TOWARDS TWILIGHT

Capital of the New Age

to Glastonbury is dominated by the Tor and, to a lesser extent, Chalice Hill and Wearyall Hill. But, from within the town itself, none of these are particularly noticeable. It's actually quite difficult to catch a glimpse of the Tor from anywhere in the town.

It's a fairly ordinary town, at that; mostly brick-built, with very little grandeur or style. But one can't walk very far along its streets without becoming aware that this isn't an average English country town. Bookshops, tea-rooms, souvenir stalls with Arthurian, Arimathean or New Age themes abound. Even the postcard advertisements in newsagents' windows tell of a different world to the usual run of second-hand prams, settees and bicycles - here you'll find Tarot-readers, crystal-healers, Shiatsu masseuses, astrologers and the like. There are shops full of pottery, hand-knit woollens, "smokers' requisites" (mostly with little relevance to tobacco) and trippy posters. In short - Hippy Heaven.

These aren't just targeted at day-trippers (if you see what I mean). There is plainly a substantial local population buying into this. Because, for decades now, artists, musicians, writers and advertising executives have "escaped" the metropolitan rat-race, and have established themselves here. Many of them arrived with a tidy little fortune - earned in some youth culture fad - so they didn't need serious work. But they wanted something to do - so they threw pots, learned some mystic art or wrote guide-books to the soul.

The real surprise has been that some of them have managed to turn their little jobs into thriving careers - with business plans, accountants - the whole bit. The so-called "New Age" culture turned out to be rather more than a few fey optimists with warm hearts and no brains. It's become an industry. Glastonbury must be the world capital of that industry - the Western world, at least. It's easy to sneer, but as industries go, this one has one advantage over most of the others.

It's mostly harmless.

There are times when these New Agers fit rather uncomfortably into a conservative agricultural community, but then, Vegans and beef farmers are never going to see eye to eye on everything.

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