Category Archives: Age of Innocence
I chanced upon this fine old door on a short bike ride yesterday…
When I put some nesting boxes in the garden I was hoping for a Robin or a Blue Tit!
The Sparrowhawk as well as being a magnificent bird is a ruthless killer and designed to hunt expertly from the air. It tracks at great speed, darting out of cover with extreme dexterity combined with deadly accuracy to kill its prey. It doesn’t hover, like the Kestrel or the Hawk, but relies on pace, momentum and surprise to catch its food and for this it is well designed with long slim legs, large sharp talons and a very efficient hooked beak that it uses for piercing and tearing up its prey.
The male Sparrowhawk was formerly called a musket, and the gun was named after the bird which perhaps gives a clue as to just how deadly they can be. They are expert hunters and very fast fliers, and often make quick dashes over hedgerows or along the ground when chasing prey, which is often spectacularly captured using a downward plummet from the sky with closed wings.
Each adult Sparrowhawk will kill and consume a couple of small birds a day for themselves and when they are breeding a pair needs to catch another ten or so just to feed the chicks. According to the RSPB there are forty thousand breeding pairs in the United Kingdom so by my calculation that is twenty thousand nests with an average of three chicks each so to feed themselves and their offspring this means three hundred thousand murders a day. As Thomas Hobbes said in his philosophical treatise, Leviathan, ‘Life (in the state of nature) is nasty, brutish and short”.
“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 the Earth.”
The Apollo 11 space flight seemingly fulfilled US President John F. Kennedy’s aspiration of reaching the Moon before the Soviet Union by the end of the 1960s, which he had expressed during a 1961 speech before the United States Congress.
But not everyone was convinced and almost immediately some theorists began to produce evidence that disputed the Moon landings claim.
Different Moon landing conspiracy theories claim that some or all elements of the Apollo Project and the Moon landings were falsifications staged by NASA and that the landings were faked in some giant hoax. Some of the more notable of these various claims include allegations that the Apollo astronauts did not set foot on the Moon at all but instead NASA and others intentionally deceived the public into believing the landings did occur by manufacturing, destroying, or tampering with evidence, including photos, telemetry tapes, transmissions, and rock samples.
The most predominant theory is that the entire human landing program was a complete hoax from start to finish. Some claim that the technology to send men to the Moon was insufficient or that the Van Allen radiation belts, solar flares, solar wind, coronal mass ejections and cosmic rays made such a trip impossible with a success rate calculated at only 0.017%. Others argue that because The United States could not allow itself to be seen to fail to achieve Kennedy’s aspiration, the obsession with beating the USSR and the huge sums of money involved (US$ 30 billion) had to be justified, that the hoax was unavoidable.
As the theories gathered momentum it seemed that rather than being filmed on the Moon all of the action actually took place on a film lot and in the middle of the Nevada desert.
For a while I must confess to having been taken in by these conspiracy theories but when I think about it the size and complexity of the alleged conspiracy theory scenarios makes it wholly unlikely. The most compelling reason of all is the fact that more than four hundred thousand people worked on the Apollo project for nearly ten years and all of these people, including astronauts, scientists, engineers, technicians, and skilled labourers, would have had to keep the secret ever since and that, I suggest, would be completely impossible.
In the final year of the 1960s other things were changing as well; pop music for example. At a Rolling Stones concert in Altamont, California, a fan was stabbed to death by Hells Angels, a biker gang that had been hired to provide security for the event and in retrospect, some commentators have concluded that the violence signaled the end of the ‘hippie’ movement, which espoused an ethos of free love and peace.
In 1969 the Beatles began the process of an acrimonious split and it was a shock to discover that Lennon and McCartney were not best buddies at all and John was preparing to leave the band. First he released his own solo single ‘Give Peace a Chance’, staged his ‘bed-in’ with Yoko and at the end of the year returned his MBE in protest at the British Government’s support for the United States in the Vietnam war. Even rock stars weren’t what they were previously thought to be and John Lennon was evidently going mad!
In between misbehaving at school I used to hang about with a gang of pals making a nuisance of ourselves in a way that would be called anti-social behaviour these days and when we weren’t hanging around shop fronts or on street corners frightening the old folk we had an old barn to meet in. It was in David Newman’s back garden next to the canal and we decorated it, filled it with old furniture, hung posters on the walls and listened to loud rock music on an old record player while drinking cider and puffing on Woodbine cigarettes that David had stolen from his dad. We called it the ‘Doski’ because it was half disco and half doss house and I spent most of my evenings and weekends there but even this was about to change.
After going to see the film ‘Helga’ and with hormones in overdrive we voted to allow girls into the Doski and naturally enough we started to pair off. My ‘girlfriend’, in the loosest sense of the term, was Elizabeth and one night in November she suggested that we leave early and go back to her place because her parents were out for the evening at a bonfire night party. I took some persuading because I liked being with my pals and couldn’t understand why she would want to leave. Eventually however we left and about half an hour later in Elizabeth’s front room I said goodbye for ever to my age of innocence.
I don’t know how well the bonfire party went but in Elizabeth’s front room it was as just though someone had dropped a match in a box of fireworks and they had all gone off together at the same time! This bought a whole new meaning to ‘light up the sky with Standard Fireworks, and I never went to the Doski again but I did spend every available weekend at Elizabeth’s house every time her parents went out drinking to the Working Men’s Club in Deerings Road and from then I had to allocate some of my paper round money for contraceptives.
At some point in our young lives the ‘Age of Innocence’ must end and for me this was 1969 as I slipped into my sixteenth year and with raging puberty and a testosterone fuelled curiosity abandoned bike rides and picnics as I discovered a new murky world of sex and rock ‘n’ roll (but no drugs).
Prior to 1969 going to the cinema meant Saturday morning pictures, Walt Disney or Cliff Richard in Summer Holiday but this was the year that I managed to trick my way into the Granada Cinema to see an X rated film. This was by no means easy because I always looked younger than my age and at only fifteen it was only possible to deceive the cashier by getting someone else to buy my ticket while I kept out of sight. Well, it worked because I got away with it (or perhaps she just didn’t care?) and my first adult film was ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ which included a scene where a an undressed girl was posing for an artist and which set my pulse racing towards danger levels.
In film censorship the original X certificate was issued between 1951 and 1982 by the British Board of Film Censors in the United Kingdom. From 1951 to 1970, it meant “Suitable for those aged sixteen and over’ and from 1970 to 1982 as films became more explicit and violent this was raised to eighteen and over.
Censorship was a bit more vigorous in the 1960s than it is now and Lord Harlech and his Board would slap an X certificate on anything considered remotely unsuitable. Miss Jean Brodie certainly wouldn’t get an X certificate forty years on and neither would the second X film that I managed to sneak into see which was ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ where there were no undressed ladies, no swear words and not much violence either. I really liked that film and it remains one of my all time favourites but my final X film was ‘Midnight Cowboy’ and I really didn’t really understand it all and I don’t think I even stayed until the end. Despite my critical dismissal of it, ‘Midnight Cowboy’ went on to become the only X-rated film ever to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Another cinema experience in 1969 was a school trip to see the sex education film ‘Helga’ which was designed to make up for the fact that our parents and school teachers were all too embarrassed to tackle the subject head on so we were all bussed to the Granada Cinema to watch a German government sponsored film about sex, pregnancy and giving birth. Even though it didn’t have an X rating this was certainly more explicit than any of the adult films that I had deceived my way in to see and it had ladies without any clothes on and far from putting me off I left the cinema thinking about how much I’d like a bit of that!
Before 1969 everything was ‘Enid Blyton’ with Sunday School, Boy Scouts and weekends playing football with chums but this was the year when suddenly things were not really so simple.
Some of this is retrospective of course because when Richard Nixon became the thirty-seventh President of the United States no one could predict that five years later he would resign the office in shame rather than be dismissed by impeachment for being guilty of Federal crimes as a consequence of the Watergate Affair.
The term Watergate has come to describe a sequence of illegal activities undertaken by members of the Nixon administration. The activities came to light when five men were caught breaking into Democratic party headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. on 17th June 1972. The Washington Post uncovered the story and discovered a series of dirty tricks involving the Committee to Re-Elect the President.
Nixon’s alleged role in ordering a cover-up came to light in July 1973 when a White House aide testified that Nixon had a secret taping system that recorded his conversations and phone calls in the Oval Office. The tapes were subpoenaed but The White House refused to release them. A deal was reached in which the White House would provide written summaries of the tapes but when they turned up there was an unexplained eighteen minute gap. The first deleted section of about five minutes has been attributed to human error by the President’s personal secretary, who admitted accidentally wiping the section while transcribing the tape. A likely story!
So politics was corrupt and here was the evidence and then people stared to cast doubt on boy’s stuff and heroes and it became possible that people could cheat, or be accused of cheating, at almost anything because on 20th July man landed on the moon. Or did he?
The BBC made some important broadcasting changes in 1967. On television it began broadcasting in colour and the first two post monochrome programmes were some matches from Wimbledon and an episode from the American western series, the Virginian. By December BBC2 was broadcasting a full colour service, with approximately 80% of its output now being broadcast in colour.
At Wimbledon incidentally the American Billie Jean-King beat the English tennis player Ann Jones in the women’s final. Two years later however she got her revenge and beat Billie Jean in the 1969 final. On radio, the BBC had a shake-up in order to compete with pirate radio and introduced radio one, two, three and four. Tony Blackburn was the first radio one DJ on the breakfast programme and the first record that he played was ‘Flowers in the Rain’ by the Move.
Also in 1967, Radio Leicester, the first BBC local radio station was launched and this turned out to be a watershed in broadcasting for my dad. Being Leicester born and bred and with a fascination for anything about the city, especially its sport, Leicester City, Leicester Tigers, Leicestershire County Cricket Team and so on, this new radio station provided him with his greatest possible source of entertainment satisfaction. A little while after I think he underwent a surgical procedure and was permanently attached to his transistor radio and he spent about 50% of the rest of his life listening to anything that was on Radio Leicester.
In the 1960s before families had two cars most of us went to school on our bikes. This was a much better arrangement than today when every school morning and evening the roads are clogged up with cars taking lazy kids to school. Everyone had a bike. I had a simple sky blue and brown Raleigh model but what I really wanted was a racing bike with pencil thin tyres, derailleur gears and a saddle so sharp that one false move in any direction would cut your arse to ribbons. My bike didn’t have any gears at all, a very sensible saddle and it certainly wouldn’t have won any races, but it was reliable and solid and everyday I would cycle the two miles or so to school and back and, on account of the fact that I didn’t like school meals, go home for my dinner as well.
I didn’t have one of these either because this is my brother Richard on his Raleigh Chopper in about 1972.
With so many bikes on the road the Government was concerned about highway safety and in 1967 along with a load of other kids I took my Cycling Proficiency Test. Cyclist training began in 1947, although its roots stretched back to the 1930s when cycling organisations were pressing the Government to include cyclist instruction in the school curriculum and finally in 1958 the Government funded the introduction of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) National Cycling Proficiency Scheme and cycling instructors came to the school to prepare us for the test. RoSPA by the way was also responsible for the Tufty Club and the Green Cross Code and were completely detached from reality because we had all been out on the open road for years on our bikes and had already perfected some of the finer points of cycling, such as riding facing backwards or with no hands, for example.
Most of the ‘training’ took place in the safety of the school playground where we had to demonstrate our biking skills by cycling between bollards, learning the Highway Code and how to maintain our machines in good mechanical order. Once we had done all of this to the satisfaction of the instructor there was a final road test under the watchful eye of the examiner. As far as I can remember, I don’t think anybody ever failed the Cycling Proficiency Test and at the end there was a certificate and an aluminium badge to attach to the handlebars so that everyone knew just how safe we were.
1967 was a quiet and uneventful at home and seemed to slip by almost unnoticed but elsewhere there were some important news stories.
I suppose that one of the biggest news events of the year occurred in Peru, South America, when in October a 1960s icon died at the hands of a firing squad. Che Guevara was born in 1928 in Argentina and as a medical student in the 1940s became a committed Marxist revolutionary when he became convinced that capitalism created the poverty that he witnessed as he travelled on his motorbike on a journey through South America.
In the year that I was born, 1954, he joined Fidel Castro in Mexico as he set out to overthrow the American backed government of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba, which they achieved together on New Years Eve in 1959. For five years after that Che Guevara was effectively the number two in the country but then he suddenly tired of revolutionary tribunals and executing people and in 1965 he left Cuba to stir up more revolutionary Marxist trouble first in the African Congo and then in Bolivia back in South America.
In a bungled guerilla offensive he was captured by United States CIA backed army forces and summarily executed. By coincidence he was caught and killed in Vallegrande which wasn’t so far away from San Vicente where nearly sixty years before the outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were also trapped and killed.
Odd isn’t it how reputations are built? Everything about this modern saint is a myth – his love of justice, his romantic disposition, his goodness. The truth is that he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people, ruined the Cuban economy, tried to turn Cuba into a nuclear power and helped bring about many military dictatorships in Latin America in reaction to the guerrillas he inspired in the 1960s and the 1970s. The man it seems was a menace!
After his death Che acquired an iconic stature and in the late 1960s and 70s his face was seen on tee-shirts and posters in every western university, it didn’t matter that like Robespierre or Stalin he was a thug and a bully and a murderer, he became the symbol of revolution and challenge to the establishment and his famous picture with burning eyes full of defiant intensity and steely resolve became the most famous image of the decade after that of Marilyn Monroe.
The death of Che Guevara probably didn’t register that greatly elsewhere in the world at the time and in Europe there was a coup d’etat in Greece which began a period of military dictatorship, in Spain the Spanish Government closed the border with British ruled Gibraltar and the French, or more precisely General DeGaulle, once more said no to Britain’s application to join the Common Market. Although there was no spirit of partnership working at the diplomatic level, the United Kingdom and France did however jointly introduce the world to the ambitious aviation project, the Concorde.
At sea the first North Sea Gas was pumped onshore with a promise that Britain would be self-sufficient forever. That turned out to be a hopelessly inaccurate prediction and forty years later it has nearly all gone and we have to buy our gas from Russia.
In the Atlantic, just off the coast of Cornwall, there was the World’s first major oil spill when the super tanker Torrey Canyon ran aground, broke up and spilled one hundred thousand tons of crude oil into the sea. The ship was on route to Milford Haven from the Canary Islands and was allegedly being steered by the ship’s cook at the time of the accident while the skipper was trying to make sense of the ship’s hopelessly inadequate charts whilst trying to take a short cut past the Scilly Isles.
As this was the first event of its type the authorities were completely clueless about how to respond to the event and the botched clean up operation did almost as much damage as the leaking crude oil. The tanker was bombed for two days and the RAF and the Royal Navy dropped thirty tonnes of bombs, twenty thousand litres of petrol, eleven rockets and large quantities of napalm onto the ship.
A quarter of the bombs missed the stationary target and despite some direct hits, and a towering inferno of flames and smoke as the oil slick began to burn, the tanker refused to sink. To make matters worse, the use of seventy five thousand litres of highly toxic detergent did further huge amounts of additional damage to the marine environment. Over twenty thousand seabirds were killed and more than a hundred kilometres of beaches were affected and not many people went to Cornwall for their summer holidays that year!
Also on the water in 1967 Francis Chichester in his boat Gipsy Moth IV became the first person to achieve a true solo circumnavigation of the world from West to East via the great capes. He was later knighted for the achievement and for the ceremony the Queen used the very sword used by Queen Elizabeth I to knight the adventurer Sir Francis Drake who was the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe. Chichester became a British hero in the same year as one was lost when Donald Campbell was killed in January on Lake Coniston whilst trying to regain the world water speed record.