Re: moving on down the road

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Posted by markb on February 07, 2014 at 20:52:20:

In Reply to: moving on down the road posted by mark brennan on January 28, 2014 at 23:50:09:

: sad to see some of the stars and names of our schooldays dying off now - chirpy Geoffrey Wheeler who pulled comedic faces while the Bossman was making a speech, and even Sharon from The Champions ( Alexandra Bastedo ) this week... endless/ ever rolling stream.... sons away...

and this from the Daily Mail 2012:

It's gone down in legend - but was the summer of 1976 really so great?
By Michael Hanlon

The summer of 1976 has gone down in legend. I remember it very well, as it came for me just ahead of the dawn of adolescence. This meant the angst and spots were some way yet to come but the petty restrictions of childhood were being cast aside. This meant freedom of a kind unthinkable for most middle-class 11-year-olds today. I was lucky enough to live by the coast and every day of that everlasting hot summer meant a quick breakfast then off to the beach, by bicycle, with friends, where we stayed all day.
Yes it was idyllic, a Cider With Rosie summer (without the cider, or Rosie, for that matter) and new ‘research’ seems to back this up. I say ‘research’ because this particular contribution to the scientific canon comes courtesy of a biscuit company called Rocky, which apparently asked 4000 British people aged eight to 60 what constitutes an ideal childhood and then compared their answers with a set of historical data for things like weather, holidays-taken, contact with extended family and so on generating the ‘perfect’ childhood year.
The year 1976 wins because of a combination of good weather (the hottest and driest summer for centuries) and a more relaxed attitude, with children being allowed to play outside, plenty of contact with friends and extended family and minimal time pressures on parents. And the survey chimes with what a great many people in their 40s and 50s now feel, that this odd, troubled time of strikes and IMF bailouts, rumours of coups and plots against the elected government not to mention the most terrible clothes in British history (and worse food) was nevertheless a golden era.

Halcyon days: Children had more freedom in the 1970s, and their parents had more time to spend with them
How seriously should we take this? Because if things really were so good in ’76 and so bad now (2011 was ranked bottom) then something has gone very wrong with our country. We are much wealthier than we were then (inflation-adjusted GDP per head is probably twice as high as it was 36 years ago), life expectancy has gone up by several years, and by all measurable indices life is better. So what is going wrong? Is this survey telling us anything meaningful at all?
Some things have indeed got worse in the last 36 years. Britain is more crowded, we work longer hours and the public transport is terrible. Children do have far less freedom today than they did, and I think we are all beginning to agree that this is a bad thing. In the 1970s children longed for freedom above all. To this end, where I lived and across most of the UK, there were quite aggressive and well-organised road safety campaigns. I remember the police visiting my primary school and doing quite a lot of shouting about how to cross the road safely. And there was cycling proficiency – again run by the local constabulary. From the age of nine or so we were taught how to maintain and ride a bicycle on public roads. Once we passed that was it – the highways were our oyster. I can still remember the feeling of utter joy at being allowed to ride, on my own, through busy streets to places several miles from home. This doesn’t really happen any more.

Yes, the weather was great in 1976, although it was great too in 1995 and 2003 (and 1975 for that matter), but for some reasons these glorious summers never really imprinted themselves on the national consciousness. And yes, our parents in general had a lot more time to spend with us. Unemployment was lower then but the dreaded long-hours culture was still a way off. People worked to live not the other way round. In many respects Britain in the mid-1970s culturally was more like southern Europe than, say, work-and-money obsessed America or (then) Germany.
But we must be careful about eulogising the past. Part of the reason we think things are bad today is because we know so much more about what is going on. Take crime, for instance – the sort of crime that worries parents. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that rates of paedophilia or stranger-abduction today are any higher than they were 30 or 40 years ago; indeed there is some evidence that they are lower. As to violent crime, in 1976 there were 575 homicides (defined as murder, manslaughter and infanticide) recorded in the UK, compared to 648 in 2011 - but taking into account the population increase (from about 56m to 61m) the murder rate per head is unchanged. Indeed, from a peak in the late 1990s-early 2000s (in 2002-3 there were more than 1000 homicides in Britain), serious crime in the UK, as in most other Western countries, has been dropping quite dramatically.
There was less traffic on British roads in 1976, but far more people were killed on them – more than 6,000 deaths compared to fewer than 2,500 annually now. Cars now have better brakes, airbags, side-impact bars and drivers are less likely to be drunk and it is now illegal not to wear seatbelts, even in the back. It was actually far more risky to be a child cycling round 1970s Britain than it is today and greatly more dangerous to be a child passenger in a car.
In 1976 we earned less money and we paid more tax (the basic rate then was 35 per cent rising to a pip-squeaking 83 per cent on earnings over £20,000 (about £110,000 today) and things largely cost far more than they do now. Travel abroad was still something of a luxury (currency restrictions were still in place meaning it was hard even if you had the cash) and largely restricted to the middle classes and above, although the era of the cheap package to Spain and elsewhere was beginning. Things that we think of as essentials – televisions, stereos, kitchen white goods and so forth were hugely expensive. In the mid-1970s a colour television cost two months’ salary; today, like all electronic goods prices have dropped in real terms by 80 per cent or more.

Barcelona: Package deals to Spain were still a dream back in 1976, when travel was considerably more expensive
Clothes, travel and eating out were all significantly dearer back then, but university education (free, and you got a maintenance grant as well), public transport and some basic foodstuffs were cheaper. Petrol was cheaper too, although not by as much as we usually think. Adjusting for inflation, a litre of four-star in 1976 cost about 89p (£4 a gallon) but adjusting, again, for earning power (how much people actually had to spend on things like petrol) the real cost of motoring has fallen quite dramatically in the last four decades. As to the price of cars themselves, in 1976 a new, mid-range Ford Cortina cost around £18,000 in today’s money compared to about £16,500 for a Ford Focus in 2012).
The major dent in our finances today is not the cost of petrol but the ludicrous price of housing, especially in South-East England. In 1976 even the wealthiest parts of London contained a number of lower-income householders; there were bits of Chelsea and Kensington that were actually quite shabby. Now, the most desirable parts of the Capital (some wards now have average house prices over the £2m mark) have become effectively sterilised by money, with housing so expensive that only offshore trusts, crooks and oligarchs can afford to buy it. But this is a local phenomenon; across much of England, Wales and Scotland housing is still relatively affordable.
In most measurable ways things were no better in 1976, and in many ways worse, than they are now. We were poorer, paid more tax and most things cost more. We died sooner, smoked more and suffered more illness. We were less likely to be burgled, take drugs or have our car broken into but no less likely to be murdered, raped or robbed. And we mustn’t forget that in 1976 large sections of the population really were dramatically worse off than they are now. This was an era of casual racism and sexism, where women, gays, blacks and Asians could be openly discriminated against, where snobbery was still rife and where police corruption was so serious and widespread that 400 Metropolitan Police officers had to be quietly sacked.
And yet we feel nostalgia for this long-ago era which in many ways seems as foreign as the Middle Ages. I suspect that had Rocky biscuits carried out the same survey in 1976 it would have been the long hot summer of 1949 that corresponded to the epitome of Britain’s post-war halcyon age. And if the survey is repeated in 2048 I suspect that the early twenty-teens will come out as some sort of golden time. For what we are REALLY nostalgic for, of course, is not the weather, the clothes or the alleged freedom but our youth. And that we can never get back.

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