excitement over cheap organic Guardian pie I forgot ever existed and hyperventilate gently at them whilst pointing wildly.

‘Yes, I know you like them but you can’t afford them.’ Oh. I had forgotten about that. totness cat­ The happy bohemian gentility of Totnes comes at a price even a well-priced pie can’t save. The babygros are 30 quid despite and because of their quirky retro patterns. The coats are two hundred. And we are in a small town in Devon in a recession.

The hippies have taken over and with them came counter culture, with the counter culture came the trendiness, with the trendiness came the aspiration, with the aspiration came the desire, with the desire came the money to fulfill the desire. Thus the desire to be counterculture drives out the true hippies, those with the ideas and ideals but not the brand that determines and markets it.

I hear a woman fluting the words ‘positive energy’ with the elocution, and confidence to make it a statement of fact like the Ocado delivery arriving at 12 rather than an ideal found somewhere hidden within oneself. A small terraced house here now costs a Lot.

But The Performing Arts College has closed, many say the hippy heyday is over and my boyfriend declares the chippy we end up going to, to have a slight hint of menace due to a mushy pea related mix up. Somehow, however I am still alive to tell the tale.

But if you go to Totnes,  remember it is a fairy tale version of hippyness, wonder how the fuck people afford to live there and be very very  clear about your order to the softly spoken man in the chippy who has the faint aura of menace.

totness better* the local charity shops  for local animals were sadly all closed

15 Responses to “Totnes or when the hippies won-a cautionary tale”

  • gemma Says:

    As always, you produce my thoughts with far more eloquence than I could ever muster. I feel slightly like marching on totness and doing my best northern impression, oh if only I could eat butter pies! (I could throw them though…) x

  • tangerinebreem Says:

    Don’t waste a good butter pie on posh southerners wearing Monsoon :-) My erstwhile companion got progressively more Northern sounding the further south we travelled. Suspect if we had got as far as Cornwall, he would have been Scottish.

  • PendleWitch Says:

    Picturing your boyfriend on his knees with delight has cheered up a long Friday afternoon…

  • looby Says:

    It’s the downside of what no doubt started with good motives. Isn’t it a “transition town”? I’m not sure that a this is what we should be transitioning to. Not unless we all receive huge grants to live there and a £1000 in clothes tokens to spend in Monsoon and Acquascutum.

  • looby Says:

    P.S. In pedant mode, I must point out it’s Totnes (one s).

  • tangerinebreem Says:

    I am an idiot and you are not a pedant to say I spelt the name of the town I wrote about wrong! Thanks for your reply-yes, it is a Transition Town but it is very hard to shop and live with good motives and a small income- I am glad there are such movements going on but when the supermarkets enormous buying power means you can buy cheap goods, only the well off will spend thrice the price or more on ethical purchases.

  • tangerinebreem Says:

    From Wikepedia-The main aim of the project generally, and echoed by the towns locally, is to raise awareness of sustainable living and build local ecological resilience in the near future. Communities are encouraged to seek out methods for reducing energy usage as well as reducing their reliance on long supply chains that are totally dependent on fossil fuels for essential items. Food is a key area, and they often talk of “Food feet, not food miles!” Initiatives so far have included creating community gardens to grow food; business waste exchange, which seeks to match the waste of one industry with another industry that uses that waste material; and even simply repairing old items rather than throwing them away.
    The Transition Network website contains a listing of the initiatives that have registered there.[8]
    While the focus and aims remain the same, the methods used to achieve these vary. For example, Totnes has introduced its own local currency, the Totnes pound, which is redeemable in local shops and businesses, helping to reduce “food miles” while also supporting local firms.[9] This idea is also planned to be introduced in three Welsh transition towns[10] and in Maleny Australia, the Baroon Dollar as a part of a regional transition towns project.[11]
    Central to the transition town movement is the idea that a life without oil could in fact be far more enjoyable and fulfilling than the present: “by shifting our mind-set we can actually recognise the coming post-cheap oil era as an opportunity rather than a threat, and design the future low carbon age to be thriving, resilient and abundant — somewhere much better to live than our current alienated consumer culture based on greed, war and the myth of perpetual growth.”[12][13]
    An essential aspect of transition in many places, is that the outer work of transition needs to be matched by inner transition. That is in order to move down the energy descent pathways effectively we need to rebuild our relations with our selves, with each other and with the “natural” worlds. That requires focusing on the heart and soul of transition.

    Very admirable and good to see an attempt at changing the deplorable state of things atm-not sure where the designer coats from Spain fit in but not many people would shop somewhere that only sold coats made from Devonian sheep in handspun wool and natural ‘offwhite’ colouring. Desigual coats are far nicer even though made from every handmade fibre under the sun.
    I love the movement that started in Todmorten, Yorkshire where people grow veg anywhere public and green and others can help themselves. Its is simple, cost effective and useful to all sectors of society. Anyway, rambling now so thanks again :-)

  • narf7 Says:

    Now I am NO technophobe but I can’t for the life of me find how to subscribe to your blog anywhere! I am not talking facebook, twitter etc. I am talking good old fashioned email receiving posts sent to be enjoyed early in the morning with my wake up cup of tea before I walk the dogs…how can I subscribe?!

  • tangerinebreem Says:

    God knows to be honest as am myself a technophobe but will look into it as pleased to have a keen reader ;-) It is generally updated on random weekends after some wine if that helps? Thankyou and I will make more of an effort to write regularly if it helps the pain of walking about with a small bag of warm poo.

  • narf7 Says:

    Yeh…did my time with bags of warm poo and am now revisiting the dung sacks with the dogs (I don’t think we ever get to put that sack down!). Loved your slant on life and would love to have it delivered to my inbox on a regular basis (bone idle) but if I have to just add you to my favourites bar I guess I will have to! You are worth it :)

  • Loaf Says:

    another ace piece of writing.

    The Transition group in Lancaster is quite strong and doing good work. I think lancaster is too ‘big’ to be totnessified, ie, hippy chic pricing folk out of high street shopping – but I am keen on thinking about taking cash out of exchange.

    The Incredible Edibles are fantastic – I love the idea of teaching folk how to grow veg to obviate reliance on supermarkets. And making places prettier :)

  • Annette Says:

    SO funny and accurate. I cant remember exactly what we heard a child being called there but it was something like Blossom and another called Wednesday or Market day or Saturday afernoon or something. I almost choked for the love of it. I just adore people out of their heads on “alternative’.

  • cyberfairy Says:

    *likes* It erodes at you too. I loudly told my not giving a shit toddler that he could have some of mummys courgette cake when I was in public the other day. I had never made it before and wanted it to make up for the fact we are to be seen too often in the Pound Shop Bakery-imagine one of THOSE in Totnes!

  • Richard Hayward Says:

    I was one of those ‘hippy types’ i went there in 1994 in a 1966 peppermint green vw beetle and patchwork trousers. I guess you could say i was made for the place. Anyhow, back then it was a little different. Not yet a transition town and still a lot of the 60&70 escapees from Plymouth. So you had a good mix of straight upper middle and the colouful 18 – 25 ers all excited about the alternative while meeting the more settled ones. I mean here the hippies with money who landed in the 60′s & 70′s from afar and made Totnes their place. So a lot of the people i met were second generation and all pretty relaxed and very rural. I loved my experience, learnt a lot and go back every now and then. It worked for me at that age but like most i moved on to ventures new. That’s the thing with Totnes people come, maybe stay for a bit and then move on. People visit and mock or not but remember they do. Totnes.. an ode to a survivor of the independant and a non foloower of the norm, even if that involves a little Nag Champer along the way to make people feel safe..The over priced charity shops tho…. crazy

  • cyberfairy Says:

    Just seen this-sorry! I remember Totnes as so hippy that when I was veggie at age of 6, it was only place to get rare unusual veggie sausages and worth a ten mile drive…sorry for delay in seeing this post and hope you read my reply! Do like a Nag Champa- found the biggest’proper’ hippest hippies move to Wales and others to Glastonbury or Bath- And agree with the charity shop… With you on the second generation thing- something similar going on in Hebden Bridge, the Northern Totnes- hope you still have your van and sorry for not having seen your reply-writing a book, working and trying to keep head above water….

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