Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sang about it but Laurence could actually have been there. In what we hope is the first of many articles, actor and playwright Laurence Inman comes clean….
The number of people who attended the Woodstock Festival in 1969 currently stands at 172,300,000. That’s an approximate figure. Every year it goes up by about 800,000.
This will come as no surprise to anyone who was around after the war, when it seemed that half the male population claimed to have fought on the beaches of Normandy. My dad told me that. He seemed amused by it. This didn’t seem right, because he really did take part in the landings. I would have been furious.
When I was quite small he would spin tales about wading ashore from his midget submarine three days before the actual invasion (‘A-Day, son’) and knocking out key German defensive positions. Even at eight years old I knew he was fibbing, and he knew I knew. It was just a bedtime story.
If, like me, you were born in or around 1950, you will have noticed by now that you’ve done quite well for orange juice, free school milk and university grants. But you might feel you haven’t really earned it, that it was all paid for by your grateful parents. You’ve always been exactly the wrong age to claim any credible involvement in any important soldiering, even National Service. You’ve never been tested. As Sam Johnson predicted, you think meanly of yourself for not having served.
Protected from injury and hardship, raised in a time when most of my contemporaries derided all thing martial, what could I claim as my brush with danger ?
The evening news of Sunday 17th March 1968 gave me everything I needed: the Grosvenor Square protest against the Vietnam War. I’ll say I was there.
Luckily, I was off to university later that year, where no one knew me.
I’ve always been a careful liar, a planner, never straying too far from banal reality. You don’t tax your memory that way, and I think it’s better for your mental health generally.
‘Yes, I was there, just on the fringes really. And then, out of nowhere, these two coppers threw me into the back of a van. I was in a cell all night and then they let me go in the morning.’
Perfect. Nothing too outlandish. All under control, like a Bach fugue.
The friend I met in my first week at university (and who I still see to this day) was also a liar, but of a completely different kind. He developed his stories spontaneously, like a jazz trumpeter going off on a riff, without a care in the world.
We started lying to each other from the word go, about the number of girls we’d slept with, the exotic countries we’d visited and the drugs we’d tried (in reality, in all cases, nil.) It’s important to emphasise now that never once, over all the following three years, did he claim to have been at Grosvenor Square, or seen The Beatles live.
Later in life he became a lecturer at our alma mater. I would often visit him for a dip back into the old life and a spot of unsupervised drinking, essential for a young man with a growing family.
It would cheer me to hear him berating his students for their naivety and narrowness. ‘They don’t believe me when I tell them I actually saw The Beatles!’
It’s the first I’ve heard of that, was frequently in my mind at these meetings, and very nearly on my lips. It’s only a matter of time, I mused, before he starts claiming to have met them. Or been one of them.
But then he had to go too far. During one rather loud session, with some of his charges present, he climaxed a particularly florid extemporisation with the words: ‘I saw the sixties die, literally, in Grosvenor Square !’
I glared at him. He looked back sheepishly. The looks went back and forth like a wasp trapped in a bottle.
That was my lie. You stole my lie !
I wasn’t at Woodstock, and neither was he.
But there’s still time.