Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Tory Hauntology

Peter HitchensTory Eurosceptic brother of Christopher, with a moving meditation on the Sixties and all its losses and costs (I didn’t realise he’d once been a student revolutionary) cued by the memoradelic effect of a song he loved for a season as a 17-year-old and then forgot all about for 45 years - "Meet On The Ledge" by Fairport Convention 

From the first Mail on Sunday blogpost

"I can recall playing it, over and over again, alone in the house,  on my parents’ monstrous 1940s radiogram with its heavily-engineered turntable. And then I lost interest, as 17-year-olds do.... Then my brother died, so concentrating my mind on my own childhood in a way that I hadn’t done for years. And then, as I wrote here last year, Linda Grant wrote her novel ‘Upstairs at the Party’(out in paperback any day now),   which touches directly on my years as a student revolutionary. At a stroke, Linda turned this period of my life from a  series of random memories into the buried past,  so long ago that I’m amazed to have lived through it and still be alive. Since then, my memories of these things have become a bit insistent. I’m more curious about who I then was than I used to be... 

The idea that the song is about death is what originally hooked and haunted Hitchens. But... 

"The rather unsatisfactory explanation of ‘the ledge’ is that this was Richard Thompson’s childhood name for a low-hanging tree branch on which he and his friends used to sit.

"Well, if he says so. For me, it conjured up a very clear mental picture of a ledge high on a chilly and windswept mountainside (the rest of the words very much point this way) on which were gathered the last survivors of some perilous quest, who had agreed to meet there when they began, many, happy and young, and had now reached it, few, sad and old.

"What the quest was I’m not sure now, and wasn’t then.  I suspect it was a kind of longing we all had, adolescence to the power of ten, a belief that just beyond the horizon a world of colour, pleasure and fulfilled ambition waited for us all.  It didn’t, of course.

"I’d read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ when I was 12 and 13, long before it was fashionable or even widely-known, and was probably influenced by that, and also by Alan Garner’s work of genius ‘The Weirdstone of Brisingamen’  .But my mind was also crammed with dozens of other boyish adventure stories of the sort we still used to read. I used to, anyway, in attics or in a corner of the staircase,  or in a remote part of my boarding school’s spacious buildings where nobody would find me, on winter afternoons. Quests, caves,  tunnels, escapes, tottering bridges and precipices filled our imaginations.

"I’ve often thought that this was the children’s literature of a profoundly safe and civilised country, where a snake was an event and the largest wild beast in the woods was a fox, and where most horizons ended in gentle downland (or if you were lucky, moorland) rather than in the jagged peaks of Tibet or Mordor.

"And we were so safe as the sixties got under way, brought up in warm homes with plenty to eat, attending orderly schools, venturing out onto crime-free streets with very little traffic, cocooned in lives of predictable mild prosperity and full employment.  Fools that we were, we sometimes chafed at all this safety and predictability, and longed for real excitement, not just the sort you got from a book. I did, for certain. I remember, in 1968, being unpleasantly thrilled by the chaos in the boulevards of Paris, by the Warsaw Pact tanks trundling through Prague and in 1969, even more unpleasantly satisfied to see serious violence on the apparently British streets of Belfast and Londonderry. What I didn’t know then was that these things were exciting, as it is exciting to shelter from a storm , precisely because we were so safe. The word ‘selfishness’ simply isn’t rude enough to describe my state of mind in those years"...

".... What if we had all not gone on our adventures? Would we have lost more than we gained? Too late, now, anyway. But I think we’ll all have to be dead before anyone can write a proper, fair account of my generation. From here it looks nearly as bad as the Children’s Crusade. I hate to think what it must have been like for our parents to watch it depart, unable to stop it."

There was also a follow up post  responding to the many positive and curious responses the original blog recieved:

"I was surprised (and not altogether pleased) , years later, to find out that it had won a sort of cult following. But I knew why, just as I know why Richard Thompson’s mother asked him to sing it at her funeral.  It contains an unstated hope that in the end, after all the car crashes and suicides and divorces and abortions and young, untimely deaths,   *everything will be all right* . We will meet on the ledge....

"I think there was a growing sense of danger in our minds as the Sixties went wildly and rather unstoppably on (they ended for me, in a series of self-inflicted personal melodramas in August 1969, but for everyone else, I think, in the sudden slamming on of the economic brakes by the Yom Kippur war in 1973). But in 1967 and 1968, there seemed no limit to it. Everything we had been told we couldn't or shouldn't do, we were now doing. If you were in your teens, it was a very insecure time, full of combined longing and apprehension...   Forbidden words were being broadcast on TV. Forbidden and previously unnamed actions were being openly discussed.  And our parents' marriages were in many cases foundering, as the new Divorce Laws took rapid effect, one of the most underestimated and under-recorded factors in the Sixties revolution."

(via - whose else could it be really ? -  Robin Carmody - his Facebook rather than the suddenly very active blog  - Carmody who I once compared to Fairport Convention, then decided he was more like the Roy Harper of bloggers (bloggers as proggers - Oct 5 2003). I expect he'd rather be the former again, after the seedy revelations of the last few years)

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