Friday, 20 June 2008

There are bad times just around the corner...

...We can all look forward to despair...
So sang
Noel Coward in 1952, but in fact he was late with prophecies of doom, for by then things were looking up; the really miserable years had ended.

I mentioned the other day David Kynaston's magisterial account of life for the the British after the Second World War, Austerity Britain 1945-1951. The euphoria of the victory celebrations wore off very quickly, and expectations of better times to come were not realised. In fact, in many ways the post-war years were harder to endure than the war-time ones.

Kynaston sets the scene as those years began by listing some attributes, negative and positive, of a country quite unrecognisable to anyone born later than, say, 1935:

Britain in 1945. No supermarkets, no motorways, no teabags, no sliced bread, no flavoured crisps, no lager, no microwaves, no dishwashers, no Formica, no vinyl, no CDs, no computers, no mobiles, no duvets, no Pill, no trainers, no hoodies, no Starbucks.
Four Indian restaurants. Shops on every corner, pubs on every corner, cinemas in every high street, red telephone boxes, Lyons Corner Houses, trams, trolleybuses, steam trains, Woodbines, Craven 'A', Senior Service, smoke, smog.
No launderettes, no automatic washing machines, wash day every Monday, clothes boiled in a tub, scrubbed on the draining board, rinsed in the sink, put through a mangle. hung out to dry. Central heating rare, coke boilers, geysers, the coal fire, the hearth, the home, chilblains common.
Abortion illegal, homosexual relations illegal, suicide illegal, capital punishment legal.
White faces everywhere. back-to-backs, narrow cobbled streets, Victorian terraces, no high-rises. Arterial roads, suburban semis, Austin Sevens, Ford Eights, no seat belts, Triumph motorcycles with sidecars. A Bakelite wireless in the home, Housewives Choice or Workers Playtime or ITMA on the air, televisions almost unknown, no programmes to watch, the family eating together, Milk of Magnesia, Vick Vapour Rub, Friar's Balsam, Fynnon Salts, Eno's, Germolene.
Suits and hats, dresses and hats, cloth caps and mufflers, no leisurewear, no 'teenagers'.
Heavy coins, heavy clothes, heavy suitcases, heavy tweed coats, heavy leather footballs, no unbearable lightness of being.
Meat rationed, butter rationed, lard rationed, margarine rationed, sugar rationed, tea rationed, cheese rationed, jam rationed, eggs rationed, sweets rationed, soap rationed, clothes rationed.

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