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.