Saturday, February 03, 2007
A Picture of Tim
My friend Tim Sebastion is dead. He died on Thursday the 1st of February at about 8 o’clock in the evening.
Typical Tim: a pagan to his last breath. He always knew how to make a dramatic exit. It was a glorious full moon, the night before Imbolg, the perfect moment for the founder and ex-Archdruid of the Secular Order of Druids to depart this life and to move on to whatever may await us next.
He was born in Southend-on-Sea in Essex on the 29th April 1947. He was brought up in a Catholic Monastery in Mayfield in Sussex from the age of 8 until he ran away at the age of 15 to seek his fortune in London, where he was a barrow boy in the East End. During the ‘60s Tim ran boutiques in both Carnaby St. and the Kings Road. He also opened his own stall in Portobello Road selling antiques, paintings and prints. In the early ‘70s he worked for the London Music Store in Great Portland Street where he was responsible for importing Melodiya Records from Russia. He was involved with the London hippie scene and knew many of the bands, including Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies.
It was during this time that he attended the first Windsor Free Festival in August 1971. He was amazed at the scene and became a regular at most free festivals from then on. In the mid-seventies, he started going to the Stonehenge festival. He always claimed to be an original Wally: that is, one of the associates of Wally Hope, who organised the first festival in June 1974. It was here, at the Stonehenge festival, that Tim must have seen his first Druids.
Who can say what drew him to them? In the early days of the festival the mainly hippie/anarchist audience were somewhat sceptical of the berobed and besuited, neatly trimmed and clean shaven figures who would drive in to Stonehenge on the morning of the solstice to do their rituals and then depart. In those days the Druids were definitely members of the establishment.
One of the jokes was that, as the Druids were intoning their incomprehensible, nasal mantras, the hippies would all chant back “ken barlowwwwwwwwwwwwwwe... ken barlowwwwwwwwwwwwwe” after the character in Coronation Street who was known to be a Druid and to attend these meetings.
So they were straight guys, middle-aged and middle-class. But then they were also dedicated enough to get up at some ungodly hour and to travel to the stones in time for the sunrise. And didn’t they, too, just like Tim and his compatriots, recognise the importance of the stones to the magical and cultural history of the British Isles? Weren’t they, too, caught up in the mystery of this place?
It took a few years for Tim to adopt the Druid ways, but the seeds of his later conversion lay in those early days: in watching the mysterious strangers in their robes and hoods, with their sickles and their staves and their oak laurels, processing into the stones to perform their arcane ceremonies.
It was also around this time, that Tim decided to move out of London – to “go west young man” – in the spirit of magical adventure, certain that out here, in the mysterious and still superstitious regions of the west country, he would find his true destiny at last.
He opened an antiques shop in Bradford-on-Avon. Later he joined the folk rock band Gryphon, as the lyricist, with whom he made two albums and six singles. (http://www.gaudela.net/gryphon/)
It was during the making of their last album that he first heard the Sex Pistols. They were working down the hall, a just few doors away at the same studio, making the notorious and never-to-be-forgotten Never Mind The Bollocks.
That noise! That sound! It was an instant conversion.
He became a fan of punk music and a friend to many of the aspiring west country groups, including the Subhumans, considered by many to be one of the greatest of the British punk bands.
So how did he become a Druid?
He used to say to me that one day he planned to write a book called How To Be A Druid.
He said, “first of all you have to go to school in a Catholic Monastery. Then you have to run away to London and open a boutique...”
In other words, he saw the whole of his previous life as preparation for his Druidic role.
But undoubtedly partly it was a political response to the establishment attack upon the festival, which was shut own in a storm of police-led violence in June of 1984.
The Druids had a customary right to perform their ceremonies at Stonehenge at the solstice. Everyone had a customary right to freedom of worship, to freedom of movement, and to freedom of assembly. So why not: why not become a Druid? Being a Druid meant standing up for the rights of the British people to worship where they liked, and how they liked and in whatever manner they liked.
It was a political as well as a spiritual decision.
And so he set about creating his own Druid order, the Secular Order of Druids, sometime in the late eighties.
Typical Tim. Always a prankster. Read the acronym. It was a brilliant joke. But also, by giving it that name, by underlining its secular nature, he was making a political and a spiritual statement, about his reasons for making this move.
Secular, meaning not religious. Secular, meaning concerned with worldly as opposed to other-worldly things. Temporal. Down to earth. Mundane.
It’s a statement about the nature of true spirituality, and a reminder to all of those who would be likely to follow him not to try to make a religion out of it.
Just in case he got too pompous himself.
Not that that was ever likely. Tim was just about the least pompous man I ever met.
What I remember about him most was his grumbling voice, his booming laugh, his ribald and unrestrained sense of humour, and his ability, almost stretching to genius, to knock over any ashtray, any pint, any table or any tent that he was even vaguely associated with.
When Tim had an ashtray it was a purely symbolic item. No ash would ever stay in it. You might as well have told him, “just drop it on the floor,” because that’s where it would all end up.
This was the reason I referred to him in my book, The Last of the Hippies, as “the most completely useless person I have ever met”.
To quote, from Chapter 13, The Trouble With Hippies:
“I had Tim with me. I like Tim. He's the most completely useless person I have ever met. Every time he puts up a tent, it falls down. If he has a drink he spills it. If he flicks his ash at the ashtray, the ashtray goes on the floor. Then he'll tread in it too....
“Actually I'd said that to him at the time. I'd said that he was the most completely useless person I'd ever met. We were sitting in the van at the Big Green Gathering, Tim and I, with a pint of that potent cider in front of each of us, smoking fags and chatting, when Tim flicked his cigarette at the ashtray. The ashtray was already surrounded by fag-butts and ash where he's missed it previously. He missed it again, but caught it with his knuckle in the process, and the ashtray went on the floor. He lent over to pick it up, and knocked his drink over. I said, ‘Tim, you're the most completely useless person I've ever met.’ And he laughed, his booming great laugh.
“So that was Tim, Doing His Own Thing. Knocking over ashtrays.
“He told me that he thought the hippie movement was like the Romantic movement of the early 19th century. And that's what Tim is really: an old Romantic.”
Later I found out that Tim had been upset by this description, so I would like to amend the record now. Tim was not useless. He was a tireless fighter for justice, an inspiration to us all, a model of courage and conviction, funny, generous, honest and a truly decent person to boot. Having Tim chant the Awen over you was to be transported to another, better world.
He was only useless when it came to knocking over ashtrays.
But actually, even this was endearing. I mean, no ashtray or cup or pint of beer was safe in his vicinity. But this was because he was always so engaged in conversation, so entranced by the person he was speaking to, that these ordinary objects just failed to hold his attention. So he would forget about them, and knock them over. It meant he cared more about people than he did about objects.
So here’s to you Tim, wherever you are. I’m sure you’ve already made a lot of new friends.
Following are two stories I wrote about Tim. The first is from the Guardian Weekend, featuring a certain pub in Bath. The second story is an excerpt from The Trials of Arthur, featuring a Morris Minor, a druid's staff, a young couple and too much alcohol.