Thursday, 3 August 2017

The class of ’68 part 6 a beginning

The class of '68
We were the class of ’68.

Twelve young people from south east London about to leave school for the last time.

It would have been in late June or early July 1968 outside Crown Woods School in Eltham, our exams were finished and we were all preparing for that long hot summer which would end with exam results and the beginning of a new phase in our lives.

And now forty-nine years later I guess we have all entered another phase which is pretty much about retirement, watching as the grandchildren come along and reflecting a little on the bitter sweet passage of time.

The PYE FBIC Consule retailing at £85, 1951
Not that this will be some nostalgic drivel.  It isn’t that the past was better, the summers hotter or the Waggon Wheels bigger it is just that it was different.

Nor have the changes we have encountered been any less dramatic than previous generations.

My uncle was born in the closing years of the 19th century, lived through the 20th and into the 21st.

During his lifetime he saw and managed a revolution in technology from how we communicated, travelled and saw the world.

Had he lived just a little longer than his 102 years I have no doubt he would have mastered the computer and the internet in the way he had the telephone, the wireless and the TV.

My sons will no doubt grapple with even faster change.

But the class of '68 were no less adept at coping with the new.  We grew up just as the television was beginning and moved into adulthood with the transition from one black and white channel to three, and entered middle age with digital channels.

Mr Therm, 1949
The hand held communicator much loved of science fiction has become the mobile phone and the postcard replaced by the email.

The paths that the 12 of us went down were quite different but what we all have in common is that we are part of what some have called the favoured generation and others “the baby boomers.”

And there is no doubt that we were born in to a world our parents were determined would be better and different.

It was one of rising prosperity, of a welfare system which confidently planned to care for us from “cradle to grave” and as we entered adult hood there was promise of full time employment and the opportunity of a university course which for some of us would be totally free.

There was a dark side to all this. The Korean War had begun just as most of us were coming up to our first birthday, and the ever present threat of nuclear war hovered in the distance, and as if to round off our child hood by the summer of 1968 there was the awful tragedy of the Vietnam War.

All of which is still in stark contrast to the experiences of my parents and grandparents who lived through two world wars and a major trade depression or the uncertain future of my children.

But, and there always is a but I do tire of the shallow analysis and cheap jibes offered up by the unthinking commentators on the baby boomer generation, most of which lacks historical validity and often is a smoke screen to hide the failings of our market economy.

The class of '68 in the summer of 1965
The class of ’68 did not create the present economic situation, and if we are sitting on inflated house values this was not our doing.

Indeed for any one starting out buying a house in the 1970s and ‘80s the constant rise in  inflation made balancing the household budget and meeting the spiralling mortgage costs a real problem.

And I suspect all of us baby boomers now creak a lot and despite those favoured years of full employment we are coping with failing hearing, stronger spectacles and in my case a distinct recurrence of back pain.

Added to which there is that sure fire knowledge that there are fewer years ahead of us than behind.

But if there is a consolation it is that while we may not be any fitter than previous generations the quality of our lives and those of our children are better.  The old killer diseases are held at bay and so are many of the less serious but no less debilitating complaints.

Which brings me back to the beginning and just as 1968 marked an ending, so for the class of '68 the next decade will be full of new beginnings and with it some wry reflections on what has been and what maybe to come.

Pictures; from the collection of Anne Davey and Andrew Simpson

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