Dr Who And The Decade Of Doom – An Undertaker’s Childhood
Mar 4, 2014
Wouldn’t it be great to have a time machine like Doctor Who?
Actually, I do. It’s the internet. Maybe it’s my age, but I’m constantly trying to assemble my childhood memories into a cohesive narrative. I often find myself thinking: “If I died tomorrow (which would be immensely irritating), who would I be remembered as?” Lacking a time machine, the internet has become the vital tool in my quest to find out.
Despite loathing the subject at school, I’m now utterly fascinated by contemporary history. It’s because I’m always trying to measure my life and my world-view through the prism of the times I’ve lived within during my tender forty-something years.
For example, vivid childhood memories of being a three year-old plunged into frightening darkness because of power cuts were exorcised after my internet time machine took me to 1974 so I could research the “three day week.” On a happier note, time travel has also meant fond memories of seemingly endless summer evenings with Action Man and Star Wars being relived with a generous side-dressing of nostalgia and treasured even more now than they were at the time.
Books also fill huge gaps in my understanding of the first decade of my life. I’ve just finished the doorstep-sized “Seasons in the Sun - The Battle for Britain, 1974-1979” by the brilliant Dominic Sandbrook. My childhood was largely untroubled, despite being lived against the backdrop of a “gripping political story, filled with larger-than-life characters: the paranoid, half-drunk Harold Wilson, the ferocious Enoch Powell and the odious Tony Benn.” Who knew? It’s a shame I was only nine years-old by the end of ‘79, because I don’t remember rubbing shoulders with “a…social background full of angry industrial agitators, bewildered pensioners and bearded radicals…” Unless of course you count my sister’s christening.
My internet time machine has also provided reassuring perspective. A born pessimist, I’ve always thought the outlook has been pretty grim since the financial crisis of 2007. But compare current times with the mid-1970’s: Britain’s fortunes reached their lowest point since the war; inflation rocketed and the pound collapsed; terrorist bombs exploded in city streets; a worn-out Prime Minister resorted to the brandy bottle while his Chancellor went cap in hand to the IMF; punk music swore its way to notoriety and the population genuinely believed the end was nigh for our clapped-out nation. I can’t honestly believe Britain’s any worse off now than it was then.
But it is very sad to see icons from the decade of my childhood being trashed by the hysteria surrounding historic paedophile allegations. I worry that Basil Brush and the Wombles might face charges next.
Meanwhile, my internet time machine also taught me about radicalism and the Loony Left during the 1970’s, so I can see why The Honourable Harriet Harperson MP and co. are now facing awkward questions.
But even the funeral trade is seeing vague parallels with 1970’s style radicalism. We have the silent majority, which still comprises of family-run, independent businesses like mine: well established within their communities and striving to be all things to everyone by balancing progressiveness with traditional mores, just like we’ve always done. Then there’s the “big business” factions, in the guise of conglomerates and chains, which have always been around, but never so aggressively commercial in their approach as they are now. Funeral pre-payment plans are the new battlefront.
Now also there’s a recognisably radical left wing forming: niche undertakers who maintain a consciously green, non-interventionist approach, decrying “tradition” and all its black-clad works. I don’t deny for a moment that kind of approach can be very conducive for some folks, but it must be constructive and not just allowed to become the latest of many woolly-minded bandwagons.
With the decade of my childhood under sustained attack, one thing I reckon I’ve learnt by time travelling back to the 1970’s is that pursuing a radical agenda – as distinct from simply allowing things to adjust at society’s natural pace, will only ever result in the baby being thrown out with the bath water.
I genuinely believe funerals will, indeed should, be left alone to self-adjust as contemporary society redefines its relationship with death and bereavement.
James Baker owns and runs Fred Stevens Funeral Directors of Nailsworth, Glos.