Derek Cooper: “Do you like English cheeses yourself?”
French woman: “Yes, I lived in England for two years and I know both of them.”
The Food Programme, BBC Radio 4 – 1986
English cheese was pretty dire in the ’70s. I was lucky enough to live in the Yorkshire Dales for a while where it was possible to find proper cheese, made in farmhouse kitchens and dairies with unpasteurised milk on a “bootleg” basis and sold out of the back door, probably breaking loads of food hygiene regulations. It was delicious. Commercial Wensleydale cheese was rescued by Kit Calvert in 1935. He also ran the second hand bookshop in Hawes and I regularly saw him there smoking his pipe by the counter. He looked anything but dynamic, but he sure as hell was, campaigning for the integrity of the Dales until his death in 1984, aged 81.
Before moving to the Dales I had a brief spell as a teenage runaway in early 70s London, where Nicholas Saunders’ book “Alternative London” was my bible, packed with information and tips on where to find cheap or free accommodation and food, how to create your own living space, where to meet other ‘alternatives’…It’s successor “Alternative England” was the nearest the UK had to “The Whole Earth Catalog”, the bible for US alternatives and communards. In the late ’70s Saunders moved in on Neal’s Yard, off Covent Garden, after the wholesale market had moved out and rents were cheap, setting up the Neal’s Yard Dairy and several other businesses, making the Yard a haven for vegetarians and food lovers.
His third major project was as an ambassador for good quality MDMA/ecstasy. In the early ’90s he and a couple of colleagues would turn up at raves in their van offering clubbers a free, quick and easy test on their Es to check the purity. He was the nearest the UK had to Timothy Leary in his promotion of pharmaceuticals as a social tool, but being English he did without the high media profile, self promotion and evangelical overtones.