As I write a false spring in England is ending and cold weather looms. And this is against a country-wide backdrop of rising heating costs, rising fuel costs, rising inflation and, it seems, everything else that’s wrong in society coming to the fore.
Inevitably, all the negative, undermining pressures that will come as a result of all this are building – if they weren’t already.
And because none of any of those pressure are new things in society that prompted me to think about my past and my experience of these pressures – and what there is to learn from them.
Yes, it is a case of looking back to get directions, the basic focus of this website. But it’s looking back with a particular focus.
A rented place I used to live in was often grim in winter. The bathroom was unheated, with rotten window frames and a lino floor that was always slightly damp on cold days. It could and would freeze into a slippery trap. On the really cold days the toilet would freeze too, leaving you no option but to walk down the road to the public loos. It meant washing my body was kept to the bare minimum – and never bare.
The rest of the place was just as hope-free. Using sticky tape to try and fix plastic over sash windows to make a kind of rudimentary double glazing is fairly desperate. The hall was unheated and the ill-fitting front door rattled in the wind. The damp and mould from the basement permeated every room. Damp gets into your bones as well as every item of clothing you own, as well as your lungs.
Keeping warm meant wearing extra jumpers all the time, extra layers in bed. It meant staying in bed to keep warm for as long as possible. And it meant getting into bed to find some warmth was often the only option, whatever the time of day. It meant my friend’s beard was covered in frost in the morning after he’d stayed the night.
And it wasn’t just the place I lived in that could wear you down. Stupid-high inflation meant money was always tight. And the real bottom line is that inflation eats away at everything; it ate away at my life for years.
And I know that it was depressing and lousy and hard then. And I know hard times are here now. And I think they’re worse now.
We didn’t have food banks when I was a younger. I guess society didn’t need them then. I guess government, the provider of the safety net, actually cared then.
For me personally, now, I believe I’ll survive the current downturn OK. It won’t be great, but it won’t be a disaster. Life’s got better for me in the decades since the years I describe above. And, hopefully, for most and perhaps all of you folks reading this, things will have improved over the course of your lives too.
But all the years since the years I have written about have also shown me how fragile whatever we think of as normal actually is. That is always in my mind.
And it nags me that little of what I experienced is new in the context of the social history of this country, nor in the personal histories of untold numbers of individuals today, for whom things aren’t going well.
There’s this generally held trope that ‘the poor will always be with us’. But that’s a very convenient excuse for those that have money and/or power to do little or nothing for those that don’t. I can’t help but think that, with Britain one of the richest nations on the planet, we shouldn’t need food banks, not for anyone.
I suppose thinking back as I have been is just a straight-forward example of my history being formative. Just as your history will be formative for you. Fine. But perhaps we need formative experiences that reflect all people in society in the lives of those who could help others at a country-wide, national level.
Arguably … all commentators, all voices, in the media, in social media and in government, need to be clear about their own age and the age of their audience, and the commensurate experience they and all of their audience might have had. It is so often the case that you can ‘hear’ the voice of the ill- or un-informed, of inexperience, with all the potential for damage that ignorance comes with.