1968 was a momentous year. I was a student and, in the summer break, working in a cheese factory close to our home on a west coast island. There were milk deliveries each day so the factory worked a seven-day week. After seven full days working, you had a day off. So on the morning of August 21st, my long lie was abruptly disturbed by my father at the bottom of the stairs shouting up to all those still in bed “Russia has invaded Czechoslovakia”. The news sent shock waves through my body. There is something about hearing the news of some dramatic event by word of mouth that carries a dramatic tension missing from news you hear over the wires. When you get around to reading it in the paper or watching it on TV, When Kate Adie or John Simpson get to the scene, you know it’s under control and you can relax. It probably won’t affect me. Normal transmission can be resumed.
1968 was historic, at least in my memory, and not just because it was the year when I first asked a girl out. There was Martin Luther King’s assassination in April and Robert Kennedy’s in November. There was Vietnam, which was on the screen every night, the Tet offensive and the protests in Grosvenor square. There was the massacre at My Lai, though we didn’t hear about that till much later. There was Apollo 8 and the Beatles white album played over and over in our studio at college. There was Enoch Powell referencing the Tigris and the black panther athletes with their black gloved salutes and then there was the Prague spring which gave its name to every spring after and brutally turned into winter with guns and tanks.
One of the major events during that year, which moved into the next, was Hong Kong Flu pandemic, which accounted for over a million deaths worldwide. In the UK 80,000 people are reported to have died from it yet, strangely, interested in all the other world events, as I was at the time, I have no memory of it. I don’t remember it being talked about or on the news. There was no shut downs or masks or mass testing or tracing as far as I was aware. It must have been just one of these things that a nation and its people live with. I do wonder if there was a lock-down, a policy of inverted quarantine adopted then, if it would have made any difference, in the same way that I wonder if this lock-down has or will. I really doubt it has. True the spread of infection will have been slowed down. That makes sense. But like the dams we tried to build on the burn, when we were little, they only slowed the water for a little while. It was fun but it didn’t work. You can’t stop the waves with sheer will power that’s for sure. King Canute knew that.
Thanks for the memoir! I would add in the January storm and being in the top flat of a swaying tenement at the top of Gardner St in Glasgow. I think on balance that the Hong Kong flu comparison tells us little at this stage – we would need a COVID-19 populations set in which no lockdown of any scale took place. Presently, given the story from Greece and NZ, it seems to me very likely that lockdown measures have been necessary and saved countless lives, as well as even more critical damage to livelihoods.
I agree these kind of comparisons may well tell us little, but current comparisons with other countries probably won’t tell us more either. Time will tell if the lock-down has made any difference. My gut feeling is that it hasn’t and it’s continuation won’t. I am pretty skeptical of the science which has an over dependence on computer modelling and morphs a wee bit into clairvoyance, especially when some of the greatest advocates of social distancing don’t seem to believe it themselves. So I guess we have a disagreement there.
This is interesting on 1918 and the measures imposed by some US cities https://poseidon01.ssrn.com/delivery.php?ID=614013119120121082023087097099121092105043009037074058009065029100110090092097025030019063049055116046060084030070018079125081061033035058053093005116112116118109006031041049125087002090101029117073065101088095090077106084072024082080099098024106021114&EXT=pdf
Interesting. I couldn’t possibly argue with the research, but the findings would seem to support the action the government here, and elsewhere, have taken. Whether you can build a case from interventions taken 100 years ago with a quite different epidemic, under quite different world circumstances and limited to individual cities, not states nor whole nations and apply it to today, might be stretching it though? This virus, unlike Spanish flu seems to affect the older population and barely touches those under 50 – which is most of the working population. So quarantining the vast majority of healthy working people, the ones who keep the country going, seems absolutely crazy.
A brilliant read its good know im not on my own anymore. I just wish more people were like you.