An elderly widow telephoned last evening,  “I want to hold your hand”.  She talked of her memories of home in the hills of India, of her father and her husband, and of recent encounters in the town where she lives.  “It was a Beatles’ song”, I told her [1].  In her urgent need for touch and love, she didn’t welcome the quip.  A time of memories, of a lifetime’s experience, of love and laughter, of kindness, of simple pleasures.  “I’m ready to go”, she said, tired of being alone amongst unreal modern folk, “ready to pass”; ready to go to her long-home.   

  This old man’s memories vary between actual and semi-conscious ephemeral ‘movies’, some one cannot place.  ‘Were they real’, or a taste, a mental impression of something, a moment that may have happened ?  Getting off a bus in the middle of nowhere, looking about, wondering.  Standing on a platform, watching a train leave the station, aware of the difference between travellers on the train and thems left behind; of the difference ‘in time’ experience.  

  Childhood memories of steam trains : of great polished engines in great stations, and of local trains at local country stations.  Standing on a railway bridge, looking down the rails at a train coming, puffing black smut and smoke over us as it passed beneath, to our horror-full delight.  Porters of those days, walking up and down a country platform, calling the name of the station for train passengers, lest they missed it.  Running across the rails ‘illegally’, instead of walking across the station bridge; getting ticked-off by friendly, aping-cross railway staff.  In the country, counting the number of a train’s coaches as they rushed past, at a distance; driving under a bridge as a train passed over the top, was considered ‘lucky’.  In those days, we were all ‘Railway Children’, before the political ‘fix’ of trade-unions, cheap Arab oil, and filthy diesel.

  In one’s teens, boarding a Comet 2 airplane, knowing it was suffering from metal fatigue, aware that we may die; that the adventure to a foreign land was worth the peril.  The proximity of death, post-war, added an immediate flavour, made life more real than it is today.  The aroma of wine, whiskey and cigars in an adult’s drawing room the morning after; delicious ! [2]  Nowadays, constant political failures have introduced restrictions to our living that cauterise real experience.  So many have become ‘nowhere people living in a nowhere land, making nowhere plans, for nobody’ [3].

  Or, is it that the multi-colourful recollections of our early lives’ freedoms and imaginations contrast with the stress and grey constraints of modern life ?  Is it that nowadays most people live in towns and cities, like rats in a maze, rather than in the fresh-air and would-be freedoms of the country ?  Whatever, people tend to be more distant than they ever were, somehow more fearful.  Contemporarily confused genders, and ‘wokeness’, disturb our everydays.  I want to hold your hand ?  Fun and friendly relations have become liable to sensational publicity and prosecution.  ‘As bad as these days may seem to us, our kids will remember them as the good old days.’

  The state of our modern minds so often seems to be determined by the pressures we feel ourselves under.  It appears that contemporary pressures have only escalated through the centuries, possibly from a wish for better standards of living, practically and materially different for different levels of society; which notion was grown politically into the dangerous fantasy of eternal ‘economic growth’ [4], packaged and sold to the public, much like religion.  Trouble is, modern commercialism invokes corruption at every level from national politics to local derring-do.  Modern commercialism is invariably Wrong – destructive, dishonest, improper, often illegal; in no-one’s interests except ‘the crooks’, as they can make a ton of money manipulating the greed/fear combo in victims and in other would-be commercial miscreants, at the expense of Joe Public and our world [5] [6].  

  My 80 years have witnessed the extraordinarily swift decline of almost everything that matters, along with the escalation of fear and shallow thinking, extremism, and present dangers on every front.  It is inevitable that elderly folk recall the joys and traumas of childhood, in particular the sense of liberation in what were our coming-of-age years.  Those years for this old man, included a spell in the British Army on the Rhine, and the unique era of freedom-genius in arts and music of the late 1950s through 1960s, into the early 1970s [7]; before those days came to suffer from intrusive grey ‘authorities’, and from over-use of experimental social drugs.  A phenomenal, mystical and wonderful period of peaceful social revolution against the sorry ineptitude of straight-laced political controls, becoming all but stamped out by the ‘grey suits’ of many western governments, spanned our coming-of-age through to the birth of our first children.  

  The young and many rejoiced in the freedoms pioneered by creative genius in many arts, particularly in the music of the day, which reflected their feelings, and enlivened them.  New rhythms, chords, musical emphases introduced new ideas.  Amongst many excellent artists and their passing joys, the Beatles were the most original and most influential worldwide.  Their development from ‘rough-rock’ in Liverpool and Germany to refined and soulful, brilliantly scored songs called to people everywhere, and lifted our spirits.  The release of ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ in May 1967, produced by George Martin, blew everyone’s minds; a psychedelic musical classic for all time.  

  In 1968, a small music festival was held near Ryde in the Isle of Wight.  In 1969, following the Americans landing on the Moon, and shortly after the Peace & Music ‘Woodstock’ festival in New York state, it developed into an astonishing major public event, featuring amongst others, The Moody Blues, King Crimson, Richie Havens combo, the young Joni Mitchell, The Who, Bob Dylan and The Band; both festivals attended by c.400,000 people; the largest peaceful gatherings of all time; and the ‘grey suits’ fear of the potential power of the young seemed to be realised.  In subsequent years, festivals grew even larger, before becoming ‘controlled’, or stamped out [8].  

  The friendships and fun and creative work of those days, along with profound spiritual seeking, made me and contemporaries, Who We Are.  For such experience is the stuff of life, of love, that everyone has a right to; always remembering that we have but one Right, the Right to Life.

  Heady times, heady memories, a trip down Penny Lane and to Strawberry Fields [9].  And we, the ‘flower children’ of those days, have found ourselves obliged to bow to increasing and unworthy pressures inflicted on us by the seemingly inhuman ‘grey suits’, their commercialism and corruption, in their insistent drive to self-destruction, ever denying our Right to Life and Love, to laughter, freedom and joy, and to the silence beyond human understanding.  

  Our kids must wonder if we capitulated to the ‘grey suits’, whether we joined their shabby ranks ?  Yesterday, my niece, a therapist and university lecturer, thanked me sincerely for opening for her a different window on life; so mebbe they do have a taste of it.  I pray so.

  Consciously smile at gloomy strangers in the street, as a gift.  Give a flower to uniformed police and traffic wardens, with a silent meaningful smile.  Hope is pretty much all what we have left; ‘die Hoffnung stirbt zuletzt’ [10].

Here comes the sun, and I say, it’s alright.

Little darlin’, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter;

little darlin’, it feels like years since it’s been here.

Here comes the sun, and I say, It’s alright.

Little darlin’, the smile’s returning to their faces, little darlin’,

it seems like years since it’s been here.

Here comes the sun, and I say, It’s alright.” [11]

 and, “I want to hold your hand”.  

Copyright © Gaunts Publishing 2023.

[1]  1963.

[2]  The original UK ban on smoking in public was ‘inspired’ officially by a public-health perception, but actually by the notion of saving the NHS money.  Since the original ban, the escalation of public mental-health problems has escalated exponentially, costing the NHS far more.  We can ponder the connection.  Man has ‘smoked’ for somewhere around 500,000 years, possibly since inhaling the smoke of herbs on a fire, finding it calming, socially valuable, and inspirational.

[3]  from Beatles’ song, 1965.

[4]  “People are suffering.  People are dying.  Entire ecosystems are collapsing.  We are in the beginning of a mass extinction.  And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth.  How dare you!”  Greta Thunberg (16 years old) at the UN summit for Climate Action, 2019, after sailing the Atlantic ocean.  She was arrested in London a few days ago for protesting.

[5]  NB. If we must be ruled by money, then ‘Making a Surplus’ is generally sensible; ‘Profiteering’ generally anti-social.  

[6]  “The best things in life are free, But you can keep them for the birds and bees.  Now give me money, That’s what I want.  You’re lovin’ gives me a thrill, But you’re lovin’ don’t pay my bills.  Now give me money, That’s what I want.  Money don’t get everything, it’s true.  What it don’t get, I can’t use.  Now give me money, That’s what I want.”  (cynical song by Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford, recorded by the Beatles in 1963). 

[7]  Coinciding with the catastrophic American entry into the Vietnam War, 1965-1975.

[8]  In 1971, The Isle of Wight County Council banned festivals at the historic and highly successful Ryde site.

[9] “Living is easy with eyes closed.  Misunderstanding all you see.  It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out.  It doesn’t matter much to me.  Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields.  Nothing is real, nothing to get hung about; Strawberry Fields forever.”  Lennon and McCartney, 1967.

[10]  ‘Hope dies last’.

[11]  George Harrison, 1969.