… Of course, I don’t literally mean The Good Old Days, that BBC Music Hall thingy introduced by the father of Manuel off of Fawlty Towers’ with the likes of Billy Dainty doing silly walks and Sheila Steafel running around the stage with an “old cock linnet” swinging back and forth in her hand – though that might, for some, be part of it – but the more general Good Old Days that we look back on through rose-tinted time telescopes and reinvent as the fancy takes us. Do you? Do you remember ‘em? Them good old Good Old Days like we used to have back in the good old days? I hope so, because if not, this blog is probably not for you.
That said, every generation has their own version of the Good Old Days, so chances are you will remember them, even if they’re not the same good old Good Old Days that I remember or that my parents would remember if they were still around to do any remembering. Chances are too that your memories of the Good Old Days will include a degree of “slippage”, where second-hand memories have been drafted in or grafted on, so you will almost certainly find something that rings a bell, even if it’s only a very faint bell that was handed down to you by someone else in your family. Which is still good.
For my mother, for example, the Good Old Days would probably have been that brief period towards the end of WW2 and immediately afterwards when she was going out jitterbugging with her sisters and their boyfriends, just before she found herself pregnant and hastily married to my undoubtedly charming but oleaginous and unreliable father. Married or not, as her stomach expanded my father retreated, developing wandering legs to match his wandering eyes and hands and leaving her fat and penniless for the first time. Soon she was squeezing out littluns like a prize border collie on a puppy farm, dropping seven of us over the next twenty years (yours truly being the last) with dad skipping off with a different fancy woman between every one. There’s an old family joke that he only really left once but kept coming back to apologise…
I don’t remember the apologies, but I do have a few memories of their titanic rows and fistfights. Mum won most of the battles (she was big and determined, dad was small and cowardly), but didn’t stand a hope in hell of winning the war: the odds then were stacked very much more against single mums than now, and the implications of poverty far wider reaching. Still, I can remember mum sitting around with her brothers and sisters, reminiscing about The Good Old Days, many of them including dad and those brief periods between pregnancies when hostilities ceased and the battleground of their marriage blossomed once more with poppies and the promise of a brighter future.
Another favourite topic for mum was her childhood, when there were thirteen of ‘em sleeping in two tiny rooms and they regularly had to walk to the soup kitchen to beg for handouts. Swapping happy memories of severe beatings mum and her siblings would laugh out loud as they rolled up trouser legs or shirt sleeves to show their scars, remembering the rise and fall of my dead grandfather’s belt as my dear old nanny P waded into them with the buckle end. For around five or six years in childhood my mother had been blind, and this too, retrospectively, was the cause of much amusement. The reasons for her blindness aren’t really clear: she always put it down to copper poisoning from playing with halfpennies and then rubbing her eyes, but this has always seemed highly unlikely to me. Either way, she had many apparently wonderful memories of this period of darkness in her life, and the various “pranks” that her brothers and sisters had played on her while she stumbled around their tiny two up two down terraced house in Victoria Road. Ah, Halcyon days…
I remember the first half of my childhood with equal affection. The second half was hell, but I’ll draw a veil over that. Just like my mum and her siblings I and my family will, on the odd occasion we gather together, sit around talking about terrible events and crushing poverty and laugh and joke about them as though we loved every minute. And between the tears and hungry bellies, of course, we did love (almost) every minute, because we had fields to play in, ponds to swim in (though one of them did give my brother polio, which was a bit of a dampener) and Christmases that mum would save all year to stock up for, and these things were more than enough to make up, when viewed retrospectively, for all of the knocks and beatings, all of the bullying and terrible illnesses, and all of the opportunities we were missing out on. And, more importantly, everyone, as far as we were aware, was in the same boat.
That there was a wealth divide is a matter of fact – how could there not be in a town like Tunbridge Wells? – but there was a fundamental difference in the make-up of society back in The Good Old Days that made that seem like the natural order of things and somehow, for want of a better word, fair. There were “rich” people, who lived differently to us, and then there were middle-class and working-class people, who had different kinds of aspirations, jobs and lifestyles but who largely seemed much of a muchness when you scratched the surface. The middle-class usually had a bit more, but that bit was eaten up by the everyday expense of living a middle-class lifestyle, with mortgages and stuff, and it was more a difference in priorities and aspirations than the economic chasm and spiritual poverty that exists today.
And then we hit the eighties, and working-class became a dirty word. (Well two words actually, if you don’t hyphenate, but let’s not get anal about it, eh?) Britain’s first lady PM managed to convince almost everyone that buying a house on a 25year + mortgage made you “middle-class” and that anyone or anything less than middle-class equated to scum. Within a decade we had developed a divisive, prejudicial and abusive kind of caste system that looked down on the working-class as second class and redefined the impoverished, the weak and the needy as third-class or even worse. Trade Unions were broken, the unemployed told to get on their bikes and cycle after jobs that didn’t exist, and those on the breadline or in need of social support – within the UK at least – were reinvented as victims of their own fecklessness or indolence rather than victims of a concerted political agenda which increasingly sought to marginalise, demonise and disenfranchise them.
Since then things have got much, much worse, and ironically the 80’s – when it all started – seem, with the benefit of those rose-tinted time telescopes I mentioned earlier, to currently epitomise the spirit of The Good Old Days more than any other post-war period. From Pot Noodles and The Young Ones through to Delia dinner parties and Terry and June, the 80’s can seem, with hindsight, like the last era that tried to include and accommodate everyone, and there was even, at the beginning of the decade, The Generation Game to drive the point home.
Who can forget those Sunday high teas of the 80’s; the Bird’s Trifles and Tunnock’s Teacakes and the tiny jars of Shippham’s Spread? And who can forget that other Sunday ritual, the family TV programming before Stars on Sunday came on and you switched off to listen to the Hit Parade Rundown on Radio 1?
And that, I think, is the crux of the problem, that’s where it all went wrong. In ditching programmes like Worzel Gummidge and Metal Mickey we were also throwing the baby out with the bathwater, flinging away the opportunity for that brief interval of low-key family “Golden Time” that represented perhaps the last generational bond in terms of full-family interaction. As we moved towards the 90’s the kids, clutching cardboard trays of microwave pizza, took to their telly and hi-fi equipped bedrooms while mum and dad ignored each other in the front room watching Cilla poxy Black pairing up grinning idiot wannabie slebs or Jeremy pissing Beadle sniggering as he convinced some poor bastard that his wife had been brutally murdered while he’d been down the pub.
It was all downhill after that…
I think if we want to save our once great Nation we have to find a way of bringing Sunday afternoons back. It’s not going to be easy, and we’re going to have to lobby hard to get the programmers at BBC and ITV to drop the divisive drivel they tend to show on Sundays now and ditch for an hour or so the “dedicated programming” philosophy they’ve fostered since the advent of digital broadcasting by adding the letter “C” to some of their channels. Similarly our kid’s bedrooms are now equipped, alongside the tellies and hi-fis, with games consoles and computers, and they’re going to prove even more reluctant to leave their lairs and engage with ‘boring adults’ for the duration of teatime and a post-cake-and-sandwiches TV show. But I think in both cases we have to try. I think, to paraphrase Chris Evans (see previous blog), that the very fabric of our society may well depend on it, and I only hope it won’t prove to be a case of too little too late.
Of course, brought up on a diet of Nazi zombies and schlock horror video nasties today’s kids are unlikely to warm to something as innocuous as the trials and tribulations of an animated scarecrow and his unrequited love for an unappreciative and unresponsive harridan of a fairground dummy. With this in mind, I propose an update to the traditional theme where the dead Worzel’s corpse is “reanimated” as a zombie by the evil, mad Crowman, and rather than pursuing Aunt Sally with amorous intent he does so with a deadlier, but equally hilarious, objective.
If successful, Zombie Gummidge could, I believe, usher in a new dawn for Sunday afternoon television viewing (eh?), with other 80’s favourites reimagined for today’s audiences. SuperPsychoGran is one title that would seem to offer bags of potential, as would Rent-A-Ghoul, Terrorhawks and Mental Mickey. Dipping even further into the past, Catweasel would seem ripe for an update as the story of a carnivorous cat/weasel/human hybrid, and Dad’s (Dead) Army, as the vehicle for a platoon of gun-toting reanimated corpse soldiers, is just begging for it…