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Merlin's Return: When Ken Kesey Toured Britain with the Merry Pranksters (Part 2)

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"I'm not proselytising for LSD anymore. There's not enough of the good stuff to go around" - Ken Kesey, 1999.

I was working in a care home in Kettering when the Pranksters came. I remember reading about their imminent trip in a newspaper; it must have been The Guardian because I didn’t go near any of the others. I’d read Cuckoo’s Nest years ago and at the time I was in the middle of another one, I think it was The Last Go-Round, the under-rated novel that Kesey wrote with Babbs. Somehow, although I was aware of the continuing existence of most of my heroes—Ginsberg had died two years before, but a great many were still with us—the fact that they were all in America made them as remote as death anyway. But Kesey was coming here, onto my streets, to breathe my air. That was, indeed, like being told Merlin had been seen in a peaked hat and a velvet cape dancing a jig on Montague Street.

I sat in the park in Kettering one day writing or sketching in my journal (it’s always…

Merlin’s Return: When Ken Kesey Toured Britain with the Merry Pranksters (Part 1)

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Merlin wore many hats: he was a wizard or sorcerer, a prophet, a bard, an adviser and a tutor. He appeared as a young boy with no father. He appeared as an old, wise man, freely giving his wisdom to four successive British kings. He was dotting old fool [sic], who couldn't control his lust over beautiful women, who hold him [sic] in fear and contempt. He had even appeared as a madman after bloody battle, and had fled into the forest and learned how to talk to the animals, where he became known as the Wild Man of the Woods. Merlin was the last of the druid, the Celtic shaman, priest of nature, and keeper of knowledge, particularly of the arcane secrets.
(Source www.timelessmyths.com)

In August 1999, legendary author and counter-culture icon Ken Kesey came to Britain with Ken Babbs and the Merry Pranksters in search of Merlin. That was the ostensible purpose of their month-long tour of British towns and cities, which was being sponsored by Channel Four as part of its Summer of Love se…

My Mother, Books And Me

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Seventeen years ago in the early hours of July 1st, my mother Sylvia died. The details of her death and her life are for another time and place, but I’ve been thinking today about the influence she had on me as a reader of books.

If you’d looked at her bookshelves you might have thought her influence was a little tenuous. Musically we were cut from a very similar cloth (if that isn’t a mixed metaphor). But I don’t think I ever read one of her novels while she was alive.

Mum liked Agatha Christie, Ellis Peters; and she could devour a Dick Francis book in a day. I tried to read one of his on a train journey to Glasgow with my then-girlfriend once but I was bored to death before we reached the next stop. Perhaps the fact that we were going to watch the Rolling Stones had put me in too much of a rock and roll mood for a story about jockeys.

Long before I developed my own literary tastes, however, Mum had instilled in me a reverence for books as objects that I’ve never lost. Sometimes she wo…