Another weekend spent watching some of Small Axe, Steve McQueen’s stunning collection of movies about the Black experience in the UK — and, really, in London — in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, and watching Mangrove got me thinking about the turbulent times I grew up in, and how much of that permeated my worldview as a kid.
It’s not just that I grew up during “The Troubles,” as they were euphemistically known at the time; I remember seeing news reports about IRA attacks and the various explosions and murders that happened around the United Kingdom for the first decade-plus of my life, and feeling ill-at-ease at the idea that sometimes places could just explode and kill everyone and there was no way of knowing when and where it would happen. I also remember finding it strange and almost amusing that members of Sinn Féin, the Irish political party that supported the IRA, weren’t allowed to speak in their own voices on British television, leading to their voices always being dubbed during interviews. (To be fair, I still find that odd.)
There was more than that, though; I half-remember things like the Miners’ Strike, or the Brixton Riots; there were news reports at the time when I wasn’t really paying attention to the news and also wasn’t quite sure if the news was fictional or not. There were just scenes of people fighting and very serious heads talking at the camera and it seemed as if it couldn’t be real, and yet…
It was later, it was at a point where I’d more or less realized what was going on, but I remember the Poll Tax Riots, too; I knew what they were about, and I was angry in the sense that you can be when you’re in your mid-teens and filled with an equal mix of certainty and stupidity (or, at least, lack of knowledge) in a way that only teens can be. It was similar to being younger and knowing the phrase “Maggie Thatcher, Milk Snatcher,” even if the context was somewhat lost on me.
I feel as if I grew up at this important, busy, part of British history, and that I was only properly there for half of it, if not less. I wonder how I’ll feel, decades hence, about the past few years?