Monday 27 June 2016

What I Don't Miss About the 50s 4

And we had to wear these...

The 50s? I STILL don't want to go back there.

Cafés weren’t obliged to provide toilets, so most of them didn’t. Could a lady go into a pub and ask to use the loo, without buying anything? She might embarrass her friends. Bodily functions were spoken of in hushed tones, if at all.

A wartime writer blames “the lower middle classes” for “keeping themselves to themselves”. In the 50s, they conversed in whispers in public places, brought their own sandwiches and thermos flasks, and ate furtively. It wasn’t the “done thing” to speak to strangers. According to my mother, during the War “everybody talked to everybody”, but afterwards things went back to normal.

I think we’re almost back to “everybody talks to everybody” – but being a silver-haired old lady may help. 1960s London was a lonely and unfriendly place. If people talked to you at all it was to tease or laugh at you. Sarcasm was the default, and it was supposed to be funny. You couldn’t point out that it was cruel.

Problems were addressed by not talking about them, and not letting anybody else talk about them. If anyone raised a forbidden topic, you gazed at the horizon, changed the subject, and acted as if nobody had spoken.

Adults were routinely nasty, abusive, cruel and sarcastic to children. Parents and teachers (not mine) smacked and hit children. No wonder abused children didn’t dare tell anybody.

In fact cruelty was normalised and explained away (“She’s got an unfortunate manner”, “He’s in pain from a bad back”). But it was more common to pretend it hadn’t happened – or if it had, it wasn’t cruelty but something else.

If someone you knew was discovered to be abusing children, nobody wanted to report him, because “He’s one of us”, and besides “He does such a lot of good work, and people look up to him”. Did I mention that it was an authoritarian and hierarchical society?

More here, and links to the rest.

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