My mother, the witch

Young women are meant to rebel, but what if their mothers are already doing it? EMMA FORREST meets some unorthodox families
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Ash Brown, 53: mother of Sarah, 33, (pictured together, right), Jo, 32, Rachel, 30, Ursie, 27, Paul, 20. Ash took her children to peace rallies and Greenham Common in the late Sixties before becoming a punk in the Seventies. She has more recently been a pagan and a witch.

The political part of my life started when I was quite young. I joined CND early, and I met my first husband, who was a lecturer and a member of the Socialist Labour League. I was very active, selling papers and so on. I had Sarah at 20 and was expected to be rather like a Russian peasant: if Russian women could have a baby in a field and go back to work a few hours later, so could I. I was at heart a bohemian, but being in the SLL it was considered very bourgeois and they tried to beat it out of me; I asked too many questions and eventually got expelled for being too subjective.

At that time, working-class girls were expected to get married and have children and that was still with me even though I had married into a middle- class lifestyle. It never occurred to me not to have children. I was responsible for the future. The thought was of breeding children for the revolution; the more children I had the more children were brought up with my ideals. I love all the new stuff that the new generation brings. I find it really exciting that they are finding their own way. I'm not very retro; I'm very forward looking.

My children never stopped me from doing anything. But I also believed that by expressing myself, and by taking my children with me I've given them an opportunity to see something real. I invited them along to covens, but they were quite scathing - the idea of me being a witch was scary stuff. But I'm better for being myself rather than a sensible mum whose life revolves around her kids. This is my life and I would die rather than compromise my ideals.

I think the most valuable thing I have passed on to my children is for them to know that they have choices and for me not to impose my will upon them. Children get confused by living up to their parents' ideals; it takes them a long time to find themselves after they leave home and I think that if a child is raised to think that they have choices and that they are in control they have the power to make those choices.

Sarah Wright, 33, is an artist and art teacher.

While everything mum did was for us, the way she acted towards us wasn't conventional. From the age of six I was responsible for my sisters, for the shopping, taking the washing down to the launderette and organising the others to tidy the house. All the sorts of chores that you would expect a parent to do and every other parent was doing. Meanwhile, my mum was moving in and out of different politics and ideologies. When she was young it was Marxism. Then as we got older it was connections with religions like the Mormons. Then punk, CND and peace campaigning - I started to go to demonstrations too. That she got into paganism and being a witch. All along the line we would just say: "Oh it's just another phase she's going through." The sort of thing that people would say about their kids, really.

She wanted to make a better world for us, and she was less concerned with day-to-day intimacy and closeness; it always made us feel that she didn't have the time for us. If I have kids I want it to be right - to have a father around and the time to give attention and enable them to be kids, to have fun and play and not take on responsibilities.

Susannah Lafond, 55 (pictured above right): mother of Rainbow, 23, Star, 21 (pictured above left), Sunny, 16, and Poppy, 12. Susannah is a veteran eco-warrior who has been at the core of all major civil actions since the Sixties, from the Brixton riots in the Eighties to the more recent Newbury Bypass and Crystal Palace protests.

I was 32 when I had my first child, and I had already been all over the world. When I grew up girls didn't do what I did. I was travelling around America on a Greyhound bus six months after Kennedy was shot, on my own. I was doing acid before it was illegal and I was one of only five women in this country who were being trained in film the year the National Film School opened.

I never came to any notion of mothering. Both the men I had children with were loners as well, otherwise I wouldn't have been with them. As far as I was concerned I was a warrior on my path and these children chose to join me.

In 1995 I was barricaded in at Clairmont Road, on the M11 extension road protest, for five days with all four children: Poppy was seven, Sunny was 11, the others were teenagers. We were expecting 700 riot police. It went down in the records as the longest eviction in history in the Guinness Book of Records. It was on CNN 24 hours a day. I brought them into this mad, mad situation.

People talk about me as a dole scrounger but in fact I'm home, educating my children. The children all went to school until they chose to come out into this movement. We went to Newbury when it kicked off. Star had been down there building the site. Sunny came back and lived at home and went to school. Poppy and I stayed on and I wrote to the school saying that she was being taught by the Travellers School - they send you a book for nine- to 11-year-olds, basic maths and reading. Sunny came out of school at about 14, went to Somerset, then spent six months living in a tree at Crystal Palace.

Educating, in my opinion, is trekking round the country, going to carnivals, going to Stonehenge - these are historic occasions. This is what is important. My kids know all about GM foods, the Criminal Justice Act, vehicles and their rights; they spent all their time sitting round camps learning. Poppy will ask, "What's Aztec?" and she'll get a full explanation - it's natural education that comes from their curiosity.

My only aim was that they would go to bed each night as happy and healthy as could be. All I can say is the less you do, the better it is - the less attitude you have from your kids. A lot of people go from being a child in relation to their parents to being a parent in relation to their child, so they never have the space to be themselves. If you haven't had that space and known what freedom from convention is, how can you possibly let a child go free?

Star Hart, 21, is a photographer.

We were raised to be responsible for our actions, to be independent. Everyone's got to make their own mistakes, but parents seem to think that they can get their child around that somehow. All our mum did was prepare us for those mistakes. She never held on too tight to us. She never made us do our homework and I passed all my exams with flying colours, Rainbow didn't but that's her choice.

Mum would just lay out the options. "If you do this, this could happen, or this or this." It would always piss me off because she'd always be right. I'd always go off, determined that it was going to be different from how she said but she was right.

At home it was fine but at school it was difficult. When I was five, I made my mum buy me a school uniform. I always wanted to be normal. Until I dropped out of school at 17 and shaved my head - then I think I started being myself. I did seven months of A-levels but after that I went on to road protesting. Two months after dropping out of school I had my first photo published in a magazine. It hasn't stopped since then.

My mother has this ability to detach herself emotionally which is how she is able to allow us to make our own mistakes - just give us the guidance. I don't know if I would have that ability. I think I'd be a lot stricter but I do want at least four children. I thoroughly believe that we need as many sound people in the world as possible so we should be having as many children as possible.

`Summer of Love: Children of the Revolution' is on Channel 4, 14 August, at 7.35pm.

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