Cosmo Landesman, author of Starstruck, introduces us to Mikey Cuddihy, author of A Conversation About Happiness: The Story of a Lost Childhood and Abbie Ross, author of Hippy Dinners: A Memoir of a Rural Childhood as part of the Soho Literary Festival, presented by Oldie magazine.

Mikey Cuddihy, we discover, attended the infamous independent boarding school Summerhill in the 60s – a ‘free’ school founded in 1921 in Suffolk, where structure is more often determined by the children, rather than the adults. This premise is initially very exciting, but the more we hear from Mikey, we realise it may not have been as liberating as it sounds. Being able to miss lessons and stay in bed sounds delightful when I teleport into my eight-year-old mind, until Mikey informs us that there was no heating and they slept in army bunks! Mikey has a mystery about her; having lost both her parents young in separate car accidents, and clearly feeling unsettled about her “hippy” childhood in Summerhill, she holds quite a lot to her chest. I am very eager to read her book and unfold the secret pages that detail this alternate (maybe cult-driven?) “cool” universe.

Alternatively, Abbie Ross tells us freely of her rural paradise in North Wales, in which her little feet could get as muddy as they liked away from the “adult gaze”. Living and mixing with similar folk in communes, at a time when ‘hippy culture’ was seemingly easier to choose than it is today, there don’t seem to be many bad points.

Abbie also shares her thoughts on her own parenting. She mentions that she doesn’t “have the guts” to be so liberal with her own children; that whilst her freedom as a child has made her who she is today, she wouldn’t apply the same style to her own mothering. Her inner battle is what I am fascinated by, as I have often fantisized about applying ‘hippy’ tactics to my children when they come along. For me, it raises questions such as: “would I let my child decide things for themselves freely or would I guide them?”; “would it be better not to have a television?”; and, “should I move to the countryside as soon as I’m pregnant?”

A lot of audience members have grown up in similar scenarios or have raised their kids in the same way, freely sharing their thoughts on the matter. Some fully stand by the decisions that they have made, saying “Fuck em if they can’t take a joke!” and “My kids are the least neurotic people I have ever met!”. One man brings up the very valid point that a lot of the hippies living in the 60s chose the way of life as part of their political impulse, reading and supporting activists of the time, not just smoking weed and eating bean burgers.

As a child who grew up fairly conventionally, I am fascinated by all the stories I hear. But regardless of my upbringing compared with that of the people around me, I wonder if we seek structure as much as freedom, depending on who we are. Do we each have our palette of creativity, colours present at birth, which will ‘Jackson Pollock’ itself at some point regardless of where and how we grow up?

I like to think that I was able to express myself freely but also learn the skills needed to get on in the world, but I also hear a faint rumble of envy in my belly. Have I missed out on burning hillside sunsets minus curfew? Playtime for days and a fearless pair of hands and feet? A heart full of love for all, bursting at the seams? Or would I be exactly the same as I am now? I suppose I’ll never find out, but I certainly want to find out more about these women, each honest and open to her unique experiences. An inspiring and thoughtful hour indeed.

Hippy Childhoods Revisited played at the Soho Theatre on 27 September. For more information please see the Soho Literary Festival website.