Sex, Drugs and the Hippy Trail
Billy Wells from East Tisted recklessly pushed his own personal boundaries during the heady days of the 1960s. In his book, Snapshots of the Hippy Trail, he recalls his adventures with searing honesty and here he tells Mo Farrell that he has no regrets
|AFTER years of smuggling and
taking drugs being deported and
having sex with girls he met on the road, Billy Wells grew up.
The South London boy, a bright Cockney lad, his dad a fireman, his Northern mother a district-nurse, went to grammar school, where early signs of the rebel he was to become were to be challenged by an officious prefect, John Major, later prime minister, After the Wimbledon Palais, motor- bike burn-ups outside the Ace Cafe and gaining and turning down - a place at St Martin's College of Art,
Billy set off "to go round the world" looking for adventure and spiritual awakening. He probably got more than he bargained for, but decades later, he looks back on his hippy years with fondness.
Snapshots of the Hippy Trail. Starting tentatively by hitch-hiking and catching trains across France to Spain , the next year, he and a mate, Ray made it as far as Iraq, visiting towns now more famous in newspaper head lines - Baghdad, Fallujah and Basra- on the way bumping into another young traveller, Iris Murdoch, and getting a well-paid job as a civil servant in Kuwait.
On the West Bank in 1970 where he stayed with Indian Jews he'd met on the road
|As he travelled, his confidence grew and for five years
from the age of 21, he travelled back and forth to India, also visiting
Nepal, Sir Lanka, North Africa, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan,
Driving a variety of clapped-out vehicles and gaining - and losing companions en route, Billy illegally climbed the Great Pyramid, visited Bombay opium dens, a Sri Lankan monastery and the Statue of Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, which was destroyed by the Taleban in 2001
Much of his travels must have been undertaken in a stoned haze, but he remembers well the Christmas he spent in Katmandu - "it was everything I had hoped it would be, ghurkhas, market traders, musicians, travellers, everything," and his visit to Calcutta, which he describes as a 'mind warp', "an 18- carat, non-stop, screaming city with absolutely everything going on everywhere constantly",
Sampling a brothel in Kabul and failing to find drugs that had been buried in the former Yugoslavia are also indelibly imprinted on his memory.
Without the help of any diary entries made on the road, the book still came easily, He says: "I called it Snapshots because it made such an impact on me and every image stuck in my mind and I have told the stories a few times,"
In anecdotal style, he recalls how he searched for a deeper understanding of himself beyond the drugs and women, encountered immense hospitality and grew to respect the many different cultures he experienced,
"When the Taleban were kicked out of Kabul in 2001, I was thinking back to how sweet a place it was back then, It was a pocket where there was no trouble and being there was like living life in a kingdom like it had always been and it was the one stable thing in the world, It was my favourite country at the time.
"When I first travelled there, they respected the English because we had beaten the Germans, Now they know we're just as flaky as everyone else so we don't get the respect any more," He visited India twice and was in awe of its vastness and complexity, but of Afghanistan, he says: "Afghanistan was what I was looking for, "I was looking for adventure and searching for enlightenment - we all know in our DNA what it's all about and have knowledge of how to survive and that gets corrupted by the media and the world of illusion brought about by lust, hate and ignorance, "I was tempted, hungry for it, just a young man with an appetite,"
Forty years on and with the benefit of perspective, he is more philosophical, •
"Kids today are told to have an appetite and they can have it all, but it doesn't satisfy, That's not the answer It's just a distraction,
"It was my destiny to spend those years travelling, I had to find out that stuff, I had a vision that I could do what I wanted, I just didn't make any money or benefit mankind, You can search so hard and then when you realise you know it all the time any- way, you just have to stand back and realise the value of stuff,"
By the I 970s, the Hippy Trail had lost its appeal for Billy and he returned to his South London roots in Merton and Tooting - where he ran motorbike shops, Married for 20 years and now divorced, with two boys, aged 22 and 14, and living in the Hampshire countryside, his life is a long way from the stoned and stoney path he took all those years ago, "I've given up drugs now - it's okay for a bit but it gets boring after a while," he says,
Dedicated to "all travellers, hobos, backpackers, pilgrims and supertramps - yesterday, today and tomorrow", Snapshots of the Hippy Trail by Billy Wells is available from the author,