I’m Not Older, You Just Got Here Late
Not having a phone didn’t make life better
‘Hall of Mirrors’ just came out in the US and I’ve had some nice pieces written about it, along with a slew of questions about growing up in the sixties (although admittedly I entered that era in single digits). But after yet another patronising ‘people of your age had it best’-type chat with a certain kind of Millennial, I’ve become tired of apologising for when I was born. The advances of the present outweigh the losses of the past, and some things were simply different. End of.
But there are residual memories, I suppose. In the private sector, and especially in the creative industries (which weren’t called that then) we had more control and a much bigger say in our daily work, but opportunities were still limited. A huge post-war brain drain took our best scientific minds and transplanted them to the US, where there was much better funding available. Ideas are cheap and the UK was always an idea powerhouse. When it comes to selling ideas I think of the Monty Python team abjectly failing to explain to a commissioning editor why they wanted a TV show or what they would put in it, only to be told, ‘Well, all right, but you can only have thirteen half-hours to begin with’. I landed my first full-time writing job on the condition I could learn to type and would agree to paint my own office desk. Taking outrageous risks was not expensive. Funding them was.
Like many, I never travelled as a kid because my parents were broke. I can’t bear to go back to most of the places I saw when I was younger because of mass tourism and secular change. An empty Venice, a calm and elegant Cairo, free-spirited Istanbul, elegant Africa, friendly Tunisia, deserted Amsterdam – all gone.
Was it fun being young in London? Live music nightly, guilt-free sex, experimental theatre, psychedelic art, working class writers, egalitarian arts flourishing, and kids getting grants to take classes in just about anything. Viz’s ‘Student Grant’ would have become ‘Student Loan’ a long time ago. A tendency to regard anyone over 30 as already dead – thanks to the Baby Boom. Not having a phone didn’t make life better (we had no home phone either) – it made arrangements nightmarishly complicated. I recall booking a New Year’s Eve taxi from a public phone box that had chewing gum in its coin slot by tapping out the analogue exchange clicks using the phone tines – an old student trick.
The thing I recall most from my post-teen years was the endless free-wheeling intelligent arguments that made no-one run and hide in safe spaces, behind walls of jargon. Yes, they were sometimes peppered with sexism, racism and homophobia, but depending on your group not quite as much as is now portrayed on TV as being representative of the seventies. We also drew on a shared cultural history that maintained reference points with the past, something that has entirely vanished. Which was best, being over-sensitive or under-sensitive?