When I was 16, it was 1981 in Johannesburg. I was in my 7th school – My Daddy was a traveling man – and I was missing the sea badly. I think I always will.
That year, and for awhile afterwards, I wore Doc Martens lookalikes with white anglaise flowing dresses. Madonna was due to arrive and complete my wardrobe with a love of fish nets and religious warding symbols as jewellery; and everyone was either ripping or tapering their jeans, and wearing only one earring. Cacharel’s ‘Anaïs Anaïs’ created in me an enduring passion for the smell of lilies and roses. Synchronously Bette Midler was singing The Rose, and Umberto Eco publishes The Name of the Rose (in my opinion, his best book).
Brooke Shields had just destroyed her career in Blue Lagoon, and was quickly joined by Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu. Richard Tiffany Gere’s career was being launched with American Gigolo; as was Mel Gibson’s in Mad Max. A Cult fetish with blood seeping out of lifts was being created by Stanley Kubrick, and Jack Nicholson, in The Shining. Star Wars had gone Oedipal in the previous year with the Darth Vader’s right hand enemy turning out to be his own son. Thereafter Michael Jackson wore a white glove on his right hand, & Harrison Ford had to escape to Raid the Lost Ark with Steven Spielberg. Christopher Reeve was still flying (although not as stylishly as Flash Gordon to the strains of Freddie Mercury), & Sir Roger Moore was still James Bond. Chariots of Fire, was about to launch Vangelis’s music into Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner version of Philip K. Dick’s novel, with Harrison Ford; in which Rutger Hauer’s improvised death speech would have us all forever after searching for the Tannhäuser gate.
Douglas Adams was in the middle of Hitchhiking Across the Universe, & Terry Pratchett was about to create the Discworld to take over when he left off. I was doing the first of many J. R. R. Tolkien Tolkien readings.
Marion Zimmer Bradley Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffery, Ursula K. Le Guin & David Eddings were doing fantasy for us; and L. Ron Hubbard was taking a momentary break from cult hell to write Battlefield Earth - much to my own and (apparently) John Travolta’s enjoyment.
In world news, Mark David Chapman was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison, after being convicted of murdering John Lennon – someone I had not known about before he was murdered. A singing duo: Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel were also made known to me for the first time by their one-off reunion concert in Central Park for approximately half a million people.
Charles, Prince of Wales and Diana, Princess of Wales got married and the whole of SA stopped to watch them do it!
AIDS was ‘discovered’ that year, making us the last teenagers to grow to sexual maturity outside its shadow.
The first Space Shuttle Columbia was launched.
Alvin Toffler published The Third Wave, predicting a post-industrial Information Age to come, and as I was not even allowed to write my final Maths exam with a calculator yet, and floppy discs on PCs with Pegasus mail had yet to happen – I cannot know how prescient a prophet he really was!
Locally, in SA, a little film about the noble savage busmen in the Kalahari being started on the road to a capitalist mentality by having a coke bottle littered from a passing plane, - called The Gods Must be Crazy, made it big!
Andre Brink’s, A Dry White Season was banned, and J. M. Coetzee wrote Waiting for the Barbarians – which became famous once he’d received a Nobel Prize for literature. I could not finish it because of the violence.
The ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, originally formed by Albert Luthuli and Nelson Mandela (both later to receive the Nobel Peace Prize!) began a campaign of terror on white South African civilians – and bombs became something all school children knew how to identify, because they started to go off in public all around us.
South African troops invaded Angola. All white males were conscripted for two years into the army after they left school, and so my brothers & my boyfriend all disappeared out of our lives into a war for 2 years. The lucky ones did not go to Angola. Dan Heymen wrote the lyrics for the anti-apartheid freedom song, Weeping, for all of us - as a protest against being conscripted into patrolling the black townships. He & Bright Blue would have a worldwide hit with it – but not yet.
Peter Brian Gabriel sang Biko in protest against the killing of apartheid activist Steve Biko in a Port Elizabeth jail.
AT MY FEET:
But, growing up white in SA meant being protected from a lot of this. My parents’ favourite Neil Diamond’s Jazz Singer showed us how insipid Western jazz was by comparison to local jazz, but still there was Billy Joel’s “I may be Crazy’, AND THEN CAME ‘The Boss’ with his “Hungry Heart” & now you can play Bruce Springsteen at my funeral as the iconical image of my youth.
Pink Floyd's ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ was banned because the government feared that it might be used as a song of liberty by black school children. (Who rioted anyway,) & the song went underground in SA & really turned out to be more of an awful foreshadowing of Columbine.
Queen was at its zenith, and our favourite school war cry was “We will; we will ROCK YOU.. ba ba boom; ba ba boom…” And in that limbo moment between childhood and adulthood in a country where, despite the bombs; we white kids were not yet aware that a civil war had begun that would change everything we knew; we still worked out on our own that if everybody in the school hall stamped their feet at the same time; the foundations could be made to move!
Wow, Sharon, you get the trophy for Best Write-Up! I can't imagine how much time you spent on this. Thank you so much for sponsoring such an evocative trip in the Way Back Machine, it was wonderful!
I've always wondered, btw, how white SA citizens felt about your total cultural and political upheaval... thanks for the glimpses through your eyes.
Sharon amazing all the things you added. Gave so much information and also what is in common. Felt like when I went in late 80's to Cry Freedom with my friend Sandra and we went ton the movie a lot and always at the end of the film talked and talked and talked en when we saw Cry Freedom we were totally silent. And could not talk about it for days. Then we felt for the first time a glimps about S.A. We knew things were not completely ignorant but we could not feel it. And then we felt it like lightning hit us. But I knew (too) little about SA anyway and 2 years back we had a Dutch author who made a tv program of SA (he stayed there many years ago) and got back to visit friends, black friends, white friends and was very open minded) and he let us see al sides of SA and that was an eyeopener too. and than I realized living far away its easy to have an opinion, but everybody tries to have a live.
It's true, Jennie. I think there was a time in the late 70's and early 80's where the outside world knew more about what was happening in this country than everyday white South Africans, because the media was so totally controlled by the apartheid government. Only once I got to university at 18 did I really start to understand what was going on.
Yes there is so much going through my mind. Much joy about what I am reading from waht everybody adds and I like that soo much. I did it this afternoon with my daughter Brigitte about her 16th and of course we have also painful memories but it was so nice to share the good memories even for her. So I love good memories (and knowing most of us lived not only good lives, but you hope every life has its good and precious moments though. But I also "love' to read the things that are eye openers. Of people, lands, timeframes that are beside my life.
So thank you for making me aware of things that are different from the life I know and have known. Makes me so curious (or is interested a better word perhaps?) in more lives from Geni users. And than make myself aware not to judge and be open minded. Because I'll never know how I was/am when I lived in a different timeframe or part of the world.
Sorry, that I am so serious while its a fun project. We al were 16 once that is what we have in common and all want(ed) a good life when we were 16 :-).
I did a 16th Rites of Passage event for my own daughter's 16th. It sounds as though you've done the same for yours. We had all the significant women in her life from across the generations there at a retreat for a day; and each gave her a message and advice about adulthood. Along the lines of it takes a village to raise a child to adulthood :-)
Her father had designed a labyrinth for her to walk, and she and I plotted it out on the ground the day before in flour - then all the women walked it with her - it was a wonderful uplifting experience.
It's really nice to read about the things that other people did, knew and loved. sometimes things are taken for granted to easily and way to fast.
A beautiful tought to take a minute to stop, think and reflect on our lives, thanx for sharing these precious moments and your reaction to my "when I was 16"
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George, you're too late :-)
When I was 16 it was 1982, in my third school and living in Johannesburg but going to an all boys boarding school in King Williams Town about 1000km away. Only to discover almost 30 years later that my wife's ancestors lived there and played a part in the business development of the area. One of the things I loved about going to school so far away was that it took 23 hours to get there by train. A trip which we had to do 8 times a year!
Therefore, I can't make any comments about fashion, you understand :-)
My cinematic experiences were the same but growing up in such a restricted, limited and controlled environment didn't leave much room for creative fantasy and such things.
Freedom to me was spending school holidays at home in the old Transvaal for what was all of about 15 weeks of the year. Being able to walk into our kitchen and make my own sandwich was pure bliss.
As far as 'far and away' were concerned. Well, Ian Smith, the ex president of Zimbabwe came to talk at our school once so I knew about them. And Raymond Ackerman, owner of the national Pick n Pay retailer, also came. And that was also the year in which we had to sign up for the army. And of course, in those days fighting for your country was a big thing. A call to honour. If you didn't you would have been branded a coward of the worst kind and a traitor and nobody wanted to be either of those. And we had to protect our county from the evil communists who wanted to take away everything we had and who, in this particular case, happened to be all black. Nothing was ever said about anything else, nothing about all the atrocities that were going on, about apartheid that to us didn't even have a name, that to us was an acceptable was of life for everybody. To us, everybody who was against us was wrong including all those pesky protesters in other countries with their pesky sanctions.
So for me 16 was just another tumultous year
Hey Brendan, first: You are a winner, being the first man who had the guts! So as Jennifers says: You rock! LOL
Second: I thank you for giving a view in your life, I had no idea, not about boarding school (which is not common in Holland) and not knowing about what you wrote about going in the army and how you saw it back then and there. Gives an idea (which I allready knew, but we're are all besserwissers :-)) that judging is simple if you dont have to live it or as lived it. So thank you for your contribution, it gave me more understanding and that's a good thing. To understand each other.
thank you Brendan, for I will show you attribution to my nep-daughter from Kazachstan, who's in Holland already for more than 14 years and it's only a year ago she got the papers that allow her to finish schools and go -my husband and I hope financially possible- to university where she want to be educated in Law and Economics. The reason to show her your story is about her fascination with Nelson Mandela, to whom she planned to make her graduate (dont know the exact word in english)-scriptie together with a classmate. I told her she has to learn about the historic context of apartheid too if she wants to make a jounalistic correct paper and encourage her to look for sites about ALL the circumstances in the continent of Africa at that time. groeten van jMu = jeannette, born in 1951, so a wittness in a way of these era....