The Book That Launched: An Evening On The Golden Hinde
There was a terrific turnout last night for the ‘Bryant & May’s Peculiar London’ event on board the dry-docked replica of Sir Francis Drake’s flagship at London Bridge, even if we all nearly knocked ourselves unconscious on the beam ceilings, raised up these days, so I can’t imagine how low the rooms must once have been.
Organiser Stephen Haskins hit me with some great interview questions, although now I realise I failed to come up with an answer to one, to my own annoyance. He asked;
What would you bring back from London’s past into the present?
Of course it’s hard to single out one thing, but what I wanted to say was a little trickier to define. A certain quality of life. A sense of method over the frenzied, fragmented way we live now.
On the rare occasions we went anywhere as kids, we would pack a bag, pootle along an arterial road to the coast, take a stroll along clifftops, chat and argue, potter about some more – but this slow, methodical way of doing things applied to everything from going to the shops to visiting friends. There were no distractions, nothing between you and the thing you were doing. We weren’t being sold to every minute of the day. I think we were a lot calmer then.
This was partly because there was much less information available. No rolling news, no updates, no checking on how everyone was feeling every five minutes, no choice. I wonder what a Gen X-er would make of being dropped into a postwar world where so little of everything was available, where opinions were sought and listened to, and arguments unfolded reasonably, where newspapers and radio were the only means of obtaining information.
Libraries played a big part in our lives, as did local councils. The British class system rankled then as now, but in the past it made itself visible by having the beneficent Lady So-and-so open the fête, not over-entitled Hoorays heading for the ski-slopes.
Several readers have asked how I researched the book, and I had to admit that I simply remembered an awful lot of it because I lived through it, although I needed to keep a tight check on the facts because the memory lies.
This was a world where politicians careers were ruined by their poor decisions, instead of being let off the hook by members of their own party. Bad behaviour was something to be ashamed of, not celebrated. It’s hard to catch atmospheres in books on London, although may I recommend Jerry White’s The Battle of London 1939-45: Endurance, Heroism and Frailty Under Fire and his other London volumes?
And so, onward – into the future and on to new books.