DIARY 25 September 1969

Coming of age 1969

In September 1969 I turned 21 years old. I could already legally smoke, drink, marry, have children, or be called up to fight for my country. Or, although extremely unlikely, I could even be killed by my country. I was liable for any crimes I might have committed and, although capital punishment for murder had been suspended, it would not be abolished until December 1969[1].

Despite having these responsibilities, I was still considered too young to choose who would represent me in parliament or the local council. They lowered the voting age to 18 in 1970 but it was too late for me[2]. I was finally able to vote in the general election held during that year which saw the defeat of Harold Wilson and a surprise victory for the Conservatives under Edward Heath[3].

I was living in Leeds, waiting for the new university term to start. I had spent some of the summer earning the money to take me to Italy with my girlfriend, Gill. We flew out to Rome and hitch-hiked back to England via Perugia, Florence, Milan, Switzerland, Germany, and Belgium, returning penniless.

Not having money was not a problem. My rent was one pound and ten shillings a week and I was waiting for my student maintenance cheque for £128 which would see me through to Christmas. I had few possessions and no aspirations. I had grown into my environment in Leeds, met new friends, particularly Gill who made me feel comfortable. I was trying to put aside the confusion and loneliness of leaving home and going to London. A tiny terraced house in Beamsley Mount, Leeds became a haven, despite its lack of plumbing.

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Gill bought me a present for my twenty-first. A rather fine art-deco statuette of a young woman, reclining, clad in something diaphanous[4]. It was an unlikely but perfect gift which I still own. Whilst it represented an incongruous ideal beauty among the cobbled streets and back-to-backs, it had a kitsch appeal. Something that I could enjoy for its own sake, given to me by someone who accepted me for whatever I was.

[1] Capital punishment for murder was suspended for five years on 9 November 1965. It was abolished permanently on 16 December 1969 but not in Northern Ireland until 1973 or for treason and piracy until 1998.

[2] The Representation of the People Act 1969 lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, with effect from 1970 and remained in force until the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013 which allowed 16 year-olds to vote for the first time, but only in Scotland and only in that particular referendum.

[3] It was under Edward Heath that Britain negotiated to join the Common Market, as the European Union was then called, finally doing so in January 1973.

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[4] Only a year ago, she suffered an accident and was damaged. I repaired and repainted her in as original a manner as I could manage. I took the opportunity to find out about her. Whilst there are art deco statuettes by significant artists, she is not one of them. She was made in plaster of Paris and would have taken pride of place on a sideboard in a northern terraced house, albeit in a bay-windowed front parlour. She was made in 1936 by Baci & Baci. Not a continental artistic endeavour producing sculptures for smart European drawing rooms but an Italian couple with a small workshop in Salford. I like it even more for for its unpretentious origins.

 

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