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EEL PIE DHARMA - a memoir / haibun -  © 1990 Chris Faiers

Chapter 6 - Meeting Eel Pie

"Out of college, money spent
 see no future, pay no rent
 all the money's gone
 no place to go ..."

 Abbey Road, The Beatles

I nervously wandered off the curving streets of Richmond into the offices of the local newspaper to ask for a job.  I was surprised when I was taken seriously.  As a test assignment, the editor told me that a group of hippies had started a commune in an abandoned hotel in Twickenham, the next village along the Thames.  The directions were fascinating  -  the hotel was called Eel Pie Island Hotel, and it really was on a little island in the middle of the Thames.

I caught the double-decker bus to Twickenham, and quickly found the arched footbridge which led to Eel Pie Island.  It was about two hundred feet across the little bridge, with a beautiful view of the Thames.  When I had reached the island I felt I had entered a special place.  A footpath lined with neat little cottages wound through the centre of the island.  There was no missing the old hotel at the end of the footpath.  It was derelict, and I just walked in where the grand front entrance had once been.

Without any problems I quickly located the founder of the commune.  Cliff was an artist/cartoonist and an anarchist.  He was living with his American girlfriend, Ame, in a large room on the second floor of the hotel.  Cliff was a big bear of a man by English standards.  He had long, strawlike brown hair and an unkempt beard.  With his granny glasses he looked like a professor gone bad.  Ame was an All-American girl  -  fresh-faced and clean limbed with glasses  -  a professor's wife gone bad.

Cliff's easel and layout table and supplies spilled over one half of their large room, and in the other half was a big old mattress on the floor covered with quilts and blankets.  The scene was artsy and cozy and there was the musty smell of Thames dampness pervading.

It looked like an enticing way to live, very bohemian and independent and countercultural.  As I introduced myself to begin the interview, I was compelled to say, "I'm really a poet, not a reporter."

"What kind of poetry?" Cliff wanted to know.  "Mostly haiku poetry, it's a Japanese style," and I dug into my dolly bag to give them a copy of Cricket Formations.

"We want to build a commune of artists, especially politically conscious artists," Cliff explained.  "Why don't you pick out a room to use as a study and you could live here as part of the commune.  Only a couple of people have moved in so far.  You'd have your pick of rooms."

This was too good an offer to resist.  I dashed around the hollow building.  Too Much!  There were no flats available in the Greater London area.  I had been turfed out of two bedsitters in a week, and here I was being offered a room of my own in this picturesque setting.  Thoughts of the interview were forgotten.  I was a poet again.


At first there were only a handful
of hippies in the derelict hotel
and I got a room
instead of a story
when I said I'm really a poet
not a reporter

Two years of my life
hiding from the clammy Thames fog
only our black and brown hashish
smoke holding up the crumbling walls

It's all so trite ten years later
so far out and away
from the foggy decay
of spunksoaked mattresses

Dougie, Crippled Eddie, Lorna
Scotch John, Seamus
Angie  -  Dominic
Where are you now
as the world discos towards 1984
to lift my head off the floor
hand me a fuming chillum
to kiss me tonight

Eel Pie Dharma is protected by international copyright laws. Individuals may print off a copy of this work for personal use only to facilitate easier reading.

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revised 8 March 2017