The Ashram Girl on Chepstow Road

That poncho.   It wasn’t just the colour achieved with a weave of white and black blending into a soft grey.   It was the way she draped it.  Not elegantly because that was not her objective.   Maybe it was just the way the poncho matched her grey, free-flowing hair.  Some fifty years ago, the hair colour would have been different, and there might have been a flower in her hair and a skinny, long-haired guy with an American accent wrapped around her.  But the image this independent woman wanted to project then and now was the same.

She barely turned her head to talk to her girlfriend, also in her 70s.  She didn’t need to.  The complicity of a lifelong friendship allowed this kind of terse, coded dialogue.  Groceries at their feet, cups of tea on a small metal table, sitting outside a London cafe in a brief moment of improbable December sunshine.   Both  were chain-smoking, ignoring the world around them.  Lost in the kind of conversation that is the envy of men.

Surely locals.   Not locals like those of us that moved to Notting Hill during the last decade.    No, locals like our next-door neighbours that arrived here in the 70s and still take long, contemplative vacations on some beach in India; or like the keeper of the thriving cafe in our street featuring a bring-your-pet and champagne theme.   The kind of locals that went to festivals before the advent of VIP tents and the Gram.

As I left the cafe, I glanced back at her and realised I could well have seen a photo of her in India just a few weeks ago.  Could she be the 20-something blonde sitting next to Mia and those English guys with dreamy eyes in a Transcendental Meditation ashram on the banks of Ganga Ma close to Rishikesh?  Everybody in that famous photo from 1968 look like they knew they had started something, confident in their search for a different way of life and happy to have broken away from the subdued tedium of their parents’ 1950s life style.  I saw that same look in her eyes. I forgot to check if she still wears her mala, a necklace with 108 wooden beads, but with a poncho like that, I’m sure she does.


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