Everyone I know who was around during the 1960s tells me how much better that decade was. I kid you not. Are they all lying? Is there a strong hint of hyperbole in their words? I was unfortunate to miss out on the baby-boomer bonanza, born as I was some time during the Age of Disco. However, I’ve done a little research in the library and listened to the tales of my elders. Here’s what I discovered about the Swingin’ Sixties:
There were more jobs back then, there was less antisocial behaviour, living costs were cheaper, the motorways were never crowded and household refuse was collected on a weekly basis. There were more greengrocers, butchers and fishmongers (the supermarkets hadn’t swallowed them up, yet), but fewer fast-food outlets. Children spent most of their leisure time playing outdoors and consequently had fewer allergies and were a lot healthier. There was no nanny state, no health and safety risk aversion. Islamic fundamentalism had yet to rear its ugly head in Britain and niqabs were never worn. We exported more and most British businesses were not owned by some foreign corporation. Most manufactured goods people bought had ‘made in the UK’ stamped on them, which meant that they were built to last. Insolent children got a good slap and learned their lesson well. Single motherhood was abnormal. Men carried knives around, even at work, but didn’t feel the need to stab each other after every argument. Guns were more easily available, yet there was less violent crime. It was common for films and TV shows to have a damsel in distress in them, because there weren’t that many whiney feminists to kick up a fuss. Driving home after a few drinks was normal. Council estates had respectable working-class people living in them, rather than benefit-scrounging, heroin-addicted troglodytes. Planet Earth’s population was smaller. Schools taught ‘O’ levels, not Mickey-Mouse GCSEs, so pupils had to spell correctly and remember lots of facts, not simply regurgitate a narrow curriculum for the sake of ‘targets’. Raising children was much cheaper, because parents weren’t expected to buy the latest expensive gadget for their offspring. The economy didn’t rely on Christmas for its survival. There was a narrower gap between rich and poor. Reality television did not exist.
Quite a list, there. Don’t get me wrong – it can’t have been a gay old time for everyone who lived through those years. I suppose if you were black or Indian, it must have been a challenge with all the bigotry that was endemic at the time. Much has been learned in the past fifty years, but much has also been lost. We’ve gained the Worldwide Web (thanks to the English inventor, Sir Timothy Berners-Lee) and I don’t know how I’d cope without mobile phones. Machines are more efficient and it’s easier to travel around. However, I’m not fully convinced that cheap travel is necessarily a good thing. If I had a penny for every time some twentysomething bored me with his itinerary of the usual Thailand/Australia/New Zealand rite of passage, I’d be weighed down with a lot of shrapnel by now. It must have been a lot easier to get a date in the ‘60s, because one didn’t have to go on some voyage of self-discovery to Bongobongoland, living in a mud hut and washing one’s hair in recycled goat urine. With my enthusiasm for dressing up and my excellent dental hygiene, I would have been considered a living Adonis back then. Here, in the Age of Terror, I’m an anachronism.
Was it really better in the 1960s, or is this all an elaborate hoax crafted by the baby-boomers for reasons that cannot be discerned? Did you live through that magical decade? Could we ever see the like again? Answers on a postcard, boys and girls.