A rosy view

I think that we all have the capacity to regard the past with nostalgia. It is all too easy to think that ‘things were better when…’ to long for some sort of historic utopia that probably never existed.

Looks natural, but it isn't: planted trees and a canal

Looks natural, but it isn’t: planted trees and a canal

As an ecologist working on habitat restoration, this is something I know all too well. Human beings yearn for the native vegetation of their countryside… for a time when the whole of Britain looked like a Constable painting or a Capability Brown landscape: rolling hills, artistically placed trees and agricultural labourers, meandering rivers. And it can be quite a disappointment to realise that this rural idyll never existed; that the countryside is a dynamic place, which has been used, changed and manipulated by man for a long time; that Capability Brown ‘designed’ his landscapes based on a romantic notion of the countryside; that unless we put a great deal of energy into it, our countryside will naturally change into whatever vegetation is best suited to the prevailing conditions. As conservationists, we need to exert a significant amount of effort to maintain, for example, species-rich meadows or ponds suitable for dragonflies.

And it’s the same with human society – the past where everyone had a job, could sustain themselves and lived in a village with a shop, a post office, a pub and a fully functional community is simply not real. It is a story that we tell ourselves, it gives us comfort. This post is probably coming across as very cynical; it has all come about because of a song called The Liverpool Lullaby. Do you know it? If not you can listen to a version of it here and read the lyrics here.

Well, I was reminded of it the other day because of a chance remark by a friend on Facebook. I always found the song upsetting as a child and decided to listen to it as an adult in order to explore these feelings. As it turns out, I still find it upsetting, but am haunted by it and by some of the imagery of life in working-class Britain in the 1950s and 60s. One thing in particular that struck me (child abuse aside) was the reference to The Lune, which as a child I had misheard as ‘the loom’ (you can tell I grew up in the heart of wool-producing country where big mills were part of our history).

What, I wondered, was The Lune – my initial thought was that it was a pub, after all the song refers to the boozer and dad drinking all the money away, but a quick search on the internet revealed that The Lune was a “laundry and dry cleaning works”… and not just any laundry, but a vast place. Householders sent their laundry there, as did hotels. I was astounded when browsing the memorabilia on the Lune website to see endorsements written in the 1930s from as far afield as The Gleneagles Hotel (Scotland), Somerset and Hove in Sussex. I had no idea that 70 years ago anyone would have dreamed of sending their linen on a 540-mile round trip simply to be laundered. In my head I have an image of small, local laundries for those who could afford them at that time, but it turns out The Lune was huge, and it was not the only one of its kind.

The Lune Laundry (from the Wavertree Society Newsletter: http://www.liverpool.ndo.co.uk/wavsoc/news08/page7.html)

It was founded in 1905, but I can find no record of when it closed, just that the building was demolished in 1987 and that the company has now been dissolved.

And so, on reflection I acknowledge that much of our past –  in the lifetime of those of us who might be reading this – is less than rosy. Whilst there were communities who supported each other, there were also terrible working conditions, abject poverty, abused children, and affluent people who could afford to have their linen shipped half way across the country simply to be washed. Let us not forget that, whilst there are real problems in the modern world, many of them are not new and some of the old ones have disappeared. Let’s not wallow in nostalgia, wishing for a return to a world that never existed, but work towards a more equitable and sustainable world with a modern vision.

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11 Comments

  1. I’m probably guilty of some of that nostalgia. When I was a child in the 1950’s there was certainly much more countryside around, manufactured or not. We had a canal quite close with lots of fields around it for kids to play in. By the end of the 60’s those fields were houses and the canal was being filled in.We seemed to have Summers with sun and Winters with snow and you knew when they were due.
    I miss the sense of community too where kids could play out safely but there was always an adult to turn to. Where doors could be left unlatched without as much fear of burglary as today even though it did happen. I do remember you could leave a bad job in the morning and start a god one in the afternoon and you didn’t have to sit a barrage or psychological assessments before being hired.
    Things have changed, not always for the better, and we have become more aware of ecological issues that are important to us as well as the planet. I wish we could combine that knowledge with the sense of community I feel we used to have so that there would be more co-operation between neighbourhoods.
    I’ll keep my rose tinted glasses handy a bit longer.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

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  2. I grew up in the 70s in a small village (in another country) and also remember leaving the car unlocked, the keys on the flat door, riding and playing most of the day in the open fields nearby. There were good and bad things, like nowadays – though I also selectively remember the rosy ones.
    But as you pointed out, there were also some truly dreadful living conditions in some cases. Probably even more so in the previous decades.
    Thanks for offering a counterbalance to the rosy view with this post 🙂

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  3. Great post. Happens all the time, with people I know!

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  4. Gede Prama

     /  November 18, 2013

    Thank you for writing which is quite good and best wishes always, and greetings

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  5. I so echo these sentiments. Well written.

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