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  1. Politics
24 January 2000

Hey man, Mo’s one cool chick

A minister admits she was a child of the sixties. So was Celia Brayfield. She's just embarrassed

By Celia Brayfield

Right on, Mo Mowlam. Hand that woman a flower and wish her peace and love. There goes a sister who has kept on trucking while so many others have just sold out to the system. The cabinet enforcer has roundly admitted smoking dope, adding that, being a child of the sixties, she had inhaled but that it hadn’t done much for her. She reckoned politics were more of a turn on than pot. Far out. Fucking incredible. Give that woman a place in cryostasis next to Timothy Leary.

Ah, the sixties. Bliss it was to be alive in that dawn, but to be young was very heaven.

And now it’s so-o-o embarrassing.

Hard to remember, after all the spin, that those campaigning claims that he didn’t inhale and that he wasn’t really a draft dodger were the most damaging statements that Bill Clinton ever made. There is nothing an old hippy despises more than hypocrisy.

Back then, the weed was a sacrament, truth was God and peace was the established religion – plus we had a powerful sense of being caught in the lens of history. If you weren’t doing the sixties properly, you were just a generation traitor. And, chicks, didn’t we all know the kind of wannabe freak who was always trying to argue that a blow job wasn’t really sex?

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The drugs were the least of it, though I can think of several distinguished men of letters whose early careers were financed by dealing dope. The guys who got really wasted in the golden weekends of their youth are now shambling around Hampstead Heath waiting for the pubs to open and whining about the bread-head conspiracy that ate the world.

Then there was sex – allegedly. The sixties saw the birth of the concept of free love, or political promiscuity, which remained conceptual for most of the people most of the time. As the swinging cinema of the age bears witness, asking people if they were virgins in 1965 was an amazingly far-out and daring thing to do. One film heroine was reduced to calling sex “Percy Filth” because it was too shocking for a woman to use the real words in a mass medium.

So free love was a great theory, but the reality was embarrassingly innocent. People kept trying to have orgies, but nobody turned up, or if they did, their “old ladies” were uncool about the whole scene. Until the seventies, when everything got so deadly serious and all the beautiful rationales were trashed.

The clothes weren’t too bad; in fact, we can be rather proud of them. Not the boring rubbish in the Victoria & Albert Museum, though. Boy, do they need a turned-on curator. My Ossie Clark minidress in Celia Birtwell crepe, my chiffon scarf tie-dyed by Marit Allen and the shaggy jacket from Kensington Market are all folded away in tissue paper in a trunk, and I was flattered to bits when a TV crew turned up to film them last year. I’d like to have my Terry de Havilland platform sandals in metallic turquoise snakeskin, too, if only to prove to my daughter that Prada is really and truly boring. Alas, I wore them to death.

The language was pretty cringe-inducing. Hey, man. No, we never said that. We never got our heads together or referred to the police as pigs. You could write a thesis on the semantic sea changes of the word fuck, from obscenity to coded ID to polite conversation and back to obscenity again.

How sad that kids today don’t understand the political reasoning behind the rehabilitation of the F-word. It was pure, you see; whereas “love” was tainted and traduced by the bread-head conspiracy. How could we say “I love you” when advertisers claimed that “cars love Shell”? It made perfect sense 30 years ago. We must have been on something.

Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll – I hate to be anal, but that was a seventies title, too. And the embarrassment factor is nothing compared to the politics. In essence, as I understood it, the theory was that the world was abundant: we had everything we needed; nobody actually needed to work; it was all a question of distribution; property was theft; the profit-oriented, bread-head conspiracy was trying to stop it happening, so anything you could do to rip off the system was cool.

We were embarrassingly naive. My daughter’s favourite joke is: “Mummy wanted to be an anarchist, but she couldn’t find the party to join.” I actually looked up Anarchist Party in the phone book.

We were embarrassingly criminal. Shoplifting, known as liberating stuff, was a cool political act. Being on the dole was an important lifestyle statement. I can think of at least one national newspaper editor whose early success was financed by the DHSS. Since the crime of being judgemental hadn’t been invented, these people actually attacked those like me who drew the line at social security fraud.

We were also embarrassingly non-PC, because PC had not been invented – which is no excuse in the eyes of its grand inquisitors now. (Tom Wolfe wrote a satire on New York liberalism far more perceptive than Bonfire of the Vanities, but it was doomed to obscurity because it was called The Nigger in the Piano.) Sexism was everywhere. The real hotbeds were in those righteous, hardline organisations such as the International Socialists or the National Union of Students which were full of gritty northern lads who voted with Stokeley Carmichael. Carmichael was the American black activist who said that the position of women in his movement was prone. Perhaps that’s the heritage that made Jack Straw so tender towards those “small businesses” in Manchester that will make money out of the Tyson fight.

Yes, the sixties are a real embarrassment to a person in public life today. There’s only one line to take, which is to say that you really did them properly and you can’t remember a thing.