Earwigging. Don’t be too proud. Everyone does it. Mostly by accident. Sit down in a coffee shop. A conversation wafts in your direction. It’s not as if we can close our ears and switch off the sound. A group chats about day-to-day trivia without any care for whose listening. Students in this town broadcast their thoughts about exams and summer jobs as loudly as a foghorn echo across the sea.

Conversations overheard can invite a stranger to join in. The British preoccupation with the weather is an excellent ice breaker. Not so much – turned out nice again[1] as when will it ever stop raining?

What’s the point of this scribbling? There I was sitting quietly minding my own business in the corner of a local coffee shop. Three friends turned up and sit next to me. Not that I knew them, but they were very amicable folk. There was plenty of space, but I must have been sitting in their favourite spot. It was light and had a good view of the comings and goings in the place. There was no doubt that all three friends were more than a decade older than me. That’s puts them somewhere in their mid to late 70s.

I wasn’t secretly listening. I didn’t have much choice but to overhear their pleasantries and general chit-chat. The flow of the conversation got me thinking. It wasn’t as if great pearls of wisdom where being exchanged between the three. It was more the context and points of reference that struck me.

Two had done national service[2]. That ended in 1963. There was mention of shooting and being shot at somewhere in the Arab world and a spell of time in Cyprus. Then followed reflections on waitress service in coffee shops and the famous people they had once met. Interspersed with medical complaints and both the good and bad of doctors encountered over the years.

What a huge gulf there is between the experiences of those whose youth was in the 1950s and 60s in contrast with people, like me, whose youth straddled the 1960s and 70s. The massive changes this country underwent in just over a decade are underestimated. I suppose it’s true to say that about any decade. What’s perhaps most striking is this country’s experience as it transformed over those years. Britain’s empire faded into the pages of history. Technology raced ahead relentlessly. Personal freedom grew but so did a sense of insecurity. Popular culture has exploded.

As the cycle of life turns, so each generation reflects on where they have been, what they have seen and how it has affected them along the way. There are more than a few of theories as to how this changes our society. Some say – not at all. Others say – profoundly. For me, I think the next decade will see a major political shift. What’s intriguing is the question – will the lessons we have learned amount to anything or not?



Author: johnwvincent

Our man in Southern England

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