The Sixties? That very ordinary decade . . .: Woodstock isn't the whole Sixties story. Anne Sweet debunks a myth

Anne Sweet
Saturday 13 August 1994 23:02

NO, no - it wasn't like that at all - the Sixties, I mean. I'm feeling like the haunted conscientious objector in the Army recruitment poster: 'What did you do in the war, Daddy?' as Marianne Faithfull's version of the Sixties tells me about the 'if you can remember it, you weren't there' decade.

What did I do? Not a lot really; hung round the boys' school, illicitly smoked (tobacco - I didn't get even a whiff of the other stuff till the very end of the decade); read poets and exotic philosophers with no understanding whatsoever; went to the coffee bar; had nightmares about nuclear holocausts; and wore a lot of black.

I was young enough to scream at the Beatles, but didn't; old enough to pretend to be 18 when the Rolling Stones were playing in a pub near my school - no I can't remember the name, because I never went. The girls who did were, you know, a bit . . .

I can, however, claim a friend-of-a- friend story about Marianne Faithfull. Marianne was an ex-pupil of a convent in Reading. Apparently, she'd got married in a register office and then shocked the sixth- formers still at school by deciding to have a proper church ceremony and sending the nuns invitations in purple ink] What a slut] I questioned this at the time. Was she a slut because of the purple ink, or the register office, or inviting the nuns?

One of M arianne's memories has total authenticity - that she got married 'because she had to': a phrase much in use in the Sixties. Marianne's mistake was to go beyond the energetic fumbling in parks and doorways that represented the permissive society to most teenagers, before the Pill and before the 1967 Abortion Act.

If she hadn't gone to a convent she might have known someone who knew someone who knew the phone number of a man who would go to a safe address and administer a syringe of soapy water at enormous expense. Included in the price was the life-saving advice that you should stay near a major hospital while aborting.

But, younger generations might ask, 'what about the Pill?' Ah] the Pill. Yes, from mid-decade onwards, it was a sort of option. If a girl convinced a doctor (university doctors were the best) that she had a serious fiance, just awaiting parental blessing for the big day, and naturally wishing to experiment a bit (him, not her - female satisfaction was not high on the Sixties agenda) then she might have been prescribed a megadose of oestrogen.

Do you h ave any idea how strong those things were then? It took scientists years to discover that a fraction of the dose could prevent pregnancy. Would we then have floated into a happening with a crotch- length skirt and nipple-defining top as seen in the great Sixties pictures? And strip them all off at the first Hendrix chord . . ? You must be joking] Press photographers then were as deceivingly selective as now. The pioneer version Pill swelled your breasts, your stomach, your thighs, even your knees - and here's the clincher, it completely put you off sex. But sex was for boys anyway - chemically enlarged 'chicks' had a very definite position in the free-love culture - supine.

Small wonder, then,that apart from Marianne Faithfull, few of us can answer the question 'What did you do in the Sixties, Mummy?' We were zonked out on oestrogen, or were growing up fast arranging shotgun weddings or illegal abortions. We certainly weren't zonked on that other great Sixties legend - marijuana (which today's teenagers seem to have in abundance). Not unlike their daughters, my Sixties friends were worried about getting a boyfriend, getting fat, getting pregnant - and never quite worried enough about the jobs they were going to do.

It could be that we had a singularly

under-stimulating Sixties and that everybody but us was, well, man, just letting it all hang out. But let me remind you: for every Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull there was a John Major and Ann Widdecombe.

(Photographs omitted)

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