There seems to have been a lot of this sort of thing recently on Twitter, etc.
You were lucky. We lived for three months in a rolled-up newspaper in a septic tank. We used to have to get up every morning at 6 o’clock and clean the newspaper, go to work down t’ mill, fourteen hours a day, week-in week-out, for sixpence a week, and when we got home our Dad would thrash us to sleep with his belt.“The Four Yorkshiremen” sketch – Monty Python
We have a cost-of-living crisis in this country. Energy (gas and electricity) prices have soared to unimaginable levels. Food in the shops has become more expensive. Petrol prices have gone up, meaning that everything costs more. Many now have the choice between eating and heating – it’s not possible to afford both.
And yet, there are still those on Twitter who are saying that living in an unheated house with inadequate sanitation etc. “never did me any harm”. Actually, while it may not have done the writers of these tweets any harm, the average life expectancy has gone up by about 10 years. If the standard of living had been as high then as it is now, they might have enjoyed their grandparents’ or parents’ company for ten years more. The “good old days” were not all good. But let’s not argue about the causes and remedies of this present disaster. This is a symptom of a more general condition – instant nostalgia, and in many cases, I think it’s a peculiarly British phenomenon.
I recently went into a Waterstones nearby (The Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield, if you want to know) to promote my latest, On the Other Side of the Sky, and see if they would (a) take a copy or two, and (b) agree to a book event.
As it turned out, I ended up talking to a very sympathetic and friendly man, and we ended up talking “local authors”. Apparently, the most popular local author genre is “the hard times I experienced while I was growing up”. The French call this nostalgie de la boue (nostalgia for mud) as exemplified in the four Yorkshiremen above. This is apparently what fills the shelves marked “Local Author”.
As a footnote, he did order one copy of On the Other Side of the Sky and said that he would order more if there seemed to be a demand. If anyone reading this is from Sutton or the neighbourhood, and feels that they need something different in the way of reading material, please feel free to pop into Waterstones and ask for a copy.
But I digress… When the first effects of Brexit started to strike (empty supermarket shelves, etc.) social media was full of people talking about “Blitz spirit” and so on. Most of these people were born long after the 1939-45 conflict, and had no idea what actually went on. Even today, it’s hard to find unromanticised accounts of the British reaction to the German air-raids. There was a class divide – the rich stayed safely underground in wine cellars of their clubs and hotels, the poor huddled under corrugated iron sheets with a few spadefuls of earth on top. That is, until there were riots demanding that the Underground stations be opened as shelters.
And even then, life wasn’t exactly all “White Cliffs of Dover” happy singsongs.
…there was widespread looting during the war. In 1940 there 4,584 cases of looting in London alone. People would come back to their bombed out houses to find their belongings stripped from the rooms. The black market in stolen goods and ration coupons was so widespread that the ‘spivs’ who operated it became a national obsession.https://www.counterfire.org/articles/history/14482-the-real-blitz-spirit
The happy days of evacuee children leading an idyllic existence in the countryside, far from the falling bombs and the dirt and grime of the big cities? Quite a few were abused, or used as virtual slaves by their “hosts” – it wasn’t all roses.
And of course, the grinding hunger and cold. The misery of blackouts (and how many crimes went unnoticed and unreported in the dark?).
Of course, it wasn’t all misery, but it seems to me that there is a hunger which is especially British for a past that was actually pretty crappy, but we have chosen to hang Union Jacks over the mouldy patches on the wall and glorify the days of WWII, the Thatcher/Falklands years, and no doubt in 20 years’ time, those who are children now will look back with nostalgia on the days when “we had to huddle in blankets and eat cold baked beans because we couldn’t afford the gas bill. We had it tough, not like the kids today”.
As far as I can tell, such a nostalgia is particularly endemic to Britain (or possibly even to England). Yes, other countries may regret the passing of older, simpler times, but I don’t think they glorify ice-topped toilets over central heating, or mouldy carrots over the range of vegetables that were available pre-Brexit (the range has been reduced). This seems to be a particularly British form of masochistic fantasy. I’ll be interested to hear others’ comments.
Anyway, I shall continue my own forms of nostalgia, for times and places that never were, and were never intended to be, outside the pages of my writing.