They say that, if you remember the 1960s, you couldn’t have been there! I was so conventional and unadventurous that I do remember all of it. The “Summer of Love” in 1967, however, completely passed me by, although for me it happened in 1969 instead.
For those who were there but don’t remember, as well as those who were not yet born, the summer of 1967 saw a great gathering, a “love-in” of hippies in San Francisco.
“If you’re going to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you’re going to San Francisco
You’re gonna meet some gentle people there”
(John Edmund, Andrew Phillips)
If you’re unsure what a hippy is, I suggest you visit Wikipedia, as I’m not going to explain here. You could also listen on YouTube to Scott McKenzie singing this anthem for 1967.
Me? Well I was going on holiday with Françoise, back for her second visit and newly-engaged and a former schoolfriend, just back from teacher training and also newly-engaged. The three of us were off to Scotland, back to Oban which I had last visited at the age of about 4. We stayed in a small hotel, learned to eat porridge with salt instead of syrup, tried haggis, neeps and tatties and had fun exploring the locality. We did not visit any pubs because, at that time, Scottish pubs did not welcome women! Our big trip was a repeat of my visit by boat to the island of Iona. We had an interesting time – until we boarded the boat back to Oban. It became very rough and Françoise began to feel very sea-sick. She disappeared below deck and could not be persuaded to come out into the fresh air. Afterwards, when we were back on dry land and she had recovered, we laughed a lot. It was a good holiday.
While I was in France the previous year, Mum went on holiday to Hastings with my Auntie Elsie and they flew to Le Touquet for the day. This trip to France was the first time she had left England and she had greatly enjoyed it. They planned to have another holiday in 1967 but then, early in the summer, there was a query when she went for her annual breast-cancer check up. The consultant asked if she always had a croaky voice. It wasn’t something that we had really noticed but it was the sign that a secondary cancer had developed and, when she was due to go away on holiday, she was, instead, admitted to hospital to have fluid drained from her lungs. As the year went on, her health declined very rapidly. I have a photograph of the two of us at my cousin’s wedding in October, which I find very hard to look at but which I can’t bring myself to throw away. It’s our last photo together.
In November I returned to the stage with Bingley Amateurs, this time in the chorus of “Summer Song”, based on Dvorak’s “New World Symphony”. On the penultimate night I fell while leaving the stage and was carried off to hospital in full make-up and costume, where it was discovered that I had torn a ligament in my ankle. I couldn’t go to work for a couple of weeks and, with hindsight, I am so grateful that I was able to spend this time with Mum. When I visited our GP about returning to work, I was shocked when he warned me that she was soon going to die. I think that, deep down, I knew it but I wasn’t able to admit it to myself. She slipped away day by day and then, one evening a few days before Christmas, she died.
A wonderful family and group of friends gathered around and I had a very understanding boss. I can still remember making all the arrangements for her funeral, going to see her and thinking that all the suffering had gone from her face.
The same family and friends helped me to celebrate my 21st birthday in Janury with a small dinner party at home. 1968 was a bit of a roller coaster but it did have a happy ending!