CAN YOU GET THE SUN OUT, WHILE I COME BACK?
… … …
It is amazing the mediocrity that people are prepared to live with. If I stop and think for too long I begin to feel my age, otherwise I’m seventeen years old, I’m still an adolescent, I love loud music, I fantasise on women, I fornicate and I drink too much. I am truly a rebel without a cause. I’m a revolutionary, I swear, and I want to change the world.
The main difference between myself and the actual person I was in 1968 is that were I that same willowy skinhead with a flashing, charming smile, I would not be able to remember all the countless things that I recall throughout each day. How could a seventeen year old recall such vivid memories which sometimes assault me like a cluster of incoming 8 foot surfer waves, relentlessly arriving in my consciousness to disturb me, batter my serenity, only then to carry on, on their own sweet way.
I fear that when these absurd flashbacks confront me they are basically memory-pockets in the brain emptying their precious stored cargo for the final time. I worry that once remembered, all with the utmost clarity and technicolour vividness, precluded by an MGM lion roaring and introduced by ceremonially-clad fanfarers and everything, that those same memory pods which arrive like cement skips on rope pulleys at a brick making site and un-ceremoniously tip out their treasured content, then hang, swinging in space while I hang with them now in a state of exhaustive, nostalgic euphoria; those same memories then deflate like discarded party balloons as the empty, stale air within them eventually disperses and finally those cute little cerebral pods pop and disintegrate leaving me, no doubt about it, shy of yet another brain-cell, unable to recall the original thought at all and at least another half yard further down the leafy lane signposted to Senility. I’m pretty sure not many seventeen year olds ever have to think like that.
The trouble is, that while nearly everyone lives their life by some moral code, some rule of thumb, some inner motivation, be it a word, a faith, pure hatred or a political persuasion, I myself live my life by a relevant but changing life-theme and currently that theme is also the very same preclusion ~ namely, to live by ‘themes’. When your theme of life has become the concept of ‘themes’ themselves, it occurs to me you may be getting close to the ultimate point of no return, hanging in space and time, a bit like that empty cement skip, gently swinging.
I was born at such a moment in the conscious memory of our nation, an era which I guess will be hard for historians to ever chronicle effectively. The normal bullet points historians set against memorable dates tell a different and sometimes confusing tale when seen from the distance of time, especially when compared with the experience of having lived through that era. The memory does not quite match the history and it becomes truly a case of ‘it was better felt than telt’.
There were no wars, pandemics or great industrial breakthroughs to speak of in the time I am speaking of. A couple of assassinations maybe but the technological advances which were soon to surface, although present were still pretty much in the scientists hands, under wraps and therefore well behind the scenes. Landing on the lifeless moon and walking around a bit seemed the most pressing matter but we weren’t up to that bit yet.
It was a time of increased personal freedom, certainly in the west and there was the advent of the leisure industry for ‘the people’ as a society chastened by the discipline and austerity of wartime depravation and unhappiness emerged with its senses heightened and exposed by a new desire to live life as sensationally, sensuously and fully as we could. A generation determined to fill its proverbial boots you might say.
I suppose the best bits one could draw historically from that postwar period of the fifties and early sixties was that attitudes to race were finally being spot-lighted if not necessarily changed and due to the aeronautical advances made in successfully developing WWII fighter planes that had now exited the skies and were being replaced with a new era of affordable domestic air-flights, the golden age of travel to far-flung destinations was beginning and people from all walks of life were starting to explore the globe in a way ordinary people never had before.
Historians will most probably settle for – ‘a time of great social change’ when summing up the era, which palls somewhat in significance for those of us born into it the further we stand back from it, especially when you consider the achievements of past generations, including our parents, that we have been rightly remembering during the recent VE day celebrations.
Survivor of the WWII generation :- O we lived through the horrors of a global war but showed great courage, fortitude and resolve, We learned the value of ‘community’, lived, worked and loved our way through it all making great sacrifices, for the promise of a bright tomorrow.
Survivors of the post-WWII generation :- O we entered an era of great economic wealth, social freedom and personal liberty. We rebelled against our parents values, listened to pop music, had numerous sexual partners, became ‘individuals’ and dropped acid – all for the promise of a bright tomorrow.
That innate human tendency to be dissatisfied with our lot put aside, I am probably being a little harsher than I could be but then only those reading the History of Post War Britain (1950 – 1965) at the University of Cambridge in around 250 years time will properly be able to gauge if I am correct in my assessment or possibly even understand what on earth I am talking about. It might actually be a very short course.
It is no doubt comparisons that cause us most alarm despite Shakespeares pithy observation that they are odious or the wonderful ‘Sir’ Chris Whitty’s assurances that there is little value in comparing stats, seeing as Europe is not recording cases or deaths using – all settings and of course it is certainly true that you can make statistics say all kinds of erroneous nonsense. Writers and journalists can put what ever kind of slant on things they choose as we have all seen during the current pandemic that we are all trying to live through. If you have been following the Daily Press Conferences as I have you will know what I refer to, and if you haven’t – well, where have you been?
This July, my mother if she were still alive would have reached her 100th Birthday and as a family we were hoping to celebrate her extraordinary life together. Obviously that occasion has been postponed due to the expected social restrictions but it occurs to me that had she still been alive it is very likely she would have been in a Care Home and might well have fallen prey to Covid-19’s malicious intentions like so many of that regal generation have. –
How sad would that have been? … How sad must it have been for so many families over these past few months? To see treasured, loved parents and grandparents, many of whom lived through the trials of WWII in such heroic fashion, now succumb to an even mangier foe and be taken from us in such seemingly inglorious circumstances. My heart truly goes out to those people who have my undying respect and heartfelt condolences and yet it occurs to me that maybe once again that worthy generation of over-80’s have paid a price far heavier than those of us who follow in their wake.
Have they, through their tragic, seemingly unfair demise – have they not passed the baton, opened wide a window of opportunity for their descendants – the next generations?! For now, it is us who must live and we have so much to do. Coronavirus has challenged us all to the very core in a way that no human fighting force, terrorist army or inhuman weaponry might have in this 21st Century. A foe born of today – unseen, unheard and naked – Bare face to bare face, it confronts us to stand up and finally give an account of ourselves. To write a chapter of recovery, of renaissance, a chapter worthy of history’s respect To repent of our adolescent past, our sometimes wanton excesses, our indolence and apathy and to finally grasp the nettle with courage and a full character of heart and warmth that the Wartime generation showed us. The generation that Captain Tom, my mother, maybe your mother or father emanated from.
Finally, the generation born in that moment between moments, where hangs that lonely cement skip, swinging in the breeze, a lost heartbeat in history’s vault and which today may symbolise the halted march of progress in time and space that we have all ,lived through, not lost, during this pandemic lockdown. Finally today, we may say we have our moment to make our sons, our daughters, our grandchildren proud and that we like that Wartime generation, finally, may leave our mark, in how we build again the broken wheel of commerce, industry and human exchange and make our country and this world – more caring, less self-centred and on the whole a happier place to live.
illustration by edenbray
(pigeons feed on the concourse at Kings Cross Station – 2019)
watercolour on wookey-hole handmade paper