There are still a few of us around, born just after the First World War, living through a number of credit crunches, highs and lows, that has given us a different perspective to those who govern us today. Born into the tail end of the Victorian era, people were straightlaced, talked of being gentlemanly, ladylike, with words like indecency, disrespect and consideration, as common currency. We played in the street because the only thing likely to knock us over was a horse and cart travelling little more than walking pace. Everyone cycled everywhere, and the trams, buses and trains were modes of transport. There was little change from the 20s until well after the end of the Second World War, because that was the credit crunch of all time. Open land, originally the Common land of olden times, had become Commons and parks where we played in the holidays and after school.
Commons, in WW2 were turned into allotments and many never recovered. In recent years school playing areas have been sold for housing, and so the recreational areas have diminished considerably with time, and even cycling, let alone playing in the street is now impossible. In the 20s and 30s the working-class and the upper-class had rules of their own, the majority, the so-called middle-class, was hidebound, pretentious and relatively impecunious, and so much of the fun of life was frowned upon, and my reckoning was there was very little drinking let alone drunkenness. Has it occurred to you that a bus full of people in the 20s has now been converted into some 60 cars with one man one-car?
The Labour government, and I include the Blair era, have constantly run flags up the pole to see who would salute them, and like this proposed tax on alcohol, if the opposition was too strong they ducked out. When we were young, right up to the end of WW2, drinking to excess was not as common as one is led to believe, because we hadn’t the money. Wages were terribly low, in my first job, I was 17, I earned half a crown a week, which equates to five pounds today, and paid my fares and lunches. Even in the Navy, some people would drink to excess on an occasion, but as we spent so little time ashore, and the only booze aboard was rum or in the Wardroom, one was generally not likely to become addicted. My father was an alcoholic in the 20s, he lived as a colonial official, in Rhodesia, where there were very few whites, there was also a pecking order, and so socialisation was both limited and repetitive. I’m sure that booze would not have been taxed and was consequently cheap. I remember as a child that the adults had sundowners nearly every night. Limited socialisation is a total bore.
The difference of life today from anything we have seen before has been engineered through considerable affluence, the desire to embrace standards that are unaffordable, and in some cases, a complete rejection of the necessity of moral standards. Those who have suffered most are the children living in deprived areas, with no facilities to give them a challenge, except gang warfare, with parental control almost nonexistent, irresponsible, or spasmodic. These statements are not a case of discovering the wheel, everybody knows about them, but only the odd charity tries to stem the tide. There are local schools, probably with a the lovely gymnasium marked out as a badminton court, with a hall that seats hundreds, all lying idle for months at a time, sitting firmly amid playing fields. Raising the price of booze will achieve nothing. I am not suggesting an overall strategy, but I think that with careful planning, a programme of games, practical work, interests such as the performing arts, teaching of the hobby-type pursuits, designed to interest the various age groups, with proper supervision, might be worth experimenting in a number of areas to see what exactly could be achieved, instead of a broad brush approach, which the majority of the people have no faith in.
It is clear now that this credit crunch is not a seven-day wonder, and one of the worst aspects is that factories will be falling vacant. It strikes me that here is an opportunity, not as a permanency, but as a short-term experiment, to use the space of an empty factory to provide leisure facilities for the young, the not so young, and possibly even my generation, that they all share on different evenings, and thus broaden their interests and their outlook. A word of warning. I was a latchkey child looking for companionship and interest. For a while I found this in the Scout movement and later I went to a number of youth clubs, set up by generous amateurs. The problems with these were that they were dowdy, poorly lit, the facilities were old and sparse. If it is a trial run, it has to be done properly and expertly, if any true answers are to come from it