Saturday, 7 November 2009

Family Britain

I was delighted to be sent an advance copy of David Kynaston’s Family Britain 1951-1957, the latest volume of his magisterial survey of Britain in the post-war, pre-Thatcher years – although I would have bought it anyway, because the first volume, Austerity Britain, was my favourite book of 2007. Like its predecessor, Family Britain offers some beautifully thick and humane descriptions of everyday life from our recent past. How can you not like a book that manages to turn the memoirs of Noddy Holder into a rich historical archive? Every so often Kynaston interrupts the narrative with these wonderfully evocative lists:

Dabitoff, Windolene, Dura-glit, Brasso, Brillo, Rinso, Lifebuoy, Silvikrin, Amm-i-dent, Delrosa Rose Hip Syrup, Mr Therm, Put-U-Up, Toni Perms, hair-nets, head-scarves, Jaeger, Ladybird T-shirts, rompers, knicker elastic, cycle clips, brogues, Clark's sandals, Start-rite (that haunting rear view of two small children setting out on life's path, Moss Bros, tweed jackets, crests on blazers, ties as ID, saluting AA patrolmen, driving gloves, Austin Cambridge, Morris Oxford, Sunbeam Talbot, starting handles, indicator wings, Triumph, Norton, sidecars, Raleigh, Sturmey-Archer, trolley-buses, Green Line, I-Spy, Hornby Dublo, Tri-ang, Dinky, Meccano, Scalextric, Subbuteo, Sarah Jane dolls, Plasticine, Magic Robot, jumping jacks, cap guns, Capstans, Player’s Navy Cut, Senior Service, Passing Clouds, cigarette boxes, Dagenham Girl Pipers, Saturday-morning cinema, Uncle Mac, Nellie the Elephant, The Laughing Policeman, fountain pens, Quink, napkin rings, butter knives, vol-au-vents, Brown Windsor soup, sponge cakes, Welgar Shredded Wheat, Garibaldis (squashed flies), Carnation, Edam, eat up your greens, Sun-Pat, Marmite sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, semolina, shape, sucking oranges through sugar cubes, Tizer, Quosh, Kia-ora Suncrush, dandelion and burdock, Tom Thumb drops, Sherbert Fountains, Spangles, Trebor Chews, barley twists, blackjacks, fruit salads, aniseed balls, pineapple chunks, Big Chief Dream Pipe, flying saucers, traffic-light lollipops, gobstoppers …

I wonder what a similar list from the noughties would look like:

Activia single pots, Jamie Oliver, Strictly Come Dancing, The X Factor, Kettle Chips, Innocent Smoothies, KFC Bargain Buckets, goatee beards, low-slung jeans, Ugg boots, peasant skirts, iTunes, Amazon, Boden clothes, beanie hats, Who Do You Think You Are, iPlayer, Twitter, wristbands, full-zip hoodies, Caffe Nero, farmers’ markets, 3 for 2s at Waterstone’s, Radio 2, Cath Kidston tents, VW Kombi camper vans, Nintendo Wii, Doctor Who, High School Musical, Festivals, carveries, Top Gear, Ant and Dec, misery memoirs …

No, it doesn’t really work.

Mundane quote for the day:
‘May you be dull –
If that is what a skilled,
Vigilant, flexible,
Unemphasised, enthralled
Catching of happiness is called.’ – Philip Larkin, ‘Born Yesterday’


  1. It doesn't work today, but by 2059 we'll be weeping with nostalgia at such a list. Those of us who aren't cryogenically frozen heads, that is.

  2. Why doesn't it work? Because they aren't products from your own childhood? I think the products you list for 2009 will be just as evocative as the previous list, especially the technological ones such as iPlayer and Twitter which will almost certainly be obsolete in fifty years time.

    And if you think that Waterstone's, Activia and farmers' markets are at all representative of our age then I think you need to step outsie your comfortable social bubble once in a while.

  3. I am dubious of the inclusion of some items for 00s nostaglia:

    KFC Bargain Buckets were about for years. I can remember my parents buying them as a family treat in the 80s.

    VW Kombis have been about for years too, from the initial 60s van through the "VW Transporter" years.

    Radio 2 dates from 1967, evolving from the Light Programme and giving a corporate branding next to the newly launched Radio 1.

    I will admit to 90s nostalgia though, Britpop on the radio, the days when streets were fairly empty of 4x4s, PCs and the Internet were for the minority, Windows 3.1 and the Windows 95 launch, dialup modems, ITV showed documentaries and felt less trashy with regional identities, the original Playstation, Sega Dreamcast, the first pay-as-you-go phones, Pogs, Tazos, Tamagotchis, New Labour optimism, pre-911 comfortable airtravel.