“Sweet sixteen. When you were 16, what did you think your life would look like?”
As late as the end of my second year at university my career development plan, as hatched with my two housemates – no doubt when the evening had worn on rather longer than was wise – consisted of going to the end of the road after the graduation ceremony and tossing a coin to determine whether to turn left or right.
You will therefore understand that four years earlier I didn’t have a clue what was to become of me.
At sixteen, I don’t believe I had any vaulting ambition (so no change there). I certainly never wanted to be an engine-driver and was realistic enough to know that the possibility of being a professional footballer was the other side of laughable by a distance.
Any idea I might have had then about a future career was no more than the vaguest concept. I seem to recall a Careers discussion where I threw out journalism as a possibility. This was, quite rightly, shot down straight away. With my crippling shyness, the idea of doorstepping anyone – or even picking up a telephone to make a call – was quite unrealistic. And then there’s all those deadlines.
I do remember once expressing the hope that I might one day earn as much as thirty pounds a week. Interestingly, when I checked online (other search engines are available) I discovered that this was just about the average UK weekly wage in 1968, which suggests that I wasn’t exactly aiming at the stars.
The unfortunate part of that little story was that I finally achieved my ambition in 1975 – by which time, thanks to rampant inflation, the average wage had moved on to 75 pounds. Those were interesting times.
Overall, though, my memories of myself at the age of sixteen are pretty vague. Like most boys of that age, no doubt I was essentially just a seething mass of testosterone on legs. Frankly, at that stage the last thing on your mind is starting a pension plan.
Yet, although my future working life was a completely closed book, I wasn’t living in a bubble and there were undoubtedly things going on in the big wide world back in 1968 that I was not only aware of but also, the more I think about it, quite profoundly influenced by. They didn’t determine my career path, but they helped to shape my general outlook on life.
This process had begun in 1967 and the ‘Summer of Love’. I didn’t see the scruffy, hairy hippies that the BBC and the papers told us were undermining our traditional way of life and our Anglo-Saxon values. Rather, it looked like they were having a good time and doing no real harm. Sounded good to me.
1968, though, was much more political and I was absolutely at the right age to begin to question the established order. I watched on TV as Soviet tanks crushed the Prague Spring and the US National Guard dragged anti-war protesters out of wheelchairs to beat them half to death. There was nothing to sympathize with there in either communism or capitalism. A plague on both their houses. Now that’s something that’s stayed with me.
I had much more sympathy with the anarchic students of Paris, although it wasn’t until a few years later that I properly understood why. That was when I became aware of the words of Danny the Red that have formed one of my little mantras ever since:
‘C’est pour toi que tu fais la revolution’.