I am a great believer in returning our calendar to follow the natural rhythms of nature. Therefore, my preference would be that each year begin and end at December 21st, the winter solstice. However, until the world comes to its senses about this, I will wish all my readers a happy new year on this more usual date.
Fifty-six years ago today, my mother and father visited their closest friends, Ron and Betty, who lived a few miles from us in West London. I was in the backseat of the small black car. It smelled of leather and my parents’ cigarettes. I was sullen because I was just turned 14 years old and I had far better things to do than visit my parents’ old fogie friends to play cards.
I remember this all so clearly because, just as we pulled up outside Ron and Betty’s row house, the car radio broke off its normal programming and a solemn voice replaced the happy chatter. The voice announced that President John F. Kennedy of the United States had been shot and probably killed. I can still feel the goose-flesh that crawled over my skin. I remember the loud gasp as my father realized what had been said. John Kennedy was one of my father’s heroes, and he was mine too. He was our hope for the future, and now he was dead. Nothing else about that evening do I remember. I’m sure my folks and their friends discussed the assassination, but that has passed from recall.
Within two years of that day, though, JFK had — in my eyes at least — fallen from the pedestal upon which his charisma, his beautiful family, and his martyrdom had placed him. He was quickly revealed as just another centre-right US politician who was happy to send the boys to war, who was happy to squander the nation’s wealth on weapons and imperialism, who had no answer to segregation but brother Bobby’s federal agents. We also learned (perhaps we always knew) he wasn’t quite such a great family man, either; that Camelot was an expensive sham.
Kennedy and his people lived in the tuxedoed world of High Society that was soon to be swept away by the real world of Soul on Ice and Revolver. We might have hated that big Texas bully who followed Kennedy, but it was Kennedy not Johnson who pushed the US into South Vietnam, and it was Johnson not Kennedy who brought forward the Civil Rights Acts. Looking back, we can now see that both Kennedy and Johnson were equal participants in the cabaret that is America the Superpower. Unfortunately for the truth, Kennedy will always have the smile, the beautiful wife, the cute John-John and Caroline, while Johnson will always be pulling the ears off those damn beagles.
Thirty years ago today: It was 9th November 1989 and I was watching TV, watching the news from Berlin. And soon a dozen people are hacking at the Wall from both sides and the party has begun and CNN’s cameras bring this extraordinary and historic wish-fulfillment into the living rooms of the world, and my living room in particular that November night.
And within moments, it seemed, there were thousands singing and candles blazing. And even though I was in Vancouver at the time, my heart was with them because at heart I was and remain a Londoner. And Berlin is VERY close to home to Londoners, especially to those who had spent decades watching people die as they tried to go over and under and around the Wall. And I wept openly and for days when the Wall came down.
It was a day of ultimate possibilities because here was an impossibility happening in front of our tear-misty TV-mediated eyes.
Today I am seventy years old.
Just saying that feels unreal. When I was born in 1949, average life expectancy for a man in the UK was about 65 years; I have somehow managed to beat that.
I am part of the generation that didn’t trust anyone over thirty, and who made terribly dangerous choices on a regular basis throughout their thirties and forties. By the 1990s, what with all the drugs and the booze and the carousing, I was certain I couldn’t possibly reach fifty, and I wasn’t all that sure I wanted to.
Now, I have kids in their late forties, grand-children in their mid-twenties, and I am sure that great-grand-children can’t be far away.
The fact that I am still here, walking and talking and pretending (to myself at least) to be young, is astonishing, a wonder, a miracle of modern medicine, and a tribute to the Everloving who takes such good care of me.
My future keeps catching up to my present and I hope it keeps doing so for a long time. After all, I have promised myself my first ever Big Mac on my one hundredth birthday!