70th birthday speech (2011)

Welcome everybody! Thanks for coming. Back in the late '70s when the National Front seemed to be gaining ground and the excellent Rock Against Racism was very active in effective opposition, I jokingly suggested that we ought to start something called 'Ragtime Against Ageism'. I now feel that might just be an idea whose ime as come. Someone asked me a while back whether I was dreading reaching the venerable age of 70. I explained that it was no problem at all - compared with the several decades it took me to get over being 30.

Someone else - I think it was Jeanne - said I must have been born during the Blitz. And I suppose I was though I can't really claim to remember anything about it. Although I do have hazy snatches of memory from the Second World War. And I was told that my very first comment on public affairs was along the lines of 'Don't worry, Mother, Goebbels will hang!' Of course, he didn't... Not, I'm pleased to say, that I remained an enthusiast for capital punishment. And most of my subsequent attempts at prediction have been like that one - with the solitary exception of the result of the second election of 1974. Which, amazingly, I got right. So, I've been careful about such predictions ever since - and I predict that the current government will go on and on.

There's been a lot in the media recently about baby-boomers. I've never been totally sure who they are - but apparently they are responsible for all the current evils in the world from global warming to the financial and economic crises - even the ones who've never been investment bankers in their lives. But one hears less about us 'Blitz babies'. Yet we did live through some experiences that might interest the social historian. For a start many of us never met our fathers - very odd strangers still in strange uniforms - until well after the war. Plenty of opportunities for speculative psychology there.

But more interesting I think is that - in British terms - it was people around my age who first self-consciously became teenagers. In the early fifties, I remember that - apart from the fact that at some stage, usually 18, blokes were whisked off to serve in the armed forces in what was called National Service, even before that, once they had left school they would appear in sober suits and ties with trilby hats. Thanks to the whole teenage thing - and the likes of Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly - all that just vanished. One consequence was that to us being a teenager was something more than a phase you passed through - as I imagine it was for subsequent generations - and seemed like almost a permanent identity.

Andy Durr keeps telling me - quite rightly - that our generation has been lucky and you can't help agreeing when you look at what is happening all around us today. I was reading the other day, as part of my research on the inter-war ILP, a pamphlet on education by R H Tawney. One bit that struck me particularly was where he said that what he called, rather ungenerously, 'dullards' were able to go to university because their parents could afford to pay for them, while others who might have been poets or scientists had to spend their lives sticking labels on bottles in a mineral water factory. I fear that were heading back in that direction. Let's hope not.

So, thank you all for coming and for all the kind wishes. Thanks especially to those who have come some distance to be with us this evening. Nol and Berteke who have come all the way from the Netherlands, Fred who has come from Céret in Rousillon down by the border with Spain. Total surprises; I'm lost for words! My brother- in- law, Rob and Sue's uncle Ken from Nottingham, Andrew and Pat from Gloucester, and, also from the Netherlands, my brother James - who famously when asked by some friends which one of the bigger boys playing nearby was his brother didnŐt bother to look but just said - 'the one with his shirt hanging out'.

And thank you Ben and Josh for hosting my party here at the Rock. Charlotte's band will be playing down in the basement shortly. There are many jazz musicians in Brighton - and as the late Ronnie Scott would say - Charlotte is one of them. Actually she's one of the best. I've been a fan of hers since she started playing publicly - in the days when it was dodgy for her to be on licenced premises - and I don't know anyone who better combines such a wonderful talent as a musician with such an ability to be entertaining for everyone.

And the idea of wonderful people brings me finally to Sue and to Chloe, who I've promised not to be embarrassing - or to keep referring to her as 'my daughter the designer' - for organising this great party. What can I say? I'm just so lucky. Thank you all very much.

Some photos can be found here.

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