2014 minus 47: 17,987 days

Posted: 15 November 2013 in life, don't talk to me about life, personal
Tags: , ,

Human beings are, at their hearts, creatures of habit. And this is shown in no way more often than someone’s favourite phrases to use, an instinctive reaction to a feed line, a family phrase that gets trotted out on every appropriate occasion.

And I am as bad as anyone else in this respect, maybe worse. So it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that when an old bug-bear of mine raised its head this week, I reacted. I’d love to say that it was in an entirely unexpected way but everyone has their ‘buttons’ that can be pushed and this is, unfortunately, one of mine.

The situation that provoked my Pavlovian response was the reference to the gift of a facsimile of a newspaper’s front page from the day of their birth. Now, this was – some years ago – a common gift to people, especially in the days before half a dozen clicks online can show anyone the events that occurred on the day they arrived.

And that’s the point, of course; that’s what bugs me every bloody time, because the two things in the previous paragraph are entirely different. As different as they could possibly be.

Because the newspaper on the day of your birth will show the events that happened the day before the day of your birth.

Why would anyone want that? What would anyone want to know what happened the day before they were born?

A war ended? Lovely, it had already been over for 24 hours by the time you got here. The pop charts that week? You’ve a one in seven chance (all right, it’s not quite as evenly spread as that, Tuesdays and Thursdays are more ‘popular’ days) that they’re inaccurate and they’re the charts for the week before you were born. Depending upon your birth date, there could be even greater differences. Born on the day of a general election, then the papers could well have the previous Prime Minister or President in office. I genuinely don’t understand it.

Looking back in history though, taking some satisfaction in learning at what’s changed since you were born, that I understand.

It was reported in the news this week that “Britain’s oldest person” had died. Grace Jones, who lived in Bermondsey, South London was 113 years old at the time of her death.

Much was made about the changes and advances she’d seen in her life; the lady was born in December 1899.

113 years – a hell of a long time. She was already retired by the time I was born. And that started me thinking about the changes in life, the changes in politics, both domestic and world, just in the time I’ve been on this planet, and more importantly, that I can remember. Because, let’s face it, any changes that occurred while I was alive but before I was paying attention might as well have happened before I arrived.

In 1968, for example, both Martin Luther King, Jr and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. Yes, I was alive. But I was wasn’t even four years old at the time (King was killed in April, Kennedy in June – my birthday was in August.)

Now while my parents may have been shocked at the news (I don’t know, I don’t ever recall talking about the killings to either of them) I can say without fear of contradiction that I wouldn’t have cared at all – in fact I’m pretty sure at three years old I wouldn’t have cared if anyone outside my immediate family had been killed.

And while some other contemporaries (Warren Ellis, for example) have their first major memory of the time being the moon landing, I’m genuinely sorry that I don’t remember it. My older brother would have been thrilled by it, but me? Nope, don’t remember a thing about it; pretty sure my parents shuffled me off to bed.

So, let’s move forward a bit. February1972, I’m seven years old. Undoubtedly, at the time, I’d have insisted on “seven and a half”, but hey, I was seven. Or seven and a half.

But anyway, yes, probably the first major event I remember: power cuts. There was a miners’ dispute with the government at the time and power cuts were the tactic of choice for the unions. I hugely supported their struggle. Yes, at that tender age I was a huge supporter of the miners’ union’s method of protest. Because it had two major effects upon my life: (a) I got to go home early from school, and (b) my dad was home from work.

At that age, I didn’t care that him being home from work meant that his business wasn’t able to operate; I didn’t care that my schooling was being interupted. I cared that I didn’t have to go to school and my dad could spend more time with us. (I do have a faint memory of being puzzled at why my parents and teachers didn’t seem to be as happy as us children, but no more than that.)

OK, skipping forward quite some time, let’s say to 15 years of age. 1979.

The Prime Minister (the fourth I could remember) was Margaret Thatcher, just starting her first term of office; ahead of her were the almost total destruction of Britain’s manufacturing industry and coal mines, the attempted gutting of the welfare state, the Falkland War, the poll tax… and her son going missing for six days during a desert rally. The President of the United States, only the third I could remember by then, was Jimmy Carter, and at 15, all I knew about him was that he had a strange accent, was supposed to be the antidote to “Watergate” and liked jogging.

Although I became fascinated with American politics within the next couple of years (almost entirely thanks to a politics lecturer at Sixth Form College named John Ramm), I was far more ignorant at 15 years of age than my son was as a pre-teenager. How things change.

Over the past thirty years alone, we’ve seen the fall of the Berlin Wall, the destruction of the apartheid state of South Africa, ongoing periods of war punctuated by periods of peace in the Middle East, the shifting of the ‘centre ground’ of both British and American politics both left and right, the democratisation of online access and the creation and invention of technologies that I would have thought science fiction as a child.

I’ve watched politics become more cynical, and have seen the observance of it become similarly so. I’ve witnessed feats of philanthropy that I would not have believed possible, and cruelty by individuals and governments that more properly belong to the darker regions of fiction.

In the 17,987 days I’ve been on this planet, I’ve done much to be proud of, and done much of which I’m ashamed. And I have no idea at all what advice I would give to the newborn that appeared on 17th August 1964, or in the few years following that date. However, his response to any advice I could have possibly offered, which would almost certainly have been to gurgle, close his eyes and fill his nappy, would probably have been appropriate.

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