Back in the late 1960s my mother Julia Callan-Thompson was in the countercultural jargon of the time an ‘India freak’; a drop-out obsessed with the ‘mystic east’. Among my mother’s extant papers are a number of letters she sent while out on the hippie trail, and one she received from a woman called Georgian Shaw as she was making her way back to Europe. My favourite among the various surviving missives my mother sent my grandparents over the years is the following, mailed from Kathmandu on 13 June 1969:
“Everest although cold was the most beautiful sight you could see. Yes! we’re the luckiest people alive!!! Just returning from the mountains. Kathmandu seems such a big city now, although in comparison to London it’s just a village. Bruno has fractured his spine, nothing too serious, just that he must not carry anything or exert himself much for six months. We both would like to have a European summer, here the rainy season has started, rains at least 4-5 hours a day and July and August nearly all the day, enough of hot tropical weather. In India 150 degrees Fahrenheit, so we start back to drizzle and lukewarm weather, how we long for those cool English evenings. A friend is driving in about a week to Kabul in Afghanistan, that’s 3,000 miles of the 12,000 miles over to Europe, we should arrive in Kabul about the beginning of July or at the earliest last week in June. Its strange before I used to think that Wales was such a long way from London, now that 150 miles seems like a before breakfast walk.
“We hope to find a place to settle for a while, maybe, God willing, start a family, and live a normal family life. Travelling is one of the most stimulating things I know, but it’s a full time occupation, leaving no time for anything else. Bruno is dreaming of a big studio somewhere (maybe, South of France), where he can paint in peace and not have to leave things behind all the time because there’s too much to carry. It’s also time for us to become responsible citizens not wandering bums. Should see you sometime in August. Bruno wants so much to meet you all and me so proud of being a real countess although most of the time we don’t have two half pennies to rub together. Yes I’m married to the best man in the world. Love compensates for everything. We love you and will see you all soon…”
I guess that by 1969 my grandparents were used to receiving messages like this. It would have been quite something for a docker’s daughter like my mother to have become a countess; but she hadn’t actually married her boyfriend Bruno de Galzain, and he wasn’t a really count (although he delighted in telling people that he was).
As my mother returned west, she stopped off at the British Embassy in Kabul to pick up mail. When she went there she was handed the following missive from Georgina Shaw (which while addressed to her, seems to have been written more with Bruno in mind):
“Rishikesh 6th July 1969. Darlings God bless. Kabul Summer 1969, so glad we are together. I returned to Rishikesh full of thoughts of you which will continue to speed us all on our way and bring more meetings, more love. I wrote Layfayette that everything is fine. It is…
“Rarely can a trip to Delhi have been so miraculously rewarding.
“The spiritual circus continues to amuse in Rishikesh and the Ganges keeps us cool; perhaps we shall meet in a country garden in England.
“I shall not forget how beautiful Julie looked in the Nepalese gown – playing the one-stringed instrument. Happy days anyway you look at it. I love you. Delhi was peaceful compared with this seething metropolis where there is never a moments peace; Happy days.
“Pray that you are passing lightly through the trip and all is as it should be; as it must be.
“It is a great happiness to have seen you before you left, let me have news soon; I should love to know how Europe seems to be. We can at least be certain that Lucky will remain for a while yet.
“I AM AS HOLY AS POSSIBLE HERE.
“Swimming a good deal.
“How everybody scatters and regroups intricate karmas. Tokyo for Cherry Blossom twice – this year next year sometime…
“Your gift widened horizons in the foothills; I do not completely believe that the encounter between us actually took place, but exhibit A is pretty convincing.
“I think of you as though you were already in England; please write me news as soon as you can.
“Meanwhile Om Shanti. Peace and love and even flowers and incense. Hari Om and mostly Love, Georgina.”
After returning to London, Shaw would share a flat in Islington’s Thornhill Square with Carnaby Street fashion phenomenon Michael Fish, where she’d entertain figures both comic and influential, including seventies pot broker Howard Marks.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!