I don’t know if there are other fans of Netflix’s series The Crown here. It’s a loose chronological dramatization of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. But for those who are hoping to catch up over the long holiday weekend, I have to warn you that the third episode of season 3 is about a mining disaster in Aberfan, Wales in 1966. Older readers may remember it being big news at the time. But lots of younger viewers, even viewers born and raised in the United Kingdom, knew little or nothing about it and found themselves shocked. It is one of the most harrowing and moving hours of televised dramas I’ve ever seen.
While there’s much to say about that, I noticed something small and melancholy about the way time passes and changes us. When I was a young boy in the late 1980s, all the newsreel footage, television shows, and dramas that were set in the 1960s seemed impossibly distant from my own life. All I noticed were the differences between my age and theirs. The cars were massive and had fantastic fin shapes. Already the Chevrolet Corsica that my mother drove hinted at the standard car shapes that safety regulations and production lines would churn out for the rest of our lives. Back in the 1960s, women didn’t have shoulder pads.
Now, what strikes me are the similarities. And obviously, that’s partly because the gap between now and those childhood years is larger than the gap between my childhood and 1966. Even with a school set in Wales, I recognized the style of chalkboard, the hand-driven pencil sharpeners affixed to the ends of furniture, the lighting fixtures, even the windows that mysteriously existed above classroom doors to facilitate airflow into the hallway as things belonging to my own early memories, things that have long since disappeared before my daughter was around to encounter them in her school. I even remember our teachers, the nuns, still used those handbells to call us in from the schoolyard at the start of day.