Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Swinging Through the Sixties - Part Three

My next set of memories as I swing through the 1960's. But before you start to swing do check out:

There are certain dates where everyone can remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.

The Kennedy Assassinations – both of them. The death of Elvis Presley ? NO, that was in 1977 and right now we are swinging through the sixties. Let’s start with the Kennedy Brothers then I will challenge you to see what else you can remember.  All of these dates are important milestones in our history, perhaps like me you were there on the date concerned if not present at the location. Even if you were not born until 2007 so are just now starting your teenage years you will know of the events I am going to share. Read on and mentally put yourself into the date then picture what you may possibly have been doing when you heard the news.

As you know from earlier reading school was monochrome. Government was also monochrome. I and others of my age were born into the political party the family supported. No need to think about issues, simply follow the family’s politically inherited alliance. I was born into the conservative party as were everyone in my class at school. All of our parents voted Tory without thinking and it was assumed when we reached the then voting age of twenty-one.

November 1963, the British prime minister was Harold McMillan, monochrome from birth I doubt a colour photograph of him ever existed. He was approaching his seventy-fourth birthday, even older than me. Monochrome.

In The US of A John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been elected president to take up office on 20th January 1961. Aged forty-two, which let’s face it is still old, Kennedy was not monochrome. Make a Google Search and pictures of Harold McMillan show a sombre man in black and white. Do the same for President Kennedy and he is happy, smiling and in full colour.

Naivety mean lads of my age thought America was a bright positive country with an exciting future within which to grow up. Why couldn’t JKF have been born in The Royal Borough of Sutton Coldfield and Harold McMillian somewhere out in the Nevada Desert.

Friday 22nd November 1963 I was a teenager and was devastated when I heard the news. What would the world be like without John F Kennedy ?  Now with age, wisdom and hindsight I can say it was going to be a better place.

Yes, I do remember where I was when I heard the news of Kennedy’s assassination. I was at a youth group in, of course, The Royal Borough of Sutton Coldfield..

Why do I say the world became a better place without Kennedy ? Didn’t Kennedy give us the Apollo Moon Programme ? Civil rights ?  JKF New York Airport ? That I will explain later in a different swing through the sixties.

Who killed Kennedy ?  Does anyone know ?  The American Secret Service does, they killed him. That’s my theory. The American Secret Service killed their own president, accidentally, and covered it up for fifty-three years. Fifty-three years and still counting.  Who killed JFK ?  Not Lee Harvey Oswald for certain. He may or may not have been the one who fired the bullets from the Texas Book Depositary, be it him or be it someone else he missed ! A secret service agent in the motorcade instinctively grabbed his rifle to fire back but the weapon went off accidentally and that was the bullet which killed the Thirty-Fifth President of The United States of America.

There isn’t any mystery, there isn’t any debate about who killed John F’s younger brother Robert  Kennedy. That was Sirhan Bishara Sirhan on 5th June 1968 in Los Angeles.  Kennedy Junior did not die instantly, he lingered on for a number of hours until joining his brother the next day.

I was not a na├»ve thirteen year old for this assassination. I was seventeen going on eighteen and working as a management trainee in the soft furnishing department of Lewis’s Department Store in Birmingham.

It needs to be appreciated that in 1968 there was no social media.  As a result life in the swinging 1960’s was a far better place. There were no silly smart phones, don’t get me started on that subject !  There was no rolling twenty-four hour news channels where producers either had to make up stories or take something worthy of a five minute mention then embellish it into a one hour special.

I was measuring a roll of fabric when a member of staff came back onto the shop floor from her break. While away she had learned of the Kennedy shooting. I can remember so clearly her saying how she hoped Robert Kennedy would survive, he had ten children and she felt sorry for his kids. Kennedy number two did not survive, he died on 6th June 1968. Unlike his brother he was not US President but running for election.

Bill Clinton.  No, nobody shot him. When he was first elected as 42nd president I wrote a story for my English students, yes by then I was a teacher myself, where plotters tried to blow up Airforce One. Fiction and not fiction from the swinging sixties.

In those swinging sixties the Americans did go in for assassinations, it was part of their nation’s make up.

Martin Luther assassinated on Thursday 4th April 1968  I have to say that I do not remember hearing the news or where I was at the time. I am guessing I was again working in the soft furnishings department at Lewis’s Limited.  However, on this day nobody picked up the news during their break.

During Kennedy’s brief presidency America had its civil rights issues which I would suggest extend through to today.  Kennedy, I believe, did work had to change things but he only put down an early foundation stone. In 2020 we have had Black Lives Matter, we have had evidence of one police law for black people and another for others.

I do not understand racism, it makes no sense to me. It would have been in 1960, when I was ten years old, that I actually saw my first black person. This was when a lad by the name of George joined Banners Gate County Primary School. Telling my Mum after school that there was a black boy among us she said that she hoped we would not tease him ?  Tease him !  We all wanted to be friends with him !

At Boldmere High School for Boys we had an Indian man, Mr Rashid, as our English teacher. By far he was the best teacher in the school. I don’t think that anyone noticed he was brown and not white.

At the same time as Robert Kennedy was assassinated we had an Indian lad of my age working as the department porter. We could not pronounce his name so everyone called him Mr Ram. He was a great guy, we got on very well. There was prejudice but nothing to do with colour and race, a management trainee, such as myself, should not be making friends with a mere porter !

Race, colour ?  It appears to me that in America, certainly during the 1960’s America wallowed in them. It was not the utopia the naive thirteen year old I was conceived in my mind.
Perhaps this is a good time to break off and fit another edge piece to our jigsaw.

Melting Pot from Blue Mink:
Take a pinch of white man - Wrap him up in black skin - Add a touch of blue blood
And a little bitty bit of red Indian boy….
What we need is a great big melting pot - Big enough enough enough to take - The world and all its got And keep it stirring for a hundred years or more - And turn out coffee coloured people by the score

Released on 31st October 1969. Blue Mink was a UK pop band, Melting Pot made it to number three in the UK chart.

I was only twelve, going on thirteen, when in October 1963 I would argue that Kennedy took us all closer to World War Three than any other president. When it was found that Russia had nuclear weapons on Cuba Kennedy blockaded the island. The world came very close to war, nuclear war.  It was the Russians that backed off and not America. I do believe that Kennedy would have pressed the button and not eaten humble pie as Nikita Khrushchev did.

Parents kept their children at home and did not send them to school so the family could perish together. Not so in my family and not so at Boldmere High School for Boys where global nuclear was not regarded as a sufficiently strong excuse to bunk off school.

I believe that this Nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth…..
JFK again speaking on 12th September 1962.

Yes, I remember the Apollo Moon Programme. I was there WATCHING, not on board the space craft, on our flickering black and white television.

Apollo Nine was special. I remember the astronauts, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders orbiting the moon at Christmas 1968 and reading the opening verses of the Bible: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters…….

Apollo Eleven. The launch and the landing coincided with my days off at Lewis’s Department Store. With the microphone from my Dad’s wheel to wheel tape recorder pressed to the television loudspeaker I recorded all of the significant times during the mission.

Did Kennedy make his speech for scientific explorative reasons or was it all about one up manship against the Russians. I suspect the later. Nikita Khrushchev’s son says his father pulled out of the race for the moon as there were more important things to spend the money on, the people in Russia. I suspect that is a bit of modern-day historical propaganda but the fact remains the Apollo Moon Programme was cut short and mankind’s exploration of space came to an end.

1962, I think, I asked my school form teacher at Boldmere High School for Boys what The Vietnam War was all about.  I can see his face now as I report his answer. He shrugged his shoulders, literally, and said: I don’t have the faintest idea. Does anyone today have an answer ?  I don’t mean something plucked from historical records but from morality.

Donald Trump, the 45th President of THE United States advocates caution regarding China. The Korean War 25th June 1950 to 27th July 1953  was all about China. The Vietnam War 1st November 1955 to 20th April 1977 was all about China. I am writing these words in 2020, never forget the global pandemic we are experiencing was given to the world by China.

Britain poked its nose into the Korean War but that was in the 1950’s not the swinging sixties. Mine is the first generation in modern British history not to have gone to war. My grandfather’s generation spend its childhood preparing for World War One. My father’s generation spent its childhood preparing to fight and die for Britain in World War Two. I am careful to say childhood and not teenage years. Before by generation there were no teenagers just kids with an uncertain life/death ahead of them.

Harold Wilson was prime minister of Britain through much of my teenage years. He lived at 10 Downing Street from 1964 to 1970 and again 1974 to 1976. His was a Labour Government so I and my friends automatically snubbed it, as I have explained we were born Tory so Harold Wilson was a bigger waste of space than he occupied.

NOT SO. It was Harold Wilson and his government that kept Britain out of The Vietnam War. I suspect that had we had a different government I may not be here writing now. Like my father and grandfather’s generations before me I may have given my life/death in service of my country.

It must have been hard to have been a teenager in America under 36th President Lyndon B Johnson and then Richard Nixon. 1,353,000 people lost their lives in The Vietnam War, of which half were civilians.

There was a picture which appeared in the press of a group of young children fleeing napalm. I the centre was a naked girl aged around seven or eight years running for her life. Today the picture would be called paedophilia and would never appear in print, no photographer would have taken the image. I was aged about fourteen when it appeared in the press, it was horrible but so powerful.

I think this is time to put a piece into the jigsaw: On The Eve Of Destruction by Barry McGuire

The eastern world, it is explodin', - Violence flarin', bullets loadin', - You're old -enough to kill but not for votin', - You don't believe in war, but what's that gun you're totin', - And even the Jordan river has bodies floatin', - But you tell me over and over and over again my friend, - Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Don't you understand, what I'm trying to say ? - And can't you feel the fears I'm feeling today ? - If the button is pushed, there's no running away, - There'll be no one to save with the world in a grave, - Take a look around you, boy, it's bound to scare you, boy, - And you tell me over and over and over again my friend, - Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Now aged 84 years Barry McGuire is an American singer songwriter best known for his 1965 hit On The Eve Of Destruction which made it to number one.

Yes, there was going to be a third world war but it was not going to be a war where soldiers fought on battlefields. We were all convinced there would be a nuclear war, it was not a case of IF but WHEN. That is easy to explain but it is hard to explain the way life went on with everybody putting this to the back of their minds.

Russia, or The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was communist and it was totalitarian. It was feared but the fear was set aside. Moscow exercised complete control over its satellite communist countries. I am speaking about the 1960’s but I will dip back to the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. I said to my Dad that Hungary was an odd name for a country, why was it called that ?  My father answered saying it was because the people who lived there where hungry.

From January to August 1968, I was 17 years old, there was the Spring Uprising in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, forcibly put down by The USSR ! That summer we had a family holiday in Italy with a day trip to Communist Yugoslavia.  I remember so clearly as we crossed back into Italy the courier on the coach saying what a relief it was to be back in a free country and to have left communism behind !

The Cold War. Did we call it the cold war in the 1960’s or is that something which has come into general use later, once it was all over ? I do not know. The Cold War would become a Hot War the moment either side pushed the button.

As I bring this area of our swing to an end it is good that I do not have to ask who can remember where they were when then first atomic bomb exploded.

3rd November 1962, let’s go back there and put in a jigsaw piece from my twelfth birthday. Telstar by The Tornadoes – number one in the hit parade.

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