Life in England past

Topics which don't quite fit into any other category

Life in England past

Postby Paul » 15 Feb 2015, 01:16

This is really in response to Yessica's questions in the thread here.

Well Yessica, I was only born in 1963, so for me personally, it was quite literally the beginning of a brave new world. :-)

But I think we've all heard about the 1960s (the decade almost has an identity of its own, more than any other maybe), and seen the pictures and read the anecdotes. General knowledge alone should account for much.

Maybe I'm presumptive. You're younger and grew up in East Germany. I'm not quite sure how much you don't know (with respect). I'm not quite sure how much we, or I, do or don't know about East Germany in return.

Aside from the cultural changes and the whole 'swinging sixties' phenomenon however, it must be the case that it might take 10 or 15 years for the bereavement felt by many thousands of people to eventually fade - to be healed by time. And by 1960, a new generation were coming of age and replacing those lost in the war.

In addition, the rationing of domestic goods had ended (1954 I think) and would have steadied, and the economic situation had levelled out by then. It's no doubt the case that technological improvements, especially for the home, had continued to occur throughout the 1950s and by 1960, things were looking quite positive all round. I can't think of any specific devices but the tentative technological improvements that would have entered the home in the 1930s (even electricity for eg), continued then apace in the 1950s. Ironically, it's probably the case that the 'spin-off' from the war was the greatly increased production methods and the employing of technologies developed for war effort now being applied to domestic life. This has been the case (and still is) in other similar situations. Very many of our devices and material improvements have been as a result of military research in the first instance - and space research too.

There was also in Britain a very large house-building programme after the war. It was needed for thousands of people who lost their homes entirely, in the cities mainly. At the same time, a great amount of slum clearances were undertaken and massive numbers of areas rebuilt. This continued straight through to.......even today I suppose in a few remaining neglected areas, although the days of mass house-building by the government (the Councils) seemed to have greatly slowed down since the 1980s, or realistically even the 1970s.

By 1960, and throughout the sixties, the new world of peace and plenty was underway. Yes, there would have been great optimism. And by the 1960s also, the motor car began to come within reach of 'ordinary' people, straight down to the working class. And a new period of road-building also occurred in Britain, including our brand new motorways. It was another transport revolution, to mirror the importance of the one that occurred up to 130 years earlier (steam).

Without all this peace and plenty, the carefree and swinging sixties wouldn't have occurred of course. But if there could ever be a decade where optimism is the key word, it would have to be the 1960s. Even if that was shallow and misguided and founded on foolish principles (and I wouldn't say that all of it was, but it was debased and unchecked and infiltrated)

I've never really thought in detail about how Germans felt. Although I knew about the war of course, by the 1960s (or realistically the 1970s for me), I knew and considered Germany were over the war and were as more or less advanced (or greater) than we were. That's West Germany of course. It would be obvious that they suffered greatly in the immediate aftermath, at least to the degree that Britons did (much more actually) but in a similar time frame, some of the personal pain would have eased, a new generation would be of age and the improvements of the world must have reached Germany. West Germany were a famous football nation. There's the (in)famous 1966 World Cup final in England. It's trivial and foolish in the greater scheme of things but it did take on great significance to millions of people - in England, Germany and elsewhere. It can't be ignored. But in any case, having a famous and dominating national football team surely means the country in question isn't struggling to survive. Germany were back and up and running.

Of East Germany we knew little (because it was behind an Iron Curtain) and what was hinted at wasn't anything to cheer you. The only time I remember seeing people from East Germany was when they sent suspiciously brilliant young athletes to the Olympic Games. Everything else was in shadow. If I had thought about the ordinary people on the ground I would have felt sorrow for their plight. And we did. I can occasional remember talk of the Iron Curtain and the Soviet style regimes with Mum and other adults and maybe the odd teacher, and they would shake their heads sadly and mumble about the poor people who had to live there.

I was probably a teenager before I started to think about the paradox of losing a war to 'the good guys' (us) and then having half your country seized by one of our 'allies' and a despotic regime imposed. Of course I knew by then that the USSR was no longer our ally and was in fact now our supposed enemy. So there was the whole Cold War thing as well, but as a child I thought not about it and as a teenager I began to become suspicious that it was at least in part - a scam!

There has always been a little saying in Britain (or at least from some time post-war, but I long remember it) that might go something like:

"We're supposed to have won the war and look at the state of this..."

This won't be said ever in a spiteful way towards Germany, but rather in a rueful way or in fact in an oblique way of criticising our own leaders. It's a rather offhand way of complaining about our decline. What's the point of fighting wars, and even world wars in the past, and even winning those wars, if we've been reduced to this?

There are similar sayings that might be a little more pointed when there's been news of some German achievement .... which could just be the football. And people might say - "aren't they supposed to have lost the war? Why are they always in advance of us?"

Again, it's rueful. There's no malice towards Germany. Most people are rather more admiring of German achievements. What we wonder about and mean by these little comic sayings is - "If they can do that, why can't we? We once did."

These kind of things aren't said often. You might hear it once or twice a year. You'll hear it less so as younger generations emerge who have less knowledge of and connection with the war. Or less knowledge of and connection with anything.....!

History: I've always liked history more than any other academic subject, but most of that will stem from, or be a partner to my first love of reading. Certainly as a child I will probably have been as avid a reader as anyone and it is of course the primary way to pick up information. My knowledge of history, then and now, from my own reading, will always have far outstripped any history I was taught at school. It's simply a case of time available. Even as a child I will have spent hundreds or even thousands of hours reading books, which mostly contained historical contexts, as opposed to a few hundred, at most, hours of history in a classroom in my entire educational attendance. The only exception might be the specific detail I was taught for certain topics aimed at the O level exam. But even they were dogmatic details, simple hard facts. Dates, order of events, names, etc. No real nuance or analysis. You just had to know who, where and when.

I was never really taught anything long-term or much at all (that I can remember) at any school, about WW2 or the Nazis or Adolf Hitler. Nonetheless I would have thought I knew more or less all there was to know about the core of the matter. Somehow, the war was still all around us, whilst being definitively over. It's hard to explain. Knowledge kind of seeped in from various sources and it is to my mind that everyone of my era knows the basic story.

I may be wrong. If I'm honest I can easily imagine people even my age not knowing the dates of the war or various other primary facts. This is the situation of mass dumbing-down. I don't know.

There was an immense amount of film of course about the war, still avidly being produced in the 1960s and 70s and of course even up to very recent times. There will still be films about it for some time to come, I'm sure. All these were on TV, and then on TV again - and again, etc. There was in the 1970s the production of the very popular World at War series, which was a rather definitive and iconic work. Narrated by Laurence Olivier, it was first screened on British TV, weekly, from about 1970 or shortly thereafter. There was also Colditz, a series about the POW camp (castle) in Germany for allied officers, which was also very popular. These are examples of higher quality British TV productions from a better age of TV. But of course they are war again and featuring Germany, which is not what I intended to direct you towards.

As regards history in education - I was never specifically taught history as a separate subject before the age of 11 and then at Secondary (in my case Grammar) school. At primary school, aged up to 11, we might have had the odd foray into some history, but only occasionally. Almost the entire focus of my primary education was reading (and comprehension thereon), writing (and so spelling) and arithmetic. It was all underpinned by a religious current but subjects aside from these basics were probably only investigated as an offshoot from articles of reading.

As a junior and before the age of 11 I can remember that I had a fairly good knowledge of more ancient and classical history. I'm not really sure how, but it can only have been from reading. I was aware of the emperors and the legions. Of Roman Britain. Of the pharaohs and the pyramids. Of the Norse gods and the Greek and the Roman. I knew quite a lot of myth and legend. I also knew all (all?) about dinosaurs and the formation of coal and the content of the solar system. Didn't all small boys know those things?

I didn't learn about any colonialism at school, even grammar school, nor for the O level exam! That's neither in a positive sense (my ancestors were heroes), nor in a negative sense (we are evil colonialists). I just never learned about Empire much at all. Maybe even that you see, is bad indication enough. I went to a RC grammar school for boys, but even they were bound by the curriculum set by education authorities, and certainly more so by the curriculum set by examination boards.

People were (I hope, suspect and know) still more broadly patriotic in the 1970s and the full weight of PC or current liberal guilt hadn't yet descended. But it seems to me now that there's no doubt a great rot had already set into the education system in that decade or even earlier. The education system was being chipped away. It would have been sporadic and unequal in areas and in scale but the steady erosion had begun. That now seems obvious. It's just that it probably hadn't set in massively in my case, fortunately - except for the fact I never really learned about Empire!

In the first three years of history at grammar school I can't immediately remember any specifics. But there was nothing about either world war, nor anything huge about the empire. I can remember a project about a medieval village (in year 2) and that really cheered me because I also had by that time a great interest in the medieval period. But all the rest seemed a bit boring and now I can remember why...!

We were always learning about social reforms! I was sick of hearing about the Corn Laws. The Repeal of the Corn Laws. Even now, it's like a mantra of doom - or boredom. And there were all the other great reforms and the great Reform Acts of the 19th century. And the Irish potato famine. And some slavery...! In fact yes, we did a huge project on slavery. Huge. That was in year 3. Why can I not remember that immediately and readily? Blanked it out I suppose. Even then I found it boring, even wearying after a lesson or two. Yes it was bad, but weren't there vital and positive things going on as well?

Yes, now I think on it closely, even that could be a sneaking leftist agenda. Even at my beloved school in my rose-tinted 1970s. In fact, it seems certain now. But it didn't impress me, or infect me should I say. Why be concentrating, all the time, on the doom and gloom? What about heroism and glory and discovery? It didn't matter too much that there was little of it in school history lessons, I got my fill enough from continuing reading. It is however something to wonder about with all the people who have never been avid readers, or readers at all. How do they get their information? Where do they get their heroism and glory?

Now it's not to say that these reforms weren't needed or that I didn't (or don't) care about the plight of the needy or disadvantaged but the point is, we only ever seemed to learn about gloomy history and about how everything was bad and how it had needed to be put right and how people were always suffering. I wonder what the effect might be, even to grammar school boys, who never read anything more exciting in their own time, and thus whose versions of history are a kind of programmed diet of doom and gloom? They probably dislike history as a result, and thence think it's all bad and so we were all bad and so on. Maybe. I just never liked that outlook as the predominant mood and so lapped up the glory all the more, in ever more reading of my own.

I was always wanting and hoping we would suddenly do a project and period of study on the Romans, or the Vikings, or Egypt or the Celts. But we never did. The Norman Conquest, the 100 years war, the Elizabethan age, Cromwell. No - none of that. We didn't do anything about America, nor Australia, nor Asia nor the Orient. I don't think we went into Africa (apart from slavery) except events in the Sudan and the siege of Khartoum.

For the final two years leading to O level, we concentrated on about eight specific topics in detail. This was because the exam was known to consist of a requirement to write five short essays, on five separate historical subjects, in two and a half hours. There would be a choice of maybe 12 or 15 subjects and one would pick the most appealing five. If we learned about eight, we could be sure of being able to pick five. That was the reasoning.

To be honest, that now sounds woeful and very minimal and not much education at all. But I suppose we were only aged 14 - 16 and we only got about 3 hours per week, if that, for only about 37 weeks per year.

I can't remember them all, disappointingly, but here are some of the subjects we crammed for O level

Chancellor Bismarck's ministry and his foreign policy - yes, we learned about Germany

The political ministries of William Gladstone (British PM)

The political ministries of Benjamin Disraeli (British PM)

The reign and foreign policy of Czar Nicholas

Political events leading to WW1.

The social reforms of the 19th century (in Britain)

Britain between the period 1750 - 1850 - the great 'revolutions' - industrial, agricultural, transport and population.

I'm surprised that re-enactments in Britain are very focused on the 1930s and 40s, but then again I suppose not. There is a lingering 'nostalgia' for it, even among those who weren't there (mostly everyone now), and which seems in itself rather foolish and macabre, but I would think that people are remembering and re-enacting more the spirit of the times, that was displayed under great stress and with fortitude. Nobody really says the war was a good thing they would like to return to. Almost everyone didn't want the war and those times and would rather it had never happened. But there was (and lingering) a degree of pride, born a lot out of relief and thankfulness that the sacrifices seemed not to be in vain.

I would have thought that still the greatest amount of re-enactment was medieval and earlier periods, even unto Roman re-enactments.

Enough for now. More later.
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Re: Life in England past

Postby Kevin R » 23 Mar 2015, 23:46

I too was born in 1963

Here's a pithy look at the era of smoke and mirrors, brick dust and spangles.
Kevin R
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Re: Life in England past

Postby Yessica » 20 Apr 2015, 15:08

thanks for your explanation. I ment to write back sooner but always thought that it required a long answer and was to busy with family stuff. So a short one will have to do.

This was most interesting for me to read.
I do not think that our country is really ahead of yours. We export more but than exporting stuff is not everything.
There are lots of Germans who secretly do admire Brits - or the attitude they believe to be british - which is a certain gentleness of temper, a certain modesty, politeness, the ability to take oneself not to serious, a charming way of eccentrism, humour, fairness.

When we say somebody is typical british we typically see it as a compliment... but when we say someone is a typical German... that's not a compliment.
So don't get me wrong. We believe that we build things that work, but we do believe that we are a nation of bores. We have self-respect but no self-love and that is how we think the world sees us, we think that they respect us but don't like us - so unlike the Brits who we believe are both liked and respected.
That's the stereotype.

You mention that there was less PC in the 1960s and 1970s. That's interesting because I thought how it all started. How did you think (and when) did it start then?

BTW I never heard of the cornlaws before ;)
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Re: Life in England past

Postby Paul » 15 Jun 2015, 00:17

Thanks for the reply Yessica and I'm sorry for the delay. I've only just seen this. The forum is now much quieter as has been noticed and maybe as is natural.

In reverse order. Go and research the Corn Laws when you have time - but don't return to tell me about them. :-)

Yes, all the 'counter-culture' really started in the 1960s (with precursor 'youth' movements in the 1950s nevertheless) but only started. It wasn't at all mainstream. As regards PC in Britain this really only began to take hold in the 1980s. The 1970s were 'shockingly' un-PC by today's standards, even while modern liberalism was well underway. The liberal-left still hadn't gained full ground in a culturally Marxist way.

I suppose the precursors for PC were there in the 1970s but most people didn't take them seriously and considered they would never take great hold. These would be regarding the issues of race and gender predominantly. The people who seemed ardent about these things would have been considered the 'loony fringe' and the extremists. And that's what they were, both realistically (as we would still believe) and by the standards of those times. Unfortunately now, not by the standards of these times. But I would say that PC only began to become mainstream and enacted in laws that began to be enforced in the 1980s and onwards.

Are you sure that Germans don't have a high regard of themselves? It's not a good route to take, as we will conform.

It's curious that Germans have a high regard for Britons. They can't know too many then. I understand we are talking about stereotypes. It's unfortunate that our stereotypes are doubtless rather dated, but maybe it's a good thing to hold onto.

It is rather pleasing to hear that an outside view of one's people is positive and that the British stereotype is gentleness of temper, modesty, politeness, etc. But.... apart from the obvious difference between the stereotype and the attitudes of today, it's not quite accurate anyway, or not all the time.

There has always been an undercurrent of .... violence (that might be a strong word) in British society. On the surface it doesn't (or didn't) seem like much was happening and in particular contrast to the continent, we seemed politically docile and compliant. We haven't had revolutions like many continental countries and have remained intact as a nation for almost 1000 years. But just below the surface there has always been a lot of 'pushing and shoving' in society and fights have never been too far away. And we have after all, fought with almost every country on Earth at some point. Oh dear.

A good theory I heard recently pointed out that the radical and reactionary elements of British society left Britain and helped found new worlds on new continents in places that became the Anglo-sphere. They had their revolutions of a kind there.

I would think that from a manufacturing point of view Germany must now be ahead of Britain. We hardly make anything. Given this it would be obvious that exporting is Germany's natural route. I wouldn't rue the matter too much, or at all. It's better than making and thus exporting little. There will always be trade and trade is a bedrock of prosperity.

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Re: Life in England past

Postby Yessica » 24 Jun 2015, 20:55

Paul wrote:A good theory I heard recently pointed out that the radical and reactionary elements of British society left Britain and helped found new worlds on new continents in places that became the Anglo-sphere. They had their revolutions of a kind there.

Well, that makes a lot of sense.

As for the stereotype. Well, of course it is a stereotype but very much alive in my country. Would you say that the person incarnated by this stereotype still lives in England if he ever did?
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