Was there once a better time to be British? A time when life was sweet and untroubled? When we were a more moral nation? In other words, was there a Golden Age for Britain, which we have now squandered with our descent into crime, aggression, family breakdown and ethical laxity? Many think there was, others claim such an age was a myth, while yet others claim that it is this myth of a Golden Age that is the myth.
But what would it be like if we could recreate a lost moral order? How much sweeter would life really be? Let me send a fairy godmother to an average British street. Let her fly down a fictional Acacia Avenue, working her magic to re-establish our lost Golden Age. Let’s observe the results.
A problem of definitions
Of course, our first problem is to tell this fairy godmother what precise Golden Age we are talking about. Its advocates are pretty vague when it comes to specific dates. So let me stick my neck out and say that what I mean here is a time before 1960, before the pill, Lady Chatterley and the Beatles. It is, perhaps, a mixture of the 1950s and the 1930s with a hefty pinch of late Victoriana.
Another major caveat is that I won’t really deal with economic and technological change. These are far from negligible – in his book, The Abolition of Britain, Peter Hitchens argues, rightly, that double-glazing and central heating had an impact on the structure of family life of a similar magnitude to any liberal legislation. So, of course, recreating a past age would require no more foreign holidays, no computer games, no Internet, no television, lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher mortality overall. The list goes on, but for the sake of this posting, I will limit myself purely to changes in attitudes to moral and social issues. I’m not claiming to be exhaustive – the comments box is open for readers to add their own thoughts.
All agreed? Well, let the transformation begin.
Our fairy godmother spends her first few minutes with a big smile on her face. She takes down all the burglar alarms, movement-sensitive lights and neighbourhood watch signs. No need for those. She also relieves the inhabitants of Acacia Avenue of that nagging worry that crime is just around the corner, that doors need to be locked against lurking villains and that the walk home from the bus stop will be menaced by ‘hoodies’.
Graffiti disappears from the walls, beer cans no longer roll noisily along the tarmac. At No 42, the fairy godmother is explaining to little John and Sarah Watson that their parents are not, in fact, getting divorced. Family break-up in the Golden Age is a rare occurrence (except, of course, when caused by the far more frequent death of a family member).
The Watson children are also not alone in welcoming the fact that their grandparents now live just round the corner. In Golden Age Britain, extended families are much more likely to live in the same neighbourhoods.
…but joy not unalloyed
Some of those visited by the fairy godmother, however, are a bit more disconcerted by what they hear.
She hands Mrs Smith at No 15 a rather surprising letter. Mrs Smith, you see, is a consultant at the local hospital. The letter, from the local NHS trust, informs her of her immediate dismissal. It explains that, now that the Golden Age has been re-established, there is no place for women in such demanding roles. It is a well known Golden Age fact that women are prone to hysterics and that, once every month, this problem increases. It would be irresponsible of the Trust to keep her in its employ in such a risky area (although she may re-apply as a part-time receptionist). Mrs Smith is not the only one to be a bit miffed. Her patients might also be a bit surprised.
Women up and down Acacia Avenue receive similar letters. Those that arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t immediately dismissed for being married or being female are told that their wages will be docked. It would be dangerous for society for them to be paid anything like their menfolk.
At No 12, little Jimmy and Susie Henderson are a bit upset that no-one wants to play with them anymore. They are not invited to any birthday parties, they are shunned in the playground and laughed at in the street. The fairy godmother explains to them that it is all for their own good: their mummy and daddy werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t married when they were born, so, as bastards, they canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t expect society to treat them nicely, now can they?
The Singhs at No 43 are also in for a shock in the form of an eviction notice from their landlord: he simply doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t like having non-white tenants. Of course, in the Golden Age, we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t believe in giving people like the Singhs legal protections.
Over at No 67, the Johnsons and the Pritchards are having dinner together when the fairy godmother arrives. She needs to set them right on a few things. The Johnsons have a daughter, Megan, with Down syndrome, while the PritchardsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ son, Josh, has cerebral palsy. First things first Ã¢â‚¬â€œ we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t like namby-pamby politically correct terms in the morally-superior Golden Age. We call spades spades. Megan is a mongol and Josh is a spastic, okay? Live with it.
And the Johnsons will have to stop these complaints that doctors are not giving Megan the full care she needs. In the Golden Age we believe in deference, not in some new-age Ã¢â‚¬ËœpatientsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ rightsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ nonsense. What doctors say goes. Shut up and tug that forelock.
As for the Pritchards Ã¢â‚¬â€œ this letter-writing to the council asking for more wheelchair ramps to be set up, for disabled toilet facilities to be expanded, and public transport made more accessible is really beyond the pale. Disabled people, sorry, cripples, have no business seeking to be Ã¢â‚¬ËœintegratedÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ into society. They should stay at home or in institutions, dependent and pitied, where they belong.
The hospice at the end of the road, caring for the old and the dying? We must shut it down – no room for that sentimental nonsense here (just read Charles Moore in the Telegraph for more). What about the day-care centre for those with learning disabilities (sorry again, I mean retards – I really must stop being so PC)? Well, that will have to go too.
And on it goes
The fairy godmotherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s work continues, seeking out those who need to be set straight about the advent of the new Golden Age. Spreading her message of all those wonderful values, bringing undoubted happiness to some, but devastating the lives of others.
So the next time you find yourself hankering after some marvelous Golden Age of the past, just spare a thought for those, some of whom could be amongst your nearest and dearest, who would be left shivering in the cold outside while you pull your comfortable chair closer to the roaring fire of nostalgia.
Some aspects of the past are wonderful and positive. Some aspects of the present are less so. But to describe a bygone era as a Golden Age, while decrying modern society, is to forget the amazing advances that have been made in improving the lives of some of the most vulnerable, some of the most deserving. For me, the benefits of living in the present far, far outweigh the cost of having lost our mythical, wonderful past. I want to build on what we’ve got – not sink back to a former time whose so-called superior values treated so many people with contempt.