Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Delanceyplace.com 7/24/07-A Child in Britain

In today's excerpt--in 1972, a scant sixty years after it had presided as the most powerful empire in history, Britain's empire was all but completely dismantled, and its economy was in shambles:

"Well, there may have been more enjoyable years than 1972 to be a child in Britain but I would be hard pressed to come up with one. If you were an adult, or even a faintly politically sentient teenager, it was part of an unfolding House of Horrors, but for my nine-year-old self, happily flicking over miniature plastic soldiers in simulcra of the Dieppe Raid or the storming of Monte Cassino, it was the immortal year of the three-day week and the electricity cuts. An era experienced by adults as one of multiple nadirs meant for me that my father was more frequently at home and that at seemingly random intervals all the power went off to be replaced by beautiful candlelight. The wooden, implausible Conservative prime minister of the period, Edward Heath, has always had an affectionate glow for me because his mishandling of the crisis gave me the pleasures of candles on the mantelpiece and an oil-burning storm lantern. There was probably no right way to handle it--effectively the entire country was flying to pieces with a million unemployed; grinding, terrible inflation and despairing demands for wage increases of in some cases almost 50 per cent, both because so many people were so poor and to keep some sort of pace with inflation. It is surprising in a way that politicians did not simply throw in the towel, and it is a striking comment on the stability of Britain's institutions that in the following years there was no military coup.'

"This magical, fairyland atmosphere enjoyed by children had a pretty limited non-infant circle of fans, as 1972 was also the year when it became quite clear that Northern Ireland was out of control. ... What now seems very clear ... is that Ulster was in effect the last phase of Britain's imperial dismemberment. ...

"It was therefore a Britain with its news programmes crammed with bombings, mass strikes, unemployment, and financial ruin that I happily sat in, swinging my legs, enjoying the candles' intimate light, reading comics, [and] picking my nose ...

Simon Winder, The Man Who Saved Britain, Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, Copyright 2006 by Simon Winder, pp. 244-248.


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