What were you doing fifty years ago today?


I was lying on my stomach on the hearth rug in front of the fire - no central heating in those days and we didn't have a television - finishing an pencil drawing of a steamship going up the Amazon through the jungle.  We had been learning about Manaus, its opera house and rubber production in geography at school. It was after supper, the curtains were drawn against the darkness.  The phone rang – which was unusual.  My father was away from home, allegedly in Kenya.  At least that was where the weekly black and white postcards came from.  So my mother got out of her chair to go into the cold of the front hall to answer the call.  She came back quite pale, “It was Mrs Lachlan.  President Kennedy has been shot.”

 I was only nine years old but I knew this was somehow very significant.  I wrote across the bottom of my drawing in capital letters “This was drawn on the day that President Kennedy was shot.”

We had American boys in our Cheltenham school, children of US spooks seconded to GCHQ.   The class had been told the previous year by our teacher Mrs Davies not to worry if the sky went black for two weeks or so.  I don't remember anyone asking why, we took the teacher’s word as gospel.  I now realise this was the Cuba crisis and if the sky had indeed gone black we would have been the only people not panicking. The Kennedy myth, Jack then Bobby, Camelot in Washington - it was totally naive but something to hang onto during the the corrosive and cumulative impact of the disastrous Vietnam War, Johnson and then Nixon.  I saw Ted Kennedy give his concession speech at the Democrat National Convention in Madison Square Gardens in 1980. Now Camelot means something else entirely, Obama has failed totally to meet expectations, we just have a memory of a man in his 40s being gunned down in Dealey Plaza 50 years ago.


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