Fakenham columnist on the day that three visionaries died
In his weekly Wensum column, Jim Harding talks of the events of November 22, 1963...
With apologies to younger readers but what follows has quite a lot to do with the year 1963. I was listening to a recent Sunday morning service on Radio 4 when the address mentioned the fact that three visionaries had died on the same day, November 22, 1963. These were all part of my ‘growing up’ world at the time, when I was just 20. Their names were John F Kennedy, Aldous Huxley and CS Lewis.
For the sake of brevity and the strong impact it had on me at the time, I’ll concentrate on the American president who was so tragically killed in Dallas on that day. Travelling south from Bangkok in Thailand to the Malay peninsular I was then largely cut off from what was happening elsewhere. Whilst much of the world would have been waking up to the news of Kennedy’s assassination, there was me with a rucksack on my back in complete ignorance of what had taken place.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the day itself was interrupted at regular intervals by people calling my attention to the tragedy. Most of them spoke little English and many presumed I might be American. Anyway, they wanted to convey the news to me in whatever words they could find. The first I recall rushed over when I had stopped for a coffee and shouted out: “Kennedy shot! Him dead.” This abrupt summation left me bewildered and I just could not believe what I had heard.
But as the day went on, more people were mentioning Kennedy’s name and, slowly, it entered my head that this had to be true. My impression of world leaders at the time was of a succession of elderly men who somehow failed to connect with my generation. Kennedy was different and I loved the way he had such a bold command of the English language.
Something I recall immediately stuck with me. It went a bit like this: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” So my day proceeded and I tried to give it some perspective despite my ignorance of what had actually taken place. If anything, there was such sadness that someone so dynamic had been cut down so brutally.
Once I got as far as Singapore and met up with a family who took me in for a few days, the Kennedy incident was made that much clearer – if no more understandable. Travelling the way I was, I knew that I had to expect some loss of the realities of the real world out there. But this death somehow hit me really hard and I questioned how it could possibly have happened. Perhaps I needed family or friends around me more than ever during those days of mourning someone I thought of as a heroic figure. But they were all on the other side of the world and out of touch.
Closer to home, our racing season got off to a difficult start. I had been looking forward to this resumption for months but heavy rain caused the abandonment of the first October fixture due to unsafe going. Things were better for the second but a heavy shower interrupted progress with an inspection after the first race. Two horses had slipped over on a bend and it was decided to call off the remainder of the programme. An extra meeting was allocated for November 13 and it proved third time lucky. Despite a strong wind and dull conditions, last week’s meeting went ahead. I always walk to the track from my home and consider this, with part of it beside the river, to be a welcome aspect of the whole day. So despite small fields it was great to see a crowd again and the completion of every scheduled race. I even picked a couple of winners.