Monday, 19 July 2010

Golden days

Peter Hitchens appeared on 'The House I Grew Up In' this morning, giving him the opportunity to expatiate on life in the 1950s. He wasn't deterred from generalising from his own experience. He grew up in a southern English, middle-class, nuclear family with a father who was in the navy and where he and his brother were boarders at public school. He reckoned the things that children didn't do back in the 1950s included getting into your parents bed if you were scared, using (or even understanding) swear words and knowing about sex. You had to wait until you were an adult to comprehend raciness in language or deed.

His experience of the 1950s is obviously a touchstone for his reactionary political views. And I have no doubt that such a childhood was experienced by many. But it was hardly universal. I checked with my Dad, who's about ten years' older than P Hitchens: he often slept with his grandmother when he was little, knew all about the mechanics of sex from his earliest years (having seen it on the farm) and also knew just about every swear word there was (having heard them from his uncles and the farm labourers). You might say that his childhood was unusual, but a lot more people lived and worked on the land back in those days. And even more didn't grow up shuttling between the restrained household of a navy officer and an English public school.

Sexual behaviour was less regimented than P Hitchens would probably credit too. The grandmother whose bed my father shared when little was known in her younger days as Lizzie Droppy-Drawers - she had two (or possibly three) children out of wedlock, all of them being sent off to North American for adoption (and another six more conventionally with her ill-starred husband).

It's tempting to generalise from our own experiences, to assume common reference points. P Hitchens may have a point in desiring a restoration of traditional morality and conventional taboos with regard to the family - it would certainly be a good thing for more fathers to stay with their children. But his particular ideal wasn't just bounded by time, it was also bounded by place and class. A significant portion of society has always been more morally lax than the broom-up-the-backside lot would have us believe.

I have little idea what implications this observation has for policy, for how people might be made to behave better. But I suspect that whatever they are, they're not encouraging.


worm said...

well I grew up in the 80's and I definately wasn't allowed anywhere near my parents bed if I was scared. But I was allowed to swear from about 12, and I learnt all about sex aged 5 or so from reading a copy of 'the joy of sex' which my friend and I found under his parent's bed. I mostly remember being totally mystified by the man's beard.

Brit said...

Yes, this is why P Hitchens is not a conservative. Also why the Mail is not a conservative newspaper, merely a right-wing one. They think that human nature is getting worse, whereas conservatives know that human nature doesn't fundamentally change and man has always been man, ie. Fallen.

Vern said...

Does Hitchens think that human nature is getting worse or that the moral and cultural restraints traditionally placed upon it have collapsed, and thus man's bestiality is increasingly becoming unbound? If the latter, then that is surely a very conservative p.o.v. & he is more than merely right wing.

malty said...

During the final days of WW2 and the aftermath there was apparently much movement in the bonking department then a lull during the austerity period that followed, post Bridgette Bardot there was frenzy settling down during the sixties to a steady rhythm. Personal appearance was so vile during the seventies everyone was turned off. Throughout the eighties folk were so busy hating Maggie they forgot all else. The nineties saw a resurgence in the nookie department until the onset of new labour when most people were concentrating on their focus groups and were worn out, the noughties heralded the era of same sex sex so to speak, at that point I lost interest, would rather go climb an alp.
Hitchens name went in the book and was crossed out, quite some time ago.

Brit said...

Well he does think that as well, I suppose Vern. Anyway, he has a very clearly worked-out worldview in which the 1960s are responsible for all evil.

Sean said...

Sorry Garth (b 1965) never slept with my granny, but i once saw my mums nipples in the bathroom.

Jokes aside, vern asked "and thus man's bestiality is increasingly becoming unbound?"

The answer to that question, uncomfortabley is yes.

Lifes a double edged sword, the things that give us middle class people our freedoms and privilege are the same thing are creating a seething under class.

The tipping point is when the Middle classes dont wont to pay the price for appeasing the problems of the underclass.

That i fear is sooner than we would wish.

Sean said...

"unbound" in thee sense that if limits are not imposed, than mans "fallen" state is increasingly noticeable.

Brit said...


Sean said...

Yep we are living in more violent times.

Vern said...

Hitch (P) is the shadow cast by soixante-retards such as Tariq Ali et al, who claim that Revolutionaries such as himself are responsible for the liberties we enjoy in the modern world. Both agree that the 60s were a radical, transformative decade, it's just that Hitch sees that in a negative sense. As an ex Trot he adds a class angle, arguing that the worst damage was done to the working classes.

Hey Skipper said...

Vern said:

... or that the moral and cultural restraints traditionally placed upon it have collapsed, and thus man's bestiality is increasingly becoming unbound?

But has it? In the US, murder in particular, and crime rates in general have plummeted to levels not seen since the 70s, a trend that started about 15 years ago.


He reckoned the things that children didn't do back in the 1950s included getting into your parents bed if you were scared, using (or even understanding) swear words and knowing about sex.

I didn't get into my parents bed when I was scared.

However, I thought that ejaculation meant what erection really does. So, as a 12 year-old, hearing about the horrors of the premature sort, well, you can't begin to imagine my despair.

Today's word verification: undleys.

What was in a horrible twist upon discovering my tragic problem.

Vern said...

I wasn't necessarily saying that Hitchens is right, I was just clarifying his ideological stance.

Statistics I know nothing about. However when I go home these days I do note that the bogs in the local library are locked to prevent junkies from jacking up in there, whereas ten years ago anyone could walk straight in and micturate/defecate to his heart's content without first asking the lady behind the lending desk for permission. Ergo there has been some decline.

Gaw said...

I had so much to say in response to these comments that i ended up writing a new post (today's)!

zmkc said...

The 'broom up the backside lot' - who are these terrifying people? I do remember a Bill Tidy cartoon with a man very innocently washing his hands beside a large sign reading 'Wash and Brush Up, sixpence', unaware of the person with a fiendish smile coming up behind him, broom handle well-aimed.

Gaw said...

Excellent! Did the brush-wielder have the trademark P Hitchens pursed lips and shocked eye-brows?