Margaret Thatcher ate my hamster

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by Bob Cassell

So there I was, Saturday afternoon doing the ironing with the laptop open at the Partick Thistle live updates page and the TV on the Red Button ‘Final Score’ programme from the BBC, keeping tabs on how the Jags were getting on, when it occurred to me how much times have changed.

And, no, not just because I was doing the ironing.  There was a time when if I’d have wanted to find out what was happening at a game I wasn’t actually attending, I’d have to wait for the papers to tell me.  Glaswegians among us might remember wee men with big voices bawling out, “Times, News and Citizen” from street corners.

Well, okay, it was more just the “Times and Citizen” shout that I remember.  The third title disappeared before my time.  And then eventually the Citizen went the way of all fish and chip wrappings.

These evening papers used to print copies which had the half time scores printed in their ‘stop press’ sections which were snapped up by eager (but extremely sad) individuals like me, desperate to discover how the boys were getting on in such out-of-the-way places as Methil or Ayr or Stirling.  And then another print run late afternoon with the full time results again printed in that wee white bit on the back page.

An actual report of the game would have to wait until the Sunday papers the next morning.  

Only the Evening Times remains in the west of Scotland from the three ‘big’ evening papers and it gave up printing football scores a long time ago.  We moved on to TV and, most recently, the internet for our fix.

Now, I’m not going to try to argue that things were better back then, waiting impatiently to find out if the Jags had spectacularly messed up again or whether, just this once, we’d actually managed to win, but it’s certainly worth contemplating this change from newsprint to electronic media, from the world of the twentieth century to that of the twenty-first.  

It all happened so fast.  One minute, you’re being sent out for a paper by your old man, next you’re desperately trying to refresh a webpage in the hope that Thistle have equalised.  Where did the time go?

When I find myself watching one of these TV series set in that century that’s just past, something like the Second World War police series Foyle’s War, for example (my wife makes me watch it, honest), it’s how recognisable it all is that strikes me.

There’s a wee boy in short trousers and a Fair Isle jumper, just like the ones I used to wear.  The mother wears a pinnie and clips the wee boy round the ear for having a dirty neck.  The father smokes constantly and washes and gets into his ‘good clothes’ if he’s going out.

Over the summer, ITV broadcast a three-episode adaptation of some of Richmal Crompton’s Just William stories.  As with Foyle’s War, I recognised the people in the stories, the non-working, long-suffering housewife mother, the breadwinning-but-bewildered father, the rebellious and annoying brother and sister and the anarchic, girl-hating character of William himself – in short trousers with a dirty neck and a rodent, alive or dead, in his pocket to frighten girls with.

The series altered the period-setting of the stories from the original pre-Second World War to the 1950s, but it barely mattered.  The social milieu was the same, the dress – by and large – the attitudes certainly.

With an indulgent nostalgia, I enjoyed the all-too-brief series enormously.  It reminded me of my childhood, and of the stories that my parents and grandparents told of theirs.  I felt a connection to a time gone by.

I know that my childhood would have been recognisable to my parents and grandparents and I would have, broadly, recognised theirs – well, without the Nazi-airplanes-dropping-bombs-on-you bit, of course – but those generations of experience would all be completely alien to my own children.

So what happened?  Sometime in the seventies it all changed.

I blame Margaret Thatcher.

Which is unfair, of course, because the poor woman can’t be held responsible for the irresistible march of social and technological change, but, it has to be said, as the privatising head of United Kingdom PLC, she is good for the metaphor.

There was a time when a collectivist view of society dominated in the UK.  When ‘work’ meant producing things, either for consumption here at home or for export overseas.  When ‘energy’ came from the bowels of the earth in big, black lumps.  When home ownership was an aspiration of the middle class, and not a means to a quick buck.  When the family really was the corner-stone of society.

How the world has changed, and not, it has to be said, necessarily for the worse.  Limiting divisions of class have been removed, to a large extent.  Health-destroying occupations which left men and women half-dead by middle-age are a thing of the past.  Most of us own our homes now, or at least have a stake in building societies which do, and we take holidays (note the plural) abroad on an annual basis.  And women are no longer confined to the drudgery of the home and child-rearing.

We have, to quote a phrase, never had it so good.

And in a few weeks we’ll get to vote for a Scottish parliament.  Who’d have thought that back in the good old days?  Margaret Thatcher certainly wouldn’t have.

So, this twenty-first century has got a lot going for it.  The dirty wee boys in short trousers terrifying wee girls with their pet hamsters are very much a thing of the past.

Boys don’t get the chance now to get dirty – they’re inside on the computer (probably not checking up on the Thistle score, unfortunately) or being driven to a ‘class’ by a harassed mother who’s knackered from a day at work.  They’re not wearing short trousers and Fair Isle jumpers, but something made abroad by a company which sells it on the basis of the label.  They don’t ‘hate’ girls any longer, and the young ladies are more likely to ask, “Is that a dead hamster in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?” than run screaming from their male tormentor.

We’ve moved from a world where being part of the community, sharing in the collective story, valuing what you do because it contributes to this story, are all things of the past.  The community is broken.  We’re on our own, making our own way.  The individual rewards are greater – home, holidays, possessions – and we know we’re entitled; we must do because we keep being told it’s “because you’re worth it”.

And I know that my childhood is part of history and the future is a place where I’m healthier, wealthier and with more possessions than my parents or theirs could ever have dreamed of.  And that I don’t know my neighbours and I haven’t made one thing I can point to and say, “I made that”.  Things have changed, changed utterly.

Funny to have lived through a revolution and not really have noticed.

So, it was Maggie what done it. Short-trousered wee boys with their furry pets and black-faced miners with a sense of shared community swallowed down in one big gulp.

Still, I’m now doing the ironing.

And I can find out that Thistle are losing quicker than ever before.