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We had it hard

11 Apr 2024 4 minute read
Photo Maggie Jones is marked Public Domain

Ben Wildsmith

Do you remember the good old days? You could leave your baby out with the milk bottles, and it would come back clean in the morning.

Tell that to youngsters today and they’d stab you.

We had it hard, mind, keeping warm round a cigarette.

My first job was in black & white.

We were poor but we were happy.

Editing the past into something pleasant to remember is a function of aging indulged in by all of us.

Beyond our animal instincts, humans are manufacturers of stories. Unable, for some reason, to live in the moment, we are bound to contextualise ourselves as literary characters in a narrative arc that lends meaning to our lives.

No other species keeps scrapbooks or takes part in historical reenactions. To be human is to be a historian and a prophet all the time.

‘Of course, in my day, we knew how to enjoy ourselves…’


This quirk of human nature leaves us open to manipulation by shysters at every turn. Knowing us to be unhappy now, usually because of a combination of their larceny and incompetence, they need only point to a golden age in which we were younger, fitter, and better-looking in order to evoke our own sense of decay.

‘Look,’ says Quentin Politico MP, ‘things used to be great! They can be again if only you’ll vote for me!’

We reflect on a time when we were optimistic, bounding up flights of stairs and breaking hearts at will. I can have that back, you say?

We are suckers for it every time.

Dishonest manipulation of history isn’t what it was in my day, though.

I grew up with John Major reminding us of a Britain in which spinsters cycled to church full of warm beer before having a game of cricket on the village green.

The ‘Blitz Spirit’ was still a clear memory for those who chose to ignore the staggering levels of opportunistic crime that existed during wartime blackouts.

In the 1960s, you could start a job in the morning, my mum reckoned, quit at lunchtime, get paid and start somewhere else in the afternoon.

She was less clear on the effects this sort of feckless behaviour had on the long-term productivity of the nation, but she saw the Moody Blues play in a small pub so what concern was that of hers?

The inexorable decline of the UK, however, extends to the quality of our historical bullshitting. It’s difficult to look back on the collective life of the nation over the last half-century and construct a heroic storyline that dignifies one’s personal place in history.

We haven’t really built anything: no ships or grand engineering projects. Our wars have been grubby catastrophes predicated on lies. We’ve become poorer.

We’ve had to listen to ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis every day whether we wanted to or not.

Social media has, of late, become flooded with AI-produced images that glorify racial purity and suggest an imminent collapse of Western civilisation.

Union Jack lions

Bizarre collages of lions wearing England flags in defence of blonde females from evil, dark interlopers represent the absolute nadir of fictional culture and history.

In the absence of anything to inspire optimism or unity, crude imagery is being provided to nurture hopelessness and division amongst people who seem to have abandoned reality altogether.


In Wales, however, we retain an actual living, breathing culture that offers sustenance in the here and now.

From the renaissance of Welsh football to Ren’s songwriting, there is spiritual nourishment in this nation that allows us a more contented view of our past than is possible in the wider UK.

This week, the ever-wondrous Michael Sheen’s appearance on The Assembly showed us where people who are alive now can take some pride in the way things have gone.

The diversification of voices in our culture is an evolutionary advance that might just save us all.

The more perspectives we have, the harder it is to lie to us.

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1 month ago

People moaning about being poor, where I came from you had to save up to be poor.

1 month ago

Excellent and funny

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
1 month ago


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