Watching Andrew Marr’s “History of Modern Britain” tonight was disturbing. He was covering the late 60s to early 70s, an episode entitled “Paradise Lost“. He described the original “cool britainnia“, under Harold Wilson, where Britain was entering that fabled, mythical period of the late 60s… and the crash that followed, the early 70s, the strikes, the battle of government vs the trades union, the three hour working week, the television going off at 10.30pm each night, the national speed limit being set at 50mph, the suggestions by ministers that a “good citizen” should brush his teeth in the dark and share their baths (although they didn’t say who with, Marr reports). This was a period where the IRA were starting their mainland campaigns, when electricity outages were common.. and when i was born.

I don’t know quite what it is, but tonight, when i was watching the programme i was mentally totting up where i was, where my parents were, when he was introducing various things. in 1969 i’d be thinking “Mom and dad are engaged.. planning their wedding”.. January 1972 when the first strikes (and Bloody Sunday in N.Ireland) occured.. “Mom’s 4 months pregnant with me”. 4th August, when Mom was heavily pregnant with me, the government declare a national emergency because of a docker’s strike. at the end of 1973, the three day week comes into force. November, 1974, the IRA bomb pubs in Birmingham, where we were living at the time (and elsewhere, of course).

And i think to myself.. god, how did they cope? I know Dad kept on working all this time, back then, on a factory floor. Was he put under pressure to go on strike, to join the striking miners who tried to close a depot in Saltley, in Birmingham? I don’t know how quickly Mom went back to work (I remember her working sometimes when i was at school but i don’t know if she did when i was very little). How did she cope with a baby and the electricity outages? did they ever worry about being able to get enough to eat? to be able to pay the bills? And yet in the middle of all this they bought a house, they had the faith that things would turn out okay enough that it was justified, putting that financial investment in. It seems so strange now, sitting here: having enough to eat is not, generally speaking, a common worry these days – not in the same way as it was back then (when you might’ve had the money, but nothing available in the shops). it harkens back to a time during the war, post war period, when life was harsh – not something you think of happening during your lifetime (not when you’re my age anyway!).

It makes me realise that really: things aren’t that bad.. or rather, that they could be so, so very much worse. Yes. the NHS is falling apart, the civil service and the wider environs need badly overhauling, and there’re serious environmental concerns to think about, but…. it could be so, so much worse.

i think, the next time i start to complain about the state of the NHS or the state of the nation under Blair – i’m going to stop and think about what i’ve seen tonight, or rather, what’s penetrated my consciousness (because if i’m truly honest, i’ve seen these types of history programmes before). stop and compare it to the experiences my parents must’ve had, those 30 odd years ago, the experiences my grandparents must’ve had, back in WWII, the experiences my forebears would’ve had.

Yes, its a different world, and yes, our daily concerns are very different, our norms are very different, but for all that, is our world today truly so bad compared to how it could have been?

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