I’ve been adding to a thread over on Churchmouse Campanologist http://churchmousec.wordpress.com/ where I found myself recalling my days as a very rank and file hack based at the Parliamentary Press Gallery. As I did so the summer of 1967 came very powerfully to mind. This left me with an inner capsule ( I speak figuratively) of the absence, not the death, of hope. It is a chill capsule, if I dwell on it.
I began by recalling the days before the ‘modernisation’ of the Blair years overrode the old checks and balances which, up to a point, kept the Executive in check, mainly by holding up its legislation and keeping Government MPs and ministers up very late, sometimes all night.
The year 1967 was before the Northern Ireland troubles which were soon to follow and which led to increased security, Westminster photo passes, the building of gates across the end of Downing Street and, in 1979, the bomb on New Palace Yard which killed Tory MP and Colditz veteran Airey Neave. In 1967 I would walk in to the Palace from the Westminster station entrance, greet by name two policemen, one at the gate and the other, pottering about amiably at the bottom of the Gallery staircase, as they did me, and go to work. When the day’s sitting was over I would, in the small hours, walk with a colleague up Downing Street and through an alleyway which seemed to be through No.10 itself, to Horseguards Parade, where his car was parked, and he would give me a lift home.
Mrs Llew and I had a three-year-old daughter and another child almost due and in my memory – and this blog is about memory – July was a month of sun. Friday evenings were the only time I arrived home in the early evening and I would bring with me sweets and the strawberries of the season. I had to learn that I should arrive either well before the current episode of The Virginian, to which she was addicted – and still is – or after it had ended.
I do not consciously remember the legislation being enacted that July but I do remember that this was a month of very late, often all-night sittings. My mind was on more important things. Our second child, a daughter, was born in the middle of all that. I would often arrive home at 8am, and after three hours sleep, return to Westminster for 2.30 pm when proceedings resumed. I was at home when my daughter was born but not in the room, of course (not even a possibility then), and the idea of paternity leave would have been a joke beyond satire. Fortunately a grandmother was there to help.
I looked up that legislation today. It’s no wonder it was a busy time. One Bill, the Sexual Offences Bill which recommended the decriminalisation of certain homosexual offences received the Royal Assent on 28 July 1967 after an intense late night debate in the House of Commons. My new daughter would have been two weeks old.
Another Bill must have been David Steel’s Abortion Act, which he had introduced as a Private Member’s Bill in 1996, received the Royal Assent on October 27, 1967 and became law on April 28, 1968. I have no memory of the process but this Bill would seem to have been going through its later stages in the Commons before, as often happened, left-over bits of legislation were completed in the Autumn before the opening of the following Session of Parliament and the new Queen’s Speech. I haven’t been able to check that out. The times really were a-changing. For the better? I’m not sure.
When our daughter was born I went out into the sunlit garden and lit a ceremonial cigar, the action being saluted and welcomed by neighbours, alert to all that was going on.
So why the feeling of chill, today, as I recall the sunlit days of new life, Friday sweets and strawberry teas?
I don’t know where we all go next.