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Archive for the category “the past”

Operation Yewtree Is Tarnishing Your Childhood Memories

Robin Williams once said that if you remember the Sixties, you probably weren’t there.

I don’t remember the Sixties because I wasn’t there. I do remember the Seventies, however – not only because I was there, but also because I was a young child and thus hadn’t yet taken any substances liable to induce memory loss (although I suspect Space Dust came close).

I was born in 1971: the year of decimalisation, the year that Britain voted to join the EEC and the year that Jim Morrison died (clearly Britain joining the EEC was too much for him). I am the same age as Winona Ryder, Ewan McGregor and Disney World Orlando. Sadly I’ve never met Winona or Ewan, but if I did, I’m sure we’d have a lovely time, especially if we all went to Disney World Orlando together.

My childhood holidays in the 1970s were more likely to centre around static caravan parks than exotic sun-drenched resorts, but they were no less happy for that. I grew up in a safe, middle-class home where my siblings and I were loved – even if that love extended to taking us not to Disney World Orlando but to Butlin’s Minehead, instead. So, you know, we at least felt liked. In short, I was lucky enough to have a happy childhood.

Unlike some in the 1970s.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (which I really wouldn’t recommend, unless you’re doing some sort of Bear Grylls-style endurance feat, in which case: hats off to you!) or living abroad (again, I really wouldn’t recommend this), you will have seen the almost daily headlines as a result of Operation Yewtree. And if you’re in your 40s, it’s likely that each of these headlines will have hammered a small but perceptible, unexpected nail into the coffin of your happy childhood memories of the 1970s.

Operation Yewtree was launched to investigate allegations of child sex abuse by Jimmy Savile, of course – a man whose life as a DJ, TV presenter, charity worker and marathon-runner had always seemed, until the abuse came to light, glittering. Literally, given those gold jackets of his. After the initial shock of the news wore off, many of us moved into “Actually… Jimmy Savile? That makes sense…” territory. But the initial shock was exactly that. Shock.

Because Savile had been the nation’s uncle. The creepy uncle, sure. But our uncle nevertheless. To those of us born in the early Seventies, our memories of him aren’t dominated by his Radio 1 work or even Top of the Pops, but by Jim’ll Fix It, quite possibly because it was a show which centered around us: children. Jim’ll Fix It made kids’ dreams come true and thus, as kids watching it every week, we were all touched by its magic. We giggled at the Boy Scouts eating their lunch on a rollercoaster. We gasped at the slow motion demolishing of cooling towers. We were, in short, green with envy at every kid who was lucky enough to get on the show. Everyone had a Jim’ll Fix It wish, even if they never wrote in. Mine was to perform the kid’s speaking part on The Land Of Make Believe with Bucks Fizz. Sadly, it never happened. Mainly because I never wrote in.

(Of course, we now know that Savile was displaying behaviour typical of an abuser. He actively sought positions where he was around young people; and he deliberately made himself appear exemplary – and thus, in theory, unquestionable – through his charity work. I highly recommend reading this fascinating New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell about an American sports coach who behaved in a not dissimilar fashion.)

As Operation Yewtree’s investigations have widened, what we’ve seen is nothing short of an unraveling. An unraveling of behaviour that at the time, if it was seen, was either swept under the carpet or considered acceptable; or if it remained unseen, was kept that way until now in part due to (understandable) fear. It’s also been an unraveling of names – a “who’s next?!” roll call of male celebrities who were at their height of fame in the Seventies and Eighties. Celebrities who mean a lot to you if you grew up in those decades – although some more than others, of course.

The naming of Freddie Star, Jim Davidson, Jimmy Tarbuck, Gary Glitter and Dave Lee Travis – and I hasten to add that it’s only accusations against these men at the time of writing, and that they deny them – hasn’t affected me greatly because I don’t have fond childhood memories of any of them. As a kid, each of those men either gave me the creeps (Glitter), had a career aimed more at adults than children (Tarbuck) or both (Freddie Starr). That said, my first memory of observational comedy was Jim Davidson on The Comedians remarking that you always want to have a wee when you first step into a bath. I’m not sure my remembering this means that I was destined to work in comedy or simply that I did always want to have a wee when I stepped into a bath. Either way, I don’t think Davidson’s career ever improved on that high.

Rolf Harris – who has also been arrested, and who also denies the allegations against him – was something of a horrible shock, even for a nice middle-class girl who was more from the Tony Hart school of art. Rolf Harris, who delighted generations with his drawings of half-men, half-kangaroos. Rolf Harris, who pretty much single-handedly introduced the didgeridoo to the northern hemisphere. Rolf Harris, who seemed like the long-lost relative from Australia that we never fully ‘got’ and always vaguely baffled us. And by ‘us’, I do of course mean ‘me’.

But my biggest “Oh no! Not HIM!” moment came – as I’m sure it did for many others – with the arrest of Stuart Hall. Jimmy Savile might have been our creepy uncle, but Stuart Hall? Stuart Hall was our fun uncle. We all delighted in his irrepressible laugh at the shenanigans of It’s A Knockout – a family show that we did all sit round to watch as a family, and all enjoyed equally. And who could blame us? What’s not to love about grown men and women dressed in enormous Frenchmen/ogre/penguin outfits carrying buckets of blue or red water, falling over and spilling most of it? It’s A Knockout gave us lessons for life. Sometimes you will slip up. Sometimes you will do your best, but still spill most of the metaphorical blue water. Sometimes you’ll get beaten by a Belgian.

But the sheen has been taken off these memories by what we know now about these men, and it’s impossible not to feel betrayed somehow; or at least to think that we were naïve or impossibly innocent. And while we were those things, of course – we were only children, after all – our parents were innocent to it, too. Not only did we trust these men, our parents trusted them to ‘look after’ us through the medium of the television. And television – especially in the pre-satellite, three-channel era – was the source of so many shared experiences, not just with our own families but with our fellow Brits. As such, it was a hugely important and formative part of our growing up, of learning how to navigate the world and the people in it.

Of course, the tarnishing of our memories is nothing, nothing at all, compared to what the victims of these men actually went through – people who truly had their childhoods robbed and their lives ruined. Unlike some, I don’t regard Operation Yewtree as any sort of witch- hunt and I am, above everything, gratified to see arrogant, monstrous abusers being exposed and punished for the crimes they committed.

And I also don’t want to allow these revelations to affect my memories of what was a happy decade. For me, the Seventies were days spent watching Take Hart and reading (la la la la la) Look-In magazine; days spent roller-skating up and down – mainly down, to be honest – our little cul-de-sac; days spent recording the Top 40 by putting a cassette player in front of the radio and trying to cut out Tony Blackburn’s voice. Sunny days (quite literally – remember ’76?) and sunny memories.

Partly to remind myself – and my fellow fortysomethings – of this, I compiled a gallery this week for Huffington Post: 30 Great Things About Growing Up In 1970s Britain. I’ve included a few choice examples below (just click on each image to read its full caption). Yes, there might have been bad things about the Seventies – clogs, for example – but sometimes I thank my lucky stars that it was the decade of my early childhood. And given the recent revelations, I thank my lucky stars that I was safe.

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You’re Mistaken For Your Boyfriend’s Mother

Firstly, before I start: I realise this might not be one of those “No! You too?!” posts about an experience that is instantly recognisable to everyone.

I realise that being mistaken for being your boyfriend’s mother might be a somewhat niche experience. Limited, possibly, to women. And specifically: women with younger boyfriends.

But bear with me. Because I do believe there’s some universality in the story I’m about to recount. Some universality in the realisation that you are physically older than you feel inside. Some universality in the return to a place of youth, only to realise that you are no longer part of that world. Some universality in the fact that YOU ARE SLOWLY, INEXORABLY EDGING CLOSER TO THE GRAVE. In a good way.

The story begins just over two years ago, when I met Frank. Two things immediately struck me about Frank when our eyes met over Twitter. One, that he was nice. Two, that he was cute. Four, that he was young. Three, that I’m not very good at maths.

When we met in person, these things were even more apparent. Even the maths bit – turns out Frank was a whole 14 years younger than me, and it took me a while to calculate that. And he was even cuter in real life. In fact, when I described him to other people, I found myself telling them that he looked like “A young Tom Hanks. You know, sort of Big/Splash era.” Which I regarded as a very wonderful thing, because I had a huge crush on the Big/Splash era Tom Hanks.

tom-hanks-bigFrank

frankTom

In fact, if Frank ever met Tom Hanks, it would probably look something like this:

tom hanks big

Except without the upper body nudity. Possibly. And: don’t tell me it’s physically impossible for Frank to go back in time and meet the young Tom Hanks, because I’ve seen Big, and that proves that all kinds of weird sh*t is possible. As does Splash, now I come to think of it.

Anyway, Frank and I started dating – because as well as being cute and young, he turned out to be incredibly smart, kind and funny. (Just like Tom Hanks, I imagine. I don’t know. He always seems very nice in interviews, though.) Frank may have only been 25, but he had an old head on young (pretty, amazingly soft-skinned) shoulders; and that seemed to click very well with the fact that I was 39 but felt much younger than I was.

Yes, I was with a man I was old enough to have babysat for – which was appropriate, as Big and Splash are perfect babysitting movies – but we were, and still are, incredibly happy together. And as a result of being happy together, we have of course introduced each other to families, friends… and alma maters.

Taking Frank around Sheffield University, its Student Union and my favourite student pubs, I was struck by the fact that not only was I no longer the right age to be a student, I didn’t even feel the right age to be a mature student. And the reason for that, it dawned on me, was because I was now the right age to have a child of my own at the university. This was almost as alarming as walking into pub after pub only to find that they had all been refurbished.

sheffield universitySheffield University. Naughty students are kept in the turret.

While Sheffield University, with its red bricks, one turret and badly refurbished pubs, was impressive – and I am enormously fond of both the university and the city – I was probably just as excited to see Frank’s old college as I was to show him around mine.

And ‘college’ is the correct – not Americanised – term here, because Frank went to Oxford Brainy University, and thus to a college. Specifically: Corpus Christi.

Coming from lower-middle-class stock, I am instinctively impressed by anyone who’s gone to Oxbridge. The sensible part of me knows that is a silly, outdated, possibly unreasonable reaction – but the inner me just screams OH MY GOD YOU MUST BE SO BRAINY I AM IN AWE AND I WISH I COULD HAVE GONE THERE AND DO YOU EAT SWANS?

Plus, Oxford is really pretty.

So we had a lovely day wandering around the city and Frank’s old haunts there (he used to be a ghost! Who knew?!) – including a pub next to Corpus Christi College called The Bear, the walls and ceilings of which are adorned with old school ties:

school tiesIs the class system dead – or merely a cheap form of interior decoration?

And after a drink in The Bear, we went to Corpus Christi –

corpus christiNice, but no turret

– where Frank went into the porter’s lodge, just on the right of this photo, to see if we could possibly gain entrance so he could show me around the place where he’d spent four years of his life.

I hung around in the doorway – as you do, when you’re somewhat in awe of Oxford despite being a grown adult – while Frank spoke to the porter, who was a bespectacled gentleman in his late 40s or early 50s, I reckon. Like I say: I’m not very good at maths.

“Hello. I was a student here about five years ago…” began Frank – and while it took a moment for the porter to recognise him, there ensued a little exchange between them, during which it was established that Frank’s last year at Corpus had been the porter’s first and that the porter did, in fact, remember him.

“Anyway,” said Frank – gesturing to me – “I was just wondering if…”

“If you could show your sister around?” said the porter with a smile, winking at me.

“Erm…”

And like that, we were in.

And no sooner were we in than it dawned on me.

By saying “your sister, the porter had uttered the age-old, cheesy, supposed compliment of imagining that a woman who is your mother will be flattered by the fact that you’ve ‘mistaken’ her for being your sister.

The porter thought I was Frank’s mother.

I wandered around Corpus Christi admiring its golden brickwork, beautiful gardens and impressive modern extension… but my mind was still back there in the porter’s lodge, where I’d been mistaken for being my boyfriend’s mum.

Now, in the porter’s defence: (1) Frank looks younger than he is. He still gets ID’d buying alcohol. Plus, as we’ve already established, he looks like a young Tom Hanks. Tom Hanks was 32 when Big came out, and as anyone who’s seen that film knows, he looked really young in it. Especially in the bits where he was played by a kid. (2) In his porter head, all former students are probably frozen in time – thus Frank is still, to him, 18. Which makes me, at 41, quite plausibly old enough to be his mother. (4) He was wearing glasses.

“But I don’t look old enough to be a student’s mother!” I cried… as I looked out over Christ Church Meadow. “Do I?”

“Do I, Frank? Do I really look old enough to be your mother? Please tell me I don’t look old enough to be your mother. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know it’s a huge compliment in some ways… You’re a good-looking lad…”

“Of course you don’t look old enough!” he said. And with that, he’d hit me on the arm, shouted “You’re it!” and we were off.  I do love being with a younger man.

tom hanks big

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