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50 years on, it's time to time to turn back clock

EVERY so often, my mind drifts back to the Sixties.

Truly, it was another country, where they did things differently. I was a child at the time, but a better time to be a wean is hard to imagine. It was a time of primary colours and the breaking down of authority, which is what a child wants more than anything else. Then, when it breaks down, you want it back. Same applies in adulthood.

Reading an interview with American folk music legend Tom Paxton in The Herald earlier this week, something he said about the Sixties made me sit up in my beanbag.

Paxton was recalling the Sixties in Greenwich Village, epicentre of all the wonderful weirdness that still fascinates us to this day. He said: "We didn't realise at the time that it was fascinating. But looking back, it was. We were too busy living through these times and we didn't have the slightest notion that what we were doing would be remembered years later. It was an exciting time, a fun time."

Exciting? Fun? What planet were they living on? And get this: they were too busy living to notice how much fun they were having. Now we're busy, but not living. We're busy planning to live. Life? It'll be along any day now.

How come the Sixties never happened again? And why the Sixties? Well, let's make the page go all psychedelically wibbly-wobbly as we travel back in time. First, there was the Victorian Age, with its laced-up hypocrisy, then the Edwardian era, which was more louche. But the First World War destroyed that.

The Twenties had another go at joy, but then game the Depression followed by another world war. See the pattern? Every time joy threatens to break out, war and poverty crush it.

After the Second World War, hope reared its head again. Progress was, initially, slow. First there was the essential creation of security with the welfare state. The Fifties, like animals sniffing a new source of food, were uncertain how to proceed in this safe new world. But, gradually, as life shimmied into the Sixties, realisation dawned: maybe things were going to be all right.

For one thing, young folk weren't being forced to work and become adults in their early teens. Thus was born the teenager, inhabiting a transitional period between childhood and adulthood that contained elements of both.

An older world of severe haircuts, warmongering and pressed trousers still existed too, but that only helped the freedom-seekers identify what they were against. Their weapons were creativity and experimentation, erupting in an uncontrolled explosion from which rainbow echoes can still be detected today.

The Sixties died at Altamont in December, 1969. There's been no resurrection. Why not? Well, there was another recession, Thatcherism, and so forth. Profit was exalted above all things. And things became desirable, more so than nebulous spiritual ideas.

Materialism became the have-all and end-all. True, New Age philosophies and treatments prosper as much as multi-national balance sheets. But that's not a movement for social change.

It can't be the fault of our young people. Those I encounter are nearly always pleasant and have lost the surliness that characterised the Nineties. This may be down to modern Hollywood, where every movie features a moment of eye-to-eye contact and the significant saying of "thank you" or "sorry". It's sick-making but helps instil good manners which, despite the association with conformity, are also a key component of Sixties-style niceness.

Perhaps the new revolution will come from those in their sixties. It's true that many older folk become fearful and conservative. But others still have spirit. Looking back, they can see where things went wrong. They realise how authority cheated them, and they still get annoyed at the world's shortcomings.

But, whoever resurrects the Sixties, circumstances must cohere. The sun must shine more. The economy must be buoyant. Work must be less important. There has to be space for fun, creativity and experimentation.

We're all too busy for that at moment, building the something-at-a-price society. But the Sixties could yet return. And this time the trousers will be better.

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