Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Grim, grey, depressing

....that's what the UK was between 1945 and 1951, according to David Kynaston's wonderful tour de force 'Austerity Britain' which had been lying around half-read for about a couple of years. One of the benefits of smoking are the frequent breaks from other things, and for reading....

It's an amazing book, all 632 pages of text. The amount of research that has gone into it is amazing - I was extremely impressed at how he had got hold of all those personal diaries, until I discovered that people used to send their diaries to the Mass Observation.  It's an amazing resource of bits and pieces of insights into people's lives. And lives is mostly what this book is about; the impact of rationing, housing shortages, lack of everything including heating after the war, but also some politics and economics. It's so interesting reading about some young up-and-coming politicians, eg Arthur Scargill (no politician, no?), Jim Callaghan, the young Harold Wilson whom someone promised not a very great future.  There are the battles over the establishment of the welfare state, the nationalisation of industry, the building of houses (flats) and demolition of old slum-type housing (read that and you understand slum clearance), the experience of the first post-war blacks in England (all 1500 of the new arrivals by the time the book finishes, and the fear of being over-run).

And you thought that sociology only came into being into the 1960s? Wrong - apart from Mass Observation, there was a chap called Ferdynand Zweig who seems to have talked to every worker under the sun during the period, and lots of others.  Many of the fears of the late 1940s still exist, like of the young ones, of crime and disorder - 'with this deterrent [capital punishment] gone, no woman will feel safe in London after dark'....following nationalisation, there were 'too many men walking about in hats' (ie management) - what would those people say now, when they see the health service... 

The funniest thing is the language - jeez, how English has changed over the last 60 years - you mark my words!