We must have had a light outside the back door because it was a dark November evening when I was playing two-ball against the bathroom wall as Lorna arrived home from Girl Guides. Thump, thump, thump. Lorna was my friend from next door.
I have what used to be referred to as ‘a late birthday’. It means that, being born on 1st September, I missed the cut-off point at school and was, therefore, the oldest in the class. It also meant that Lorna got to join the Guides a year before me.
‘President Kennedy’s dead’, I informed her. Thump, thump, thump.
‘I know’, she replied.
‘What did you do at Guides’ asked the eager Brownie–but-Guide-in-waiting?
So, there it is: possibly the most significant historical moment in my lifetime cast aside in three words in order to get to the nitty-gritty.
‘Everyone remembers what they were doing when the news of Kennedy’s death came through’ – note the ‘came through’; none of this instant, in your face, reportage in olden times. Well, of course we remember. The trouble is that we weren’t doing anything life-changing: I doubt younger readers, or my follower in the colonies, even know what two-ball is: thump, thump, thump.
I was watching a black and white television with my mum & dad. Like the rest of England, we were waiting for Harry Worth: a comedy programme which, given that I was able to watch it, must have been innocuous beyond belief. I wasn’t even allowed to watch Z Cars for God’s sake! The BBC still went ahead with the transmission but learned a salutary lesson. When Diana was murdered, my then seven years old son, consigned to his own early morning amusement via the TV, complained ‘there’s nothing on except men talking’.
I was eleven in 1963. Being eleven in those days was positively Dickension compared with being eleven now. My ten years old granddaughter is older than I was. Be fair: my ten years old granddaughter is older than I am now! Back in the day, a person of eleven years was still a child. We weren’t expected to be mature: well-read, yes; analytical, no; and able to hold an opinion –certainly not. So, my inability to comprehend my parents’ confusion at the news resulted in banishment to the wintery periphery.
‘What did you do at Guides?’ – thump, thump, thump.
Fifty years on and several incarnations later I’ve been trying to make up for my inability to give some meaningful explanation for my lack of socio-political comprehension in the sticks of the sixties. It seems inexcusable that I have clearer memories of the winter that followed – the joyous English snowfall on Boxing Day that continued into an Arctic March without respite. So, I’ve read all the books and watched all the films and documentaries and listened to clues in the music – ‘nothing hiding behind this picket fence’.
Without doubt, my favourite is the Oliver Stone version of accounts. But now, as the 50th anniversary approaches, we are bombarded by – well, by what? An updated historical account for the younger folk? More urban myths? Bring them on. Let’s have Peter Fonda explaining the meaning of life – or in this case, death.
The other night, anxious not to miss an iota of the view from the land of Hindsight, I watched a so-called documentary that claimed Kennedy died as a result of the accidental firing of a rifle by a secret service man. Thump, thump, thump – with the emphasis on the third smoke-scented thump. What is this? Some ruse to stop a new generation questioning events? Well, I’m sorry but after fifty years it’s a bit weak. Is that your best shot (in a manner of speaking)? Give us the truth – we can take it now we’re all grown up. After all, we are the generation who believe nothing and trust no-one; which is marginally better than the generation who can’t be arsed.