Sunday, 22 May 2016

Introduction to All About My Hat The Hippy Trail 1972 by Alun Buffry

Let me introduce myself.
I am called Myhat. I was also known as Kapelomou.
I am quite an old hat. I was made decades ago. I had been passed many times to different heads, yet had seldom found one that I felt really comfortable on.
About forty years ago, everything changed. I found myself upon a head that I had a close affinity with and I found myself seeing, hearing, smelling much through this young man, Al - and even picking up on his emotions and thoughts.
I was lost then for several years, stored in a cupboard until, once again, I found myself on Al's head and now I can tell my tales.
Al and I spent some nine months together on our first trip, visiting many big cities and several small villages, in eight countries, all different, all new to myself and my new head – an adventure of a lifetime.
I sat on Al's head and witnessed all sorts of strange places and events while we travelled to India and then to the UK.
When Al arrived back in the UK, he was quite ill, having suffered from a problem called Infectious Hepatitis and also dysentery. Al went to his parent's house in Wales and then to hospital. But after he was in that hospital, I was never on his head so often.
I didn't know what was happening. Why was Al leaving me? How long was I to be here? What would become of me now? Would I get a new head? Would I get more adventures? Would I be treasured or neglected?
Then one day, Al took me out of my box and put me back on his head.
That is how I came to find myself back on Al's head. I have been on and off Al's head for about forty years and now I can tell my tales. We have done a lot of travelling over those forty years.
I had always been able to understand any language spoken and understood by whatever head I was placed on - but never been able to utter anything myself – until now! I have discovered that I can help Al remember the places we had experienced together and somehow I managed to place the idea of writing my tale for me. Anyway, that idea came upon Al and here he is, writing this for me!
As well as understanding the thoughts, memories and feelings of my head – I felt as he felt - I have been able to see through the eyes, hear through the ears and even taste through the mouth and tongue of my head – Al – and over the days developed a strange connection so that so long as Al was nearby, I could watch what was going on around him – even when not on his head!
I watched, I listened and I remembered – and that is how I come to write this story through a head called Al.
Al had travelled from a country called Britain, a place I had never been to and knew little about.
Al, through me, Kapelomou or Myhat, is writing this account in 2014, forty-two years after the events of 1972.
For my younger readers, I'll say that as Al looks back he remembers there were no mobile or cellular phones out there for the public to be able to buy: no Ipads or Ipods, no digital cameras, no microwave ovens, no 'Sat Nav'. Life was slower, sometimes maybe easier, without the 21st century rush.
In some places there were no telephones at all. And mail was often very slow. Communication was often very difficult outside of the immediate area, especially in the villages and towns of the Middle East.
And Al himself was thinner and fitter if less experienced with the world. I know he doubts whether he could make the same journey now, as he did back in 1971.
Al will tell you, I know, that he feels that apart from the differences in technology and in himself, little has changed. Some things are better, some things are worse.
In his opinion most countries in the world are being run by members of elite families, or Secret Societies or Military men. And almost all of them live lives of luxury at the expense of the people they are supposed to both rule and look after. In even the richest countries there are poor and homeless people sleeping on the streets.
So, on with my account of my first incredible journey into the unknown. It is all about Myhat.
My first meeting with Al took place outside a barber's shop in the Greek town of Thessaloniki.
It was 1972.
At that time, I understood the Greek language, hence my name Kapelomou that means My hat, and I understood just a little English, but that was to change.
It seemed like months since I'd been left on the hook. I had been on the head of a local man who had come to the shop and left me there, never to come back.
During my time in the barber's shop, for long periods my vision and hearing had been impaired, but sometimes a young lad would come to the shop and place me on his head – then I could see and hear more clearly, and pick up on his thoughts and ideas to some extent. Later, of course, I realised that the lad's view of the world was very limited. Listening to the barber's shop chat, I learned about football and sport, politics and war, the rich and the poor – but I honestly considered the world to be quite small, and that everything that happened in it was within walking distance. I thought the rich were one side of the shop and the poor on the other and the shop itself was the great division. Much was still a mystery to me.
Most of the time at the barber's shop I was ignored, just left hanging there, waiting for my head to come back, occasionally being picked up and tried on by customers – always after a haircut!
Konstantinos, the barber, occasionally gave me a rough dust off. He used to sometimes put me on his head and stand in his doorway when there was no hair to cut. I cannot say I felt appreciated.
One thing that Konstantinos often said was the have great influence on my life: he used to say “Watch, listen and remember!”
My life was to change in a big way. I watched, I listened and I remembered.
One day, sun-shining, dusty and quiet, with no hair to cut and no chins to shave, Konstantinos was standing in his shop doorway watching the street. I was on his head. He did that a lot on fine dusty days – street watching was almost a local custom and what was seen was often the topic of barber's chair chat. I could see through the open door and some way up the street.
A group of young people was walking towards the outside of the shop, chatting and laughing. Four males and one female. As they approached I saw that two of the males had long hair; I wondered if they would come into the shop to get it cut.
Three of the young men wore hats – well I cannot say they were as well made as myself, but there they were. Whilst I had been left hanging there for months, those hats were out seeing the world.
Konstantinos shouted something across the road – he was calling over one of the young men. He said to one: “I see you have no hat!” The young man said that he did not have one – and suddenly I found myself taken off my head, briefly dusted, and presented to him by Konstantinos.
The young man, whom I soon learned was called “Al”, put me on his head. I saw the world through his eyes, a world I sensed was very different to my life so far, a world of mystery, strangeness and adventure. A world that Al was exploring with plenty of new experiences, new people and new ideas.
Brilliant! I had a new head.
I instantly understood the new language, English, spoken by my new head. I began to see with different eyes and understand the world in a way new to me.
The others were Keith, John and Mike and the female was called Marion. It doesn't take long to learn those things when all you can do is watch and listen. The fact that the humans did not know that I could watch and listen had the potential of being very useful to me as well as educational.
From the conversations I heard, I was to learn that they had all been students in a country called England, a city called Norwich and most had studied Chemistry. They had finished with schools and had set out to travel and explore, in a small van. At night they huddled together and by day they drove. We were, I gleamed, heading for Turkey – eastwards.
John, Mike and Al had been at a University together for three years, but before that had come from different places. John, Al knew, was from Slough and Mike from London; Al himself was from South Wales. Marion had studied Biology at the same University and Keith, the oldest of them, from Birmingham, was Marion's boyfriend. Of them all, Al regarded Keith as the only experienced traveller. He seemed much more confident than the others, although Al did not know much about him and had only known him for about a year. Al felt safe with all of them, feeling that they were honest and non-violent people like himself
So, I found myself saying goodbye to what had been my home for several months, wondering what the future had in stall for us all. Wondering how long I would be staying with my new head – 'Ed, now called Al. Wondering if he too would forget me, leave me on another hook, in some dark place maybe – or would I get to travel far?
It wasn't long before we all piled into the van – they had bought some of the local sweet 'Halva' and were saying how good it was, crumbling all over, getting in my brim. I did not care, I felt free.
We were heading for Istanbul, a large city in a country called Turkey.
That evening we pulled up along the sea front near the town of Alexandroupoli. Keith read from his book that this town was an important port and the capital of the Evros region in the Thrace region of Greece.
Keith read aloud:
“It was originally called Dedeagach Dedeagatsh . The name was based on a local tradition of a wise dervish who spent much of his time in the shade of a local tree and was eventually buried beside it. Dedeagach remained the official name of the city throughout the Ottoman period, and the name used for it in the West until the establishment of the Hellenic Republic. In 1920 it was renamed Alexandroupoli in honour of King Alexander.
“Alexandroupoli is about 9 miles west of the delta of the river Evros, forty miles from the border with Turkey, 215 miles from Thessaloniki on the newly constructed Egnatia highway."
Keith also read bits about the many wars this city had been involved in. We did not go into the city itself though, as it was getting late, so stopped and built a camp fire then everyone went to sleep.
The next morning, when Al woke up, Keith and Marion were already awake and making tea – which they all drank with milk added, unlike the Greek people I had seen. They were also cooking eggs for breakfast.
As Al was pouring himself some of this tea, along came a weathered and aged looking man with a donkey – smiling broadly, he pointed at the fire and the tea.
“I think he wants some tea,” said Al, and he got up and poured another cup, adding some milk and sugar, and passed the mug to the old man.
“The old man first said thank you, then sipped the hot tea – only to spit it out shouting “Baba, baba!” Clearly, he did not like it. Then he opened his bag and pulled out a bottle of Ouzo.
I knew about "ouzo", an aniseed-flavoured alcohol much liked in Greece and usually mixed with water. It's meant to be taken before meals but many people seemed to like it at any time of the day. Konstantinos had been one of them, but not on the days that he had to cut hair – people got very drunk and loud on that stuff, sometimes.
So the old chap offered the lads some ouzo. Al and Mike were the only two to try it – and both said they liked it. It had an aniseed taste and was strong is alcohol, making Al's head spin slightly – I had never experienced that before. 

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