Featured Post

"Smarter Aid, not more Aid!"

Best years of my life 1969

Image of Kingston 1969.  The arcade is just like the one where Eric Clapton once strummed his guitar and where we bought our secondhand LP records. The guy passing by hiding his face has more than a passing resemblance to one who used to lurk for hours in the Kingston Penrhyn Road refectory. He hasn’t changed much since but these days Ashby de la Zouch pubs are more his haunts (and feline rather than female company!)

Almost without fail on a Saturday night in the Fleece Inn Alnwick, the very familiar tones of Bryan Adams and “Best Days of Your Life” – or “Summer of 69” will be performed and rapturously received, by what can only be described as a dwindling grey-haired audience.

“Standin' on your mama's porch
You told me that you'd wait forever
Oh, and when you held my hand
I knew that it was now or never

Those were the best days of my life
Oh, yeah
Back in the summer of '69, oh
Man we were killin' time
We were young and restless
We needed to unwind
I guess nothin' can last forever, forever, no!

Now nostalgia can play tricks. Memories are easily distorted over time. Yet 1969 was a seminal year for me.  2019 marks it was 50 years ago. The anniversary, sadly, is going by hardly marked.

As if to evoke memories and cajole a reaction an advert on UK TV for DHL appears frequently featuring Bryan Adams and his song.

Now most readers of my blogs aren’t old enough to remember 1969.  It’s worth a look back in order to reflect on where we are today.  You might be surprised by some relevancies. 

Cambodians please watch the video of Kingston-upon-Thames in the 1960s. You will also like seeing the British TV documentary of 1969 that shows life in Cambodia with Prince Sihanouk expressing himself, his hopes and fears, very articulately. Everyone will like viewing it.

Aaron McFally’s Kingston Video seems quirky but that’s how such documentaries were done in those days.  The images are exactly as they were when I went to Kingston in 1969.  Around 12 minutes in you can see the then Colleges of Technology and Arts, just as they are in today’s Kingston University.  There is some charming footage of how local democracy operated. Kingston was in fact the smallest local education authority in the UK to host a Polytechnic, the new breed of higher education institutions of the time, and how this came about was actually the subject of my degree course dissertation there.

The Thames Television documentary on Cambodia in 1969 is a classic. The following year Sihanouk was deposed and soon afterwards the infamous Khmer Rouge regime took over, a tragedy and its aftermath that still blights Cambodia today.

Now I certainly knew of and remember Prince Sihanouk from the time.  We were the generation of Woodstock and Isle of Wight ”Flower-Power” Pop Festivals. Country Joe and the Fish sang:

Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we're all gonna die.

Well as we know Sihanouk’s worst fears came about and Cambodia was caught up in the deadly conflict.  Young people around the world railed against the aggression.  There were a lot of student protests, fore-runners of those in Hong Kong and concern for global-warming today.  One led by Kingston Students Union was to protest against Education Secretary Margaret Thatcher’s decision to abolish free school milk for children in British schools. (One of many cruel decisions she made.)

It is so weird to think that years later King Sihanouk and I would share a laugh when I told him about this.  He had his own reasons to despise Maggie.

Now viewers of the two videos can draw their own conclusions but a few stick out to me.

In the Thames documentary Prince Sihanouk is seen mixing with local people and without bodyguards.  Today’s ruler Prime Minister Hun Sen has always resented the adulation, love and popularity of Sihanouk and reverence shown to him – despite sharing a lot of the same untoward characteristics.  He and his ruling party contrive to emulate these scenes but fail miserably. Also as I know living near him in Takhmau he has probably the largest personal troop of bodyguards of any leader in the world. That says a lot about him.

Today 1960s  Pop Music, theirs of that era, based on ours is very popular  - check out Space Project's "House of the Rising Sun". King Sihanouk was of course a virtuoso in his own right, performing even in the last years of his life.

Sadly the local democracy shown of Kingston at that time seems to be a luxury today. Public services have been cut and as we see in Northumberland today administration and governance are streamlined.  It no longer commands the kind of respect and confidence depicted in the old documentary.  No wonder the UK no longer has a model of excellent practice it can export to the world.

I used to amuse many of my good governance students in Cambodia by telling them about the local government “reorganisation” of 1974 in the UK.  It was part of my job to help make the change in Surrey.  We nicknamed it “disorganisation” and the truth is over the years there have been far too many “reforms” of local government and health services. Strange too that apart from working on the then new logo, we also worked on relocating from Kingston, a move that took almost 50 years.

I pop back to Kingston every so often – see one blog.  The Spring Grove still fascinates.  The students are much more diverse than in our days and strangely a lot younger!

No comments:

Post a Comment