Tuesday, September 25, 2007


The other day Gracchi tagged me with the “your first political moment” meme. I said, in the comments, that it was the final resignation of Winston Churchill as Prime Minister. We had a newsagent’s shop in Bristol at the time and I was standing behind the counter [which was much taller than I was] with my Mum. I’d seen Churchill’s photo on the front of a newspaper – I was 5 but I knew who he was, as everybody had a stauette or picture of him in those days – and Mum was explaining to me that “The Queen is sad but she’s pleased that he will be able to have a rest.”

I can also remember the “You’ve never had it so good” speech, the Profumo affair, the days when Harold Wilson seemed to be forever on the TV and was always being photographed in that mac of his ,the simultaneous rise of political satire on British TV [TW3, which seemed so revolutionary at the time] the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Winter of Discontent and the election and resignation of Margaret Thatcher. [I wasn’t a Tory but was prepared to give her a chance, until she started preaching Christian values such as beating the hell out of the Argentinians; when her political demise finally came, I celebrated it.]

And I have my first Italian political moment, too: the great surge of hope I felt at Berlinguer’s Eurocommunism of the late 1970s and early 80s. I really thought that they’d cracked it and that there was going to be new hope for the world. How wrong I was. Only now do I realise that there is going to be no new hope for the world until we stop looking at everything from a “eurocentric” point of view.

Gracchi calls all these memories “Kennedy moments” and I thought I’d tell you about the original one, as it certainly was the first time a political event touched and shocked me deeply: By 1963 we had moved to Soundwell, in the suburbs of Bristol. It was a Friday evening and Mum, Dad, Grandpa and I were sitting around the black and white TV. It was nearly time for my favourite programme, Emergency Ward 10 , when all of a sudden a picture of JFK was shown. My first reaction was that a war had been declared. [I was absolutely terrified of war; I had heard so many horror stories from my parents’ generation, who were, I think, deeply in shock from the experience of WW2 for a good 20 years after its end.] Then a solemn voice announced that JFK had been shot in Dallas. We just looked at each other; we couldn’t believe it. JFK was young, he was a hero [nobody knew about the womanising then] and, more importantly for my friends and me, he was good-looking! The voice on the TV said that more news would be brought to us later, and after a few minutes [there was no “at the scene” reporting then] we were told that the President had died. They were going to bring us Emergency Ward 10 shortly, but then they said that in view of the gravity of the news, solemn music would be played instead. [Now, I knew this was serious news, and I was sorry for Jackie, but I was extremely annoyed that I couldn’t drool over Dr. Chris Anderson in my favourite medsoap!] My great aunt Mabel, “Auntie”, who lived with us, was a very well-read, intelligent and totally self-taught woman and she could have told you everything about any historical subject you cared to discuss. She would have been about 80 at the time and was at one of her church meetings, and Dad said we would have to be very careful how we told her, as she would become very upset. Well, Auntie came in at some time after 8pm, and Dad gently told her she would not believe the news that she was about to hear. I remember she went pale, and when Dad told her what had happened she shrieked and covered her face with her hands, then sat down quickly. Dad got her a sherry. Auntie immediately saw the significance of the event for the world, but what shook her, as it did all of us, was the thought of that young life being just wiped out like that, and when we heard about Jackie screaming “Oh no, no” in the car it broke our hearts. A few days later, when we saw the footage of Jack Ruby shooting Oswald right in front of the police, Dad and Auntie exchanged meaningful glances and even I knew that something was very rotten in the States of America.

At school the following week we had to write, for English homework, about the “Person I most admire”. You can imagine what happened: all the boys wrote about JFK and all the girls, except me, wrote about Jackie. Oh, I wanted to all right but my Dad wouldn’t let me! He said it was too predictable a subject, that I could not possibly make it interesting – for what did we really know about her? – and he forced me to write an essay entitled “Our Family Doctor”. I was mad with him because I wanted to be like everyone else, but I got an “A” and all my friends were berated by our teacher: “All you have said is that you admire President Kennedy because he got shot!” he screamed at the boys. [Well, they were 13. They were hardly capable of writing political analysis, were they?] And: “All you can talk about is her hair and her clothes!” he yelled at the rest of the girls. Looking back, what on earth did he expect? It was a silly title to set during that week.

And now I am nearly 58 years old and I have seen the political contours of the world change as they never have before, following another shocking day in 2001. Yet the day of the Kennedy assassination remains, for me, the day the world grew old.
I don't tag but if anyone else wants to do this meme I'll be happy to read your thoughts in the comments or on your own blog.


jmb said...

Excellent post Welshcakes. Your father was indeed wise while your teacher was harsh indeed. What on earth did he expect?

Sally said...

That was such a good post dear Welsh - the more I hear about your parents the more terrific they sound, such excellent values and you are in every way a credit to them and the way they brought you up. I wonder what all the other regulars were doing (if they were alive!) when JFK was shot? I was at school in Rome and heard about it as a wild rumour, later confirmed by my parents braving the creaky Italian telephone system. We were due to attend a papal mass the next day and were told by the Pope before the mass started that he would be saying it for the repose of the President's soul. The Sistine Chapel choir sang, the incense swirled, the organ thundered, all contributing to reducing a bunch of emotional late teenage girls from all over the world to floods of tears.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thanks, jmb. That teacher wouldn't survive 5 minutes in a school these days. And thank you, too, Sally. My Mum and Dad were wonderful, I must admit. Yes, it would be interesting to know where the others were. I didn't know you went to school in Rome! I remember when the Ital phone system was creaky myself. How interesting to know the reactions there on that day.

Lee said...

Great post, Welsh.

I was still in bed when my grandmother came in to me very upset to announce the assassination of President Kennedy. It was a turning point in the world as we knew it...and one I will always remember that day.

tooth fairy said...

I was in 8th grade study hall when the art teacher came in with his head bowed and he said "President Kennedy is dead." What a shock. Your father reminds me of mine, so wise in encouraging you to not follow the pack but dare to be different.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I remember this day, evening, so clearly, as my da was ill with pneumonia. He was in bed and my mother and I went up to tell him about the newsflash. I was only 8 and could not understand my father's worry about the state of the world. I think all that has happened since then no longer shocks us in quite the way that moment did. Or was it just because it was my first awareness of the wider world.

I bet your essay was stunning and real - well done Dad!

Ellee Seymour said...

A well deserved "A" in those circumstances. What vivid memories you have.

I remember my father standing as a Conservative candidate in a Labour ward and losing by 32 votes. He was such a shy man, we were all very proud of him.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, TF. It must have been a terrible shock for you. Yes, that describes my Dad. Hi, Shirl. No, I don't think we get shocked in quite the same wat now - except for 9/11 probably - because we get all the news as it's happening now and there are so many terrible things going on across the world. My Dad would have liked your comment. Hi, Ellee. So close! You must have been very proud of him indeed.


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