Friday, 21 July 2017

You Can't Stand in the Way of Progress

You CHARGE!!! into the future and then realise nobody’s following you, so you sheepishly go home. A group of high-minded idealists builds a Utopia without hedges or clothes, practising free love and bringing up children in common, but 
conformity to the outside world creeps back.

The Light that FailedA woman who changed her name to Margaret Sandra was stuck explaining to employers and bank managers that surnames are patriarchal.

In the 60s and 70s some “dropped out of society” while living on the dole/their parents. They dropped back in again. (And the lookers-on, who thought the dropouts had done something rather marvellous, forgot all about it.) Others, after 20 years touring the country with an agit-prop theatre group trying to smash capitalism, got jobs in further education and acquired mortgages and pension schemes.

In the 60s and 70s lefties abolished boyfriends and girlfriends and experimented with alternative living arrangements. People went right on pairing off and getting married, and we can even say “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” again. (There was a long gap before “partner” when we experimented with terms like Significant Other, or POSSLQ: Person of the Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters. I wonder why that never caught on?)

Topless beaches
were popular in 70s France, but now the French cover up.

In the 70s, liberals simplified weddings. Now couples want a wildly over-the-top theatrical display.

(See also British Communists who lived as if the Revolution would happen any day now, and the Christians who thought the Second Coming was just around the corner. The Age of Aquarius never dawned.)

A member of the Oxford committee of the Prayer Book Society, said [the popularity of Evensong] reflected a wider interest in older styles of worship, including greater interest in the Prayer Book among trainee clergy. “The era of jaded folk worship is coming to an end. Indeed I think the people who want that sort of thing are the older generation now and the young are coming back to traditional worship and the choral tradition [of the Church of England]. (Daily Telegraph, 2016)

In 2007 Pope Benedict gave permission to all priests to use Latin and the Tridentine Mass. (After Vatican II in the 60s, the Tridentine rite was only allowed a few times a year, and special permission had to be obtained from a Bishop – each time). Benedict had the vernacular mass “retranslated” to bring it nearer to the original Latin (and adherents are outraged because they’d got used to the new one). But the most unpopular aspects of the “New Mass” were quickly dropped (“Happy are those who are called to his supper”, “Fruit of the vine and work of human hands”), and the “kiss of peace” quickly became a “sign”, ie a handshake – even though Catholics were told there was NO appeal. Now the Church wants new music to incorporate more plainsong (2009). Mass from St Peter’s at Christmas 2014 was almost entirely in Latin.

Early American settlers didn’t celebrate Christmas (it’s a pagan festival), but it slowly came back into favour.

In the 1810s reformers in Hamburg brought Jewish worship practices up to date. In the following decades, most of their radical liturgical reforms were undone, as practices they had cut as unnecessary, superstitious, repetitious, old-fashioned or un-European crept back because people liked them. Confirmations became bar mitzvahs again. (“Secular” kibbutzim are building their own synagogues, says The Jewish Chronicle in 2011. And they no longer make children live in dormitories and see their parents for only two hours a day.)

A half-century ago, the Liberal haggadah (Passover service book) omitted most of the traditional passages relating to the flight from Egypt, including the Ten Plagues. These were restored in 1981. (Jewish Chronicle)

Pharaoh Akhnaten abolished all Egyptian gods but one: the sun-disk or Aten. After he died, around 1335 BC, the priests of the other gods reopened their temples and it was business as usual.

In the 20s, architect Le Corbusier planned to demolish the whole of central Paris and replace it with skyscrapers.

In New York, some suggest digging up Times Square’s pedestrian precinct and putting it “back the way it was”, with cars. (It has become infested with topless dancers and costumed characters who harass tourists.) American urban highway removals are increasing, and streets depedestrianising. Buffalo is reopening Main Street to cars. (According to Buffalo News, cities have been removing their malfunctioning pedestrian malls for roughly 15 years.)

The Pedway was a “boldly stupid” idea to connect London with walkways. (They have almost all gone and now we miss them. But for a long time there were areas where you couldn't walk at street level – you were supposed to take a walkway that hadn't been built yet, or was impossible to find, or had been shut. And once you were on the walkway, you had no idea where you were going because you couldn’t see any landmarks, signposts or maps.)

Try Googling for “empty business park” – it gets lots of hits. Try “dam removal”, too.

Made-up months like Pluviose and Thermidor, brought in by the French Revolution, were as popular as the movement’s temples to atheism. The Revolutionaries also introduced a ten-hour clock, and a 20-hour day. This regime lasted two years. Russia tried a five-day-week calendar in the communist area with a complex days-off system that caused people to be quite detached from their family and friends. In the end it made them less productive, and it was abandoned after three years.

Sign language was banned in the 19th century, but returned to schools for the deaf in the 1960s and 70s. The Whole Language method of teaching reading, in which the child is encouraged to memorise EACH WORD as if it was a pictogram, is fighting a desperate rearguard action against Synthetic Phonics, which actually teaches children how to read.

Open-Plan “Learning Pods” Fail in Bexhill: After a £38m investment in open-plan learning was completed in 2010, another £4m is now being invested to revert the classrooms back. Business is booming for Portable Partitions, a company that manufactures and supplies mobile room dividers to Australian businesses and schools. (Nov 2015)

In the 60s home-owners boarded up Victorian doors, replaced brass knobs with plastic handles, and covered plaster ceilings with polystyrene tiles. In the 70s people put the olde worlde details back. (But now they’re ripping out Arts and Crafts details.)

Lenin, after his collective farming plans caused a famine in which three million died, backtracked and allowed 20% of the Soviet economy to be market-run. Collective farms set up by the Vietnamese communist government were unproductive, and there was a lot of corruption. In 1986 the government abolished the farms, and many private coffee plantations sprang up and flourished.

London’s Barbican Arts Centre, designed in the Brutalist 70s, was later “humanised” by a pink and green carpet and a huge impressionist mural in pastel colours. Both have thankfully disappeared. (The grand entrance is now for pedestrians rather than cars only, but they keep “improving” the interior layout.)

A Dutch conservator ordered to destroy paintings hid them instead. Now they're back in the Rijksmuseum. (During periods of iconoclasm, medieval locals hid statues in walls.)

British Airways is reinstating its company crest on airliners – marking the final reversal of the “groovier” rebranding that so offended Baroness Thatcher in 1997.

German spelling: The Rechtschreibreform abolished the umlaut and the esszett, but the prohibition quickly softened, and only hung on in schools. The government brought court actions, but the courts decided it had no legal power to tell anybody how to spell. Now Germans are confused between several systems. (RI)

John Lewis’s haberdashery department used to cover a large part of the ground floor. It was banished to the fourth and given a quarter of the space, with a fabric selection restricted to bridesmaids’ dresses. Gradually over the past 20 years it has grown and is now as big as it ever was, with the full range of old-fashioned staples like dress patterns, shoulder pads, suspenders, hooks and eyes, and bra elastic.

In the 1930s, speed limits in the UK were abolished as it was assumed that the British would drive like gentlemen. They were swiftly brought back.

In 2014 the Secretary of State for Transport said that the Euston Arch should never have been knocked down, and that he’d like to see it rebuilt. (After it was demolished, despite protests, it was “lost” – most of it was eventually found at the bottom of the River Lea. In 2015 a few of the original stones are on display at Euston.)

After spending years covered in grime and graffiti, in 2009 the modernist concrete Apollo Pavilion in Peterlee was restored and listed Grade II*.

Leningrad went back to being St. Petersburg. Stalingrad has been Volgograd since 1961. But in 2013 50,000 Volgograd citizens signed a petition to have the name changed back to Stalingrad.

And why don't we just reinvent...


  1. When I was a student (70s) we were going to change the world -there would be no proper jobs, and we would help others. The most voiciferously alternative ones were those who immediately went into the business of father, godfather or family friend on graduating, not even the grace of a year's travel as they would now. And the generations after were Thatcher's children, with not even a pretence of 'money doesn't matter' or 'we're all equal here'.

  2. In Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot (set in the 80s), there's a girl who calls herself "Moss" and wears shapeless garments hand-crafted out of grey felt. Everyone respects her, but they (and she) know that when she graduates she'll go back to wearing a skirt and being "Elizabeth".