Friday, 22 November 2013

What were you doing when you heard that Kennedy had been shot?

The world is divided up into those of us who remember exactly what we were doing when we got the news that John Kennedy had been shot and those who were not born at the time.

I was just seven at the time and the 22 November 1963 was the day that Father Christmas arrived at one of the main stores in Manchester. It was probably Lewis's, which in those days was one of the major stores in the city. Today the building is used by Primark to sell cheap clothes, but fifty years ago Lewis's dominated the city centre and the arrival of Father Christmas, and the switching on of the Christmas lights in that part of the city was something that we all anticipated.

Father Christmas would have arrived at about 6.00pm, and I have no idea if the store remained open after that time to allow for late shopping on the night. It probably didn't, as that was the way things were in those days. Anyway, my parents would have left Manchester city centre with me at about 6.30pm which funnily enough was the exact time that half a world away, President Kennedy's motorcade was passing through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, past the building where Lee Harvey Oswald was waiting with his rifle.

We got home and my father switched on the small, 19" black and white television that sat in a corner next to the fireplace. Britain only had two channels in those days and our set was usually tuned to the BBC, but whatever channel it was still took forever to come on as the valves that powered the set first of all had to get warmed up.

After about thirty seconds or so the sound came on, but the picture would always take another few moments to join it. Given what had happened in Dallas normal programmes had been cancelled, and the disembodied voice that was coming through the speaker was clearly talking about something important. Probably that was why my parents stopped doing whatever it was they had planned to do and gather around the set as the picture slowly came to life.

I can remember them sitting very quietly, ignoring me as I sat on the floor, and when I asked them what was happening I was told that Kennedy had been shot and injured.

At some point later in the evening in became clear that he was dead, but I do not remember when that news came through. I just remember the stillness in the house, with my mother who was normally bustling in the kitchen sat with her hands in her lap transfixed by the black and white images on the television. My father sat close to her, for once without his Manchester Evening News in hand, silently watching the events from across the Atlantic as they unfolded.

Gradually the house got back to normal and my mother went off to the kitchen whilst my father sat at the table reading his paper. Normality, of a very quiet kind, was restored.

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