Leaf by Leaf by Leaf Fielding
Leaf Fielding, member of the legendary ‘Operation Julie’ LSD-manufacturing-and-distribution ring, was busted in 1977 and spent five years in jail, ending his sentence at Leyhill Open Prison. He published his memoir, To Live Outside the Law, in 2011 – a gripping account of the Julie bust, the events that led up to it, and Leaf’s more general life story, involving a difficult childhood, bad times at boarding school and eventual flowering into a young hippy in the mid-1960s. The book was the first insider account of the Julie affair and was well received, earning plaudits from luminaries such as Howard Marks, who typically described it as: ‘F***ing good!’
Several years on, Leaf has now published Part 2 of his memoirs, entitled Leaf by Leaf, which continue the story from the point where To Live Outside the Law ended – his release from prison. After initial exhilaration, Leaf is subject to volatile mood swings as he faces the inescapable tally of traumas that prison life has inflicted on him, and also the realisation that healing himself won’t be a simple process. Moreover it is now the early 80s, the grim Thatcher era, and by this time the vivid psychedelic colour that infused the previous two decades of British life has all but drained away.
Characteristically, it is travel to far-flung exotic lands that provides the antidote, and Leaf picks up from his youthful adventures in Turkey, Morocco and Thailand (described in To Live Outside the Law) and now moves on to a tour of India and Sri Lanka, taking in Delhi, the Himalayas, the beaches of Goa and much more. Leaf is such a good writer, a natural at conveying the vivid impact of grand landscapes, together with the hubbub and freneticism of urban scenes, making his travel accounts constantly alive and sparkling. Also he’s completely honest and unguarded about his inner life, his troubling emotions as well as his uplifting ones, and therefore we witness his spiritual healing process in action.
After more travels that see the years pass by, Leaf finds himself settling in Spain and working at teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). But the Third World itch comes on again, and Leaf begins a new leg of foreign adventures, this time with friends in Malawi. Again he describes the poverty, beauty and backwardness of the country so well, and it comes to exert a special hold on him. During several trips, he contracts the tropical disease bilharzia, and also faces the local devastation due to AIDS, which has created a burgeoning problem of orphaned children. This leads to the creation of the Warm Heart Project, a charity set up to build a girls’ hostel, which eventually opens in 2003.
Along the way, Leaf experiences many relationship vicissitudes, which again he records with a disarming honesty, unafraid to show himself in a sometimes unflattering light. As is the case in many a story, he is eventually saved by the love of a good woman, who accompanies him on the Malawi trips and becomes a solid part of his life. Apart from a little dope dealing and getting high in India, the aspects of psychedelic use that feature strongly in To Live Outside the Law fade into the background, but the significance of Leaf by Leaf lies in that it shows us a life influenced by what one might call the ‘higher values’ of the counterculture translated into one man’s unique pragmatism. Leaf’s second memoir is a heart-warming read, and is everything good autobiography should be – a fully-rounded unflinching examination of the self without censorship or sugar coating. Ultimately it demonstrates the fundamental truth that the journey of self-discovery is a never-ending one. As he himself says:
‘However far out you’ve pushed the boat of your life, there is always a route back to the heart of your own improbable existence. All of us have to find a way to live with ourselves and with everything we have done.’
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