When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the Seventies

Ian Jack writes:

The fashion is relatively recent for slicing up history into ten-year periods, each of them crudely flavoured and differently coloured, like a tube of wine gums. Growing up in Britain in the 1950s I never heard the past, however recent, specified by decade. There was ‘the war’ and ‘before the war’, and sometimes, when my parents were burrowing into their childhoods, ‘before the first war’. The 20th century lay stacked in broad layers of time: dark moorland where glistened an occasional white milestone marked with a year and an event. Sometimes the events were large and public. The General Strike happened in 1926 and Germany invaded Poland in 1939. But often they were small and private. In my own family, 1944 wasn’t remembered for D-Day but as ‘the summer we went along the Roman Wall on the tandem’.

(LRB 27 August 2009)

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