Thursday, February 05, 2009

Is this the future?

That’s one month of 2009 sweated through then, and to my surprise and relief I haven’t run out of work and been forced to eat dust yet, so an absolute bonus there. In fact in the last week I’ve even bought myself a brand new pair of skis and taken them out to the mountains for a test run, that’s how bourgeois I am. However, smug as my quips might seem, I feel far from complacent.

When I was back in Britain over Christmas the global economic crisis, no longer now referred to as a Recession but as a Depression, was something tangible that could be seen and felt, whereas here so far it’s still mostly something that’s simply feared. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of fear to go round. Maybe I should just stop listening to the radio, but I often tune in to BBC World Service when I’m doing the cooking, and the news coming from there recently has not been uplifting.

One horrifying word I’ve heard mentioned a number of times in the last couple of weeks is “eighties”. I know that I’ve eulogised the eighties a number of times here, and indeed have been guilty of a rather cosy nostalgia for my youth, just as long as I know that it’s all safely in the past. But now it’s time for me to eat my flippant words, because I know damn well that any prospect of the eighties returning is a deeply sickening one.

In Coventry, where I grew up, just like most places in Britain north of about Oxford, and plenty of places south of there too, the eighties was a dire time. Even in the suburban, largely Tory-voting part of town where I lived, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who could argue with conviction that Thatcherism was working, particularly after a drive through the city. We were surrounded by disaster, local unemployment was at 20%, there were riots in Brixton, Toxteth and nearby Handsworth, then there was the miners’ strike. Make no mistake, there was a class war going on. It was the age of the “managed decline of Liverpool”, and the region where I lived likewise saw no recognisable improvement between the two recessions of the early 80s and early 90s. Reports of “yuppies” and even an “economic miracle” seemed like they were coming from another world.

At the same time there was another world, that hateful world of the winners. The Tories, seemingly unbelievably, won three elections and the miners’ strike, and went on to win a fourth election in the 90s. All opposition to the prevailing ideology was busy tearing itself apart and was duly swept aside. The whole decade seemed like one of utter defeat. For depressed, left-wing teenagers the pop charts of the mid-80s offered little comfort, the majority of the hits reflecting the ethos of the time – slickly produced, inflated, saccharine, vacuous. The only rational choice was to become a goth and wallow on the margins in a cocoon of misery.

Having said that I don’t wish to overestimate how much things have improved since the 80s – large parts of Coventry and the rest of the country remain the kind of places no right-minded person would wish to live. Despite the fact that Britain as a whole has undeniably enjoyed better times since economically, the 80s were merely the beginning of this hideous defeat, of a process in which differences in wealth multiplied obscenely, the Labour party implemented privatisation that Thatcher could never have dreamed about and Britain generally became a much more vicious place.

Given the fact, then, that in economic terms sizeable pockets of Britain have never recovered from the blow inflicted by the 80s, and that culturally the nation remains entirely decimated by that decade, I feel more than perturbed when I hear predictions that the oncoming Depression is going to be “worse than the 80s”. Despite my initial glee at worthless, greedy banking scum getting sacked (and after all, with their money and connections I’m sure they’ll be all right Jack), “worse than the 80s” sounds almost apocalyptic to my ears. How much worse are things going to get before the inevitable ecological meltdown?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Depression is for rich people. I was very young at 80s, and far in another side of the world, but have suffered the taste of it in the 90s. Middle class like us, has nothing to loose, we didn't have anything so valuable to treasure. If to tune into news, one will really feel the upcoming depression as you said of 80s,the history just repeats itself, when you were in 80s, you just lived your life, maybe complaining of something, and being glad for another thing, but I don't think that you thought about living in the time of depression. I think the same is happening now, you are buying a brand new ski and happy about that, I buy a new jacket which i couldn't afford some time ago, we are happy about minor things, don't have millions to loose so keep on your glee, or be depressed for others, who are on news :).

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