Totnes or when the hippies won-a cautionary tale
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. 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.
* the local charity shops for local animals were sadly all closed