Tuesday 14 October 2014

Since I came into existence ...

My grandfather always used to say "it's not history if you can remember it".  I was never quite sure what he meant but having turned 44 in the last 24 hours I got thinking about what has happened during my life time.  Some of those events may well have been studied by considerably younger colleagues which is a terrifying thought in its own right.  With that in mind I thought I would catalogue some of the stuff that has happened during my life time so far.

On the day I was born the Vietnam War, "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland, The Black September civil war in Jordan and the Dhofar Rebellion were in full flow.  In fact during my lifetime there have been 191 armed conflicts involving at least one nation state.  The UK has been at war longer during my lifetime than the combined durations of the First and Second World Wars.  I was eleven during the Falklands War and I remember watching the evening "news" reports with my grandfather who would give a running commentary of the meta-text of the reporting.  I remember being at University for the first Gulf War in 1990; it was the only time I ever remember the news getting priority over sport on the common room TV.  When I think about it, conflict, whilst not having a direct impact on me, has been a persistent part of my life.

Politically my first conscious recollection of who was in charge was the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979.  She would dominate the British political scene for for over a decade and indeed her legacy can still be felt today.  I also remember watching the events of the Miner's Strike unfold in 1984 and 85, again, with the meta-commentary of my grandfather. He predicted with enormous clarity the demise of the trade union movement at that time.  He was always at pains to point out that I was watching history unfold.  This event both politicised my thinking and would be decisive in me choosing to do Politics as one of my A levels.

Intriguingly what I am doing right now was not possible for nearly half of my life.  When Tim Berners-Lee activated the first ever website at CERN (you can browse a simulation of it here http://line-mode.cern.ch/www/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html) on 6th August 1991, I was working as an au pair about 20 miles from his lab.  It was just before the start of my second year at University.  Oddly enough I remember the day very well, not for the nascent revolution in communications technology but rather because I had a date with a very intriguing Swiss girl by the name of Lysette which would ultimately turn out to be the worst date of my life.  That is a story for the pub post-New History Lab, however.  More interestingly from a historical point of view is that the industry I have worked in for most of my working life did not exist on that date and would not exist without that seminal moment.  As an industry IT has even managed to create a potential apocalypse.  I spent many months working on solutions to "the Millenium Bug" and indeed spent New Year's Eve of the millenium in a server room making sure the world didn't come to an end in a digital cataclysm.  You're welcome by the way.

To bring my aged ramblings to an end I want to share one last thing with you.  It is the shocking realisation that, over time, you yourself will become historically interesting if only because you were there when events occurred.  About a year ago I was having a conversation with Tom Hulme (of this very blog) and Simon Dixon in the Library.  We were discussing the research Tom had done into the use of old industrial buildings in Leicester for alternative uses over time.  As it turned out I used "go raving" in one of the very locations that Tom had been studying.  Before I knew it I was being quizzed on my experiences.  It felt rather similar to those interviews you see of war veterans describing their experiences of one conflict or another.  In essence, the things I used to do in my youth were no longer cutting edge but rather the subject of historical enquiry.  I can remember it though so it can't be history can it?

Oh ... I get it now ...