07/24/07 - 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 simulacra 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


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