Thursday 23 June 2016

Story Arc

Back in 1975 the world looked like this:

The USSR was, we were assured, a thriving economy.  But it was rapidly running out of basic things such as bath plugs and soap.  However, it was not running out of nuclear warheads or the will to dominate the bordering countries, which included East Germany. 

The USA was economically bouncy, although it was struggling in competition with the Asian states which were rapidly advancing in electronic goods, such a Nikon cameras.

Canada and Australia and New Zealand were Far, Far Away.  People who went there were emigrating, and that meant you would not see them again.

Europe, however, was getting closer.  Coach tours, package holidays which included flights, and ambitious car drivers, all went to Europe for their holidays.  To the surprise of many Brits, there was more than one kind of wine.  Beautiful gifts came back from these romantic places; fans made of white lace, packages of nuts in a sweet and crispy coating, enamel bracelets with abalone shell insets, woven bags with twisty white shoulder straps, china cockerells; all the glamour of the Silk Road cascaded on to The Continent.

If I had to think of Europe in just one thing, it would be a tiny cup of thick black coffee; sweet, slightly gritty, the aroma of adventure.   Nothing like the bitter watery beige back home.  Apparently coffee is made from roasted and ground beans, not gravy granules. It is like the wine; there is more than one kind.

In 1975 homes had a telephone in the hallway and everyone remembered how, the year before, the electricity had been rationed.  A modern society had been flung back 100 years, only without the quantity of oil lamps and open fires, so people were reduced to hunching over candles and organizing their lives so as to go to bed to keep warm and save the torch and radio batteries for emergencies.

In 1975 it looked like a good idea to stay in the European Economic Community.  That way, at least the children could emigrate to Spain and not freeze to death, which was better than having them go permanently to Australia.

However, within ten years, the world began to look very different.

Developments in air travel meant that if someone went to Canada, Australia or New Zealand, they could come back to visit.  It was no longer like colonizing a distant planet.  Freddie Laker proved that there was a market for a budget airline, and that ordinary people could afford to fly to New York.

Mobile phones were the size of house-bricks and only certain people had them, but everyone could see the price coming down. By 1985 computers had migrated from the data departments to the desk top and were busy taking their jump in to the household and thence to the handbag.

Perhaps in front of you at this moment is the data relic of The World Before: the QWERTY keyboard, designed to stop metal printing arms from tangling.  In 1975 we learned to touch-type on manual machines. The layout is so engrained that there is no point in trying to change it.  But by 1985 the mighty manual typewriter had gone, replaced by electronic versions, and then by word processing software. 

There was determination to end the Cold War, not by fighting but by showing that to have the fight would be cripplingly expensive, even for the victor.   In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down.  Germany re-united.  In 1990 I unknowingly worked for a few weeks on the last of the Star Wars projects, convincing the remnant of the USSR that the Cold War  really was over.  It was more of a PR stunt; no security was taken at all  - I did not even sign the Official Secrets Act -  and I suspect I was faxing materiel manifests direct to the Soviet embassy, having produced them on an IBM word processor.  The aim was to show them that they could be comprehensively, bankruptingly, out-spent. 

Meanwhile, Tim Berners-Lee was writing the code which meant that anyone could use the giant file structure which is the Internet, not just Unix programmers and computing students. 

In 1975 it was not apparent to most people that technology was changing the world, so they made a sensible decision based on the visible situation at the time.   The technology had been incubating for decades but it still seemed like science fiction.  It took only fifteen years, less than the time than for a child to grow and leave secondary school, for the changes to become visible in every home.

Britain joined the EEC not on the morning of a new world,  but on the eve of the old post-war, Cold War, world.

It is in the nature of life; you have to take a decision based on imperfect information, knowing it will have long-term consequences.

Last week I bought a pair or shoes which had been designed in the US, manufactured in Germany, but coordinated by a British company which operates a portfolio of international fashion brands out of an office in Norwich. It is the company which stands behind the authenticity of the shoes so that I am not being scammed in to buying a knock-off.  They make some of the brands in Britain, and I wear those, too. 

I also bought a dress which is designed and manufactured in London.   Kindly do not tell me I am raaaaycist; the owners can trace their family back to Cyprus in the 1950s and have over half a century of experience in the rag trade.  They now manufacture in London where they can guarantee the production standards and the care of the workforce.  They ship world-wide.  Do I pay over the odds for that?  No I do not.  I pay no more than in any high street chain, and I know that this dress helps secure the families in London.

It makes sense to vote Remain.  It is an insurance policy, but it is not the horizon of opportunity it once was. Forty years on I sip an expensive ethical coffee and it is still exotic.  I can tell you where it was grown in South America and who bought the crop,  which small-outfit roaster processes it, and the family-run farm shop which is one of the distribution points.  Opportunity is now out in the world, via the web, via transport.

So that's where I'll be looking, outwards towards the world, because that is where the best chance to build prosperity for our children is; but they need a secure country in which to stand in order to do it.

That country is Great Britain.


Barnacle Bill said...

It is for my grand children's futures that I have voted as I did this morning WOAR.
My vote has been my gift to them, a gift that I hope will nurture them as they grow up, allowing them to fulfil their potential free of the joke of serfdom imposed by a foreign power.

Barnacle Bill said...

Err, that should be yoke not joke, whatever was I thinking!

Woman on a Raft said...

It is always difficult, Bill. Maybe even moreso in close-knit working class areas where even to move a few miles up the road is seen as risky, let alone shifting the constitutional basis of a system of governance.

Thanks for stopping by so promptly.

lilith said...

Hi WOAR, fine history, just so. I was totally with you till the bit about insurance, but I offer you the above link for light relief x

Woman on a Raft said...

Many thanks, Lilith.

I was trying to get over that I understand why some people have strong instincts for voting Remain; it feels safer. It is generally accepted that people tend to be risk averse but that they have poor strategies for assessing risk.

I have drawn my own lines for where I think the threats and opportunites come, and how to respond to that. My belief is that this vote will not ultimately matter that much because the EU is going to collapse. I would prefer Britain to be as far away as politically possible when it does so, but if Remain prevail I will make plans accordingly.

I believe in looking forward so the only thing to do was to take a permanent pen to the voting booth and mark that box clearly and unalterably.

Best wishes to all.

lilith said...

Thanks WOAR, best wishes right back. Yes, I think you are right about the collapse of the EU. It won't be pretty. Also looking outward is the way forward. Though it's terribly tempting to put those tractors and burning tyres along the A36 and declare UDI for Wessex.

Woman on a Raft said...

Paradoxically there is a silver lining for Wessex if Remain win but by a nice, sweaty, narrow margin. Get your shopping list written now because you will be in line for oodles of EU money as it seeks to buy consolidation in the area.

Put down for roadworks, which is what I am going to demand. Just shoring up the edges of the roads will give proper work to men with families for years to come. And it will be nice to have the potholes filled the drainage sorted. Major civil engineering works, that's the ticket. Ideally, peel the lot up and replace it with top of the bloody range modern quiet surfaces.

Look forward, look for the opportunities.

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