It’s an strage irony that many of the things that I’m learning in my Welsh History course happened during my lifetime. I recall the trauma of going into the Science Museum several years ago and seeing a punched-card sorting machine that I used daily during my time working in payrolls with British Rail in 1966-67. That was probably the first time I realised I was growing older.
This week we’ve talked about three things that happened during my favourite period in history – the 1960s. I entered the decade a pre-teen (just) and left it a new adult at 21 – ironically, in the year the UK reduced the voting age to 18. It was the decade of the Civil Rights Movement, the Swinging 60’s, folk-rock, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Mersey sound, the Summer of Love, Woodstock, the death of John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the first man on the moon, social revolutions, rise of feminism, anti Vietnam war protests, Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson, plus, of course, England winning the World Cup.
In one lecture, we talked about the student riots in France of May 1968 led by Daniel Cohn-Bendit. I was detained by French police in Calais that month for three hours for some reason I never quite understood. The only thing I had in common with Cohn-Bendit was fiery red hair!
In Birth of Modern Wales we discussed Treweryn – the disastrous decision to flood a Welsh valley to provide water supplies for Liverpool, the real need for which was unproven. Bessie Bradock (a famous portly outspoken Liverpool MP) bulldozed this through and Liverpool Council arrogantly refused to meet a delegation of Welsh local people. Still today “Cofiwch Dreweryn” (“Remember Treweryn”) arouses passions. As a young teenager I remember watching tv images of men women and children marching to protest about the theft of Welsh water and the destruction of a beautiful valley.
Of course, 1966 saw the neglect and arrogance of the National Coal Board result in the death of 116 children and 28 adults at Aberfan. Despite the warnings of the instability of the slag heap, nothing was done and 144 people died. I recall crying as I saw the grainy black and white images on my tv at home. I visited Aberfan subsequently and published a tribute online. Do have a look at www.hiraeth.org.uk/aberfan I was encouraged when several of my student friends were knowledgeable about events that occurred before they were born.
Finally, I was discussing with a PhD student the effects of the closure of the Dinorwig Quarry in 1969 on the community of Deiniolen where I live. It’s a shadow of what it was, a large number of unemployed people, few facilities for kids, and over 20 shops and restaurants have closed leaving a single shop and a dispirited community with no heart or focus except the thriving primary school.
The common thread in all these rather depressing incidents is the arrogance, insensitivity and poor response of officialdom in situations in which they did evrything wrongly. Unlike many people, I become more left-wing every passing day!
So the 1960s weren’t as wonderful as I remember them. But I’m glad I lived through them and can say, ‘I was there!’