It seems that anyone of a certain age should, 50 years on, recall their engagement with the summer of ’68. Riots on the streets of Paris, the Prague Spring, the Chicago riots, protests against the Vietnam war – the Grosvenor Square battles come to mind – the rise and rise of new music from the US west coast, what a year to remember! Of course none of this was playing out in the streets of Malton where everything placidly plodded on and not a drop of beer was spilt in the Green Man. The daily routine carried on uninterrupted and the biggest commotion the town experienced probably came on Saturday nights when dances at the Milton Rooms were punctuated by mass brawls between different groups of farmers lads letting off post-ploughing steam (if there is such a thing). Those dances were eventually barred by the Council, an act of middle aged repression which gave me my first taste of published outrage, when the Malton Gazette and Herald gave front page prominence to my letter describing Malton as the ‘only cemetery with lights.’ I was quite proud of that at the time, it was (I thought) a dagger thrust into the coagulated heart of Malton Urban District Council. But nothing happened as a result, and the town’s youf never saw the likes of Desmond Dekker and the Four Aces play in their somnambulant town’s midst ever again.
De Gaulle left the stage, but our town clerk didn’t. In the absence of anything else, and rejecting the eternal boredom of the Black and White Minstrel Show on the telly, one had to find escape in the exotic new music emerging from the States. This for me was Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Captain Beefheart, Jefferson Airplane, It’s A Beautiful Day and the Quicksilver Messenger Service. Part of the allure of these bands was that I didn’t know anyone else at school who liked them, and still don’t when all’s said and done. This was the avant garde, sampled in the booths of the Record Centre at the top of Railway Street on a Saturday afternoon after a long day’s grind on Pete-from-Leeds’ fruit and veg stall in the market. Dressed in my tassled old green hoodless but parka-like jacket (a cast off from Pete to which I attached the ridiculous tassles) I would defiantly march home with my latest LP acquisitions, no doubt sneering at the small-town conformity of this less than momentous place.
Yes, 1968 was a defining year. I think it was the year when for me under-age drinking came of age. It may have been the year when I applied to join the Young Communist League, but never got a reply. A communist in Malton? Whatever next? (Clearly I hadn’t connected my application with what was going on in Prague, and if my application had been accepted I may have had to tear up my membership card immediately.) Now I have to wonder who might have received that application, and where the details were recorded.
I don’t recall any anti-Vietnam war protests in Malton market place. In fact, I can’t remember any protests at all, not even about the Council closing down the Saturday night bops. With a then population of 5,000 and two dozen pubs I guess any fulminations against the inequities of life may have fizzled out by closing time, which then was 10.30pm (or 11pm in adjoining Norton, leading to fast walking down Castlegate). Big protests have been organised more recently, e.g. against fracking, or a new supermarket, but these are local and self-absorbed, and Malton remains in what I think of as archetypal Archers’ territory, a land rarely impinged upon by affairs of global import.
With upheavals going on in the cities perhaps the sedate little market town in the North Riding of Yorkshire wasn’t such a bad place to be in ’68. It was certainly a place of calm and continuity its erstwhile MP, Edmund Burke would have been proud of.