Memories of 1968

I have a lot of memories of childhood, like everyone I suppose but a lot of those memories, certainly my earlier ones, I would be hard pushed to link them to a certain date or time. The first memories in which I can actually do that are those from 1968. Surprisingly for someone who has never even visited the USA, a lot of my 1968 memories concern, yes, the USA. Lyndon Johnson was the President of the USA in 1968. He had inherited the presidency from John F Kennedy on that fateful day in Dallas in 1963 when Kennedy was cut down by an assassin’s bullet. He won the election in his own right in 1964 easily beating Republican opponent Barry Goldwater.

1968 was different though. Johnson’s domestic policies and reforms known as the Great Society had been overwhelmed by the Vietnam War. People were looking at the casualties and asking what is going on? Why are we even in Vietnam?

In 1963 President Kennedy stated in a TV interview with respected TV anchor Walter Cronkite ‘in the final analysis, it’s their war; they are the ones that have to win it or lose it.’ He was talking about the Vietnamese not the USA. Kennedy later issued NSAM (National Security Action memorandum) 263, in which he approved the implementation of plans to withdraw 1,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963.

On November 26, 1963, only four days after taking office in the most tragic of circumstances, President Johnson approved NSAM order 273 reaffirming the U.S. commitment to Vietnam. Johnson unlike Kennedy, was not withdrawing troops, he was sending more.

Perhaps Kennedy was backing away from Vietnam, perhaps not. Historians differ on their assessment of what Kennedy would or wouldn’t have done. Either way, the Johnson Administration became more and more involved in the war, sending more and more troops into South East Asia. The country became split over the issue. Students were protesting, university campuses became battle grounds between Police and students. Vietnam was a big issue at school over in the UK as I remember. Many of our morning services talked about the issue and I vividly remember one morning when our headmaster played a pop tune over which were read the names of soldiers killed in Vietnam.

Johnson had won by a huge majority in 1964 and appeared confident of winning again in 1968. However a shock awaited him in the first primary in New Hampshire on March 12th when anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy won 42 percent of the vote to Johnson’s 49 percent, a shockingly strong showing against an incumbent President.

McCarthy’s campaign was boosted by thousands of young college students who shaved their beards and cut their hair to be ‘Clean for Gene’. Those students organised voting drives, rang doorbells, distributed McCarthy buttons and leaflets, and worked hard in New Hampshire to bring the vote home for McCarthy.

Robert Kennedy was a notable critic of Johnson’s policies and he had initially declined to run against the President but seeing the success of McCarthy he announced his candidacy for the Presidency on March 16th.

Over on the Republican side, Richard Nixon, the big loser in the election of 1960, had staged a major comeback and was the front-runner in the Republican Primaries ahead of his closest rival Governor Ronald Reagan.

On March 31st President Johnson made a televised speech to announce he had cancelled all bombing of North Vietnam in order to help ongoing peace talks. At the end of his speech he dropped a political bombshell by announcing he would not run for President in 1968. Some have said he was scared of losing to Kennedy, some have said he was just tired and was worried about his health. In fact he died only some five years later on January 22nd, 1973.

On April 4th Martin Luther King was shot dead in Memphis, Tennessee. He had made a speech earlier that day in which he spoke of his happiness at reaching the promised land.

“Like anybody,” he had said, “I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I’m happy, tonight.”

Robert Kennedy heard the news of the murder when he arrived in Indianapolis that night. He was scheduled to give a speech in a predominantly black neighbourhood and the Police tried to dissuade him from speaking saying that they could not protect him in the event of a riot.

Kennedy announced the death of King and those assembled for the speech were understandably shocked and grief-stricken but Kennedy went on, speaking only from a few notes he had jotted down during the ride from the airport.

‘For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.’

His speech was credited with preventing rioting in Indianapolis on a night when riots broke out in many other parts of the country.

Many in the Democratic Party felt that Kennedy had only entered the election when McCarthy’s performance showed there was support for an anti-war campaign; nevertheless, he won a number of the primaries although he was defeated by McCarthy in Oregon.

In the UK it was a hot summer as I remember and I went with one of my friends to see the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was a stunning visual feast although I later had to buy the book by Arthur C Clarke to understand a lot of it. My Mother was amazed. I can still hear her now: ‘A beautiful hot day and you have spent it in the picture house?’

On June 4th Kennedy beat McCarthy in a close contest in California. After a brief victory speech at the Ambassador Hotel he was shot by an assassin shortly after midnight on the 5th. I was 11 years old at the time, an English schoolboy a thousand miles away in England and I was shocked by the news. I remember hearing about the shooting on television sometime in the afternoon or early evening. It was a Wednesday, not that I remember that, I had to look it up, and I slipped out into the garden to say a silent prayer for Kennedy hoping he would live. He died in hospital some hours later.

Robert Kennedy’s funeral mass took place on June 8th and then his body was taken by train to Washington. Thousands of mourners lined the tracks to pay homage as the funeral train passed by.

On August 20th Warsaw Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia and Premier Alexander Dubcek was deposed. Dubcek had initiated a series of reforms that became known as the Prague Spring. The Soviet Union was nervous of his reforms and the invasion was designed to return the country to its previous oppressive regime. Dubcek was eventually replaced by Gustáv Husák. He returned firm party rule to the country and ‘normalised’ relations with the Soviet Union.

On the 28th August the Democratic National Convention opened in Chicago and television viewers were shocked to see Chicago Police brutally beating anti-war protestors with clubs and tear gas. The crowd chanted ‘the whole world is watching’ as the violence went on.

Hubert Humphrey won the Democratic Party nomination but on the election day of November 5th it was Richard Nixon who emerged triumphant. He would be forced to resign in 1973 because of the Watergate Scandal.

On December 24th, Christmas Eve, the Apollo 8 spacecraft made a TV broadcast from lunar orbit. The crew of Borman, Lovell and Anders were the first in history to leave the planet Earth for another celestial body and the first to see the phenomenon of earthrise. In 1968 a number of things were the focus of my life. One of them was science fiction but here was something not so different but factual, not fictional.  I was glued to the BBC broadcasts by Cliff Michelmore and James Burke. On the TV transmission Commander Borman introduced his crew before they took turns to read from the book of Genesis. He finished by saying ‘And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you—all of you on the good Earth.’

Even today, years later, if I ever hear those words on some documentary programme or a YouTube video, I am transported back to 1968, listening with wonder that men could reach the moon, that space travel was possible and that the things I had seen in 2001: A Space Odyssey could one day come true.


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Big Macs, Brexit and Elizabeth!

There always is a special feeling about the last shift, well, certainly for me at any rate. After my last block of shifts I left work at the usual time, 10 pm -I work shifts as you may know- and I fancied something special for a late treat. I wasn’t hungry enough for a donner kebab and my favourite chip shop doesn’t open late so I popped into McDonald’s for my yearly Big Mac and fries. Every time I get a Big Mac it seems to me that it gets smaller and smaller. The Big Mac I bought for my treat seemed smaller than ever and I even debated about getting two. Anyway, I drove quickly home, changed into my scruffy ‘lounge about the house’ gear, poured a small Bacardi into my coke and tucked into my food. Sadly, it was rather lukewarm and didn’t taste much better after a few seconds in the microwave. The fact of the matter is that my Big Mac always seems rather lukewarm and why I go back for one, once or even sometimes twice a year, I really don’t know.

Many years ago, I used to work for a cigarette company and I used to meet with my manager and two team mates every Friday afternoon at McDonald’s in Liverpool, the one right at the end of the M62 motorway. I’d always have a Big Mac and we’d settle back and listen to some sales talk and updates from our boss. Every single time, now I think of it, I used to send my Big Mac back and soon afterwards a new one, fresh and hot would appear. Why oh why they could not serve me a fresh hot one in the first place I will never know.

In France, the concept of fast food is lost on the French and I usually have to wait for at least thirty minutes if I have a Big Mac over in Saumur, my favourite French city. At least though, it is served hot and fresh off the frying pan or hotplate or whatever it is cooked on. Then again, when I’m eating in France, eating at MacDonald’s is not high on my agenda, it’s just sometimes when we have to exit our rented villa early in the morning (I should say at this point that 11am counts as early for me) it’s convenient to stop for a Big Mac, or even the McDonald’s breakfast when we have a long drive ahead.

Anyway, this particular night I settled down to watch the end of a really good film. It was Elizabeth which starred Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth the 1st and it was a wonderful film cataloguing the intrigue and suspense of that long-gone age. No democracy back then, kings and queens won and lost thrones and power through murder and manipulation and Elizabeth was lucky to have by her side her spymaster and security chief Francis Walsingham.

These days our present queen is Elizabeth the 2nd and she is probably a pretty popular monarch. Having said that I have little time for the rest of the royals; they are overpaid, over privileged and over here. Whatever you may think of Donald Trump by comparison he has a right to be where he is, in the Oval office as he has won the only popularity contest that counts in the USA, the election. In a few years’ time, Americans will be able to vote out Trump or if they so desire, vote him in again for another four years. No such luck with the Queen.

The UK Prime Minister is a different kettle of fish though. We, the citizens of the UK don’t vote directly for her, in fact only Conservative MPs had a say in her election as party leader and only the constituents of Maidenhead have a say in her election to the house of commons. Currently, Theresa May has the most MPs at the moment, a very slender majority in fact, but that small majority then makes her the Prime Minister.

If I, by some miracle, ever became Prime Minister, one of my first jobs would be to depose the royals and ship the whole lot of them over to either Ekaterinburg in the former Soviet Union or if Mr Putin were not too willing to oblige, to some east London council estate. One big problem there is that the Queen, like it or not, is the glue that binds the English, Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish together in the United Kingdom and whether a President or Prime Minister could do that remains to be seen.

There was a follow-up film to Elizabeth, it was called Elizabeth the Golden Age and I do wonder what historians will call the present age when they look back to add a new chapter in the history of the British Isles.

As I write this the government suffered the biggest defeat in the House of Commons by any government in UK history when members of parliament rejected Theresa May’s Brexit deal by a huge majority and later only survived a no confidence vote by 19 votes. Personally, I voted to leave the European Union but the big problem is that the majority leave vote only amounted to 52% which really means that the country is pretty much split on the issue. If the vote had been 60 to 70% to leave, I don’t think Brexit would be such a big issue but as we as a country are so divided then it is an issue.

So, what is the answer? Another vote? Suppose the remain voters won that one, would that solve the issue? I doubt it, after all it would be one for the leavers and one for the remainers. We could have a best of 3 vote though, couldn’t we?

The real problem is that when David Cameron resigned, I assumed a pro leave MP would take over at 10 Downing Street, the obvious candidate being Boris Johnson but no, Theresa May won the premiership contest despite being on the remain side, just like David Cameron but wasn’t that why he resigned?

Despite personally being on the leave side I think David Cameron would have been better going back to Brussels and saying, look, my voters are not happy about the EU, we need to take a good look at our membership, perhaps that would have been preferable to the current chaos, after all, the referendum was hardly legally binding as far as I know, it was just a referendum, an indication of the feeling in the country.

The thing is though, why should it be so hard to leave a club like the EU? We have given them notice, we have followed the rules of membership and now they are asking for a multi-million-pound fee to leave.

I wonder what Elizabeth 1st answer would be to that?


Floating in Space is available from Amazon as a Kindle download or traditional paperback. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Tipping Point, The Chase, and Donald Trump!

Donald Trump. Picture courtesy Wikipedia

Donald Trump. Picture courtesy Wikipedia

Just over a week ago, I settled down on a Friday afternoon in front of the TV, ready for my usual afternoon dose of Tipping Point and the Chase, only to find normal programmes had been suspended in favour of the Presidential Inauguration. When I say Presidential, I’m of course referring to President Trump of the USA so it was surprising to find the event televised live in the UK on BBC1, ITV and all the usual news stations. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the French or German elections given this much coverage, or any other foreign election or inauguration for that matter. If you have followed the election on TV you might be forgiven for thinking this had been a two-way fight between Republican Trump and Democrat Hilary Clinton. Absolutely not, in fact there were a huge number of presidential hopefuls as you can see by clicking here. Not one of them was involved in the televised presidential debates because the media, well certainly the British media, only seemed to focus on the Democrat and Republican contenders. Unless a third candidate could somehow muscle himself in onto the TV debates or somehow get some national coverage then he or she would have no chance of competing with the top two.

Anyway, Donald Trump was declared the victor in the election and duly became the Chief Executive and Commander in Chief of the United States on January 20th and all seemed to go fairly smoothly. The chap who introduced the proceedings -I’m afraid I can’t remember his name- commented on the inaugural speech of President Ronald Reagan which I quote here:
“To a few of us here today this is a solemn and most momentous occasion, and yet in the history of our nation it is a commonplace occurrence. The orderly transfer of authority as called for in the Constitution routinely takes place, as it has for almost two centuries, and few of us stop to think how unique we really are. In the eyes of many in the world, this every 4-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.”

Reagan touched on the whole essence of democracy in that speech which is essentially this, that of the leader of a nation voluntarily handing over power to the new leader, the victor of the election process. In the news the same day was a story about The Gambia’s long-term leader Yahya Jammeh who has, until now, refused to accept that Adama Barrow had defeated him in the election last December. It seems he has finally decided to hand over power as threats from other West African nations have forced him to concede defeat. It would have been interesting if Barack Obama had said, ‘sorry, no, I’m not stepping down, I’m not ready yet!’ The last President who had to be forced from office was Richard Nixon who finally accepted that the Watergate scandal had destroyed his presidency in 1973 and resigned, handing over to Vice-president Gerald Ford.

In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe has hung onto power since 1980 despite an abysmal record of leadership in the country. In the 2013 elections he was again victorious although Pedzisai Ruhanya, from the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, a Harare-based think tank, had this to say; “When Mugabe used violence in 2008, he lost legitimacy, so he had to find other ways to win. What we have seen is a masterclass in electoral fraud. It is chicanery, organised theft and electoral authoritarianism.” Mugabe is now well into his nineties but can a dictator ever relinquish his power? I doubt it. Stalin continued as leader of the Soviet Union until his death in 1953 at the age of 73. When he did not arise from his bedroom one morning at his dacha in Kuntsevo, just outside Moscow, his guards were too nervous to enquire if he was alright. When they finally entered the room they found he had collapsed and assumed he was suffering from a bout of heavy drinking the previous night. The guards made him comfortable on a couch and then withdrew. When he was found unable to speak the following day, only then were the doctors summoned. Seen in that light, the events in the USA are, as Ronald Reagan said, nothing less than a miracle.

A US president can only serve two terms as the US senate, perhaps resentful of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s three terms in office, voted to limit a president to only two four-year terms. Eight years, not much time to change the world, is it?

The USA however seems a much more democratic place than the UK. Our current leader, Theresa May has taken over as Prime Minister without a single vote made by us, the citizens of the UK. Granted, Conservative MP’s have had their say but members of the Conservative party have not been consulted, nor has the country in general. The next general election in the United Kingdom is scheduled to be held on Thursday 7 May 2020, in line with the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011; it may be held at an earlier date in the event of a vote of no confidence or other exceptional circumstances. How Theresa May will fare with the people then, is anybody’s guess but then who would have thought Donald Trump would have been elected president?

Oh and one more thing. I had to wait until Monday for another edition of Tipping Point and The Chase. I was not happy!


If you liked this post why not try my book, Floating In Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information or click on my promo video below.