With the end of one era, comes inevitably something new. The sixties and early seventies was a time of great upheaval and change in society, and our family was no more immune from those changes than anyone else. Our parents’ generation, who endured the second world war and were tasked with rebuilding society afterwards are sometimes dubbed the “Silent Generation” – in my mind because they just rolled up their sleeves and got on with it! We were the Baby Boomers, a generation who, it seemed, found fault with and rebelled against everything.
Now, let me make it perfectly clear, and to avoid any disappointment, I have never smoked a joint in my life, nor even an ordinary cigarette. So this post is NOT about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. It DOES refer to flower power, the Summer of Love and the general attitude of change and a certain kind of idealism that seemed to pervade the world just at the point when I myself was busy trying to decide what sort of person I was and wanted to be. Although… that makes it sound like a rather more conscious process than it was. Do we really choose who we are going to be, or does it just happen by a combination of accident and heredity – nature or nurture?
Looking back, I feel lucky to have gone to school and been young in the “swinging sixties” when there was such an opening up of ideas and attitudes, a rebellion against old restrictions, encouragement to find new ways of thinking. I was two years into secondary school when the “Summer of Love” was declared in a great flurry of psychedelic colours and swirling shapes. I have to tell you it’s more than a little disconcerting when the 50th anniversary of something comes around, that you remember like it was yesterday.
I suppose this time was an opening up for me of a somewhat restricted family life, an encouragement to think beyond one’s parents’ rather narrower attitudes, as it was for all of my contemporaries. We were all rebelling in our own ways, expressing ourselves in a way the younger generation never really had before, and haven’t had an opportunity to do in quite the same way again.
I’m not saying I took it all on board lock, stock and barrel. What I know is that I distilled and absorbed into myself elements of the so-called counter culture of the late sixties and early seventies – the elements that chimed with me. We all have a moment or a period, don’t we, that defines us? A time that forms our tastes, our attitudes, our style. I suppose this is mine. Here you will find the music I feel most comfortable with – the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, the Mamas and the Papas, Carole King, Simon and Garfunkel (I remember their Bridge Over Troubled Water being in the charts for weeks on end in, I think, 1970, and the 15 year old me listening religiously to the Top 20 every Sunday afternoon on my wee white “tranny” – transister radio, not transvestite!) And then there were the clothes that expressed who I was – Laura Ashley tops, Indian cotton dresses, a green poncho with a picture of planet Earth sewn on to it, flared trousers, beads – I still wear beads …
The slogans, the lyrics – I suppose I took them deeply to heart so that they colour my beliefs and attitudes to this day.
All you need is love / Give peace a chance / You got a friend / Save the planet / Ban the bomb / Where have all the flowers gone / Make love not war / We shall overcome / The answer is blowin’ in the wind / You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars you have a right to be here. That last one is from Desiderata, a poem I felt so attached to that any kitchen I ever had never seemed complete without my Desiderata teatowel pinned to the wall. (Too faded to read now, but still stowed away in a drawer).
But you know, I wouldn’t like you to think that I look back with rose tinted spectacles on the baby boomer generation I am part of. I happen to think we have made a complete hash of taking over and running the world and mostly I feel ashamed of the fact that the generation who enjoyed such seemingly unbounded prosperity and opportunity in their own youth have created a world of such restricted opportunity for the generations that have followed them. Our parents created a world where their children became better off than they were, we seem to have done nothing but feather our own nests and take advantage of cheap house prices and the ensuing property boom. Imagine no possessions (John Lennon) – well hardly!
It was said that the post war baby boomers were a generation that had never known war as our parents had. And yet, from the mid fifties until the early seventies, America sent thousands of its sons to die in what seemed to be an increasingly pointless and unwinnable war in Vietnam. 15,000 young American men, a disproportionate number of them black, died in south east Asia before President Lyndon B Johnstone finally admitted defeat and brought them all home. They had laid down their lives for a cause they could little understand, far less believe in. And we protested, of course we did.
It is those same baby boomers who protested against Vietnam who are in charge now. Those same baby boomers (yes, I’m talking about you Tony Blair) who have send our troops to die in Iran, in Kosovo, in Afghanistan. Who preside over foodbanks. Who have over-ruled the younger generation who believed that their future lay in staying in Europe. Who prioritise tax cuts over proper funding for essential services for the poor and needy, and acceptable safety standards for public housing to ensure that peoples’ homes are safe and not death traps and fire hazards. And of course, there’s that prime baby boomer over the water who thinks that leadership of the great United States of America can be accomplished through the medium of late night emotional tweets.
But despite the fact that I cannot hide the fact that do feel rather betrayed by my generation, I’m not going to conclude on such a negative note. Instead, let me take you back to 1974 and a personal moment of hope.
I’ve always loved this picture of me on my wedding day in April 1974. There I am, 20 years old, freesas in my hair, floaty dress covering a certain little bump. It encapsulates a moment when I was full of love for the world and everyone in it (not that I’m not now!) And a moment of being sure that the world loved me back. The fact that Peter and I didn’t manage to stay the course and are no longer still married doesn’t take away from the magic of that day and the heartfelt vows we made to each other – we meant it at the time!
And looking at the family group, my heart aches for all our younger selves; for our siblings who were still children; for the parents who were doing their best for their large familes; for the struggles, disasters and triumphs of the years to follow, when for me the hippy period would seamlessly morph into the ‘earth mother years’. Would we have done anything differently if we knew then what we know now? Probably not, how could we?