Sunday 10 June 2018

I do remember them and I was there by Mary Hoffman

The Sixties, that is. I don't think it really hit me that the 1960s now count as history until I saw Angela Davis on Channel 4 News and realised it was part of a feature on 1968 and that was fifty years ago.

We have debated often on this blog what constitutes "history;" is it a generation ago, 25 or 30 years? Well 50 years certainly counts and this decade in my life was a momentous one on the national stage. In particular it was the time when young people became what is now called "woke" and social protest became effective, long before there were any social media to support it and help it spread.

As Angela Davis said, "I couldn't afford international phone calls – I had to write letters." (For those of you who don't know or can't remember who she is we'll get to her later on). Here is a snapshot both public and personal of the years about which it was said "if you can remember [them] then you weren't there."

It was the era of the Cold War, Apartheid, the Berlin Wall, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the Vietnam War and the reign of the Kray twins in London. It was also the time of the Beatles, flower power, psychodelia, the moon landing, the Civil Rights movement and the beginning of second wave feminism.

At the beginning of the decade my boyfriend was Roger Rees, who went on to become a huge star of stage and screen, living with a male partner for 34 years. (RIP, lovely Roger). Briefly in the middle I dated Roger Scruton and smoked pot (unconnected, though it would be a sort of explanation). Two months before the sixties ended I met the man I married three years later. Being neither gay nor Tory, he suits me very well.

1960 The Sharpeville Massacre opened the eyes of the rest of the world to what was going on in South Africa. For years and tears, till the end of Apartheid, we bought no South African fruit and veg. Harold MacMillan made his "Winds of change speech," To Kill a Mockingbird was published and in London there was the obscenity trial of Lady Chatterley's Lover. How well I remember the copy being passed round at school which fell open at the rude bits. When I read the whole novel I found it disappointingly dull.

1961 Charismatic and (relatively) young John F. Kennedy became President of the United States.

I can't honestly say I remember his election or inauguration but I remember the night of his assassination two and a half years later very well. My older sister and I were babysitting a friend's 8-months-old son and he would not sleep. Surely everyone who was alive and beyond babyhood then remembers that night? And I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 too. It was the period that shaped the consciousness of those who were young in the 60s. We really believed that WW3 was imminent and we were all going to die.

In the early 60s I joined CND, while I was still a schoolgirl.

1961 The Berlin Wall was erected as the effective division between not just the city but East and West Germany. I was amazed to discover it was as recent as that when researching my novel When she was Bad (written as Amy Lovell).

Catch-22 and The Pride of Miss Jean Brodie were published. The Beatles first played the Cavern Club though, as a Londoner, I had yet to hear of them. I fell in love in Spain with an English boy called Tony but omitted to discover his surname and his parents whisked him away before we could exchange addresses. He had a twin sister called Tina. The trial of Adolf Eichmann began in Jerusalem.

1962 The Cuban Missile crisis was in October/November. Earlier in the year Fonteyn and Nureyev first danced together and I was besotted with him (ever since his defection to Paris the year before and his arrival in the UK). I heard about Marilyn Monroe's death while I was on holiday with my parents in Spain. Max Perutz won the Nobel prize for Chemistry, which I didn't pay much attention to at the time, but I later met him In Cambridge as his daughter was a friend.

1963 Please, Please Me, introduced me to the Beatles and in particular George Harrison. The Bell Jar was published but I didn't read it till a year or two later.  And Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, though it took a while for feminism to reach these shores. Martin Luther King made his "I have a dream" speech and, on St. Cecilia's Day, JFK was assassinated in Dallas (see above). I don't think we knew if we were on the verge of something wonderful or something terrible. I'm still not sure.

"los Beatles" in Madrid
1964 The Civil Rights Act was signed by LBJ, though begun by JFK and his legacy. Another set of three initial, MLK, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The death penalty was at last abolished in the UK – another fact that surprised me with its lateness when I researched When she was Bad.

1965 Malcolm X was assassinated. T S Eliot died a more peaceful death but I was sad to see him go. The bombing of North Vietnam by the US and South Vietnam intensified, though I don't think I knew about it then, not till much later in 1967/68. I certainly didn't know about the marches to Montgomery now well-known from the film Selma. I spent the summer in Florence, determining much of the rest of my life. I'll be there again in a week's time. The Race Relations Act was passed in the UK.

1966 The demonstrations against the Vietnam War really picked up in the US, where I spent the summer but I'm ashamed to say they didn't feature in my awareness.  I was living in a flat in NYC on the Upper East Side, wearing clothes bought in Carnaby Street ad eating Euphrates crackers with Philadelphia cheese and ground pepper, living a life incomprehensible to my parents.

I took more notice of the conviction of the Moors murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley and the disaster in Aberfan that killed over a hundred children. And hearing about the flood in Florence that destroyed or damaged so much art. Never dreaming that fifty years later I would be writing about it in in an App on Michelangelo.*

1967 Elvis Presley got married! If this had happened a few years earlier, I would have been devastated. At the age of fourteen, I had decided he would marry me. And indeed he did meet Priscilla when she was about that age, so it wasn't quite as delusional as some of my crushes. (OK, it was still delusional). But now I was older and wiser and graduated a month after this seismic event. It was followed by the "Summer of Love," which wasn't for me, though I loved the dresses and the music and the pacifism.

1968 Martin Luther King was assassinated and Bobby Kennedy, who had been going to run for President, was killed two months later.  This was when I really became aware of what was happening in Vietnam, appalled by the pictures in the newspapers. I started a Postgrad linguistics course at UCL, taught be Michael Halliday, who died a few weeks ago. This was another profound influence on the direction my life would take.

Angela Davis in the middle
Angela Davis was a Black activist and feminist who we were just about to hear about in the UK, though she wasn't arrested till the following year. Her stencilled face with its distinctive Afro hair appeared on walls in the UK. (She was found not guilty and has had a distinguished academic career). She is still an activist.

In France, "les evènements," the student riots, took place in Paris and beyond, protesting against capitalism, consumerism and American influence. They were accompanied by national strikes.

Czechoslovakia was invaded by the USSR. We had Czech students stranded at UCL and I remember vividly the marches, occupations and the fundraising Czech Appeal to help students cut off from families and finds.

1969 Richard Nixon became President of the United States. The Charles Manson "family" murdered Sharon Tate and four others and two more people the next day. The murders seemed even more horrific because Tate was eight months pregnant. She was married to Roman Polanski.

The Beatles gave a last impromptu performance together on a rooftop. Monty Python got its first TV airing. My sister and I stayed up late to watch the moon landing. It was her birthday, a fact that neither of us remembered later until reminded. It kept being delayed so we set an alarm and got up again in the early hours to watch it.

I moved into my first flat in London in Swiss Cottage, sharing with two others. Became a vegetarian. And at a Halloween party in Roehampton met my husband-to-be. 

So those were the 60s, those were, remarkable in so many ways but viewed through the eyes of a teenager turning into an adult, a girl who had crushes on public figures and boys she met in real life, turning into a woman with a degree, some knowledge and and a serious relationship. What began as a sort of Adriana Mole view of the world turned to a commitment to civil rights, pacifism, feminism and socialism. When my first book was published in 1975, my publisher Rex Collings said drily, "I don't think we'll put on the jacket flap that you are a vegetarian, feminist, socialist" and he was probably right. But I am all those things and my views were formed in the decade I do remember, in spite of the pot. And I was there.

* Buried Alive: the Secret Michelangelo took to his grave, is an App created by Time Traveler Tours & Tales  and can be downloaded for free on to iPhones and Android devices.

When she was Bad by Amy Lovell is published by the Greystones Press and available in paperback and on Kindle.

All photos are from Wikimedia Commons
(The montage at the top of the page is by Vitek - the images are:
  1. The Beatles in America.JPG
  2. CheHigh.jpg
  3. Mao Zedong portrait.jpg
  4. Kennedyb.jpg
  5. AABAP.gif
  6. Woodstock redmond stage.JPG
  7. Bruce Crandall's UH-1D.jpg
  8. Martin Luther King - March on Washington.jpg)


Ann Turnbull said...

Fifty years definitely counts, Mary, since you allowed me to write about starting work in 1960 in what I think was my very first post! I turned 17 that year and it's good to be reminded of all those events, and of the causes we supported. I try to stay as hopeful as I was then, but it's hard.

Andrew Preston said...

I do recall 22nd November 1963. I was 11 years old. My father knocked on my bedroom door at 10.30 that night to tell me that President Kennedy had been shot, so I knew it must be important, but not why.

50 years ago, round about now, I was doing summer holiday work in the hills of the Mull of Galloway. Lifting potatoes. Quite well paid for casual, agricultural work, £2 a day, as I recall. But backbreaking under a summer sun.
My parents barely recognised me when I arrived home at the en of the first day.

Janie Hampton said...

How do 50 years fly by so quickly? In 1968 I was taking my O levels, having spent most of the revisions weeks frolicking in poppy fields and making new mini-frocks out of flowery curtains. My first published poem appeared in 'Norfolk Fair', written on a 1915 Corona fold-up typewriter, the day I got my O level results - I just scraped through 7.

Leslie Wilson said...

I remember the newspaper pictures of the Kennedy assassination, with Jackie and the security man climbing up the back of the car. I can remember the general sense that something dreadful had happened, as if the world had changed for the worse, though considering my parents had lived through the war, and Nazi Germany, that feels odd.
What I think strikes one, revisiting the '60s, is how chauvinist they were, as I discovered reading through old editions of the Guardian at Colindale. Women's Lib was certainly way overdue.