The golden age thesis

A conversation started with my brother-in-law and my sister not long ago; she mentioned how there used to be a chip shop around the corner of where we lived when we were growing up, that closed down.

I disputed that the shop closed 15 years ago, my brother disputed 8-10 years ago. The latter date is based on when the next business took over the property (thus, he’s wrong). The one thing I recall about the chip shop is that it was a family run business and was part of this english tradition of being a ‘chippy’. In London; takeaways are being in some respects homogenised by the places that ‘pretend’ to be healthy and alternative (Subway et. al); and the greasy fried chicken places (which I did used to quite like). It’s only in odd places in london, or outside the greater london area, that one finds those old fashioned shops, run by families, or places that are genuinely eclectic in their range of foods.

There are traditions to the consumption of food. Once upon a time, if one was at a chinese restaurant and one left the lid of the after-dinner tea ajar, it was a suggestion that the party wanted a refill. It is a tradition that hails from the British reign in Hong Kong. If one is at an Indian restaurant and knows specifically where the chef or staff specifically hail from in the subcontinent; you can ask for a dish that isn’t on the menu that they know how to make and they will happily do it. There are these little ‘tricks’ of the trade. It is exactly the point that these things are of a trade that make them traditional.

The notion of a trade is slowly eroding, with unstable work patterns and increase technocracy. This is one aspect of what I point out to be a golden age appeal.

The notion of a golden age thesis is that things used to be a lot better in the past. This imagery is often racialised or politically and ideologically oriented. I’m tempted to think of a golden age in my earlier years when it costed 30p to go on a bus instead of £1.30 if you don’t have an oyster card. I remember a time when there was a chip shop around the corner of our home and a portion of chips cost 30p, and I think, if my memory serves well, a cod cost £0.80.

There is a temptation to look at the past in a way that is completely positive and wholly better than the current situation. It is especially tempting when we have an economic crisis that affects all aspects of society: education, welfare, employment, social and political discourse and so on. There are a lot of respects, however, that we must see this golden age notion as a fallacy. Today is an age where the internet and creative commons opens up resources and oppurtunities for people (whether they use it properly is another point); today people are more aware about the environment and energy usage. Until recently, there was national inflation for about 10 years and the Labour government was almost doing respectable work.

I suppose the appeal to extremes is easier to appeal to; it always is easier to use a superlative than to see nuance. The golden age of 80p cods probably led to our overfishing situation with a possible extinction of the cod fish. The age of easy loans almost certainly led to our situation today. There never really was a golden age, unless you define it by one or two silly things.

Michael

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