PC 272 Temporal Memories

Haven’t been able to get to the Hope Café this week so will have to wait to find out more from Sami as to how the next months might develop.

The Russian invasion last Thursday of the sovereign nation of Ukraine has naturally been the focus of news here in Europe; the severe flooding of Brisbane and parts of Sydney in Australia is relegated to ‘other news’. Whilst the Ukrainian situation develops hour by hour, the commentators are having a field day, raking over Europe’s political history, trying to make sense of the Russian president’s actions (Note 1). Most believe Putin has become too isolated, too paranoid, even too deranged to be capable of rational thought and subsequent action. One commentator suggested that the end of the Cold War was hailed as a success for Western politics, democracy and diplomacy. Apparently George Bush senior said: “We won!”, the inference being that ‘the other side’ lost. Putin belongs to the other side and this loss has burned deep in his psyche. Today that fire has reached the surface, grateful for oxygen!

We have been reminded of the Cuba Missile Crisis of 1962, when the then president of the USSR Nikita Khrushchev tried to station strategic missiles in Cuba, considered by the USA as its ‘backyard’. The US President at the time was one JF Kennedy, a youthful 45 and riding on a wave of popularity and charisma. (Note 2) He faced down the Soviet threat and the world breathed a huge collective sigh of relief.

But where were you when he was shot in the head, in Dallas, just over a year later? My generation will always remember that day, that event. Me? I was in Salisbury at a concert, which was interrupted with an announcement JFK had been assassinated. The coach took us back to school at West Lavington in stunned silence. He had been a beacon of light in a gloomy world. We made scrap books of the newspaper articles and magazine photographs; we were moved.  

Got me thinking about other events whose memories remain as fresh today as the date they occurred. Obviously there are the personal ones that track along one’s lifeline, ‘births, marriages and deaths’ or ‘hatches, matches and dispatches’, one’s first kiss, first love, winning or losing at things, being awarded things, being promoted or demoted for instance and there are others that are generational like my memories of JFK’s assassination and my next temporal memory.

The morning of 21st July 1969 dawned clear and sunny. I was exhausted …. but happy. The last days of a two week military exercise were over, a significant eighteen months was coming to an end and I was off to university for three years to study Civil Engineering. You may wonder why the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom wanted someone to study civil engineering, unless they were serving in the Royal Engineers? It was all about have science-educated officers who could use their technical knowledge when undertaking staff appointments. Where was I? Well, actually in a 160 pounder tent (Note 3) in Trauen Camp on the Bergen-Hohne Training Area in Germany. I had been up for at about three quarters of an hour, my battery operated radio (Note 4) tuned to the British Forces Broadcasting Service and its news programme.

At 0415 CET Neil Armstrong had stepped backwards down the ladder from the Apollo 11 Lunar Module ‘Eagle’ that had landed on the surface of the moon. JFK had been shocked when the USSR had sent a man into orbit around the earth (Yuri Gagarin in 1961) and he pledged to get an American onto the moon first! Armstrong’s words, static and radio distortion notwithstanding, were clear enough: “One step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Wanting to hear it again, I ‘YouTube’d it yesterday and listened to this moment in history. Today of course conspiracy theorists contend this ‘moon landing’ was created in some American desert or film studio, whilst feminists complain that Armstrong’s words were sexist! Historical acts, particularly where recordings are available, should remain exactly as spoken at the time!

A memory of an event within this century is the terrorist attack in the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York on 11th September 2001 – now referred to as 9/11. Here we would have referred to it as 11/9 but this was in America. I was on holiday in Göcek in Turkey, west of Fethiye on the Turquoise Coast, out for supper in a local restaurant. We were suddenly aware of television sets being wheeled out into the street; crowds gathered and we just gawped, unable to fathom what we were witnessing, the constantly repeated footage of a passenger aircraft being flown deliberately into a building.  

President George Bush was told of this and the three other attacks on American soil while visiting a school in Sarasota Florida. At that particular moment in contemporary world history, America’s foreign policy changed. Within weeks servicemen from America and its NATO allies went into Afghanistan, ‘to ensure it didn’t become a safe haven for international terrorist organisations’. (Note 5)   

But you haven’t mentioned where you were when Princess Diana was killed in a grotty traffic tunnel in Paris, or when TV weatherman Michael Fish told people ‘not to worry’ about a forthcoming storm in 1987 that killed 18 people, or when you heard that David Bowie had died?”

Sorry! Ran out of space ….. but I do remember where I was when Elvis Presley died!” (Note 6)

Richard 4th March 2022


Note 1 I put a small ‘p’. Gorbachev would have warranted a capital one.

Note 2 By contrast the UK Prime Minister was Harold MacMillan (1894-1986), in office very pragmatic and unflappable, but a rather staid aristocratic individual. 

Note 3 I guess its designation referred to its weight 160lbs (73kgs). Not sure what it weighed wet …… but it was big enough to accommodate six camp beds.

Note 4 The Panasonic radio could also be pushed into a bracket in the foot-well of my VW Variant – so sophisticated to have a radio in one’s car!

Note 5 Twenty years later all western forces withdrew; a pragmatic decision!

Note 6 On 16 August 1977 I was on the Italian island of Sardinia

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